Arriving in Nepal was a draining experience as we had to deal with getting a Visa upon arrival and it was such a slow process and we were at the middle of the line. After a painful hour plus, we made it through and had a ride waiting for us. What we didn`t know was we were arriving right at festival time and it took us almost 2 hours to get from the airport to our hotel in the traffic (and it should have taken 15 minutes). The good news is we met a nice girl from California (of course she was nice!) and she had been to Nepal a few times and was helpful with some things to do. The best part about our drive – there really wasn`t any honking, so it was more peaceful!
We planned to spend the night in Kathmandu and then fly out early the next morning for Pokhara (pronounced Pok-ra not Pokahara like the Indian). We quickly remembered we are not in a developed country when we walked into the domestic airport.
Let me describe the scene as UTTER CHAOS
– meaning so many people everywhere and no signs as to where to go.
– huge boxes, bags, suitcases just left all over the floor (with no one by them owning them). This made it really difficult to wheel our bags anywhere to try to check in
– we knew we had to pay a departure tax. But where do you pay??? There were no signs, no one to ask and it was confusing
– everyone was trying to move around, shove us and anyone else in their way
-basically no order for an airport, no ID check ANYWHERE. No name on my ticket or boarding pass, just a flight number. I could have given my boarding pass to anyone and they could have boarded the plane. Crazy!
It really was kinda funny. We found out ticket counter, and I asked a tourist if he paid the tax and where so that was easy to take care of. After I paid this, I returned to the check in line where Debbie was waiting and started to move our bags forward. I just found an open place to move to and did and she said there were others in front of us. I thought they were a trekking group and were all trying to check in together, so I was going around them to the other ticket guy. I didn`t care as there was no order to any lines and I just wanted to get us checked in and figured if everyone else is pushing and moving forward, so would we.
We almost lost our marbles once we got through security. There was a huge waiting room (mostly of trekking tourists) and every every flight left within 5-10 minutes of each other to almost the same cities. I think there were 6 flights to our city within the hour we were waiting, all on different small airlines. Only problem was there were no signs as to what flight was leaving and from where. TV screens kept saying the flight numbers and departure times, but we had to sit at the front of the door (to the runway) and ask the ticket taker every time a group rushed to the departure gate to see if it was our flight. We ended leaving 30 minutes later, but as you can imagine, every 5 minutes, we had to keep asking if that was our flight so we didn`t miss it (and every other tourist was doing the same thing). Utter chaos.
Once on the flight to Pokhara, it was a beautiful and scenic flight over snow capped mountains and then funny part was, we landed on time. Guess they figure all flights were late and this system works in Nepal. Debbie and I had to agree, it was just exhausting and stressful trying to figure out when we were leaving.
One of the main reasons we came to Nepal was to go trekking. Debbie and I had a great time in Peru two years ago and wanted to go see the majestic mountains of Nepal. Only problem was I hurt my back a few months back and have been having trouble walking with a siactic nerve problem, so I knew I would not be able to trek for a long 4 day trip as we planned. So Debbie and I talked with the trekking company and found a way to do a modified trek as we still both wanted to do what we could. The best part of the trek was the company we used. My friend Michelle had a friend that used the “3 Sisters Adventures” and recommended them. After reading all about the company and the mission, we knew we wanted to use them as well. I would recommend this company to anyone (http://www.3sistersadventure.com/) Pokhara also seemed like the best place to trek (since we weren`t ready for Mt. Everest!)
You can read more about their story and why they created this trekking company as a way to teach, train and empower Nepalese women. The company really is changing the lives of women and it was something Debbie and I wanted to support (http://www.3sistersadventure.com/Herstory/)
As we wanted to get settled in Pokhara, the first thing we loved was our guest house. It was located right on the lake and was such a peaceful setting. There was no better way to relax. We spent our first day seeing the sights of Pokhara including a few temples, rushing river gorge, hiked up a steep staircase to find the Karma Monastery (which monks praying and studying inside), visiting the International mountaineer museum (where we learned all about the history of trekking, Mt. Everest and other high mountains and more fun things). I was even able to climb a mock version of Mt. Everest as that is as close as I will ever get to Everest as I have no desire to ever climb it!
We rounded out our sightseeing day at Devils Falls. It was a powerful waterfall that legend says a woman went to take a bath by the falls and was swept away by the force and her boyfriend drowned as well trying to save her. Debbie and I both looked at the waterfall and thought, “how stupid to try to take a bath here – you are asking for trouble”. We also walked down a deep bat cave to get another glimpse of the backside of the falls, which was pretty cool as water was dripping on us as we walked down the cave.
Our first night in Pokhara, we went out to dinner and chose a traditional restaurant with Nepalese music and dancing. No, I didn`t get up and dance at this location as there wasn`t a chance to. We just sat back and enjoyed the show and had some traditional food. It was really quite good with lentils soup, spicy curries, spicy vegetables and other treats. Way too much food, but great to try it all.
We started our trek off with our guide, Bina (21 years old), and our porter, Gage (17 years old). They were both so cute and came from small towns and went through the 3 sisters training program that is 6 months or more if needed. Bina has been guiding for a year and her English was good. Gage had just started and we were her first trek with tourists. She didn`t speak much English, but was able to understand a lot. So up we climbed and the views we had were amazing. Snow capped mountains to one side, the lake below, hills all around us and as we were climbing, there were about 20 para gliders that were jumping off right before our eyes and we were able to watch them sail for the next couple hours as the wind conditions were perfect and they kept catching more up currents.
Watching the sunset was great as it was cloudy but the sun was still able to shine through. A local man started talking to us as we were watching, and our first thought was, “on no…we don`t want to be bothered to buy anything and just wanted to enjoy the moment.”. Then we realized he just wanted to talk. He was a guide as well, and wanted to practice his English with us, which was a lot of fun. We have enjoyed talking with the locals that want to talk and learn.
Debbie and I were going to stay in a “tea house”. We really didn`t know what this was, except tea houses were dotted all along the trek trails and you were sleeping in someones house and they cooked us all our meals. It ended up being a great experience and was much nicer than we expected (and much more reasonable than the hotels down in town).
The next morning, we started off at 5:30 in the morning so we could see the sunrise as this was the highlight for the location. We hiked further up and were lucky to have clear conditions to see the sun come up over the mountains and watch the colors change from white, to pink to yellow. Well worth the early wake up call.
The rest of our trek continued after breakfast. We were expecting 4 hours, but then our guide said we should be there in 2 hours. We were both surprised, but thought maybe we were walking faster than others and it would be shorter. Ha! After the 2 hours, she said it would be another hour. Then when that hour was up, she said it was another 5 km (or 3 miles which I knew would be about another hour). Normally, I wouldn`t have cared, but my legs were hurting so much from the nerve pain, I was just dying. Debbie said she watched my face drop when I heard 5 km more.
All in all, we trekked for 3.5 hours and it was worth it. We walked between villages, and farms and got to really see how people live outside of cities. I got to see rice fields and how rice really grows in the mountains which I liked as rice is such a staple to the Nepalese diet. We got to see children playing and having competitions with neighbors (to see who could yell “Hello” to us louder). It was really sweet! We even had some kids come up to us to ask if we could read English, and then they gave us a piece of paper that said something about needing a sports center and asking us for money. We quickly learned not to read these again as it was their way to make money and scam us!
So overall, the trek was amazing, wish I could have done more, but I hope to return to Nepal in the future. It would be a great family vacation (for all my friends that couldn`t meet me to travel due to small kids – consider this place when they are a little older!)
Kathmandu – October 4th & 5th
Back to Kathmandu for two days of city sightseeing. We decided to take our two days slowly and see what we wanted to (and not get roped into any full day tours.). I just couldn`t imagine going all over town to see it all in a day or sitting in a car for 10 hours. So Debbie and I set out to see:
-Bodhnath Stupa – this is the oldest stupa and quite a religious place. Looking up at it, I loved seeing the eyes at the very top. Also, all along the base, there were wheels that locals would walk by and turn for good luck and the ladies had to turn every single one.
–Largest Hindu temple – As we were walking from Bodhnath to this temple, we met Raul. He was a local (well from India, but living in Kathmandu). He offered to walk us the 30 minutes to the Hindu temple, and we said no thanks (as we didn`t want a guide or have to feel like tipping him). Everyone wants a tip for everything in India and Nepal (guess it`s so poor – every bit helps). He said he wasn`t a guide and didn`t want a tip, just wanted to practice his English, which was ok and we just kept walking on the path with lots of people. We figured, no harm if he was nice and there was no danger. Soon his friend Raju joined us and also wanted to talk. He kept telling me I looked like some Indian movie star, then said I looked like a Dutch person as I was so tall and strong looking. It made me giggle. They were both nice, and ended up being the best guides we could have. They told us a lot about what we were seeing and explaining the traditions we witnessed. We ended up staying with them for 3 hours and learned a lot about the Hindu temple we went to, the wild monkeys that were everywhere and then about death in the Hindu religion.
We watched a father who just died at the hospital by the river get prepared for his cremation with the family traditions such as wrapping of the body (we saw him from just in a cloth around his waist to fully dressed and covered in orange cloth from the family). The whole process took about 90 minutes with many prayers, offerings to the body, walks around the body by the family and about 60 family members taking some action in the ceremony. Then it was time to carry the draped body to the burning platform. Here, all the bodies were burned and later (about 6-8 hours), the family came back to collect the bones to keep and the ashes were swept into the river. There was so much ash in the air, the smells were very strong, but it was something very different to see and I`m glad we stayed to witness the whole ceremony to burning.
As all the burnings were happening along the river, this was very disturbing. We saw garbage floating in it, saw animals standing and bathing in the it, locals washing their hair and bodies, washing clothes, kids playing and then all the cremation ashes were pushed into it. Then Debbie saw locals drinking this water. Basically whatever you thought would be in the water was, and then locals drank it. Watching this ceremony was very moving to see how much care was taken for the deceased by the whole family.
We ended our day with a massage. Funny part with this as I have never had a massage with SO MUCH OIL. It was actually too much and the sheet I was laying on was drenched in oil when she was done. They also use a different technique where they clap your skin together, so with all the oil, they were constantly clapping more oil on us with each stroke.
The next day, we finished our time in Nepal by going to Durbar Square. We took a chance with our life and took a pedi-rickshaw there. There was so much traffic that we didn`t really go too fast, but it would be so easy to get in an accident as no one follows any rules on the tiny roads. The roads look like one car can fit, but somehow they get two, and a few times, our drivers have had to get our of the car to move a moter cycle that is parked in the way. They just pick it up and move it. It was a very bumpy road, but our little old man that peddled was cute and got us there.
Once we got into the square, I think we have had enough of the locals. We were stopped every few steps and asked to buy something or if we needed a guide or if we wanted to take a locals photos (and pay them for it). If we stopped to read about the square, people kept coming up to us and it got so annoying. It made us not want to look at anything. I finally saw one temple that we could climb up and no one was there, so we were able to take in the scene and look around. This square had some amazing architecture, beautiful temples, and they were all dressed in red and cold hangings for the festival, so that was fun. We found a colorful Goddess that makes you tell the truth, so we had to look at that to make sure we are always truthful!
All in all, Nepal is a wonderful country, with some of the nicest people we met (minus all the annoying people that just want to make a rupee off us). It`s really some place I would want to come back to in the future.
Off to Bangkok tomorrow!
This trekking company was amazing. The company teaches, trains and empowers Nepalese women through employment. The company really is changing the lives of women and it was something Debbie and I wanted to support (http://www.3sistersadventure.com/Herstory/)