Nepal had always been on my list, but not really near the top. Not for any particular reason mind you, it just wasn’t where I thought I would travel next. When the opportunity arose, I was hesitant at first to commit, possibly because the first iteration of the trip was to mountain bike through Nepal and though potentially enjoyable, not something I could realistically train for whilst living in Sydney (I found this out during Timor). Eventually I was able to organise my thoughts and say yes to what turned out to be a truly touching and enlightening experience. However, it didn’t start out that way.
The first day in Kathmandu had me on edge. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this trip. My flights over had landed me in quite a bit of motion sickness that the corkscrew landing into Tribhuvan International Airport didn’t help. Getting to the visa counter only to discover that the ATM at the airport didn’t work and the visa people weren’t going to take my card, despite their sign saying they would, was stressful. I later learnt that it wouldn’t have mattered if the ATM did work, as my credit card didn’t work in Nepal, they were having trouble with VISA for about a month so I was essentially stranded, cashless. Finally, getting my visa, after much exasperation on their behalf that I had no cash, simply led me to the barrage of people trying to get me into their taxi. One guy held a sign with my name, I went to him, he escorted me to the car, I assumed he was my driver, but no, he then demanded money for having gotten me to my car (a 10 second walk) after taking the sign with my name off my driver. I had none, but he had to look into my wallet to believe me and get out of the car so we could leave. The city was packed. We drove through dense and crazy traffic, not unlike that of Timor and Sri Lanka. I felt like I was in the major cities of those countries again, which were not my favourite experiences from those trips. I had a horrible sinking feeling that this was not the trip for me.
Walking around Kathmandu to get things organised for the trek wasn’t too bad. The food was nice, I was already annoyed at people constantly asking you to look at their goods, but this wasn’t unexpected. I possibly needed a bit more sleep. I wasn’t looking forward to the bus ride to Pokhara, 7 hours on windy roads. I’d discussed this at length with Hol before going; she wasn’t comfortable flying to Pokhara, and in the end I decided that I was there to travel with her, that the bus would be an experience in itself, and hopefully with some motion sickness tablets and an open window I wouldn’t get car sick. Thankfully I didn’t. I felt terrible for being such a lame travelling companion for those 7 hours, but at least I didn’t throw up on her!
Pokhara was a breath of fresh air. I had heard it was more relaxed and immediately upon arrival you could feel it. Our hotel was fantastic; basic amenities, but the owners were simply wonderful (and they had a lovely dog for some quality pet time). We decided to warm our legs in the lead up to the trek by climbing the mountain to the World Peace Pagoda. After catching a boat across the lake, we started the climb and the sweat immediately started pouring down our backs. I started to think that the trek was going to be tougher than I expected. It was hot, it was challenging, it was humid; but as with every day of the trek, the view was beautiful. We took our photos, had a cold soda, and then started walking down the back of the mountain on the look out for Devi’s Falls, a waterfall Raj from the hotel had recommended we visit. On the way down we ran into a man herding his goats. He told us he knew a better way to the waterfall and to go with him. Now, ordinarily this sounds like the beginning to a horror movie where innocent girls follow some man down a mountain path and he then murders them, however, we did think about our decision (well, I know I did). I quickly assessed the situation and deemed it safe for Hol and I to join this guy with his goats; he was smaller than us, we are very fit and strong women, we’d been in a somewhat similar situation in Timor, he was moving his goats so unlikely he was going to just leave them to harass us, and he just came across as pretty genuine and nice. Turns out, he was. He did a little bit fall in love with me in that half hour of walking through the forest, but he showed us exactly where to go and even though it was slightly longer than taking the road, it was cooler, completely undercover, and much more beautiful. Plus, it was nice to have an insight into just an average dude moving his livestock around, an everyday event that was made a little more exciting when 2 foreign girls joined him.
Preparing for the trek, I culled quite a few things from my pack; I wanted to be as light as possible after the introductory climb to the pagoda. In the end I used everything I took with me (apart from first aid equipment!) and felt I wasn’t missing anything. In the taxi out to Naya Pul I wasn’t so sure of this. I also was a little concerned that I’d bitten off more than I could chew by saying yes to yet another crazy adventure with Hol; we were going on a 6 day trek, was I really prepared? I tried to hide my nerves as much as possible. When Hol handed me the map and it turned out I was our guide, well, I kept telling myself it would be fine because I would just keep asking for help from people until someone showed us the way. Thankfully, you really didn’t need the map.
The first day was tough. Open roads in the baking sun to start with, that led to never ending stairs to Ulleri. It was not at all what I expected. Don’t take that to mean I didn’t enjoy it, but it was a tough opener and the terrain was a complete surprise. I couldn’t keep the grin from my face as we crossed suspension bridges, saw peace flags flying delicately above gorgeous waterfalls, and began to get a very shallow appreciation of life in this area. I was shocked when a train of horses came up behind us on a bridge, laden with goods, and yet how else would you get things you need up the mountain to your place?! I was relieved to see that the horses were just as pooped climbing the stairs as me, some needing a bit more encouragement than others to keep climbing.
The final steps were sweet. Climbing into Ulleri it is clear the tea houses know you don’t want to keep walking; all the signs tell you the distance to the tea house in time – Curious Camels Tea House, 35 seconds this way. Decision made. It was about lunch time, we sat, we ate some of our supplies (notably pringles), we stretched, and took in the view. We both felt uplifted and surprised at the intensity of the day; the guidebooks hadn’t really given us good warning about it. We began our routine of cards, masala tea and awkward positions to stretch our legs.
During the night, a storm hit. Independently, Hol and I both awoke to survey the deluge of rain, both of us briefly considering the possibility of a landslide, and before panic could truly set in, fell promptly asleep. There was also an incident with a moth that landed on Hol’s face, and in our tired and probably delusional stupor, I locked the moth in the bathroom so we could go back to sleep. It was an interesting night.
The next day I felt surprisingly refreshed. I was sure my legs would hurt, I would have terrible DOMs, but no, I felt pretty great. We were travelling from Ulleri to Ghorepani today. I checked the map, talked us a bit through what kind of terrain we would be expecting (more stairs, but apparently not quite as many stairs), and we were off.
One of the truly great things about travelling with Hol is that we give each other space. We don’t walk together, which was a blessing on this trip. This allowed me to truly immerse myself in my surrounds, to feel like I was hiking solo without actually having to do so. We would meet up at towns along the way, stop together after a couple of hours for a snack or a masala tea if we were in a village. I would stop anywhere I felt needed directions to ensure neither of us got lost, or if I found something cool or weird to look at. It really allowed us to have our own experiences and yet still share the experience together. I am so thankful for that.
Ghorepani snuck up on us. I thought we had another hour or 2 to go when we walked beneath the sign welcoming us. We found a place to stay, ordered some lunch, and got into our routine.
The following morning was a big day. The original plan was to hike up to Poon Hill for sunrise and then take a rest day in Ghorepani. We were both feeling great and thought that we may as well make hay whilst the sun shines and head on to Tadapani after sunrise. We woke before the sun and made our way through the town to start the climb. This was when I realised that if I don’t have breakfast before climbing stairs, I struggle. The view from the top was gorgeous, yet the crowds weren’t so much. To be honest, the sunrise I got to share with some new friends in Tadapani the following morning was much more serene and meaningful than this one, yet it was picturesque. We made our way back down, shovelled in some breakfast and were out the door by about 8am.
After 2 days of walking, I didn’t think Nepal could surprise me, but yet again, it did. The views as we walked along the ridge line, the dense, moist, rainforest and hundreds of waterfalls we crossed, the people coming and going, tourists, porters, guides, locals, the moments of being alone in a completely magical and uplifting wild space; I was lost in the wilderness and felt my heart pounding, my lungs opening, my whole soul lifting itself. I truly can’t explain how this day made me feel, but no matter how long we walked for, how hard it was, how many steps there were, I did not feel tired; my soul was energised.
In Tadapani we got a closer look at the relationships between men and women. Nepal had been unlike Timor and Sri Lanka in how men and women behaved; they were equals, women were not quiet, submissive; they were loud, present, strong. I think it could be related to the environment; women were just as likely as men to be the ones hauling things up the mountains, moving animals to different feeds. It’s undeniable the lifestyle is one of hard work, and that’s hard work regardless of gender, so people simply got in and got it done, my kind of people.
The next day we decided to walk to Ghandruk, the idea being we would stay the night there and then head to Naya Pul the next morning. When we arrived though, we felt fantastic. Instead, we had some tea at a lovely little bakery (of sorts) and continued through to Naya Pul. This made for an epic day of about 7 hours of trekking (the second 7 hour day, in a row). The countryside changed immensely. We left the beautiful and serene rainforest and you could clearly see the towns were more and more connected. A road comes up to the stairs beneath Ghandruk and the influence can be seen. I was glad we decided to walk from Ghandruk to Naya Pul that day, as making that a whole day of it’s own wouldn’t have been as enjoyable; the majority of the walk, though beside a raging river and surrounded with tall waterfalls, was on an open dirt road with little shade and lots of vehicles coming and going.
Overall, the trek was incredible. We turned 6 days into a 4, and headed back to town so completely refreshed within. I was so proud of our strength, our bravery, and again had impressed myself with just how fit and capable I am. It was a challenge, but completely within my reach. I had been struggling with a bit of depression before I left for Nepal and this trek, this opportunity to push my body and experience some incredible natural scenes really uplifted me. I have no words to truly describe the impact this trip had, but I am sincerely thankful that Hol asked me to join her.
I loved the surprises of Nepal. I loved the wilderness, that I could safely get lost in my own thoughts and not feel like I had to be on edge about who I may encounter. There were some negative experiences with some individuals, but not anywhere near the scale of what I have experienced in other countries, including Australia. I loved the food; I was told I don’t eat enough to be able to eat Nepalese food, but I still loved it, so much so I’m on the hunt for a delicious dal recipe to fulfil my needs.
I didn’t love the pollution. Not uncommon on my travels, and seemingly especially common in countries who are still developing, there is a lot of pollution around. I was hopeful that those who visit Nepal to trek take their rubbish with them, but alas a visit to the International Mountain Museum showed the scale of crap people take up the mountain but don’t take down. Even on our short walk I felt I should take my rubbish with me back to Pokhara because where else will it end up? I’ve carried it up the mountain, should I really just leave it there for the village people to deal with when either someone has to carry it down, or burn it, or just chuck it out somewhere? I know that in Pokhara it is just as likely to end up burnt and not dealt with properly, but it felt important to be taking the strain off these remote communities.
I’d go back, and if I did, I’d want to go back in a similar capacity; as in, I can hike freely of my travel companion and rejoin them after time alone. I want more of these kinds of adventures, testing my body and freeing my mind. I often write something up about my trips overseas and I try to be succinct. I think it’s clear from the length of this one that Nepal really struck a cord with me. Namaste.