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Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

Nepal Wrap Up

The Landscape

Nepal’s natural beauty is really beyond words. Seeing the the Himalayas so up close and personal is a draw-dropping experience. If mountain trekking isn’t your deal, whitewater rivers, tranquil lakes, valleys, forests, and jungle are all there for exploring. 

The planning of our round-the-world trip revolved almost entirely around our trek in Nepal. We wanted to make sure we got there while the skies were still clear, before monsoon season set in. I’m so glad we planned around the weather…a few days after we finished up our trek, the skies started to get hazy and views of the mountains were not nearly as good.

 The People

The Nepalese are incredibly hospitable. They love to chat with traveller’s and were always interested to know what made us want to visit their country. 

One thing that Kelly and I noticed is that guys are very affectionate with their male friends here. You will regularly see two dudes walking down the street with their arms around each other’s shoulders (even the little boys). It’s so cute. 

The Costs 

Nepal is not quite as cheap as Thailand and Laos, but it’s pretty close. We paid about $10 per night for a private room at a guesthouse and we would spent roughly $5-6 for a meal. 

If you decide to do any of the treks without a guide and porter, you can get by on very little money. A room at a village lodge is about $2 per night…meals run about $3. 

The Food

The primary dish in Nepal is dal-baht. This meal consists of steamed rice, lentil soup, a vegetable curry, and some sort of spicy pickled chutney. Locals eat this dish every day, both for lunch and dinner. It’s very tasty, and while trekking, Kelly and I ate it everyday for at least one of our meals. 

Dal Baht

Another one of our favorite local dishes were the Tibetian momos…small dumplings filled with veggies, potatoes, chicken or cheese. You can’t go wrong with a dumpling. 

Momos!

The Booze

Everest was our local beer of choice, although most of the Nepalese drink the Danish beer Carlsberg.

 

Roxi, the local moonshine and beverage of choice for our guide Powan, tastes a bit like rice wine. Not good, basically. 

Trekking Tips 

Make sure you have comfortable well broken-in shoes for the trek!!! This is the number one rule, people! They don’t have to be high-tech hiking boots, they just need to fit right.  shoes were a bit too small as well and four months later, I still have dead black toenails.

-Whether you buy or rent, be sure to carry a quality sleeping bag. It is cold as hell up in the mountains and if you have some piece-of-crap sleeping bag, you’ll freeze your bum off. 

-We recommend hiring a guide. One can definitely get by without one, but it’s a good way to get to know a local and ask questions about the Nepalese culture…it truly enhances the trekking experience. By the end of the twelve days, Kelly and I got to know Powan pretty well and were even invited to his home to meet his family (sadly, we were not able to take him up on his invitation as a result of some miscommunication). Also, there is no need to hire a guide before you get to Nepal…there are tons of local companies in Kathmandu that you can book through upon arrival.

-Take it slow. It’s not a race. 

-Bring your I-pod and a couple of books. Music is great for motivation and there is a lot of time to relax once you reach your guesthouse for the afternoon. 

Other Random Thoughts 

-One thing we did NOT like about Nepal was all of the loogey hawkin’. Everyone does it here…they’ll be walking down the street and will a hawk a big loogey every five minutes. This sound disgusts me more than any sound in the whole world. I hated this about the Nepalese. 

-Depending on the city or region, there is no electricity for 8 to 16 hours a day (typically in the afternoon and during the late evening hours). We ended up taking more than a few showers in the dark. 

-‘Namaste’ in Nepal actually means ‘hello’, not ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

Next stop…Turkey!!

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Kathmandu Crazy

Kathmandu is an insanely chaotic, loud, smelly, and colorful city.  Navigating the town is a true feat; the narrow shop-lined streets are packed with people, piles of trash, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, and you’ll even spot an occasional cow or monkey meandering through traffic.  One evening our taxi turned down a one way street to come head-to-head with another car…neither of them budged but instead sat there honking their horns at one another for five minutes until finally our friend insisted that our driver move out of the way.  It’s amazing that anyone gets anywhere in this city.

 

Despite the craziness, Kelly and I enjoyed Kathmandu.  Thamel, where our guesthouse was located, is a touristy area in regards to restaurants and shops, but we didn’t actually SEE many tourists.  Sure, there was a handful, but after the backpacker madness of Thailand, we were thrilled to be walking around amongst so many locals.  One of our favorite ways to spend time would be to get lost wandering through the alleyways while admiring the multitude of temples, souvenir and thangka shops, and women in bright saris selling fruits, vegetables and flowers in the street squares. 

Selling veggies

Doug joined us in Kathmandu and we spent one afternoon visiting Durbar Square, as well as the Durbar Square in the nearby city of Patan.  Both were stunning, but we all preferred the temples of Patan. 

Temple in Durbar Square

Patan's Durbar Square

In Durbar Square

Another afternoon, Doug and I visited Swayambhunath, or ‘Monkey Temple’.  Yes, there are monkeys running around everywhere, but don’t go near them or they will totally swipe your camera and probably claw your face off.  Of course, the stupa was under repair, so my hopes of a photo with the beautiful golden stupa strung with Tibetian prayer flags were dashed. 

Stupa at Monkey Temple

View of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

 

Another entertaining afternoon would be spent at the local post office.  Kelly and I had a package that needed to be shipped home, but instead of taping up the box and slapping a label on it like most other countries, the Nepalese take their packaging to a whole new level.  One woman sits in the office tearing strips of fabric while another man measures your box and actually sews a pillow case from the cloth to stuff the package in.  Then another man with a candle melts a stick of wax and ‘seals’ your package by dotting the seams with globs of the wax.  Then you write your shipping address on the cloth with a marker.  Upon completion of the packaging, your box looks like cargo from a pirate ship.  It’s hilariously awesome.

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Rafting and Relaxing

With 12 days of trekking under our belts, Kelly and I were looking forward to returning to Pokhara for some good ol’ r&r.  Situated below the Annapurna mountain range on the tranquil waters of Lake Phewa Tal, Pokhara is a chilled out town with cute restaurants, bars, and shops.  We spent four days wandering the streets, eating amazing pizza, Indian food, and steak (we were sooooo sick of eating dahl baht everyday), napping, reading, and doing not much else.  

Also, we were fortunate enough to meet up with Doug again!  He had just finished the Everest Base Camp trek and made the trip to Pokhara to relax and do some paragliding.  One afternoon the three of us took a crazy taxi ride up to the World Peace Pagoda to get an overall view of Pokhara and snap some photos.  Unfortunately, the skies had begun to get a little hazy, so the view wasn’t as nice as we had hoped.

At the World Peace Pagoda

After several days of being lazy, Kelly and I signed up for a two-day white-water rafting trip down the x river.  We did an easy section of the river, which consisted of mostly Class II and a couple of Class III rapids…our first day we basically floated along the river taking in the spectacular views around us.  Camp was set up on a small beach with another group of paddlers taking a kayak course and our guides prepared a fantastic dinner for us before having a couple of beers and calling it a night.

The second day of rafting was a bit more exciting.  We got to hit up a few Class III rapids and assisted in the ‘rescue efforts’ of the kayakers that were tumped over during the more difficult runs.  At first Kelly and I were kicking ourselves for not doing a kayaking course instead, but after watching the kayakers eat it on those rapids, we were glad we stuck to the rafting.

At the take-out point, the plan was for the majority of the group to catch a public bus back to Kathmandu.  The guides hailed a bus, but the only room available was on the roof with the luggage.  In Nepal, it is totally acceptable to ride on the roof of buses, cars, trains, whatever.  Everyone in our group was ok with this, but I was not having it.  I insisted that Kelly and I would wait for another bus.  Eager to be rid of us and head back to Pokhara, the guides convinced a couple of ladies at the front of the bus to stand up so Kelly and I would have a seat. 

That’s the other thing about Nepal buses…they pack in as many people (and animals) as possible so people are sitting on top of eachother, standing in the aisles, etc.  Kelly and I sat at the front of the bus, facing the opposite direction which meant we had about 30 Nepali people staring at us for the entire seven hour journey…pretty entertaining for us and them.  It was not a comfortable ride and we even thought it would have been nicer to ride on the roof (and actually probably safer…at least we could jump off if the bus started to take a tumble over a cliff).  Unfortunately, our friends up top assured us that it wasn’t much better up there either.

Happy to be alive, yet exhausted when we finally got back to Kathmandu, we checked into our guesthouse and had an early night.

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As Kim mentioned before, I had a rough time the first few days of the trek.  However, once I had my ‘Nepali magic shoes’ and my phenomenal 75 song, jammin’ playlist I created on my ipod, things got much better physically and reaching the base camp was one of the best feelings mentally I have ever felt.  Its indescribable.  I am so glad I decided to push through and keep going.  As Powan said, ‘its like a little slice of heaven’ and he wasn’t lying.

Nepali Magic Shoes

Day 8-Bamboo to Jhinu

After our night in Bamboo, we headed out early for another up and downhill trek to Jhinu where the natural hot springs are located.  We were really looking forward to relaxing and giving our sore muscles a little treat.  The walk that day was a little rough, especially with the millions of gigantic steps leading up to Chhomrong.  But with the base camp behind us and the natural high we had from reaching it, the days seemed to get easier and easier. 

Guesthouse in Chomrong

When we made it to Jhinu, we had a deliciously ice cold Fanta ( a rare treat when you are up in the mountains- literally, they chill the drinks by sticking them in a bucket of water outside) and decided that instead of hiking to Ghandruk, another small village 7 hours away, we would take a rest day the following day.  Normally this is the day most people rest, but the option of continuing to Ghandruk is available for those who don’t want to stop.  Kim asked Powan if we would be missing anything by skipping Ghandruk, and he assured us that we wouldn’t, it was ‘just another village’.  Plus, we think he really wanted a rest day as well:) 

Since we knew we didn’t have a tough day ahead, Kim and I relaxed with some cold beers and a few games of Dumbal with Powan and Sabin.  There was also a large group of student volunteers partying it up to celebrate their last day on the trek, so I had a few glasses of whiskey with them and called it a night.

Day 9- Rest day in Jhinu

We woke up bright and early to take advantage of the cooler weather for our short hike down to the hot springs.  We spent the next hour and a half relaxing in the small pools right next to the river surrounded by gorgeous mountains, chatting with the local Tibetan women enjoying a dip before a days work.  It was so nice to just sit and relax and take in everything we had accomplished in the past week.   We headed back to the guesthouse for one of the best breakfasts we’d had the whole trek- homemade french toast and apple pie!  We spent the day reading, napping and playing cards with the guys. 

Relaxin' at the hot springs

Day 10- Jhinu to Landruk

The next morning, we awoke feeling nice and rested and ready for our short 3 hour, mostly downhill hike over to Landruk, one of the larger villages on the trek.  One thing we noticed along the way, is that everyone still does everything manually up in the mountains.  Tilling, planting, watering and harvesting crops, laundry, etc.  The villagers even cut bricks by hand! It’s like you’ve stepped back in time a couple hundred years.  It was crazy.

When we reached the village, I did some yoga in the yard to give my muscles a good stretch while Kim took a little nap.  Again, we had a nice long afternoon to read, play cards and have a few beers with the guides, porters and newcomers to the trail. 

Day 11- Landruk to Dhampus

This was our last long day of the trek.  It was about a 6.5 hour hike with surprisingly a few flat areas.  We hadn’t seen flat ground the entire trek up to this point.  Kim and I took our time and really soaked in the scenery and sense of accomplishment we felt.  It was crazy to stop, turn around and look back at Annapurna South to see how far we’d come.  Again, one of the best highs ever.   As we approached Dhampus, the largest village on the trek, we started to see cars, a local school, and more signs that we were getting back to current civilization.  We hung out that afternoon out on the lawn with beers and our books, while a few others played soccer with the kids from the guesthouse. 

Guides playing games with the local kiddos

We had also heard that the guides wanted chicken for dinner that night and were surprised when one of them literally went and grabbed a chicken wandering around the yard, gave it a few swift blows with a stick and started to prepare to de-feather and clean it on the lawn!    One of guides came around the corner with one of those crazy hook knives and upon seeing the bewildered look on our faces, decided to finish the process behind the building.  It was pretty funny.

To commemorate our final evening on the trek, we planned to have dahl baht one last time, but that we would eat it with Powan and Sabin the traditional Nepali way, with our hands.  The guys were really excited to see us get down and dirty as they do every meal of their lives.  They actually never sat with us at dinner because they said the Nepali way of eating was too ‘rough’ for tourists.  Ha!  Kim chickened out, but we had dinner in the small dinning hall with about 25 people taking pictures of Powan and Sabin and me stuffing our faces with fists full of the local favorite.  It was so much fun!   With a few tips from Powan, I pretty much got it down. 

Me and Powan eating dahl baht the Nepali way

Day 12- Dhampus to Pokhara

Our last day was a short 1.5 hour, super steep, downhill hike into Phedi where we would catch a ride back into Pokhara, the town we left from to start the trek.   This part was a little bittersweet for the both of us.  I was so happy that I finished the trek, but at the same time we were sad that it was over.  Especially Kim.  Our entire trip had been planned around this trek, getting there at the right time for weather and all.  It was one of the things Kim had looked forward to the most.  But again,  we were so proud that we had done such an amazing thing and seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  A place that not too many people get to experience.    This was definitely one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I had ever done and I will never forget it.  I’m so glad Kim exposed me to such a wonderful part of the world.  Thanks Kim:)

Me, Sabin, Kim, and Powan

 

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Trekking in the Annapurna region isn’t exactly roughing it.  You start your day around 6:30 a.m. and have breakfast before hitting the trail around 7 or 8.  Most days you hike 5 or 6 hours, stopping for lunch along the way, although we did have a couple of 7-8 hour days.  Kelly and I chose a ‘teahouse trek’ meaning that you stay in guest lodges located in small mountain villages along the trail.  All of the lodges have restaurants and sell snacks, sodas, water, and beer.  Upon arrival at the chosen lodge, usually around 3 p.m., you have the rest of the afternoon to relax, nap, read, and enjoy the mountain views.  Let me stress that the photos we took in no way do justice to the beauty of this region. 

Day One – Pokhara to Ulheri

Our first day of the hike was supposed to be an easy four hour walk up and down a few hills.  However, Kelly and I had been lying on beaches in Thailand and Laos for the past month and a half, eating greasy pad thai and pounding beers and cocktails.  Not exactly the greatest exercise regime to prepare for hiking twelve days in the Himalayas.  I love trekking (even the difficult parts) and have slightly more experience than Kelly, so although it wasn’t easy, I definitely enjoyed the first day more than she did.  On top of the sudden burst of physical exertion, Kelly’s shoes started pinching her toes on the downhill sections and were causing her some pain.  Powan reassured her that the first day is always tough and day two would be much better.

One thing we noticed while trekking is all of the weed that grows along the trail.  Isn’t it a lovely plant?

We celebrated the end of our first day with a room-temp Everest beer and a dinner of the local dish, dahl-baht.  Powan taught us a Nepalese card game, Dumbal, that we would end up playing pretty much every night of the trek.

Day Two – Ulheri to Ghorepani

Kelly started out the morning in good spirits, but by the end of the five-hour day, her feet were killing her.  Upon the arrival at our lodge, she confessed to me that she wasn’t really cut out for twelve days of trekking and was considering quitting.  At the same time, Kelly was frustrated with herself because she is definitely not a quitter…after a couple of pep-talks from Powan and me, we convinced her to hike the next couple of days until we made it to Chhomrong.  From there she could decide to continue to the base camp with us or chill out for a couple of days until we returned to begin our decent back down to Pokhara.

Day Three – Poon Hill and Ghorepani to Tadapani

We woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m., strapped on our head lamps, and made the steep one-hour climb up to Poon Hill to watch the sunrise (along with 200 other people).  It was cold and it sucked.  Once we arrived at the top though, the view was stunning.  Watching the sun peak out over Annapurna South and Machapuchare was incredible and one of the highlights of the trek, in my opinion.

Machapuchare (Fishtail) Mountain on the left

Sunrise over Annapurna South

 

We walked back down to our lodge, had breakfast, and hit the trail.  The hike was gorgeous…we had clear skies and this time of year, the rhododendrons trees are in full bloom.  We climbed through forests of them before arriving at our lodge in Tadapani.  It was a long day (about 8 hours hiking) and Kelly and I were exhausted. 

Rhododendrons

By this time, we had learned that Powan was not nearly as reserved as we had thought. He turned out to be a pretty hilarious guy and he provided much comic relief along the way.

 Day 4 – Tadapani to Chhomrong

This day was easier than the previous one, but still no walk in the park.  We crossed a river and made our way through a couple of mountain villages before making the steep ascent to Chhomrong.  Kelly’s shoes were hurting her feet so bad, she hiked the majority of the trail in her flip flops.

Cute Nepali kids we met on the way

The view from our lodge in Chhomrong was stunning.  We relaxed, had dinner, some beers, and played a few rounds of Dumbal.  Kelly was still debating on whether she wanted to hang there for a few days or hike to base camp.  Powan gave her a pep talk and told her he would take her by a local store the next morning where she could buy a new pair of shoes…nothing fancy, but hopefully they would fit better and make for a more pleasant hike. Kelly agreed to continue, as long as she could find a decent- fitting pair of shoes.

Chhomrong

Day 5 – Chhomrong to Deurali

We started our day by hitting up the local market to find Kelly some new shoes.  There wasn’t much of a selection, but she managed to find a pair of sneakers for about $7.  They weren’t top of the line hiking boots, but they weren’t flip flops either. 

It was another tough day of climbing with a lot of ups and downs, but Kelly’s Nepali shoes did the trick…no more pain!

 Day 6 – Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp

This was one of our longest days, but my absolute favorite of the entire trek. Finally we were entering the Sanctuary (which has a danger of avalanches during the wet season).  We hiked for five hours though a valley with breathtaking views surrounded by waterfalls, crossed streams, tramped over snow covered ground and made the ascent to Machapuchare Base Camp…we had snow covered mountains all around us.

We had a leisurely lunch and decided to suck it up and hike for two more hours to make our final ascent to the Annapurna Base Camp…I really wanted to be there in the morning for sunrise.  By this time, the air was getting pretty thin, and we could definitely feel the altitude.  We had to stop every 15 minutes are so to rest and catch our breath.

Annapurna Base Camp – 4,130 meters.  We made it!!  Of course, the views of Annapurna South and Machapuchare were beyond words.  We watched the sunset and were in awe to be standing so close to these majestic mountains.

Sunset over Fishtail Mountain

 

The camp was FREEZING.  Kelly and I didn’t bother taking showers, it was way too cold.  We were so tired, we didn’t even have a beer or play Dumbal, but went to bed as soon as it got dark. 

Day 7 – ABC to Bamboo

We awoke the next morning around 5 a.m…a layer of snow and ice covered everything.  Kelly and I climbed up on a ridge to take some photos before the sun appeared over the mountains.  When it finally did peak over, Powan let us know by shouting ‘THE SUN IS COMING!!’.  Pretty funny…one of those ‘had to be there moments’.   Some of our photos from that morning:

Annapurna Base Camp

Us at the top

More ABC views

We made it

After breakfast, we hung out at the camp for an hour or so, watching all the rich people get helicoptered in to the camp.  Lazy asses!  We did get to see one group get helicoptered to the top of one of the mountains and ski down it…pretty fricken cool and VERY expensive. 

It was another long day to Bamboo, but the views were great and we were proud of ourselves for making it in one piece to our destination.

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Nepal…Finally!

Okay, so I know we are slacking on the blog posts. We have a good reason though…Kelly’s friend Seth came for a visit in Turkey and we were just having too much fun to worry about blogging. I have a few days to kill now before Kelly meets up with me in Berlin, so I hope to get reasonably caught up in the next week. 

After a long day of flights, Kelly and I arrived to the craziness that is Kathmandu, Nepal…this city deserves a blog post all its own, which I will save for later. We took a ‘taxi’ (basically an old jalopy from the 70’s that had to be pushed by three Nepalese men in order to start) to our guesthouse, checked in, went for a quick walk around the touristy neighborhood of Thamel, had an early dinner and went to bed. 

The next morning, it was time to get down to business. The main purpose of our visit to Nepal was to do some trekking in the Himalayas and we were anxious to get started while there was still good weather. There are dozens of popular trekking routes in Nepal and after much consideration, we opted for the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, a ten to twelve day hike to the Annapurna Base Camp.

Our first step was to hire a guide. Although the trails are clearly marked and a guide is not required, Kelly and I felt more comfortable having a professional with us and we had read that having a local guide can really enhance your trekking experience. Kumar, a young Nepalese guy that owns his own trekking company, was waiting for us at our guesthouse when we arrived and convinced us to come by his office the next day to discuss pricing.

For around $40 a day per person, we were offered a package the included a guide and porter, our permit fees, transportation to Pokhara (where we would begin our trek), all of our accommodation along the way, three meals a day (except for snacks, sodas, and booze), and the rental of a sleeping bag, down jacket, and trekking poles. I had done some research on guide costs and although we could have gotten a better deal, this price seemed in line with the reputable trekking companies and was within our budget. Before making the booking, however, we wanted to actually meet our guide.

Powan came into the office and introduced himself. At 37 years old, he had been guiding in Nepal for 15 years and had done the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek more times that he could count. We reviewed the trekking schedule day-by-day and he answered a million of my worrisome questions. He obviously had the experience, but seemed a little quiet and reserved. Kelly and I were hoping for someone more outgoing, but whatever…Powan fit the bill fine, and we signed up. Kumar took us out that night for a Nepalese dinner and beers as a ‘thank you’ for our business.

The next morning, Kelly, Powan, our porter Sabin, and I made the 9-hour white knuckle bus ride to Pokhara to spend the night and prepare to begin our trek the following day. We stocked up on granola bars and Diamox (for altitude sickness), went out for pizza and a couple of beers, and had another early night.

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