Top 5 For Nepal
- Get OUT of Kathmandu and into the beauty of the mountains. That’s it.
- The quality and prices of the Mountain gites are generally very comparable – there is lots of competition here. So at most places you can expect (possibly) hot showers, good food, and simple rooms with a mattress for you sleeping bag.
After getting acquainted with the time zone and culture in India, we left New Delhi for our flight to Kathmandu – upon landing we were met with the LONGEST visa line I’ve ever seen. Unlike India, in Nepal you receive your travel Visa upon arrival. We waited over two hours to get to the front of the line, and then upon handing over 30 euros for the payment (the Nepalese visa costs $20 USD), the employee attempted not to give me any change and let me go on my way. Needless to say, a bad impression from the start. We were warned about this in India too, often when paying for entrance fees at sites, and being so obviously a tourist, the locals will try to short-change you, or not give you any change at all. I suppose it must work a fair number of times.
Things continued to be less than ideal. I guess what I can say is travelling in countries like Nepal and India, you need an attitude adjustment from the start. These countries simply DO NOT run the way European or North American countries do – things are slow, delayed, showers are sometimes cold, electricity sometimes doesn’t work, and you will not receive apologies from anyone. This is because the infrastructure here simply doesn’t support the standards we are used to – and it’s nobody’s fault. So the best attitude to take is just get used to the local way. We were stuffed into a passenger van with a load of other tourists bound for the city center. Already used to how traffic works, I was quite numb to the careening vehicles and honking around us. The Groupon tour company (Earthbound Expeditions) had organised rooms at Thamel Eco Resort in Kathmandu city center. The hotel was fine, clean enough, with sort-of hot water and creaky thin beds. We had a group “Tour Briefing” that evening, and then adventured out to the EXTREMELY touristy main street, literally packed with trekking shops offering knock-off North Face, Swiss Gear, etc. supplies for hiking. We picked up a couple missing items and then searched for food – there are tons of restaurants and souvenir shops here, many catering to tourists – think American Burgers, spaghetti, etc. We went for Nepalese local food at a Momo house – trying Chili Chicken (me) and Momos (friend).
The next day we were setting off bright and early for the mountains – a terrifying ride. We were packed sardine-style into a passenger van with our porters piled in the aisles and on the roof (in some cases). And then we were off to careen up narrow one-lane mountain highways, around blind corners with (apparently) no braking allowed. It was fun. Arriving alive in the lakeside town of Pokhara was a blessing. Once again clearly catering to trekkers about to embark or just coming from a hike, there was an abundance of laundry joints, trekking supply shops, souvenirs, and many many bars offering cocktail happy hours.
It was a completely different world when we set off hiking the next day. From Tim’s Checkpost, the smells and sounds of the cities fell away and suddenly we were in cool forests, with babbling brooks, lush greenery, fresh air, and a wonderful stillness. Our hike was a modified version of the Annapurna circuit – much shorter and lower elevation, however still difficult and long hiking days I have to say. Each day started with an early breakfast, usually 6 or 7 am, following by a full morning of hiking. There was always a tea break mid-morning, where our guide called ahead to our lunch town to ask them to prepare our lunch at our estimated arrival time. Lunch was always at a hillside “Gite” or local home which caters to the trekkers. Regardless whether you are with a guided group or solo, you can order from their menus and get a wonderful meal for a couple euros. Almost every day we had the Nepalese staple, “Dahl Baht”, which is a vegetarian curry with chutney, rice, and poppadum. It’s the perfect relatively plain food you want while hiking – however if you don’t like curry you’re in trouble. I asked one of our porters how often they eat this dish and he told me he’s eaten it every day, lunch and dinner, since birth.
By the third day of hiking our legs were getting used to the work and we were climbing higher and higher. We were promised a sunrise view of Mount Everest from Poon Hill – if we started hiking at 4 am. So we dragged ourselves out of bed at 3:30 and were rewarded with the truly magical experience of the sunrise, breaking through the fog and revealing the crisp jagged outline of Mount Everest. It really is a beautiful monster of a mountain.
The “hiking infrastructure” here is pretty solid – every few hours there is always a tea house, a snack shop with soda, nuts, chips, or a gite offering showers and accommodation for the night. I was pleasantly surprised how many hot showers we had as well. The last night we had a great celebratory dinner with the porters and guide – complete with a cake, Nepalese traditional dancing, and music. The porters were fantastic, so helpful, kind, and ready to jump at any request. And, they carried an incredible amount of weight considering most were skinny teenage boys. We were left with the luxury of only our daypacks.
Our last day, back in Pokhara, we got to celebrate our hard work and enjoy some canoeing on the lake.
Overall Nepal was a wonderful experience – physically hard but really worth it.