Our Trek Comes to a Close

Our second-to-last day of trekking was spent in Ghandruk village, the highest altitude we reached.  Ghandruk is a very cute little village, and it’s bigger than I expected.  The village and surrounding areas include around 6,000 people, which seems huge for an area where you only come across a handful of people.

Ghandruk has a great museum, and one of the best parts is the instructions on how to make Raksi, which is basically mountain homebrew.DSC00271

I am game for trying anything, but wine after a day of slogging up and down hills just never sounded very refreshing.  Trying Raksi is the absolute first thing I plan on doing the next time I go to Nepal.

Ghandruk has an enormous elementary school near where we were staying, and we could hear them for most of the afternoon.  They were marching and shouting into a microphone and seemed to be having the best time ever.  It reminded me of my grade school’s annual Field Day, where we did three-legged races and egg-on-a-spoon races and long jumps and just generally had a lot of fun.  Just as Karen and I were about to go exploring the town, the skies opened up.  It. Was. Pouring.  “Those poor kids,” I thought. “Their field day is ruined.”

Nope.

These kids continued to play for hours and hours in what I would have classified as hurricane-grade winds and rain.  Even after it had been going on for a couple of hours, we could still hear them screaming and laughing from the field as we sulked inside our lodge room at the rain which made us feel like we were no longer on holidays and instead back at home in Dublin.

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We woke up in Ghandruk around 5:30am to a parade through our lodge and monks who lived in the village playing music over loud speakers.  Maybe they don’t have a town rooster, or maybe this is just the benefit of having a monastery in your mountain village.  Either way, it caused great hilarity among the Finnish trekkers and their kids who were also in the lodge.  Karen and I were just relieved that for the next two days, we wouldn’t have to be awake before 6am. 

Trekking: to Landruk village

Our next few days of trekking involved all stone steps.  It’s not that I thought this was going to be an easy haul, but I seem to have invented in my head a more leisurely trot through dirt trails.  We were actually ascending and descending mountains from village to village, so I should have expected very steep climbs and drops. 

I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that the trails are covered in steps.  It’s probably easier to climb up them instead of the dirt trails which turn into unsteady, muddy ground after the evening rain.  Descending down them, however, before the sun has had a chance to dry them can be terrifying.  Our group is six people, and when I’m watching five people in front of me clamber down steep and wet stones, all I can think about is dominoes: one bad move and I’ll wipe out everyone on this trail!

But we don’t even have so much as a face plant in our group, which is truthfully both anti-climactic and awe-inspiring.  More awe-inspiring, though, are the views.  How could you ever tire of looking at this:

 

DSC00252 I couldn’t.

This trek has been a lot more fun because of the group that we have.  Obviously, Karen and I are incredibly fun, but we were lucky to be paired for a few days with a very nice couple from the UK as well as lovely guides and porters.  After three days, Gus and Jules from the UK took a different turn as we were departing Landruk village: they were heading to Annapurna Basecamp, while Karen and I were on a bit shorter trip.  We were sad to see them go, not just because they were fun to drink Everest Beer with at the end of the day, but because it is always fun to hear about other people’s trips and travels.  I’m looking forward to seeing their pictures on Facebook, primarily so that I can steal them for myself.

With just a couple of days left on our trek, we were starting to feel pretty good about our progress.  And then every so often, a porter would run by in flip-flops and jeans (it was usually around 35 degrees Celsius) carrying a 100 kilo table and enough food for 15 people, and our egos would get put solidly back into place.

Nepal Trip Q&A

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Gandruk Village: We’re on day three of our Annapurna trek, and it’s currently pouring and thundering outside, so it’s time to take a short break and reflect on some of the things we’ve done and seen so far.  I wrote a short quiz and had both of us fill it in blindly so we wouldn’t see each other’s answers.  Answers are as follows:

1) What is your favourite thing you’ve eaten so far?

Karen: veg noodles, tasty and full of energy for all the bloody steps in the Annapurnas… oh and the fact that they are non Delhi-belly inducing which is always good!

Martha: Yak cheese pizza maybe.  I also liked the momos a lot, very tasty.  I had a great South Indian dhosa (also with yak cheese) at Feed & Read, and Nandan Indian near Freak Street in Kathmandu was excellent too.  Basically, I haven’t been starving here, everything is wonderful.

2) What’s the best Nepalese beer?

Karen: Nepal Ice … but Everest tastes pretty damn good after a day of trekking – more research required

Although I have a strange marketing inspired desire for a San Miguel…

Martha: I’m still doing investigative research on this, but I liked Garung beer a lot.  Any beer tastes good after a tough day of trekking.

3) If you lived in the Annapurna hill villages, what would your job be?

Karen: Foot washer, I would make a killing and probably help to reduce the hole in the ozone layer!

Martha: Not a masseuse, I don’t think I’m creepy enough.  But I’d enjoy coming up with menus for Western hikers and cooking for them, because most people are so hungry when they get to a lodge that they’d eat anything.  So I could get creative and make things like “yak cheese bruschetta” or “millet burger marinated in Everest Beer”.

4) What souvenir[s] are you planning on bringing home with you?

Karen: A horn from one of the rickshaws made out of soap bottles that sounds like a duck getting run over, for my car, A yak

Martha: yak cheese, yak jerky, baby yaks.  Maybe a yeti.  And definitely some baby sherpas. 

5) What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve seen in Nepal?

Karen: The amazing range of sounds that Nepalese people can make while spitting, and the frequency with which they do it

Martha: On the bus back from Chitwan National Park, I saw a goat on top of a minivan.  I don’t know if they knew he was there, as he wasn’t tied on or anything.  He just looked like he was surfing and chillaxing as the minivan roared past our bus.  It was awesome.

6) What’s been the best part of the trek so far?

Karen: See point 5!

The view of the high peaks of the Himalayas as we walk, and the fact that they have gotten closer now, which means no more ascending

Martha: I get really excited about the breakfasts, and I also love the menus because the spelling is hilarious and awesome.  They have things like “prickles”, “cheeps” and “lassaniya,” and you can order “buff spring rolls” for dessert.  Oh and those views are pretty awesome, too.

7) What’s been your least favourite part of the trip?

Karen: Steps…steps and more steps… and smelly feet and beeping horns, and the fact that it is going by so quick

Martha: The smell of my backpack, the smell of my clothes, and the smell of my hiking boots and feet.  It’s pretty horrendous, so it’s a good thing Karen and I are very, very good friends.

8) What are you most looking forward to during the rest of the trip?

Karen: The trip to Lhasa and not being choked by the smell of our feet!

Martha: I can’t wait to try parahawking in Pokhara (paragliding with a hawk attached to your arm eating food from your hand at 2000 ft.  Yes it’s real.)  Also the flight to Lhasa will be amazing, really looking forward to that.

Trekking Day One

Any day that starts with you being told you’re going on a five-hour bus journey and ends with you having been on a bus for almost ten hours is a tough day.  At 6am this morning, Karen & I set out to begin our trek into the Annapurna hills.  We first had to take a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.  The five hours which doubled due to us being on a bus that seemed likely to break down any minute as well as mad traffic jams was actually not bad at all.  We definitely had some gorgeous scenery!

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We stopped once for a snack and once for lunch and finally rolled in to Pokhara a little after 4pm.  There, a taxi took us and our guide and porter further into the hills to start our trek.  We needed to move quickly as the trails aren’t lit and it was going to be dark before 6pm. 

It turns out we accidentally chose a stairmaster trek.  A couple of hours later, we had climbed rock stairs non-stop to get to the Dhampus village where we’re staying for the night.  Karen and I are both in decent enough shape, but this was definitely a tough climb.  I don’t know whether to be more nervous that this trek qualifies as a “family trek”, meaning it’s recommended for families with young children, or that we were both pleasantly optimistic about being able to handle a five-day trek no problem.   We’ll find out tomorrow, as I’m pretty sure my legs are going to be like concrete blocks after today.

The lodge is fantastic.  We were expecting very rough conditions, but we have a lovely ensuite (which is brand new; they’re doing construction work day and night out here to accommodate the trekkers and tourism) with hot showers.  When we arrived, they presented us with a menu to order our dinner.  It had everything from dal bhat to pizza.  And thankfully a few Everest beers as well for a hard day’s work.

Tomorrow is five hours of trekking to Landruk village, and I’m very excited about waking up as the views should be amazing in the morning!  This is just as we started today, so it’s only going to get better from here.

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Dublin to Nepal

First view of the Himalayas

It’s my third night in Nepal, and it’s all still a bit of a blur.  Actually the entire last week is quite a blur.  My last day in the office  was Friday.  I spent the next three days checking off to-do lists, packing, running errands and making phone calls.  Then it was a 5am trip to the airport for the first of three flights to get me to Kathmandu.

I can’t say too much about Kathmandu as I wasn’t there for long.  Long enough to grab some dumplings (mo mo) and an Everest beer and get a bit of sleep before an early, early bus to Chitwan National Park in the south of Nepal.

I’m staying in a town called Sauraha on the border of Chitwan.  Sauraha reminds me a lot of another jungle town I visited: Pucallpa.  While planning a trip to Peru, Lonely Planet Peru had me believing that Pucallpa a) had it going on, as far as jungle towns went and b) was the right place to catch a river boat through the jungle up to Iquitos, capital of the Elephant and Phanit, or elephant driverAmazon, ala Motorcycle Diaries.  Wrong on both counts.  But I liked it, quirky little small town that it was.  A big difference between Pucallpa and Sauraha is that in Sauraha, you’re guaranteed to see someone go by riding an elephant every few minutes.

Sauraha is a mixed bag.  It’s half full of regular villagers who go about their normal life not taking much notice of the tourists and half-full of those working to cater for tourists.  Activities offered daily include elephant rides, canoe trips, jungle walks, tiger treks, bird watching tours and lots more.  I arranged to stay in a lovely little lodge and told them my schedule and what I wanted to do.  They put together an excellent itinerary for me and have kept me very busy.  Almost too busy to notice that their wifi rarely works, but hey, it’s holidays right?  It’s good to unplug.

The first night we went to a cultural program showing the dance skills of the local Tharu men.  I’m always hesitant about these types of things.  It can sometimes be difficult to respectfully observe traditional displays without feeling like exploiting the culture somehow.  The dancers were excellent though, and they definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The food here has been very tasty, and I’m falling in love with their masala tea which they serve after meals.  Although I’m getting better at getting up at 5am, I have to admit I’m still not a huge fan of it.  However when the sun sets at 6pm and most of the day is scorching hot, you have to make the most of the daylight hours you have.  So 6am elephant ride, here I come.