Nepal

Nepal

Annapurna Trek – Part Three

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Day 8 – We finally made it to Annapurna Base Camp today! We woke up around 5am and left our heavy bags at MBC for the hike to ABC. It was freezing but the 2 hour uphill hike wasn’t too awful since we were surrounded by mountains and were so excited to make it to our final destination. By the time we got there the sun was up, there were hardly any clouds, and the views were amazing! We couldn’t believe we were actually there with the mountains all around us. The whole trek was definitely worth it for this and we felt really proud of ourselves. The sense of community on the trail was really something special. It was cool to keep seeing familiar faces along the way. Whether it was just passing by and giving words of encouragement or spending time with people in the many teahouses which we stayed at, the people we encountered was a great aspect of the trek. With a few exceptions, everyone we met was very nice and were easy to chat with since we all shared a common goal: reaching Annapurna Base Camp. It was a long trek, but it really felt like everyone was in it together, so that was encouraging. It was nice to share the feeling of accomplishment of getting to ABC with some of them.

We stayed at basecamp as long as possible but we still had a pretty long trek day ahead of us back down the mountain. Today was the only day that we really wished we had hiking boots instead of just running sneakers since the snow made it slippery going down the mountain but we survived. Before we knew it we were back down in the forest again and the air was easier to breathe. We were pretty tired by the time we got to our guest house for the night but it was a fun atmosphere since everyone else staying there had also come down from ABC.

MILES HIKED
Annapurna Base Camp (13550 ft) Round Trip: 4 Miles
Machapuchre Base Camp (12139 ft) to Bamboo (7581 ft): 6.6 Miles

Day 9 – Today was the last full day of trekking and it was a pretty tough day with lots of uphill and downhill steps. Our legs felt like they were going to give out on us but we pushed forwards and knew we were so close to the end. We were exhausted when we got to the guest house for the night and were feeling ready to be back in a hotel the following night. We could still see the mountain at this point and spent the night reading and hanging out in the dining room. At the guest house it was only us and a large group of Malaysians. At dinnertime, the group of them shared some of their family-style dinner with us and got us singing along to some of their favorite Malaysian tunes. It was a nice last night to end our trek on a good note.

MILES HIKED
Bamboo (7581 ft) to Chhomrong (7286 ft): 4.6 Miles

Day 10 – We couldn’t believe this was the last day of the trek! We made it to the last stop a little after 12 and had our last meal of the trek at the guest house. The last leg of the journey was a local bus back in Pokhara. The bus ride down the mountain was pretty terrifying – it was super bumpy and it felt like we were on the edge of the cliff the whole time. We got back to our hotel in the late afternoon and we couldn’t believe it was over, but it felt good to have a nice shower and bed again. Overall the trek was an amazing experience and absolutely worth it.

MILES HIKED
Chhomrong (7286 ft) to Siwai (5020 ft): 6.1 Miles

Nepal

Annapurna Trek – Part Two

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The journey to Annapurna Base Camp is what’s known as a “teahouse trek.” This means you go from one teahouse to another for your food and accommodation needs. Teahouses are basically small hotels run by local families along the route. The rooms were very basic, just consisting of one or two beds, and there was always a large dining room where trekkers would gather to pass the time after a long day of hiking. There was usually at least 6 hours of downtime each day. Each teahouse has roughly the same food menu, consisting of rice, macaroni, noodles, spaghetti, pizza, and different Nepali food, such as dal baht. Dal baht is a traditional meal popular in Nepal which consists of steamed rice, lentil soup, and vegetables. This was also an “all you can eat” choice where you could get as many refills as you like. 100 Nepalese rupees equals roughly $1.

Day 4 started out with downhill steps – which sounds nice but by now our legs were pretty sore by now and going down actually hurt our calves more. Once we made it all the way to the bottom of the hill (anything without snow on the top is considered a hill in Nepal) and crossed the suspension bridge over the river we just had to go all the way back up. Today we started to have a different landscape. There was tree covered mountains all around us and lots of farmland. We walked by a lot of people farming and loads of buffalo. We were rewarded with an amazing view of the mountains when we made it to our guesthouse in Chhomrong for the night. Here we met a girl from Sudbury, Massachusetts who was teaching English up in the mountains. She was on a gap year trip before starting college. She had been in Nepal for a few months now and it was pretty interesting talking with her. Since we were getting up further into the mountains, normally free things were starting to cost money. It was a couple dollars to charge any electronics, or use WiFi, or even take hot showers. We only charged things when really needed, and didn’t bother with WiFi.

MILES HIKED
Tadapani (8796 ft) to Chhomrong (7286 ft): 5.1 Miles

Day 5 was similar – lots of ups and down through the forest and farmland. At this point, our legs and shoulders were starting to kill, and every stone step was a chore. Halfway through the trek at this point and we just needed to grin and bear it. Pushing onwards, we had the scenery around us to encourage us. At this point we could see the mountains that were our end goal. During the trek, we all noticed the clouds forming behind us. Jun ran off ahead us of to make sure our spot in the teahouse was still secured for the night. We trudged along and put on our raincoats and raincovers for our bags just in case. Luckily, we made it to our guest house for the night 5 minutes before it started pouring. Our room was on the 2nd floor and by now it hurt to walk up and down the stairs to get to our room. We were still decently warm during the day, but it was freezing at night and the guesthouses no longer had heat. Everyone staying at the guest house would just camp out in the dining hall and wear their down jackets.

MILES HIKED
Chhomrong (7286 ft) to Bamboo (7556 ft): 4.4 Miles

Day 6 – We left at our usual time around 8am and the morning was the usual ups and downs through the forest and when we made it to lunch we could see the mountains even better. After lunch it was a little bit of a harder climb since it was actual terrain and no steps – it actually felt like we were climbing a mountain. It was raining by the time we arrive at the guest house for the night (noticing a trend?) and we were pretty cold. This guest house was extremely crowded, and we were lucky to have a room. We had to share it with another couple from England, but they were really nice. A lot of the other trekkers there ended up sleeping on the benches in the dining hall. This night was fun since there were so many other trekkers, and everyone just hung out together and talked. There were people from all over the world, and a lot of people we recognized by now since we were all on the same track to base camp.

MILES HIKED
Bamboo (7556 ft) to Deurali (10458 ft) 4.3 Miles

Day 7 – We left around 6:30am the next day in order to beat the rain we had heard was coming around 9am. There was snow on the ground from the night before and it was freezing but this was actually one of our favorite parts of the trek. We walked through a huge valley and it was insane. It was super clear, and we had huge mountains all around us. There was hardly anyone else on the trail yet either since we had left so early. The views just kept getting more amazing as we got closer and closer to our destination. We made it to Machapuchre Base Camp around 9am before anything happened so we just had the rest of the day to chill. Annapurna Base Camp is about another 2 hours from here and some people skip MBC, but we didn’t want to risk going higher up too fast and getting altitude sickness. We spent the day at MBC reading and talking to other trekkers, and just trying to stay warm. When we first got to MBC we had amazing views of the mountains around us but not even an hour later we couldn’t even see out of the windows and a blizzard hit. We were wearing our down jackets full time at this point as the outside temperature was around 40 degrees (or lower). You could definitely tell we were up in the Himalayas and it was a really cool feeling. We were happy with our decision to stay at MBC for a night and couldn’t wait for ABC the next day.

MILES HIKED
Deurali (10458 ft) to Machapuchre Base Camp (12139 ft): 2.5 Miles

Nepal

Annapurna Trek – Part One

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We left Kathmandu early to catch the 7am bus to Pokhara, a lakeside town that was the jumping off point for treks. The journey lasted almost 9 hours, but it was broken up with stops for food/bathroom breaks, so it wasn’t TOO terrible. We got into Pokhara late in the afternoon, settled into our hotel, ate a quick dinner, were briefed on the upcoming trek, and did some last-minute repacking of our bags. We rented sleeping bags in Kathmandu since we heard it got pretty cold at night the farther up the mountain you go. We were worried about packing them since they were huge and took up a ton of space. We asked our guide, Jun, if they were really necessary or if we could just leave them at the hotel with the rest of our belongings that we weren’t bringing. He told us that there are thick blankets provided at every teahouse along the way, so he said not to bother with the sleeping bags. We trusted him on this and were glad we did. The blankets were usually sufficient even at the highest altitude we went to (although we still slept in our down jackets as well).

The first morning of the trek we were pretty nervous – neither of us had ever done a long hike before and we weren’t used to carrying our bags on our backs for longer than an hour. The day started with a 2 hr taxi ride to the actual starting point and when we reached it, it didn’t seem like much. The taxi just pulled over to the side of a dirt road and Jun said this was where we started. The first part of the trek was through Nayapul and we walked past a variety of stores selling all sorts of various snacks and trekking gear. After we had our permits checked we started off on the first real stretch of the trek. It was hot out and the path was pretty much all uphill on a dirt road. Cars are allowed on this road also which made it very dusty. By the time we stopped for lunch we were drenched in sweat. Eventually we made it off the road and onto the first of many uphill stone steps. After crossing a couple suspension bridges we made it to our first teahouse in Tikhedhunga. It was much bigger than we imagined. There were several guesthouses and a variety of snacks and items that you could still get. We checked into ours – definitely the most rustic place we’ve ever stayed. But there was hot water for the shower and heavy blankets for us to use – really all we needed. Overall the first day was pretty tough but we thought it went pretty well. We figured if we could make it through day one we could make it the entire way.

MILES HIKED
Nayapul (3323 ft) to Tikhedhunga (4987 ft): 5.4 Miles

We saw multiple porters throughout the entire trek. They are used to bring supplies up the mountain, and you can also hire one to carry your gear. We were always amazed by how much they could carry, anywhere from 50 up to 100lbs. Most of them carried the bags by a strap attached to their head, wearing simple tennis shoes or even flip flops.

We started day 2 at around 8am – with 3,000 uphill stone steps. This we were a little less prepared for – but we made it! We went slow and took lots of water breaks and were very happy to stop for lunch at the top of them. After lunch the stone steps continued – and basically continued through the entire trek. But we did have some breaks of flat land in between. When we were about 30 min away from our guesthouse for the night it started pouring/hailing. We were completely soaked when we made it to Ghorepani but luckily the guest house had a fire going that we could warm up by. We spent the rest of the night warming up with hot tea and pizza.

MILES HIKED
Tikhedhunga (4987 ft) to Ghorepani (9433 ft): 5.7 Miles

We started day 3 of the trek at 5am in order to make it to Poon Hill for sunrise. We put on our headlights and joined the line of other people walking up. Luckily, we could leave our big bag at the guest house for this because it was a 2 mile walk up more stone steps. We wore our down jackets for this but by the top we were pretty warm. By the time we made it to the top the sun had already started to rise above the mountains, but the views were amazing! It was a little cloudy, but we could still see a lot of the mountains. We stayed up there for a bit taking in the view, but eventually headed down when we couldn’t feel our toes anymore – and we still had a whole day of trekking in front of us. After our usual breakfast of eggs, toast, and a banana pancake we headed out. Today mostly consisted of more steps leading through the forest. The rhododendron flowers were in bloom on a lot of the trees which made the forest even more pretty to walk through. Also, now whenever there was a break in the trees we could see mountains in the background which was a great motivator. After lunch when we were about an hour away from our guest house we were hit with rain again. Thankfully our guide was able to get us the last room at our guest house in Tadapani for the night, and it also had a fireplace. Having Jun call ahead to the guest houses and secure us a room was definitely a major plus of having a guide. We saw lots of trekkers arrive to the town after us that couldn’t get a room because all the guest houses were already full. The options for when that happens are to go ahead to the next town and hope there’s a room, but it could be another hour or two of trekking, backtrack, or you can usually ask to sleep on the dining room floor. After the rain cleared, we walked through the village to get a better view of the mountains ahead of us.

MILES HIKED
Poon Hill (10531 ft) Round Trip: 2 Miles
Ghorepani (9433 ft) to Tadapani (8796 ft): 5 Miles

NepalSouth Asia

Kathmandu

Kathmandu is definitely the craziest city we’ve ever been to! Just the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel was an adventure. We quickly learned there are no rules of the road, stoplights/signs don’t exist, lines in the road seem like vague suggestions, and if you’re not an aggressive driver, you’re not getting anywhere. A layer of pollution hangs over the city and coupled with cars kicking up dirt from the road, just breathing seemed like a chore at times. As far as we can tell, there are no street addresses in Kathmandu; only districts. Thankfully, our driver was able to locate our hotel easily enough. We had a decently spacious private room with an attached bathroom and were located right near the tourist district, Thamel, for only $10 a night.

Our first night we ventured outside to wander the streets and were quickly approached by a seemingly friendly Kathmandu local. He told us we were lucky as there was a festival going on that day and it was only right down the street. He asked if he could lead us there and practice his English with us along the way. We had our guard up but decided to follow along and figured we could turn around at any point. As we were walking down the street, he asked if we would like to see the art school that he went to. We said sure and he led us there and turned us over to his “teacher” so he could tell us about all the wonderful art pieces they made. At this point there was clearly no festival going on. We listened for a few minutes, but when the teacher started trying to get us to buy a piece, we quickly said, “no thank you” and walked out. During our time in Kathmandu there were a couple people that tried this on us again, but we just started to ignore them and carry on with whatever we were doing.

We spent a lot of time wandering through Thamel, just taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells. All the while trying to not get hit by a car, motorcycle, or bike that is streaming its way down the road. Thankfully, some of Thamel is blocked off to vehicles. One day while walking, we stumbled upon the Garden of Dreams. For $2 entry, one can escape from the clouds of dust in the streets and relax inside a small park area. We chilled here for a bit, and while it unfortunately still wasn’t a breath of (literal) fresh air, it was nice to lay back.

The main thing we wanted to do in Nepal was trek through the Himalayas. We had decided on doing the trek to Annapurna Base Camp in western Nepal. During springtime it was supposed to be especially beautiful with all the rhododendron flowers in full bloom. We had the intentions of doing this trek by ourselves with no guide or porter, as we had seen loads of stories of people doing it alone and saying it went well. One day as we were roaming through the streets of Thamel, we were approached by a man trying to sell us a tour. We quickly said no and told him we were just looking for somewhere to eat, not looking for a tour. He told us that he knew of a fantastic place. Seeing as how we had been wandering for some time already and were quite hungry, we went along with him. He took us to a restaurant owned by his cousin (of course) and it was actually pretty good! He waited for us to finish eating so at that point we felt we should go along and see what tours his agency had to offer. After chatting with the people at the agency for a while and explaining to them what we wanted to do, they offered us a great trekking package that included a guide. We accepted and it turned out to be a great decision.

The trekking package also included a free city tour of Kathmandu. We started our tour the next day at 10am sharp and had a lot of ground to cover. We met our guide, Kapil, and took off for our first destination: Kathmandu Durbar Square. Kapil was super knowledgeable and a fun guide to have (and loved taking pictures of us). After driving through the crowded streets, we arrived at our first stop. A lot of the Square was damaged in the 2015 earthquake, but what was left standing was still impressive. It was sobering seeing what damage the earthquake had caused in and around Kathmandu. Kapil told us more about the earthquake and the devastation it brought, and he also mentioned how his family was from one of the hardest hit regions; Gorkha. Thankfully, his family all survived the quake. Among the ongoing re-construction (the $10 entrance fee goes towards the effort), Durbar Square still contains many notable sights. We couldn’t go inside many temples, but they were still cool to look at it. One such temple was where the Kumari lives. This is the Nepal tradition of worshipping young (3-15 years) girls as manifestations of the divine female energy. The girl is selected from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. She isn’t allowed to have her feet touch the ground outside of her residence and rarely leaves. When the girl hits puberty, she is thought to be no longer ‘pure’ and a new girl is chosen to take her place. The current Kumari is 3 years old and we were able to see her make an appearance at her window (no pictures were allowed). Seeing the Kumari is believed to bring good luck. We weren’t sure how to feel about the whole situation, but after reading more about it, we learned that the girl is allowed to stay with her family and isn’t taken away by random people or anything. We also read about some past Kumari’s and how it affected them. Thankfully, they seem to grow up to still have normal lives. A very different culture indeed.

The second part of the tour brought us to Swayambhunath Temple (aka Monkey Temple). The temple was high up on a hill and there were 365 steps leading up to it. However, we cheated and went the back way and drove up. On the hill was a giant stupa with peace flags all streaming down from the top. Running down the walkways and climbing over the stupa itself were, you guessed it, monkeys! While they were everywhere, they didn’t really seem to bother people (unless you had food on you). We also had great views of the city from up there, which was nice since it was a clear day. We had lunch at Boudhanath, the great Boudha Stupa. The stupa was impressive and there were loads of stores surrounding it selling all sorts of souvenirs.

The last stop of the day was Pashupatinath, located on the Bagmati River. We weren’t allowed inside the main temple since we’re not Hindi, but we could still walk the grounds, which was an experience in and of itself. The Bagmati is important to Hindus as the deceased are cremated on the banks of this holy river. “According to the Nepalese Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times into the Bagmati River before cremation, so that the reincarnation cycle may be ended. The chief mourner (usually the first son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a holy river-water bath immediately after cremation,” (Wikipedia). The holy river is said to purify people spiritually. We were able to see some cremations taking place while we were there. It was quite an experience to see such an intimate ritual being done out in the open, with both locals and tourists looking on. The Nepali people are used to it however, as long as one is respectful.

We spent the rest of our time in Kathmandu stocking up on supplies for our trek. Seeing as how we really only packed for warm weather, we needed to get gloves, warm hats, down jackets, etc for when we got up into the mountains. Everything was pretty cheap and even though we paid “tourist” prices it still wasn’t bad – can’t really argue with renting a down jacket for $1.50 a day. The night before we were supposed to leave Cory unfortunately came down with a case of food poisoning and we had to postpone our trek by a day. It was only a matter of time before one of us got sick. We were able to move the date no problem and had an extra day to mentally prepare ourselves for it. We will be doing a several part series to cover our trek to Annapurna Base Camp, since each day had so much going on. Stay tuned…