The Journey from Pokhara, Nepal to India (with a stop in Lumbini to visit the birthplace of Buddha)
We didnt get much sleep last night. The only alarm we have is on my phone and the battery was dead. Simple solution: charge it, right? Wrong! As mentioned before, in Nepal they only have mains powered electricity for about ten hours a day. The time that it goes on never seems consistent and varies from place to place. Well it was 10pm, and still no power. We were absolutely exhausted and were taking turns shutting our eyes as we wanted to make sure we would be up in time for our bus to Lumbini. Well, at midnight (when everybody is already asleep and has no dire need for electricity, except for us), the power finally went on and we were finally able to set an alarm and try and get some sleep. We figured we could sleep on the bus, Right? Boy were we wrong!
Just when we thought the bus rides couldn't get more interesting, here we are in the most rickety bus to date which doesn't help the bruises on our rear ends from wiping out in the snow during our trek! It is also the most "local" bus we have been on with just us and one English/Bristolian man named Richard being the only tourists. We still managed to get completely ripped off though on our bus tickets even though we knew it at the time we just sucked it up and figured its part of the experience.
So this bus is absolutely packed. There was no room in the trunk of the bus for our backpacks so they are hanging on for dear life on a rack at the top of the bus. My eyes are glued to the window so I can spot them If they fly off. There aren't enough seats for everybody either so the driver pulled out some footstools and put them in the aisle for some passengers to sit on.
In addition to the rickety-ness of the bus not allowing for any shut-eye, there just so happens to be a flat screen TV playing Nepalese music videos (which seem to be heavily influenced by Bollywood). The bus itself may need an update (and maybe some breaks and suspension) but they don't skimp on what sounds like a state of the art sound system that allows for the music to reach all areas of the bus (and not at a low volume either). The TV is also the nicest and most modern TV we have seen in Nepal. Nice to see they have their priorities straight!
The sights from the window are just as interesting as they were from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Again, it's a Saturday but you wouldn't have guessed it because when we left at 6:30am, the lake was the busiest we have seen it with all the locals getting their morning exercise, the cows roaming the streets looking for their breakfast and there were numerous butchers ripping apart animals on the sides of the streets.
We really feel like we are in a movie, with the music videos acting as the soundtrack. Actually it feels exactly like the scene in the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" when they arrive in India and take the local bus to the hotel, except that we are in Nepal. We can't help but laugh at it all. I would rather the local bus than the tourist bus any day (except for the getting ripped off bit...it's apparently a lot worse in India so we just have to learn to cope with it).
They have now put on a film called "Race 2". I was really enjoying the music so hopefully I will enjoy this film as much, even though it is not in English.
We stop for lunch. These places that we stop at are just little shacks on the side of the roads that are meant for the locals. They do not cater to the tourists (ie, no "western" toilets or food) but the good thing about that is that they offer the local prices! It is not like the places we stopped at on the bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara which were very tourist oriented and had at least one western toilet in addition to the holes in the ground. The ones we stopped at today had no western toilets but that didnt matter as we are getting quite used to squatting.
Suddenly, we reach a patch of road that seems as the paving has been destroyed by a landslide. We are not on a bus anymore but river rafting through fierce rapids. Unfortunately, we seem to be hitting patches like this a lot more constantly and I am wishing I had packed some motion sickness tablets. I am guessing the lady sat in front of me is wishing the same as she projectile vomits out the window. I am very thankful that my window is closed. They must get a lot of passengers with motion sickness on these buses as there is a stash of plastic bags in the first aid kit (yes, believe it or not they have a first aid kit in here).
We are sitting at the very back and it's really amusing watching the bus and all the passengers sway from side to side. I can't see anything ahead because I am in the very corner. I tell Perry it is quite frightening not seeing what is in front especially when it feels like we are going 100 miles an hour in a rickety bus on bumpy roads and all you hear is horns honking every ten seconds and the screeches of the breaks (or lack thereof). Perry is in the aisle seat so he can see out the front window ahead. He says "trust me, it's more frightening being able to see!"
We can't seem to take our eyes off the music videos. They are so cheesy but so catchy and funny. I hope I can find some of these online!
We suddenly stop in the middle of nowhere and about 15 men get out. We look out the window and it looks as though they are all finding a bush to go pee in. I wonder what they would think if I went out there with my "SheeWee"! As we start driving, we see a bus on the opposite side with all the men scattered about, their backs to the road. I guess they had the same idea.
We are nearing our destination of Bhairihawa. Most of the passengers emptied out at the last stop in Butwal so we moved up to the front. The driver has all the windows open...and the door as well. Lets just hope we don't roll out!
Once we reach Bairihawa, a swarm of taxi drivers and cycle rickshaw drivers try to lure us in but we find the local bus to Lumbini....which seemed to move at about 5 miles an hour but I can't say for certain as the speedometer was not working! I was lucky enough to be offered a seat next to the driver and again, it felt like watching a movie from the windshield. The road to Lumbini was one long stretch with lots of locals working on the farms, lots of cows and goats roaming around, and many many many cyclists. The funny thing is, none of them seemed to be in a hurry. They were all cycling as if they were daydreaming.
We eventually get to Lumbini and follow Richard to a guesthouse he has booked. Unsurprisingly, they are overbooked so we find a guesthouse next door that we are very happy is only for one night. We quickly change and brave the filthy sheets and flies squashed to the walls and head over to see the birthplace of Buddha.
The grounds that the birthplace is located on is 2.5 square km. We begin by visiting a Buddhist temple and garden dedicated to Buddha and then making our way to the Mayadevi Temple, Ashoka Pillar and Sacred Pond. It is quite a neat and peaceful sight to visit. There are lots of groups from various countries and it is a real pilgrimage for them. We are going to walk around the rest of the grounds but decided we would come back in the morning as it is getting late. I also have quite a headache from the 9 hours of travel and from bumping my head on a very low door frame so we leave to get something to eat.
We feast on Nepalese delicacies since it is our last night in Nepal and also have our first beer of the trip (which seems to go straight to our heads). Richard joins us and we have a nice conversation about Nepal. When it is time to retire to bed, we put our mosquito net to use for the first time! It feels like camping! In the middle of the night, there seem to be all sorts going on! The merchants shutting the garage screen doors in front of their shops is a very unpleasant sound (similar to a dump truck unloading something very heavy) but worse is the barking dogs that are going hysterical. We are actually quite scared as It sounds like packs of wolves and the barking goes on for hours. We did get to bed early though so we have given ourselves time to have our sleep ruined!!
In the morning we went for breakfast and invited a lady we briefly spoke with the night before to join us. Funny enough, she is from Vancouver and her name is Cheryl! She gave us lots of tips about India and if it wasn't for her, we would not have guessed that the bus to Ghorakpur (where we take the train to Delhi) takes 3 hours! It is 70km from the border so we thought it would take about an hour! So we decided to get a move on sooner than expected. This meant that we couldn't return to the gardens where Buddha's birthplace is but we were happy enough to see the main sights the day before.
So we had to take a bus back to Bairahawa in order to take a cycle rickshaw to the Indian border (a bit over 5km from Bairahawa). Just when you think the bus rides can't get any worse or scarier, they do! Our bus to Lumbini seemed to go about 5miles an hour yesterday, this one seemed to go 105! It was VERY scary as the driver swerved us in and out of lanes nearly crashing into every oncoming vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist that we passed. Perry mentioned that it seemed to have a lawn mower engine and we wouldn't be surprised if it did because it seemed to break down for a few minutes at one point. The driver lifted the cushion beside his sit and low and behold: there was the engine! Crazyyyy
We made it to Bairahawa in what seemed a quarter of the time as it did to get to Lumbini the day before. When we got there, we were swarmed by the cycle rickshaw drivers where we bargained one down to 100 rupees to get us to the border. We have no idea if that is a good price but we felt quite bad as we had two heavy backpacks in addition to our body weight and it did not look easy. It was our first rickshaw ride of any kind and it was damn scary. I asked Perry if they call them "rick"shaws because they are rickety! We thought we were going to collapse at any point because they seemed to be made of wood. It was really funny to see other rickshaws and cycles pass us. Ours moved so slowly because of the weight.
We made it to the Indian border and Perry makes a good point when he says we could have walked accross with 20kg of cocaine in our bags and they wouldn't have known. There seemed to be no checks whatsoever. People were just walking through and we could have easily passed right by immigration but luckily we questioned it and found a little hole in a wall with a curtain in front of it in between shops. We sorted out the entry forms and now we are in India! We found a bus to Ghorakpur which is very obvious that its a local bus. Perry says it feels like one of those massage chairs which is very true: except it feels as they are set to the rocket launch setting and with an "ejector seat" capability. Not comfortable in the slightest. The windows are made of plexi glass (which is probably a good thing) and it seems to be the fastest one yet which does not help my bladder in the slightest. Yes folks, all this could be yours for just 80 Indian Rupees!
So far, India seems slightly more busy than Nepal but we have not hit Delhi yet, which apparently is like Kathmandu on steroids. Makes us kind of nervous but really excited as well. Here's to hoping that we don't get Delhi Belly! There also seem to be a lot more cows in India but again, we've only been in the country for about an hour so it it hard to say for sure. A couple of passengers seem to have puked out the window so it's not too different from the buses in Nepal! We've been told that Ghorakpur is very unpleasant and to get in and get out so we are looking forward to getting on our first ever Indian train and the 13.5 hour journey to Delhi (which will probably be longer as there seem to be a lot of delays on the trains in India). But first, what I am (or rather my bladder is) really looking forward to is a toilet! Oh and the fact that this is our last bus for a while as we've got trains booked for the next two weeks! There is only so much "rocket launch" speed setting massage chairs, unstoppable honking and men peeing on the sides of the road (with visible pee streams) I can handle!
After taking a nap in Pokhara, we went for a walk towards the lake. It looked absolutely beautiful with the mountains in the background (which are apparently only hills cause in Nepal mountains are only considered mountains when they are over 6,000 meters but to the western eye, they were definitely mountains). We found a boat rental place and rented a paddleboat and hired a "boatman" to take us around for an hour. In the middle of the lake there is a small Hindu temple so we got off the boat to take a look around. It was quite a beautiful setting and it was nice to be somewhere with so much natural beauty. It was definitely a nice escape from Kathmandu.
We went to a shop to exchange some money and we decided to try a local chocolate bar called "Choco Fun" which is actually made in Pokhara. It is basically a wafer based chocolate. We bought a pack of 18....and they were so addicting that we ended up finishing the entire pack that night! Oops! Maybe it was not a great idea to eat all that the night before the trek!
Our trekking journey:
Day 1 (Sunday February 17th)
This morning we met our Sherpa and guide for breakfast at 8:00 am and then took off to begin our six day trek in the Annapurna region (Pun Hill/Ghorepani). We took a cab for the first hour to a little village called Nayapul where we began the trek. The altitude in Nayapul is 1050m. We were off to a good start: I managed to forget my mobile phone in the cab!! Luckily I noticed only 5 minutes into the trek and we were able to reach the cab driver and have it returned (for a 500 rupee charge of course! But that's nothing). So off we went...and then it began to pour! I couldn't believe our luck! We stayed undercover for a few minutes until the rain calmed down and off we were again. Within the first 15 minutes, our level of unfitness was really beginning to show! We took the advice of our guide and took smaller steps which actually really helped.
We could not believe what we were doing! Here we were in Nepal on our first ever trek. This is a very popular trek as it is relatively short (compared to ones like Everest and Annapurna base camps) and provides stunning views. All along the walk were little villages with guest houses or lodges or campgrounds, all providing tea, food and other beverages. Many of these were actually the homes of the locals which they had converted and extended. We saw locals farming and going about their daily routines. There were houses scattered all over the mountains. Our guide told us that all these locals walk at least two hours a day as he did when he lived in the mountains growing up. They walk to school, to the farms, to neighboring and distant villages. Walking these mountains is a piece of cake to them and we were unimpressed that we could not keep up! We were so amazed by the beauty of waterfalls and rivers and typical village life that we took quite a few photos which allowed us to catch our breath.
At around 12:30, we had finished our trek for the day in a village called Tikhedhunga (1577m). We were so thankful cause the last bit was all uphill and absolutely exhausting. The actual walk itself was only about 2.5 hours and it is the easiest day of the trek. Kind of nervous about that!
The best way to describe our guesthouse is basically as a giant treehouse. The whole thing was basically made from woodchip board. we had an upstairs room and there were little cracks that you could see through to the lower level. One of the toilets is also upstairs and it was difficult going to the bathroom without the thought that I would fall right through. But it was quite sturdy. The wall between our room and the neighboring rooms was also very thin allowing for every noise and movement to be heard. It was quite comical before bed as our neighbor, an American living in Abu Dhabi, reminded us: "FYI, I can hear EVERYTHING" and we continued to have a conversation through the "wall". It was very funny.
The guesthouse is run by a young women who is 25 years old, has a 1.5 year old son and who's husband is in the British army in India. He comes back "often" though: every two years!!!! She receives help from her mother in law and another young girl whom she has hired. When all the Trekkers arrive, it gets quite busy for her so the guides and Sherpas help her out in the kitchen as each Trekker orders something different from the last and at different times. We had a lunch of the typical Nepalese food known as Dal Bhat which is basically rice and lentils and a side of curry and a papad. The locals eat it at least two times a day and they don't use utensils so I thought I would try the local way and eat with my hands. I got through it! It was a unique experience and one of the local neighbors was very amused watching me attempt to eat the local way. Perry had a vegetable curry. The curry here is quite liquidy and almost soup like, it is served in a bowl which is then poured over the rice. We shared a rice pudding for desert. The food was soooo delicious because most of the ingredients are grown on their farm. The potatoes, the rice, the corn, the spinach,
the wheat which is used for the flower etc so everything has a lot of flavor. Following lunch, we had a nap and the first hot shower in Nepal- who would have thought that it would be in the middle of nowhere in the "mountains"? It was absolutely pouring and we missed the downpour on our trek (except for the very brief bit at the beginning) by just minutes so we felt really lucky. It was difficult to nap without the worry of the chipboard roof caving in on us because of the heavy rain but we did manage to get a couple of hours of sleep. There is also no heating so we got under the same bed (we had 2 tiny single beds, big beds don't really seem to exist in the guesthouses) so we could produce body heat to warm us up quicker. It was quite comical.
For dinner, we decided that we would have a Tibetan dish that is very common in Nepal because of the proximity to Tibet called Momos. The best way to describe a Momo is like a gyoza or a perogy but the contents (which can be potato, cheese, vegetable, meat or a combination of the above) are curried. We are addicted. I really wanted to learn how to make this dish so I offered to help in the kitchen. I fried up all the ingredients and then our Sherpa attempted to show me how to close the dough into the proper shape. I failed big time. Perry had a go as well and also did not succeed. It was very funny to see our product beside our Sherpa's!! The guest house owner also made us some popcorn before dinner and it was sooooooo good, right from their corn! Popcorn seems to be very popular here and that makes me happy as I love it so much.
I have also become addicted to Nepali tea. It is basically black tea but they steep the tea with milk instead of water and also, they use buffalo milk instead of cow milk so it is very rich and delicious.
After dinner we socialized with all the other Trekkers, guides and Sherpas. We were offered a traditional warm alcoholic drink called Raksi which is made from millet. The best description is that it tastes exactly like grappa or raki but not as strong and it goes down a lot smoother because it is warm. It was a bit difficult to drink but we (nearly) got through a glass of it.
I also played with the son of the guest house owner. He is adorable! All the Nepalese children always seem to be bundled up and look so cozy and warm!! At first I thought the baby was a girl because he had both his ears pierced although he looked like a boy and then our guide Bijay informed me that it's a boy and its a custom for young babies and children to have piercings (we have also seen many young girls with their noses pierced). We watched some Bollywood movies and then some football and then retired to bed to rest up for day two which is meant to be the hardest day out of the six.
We really underestimated the weather and overestimated our accommodations (mainly the insulation) . It is absolutely freezing at night and clothes do not dry. Also, we didn't think we would be sweating so much during the trek so we thought we could re wear our pants or even wash and wear again but since things don't dry, that is not much of an option! So basically we will most likely be wearing filthy clothes for the rest of the trek. Ces't la vie! It gets so cold at night that we also just layered up in our trekking clothes as well! Oh well, it's an adventure
We began our trek at 730 after being woken up by the roosters and having a nice breakfast which included freshly made traditional Tibetan bread. I was feeling very nervous as this is supposed to be the hardest day of the trek so I wrapped up my ankles and knees for support as my joints seem to be failing me recently. It was a very clear morning but the down side: the first two hours was a steep ascent. It was not easy in the slightest especially being so unfit but on the bright side, it was absolutely beautiful with views of Annapurna south summit (7219 m) and Fish tail (Mt Machhapuchhare 6993m). We saw buffaloes, donkeys transporting goods to the villages in the hills (which are really mountains to us), massive cows, goats, waterfalls etc. The first two hours basically took us from 1577m to 2070m to a village called Ulleri. We stopped for a quick snack and then we entered a forested area in which we hit snow. It was shadowy because of the trees so the snow had not fully melted which made it a bit slippery. There were rhododendron trees( the national flower of Nepal) and plenty more animals and waterfalls along the way. This bit was difficult but not as much as the first 2 hours. We then stopped for lunch in the sunshine which allowed some of our sweat to dry up ( it is not fun putting a backpack on a sweaty back!). We then continued through more forested area after a little village that was covered in mud and animal poo. Our shoes were filthy but we didn't have to worry because soon after we were in a forested area with thick snow which happened to clean all the mud off and get us soaked at the same time. Because it was quite sunny, the snow on top of the trees was melting off and creating a rain shower, sometimes feeling like snowballs were pelting us as so much would come down at once. I was quite nervous as I thought after lunch it would be more difficult due to exhaustion but it was actually quite easy (relatively speaking).
We arrived in the village of Ghorepani which we were told is quite commercial compared to where we stayed last night because there are 3 trekking routes that lead into this village. We got to our hotel and we were astounded by the view if the world's 6th highest mountain: Dauligiri. We were told that it is the most dangerous mountain to climb in the world and has the highest number of casualties. We were lucky to get a nice little cabin with a view of this stunning mountain as well. We couldn't believe our eyes and felt so lucky and privileged to be here and experiencing this. I also managed to somehow get one of the songs from Dora the Explorer stuck in my head and wanted to sing it out loud: "we did it, we did it, we did it, HOORAY!" I would have loved to crack open a bottle of bubbly but it is only day 2 of 6 and there are so many more challenges to overcome before any celebrating!
We walked around the village and snapped some photos and discussed how there is so much of the world that we have not seen. Nepal was not even on our list of places to visit but we can't imagine not having done this. It should be on everybody's bucket list.
Again we have definitely underestimated the weather as there is thick snow here and it's only going to get colder tomorrow as we go higher up. The showers were not working because the pipes had frozen over so we sat by a fire in the dining area to warm up. It really helped but was only colder when we went outside.
For dinner we enjoyed homemade pizza with yaks cheese, a vegetable curry and the best apple pie we have ever tasted. The menus are quite versatile and have lots of different options such as curries, pastas, pizza, salads, sandwiches, an other specialties. We thought we would be eating dal baht everyday so it is nice to have options.
Tomorrow we depart earlier than we want at 5:30am to get a sunrise view from the top of Poon Hill. We then return to our lodge for breakfast and then depart again for another 5 hours of hiking. Supposedly today was the hardest day but I have a feeling tomorrow will be tougher because of the early rise and because our muscles are sore. On top of this being a physical challenge it is also a mental one. It's really scary to think that tomorrow will be colder and that there are still 4 days left. It makes me very nervous and uneasy and I hope I will be able to do it. I have no doubts about Perry but I am just uncertain how I will cope. We also began our malaria tablets today and am nervous of any side effects we may encounter. As Perry says, I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I will do it. I am so glad to be experiencing this with him and to have him by my side. This truly feels like the honeymoon of a lifetime! Bring it on Poon Hill!!!
We awoke at the ungodly hour of 5am. By 530 we were out the door and on our way to the top of Poon Hill, along with every other trekker that overnighted in Ghorepani. It was pitch black and you could see head lamps and flashlights bobbing up the "hill". All I could think was "we are all absolutely crazy!!" But when we got to the top at 3210 Metres and watched the sunrise over some of the world's most famous mountains, I realized we weren't so crazy after all. The only crazy thing about it was how unprepared we were for this. It was about -7 but felt colder with the windchill and all we had were rain jackets! People wearing ski jackets were even freezing so imagine how cold we were. We took our photos and decided to get the heck out of there and back down to our hotel for some breakfast!!! Now the descent was incredibly challenging for me. I just wanted to give up. I think there was a combination of reasons why I struggled: we had not eaten any breakfast, it was freezing, a higher elevation than used to, we hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, I had a milk tea at the top on an empty stomach which I think upset my stomach, it was a very steep climb down and very slippery and we also started our malaria tablets the night before which can have quite a few side effects. So i think a combination of all of the above made me feel really dizzy and sick almost to the point of throwing up. The lower we went, the better I started to feel. But it made me very uneasy to think that was just the beginning of the day. We still had about 5 more hours of hiking after breakfast and the beginning was an ascent to the same elevation as Poon Hill. The thought of this made me sick to my stomach and really not want to even attempt it but I put on my game face an off we went! It actually was a lot better than expected. It didnt seem as steep as going up to Poon Hill and the sun was out so it was nice to feel the warmth. The summit we reached at 3210metres had absolutely stunning views. It was similar views as from Poon Hill but from different angles and not as many people so we were able to capture some beautiful photos. We saw a couple of planes fly by and they were at a lower elevation than we were. It was crazy and absolutely breathtaking. We could not believe our eyes.
This is definitely not what we had expected when we booked our trek. We were expecting long leisurely walks but not huge uphills and slippery snowy/icy downllhills, we weren't even expecting snow and we definitely were not expecting the magnificent views we have been seeing. This is just something else.
After the summit, the walk became a steep descent on slippery snow. It was quite scary at times as there were steep drops and narrow slippery paths so it was scary to think that if we took the wrong step or slipped, we could just slide off the cliffs. At times I found it easier to just sit on my butt and slide down. Other times, I had no choice but wiping out unplanned and sliding down. Perry was behind me every step of the way and I felt very lucky to have him there. We thought how crazy we must be trekking the Himalayas. Most people sit on a beach for their honeymoon. We were wiping out on snow and getting bruises on our butts to prove it! We actually found it quite fun and amusing at times but not so much now when we sit on our bruises!
We stopped for lunch after the steep descent and the owner of the guesthouse said that a man had fallen just last week on the steep bit that we had just completed and broken his arm. He had to get airlifted out of the area. Then our guide told us that it is the most dangerous part of the trek so we felt quite lucky to have completed that part with only a few bruises from wiping out in the snow and ice.
After lunch we had about 1.5 hours more till we reached our destination for the day. It was through a very muddy forested area that got our shoes and bottoms of our pants filthy. It was a descent so felt very easy. We reached a couple of other Trekkers and we could tell that Bijay wanted to pass them cause they were going slow so we told him we don't mind going faster. So we basically ran down to the bottom point of the descent. It was fun but not a very smart idea because immediately after, we had a 40 minute steep ascent to our destination. It was so exhausting especially as we had just spent the last bit of the descent running which took all our energy. We eventually made it to Tadaphani where we were staying for the evening.
I am amazed at what we have accomplished today. It felt as if we had walked through four seasons and so many different terrains. It is the most challenging thing I have accomplished, both physically and mentally and I am so proud of ourselves. We had a feast to celebrate.
The nights in guest houses are also quite an experience as well. From the people you meet, to the unknowingness of wether or not you will get a hot shower or fireplace in the dining hall, to the freezing temperatures in the unheated bedrooms, we have become quite used to all of this. We really enjoy the socializing with the guides, porters, other Trekkers and sometimes even the local workers. The trek guides and porters have never met each other (most of the time) but the way they interact and socialize, it looks as they have known each other for years! There is no competition between them and they all get along.
It is interesting hearing the different stories from all the guides about their times on the mountains. We asked Bijay if he has ever had any difficult clients. He told us that once he had a lady that was really tired during a trek in Annapurna and she just sat down and refused to move either up to the next village because she was too tired or down to the last village they had passed as she did not want to do the same journey twice. So they had to sleep in the snow in minus 15 degree weather! Bijay said his body froze and that the Sherpa came down the next morning and brought him a thermos of tea to warm his body and that the Sherpa carried the lady all the way to the next point. I cannot imagine that!! Oh and she also had three Sherpas to carry her stuff because one of her bags had only food in it because she didnt like the food on the mountain. We have one Sherpa between the two of us!! I wonder why some people even bother traveling.
We also learn a lot about the Nepali traditions and culture while conversing in the guest houses. We learned that the term "Sherpa" is actually a Nepalese ethnic group and also a family name. If they do not belong to the Sherpa ethnic group or have the last name of Sherpa then they are not technically Sherpas (as in a porter), but now the term has become synonymous with the term "porter" especially because of the westerners. All the guide books refer to a porter as a Sherpa. We had no idea.
What we also like about the guesthouses and the trekking is that you see a lot of the same people you have encountered on the trails on previous days so it is seems as you are doing the journey together and it is motivating and funny when you pass each other on the trails. From Tadaphani, a lot of the people we met in our first few days depart for different directions. Some go towards Annapurna Base Camp or towards Gandruk and beyond. Most were going in the direction of ABC but not the full way. We seem to be the only ones going towards Gandruk this time.
The fireplace in our guest house was so warm and we were scared to leave the dining hall as we thought it would be a dramatic change in temperature since we were sitting by the fire but it was okay. I think our bodies are adjusting to the cold temperatures...maybe
We were super excited for today because it was only supposed to be three hours and all downhill. Usually when we have encountered descents, this means there will be an ascent so as much as we enjoy the downhill bits, it is also worrying because it means there will be hard work at the end. But Bijay assured us that there would be no ascents so we were quite energetic. We began the descent at about 8:30 and were zooming by. It was all through a forested area full of rhododendron trees. We were flying by and it all felt like a piece of cake! I was wearing ankle supports as I have done every day of the trek but yesterday, I gave one to a girl that had rolled her ankle cause I had a spare one. So I was using the spare one but I had wrapped my ankle too tight so it was very uncomfortable. About halfway through, I stopped to take off the ankle support. Two minutes later, I was saying how much better it felt and then BAM, I roll my ankle just as I was saying that. I SCREAMED like I've never screamed before. The pain was so unbearable. I rolled my ankles two times yesterday but because they are so weak and I have injured them so many times, it didn't hurt and I just carried on (I think they are just permanently damaged). This one did hurt though. It felt like it cracked when I rolled it, I sat down and the pain went down a bit. I had to carry on. I didn't want to let Perry or Bijay down. I took some painkillers and wrapped the ankle back up and it felt okay, especially when the painkillers started to kick in. I couldn't believe it especially as it happened when I was saying how much better my ankle felt. And I was also saying that I felt like Superwomen as we were flying past the trail. I spoke too soon! We still managed to finish the trek in 2 hours instead of the normal 3, even with an injured ankle so I was pretty happy about that! What I was even happier about was that our guesthouse has hot showers!! And it is like the perfect temperature! I did not want to get out and neither did Perry. It felt so nice that I might have another one before bed!
The village of Gandruk is the second largest village in Nepal with 3,000 inhabitants. We walked around and went to a museum that showed the life of the Gurung people (the ethnic group that live in Gandruk). It was a cute museum with interesting artifacts depicting daily life. We were offered some Raksi which we thought we would give another try. This one seemed to go down a lot smoother. Maybe we are just getting used to it!!
Bijay also showed us the route we are walking tomorrow. It will be a 6 hour walk beginning with a descent, then ascent, then descent and then ascent again. I am quite nervous because my ankle is quite swollen but I want to finish this. I will just wrap my ankle tight and take my time (and stock up on ibuprofen!). It will be the last hardest day (although I don't think it will beat the difficulty of yesterday's journey) as the following day we only have two hours to walk.
This guest house is quite modern but they don't have a fireplace as burning fires is not allowed in this village. It's funny as it seems so far our guest houses have either hot showers or a fireplace in the dining hall, never both! So it is quite chilly! Another trekker pointed out that they never close the doors in the guesthouses and it is so true! The locals are all bundled up and sometimes cold but the doors are all open!! Apparently they are not used to closing the doors for some reason. It's funny (although not so much when we are shivering).
We are very happy to have the guide and porter that we do. Bijay has been so good to us and very warm and welcoming and hospitable. He also chose a fantastic route and explains a lot of things to us as we go along. We have seen a lot of Trekkers that are doing the same route but in the opposite direction and I cannot imagine doing that as there would be a lot more of uphill bits and the dangerous snowy/icy bit we did yesterday would be terrifying going in the opposite direction. We saw a couple of seniors today going the opposite direction and it broke my heart to think how they will conquer that part. It will be very difficult for them. Then we saw a mom and her two children also going the opposite direction , the youngest maybe 8 and I also do not know how the children will do at that bit but I remember being much fearless when I was that age so they may be alright.
Yesterday we ran into another guide and 3 Scandinavian girls and our guide asked him (in Nepalese) if they had gone up Poon Hill and he said they had not and that he had not even mentioned it or suggested it to the girls as he is only a part time guide and wanted to sleep in. My jaw dropped when I heard this. The girls have come all this way to do this trek and they miss one of the, if not THE main highlight and one of the famous viewpoints of the trek. Bijay says there are a lot of guides like that which makes me even more thankful that we chose him for our trek.
We awoke to a stunning view of Annapurna South and Machapucharre ( the fish tail....I have become addicted to saying the Nepalese name for it, try saying it really quickly, it's a lot of fun: MAH-CHA-POO-CHA-REH). We seem to be really lucky with weather and arriving at our destinations minutes before rain starts. It has happened on many occasions. When we arrive, there are many clouds that do not allow for a view but when we awake in the morning, we are greeted by stunning jaw-dropping views. Today was one of those days.
We were quite excited as it was meant to be the last difficult day of the trek. We began with a steep descent to the Modi Khola river. Our legs were so shaky as we had a 2 hour descent yesterday and I was quite frightened as I had rolled my ankle the day before so I was really taking my time.
We saw all the children walking, err I mean hiking, to school and it really put us to shame. They literally run up and down the steep bits, some just in flip flops or sandals and here we were putting two feet on each step trying to hang on for dear life at times. Even our Sherpa, Sandeep, was miles ahead of us with 20 kg on his back!
Believe it or not, we were looking forward to an ascent so we could use some different muscles and after the descent to the river, up we went! We made it to the top and reached the village of Landruk. The ascent seemed quite bearable compared to previous ones but maybe that's because we are feeling more fit? The rest of the walk up until lunch was "Nepali flat". Bijay told us on day one of the trek that there are two kinds of flat: "Holland flat" which is absolutely flat and "Nepali Flat"which may seem flat but has a gradual ascending or descending slope. "Holland Flat" does not exist in Nepal but we always get excited when we see "Nepali Flat" bits, especially after ascents like we did today.
Since yesterday, I do not feel confident with downhill bits or even Nepali flat bits with many stones because I am worried about rolling my ankle again. The hesitation seemed to slow us down a bit even though it was an easy terrain as I was scared.
We stopped for lunch in the village of Tolka. It was a lovely guesthouse with a grassy field and the sun was shining so we sat in the sun and rested. It felt lovely to feel the sun on us. We ended up having a massive meal as they topped up our plates with seconds!
We had about 2.5 hours of walking after lunch and a majority of that was a steep ascent. We reached the beginning of the ascent after a "Nepali Flat" bit and I don't know wether it was the big lunch that gave us energy or the thought that this was the last ascent of the 6 days but we seemed to race through it. I felt amazing and did not want to stop to take a break. We completely surprised Bijay and ourselves because we completed the ascent in 45 minutes instead of the normal hour and twenty minutes- and that is with an injured ankle!!! Bijay has been trekking for 18 years and that is the fastest he's ever completed the ascent. It is very funny because we were so slow on the descents which are generally a lot easier than ascents but we zoomed past the ascents. It was just completely backwards! So the journey after lunch took us only an hour and 45 minutes instead if the usual 2.5 hours. We were very pleased with ourselves!
We finished in a village called Pothana which has views of Pokhara and the lake and valley and we could not believe what we have achieved thus far. It absolutely amazes me.
We still have a 2.5 hour descent until we complete the 6 day journey tomorrow but I feel that we have completed it already because we have overcome so many challenges. It seems like we started so long ago, not just 5 days, and we are feeling quite sad that this leg of our honeymoon adventure has nearly come to an end. It has been such an amazing experience and we already want to come back. The crazy thing is that we never even thought about coming to Nepal and now we can't imagine not having experienced this beautiful country. It has such a unique culture and we really enjoyed learning about it and witnessing it on our trek. We are sad that we have to say bye to our amazing guide, Bijay, and our superman of a Sherpa, Sandeep, as we have really enjoyed the time spent with them. We still have a few hours with them tomorrow until we have to say goodbye so we will make the most of it.
Day 6- the journey back to Pokhara:
Today we began feeling quite excited and sad at the same time as this journey was ending. We had only a 2.5 hour descent until we reached the finale in the village of Pedi and then a half an hour taxi ride to reach Pokhara. The descent was quite flat and unchallenging at bits and we really just wanted to be finished. We passed through the village of Damphus which had some more beautiful views of Machapucharre and some of the Annapurna peaks. We began to see and hear vehicles which made us realize we hadn't seen any cars in 6 days.
As mentioned, we were feeling like we just wanted to be finished as it was quite an easy and unchallenging terrain...that is, until the last 1.5 hours when we descended straight down what felt like millions of steps. They just seemed to never end and our legs were hating us. It seemed like the road and the Pokhara valley were near but we never seemed to reach them! However, we were extremely lucky to be going down these steps and not up. We saw plenty of people going up on the start of their treks and we were pleased that a) we were finishing and not starting and b) that we were going the opposite direction as them (down, not up) and c) that our guide chose a much better and more pleasant start to our route.
When we reached the bottom, our legs wanted to collapse, but I had to get a celebratory heel click in! We felt pretty incredible and could not believe what we had achieved. We felt that 6 days was just the right amount of time, especially for being pretty unfit (although the 6 days really did shape us up!)
We took a taxi back to Pokhara where we said goodbye to Bijay and Sandeep. They felt more like friends rather than just a guide and a Sherpa so we felt quite sad saying goodbye to them. We shared such an amazing and memorable adventure with them and also many conversations in which we learned about life in Nepal.
Once we got to our room, the fatigue and exhaustion really hit us. We just wanted to pass out and sleep but we had to get some laundry done as we happened to wear pretty much the same sweaty and smelly clothes for 6 days straight. It felt amazing to take a really hot shower and get into clean clothes. It was also around 23 degrees so it was a nice change from the cold weather in the mountains.
We went for a stroll and tried to think back to the last 6 days but it just seemed so surreal and that it was all a dream. Just days ago, We were in -7 degree weather, climbing up "hills" at 3210 Metres and now we were below 1000 Metres getting a suntan.
Seeing the village life in the mountains was amazing. It's a whole other world. Houses in the middle of nowhere having to get resources by hiking for hours or by donkeys, electricity for only about 10 hours a day, growing all their own produce and grains, children having to walk at least 2 hours a day to get to and from school, women and men hiking for hours with heavy loads supported by their foreheads, no cars, no Internet...actually there was Internet at certain points but it was so nice to be away from it that we didn't dare attempt to connect. It was such a unique experience and we feel so lucky to have experienced it.
We can now say that we have trekked the Himalayas (although a very small portion). It sounds so exciting and exotic and we want to return for more. This should be on everybody's bucket lists!
Tomorrow we continue our journey with an overnight stop in Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) before continuing on to India. It will have a lot to live up to as Nepal and its people have been wonderful.
One thing that we (and our leg muscles) will be happy to not see for a long time, is another step! Ouch!
It's Saturday morning just past 7am and Kathmandu is busier than ever. We are on a bus driving through Kathmandu on our way to Pokhara. The fruit merchants are all out on their bikes and some set up on the sidewalks, the horns are honking non stop, the burning piles of rubbish adding to the haze of smog are building up, children are playing football at the local park, or playing with the stray dogs on the sides of the street, women are pointlessly sweeping the dust from their store fronts (which we are sure will return in no time), butchers are chopping up the raw meat on the sidewalks in front of their shops (great place to allow the fumes and dust to catch onto the meat), and the locals are all running around a dirt track getting their morning exercise. As the bus stops to fuel up, children come on the bus to try and sell the passengers chips, another man comes on to try and sell newspapers, other men knock on our windows to try and sell us other goods through it. All this at 7:30am on a Saturday- the local day off. Well you never would have guessed it with so much going on!
As we depart the Kathmandu Valley, the smog is beginning to thin out, the mountains are becoming more visible, and I am looking forward to not having to constantly clean black muck from the inside of my nose.
Despite the almost intolerable pollution (to the westerner anyways), Kathmandu is definitely a city I recommend visiting just because it seems like a whole other world. Everywhere we look, there is something to see, something to capture a photo of, something to make your jaw drop, something that seems completely uncivilized to us but is the norm to the locals. No wonder I went through THREE camera batteries in just one day! If you are looking for a culture shock, this is definitely a place to be.
Another bus just overtook our bus when going around a bend. "Is this a one way road?" I ask Perry. The answer is no. Oh boy, we've got a long ride ahead of us! But as we drive on the windy mountains out of the Kathmandu Valley, it's already starting to look like a beautiful ride to Pokhara. Although with the swaying from side to side it feels more like a boat ride on choppy waters rather than a bus ride. I don't know what is louder: the frequent honking of the cars and buses that are overtaking us, or the constant loud screeching of our buses' breaks? The honking is not just a "beep beep" sound either. The horns have a somewhat musical sound which makes it quite comical rather than annoying. Each one is unique as well so they do not all sound the same. Even with the comical horns, this is still one of the scariest rides I have been on, but also one of the most beautiful.
We reach the Gorkha province and drive along the Tishuli River. As exhausted as I am, I don't want to fall asleep (Perry is already there) because there is so much to see. Farmers cultivating land, tons of cafe and fruit shacks on the side of the road, little villages with children running around, some playing a Nepali version of pool and others playing football (right next to the highway which is very narrow) or washing clothes or running across the road itself as buses, cars and motorcycles whizz by, women walking along the highway (some with large baskets on their backs), men carrying logs the Nepalese way (with a rope attached to their heads and taking some of the weight), clothes hanging on rooftops and on barbed wire along the road and basically from anywhere a rope can be tied to, a man running with a cow, rapids on the river with kayakers attempting to ride them, men loading logs onto an inflatable raft, people crossing the river via a suspension bridge, goats and dogs simultaneously roaming around the shacks and homes, a man making dust brooms out of straw, and just the stunning scenery itself is hard to take my eyes off of. I just want to ask the bus driver to stop so I can snap some photos! Don't think the rest of the passengers would be too impressed though. Perry is already unimpressed with me reaching over and snapping a photo every 5 seconds! I should have chosen the window seat! At least he is awake now and can witness this amazing setting.
Suddenly we come to a traffic jam. Bus loads of followers of the Hindu religion are being dropped off. There is a cable car that takes passengers up to the top of a mountain to a Hindu temple. This is a pilgrimage for them. As we wait for a cop to direct our bus, some men knock on the windows of the buses, including ours, in an attempt to sell us cucumbers and papadom style crisp bread. Very tempting but we have already eaten.
This area marks the halfway point on our journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
I find it difficult to resist turning my camera off and putting it away. We pass plenty of rice and wheat fields that look very beautiful with the mountains in the background. I see a bus ahead with passengers on TOP of it! I quickly stumble to the back of the bus to snap a photo from the window. There are four young Tibetan monks sitting back there. One is wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, one is wearing red Vans, one has a dog on his lap, another has his headphones on, and they all seem to have smartphones. They are about 18-20 years old. One starts a conversation with me and asks me where I am from. I tell him Canada and he get his phone out and shows me photos of the monastery they live in which also houses a guest house. It is in Pokhara. Then he shows me a photo of him in his Canada shirt that a volunteer brought him. He seems very excited to show me this.
We see a lot of straw huts in the area which seem to provide a shelter for the cows, goats and other animals. The scent of campfire fills the bus as locals burn compost. We pass along the Madi river which flows from the Annapurna mountain. Women and children are bathing themselves and washing their clothes and hair in the water. We soon stop for lunch. All the restaurans have signs that say "highway restaurant" and there are plenty of them. It begins to lightly rain but it feels almost tropical as it is quite warm. Over lunch, we find out that our trekking guide, Bijay, is into football. Perry and him will get along just great!
Following lunch, we continue our journey to Pokhara with about an hour and fifteen minutes to go. We continue passing through many wheat fields with lots of men and women working, and even cows ploughing the fields. One of the men operating the cow plough whips the cows with a stick. Poor cows. We feel as if we have gone back in time. As we pass by the children that are playing along the highway, they wave at the bus. Perry waves back.
This whole journey has felt like we have been watching a film. Our window is the screen and it has captivated our attention. We cannot take our eyes off the screen. It is not a film though, it is 100% real and we feel so lucky that we are here experiencing it. We wish we could bring everyone we know along with us to experience this. If you do get the chance, one thing is for sure, and the nearly 300 photos I have just captured on this one bus journey alone will agree, this is one bus journey you definitely do NOT want to fall asleep on!
We have now reached Pokhara in a lovely guest house that is 1,000 times better than the one in Kathmandu...and the best part: the tap water comes out clean, not brown!
Unfortunately it has started raining quite heavily but we are hoping it stops soon so that we can go explore the lakeside. If not, then this may be an evening to upload the photos from our trip thus far and just have a relaxing evening before we set off for our trek tomorrow! We still cannot believe the bus journey we went on today. Perry says his neck hurts because he just couldn't take his eyes off of the window. It seems like it was all a dream. Completely surreal! This trip is just getting started and we can't wait for more experiences like this!
Day two in Dubai we decided to head to the Aquaventure water park at the Atlantis Palm resort and we were so glad we did. We briefly explored the impressive hotel before making our way to the water park. The cue to get in was massive and therefore we were expecting the cues for all the slides to be massive as well but we were wrong. At most we had 5 people in front of us when waiting to go down a slide. Most slides we could just turn up and ride away without waiting in any line. This is because there is so much to do at the water park and its so big that everyone is spread out. In addition to the main slides, there are tons of little beach style areas with lounge chairs, there is a children's area with calmer slides, there is a "rapids" attraction where you float all around the park and pass through little rapids. We were brave and tried out the "Leap of Faith" which is basically a completely vertical slide and very scary! You end up going through an enclosed part of the shark tank as well. Lets just say we only had enough courage to go on that slide once. One of our favorites was the "shark attack" ride where you end up in an enclosed case in an aquarium and float through with all the fish swimming around. It was a very neat and unique idea. We tested out our new waterproof camera and got some fun photos as well!
This was our first "honeymoon" type activity that we did and it felt quite relaxing although I was getting quite nauseous near the end with all the being thrown around! We were really happy that we decided to spend a majority of the day here and thought it was worth every penny of the overpriced admission. It felt like the Disneyland of water parks.
We then went to Madinat Jumeirah which is this area near the water that is made to look traditional. It was next to the water with lots of nice restaurants and a traditional souk with merchants selling lots of souvenirs and clothing and so on. After browsing the restaurant menus, we found a nice Lebanese restaurant to sit down and have dinner. We chose to sit outside and as they sat us, another waiter from another restaurant in the area (we couldn't even see where the restaurant was) came over with a menu and said that the outside space is for all the restaurants to share and that we can choose from his restaurants menu as well. It was a very awkward and uncomfortable situation because we specifically liked the look of the menu (and prices) of the one we chose so we had no interest in eating from anywhere else. He seemed quite desperate. The waiter from the restaurant we chose came by to see if we were ready and the waiter from the other restaurant just stood right beside him and then started showing us every single page of his restaurant's menu to try and get us to pick something. He told us that they have "nachos, burgers, wings" and other foods we were not interested in. It was so uncomfortable and awkward and not a very pleasant dining experience because we felt a bit bad for rejecting him but we chose the restaurant we chose for a reason. Once he got lost, we started to enjoy the atmosphere. Our meals were MASSIVE and our bill came to something crazy like £12/$18! We couldn't believe how cheap it was especially considering the setting of being by the water and with a view of the Burj Al Arab (the famous 7 star hotel that is shaped like a sail) in the background. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
On our final full day, we decided to start off by taking it easy and lounged by the pool. We worked on our tans for a couple of hours (oh yes, life is tough) and then we got ready to go visit the world's tallest building: the Burj Khalifa. We were so glad we pre booked this before we even started our trip because all the time slots to go up were sold out for at least the next couple of days. This attraction is called "At The Top" and it takes you to the 124th floor of the building. The elevator shoots you straight up and really builds it up with dark and futuristic lighting. When the doors of the elevator opened and we got out on the 124th floor, our knees immediately stiffened and locked up. We were terrified and found it difficult to get ourselves to the edge of the windows but we got there in the end. The worst bit was the exterior part that had wooden beams on the floors that were bouncy and creaky and didn't feel safe at all. We got the views and photos we wanted from the exterior bit and then got the heck inside. We chose a perfect day to go up because it was very clear and you could see a lot of the famous buildings. We managed to capture a photo of me heel clicking as well!!
We then went back down to earth and wandered around Dubai Mall- the world's largest mall. We got some more cheesecake chocolates from Patchi and we tried these amazing buns called Papparoti which are basically a warm bun with a caramel and coffee flavor coating and a filling of butter that oozes out. It's so naughty but soooo good! So much for losing weight on this trip!!
We watched the very impressive Dubai fountains some more and then I got a call from Farhan whom I went to high school with. He currently resides in Dubai and we met up and went for a coffee. Crazy to think it has been pretty much 9 years since we have seen each other! But very cool to be meeting up on another side of the world!
Today we depart Dubai and arrive in Kathmandu. So we are basically going from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest. It will be a crazy culture shock and we can't wait! From hereon in, we will be slumming it. Lets just say our hotel in Kathmandu cost £3 a night. We will have to sleep with our mouths closed so no creepy crawlies find their way in!
As mentioned, Dubai has been an interesting city. The city itself is absolutely MASSIVE and then so is everything within it! The world's tallest building, the world's biggest mall, huge luxurious hotels...it's definitely not a place for backpackers (we got PLENTY of stares when we were traveling with our backpacks). But we did enjoy it and it felt like a "honeymoon" place to be in as we got some sun, some swimming, nice meals etc, relaxation. But it may as well have been Vegas, Florida, Beverly Hills or all 3 combined. All that is missing is a Cheesecake Factory...or so we thought!!! We researched it a bit late and realized there is one here, and not just any but the world's biggest (but of course). We are completely kicking ourselves for not researching this before we departed! But I guess the cheesecake flavor chocolates from Patchi satisfied our cheesecake cravings for the time being.
So now we are at Dubai airport, terminal 2, one of the dingiest terminals we have been in (besides maybe Heraklion!). Check in was an absolute nightmare with only ONE agent checking in TWO international flights with only 2.5 hours to go! They finally got some more staff on about half an hour after and for some reason we got pulled out of the middle of the cue and put in the beginning of a new one. We felt really bad bypassing everyone but I think it's because we had only backpacks and everyone in front of us (all Nepalese men), had massive amounts of luggage and cardboard boxes so we must have been easy to move?? We were starving so we were just happy to be checked in. We enjoyed one last sinful meal (which I wont mention what) and now Perry and I are becoming vegetarians for a majority of the remainder of the trip (even though I don't eat much meat as it is) and certainly for the rest of the week as we are doing a trek and want to be in tip top condition for it (ie, no diarrhea and upset stomachs!). So here is to city 3, country 3 of our honeymoon adventure and to no more meat for a while!