Miracles DO happen

I never thought I would be saying this, but I went trekking. I am definitely not, what one might call, an outdoorsy person, so for me to have gone trekking is a big deal. Not only that, mind you. I have several big fears in life (petty if you wish): mice and rats, snakes, leeches, and sharing a bathroom with strangers. Needless to say, all of these were a real possibility on this trek. Luckily, I bravely faced my fears and survived, and I am here alive and kickin’ bringing you this incredible story from the foothills of the Himalayas. What? I like a bit of drama.

The perilous journey into the unknown began in a travel agency in Pokhara. Not so dramatic. Mr. B and I walked in saying we only have 3 nights 4 days for a trek, and we needed help in making it happen. There was pretty much no choice – it was going to have to be Poon Hill trek. Before I could back out, I was stuffed in a jeep and taken up some pretty steep and bumpy road (more like a goat path) to where the road, quite literally, ends. There was no turning back at that point. The only way was up, and on foot. Our guide, Keebal, in his efforts to motivate me, showed me our final destination for the day, uphill. It was not motivational. He might as well have pointed to Mars, that’s how far it seemed. I took a deep breath and started up the stairs. I gladly replayed Mr.B’s words in my head: one foot in front of the other, as we climbed 3380 steps (or some crazy number like that – I was delirious so don’t remember precisely) up to the village of Ulleri. Not sure how, but after many gruelling hours of walking, we reached our guesthouse. Clean and simple, but with a shared bathroom! Luckily, we were the only guests so we had it to ourselves. Not much sleep had been slept that night. The house is made of plywood and thin metal sheets. Whenever someone walked in the house, the whole establishment was swaying. Not a good feeling after having been through an earthquake. There was also an old demented grandma in the house who walked around all night knocking on people’s doors and producing ghost-like sounds. I was terrified. At that point, I think I would have preferred a mouse in the room.

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Swollen-faced and tired, we continued our walk the following day. Although I was promised the stairs ended when we reached Ulleri, I came to find out that was a false promise, and those darn stairs will be making a reappearance multiple times during the trek. In fact, by the end of day 2 I stopped believing anything Keebal was saying, as I realised he will say whatever I want to hear to keep me moving. In retrospect, he was a great guide. Day 2 was fairly uneventful as we walked for about 4-5 hours mostly through the jungle. Again, I was promised there were no leeches. Thankfully, that promise was true. Tired and hungry we reached Ghorepani, a fairly large settlement with a large number of guesthouses, and some pretty spectacular views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. Our guesthouse was quite nice (with an attached bathroom and hot shower!), so we spent the rest of the day sitting by the fire, looking at the most amazing view out the window. Come 5 am, we were up and ready for our climb to the highest point on the trek, Poon Hill. It was dark, cold, and steep, and hard trek is an understatement. I barely made it to the top. Half way through I was gasping for air as the thoughts of altitude sickness went through my mind. Determined to make it to the top, we kept on going, and lo and behold, we reached the top as others were already climbing down. We missed the sunrise, but whatever, we made it! It wasn’t as spectacular anyways. It was cold, windy and dusty, and after spending full 5 minutes up there, we headed back to our guesthouse for a well-deserved breakfast.

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Days 3 and 4 were mostly downhill, for which I was incredibly thankful. We’ve seen some stunning views of the mountains through the forests of red and pink rhododendron. Those views made the climb worth it. Day 3 guesthouse in Tadapani was the worst though. Thin sheets of plywood kept no secrets between the rooms, and throughout the night I was hearing, well, how gassy some people are. To make the matters worse, there was only one toilet, meant to be shared amongst about 30 people. Talk about my nightmare coming true. But, the important thing is, I survived, and coming down the hill that last day, I was literally jumping and skipping with joy, thinking of our comfy room in Pokhara, a hot shower, and some spa treatments I had lined up. I mean, I deserved it, no?

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In retrospect, I really enjoyed the trek, although it did not feel that way as it was happening. I faced some of my worst fears (none of which actually materialised, except the bathroom thing), and I also learned some important life skills, like using the squatty potty. All in all, something I could possibly do again. Definitely with Keebal as a guide so he can lie to me about everything from beginning to the end.

 

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Nepali roads, mountains, elephants and mice

When winter hits Kathmandu, the last thing you want to do is stick around in the freezing cold. So this winter Mr.B and I decided to do a road trip around Nepal with friends. We thought it would be fun (and it was). We thought driving through Nepal would be awesome (and it wasn’t).

We started off in Kathmandu, obviously, that’s where we live, and then made our way to Pokhara. Road to Pokhara can be a bit scary if you’re on it for the first time, and if you’re coming from a country where roads are wide, straight and divided into lanes. You see, this road is called “the highway”, but don’t be fooled – the only reason for that is that it’s really high up. It’s literally a high way. Other than that, there’s nothing highway-like about it. It’s narrow, filled with potholes and very winding. However, it is sadly one of the best roads in Nepal, outside of Kathmandu. The drive to Pokhara is about 210 kilometers, and in a private vehicle, it usually takes 5-6 hours. I’ve heard that on a bus it can take up to 12 hours. Gasp! The views are nice so I suppose you can enjoy that, and there are plenty of rest stops where you can utilize the squatty potty and buy some water and snacks. Arriving to Pokhara is bumpy, to say the least. The road is wavy and by the time you reach your hotel you are frantically checking whether your kidneys are in place. Although, the view that was waiting for us in Pokhara made up for the whole excruciating drive. I mean, the mountains were spectacular. There is no photo in this world that could describe how close and majestic mountains are. Yes, photos always looks nice, this and that, but seriously, seeing it up close, with peaks higher than the clouds is an indescribable feeling.

Just speechless.

Just speechless.

Pokhara is a fun place if you like to party and hang out in bars and restaurants. There are about a million of those. Well, not exactly a million, but you get my drift.

Lakeside if the happening place

Lakeside is the happening place

We had our share of fun for a couple of days and then in the car again it was. We were driving from Pokhara to Lumbini via Tansen. It would be a special experience, we thought. It would be something different, we thought. And it was. And not in a good way. The distance between the two is about 160 kilometers. Not a big deal, you’d think. It took us 7 hours. Yes, 7 full hours. It was probably the most winding road I’ve ever been on, giving you a roller coaster experience. I felt so sorry for the people on buses that we passed on the road because they must’ve been having an awful time. It was fun driving through small villages, through gorges and canyons.

Good place for a nature call

Good place for a nature call

It was just something different. Though, fun ended when bladders went into overdrive and there were no bathrooms in sight. We stopped several time for a bathroom break and it was always at the bushiest part of the road where we could be hidden from traffic and villagers. I was happy it was winter time knowing that snakes are probably asleep. Anyhow, reaching Tarai, lowlands of Nepal where Lumbini is situated is like entering a new realm. Suddenly mountains and hills become flat lands extending as far as you can see. A sight I never thought possible in Nepal. It was quite refreshing. And you know what, everyone rides a bicycle in Tarai. So fun!

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Loved the bicycles!

Loved the bicycles!

One advice I can give you if you ever find yourself in Tarai, heading for Lumbini – don’t trust your GPS. That lady might have a seducing voice, but she will lead you in some pretty shady areas, trust me. We ended up on a terrible dirt road for about 20 kilometers with nothing but flat land in sight and many extremely poor villages. That sight was so shocking for me. Such poverty I never thought I would witness with my own eyes. People living in mud huts, without anything, literally. It’s something I cannot get out of my head since then. Finally, though, after a long bumpy ride we reached our hotel. We were exhausted, and the place was kind of depressing, so we didn’t really care that dinner was pretty miserable and that we had to change our bed sheets ourselves because reception was too busy. We just wanted to sleep. The next day we took a rickshaw ride around Lumbini Development Trust to see different temples and the birthplace of Buddha. Piece of advice, Sri Lankan temple is not really worth seeing. There’s hardly anything there and I found it ridiculous that we had to take off our shoes when the whole temple was terribly dirty. Maybe they do it so we clean it with our socks!?

Anyhow, rickshaw ride was fun, but looking at the skinny guy driving our rickshaw, working really hard, made me sad. All I could think of was whether he lived in one of those mud huts we passed yesterday. I wanted to give him 10 000 Rupees for a two hour tour. My review of Lumbini: not a place I would go back to. Unless you are a devoted buddhist, there’s not much to do there. The place is kind of depressing, and quite boring. We left in less than 20 hours since arrival.

Off to Chitwan we went. I think we were all the most excited about that part of our roadtrip. The road from Lumbini to Chitwan was straightforward and straight. It was a really lovely wide road, and we all enjoyed the road and views.

On the way to Chitwan

On the way to Chitwan

Until we got off the main road to reach our jungle resort. It was back to the dirt and we all wondered whether our car can handle all the terrible roads it’s been on since we started our trip. It did survive and we reached our final destination. Our resort was wonderful. It was right by the river, in a jungle. Nothing and no one in sight. It was absolutely lovely. Until the mouse incident, that is. We were given rooms in straw roof bungalows, and when Mr.B. and I got into our box-sized room, there was a mouse sitting leisurely on the curtain. The outdoorsy and fearless person that I am (NOT), I began hyperventilating as an intro to my panic attack. Somehow I managed to run outside and wait while the resort staff, with lots of giggles, took care of the mouse situation. That night, I did not sleep. It was a night straight from hell as I waited for mice to flock into our room from all possible crevasses. Of course, such grim scenario did not happen, but just to be on the safe side, we switched rooms the next morning. This time, no straw roof for us. The rest of the stay was just awesome. Elephant ride, canoe ride, jungle safari… it was perfect.

We saw rhinos up close

We saw rhinos up close

We made friends with deer

We made friends with deer

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

Before we could say hippopotamus, it was time to drive back to Kathmandu. That drive was completely uneventful. It rained, on a terribly winding and narrow road filled with buses and trucks. You know, the usual Nepali traffic. But we made it to Kathmandu safely filled with emotions, experiences, and impressions. Good road trip. Would definitely recommend, but make sure you take an SUV if you plan on driving. It will save your kidneys.

Too beautiful for words

I intended this post to be a hymn to Nepal. One of those posts where I would beautifully and with many poetic and romantic words describe absolutely best places in Nepal that everyone has to visit in a liftime. The truth is I was too lazy to do a lot of research and come up with a whole bunch of educated and informative details on Nepal and its beautiful sites. Maybe I’ll do that some other time. For now, I leave you with some of the great shots I took during my previous trips.

Patan

Patan

Patan

Patan

Pokhara, on the lake

Pokhara, on the lake

Pokhara

Pokhara

On the way to Pokhara

On the way to Pokhara

On the way to Pokhara

On the way to Pokhara

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Durbar Square Kathmandu

Durbar Square Kathmandu

Boudhanath

Things you probably shouldn’t do when in Nepal

1. Eat from a roadside stand

This is a big no-no for me. I understand there are adventurous people who like to try everything, but for me adventure doesn’t really entail getting violently sick while touring Swayambhunath temple and desperately looking for a bathroom while monkeys eye me suspiciously. No matter how inviting those snacks might look, I strongly suggest to pass it up. (tip: don’t try to pet the monkeys while at Swayambhunath – it probably won’t end well, for you)

2. Ride on top of the public bus

When I went to Pokhara I saw this tourist ride on top of the bus heading the same way. The road to Pokhara is a winding 200 km road where trucks stop for no one and nothing. Buses as well. They drive like crazy and not rarely does a bus fly across the cliff and into the river. Riding those buses is a lottery, and riding on the roof of those buses is a suicide, at least for a tourist. Poor girl I saw on top of that bus to Pokhara looked so pale, holding onto her dear life probably thinking “what the hell did I get myself into!?”. I bet she kissed the ground when she finally got off 4 hours later. You don’t wanna do that to yourself.

3. Try to blend in

Let’s face it, unless you’re Indian, you’re probably never ever going to be able to blend in. You can learn Nepali, wear a saree, hop on the bike sitting sideways (if you’re a girl) in your flip-flops in the middle of December, but if you’re white, all your efforts are in vain. You will always stick out like a sore thumb, shining bright in the Nepali sun. And everyone will stare at you. Openly. And you’ll feel awkward. Until you decide to wave to people staring at you. Then they’ll feel awkward. Not that I’ve done that or anything.

4. Get frustrated with traffic

There is just no point. Traffic in Nepal is crazy and don’t try to understand it, or even worse correct it. I honestly think Nepalis enjoy the chaos of traffic in Kathmandu (minus Mr.B. who hates it beyond reason). Most of the time traffic gets so congested and people get so frustrated that only an army guy can settle problems. I found traffic police to be totally useless there. The most annoying thing is how people form gazillion lanes making the traffic even more congested.

Yup, traffic in K-city

Yup, traffic in K-city

5. Assume you’ll be able to eat toast in the morning

One of the great perks of living in Nepal, is having to deal with load shedding. Oh, the infamous load shedding. Be prepared for lots of quiet time sitting in the dark hoping you get sleepy soon. If there’s electricity do everything you possibly can that requires electricity at that time and don’t leave anything for later because the chances of you not being able to have toast for breakfast are high. You better be a fan of cereal with cold milk.

6. Force Nepalis to show up on time

It’s simply not happening. They all operate on Nepali time which is about 45 minutes behind the real time. So don’t expect your friends in Nepal to be there at the exact scheduled time. Well, actually, they are showing up on time, it’s you who’s early. Don’t fret over it because you might as well lose your mind soon. Grab a book and read or just do some good old people watching. Wave to everyone who stares at you. Help the army guy sort out the traffic jam. Or not.