Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nikon 18-200mm: Maximizing Sharpness

Machapuchare at Dawn from Poon Hill. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 36mm, 1/250 f/20, ISO 200, fill flash fired to get some color in the prayer flags.

For travel and adventure photography, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DXis hard to beat. It gives me a tremendous range of focal lengths in a small, light and highly flexible package. It has some flaws I can live with: distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations plague this lens to a small degree, but are usually fixable in postproduction. I can't live with a soft lens, and while the 18-200mm is never going to be as sharp as a prime lens for the same focal length, especially at the edges and corners, in the center of the frame, it comes pretty close. Maximizing the sharpness potential of this lens depends a lot on the aperture used.

Simplified Sharpness Table

Focal Length .. Sharpness .. Best Apertures
18-50mm ........ Very Good .. Any Aperture
55-115mm ...... Very Good .. Avoid Extremes
130-150mm ..... Soft ............ f/8 to f/16 only
170-200mm ..... Good .......... f/8 to f/16 only

Click image to zoom in 1:1. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 90mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200

The 18-200mm has a wide zoom range and it is not equally sharp across that range. I’ve made up two rules of thumb to help me maximize sharpness in the field:

Rule #1
From wide-angle to short telephoto (18-115mm), I can fire away, but I try to avoid shooting wide open if I don’t need to.

Rule #2

For medium to long telephoto (130-200mm), it gets a little more complicated. I need to be conscious of my aperture, using f/8 to f/16 to maximize sharpness. I also need to be aware that stopping down to these apertures is going to drop my shutter speed. VR or not, I’ve got to maintain a high enough shutter speed to prevent camera shake/subject motion blur, and most likely, I’ll have to push up the ISO as well.

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 17
April 28: Ghorepani – Poon Hill – Birethanti

Snake Charmer in Pokhara. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 150mm, 1/25 f/5.6, ISO 200

We woke up before dawn for the 45-minute hike up Poon Hill to catch sunrise. At the top, it gets a bit crowded as others on shorter treks join us. It is one of the highlights of our trek. After we get down from Poon Hill, we hike out to Birethanti. The monsoon rains catch up with us by mid afternoon, and we decided to spend the night in Birethanti, ending our trek there and catching a taxi to Pokhara the next morning.

Moonlight Guesthouse: Rooms *** Food ***

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Weapon of Choice: Nikon D300

Khukuri. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 29mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200.

I have a Nikon D300. My frequent readers will know that I advocate lightweight DSLRs, and yet I carry a heavy D300. Why? I bought it because I wanted to carry only one body that would not fail on me in the field. Nikon has a reputation of building pro-spec bodies that are tough and weatherproof. Obviously there are no such guarantees, and even my D300 has failed on me before.

The best advice I can give my fellow travel and adventure photographers is to go with the lightest DSLR that you have confidence in. If you don’t need two control dials, look at the Nikon D60 and Canon XSi/450D. If you do need the two control dials, look at the Nikon D80 or Canon 40D (…or wait a while. Nikon is expected to release news on the new D90 soon). If you need or want higher build quality, the D300 is the camera to get. Having used the D300 for a while, I’d pick it over the Canon 5D, which had been on my wish list for a while.

My pet peeve is the re-engineered Matrix Metering System on the D300, but the fact is that any photographer can work around it for proper exposure control. There are other reasons I chose the D300: Great battery performance - I’m getting about 500 12-bit compressed NEF shots per charge (about double the D200); good high ISO noise characteristics; outstanding autofocus system; 100% viewfinder accuracy; a huge, high quality LCD screen; superb dynamic range; a built-in flash.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 32mm, 1/250 f/13, ISO 200, matrix metered at -1 1/3 EV, flash with 1/4 CTO gel.

Many photographers shun the built-in flash, and some camera’s, like the Canon 5D, don’t have one. For a photographer who needs to travel light, having a built-in flash that can throw in some fill light in a pinch is better than not having one at all. I never liked the cold, harsh light quality from my pop-up flash, and using a tip from Strobist, I taped a ¼ strength CTO gel to the flash. This warmed up the flash a little and, by dialing down the power, it gave me a nice balanced fill light that worked out well for me in Nepal.

Laura (left) with the Newswear Body Pouch aka Replacement Galen Rowell Chest Pouch. Me (right) with the Lowepro TLZ1 clipped the backpack shoulder strap.

I carried the D300 in a Lowepro TLZ1, which I clipped using mini-carabiners to the shoulder straps of my backpack. I got the idea from pro mountain bike photographer, Seb Rogers . It’s a bit complicated working out what comes on and off when you want to remove the backpack, but you quickly get used to the routine. My wife carried her Canon XT/350D in a Newswear Body Pouch. I wrote about this earlier as a replacement for my old ‘Galen Rowell’ camera case. This works well for a lightweight setup, but I prefer Seb’s system for my heavier DSLR. Neither of these camera bags is waterproof, and so I stuffed a couple of Ziplock bags into them in case it rained.

Around Annapurna 2008: Days 15-16
April 26/27: Tatopani – Sitka – Ghorepani

Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200.

We left Tatopani after a quick dip in the famous hot springs in the morning. It’s all uphill from here to Ghorepani and, although you can make it to Ghorepani in a day, we decided to take it easy and broke the journey up into two days.

Sitka Moonlight Lodge: Rooms ***1/2 Food **
Ghorepani Hungry Eye: Rooms *** Food ***

Friday, May 23, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 14

Trekking the Annapurna Road. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 95mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200.

April 29: Kalopani - Tatopani
The road is now complete between Kalopani and Tatopani. That night in Kalopani, I heard the roar of a motorcycle outside my guesthouse. It was the first time I’d heard a motorized vehicle at night on the trek and it seemed out of place in the small Himalayan village.

The dilemma of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) is to merge the need for progress for the people of Nepal with the demands of trekkers. No one likes to walk on the road. Not only is it just plain ugly, trekkers have to compete for space on the narrow mountain road with vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds.

Alternative routes are slowly beginning to open up. The future of the Annapurna Circuit may be on a trail that deviates significantly from the present Annapurna Circuit trail… and that’s fine. The trail is already different from my first Annapurna Circuit trek 20 years ago, but the essence of the experience is the same. Trekkers will still come to share that experience.

Strangely, more people decide to take the road from Kalopani to Tatopani than the old trail which lies on the other side of the river. Walking on the road is easier and faster than walking the old trail. Given the choice between taking the easy but ugly road, or harder but more scenic trail, many choose the road.

Dhaulagiri Lodge: Rooms **1/2 Food *****

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 13

The Gompa at Marpha. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 20mm, 1/400 f/10, ISO 200.

April 28: Jomsom - Kalopani
Jomsom is a busy town. We set off at 6am, before breakfast and the town is already alive and on the move. The airport is busy with flights taking advantage of the better weather conditions in the morning.

Prayer wheels at Marpha. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 48mm, 1/250 f/8, ISO 200.

There are trekkers who want to trek the Annapurnas but are short of time and use the airport at Jomsom to shorten their trek. One option is to fly in to Jomsom and trek down and out towards Pokhara. Another is to fly into the airport at Hombre (near Manang), trek over the high pass of Thorung La, and then fly out of Jomsom.

One good option for a short trek (5 days) in the Annapurnas that doesn’t involve flying into a high altitude airport is to take a taxi from Pokhara to Phedi or Dhampus and trek via Gandruk – Ghorepani – Poon Hill to Birethanti.

The best time to trek is definitely during the post monsoon season (Oct-Nov), but that’s also the most crowded time by far. It sees 5 times the number of trekkers compared to the next best season. The best guesthouses fill quickly and the trek soon feels like a race to get to the village to secure a room at the guesthouse of choice. The pre-monsoon (Apr-May) is reputedly the next best season with far fewer trekkers. You get good views of the mountains in the mornings but haze, clouds or rain obscure the views by the afternoon. If you are not trekking at high altitude (the short trek I described above is a good example), then winter is also good a time to go. You’ll get clear blue skies and unlimited visibility the whole day, but with bitterly cold nights at higher altitudes. There are very few trekkers as well – which also means that quite a few guesthouses may not be open. There is absolutely no reason to go trekking during the monsoon (Jun – Aug). Constant rain and leaches, make walking a misery. Even if you get a break in the rain, low cloud or haze obscures the mountain views.

See You Lodge: Rooms ***** Food *****

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nikon D300’s Matrix Meter: A step backwards?

Tibetan woman works her loom in Jarkot. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 90mm, 1/250 f/8, ISO 200. Matrix metered at 0 compensation.

I continue to have problems with my camera’s matrix metering system. My old D200 matrix meter was infallible. I got to a point where I trusted it so much that I eventually shot exclusively with it. The problem with the matrix meter on the D300 is not that it overexposes, but that it is unpredictable and I'm never sure how it is going to expose for the scene. In even or low contrast light, the matrix meter is spot on. In backlit situations, it is more than a stop off. In mixed or high contrast light, it’s anywhere from being spot on to 1 stop overexposed, so it is not a simple matter of setting a fixed amount of exposure compensation.

My old D200’s matrix meter was predictable. I knew the camera would protect the highlights. The new D300’s matrix meter now also looks at what’s under the focus point, and presumably using Nikon’s scene recognition system, assumes that you want what’s under the focus point to be ‘properly exposed’, even at the expense of blown highlights.

By designing the D300’s matrix meter this way, the Nikon engineers is have taken exposure control out of the hands of the photographer. A camera’s meter should do nothing other than meter the scene predictably. The photographer can then decide what within the scene to correctly expose for, and compensate accordingly.

Nikon’s matrix meter originally behaved like a center-weighted meter on steroids, a boon for photographers who needed to work fast. Unfortunately, the D300’s matrix meter is so unpredictable that I’m better off using center-weighted or spot metering and dialing in exposure compensation as required – a step backwards for Nikon IMHO.

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 12
April 27: Muktinath - Jomsom

Warm air, rising over the land mass of central Asia from the heat of the day needs to be replaced. Cool air, from the Indian Ocean, rushes to replace the warm rising air via the path of least resistance. This happens to be the Kali Gandaki: the deepest gorge in the world. From soon after sun-up to just before sundown, trekkers walking southwards down the Kali Gandaki can expect to be blasted in the face by the fierce winds created by the air rushing in from the Indian Ocean. Just another highlight of trekking the Annapurna Circuit...

Majesty Lodge: Rooms *** Food ****

Update May 11 2009:
I've had my new D300 for more than 3 months now, and put more than 4000 frames through it. I can confidently say my new D300 Matrix Meter is different from the first D300 that I owned and wrote about (above). In general, there is about a 1/2 stop difference in terms of exposure, but the quality of the metering is also different. It's hard to put into words, but my new D300's Matrix Meter behaves more the way I expect it to, and there are fewer 'surprises'.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crossing The High Pass

Climbing Thorung La. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1/200 f/22, ISO 200.

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 11
April 26: Thorung Phedi - Muktinath

This was the big day. We got up at 4:30am, dressed, had a quick bite to eat and headed upwards towards the high pass in the darkness of predawn.

Predawn Start By Headlamp. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1.6 sec f/3.5, ISO 1600.

For most people, this will be the closest they will come to a mountaineering experience. The painful slog upwards, labored breathing, and outstanding scenery… Followed by the bone jarring descent into a barren landscape into the holy village of Muktinath.

Crossing Thorung La. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/800 f/14, ISO 200.

A note for trekkers: be sure to top up your water bottles before you begin your descent. The teahouse at the pass itself is the last place to do this. The next teahouse is a ht and dry 3 hours downhill, about 1 hour from Muktinath.

Sree Muktinath: Rooms *** Food ***

... and the earth moves

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 10
April 25: Yak Kharka – Thorung Phedi

The Himalaya is a young mountain range and landslides are common. The village of Bagarchap, where a landslide wiped out a number of lodges and killed 11 people in 1995, has never recovered. Most of the wealthier lodges have relocated to nearby Danaqu.

In the photo above, taken just below Thorung Phedi, we were caught in a mini landslide. The rock wall above us, weakened by expanding ice in the fractures from the warm sun, lets loose a volley of small rocks. We take cover for about 10 minutes behind the safety of a rib of rock, but the couple in the top photo, about 50 meters in front of us, were not so lucky, and were pelted by small rocks bouncing down the slope. Fortunately, the rocks were small and slow moving, and other than some small cuts and bruises, no one was injured.

We end the day at Thorung Phedi, ate, went to bed early and were poised to launch ourselves over the high pass of Thorung La early the next morning.

Thorung Base Camp Lodge: Rooms ** Food ***

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Photo Gear For Trekking

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/400 f/20, ISO 200.

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 9
I’m pretty happy with the photo gear I brought to Nepal. I took a Nikon D300 body, 24 gig of memory, a total of 3 batteries plus charger, 18-200mm and 10.5mm lenses, a polarizer and NO tripod. I wrote about how I carried the gear on the trek here . I would leave the polarizer back home if I had to do it again, and carry more memory.

I wanted to limit myself to two lenses, and I also wanted to keep it lightweight. The combo of 18-200mm and 10.5mm fit the bill. Jake Norton, an expedition photographer, has a great write-up on taking better expedition photos here . He uses this same lenses as part of his standard kit. This will probably be my standard travel and expedition kit as well.

The D300 is as close to the perfect expedition camera as I've come across. Long battery life, rugged, amazing AF, and Nikon's system of holding down a button and turning a dial makes for quick and easy adjustments.

April 24: Manang – Yak Kharka

This was a short and easy day. Above Manang (3540m), we decided to climb no more than 500m per day to ensure we did not have problems with the altitude. We had plenty of time and energy to push higher, but we stopped for the night at Yak Kharka (4018m). This proved to be the right strategy, and we had no problems with altitude over the coming days.

Gangapurna Hotel: Rooms *** Food ***

Friday, May 16, 2008

My High Energy Workout Playlist (April/May ’08)

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 8
It’s not possible to charge my tiny iPod Shuffle on the trek, and so I bought a AAA powered MP3 player to bring on my Annapurna Circuit trek. One lithium AAA is enough for weeks on the trail, without the need for recharging. These are slowly becoming extinct, which means they can be aggravatingly hard to find. They are out of fashion, so they are cheap. Stock up on them while they are still available.

Here are 15 songs from my trekking playlist:
I'm Walking On Sunshine, Katrina & the Waves
Rookie, Boy Sets Fire
Face Down, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
The Good Left Undone, Rise Against
One Last Breath, Creed
The Pretender, Foo Fighters
Major Tom (Coming Home), Peter Schilling
Banquet, Bloc Party
Bender, Dont Look Down
Master of puppets, Metallica
Fake it, Seether
The Red, Chevelle
Angels Or Devils, Dishwalla
Spin You Around, Puddle of Mudd
One Love, U2

April 23: Manang
We take a mandatory rest day here in Manang for acclimatization purposes. Laura, who took a preventative dose of the high altitude medication, Diamox, was the only one not to feel the effects. I had a headache and nausea the previous night, and began taking Diamox as well. We took the opportunity to move into the highly rated Hotel Yeti, which was full the previous day.

Hotel Yeti: Rooms ***** Food ****

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day7

The village of Upper Pisang silhouetted against the shoulder of Annapurna II. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 200mm, 1/800 f/14, ISO 200

April 22: Pisang - Manang
We take the high trail as suggested in the Trailblazer's Trekking in the Annapurna Region, 4th: Nepal Trekking Guides by Bryn Thomas. This is the most complete and up-to-date guidebook that I'd found and I recommend it if you need a guidebook. Still, there are changes in the 3 years since the book was updated, and I also recommend you check with the locals about trail conditions.

Taking the higher path between Pisang and Manang. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1/250 f/16, ISO 200.

The high trail adds quite a bit of time over the standard route to Manang, and is a good deal tougher. If you are feeling up to it, it starts with a brutal climb from Upper Pisang to Ghyaru, then levels off for the remainder of the walk to Manang with spectacular views enroute.

Thorung La: Accom *** Food (at Mavis’s Restaurant) ***1/2

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 6

Laura pauses to examine a mani stone a little more closely. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 55mm, 1/200 f/7.1, ISO 200.

April 21: Chame – Pisang
Electricity is transforming Himalayan villages all over Nepal. On my first trek around the Annapurna Circuit 20 years ago, there was no electricity. Today, in Chame, there are satellite dishes, ‘high-speed’ Internet access, and a bank which rely on a constant and reliable source of power. This brings new challenges for photographers – how to deal with the ever-present and ugly, power cables overhead.

Fresh mint in weathered hands. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 82mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200.

As we make our way to Pisang through sweet-smelling pine forests, the trail becomes a dirt road again. Although still not complete, we can see that the day is coming when the road will run from the Trailhead at Besi Sahar all the way to Manang, the largest village before the high pass of Thorung La… and we are glad to be doing the Circuit now, before work on the road is completed.

Hill Top Super View: Rooms **** Food ****

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 5

A Danaqu lodge keeper looks out from her kitchen. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 40mm, 1/250 f/10, ISO 200.

April 20: Danaqu – Chame
Prices at the guesthouses have certainly gone up since my last trek around the Annapurna Circuit 20 years ago. Black Tea cast 20 Paisa (100 Paisa = 1 Rupee) at Besi Sahar on my first trek compared to the 20 Rupees it costs today, a one hundredfold increase. To be fair, ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) had not yet fixed the prices of all menus in the region and what we paid back then was the same as what the locals paid.

A Nepali girl peers into the dining room of our guesthouse in Chame. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 31mm, 1/30 f/4, ISO 200.

At today’s prices, however, trekkers pay much more than the locals. The average Nepali gets by on a wage of 75 cents a day, and will certainly not be able to afford what we pay. Trekkers are paying first world prices in a third world country. One has to wonder where all this money is going? I certainly hope that my money is somehow benefiting the region, and not just the lodge owners.

Here’s a selection of items and prices taken from the current menu at Chame. You will find cheaper prices lower down and higher prices going up, but this is pretty much an average of prices you can expect during the trek:


Black Tea 20
Instant Coffee with Milk 55
Mineral Water 110
Coke 130
Beer 250

Dhal Bhat 250
Mixed Fried Rice 210
Mixed Pizza 315
Instant Noodle Soup with Egg 130
French Fries 150
Mushroom Soup 105

Room Charge (Normally negotiable)
Double Room with attached bathroom 250
Double Room 200

Exchange Rate at time of visit: 1 USD = 62 NRs

At 2008 prices, trekkers would be wise to budget at least USD20 per person per day while on the trek. If you end up with excess cash, you can use it to pay your hotel bill in Pokhara or Kathmandu. In any case, it is better to carry a little too much than too little, as exchanging currency will be a problem on the trek, and the few places that you can do it give you a poor exchange rate.

Shangri La: Rooms: ***** Food ***

Monday, May 12, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 4

Donkey train crossing a suspension bridge. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/320 f/9, ISO 200

April 19: Tal - Danaqu

We had a short trek today. We arrived in Danaqu about lunchtime, and we learnt that there was a Tibetan festival in town. So we stayed for the festival, and for the night and had the best apple pie of our trek there.

Tibetan horsemanship. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 170mm, 1/250 f/8, ISO 200.

The advantages of being able to work quickly with the D300’s Program Mode are too great to ignore and I’ve been ‘learning’ to use it. It’s not as straightforward as you might think. In general, it works well at ISO 200. However, if the ISO gets bumped up or if you use the popup flash, the maximum useable aperture shrinks. What’s up with that? It beats me why Nikon did that, but it’s counterintuitive, as either or both of those conditions are likely to occur in low light, and that’s when you probably would want to use larger apertures.

Trekkers permit checkpoint. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1/20 f/3.5, ISO 200.

I’ve been training my thumb to work the Program Shift Mode (changes the shutter speed/aperture combination) on the main command dial and my index finger to work the exposure compensation on the sub-command dial. I find the Matrix Metering has a slight tendency to overexpose in high contrast conditions, and I’ve set the camera to Easy Exposure Compensation, so a quick flick of my index finger nudges the exposure back.

looking on at the Tibetan festival. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 200mm, 1/40 f/5.6, ISO 200.

New Tibetan Guesthouse: Rooms *** Food *****

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 3

Mani wall and waterfall at Tal. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 27mm, 1/100 f/4, ISO200

April 18: Ghermu - Tal
The poor, but once seemingly carefree, country of Nepal seems to be plagued in recent years with a flurry of problems. It is presently in a tussle for fuel, and a shortage seems, yet again, imminent. In the past decade, the militant activities of the Maoists dried up tourist dollars, and the country has yet to recover from it.

One major concern with foreign visitors, particularly trekkers to the Annapurna region, has been safety with the presence of the Maoists. The Annapurna region is a Maoist stronghold, and the Maoists have made their presence felt with trekkers by extorting a fee from each trekker. This has been going on for a few years.

Reports at the beginning of the 2008 spring trekking season seemed to indicate that the Maoists had ceased to extort trekkers along the Annapurna Circuit route. My recent trek around the circuit proved this to be true. Although signs of Maoist activity were everywhere, I'm happy to report that the Maoists, who are now a major part of the legitimate government, have indeed ceased to hassle foreign trekkers.

Making our way to Tal. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/250 f/5.6, ISO 200

We ended our day at Tal, a largish village in the Manang District with a beautiful waterfall at the north of the village. We stayed at the Potala, where the lodge keeper is famous for her pumpkin curry. We dutifully ordered the pumpkin curry, and the lodge keeper hurried out to gather some pumpkins from the field. One of the great things about trekking in Nepal is that fresh, organic produce is available along the way.

Potala Guesthouse: Rooms *** Food ****
There's a new guesthouse at the northen end of the village with great views of the waterfall and may be worth checking out if you are going.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 2

Ngadi Villager. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 200mm, 1/250 f/8 ISO200

April 17: Khudi – Ghermu
It rained and hailed the previous evening in Khudi, and parts of the trail were still wet as we set off in the morning. The trail is really a dirt road, at least until Bhulbule, where the road ends.

Woman with baby crossing the suspension bridge at Khudi. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 22mm, 1/200 f/7.1, ISO200

I’m happy with the camera carrying system that I’m using for this trek. My Nikon D300 with the 18-200mm lens attached (without hood) rides in a Lowepro Topload Zoom 1 Camera Bag, which is attached to my backpack shoulder strap with 2 mini carabiners. The weight is borne on my shoulders (not my neck) by the backpack shoulder straps. The camera neckstrap, which comes out of the partially unzipped TLZ1, is loosely around my neck. The TLZ1 has a handy front pocket, where my battery operated MP3 player rides. My 10.5mm lens rides in a separate Lowepro lens case and is attached to my waistbelt. Both these cases are not waterproof, and so I carry a couple of ziplock bags in the TLZ1.

We end the day at Ghermu, and stay at a teahouse where the lodge keeper was reputedly a chef at a Japanese restaurant in Kathmandu.

Crystal Lodge: Rooms *** Food ****

Around Annapurna 2008: Day 1

A waiter pours a serving of raksi at a restaurant in Kathmandu. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 18mm, 1/13 f/3.5 ISO 800

April 16: Kathmandu - Khudi
I first trekked the Annapurna Circuit 20 years ago, in the spring of 1988. I’ve been back since then, doing different treks in Nepal, but the Circuit remains, at least in my mind, the iconic Nepal trek. I wanted to do this trek with my wife to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, but problems with the Maoists over the past decade delayed our plans to do it until now.

Obtaining a trekking permit was a breeze. We were in and out in less than an hour, and NRs 2300 poorer each (NRs 2000 for the trekking permit and NRs 300 for a TIMS trekkers registration fee). While we were there, we also booked ourselves into one of the minibuses that run from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar.

Laura waves off the jeep transport as we trek to Khudi. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/320 f/9 ISO 200.

20 years ago, the road to Besi Sahar was paved only to Dumre. I took a public bus (which broke down 3 times) to Dumre. At Dumre, I needed to find further transport to complete my journey to Besi Sahar. This took a nightmarish 15 hours and I only arrived Besi Sahar late at night.

This year, our bus journey took just 5 1/2 hours. In fact, if we wanted, we catch a jeep ride to Bhulbule, saving 3 hours of trekking. Road improvements were going to be a two edged sword, as we would find out over the coming days.

We took a short walk from Besi Sahar and ended our day at the small village of Khudi.

Accomodation: Himalchuli View
Quality Rating: Room ** Food **

Friday, May 9, 2008

Painted Faces

Eyes Of Buddha. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 112mm, 1/500 f/11, ISO200

I just got back from Nepal yesterday, and wanted to quickly share a few photos. I should have a writeup with my trek around the Annapurna Circuit over the next few weeks. Needless to say, the trip was a success. The Maoists have gone legit, and have ceased to be a nuisance to trekkers. But there were some other surprises. Stay tuned...

Statues. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, ISO 200

Sadhu, Durbar Square. Nikon D300, 18-200mm at 32mm, 1/160 f/6.3, ISO 200