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Prayer wheels at the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

10 Days in Nepal

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I can’t remember exactly why I chose Nepal as a travel destination this year but it probably had something to do with seeing the Himalayas. Having lived near the Rockies for a while, been to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, and hiked through the Andes, I’m starting to knock off some of the world’s famous mountain ranges. Adding the Himalayas to that list seemed fitting.

Having booked trips through G Adventures on two previous occasions I decided to see what they offered for a good all-around trip to Nepal. I wasn’t looking for a hardcore trekking trip but wanted to incorporate hiking into the trip, particularly something in the Annapurna region. I also wanted to make sure I got to see some of the many cultural sights. With this in mind, I ended up choosing the Nepal Adventure trip. As I was doing this trip alone, the decision was mine alone.

After making the decision, it was then a matter of getting time off from work, and calling the G Adventured team to book the trip, flights, insurance and a few other add-ons. I decided to get an airport pickup as I was arriving late at night and didn’t want the hassle of dealing with taxi drivers at that hour. I also added an extra day at the start and end of the trip to allow myself to settle in and wind down. As it turns out I probably could have skipped the extra day at the end but no big loss.

I booked the trip six months ahead so all that was left to do was wait for the departure date. Through the end of winter and into the spring I counted down the days and made any preparations I required. Already having all the gear really helped to keep costs down, but the time of year I was going didn’t really need any specialized equipment anyway. The only real requirements I needed to take care of were a travel visa from the Nepalese embassy in Ottawa and a trip to the travel clinic to make sure I had all the vaccinations I needed. Before long, the departure date had arrived and it was time to begin the epic flights from Halifax to Kathmandu.

Getting there #getting-there

Flying from Halifax to Kathmandu is not an easy proposition. The flight I had booked required 23 hours of flying to get there, and 21 hours on the return. When I told this to people on both ends of the trip they all thought I was nuts. Going required flying from Halifax to Vancouver, then on to Guangzhou, China, then on to Kathmandu, Nepal. Twenty. Three. Hours. The way back was similar, trading Toronto for Vancouver and therby shaving a couple of hours off the flight as we could go straight over the north pole. Needless to say I was exhausted by the time I arrived in Nepal and was very happy I had booked the airport to hotel transfer.

Kathmandu airport is a bit of a disaster, but certainly not the worst I’ve flown into. That distinction remains with the aiport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I still get flashbacks about that place. Kathmandu airport has a sort of sad brown colour to the whole place, matching the colour of the air in the city as it would turn out. It had the usual bustle of a downtrodden airport with people going in all directions, luggage coming out of seemingly random holes in the wall, carts flying, and of course, all the hustlers one would expect. They see you and are on to you. Don’t fall for them whatever you do. Spotting my driver out in front of the airport — where the chaos continues — I was toward the hotel. No traffic at this time of night meant I was at the hotel in 15 minutes. I was very, very happy to see a bathroom and a bed.

So I slept, and slept, and slept. I was obviously exhausted. Later that afternoon I decided to actually get out of bed, have a shower and check out the hotel. I was hungry too so I made my way to the rooftop patio for my first meal and beer of the trip. The Hotel Vajra has a beautiful courtyard with lots of tables and chairs. The rooftop patio has a wonderful view of that part of the city, I was happy I decided to check it out. After a large bottle of Everest beer — all beers are large bottles/cans in Nepal — and some vegetable curry and rice, I felt refreshed. I also took the chance to inform everyone back home I had finally made it. The hotel wifi worked well, probably because I was one of the only guests. It was very quiet. Just like at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania four years earlier, travelling during the low season means getting places to yourself.

Hotel Vajra in Kathmandu
Hotel Vajra in Kathmandu

The low season would be a theme throughout the whole trip. Looking at the weather forecast before I left showed nothing but rain every day, it was monsoon season after all. At the hotel I was wondering if I was going to be the only one on the trip. Hours went by without seeing another guest. But I had arrived very early so I decided to be patient and just wait to see who showed up. Eventually, we were a group of five, four Brits and me, the Canadian. As is typical with G Adventures tour, we all meet with our CEO — Chief Experience Officer — to get the details of the trip, the city, the country and to meet who we’d be spending the next 10 days with. Luckily there were no jerks in the group.

Kathmandu city tour #kathmandu-city-tour

The next day or so was filled with local culture and sights. We visited the Bodnath Stupa, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. It was build in the 5th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is an incredible sight to see. After walking around the stupa, clockwise of course, taking some photos and doing a little exploring, we were off to Bhaktapur, the City of Devotees. Here we found Hindu temples, pagodas, palaces and monuments. It was here where we first got an up-close look at the damage that had been done by the earthquake in 2015. Entire structures and buildings has collapsed and were in the process of being rebuilt. It was a little sad to see these ancient, beautiful monuments reduced to rubble and dust, but seeing the work being done on them was heartening.

Bodnath Stupa
Bodnath Stupa

After these beautiful places we were on to a great project that is supported by G Adventures, the Sisterhood of Survivors. This is an amazing project that helps support rehabilitated survivors of human trafficking. These amazing women are trained to be paralegals so that they can work in police stations and be the first point of contact for other women coming from abuse. There is also a program to help those without a high school diploma with hospitality training. We were taught how to make momos, a traditional Nepalese dumpling, from scratch. After that, and maybe eating one too many dumplings, we were served a wonderful and well-known Nepalese lunch of rice and lentil soup. It was delicious. Soon again we were off back to the hotel for a little relaxation before the next day when we would head off down what must be one of the worst roads on earth. Before that though some of us headed out for a steak, yes a steak, at the Kathmandu Steakhouse. It was pretty great.

On the road to Pokhara #on-the-road-to-pokhara

Up the next morning we had a full days’s drive ahead of us to Pokhara, our base for our three-day trek in the Annapurna region.

After hours and hours we finally made it to Pokhara. The van ride had actually made me angry! We all felt the same way and were just happy to be off that god-forsaken road. That evening we walked a little through Pokhara, sat down for a beer next to the lake, and made our way to a decent dinner spot on the main street. The next day we’d be up early for another drive, this time to the trailhead — side of the road actually — to begin our three days hiking into the Annapurna valley, in the shadows of the Himalayas.

Trek Day One #trek-day-one

After packing our shared duffle bag the night before with just the few things we’d need over the next few days, we were up again with the van waiting to take us to the trailhead at Naya Pul. We were full of energy and set off. Passing through mountain villages we made our way 13km to the village of Ghandruk. The dark clouds had been gathering and we wondered whether we would make it to out guest house before the rains came. The thunder clapped and just behind us the rain clouds were emptying. We kept up our pace and made it inside our lodging at Hotel Mountain View not five minutes before the rains caught up to us. It poured. We felt to lucky and relieved to have made it before what seemed like our inevitable soaking. We rested a little before a supper of fried local chicken and fries. I also split a large bottle of beer with one of my fellow trekkers. It was fantastic.

We all felt tired so it was a fairly early night to bed. We’d be up again early to start the second and longest day of trekking.

Trek Day Two #trek-day-two

Today started off poorly for me as my stomach wasn’t feeling great. Not sure what it was but it was the last thing I needed on a three day trek. At least the sunrise over the mountains was spectacular. Today was an 18km section to the village of Landruk. As it was on the first day, it was mostly uphill, a little grinding but well worth it as the scenery was incredible. Waterfalls cascading down the mountainside, far-off villages barely seen dotting the green hills. There were also the odd groups of animals to be seen, lots of goats and even a troop of monkeys.

Sunrise from Ghandruk
Sunrise from Ghandruk

We took an extended lunch to give us time to make our way down to the freezing cold glacier-fed river and a hot spring. As it was the low season we had the whole place to ourselves, it was fantastic. After a good soak in the hot spring we made our way back up to the Fishtail Guest House for lunch. As my stomach was still feeling off I settled for a pot of excellent ginger tea and some rice pudding.

After a gruelling afternoon making our way higher we made it to the village of Landruk and our lodgings for the night, the Maya Guest House. As it was low season we got to have our own rooms instead of doubling up as usual. After a quick change out of my sweat-drenched clothes into something more comfortable we sat around for beer and conversation before supper. We even had a baby goat to keep us company and make us laugh as it bounced around looking for more to eat.

The rains came again overnight, the sound on the roof making us all fall asleep quickly.

Trek Day Three #trek-day-three

Today was the final day of the trek, another 9km. We woke up this morning to clear blue skies with an incredible view of the mountains. Annapurna 2 looked over us as we got ready for the day, it was difficult to take our eyes off the snow-capped peaks. This was the reason I came to Nepal, to see the Himalayas in all their glory. Overall today wasn’t too bad but the morning was almost completely uphill and very hot. After a welcome lunch stop at the See You Lodge it was all downhill until the end so that was something to look forward to! We lunched just before the interestingly named Australia House which sits at the high point of the trail at around 2100 metres above sea level. From there it’s downhill for the afternoon. We had a quick stop at Pukar Restaurant to rest our legs for a few minutes and then we were on our feet again until we made it back to the highway where our driver and van were waiting for us. What a welcome sight! As there were some shops on the road I treated myself to a cold bottle of Coke as a reward. I’m not much of a pop drinker but damn did that taste good.

Blue skies over Annapurna
Blue skies over Annapurna

I felt like over the past three days I had climbed or descended ten-thousand steps but of course it was likely much less than that. My legs got an incredible workout either way.

Back in the van we were headed back to Pokhara where we could relax and have a hot shower. I needed that, I stank. There are cold water showers available at some of the guest houses along the trek but I decided to own my filth. Luckily I don’t stink too bad. Feeling better after a hot shower we all went out for supper to a great restaurant called Moondance. It was great being in a small group of like-minded people as it made deciding where to go and what to eat so much easier. We didn’t have a single disagreement the whole trip, something I really appreciated.

After supper we headed to the Busy Bee Cafe, a local club that had live music, a cover band playing mostly 90’s alt-rock. It was packed and everyone there was having a good time. We had some questionable drinks but it was the laughs we were having that I’ll remember.

On the road to Chitwan #on-the-road-to-chitwan

After a free morning to do as we pleased in Pokhara — I bought a few souvenirs and had a bite to eat before the long van ride — we were off to our homestay near Chitwan National Park. Little did we know what laid ahead.

Our guide told us that there was construction work being done and that the road was in rough shape. That was an understatement. The first hour or so of the drive was the usual crappy Nepalese roads, nothing surprising there, but as soon as we got onto the highway — what is the major road route between India and Nepal — the nightmare began. Of all the shitty roads I’ve had the displeasure of driving over, this road was by far, by a far, far, margin, the shittiest. It is breathtakingly bad. There is no surface to be found other that the bare dirt and the rocks sticking out of it. Our driver negotiated the terrain as the rest of us bounced around in the back of the van, our internal organs sloshing about within us. It was nauseating. It was infuriating. It seemed neverending. What should normally take an hour or so on a normal paved road took us well over six hours. Oh, and did I mention that roads aren’t just for vehicles? THEY ARE FOR EVERYTHING. Let me enumerate: cars, buses, oh the buses, trucks of every conceivable shape and size, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, tractors also of every conceivable design, tuk-tuks, cows, water buffaloes, goats, OK I’ll stop there you get the picture. The road is exactly wide enough for two vehicles, so I’ll let you conjure up an idea in your head of how that all works.

Community homestay #community-homestay

We finally made it to our destination, the Barauli Community Homestay. And what a welcome it was! even though we were late and the sun had long set, the village turned out to welcome us with a traditional song. We then made our way into the nicely air-conditioned dining hall — with wifi! — to dig into our traditional supper. Even though we were all feeling nauseous from the drive we were happy to have fresh, local food to eat.

The Barauli Community Homestay is another project supported by G Adventures and Planeterra, just like Sisterhood of Survivors. Another reason I really like travelling with G Adventures is how they feel a responsibility towards the communities they bring travellers to. It’s not just buying some meals and a few trinkets, they help setup sustainable businesses that have a positive impact that you can see for yourself.

After a long day I finally made it to bed. Again because of the low season we all had our own little cottages! I slept under the ceiling fan as it was incredibly hot and just having some moving air helped a lot.

After a good night’s sleep we were up early for a bike ride through the village before the sun got too hot. It really was sweltering for a poor Canadian like me. After the bike ride it was back to the dining hall for a few free hours to do what we pleased. I decided to get caught up with my travel journal and use the wifi to send a few messages and post a few photos.

Bike ride through the village
Bike ride through the village

Later in the afternoon we went on safari in the park, looking for wildlife and enjoying the cooler late afternoon air. This was a real treat and the highlight for me was getting up close to some Asian One-Horned Rhinos. It’s just such a completely different experience to get so close to these incredible animals in the wild. We also got to see a few different species of deer as well as lots of birds, and even peacocks. I’ll never forget being that close to animals I normally only get to see on a TV screen.

After getting back to the village we relaxed a little before being treated to a performance of traditional music and dance by the members of the community. There were three main dances and the third was one we were invited to participate in. This was another way for them to welcome us to their community and was another highlight for me as it provided an amazing connection between them and us visitors.

After the performance it was back into the dining hall for supper. It was already past 9pm by the time we had finished eating, and being tired from the day’s activities and the heat it was quick to bed for us again.

Back to Kathmandu #back-to-kathmandu

Ugh, we had to take that crappy road to get back to Kathmandu. We were all dreading it but we left early in the morning to try to beat traffic and get across the worst section of construction before it was closed at 10am for most of the day. This meant we didn’t see the truck traffic we did a couple of days earlier and we managed to make it back relatively quickly. That was a relief to us all.

We made it back to Kathmandu during rush hour though so we had to sit through that insanity for a while before making it back to our hotel. As the Hotel Vajra was undergoing some renovations now that we were back — remember, it was low season — G Adventures graciously booked us into a more upscale hotel for the last days of the trip. The Traditional Comfort hotel was definitely a step up! And because it was in a different part of Kathmandu we got to see new things.

On our final night together we all headed out for dinner with our excellent guide BK to another wonderful restaurant. We exchanged more photos as we had done throughout the trip — yay for Apple’s AirDrop! — and shared more laughs and stories. It was a wonderful way to finish off the trip. The next day we’d all be heading out in our own separate directions.

Last days in Nepal #last-days-in-nepal

I decided to stay an extra day in Kathmandu before heading home just to decompress and see a few more things. I decided to head out to Thamel Bazaar to try to get some more photos of the crazy city and the people who make it their home. There’s just so much to see.

Sunset over Kathmandu
Sunset over Kathmandu

My Nepal Adventure is one I’ll not soon forget. From the dusty, smelly congested streets of Kathmandu, to the relaxed, laid-back vibe of Pokhara, to the incredible blue skies and tall peaks of the Himalayas, to the warm, welcoming village of the Barauli Homestay it was a trip well-worth the crazy travel times from my home in Halifax.

If you’re interested in a few more photos of my trip, check out the gallery.