Magical Nepal

I’d visited Nepal previously in 2012 so I knew exactly what I was getting into when I planned my second trip to this wonderful country. However last time I was here I didn’t do any trekking and I had been dying to get back and see the country from that perspective ever since. After all Nepal is home to 8 8000ers (mountains over 8000m) and some of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world! So I did some research, rounded up some trekking buddies; Kirsten (sister), Ryan (boyfriend), Tanner (Ryans friend) and Kyle (Ryans friend) and we booked ourselves onto Intrepids Annapurna Explorer tour.

Kathmandu

Kirsten and I arrived in Kathmandu late of the 27th of Feb. Well it wasn’t that late but by the time we got out the airport it was late! Nepal is not an easy country to arrive in. We weren’t able to exchange money before we left Australia so we were relying on the ATM at the airport when we arrived to get cash for our visas and a taxi to our hostel. The only ATM in the airport was out of order… We manged to pay for our visas with card, I dont the think the guy at the counter was very happy about this but, we literally had no other option.  After we left the counter we realised we’d only paid for 14 day visas, we needed 30 day visas. So back we went, much to the counter guys disgust and had  them swapped, this guy was pretty damn cranky but hey it was his fault not ours, he never asked how long we needed our visas for. Our next issue was how were we going to pay for a taxi. Kirsten had $30 AUD and I had $50 USD that Mum had given me for emergencies just before I left ( thanks mum! ), to our relief we were able to exchange this for Nepalese rupees. We then proceeded through customs without any further difficulties and had our visas issued.

All of this would have taken over an hour so I assumed our bags would be spinning on the turnstile when we got to baggage claim, no such luck! Baggage claim was complete chaos and I was worried our bags weren’t going to turn up at all. Eventually after close to another hour they appeared and we jumped in a taxi to our hostel. We caught up with the boys and headed out for a quick drink to celebrate our arrival and my brother Nick’s Birthday (sorry for missing it buddy).

We had half a day to kill before we met our tour group so we headed off to visit Swayambhunath, a holy temple sitting atop a hill in Kathmandu.  Often referred to as the monkey temple thanks to all the cheeky macaques that reside there. We decided to walk and take the stairs to the top, well I might have been the one to make this call, I figured the 365 stairs to the top would be good training for the trek we were about to set off on.

Our group meeting was at 2 pm,  this is always one of my favourite parts of the trip, when you get to meet the people you’ll call family for the next few weeks. Ryan, Tanner, Kyle, Kirsten and I made up a pretty big chunk of the group. Joining us were Miranda and Mark, a couple of travellers originally from Melbourne, Australia, Phil and Leanne from Norfolk Island, Hannah from England and Amy from Whales. We met our group leader Prem and the 3 assistant guides Harry, Nirog and Damber.

imageimageBandipur

The first stop of our tour had us visiting the magical mountain village of Bandipur. A bumpy 4 hour drive from Kathmandu and in true Reid style I managed to sleep most of the way with only some minor neck stiffness as a result of all the head banging that occurred in my sleep. On arrival we went for an afternoon walk to watch the sunset at the top of a hill. Much to my delight it involved a whole lot of stairs! Prior to my travels in Nepal I probably would have called this “hill” a “mountain”. I learned very quickly that mountains were only mountains if they stood at over 6000m. So all those “mountains” I climbed at home in training for this trip were really only hills, in fact we have nothing but hills in Australia with our tallest “mountain” Mount Kosciuszko standing at only 2228m.

imageimageTrek day 1: Besisahar (820m) to Bahundanda (1310m)

Our trek started in the town of Besisahar – the gateway to the Annapurna region. Sitting at only 820m it was quite intimidating knowing that eventually we were going to reach 5416m! We had a long way to go. We started the trek with what seemed to be a whole lot of downhill and not a lot of uphill. I wasn’t the only one who found this a little concerning considering how far up we knew we had to go. We were also walking at a very slow pace. For anyone who knows me you know that my usual walking pace is a lot faster than an average person so I found the speed we were going incredibly frustrating! But I trusted the guides and knew there had to be a reason behind this maddeningly slow pace. We finished the day with a steep climb to our accommodation, I knew all that downhill was going to catch up with us! The accommodation was basic and we knew not to expect much but when Kirsten was assigned a single room that was no bigger than a closet I couldn’t help but have a chuckle to myself.

imageimageTrek day 2 – 4: Bahundanda to Jagat (1300m) to Dharapani (1900m) to Chame (2710m)

The next few days saw us doing a fair bit of downhill but we were making some progress by the time we got to Chame at 2710m. During these few days we got introduced to the concept of the Nepali flat. Our guides would brief us on what was to come for the day and it would usually involve some downhill, some gradual uphill and some flat. We realised pretty quickly these sections that were supposedly flat could in fact be a fairly descent uphill climb. We asked the guides about this and apparently when they say “flat” they’re actually talking about a “Nepali flat”. This can be anything from flat to uphill and downhills, nothing too steep though. So this also meant when they said gradually uphill this was usually a very steep uphill.

The views we experienced got better and better each day and on the 4th day on our way to Chame we got our first real glimpse of the Himalayas. Absolutely incredible! Nothing can prepare you for this sort of beauty.

imageimageimageimageimage imageimageimageimageimageimageTrek day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang (3250m)

Todays hike wasn’t to long in distance but as we got higher in altitude everything became a little more difficult. Right before we arrived in lower Pisang we took an acclimatisation detour to a monastery above the town sitting at 3450m. We were greeted with a hot lemon drink from one of the resident Monks. By this point of the trek it had started to get quite chilly so a warm drink was always welcome.

imageimageimage imageimageTrek day 6: Lower Pisang to Manang (3540m)

Today we were heading for Manang, Prem and all of the guides had told us great things about Manang and during our long days trekking we’d built it up in our heads to be a kind of paradise. The promise of hot showers, great accommodation, bakeries and even cheesecake had us very excited to arrive. Kirsten had even been told there would be someone who could fix her shoe.

Why did her shoe need fixing you may ask. Funny story that one, she decided to wear her old hiking boots rather than some new ones she got because she was worried about the comfort of her new ones. It seemed like a safe decision because after all who wants to be hiking 11 days in shoes that are horribly uncomfortable. The only problem was her old shoes were on their last days and by about day 3 of trek the sole had started to fall off one of them. A quick fix option of super glue and duct tape had seen her through so far but to have someone fix it before we had the tough hike over the pass would be ideal.

imageThe scenery of today’s hike was more spectacular than anything we’d seen so far. With clear views of the Annapurna range. On arrival we went for a quick but steep and tough walk to a view point above Gangapurna Lake. On our way back it started snowing!!! And continued to snow throughout the night. imageimageTrek day 7: Manang

Today’s activities consisted of an acclimatisation hike. The purpose an acclimatisation hike is to go to a higher altitude and spend some time there before returning to a lower altitude to sleep. This is all in preparation for the big day where we would head to 5416m.  It was also Prem’s birthday so I think we have him to thank for the clearest day we’ve had so far.

We were hiking to a monastery above Manang,  we gained a further 200 m in altitude by the time we got there. It was an incredibly difficult hike but we were rewarded with some of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life!

Now for the question; did  Manang live up to everything we’d dreamed it to be? The showers were warm, I wouldn’t say they were hot. There were incredible bakeries, no cheesecake though, I think that one may have been lost in translation but the cookies were amazing and we had a delicious chocolate birthday cake for Prem. Also Kirsten got her shoe fixed! And spoiler alert it made it over the pass intact. I should also mention that I had the best veggie burger ever in the teahouse we stayed in, so good I had it twice.

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Trek day 8: Manang to Yak Kharka (4050m)

Gaining a further 500m in altitude on today’s hike meant that everyone was breathing a little heavier but we all made it Yak Kharka without to much difficulty.  There was an afternoon acclimatisation hike planned but by the time we had arrived the wind had picked up and it had started snowing. At lunch time we were informed that the hike had been cancelled and everyone seemed pretty happy with that decision. Or so we thought….

We were all sitting in by the fire playing a big game of cards when we realised we were one trekker short. The last we’d seen of Phil was just after lunch when he said he was going for a walk. We assumed he would wander the small town ( about 6 buildings in total ) and return not long after. It was now nearly 3 hours later and there was still no sign of him. Leanne had checked their room and he was yet to return, by this point we were all starting to get a little worried since it was now snowing heavily outside and the last time we’d seen Phil he was wearing shorts! The guides, the porters and some of the boys set out in the snow in search of him. To our relief they returned about 20 minutes later with Phil in tow. He was fully decked out is his wet weather gear, trekking sticks and balaclava. It seems he’d set off for that acclimation hike on his own… classic Phil!

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Trek day 9: Yak Kharka to Thorang Pedi (4450m)

By far one of the most difficult sections of the trek so far today involved an incredibly steep climb to our tea break stop. It actually wasn’t that far but a combination of the altitude and an almost straight up hill climb meant we were all left completely breathless by the time we made it to the top. All good training for the pass the next day I guess! I rewarded myself with a Twix for making it. Onwards through a landslide zone and we’d arrived at Thorang Pedi, our last stop before the pass. Another acclimatisation hike, a broken heater and a 3 am start the following morning meant we were all in bed nice and early! I slept in 2 sets of thermals to combat the cold and it meant that that was 2 less layers that I had to put on the following morning.

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Trek day 10: Thorang Pedi to Muktinath (3800m) via Thorung La Pass (5416m)

Today was the hardest day of my life so far. That’s a pretty big call considering I’ve trained and competed at 2 Olympic games and training for that sort of thing is no easy feat. But compared to the pass it was a walk in the park. I actually thought I was going to die, this is something that I say every now and then without actually meaning it but in this case there were moments where I was seriously worried. I’ll get to the gritty details soon but for now let’s start at the start.

We woke up at 3am and on top of the layers of thermals I put a fleece,  a down vest, hiking pants, a long Gortex jacket, a thick beanie, gloves, 2 pairs of socks and my hiking boots. I had hot porridge and tea for breakfast and I was actually almost feeling a bit warm. I headed outside and slipped straight onto my bum on some ice on the steps, off to a good start! It was still dark and the stars were absolutely magnificent. We set off a little later than planned at about 4 : 30 am. We headed straight up from Thorang Pedi with our first goal being High Camp at 4850m. This took a good few hours with lots if breaks to catch our breath. We heard what I first thought was a clap of Thunder but it actually turned out to be an avalanche! Nowhere near us, luckily but it definitely made it all seem very real. By the time we got to high camp I was feeling very very cold! I’d pretty much lost the feeling in my toes and as we stood around I started to lose feeling in my fingers as well. Niroj gave me some hot water to drink and we swapped gloves because it turns out the gloves I bought in Kathmandu for all of 10 AUD were useless.

I figured once we got moving again and the sun came out I’d start to warm up. Not the case, I think I was already too far gone. Once we got moving I started to feel ill and I felt like I was going to collapse so I plonked myself down in the snow. I was so cold by this point I couldn’t even use my hands anymore. Kirsten said  my face had gone completely white,  my lips blue and I had big black bags under my eyes. When Ryan saw me he said the first thing that came to mind was it looked like I was going into hibernation. At this point we weren’t sure if the altitude was having an effect on me or if it was just the cold. I took a dymox pill to counteract the altitude if that was the case and Dunbar, another of our guides, gave me his puffy down jacket. I was really worried that somehow my feet had gotten wet so we decided to get a new pair of socks on my feet. The sun had just made an appearance so I pushed  on to where the rest of the group was having a break in the sunshine. My feet felt like solid blocks of concrete and the numbing cold was starting to creep up my legs. Ryan, Nirog and one of the porters helped get a new pair of socks on me and with the sun now shining I decided the best thing was to keep moving. It was slow progress but with only short breaks and the extra layers I was now wearing I started to warm up again. Feeling a little more human again I was able to admire the absolutely magnificent views we were surrounded by. Apart from the freezing cold we had the perfect day to make it over the pass. The weather was flawless and wind free.  We’d heard the wind could be atrocious at the top so we were very lucky.

We made it to the pass at about 9:30 am and this was the best feeling in the world. It was one hell of a tough trek to the top for me and it felt amazing to have made it to 5416m.  We mucked around at the top and took a whole lot of photos while waiting for a few more group members to make it. We had a hot drink and a celebratory snickers and I’d even started to regain some feeling in my toes! The trek wasn’t over yet though, we had 1600m to go down in altitude before we’d reach our accommodation for the night. Going down was almost as tough as going up, if I didn’t nearly freeze to death on the way up I’d probably say going down was more painful, specifically on my knees and feet. The descent took about 4 hours, safe to say we’d earnt the hot showers and lunch that were waiting for us on arrival in Muktinath.

imageimageimage imageimage imageimageTrek day 11: Muktinath to Jomsom (2720m)

Our final day of the trek was a lot harder then we expected.  We’d been promised an easy day with only downhills and flats. We were warned we would be going through the windy valley so a wind jacket was essential. The trek was only downhill and flat so that was nice for once but it was far, 23kms far according to my fitibit! And the windy valley we’d been told about… I’ve experience wind like that in my life! We were very happy when we finally arrived in Jomsom. We were greeted by our very excited porters who gave us a blessing and a scarf and a really big hug. We had a celebratory dinner that night with everyone and it felt amazing knowing what we’d achieved over the last 11 days. Drinks were flowing and Dunbar pulled out a drum and all the guides and porters sung and danced and we joined in, it was a great night!  We said our goodbyes to the porters and our assistant guides Harry,  Nirog and Dunbar. We had an early flight to Pokhara the following morning and they were on a bus back to Kathmandu.  It was a very sad fair well, we had so much to thank them for, I know I couldn’t have made it over the pass without them.

imagePokhara

We were up bright and early for our 20 minute flight to Pokhara.  For some this was a little harder then others due mostly to the copious amounts of rum drunk the previous night. The flight was smooth and we landed safely in Pokhara, I only mention this because 2 flights going the same route as us had crashed in the month prior to our flight. I’m not usually a nervous flyer but this information definitely had me a little anxious.

We had free time for the day in Pokhara to relax and unwind after our 11 day trek. We did a little shopping, watched the sunset by the lake and enjoyed dinner together.

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Kathmandu

A 7 hour bus ride would take us back to where our journey began, the always exciting Kathmandu. Sadly we had our final dinner together and we had to say our goodbyes. Ryan, Kirsten, Tanner and I had an early start the next morning for our Kathmandu to Delhi trip. I had such a wonderful time on the trek and it was really hard to say goodbye to Prem and the rest of the group. Everyone was amazing and we knew we’d have a tough time finding another group as good as this one.

I knew Nepal was going to be amazing before I left for this trip but I can honestly say it greatly exceeded my expectations. Waking up to the Himalayas everyday doesn’t get old and I was constantly in awe at the beauty that surrounded me. Nepal is amazing and I’m more in love with this country than I was on my first visit.  I’ll definitely be back, Everest base camp anyone?! All I can say is if you’ve ever thought about visiting Nepal,  whether it be for trekking or something else, don’t think about it anymore,  just go. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
If you want to see more of beautiful Nepal make sure you check out my latest YouTube video!

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5 thoughts on “Magical Nepal

  1. Awesome! Loved it Sambo, very jealous.
    Thanks for celebrating my birthday even if we weren’t in the same country.
    Classic Phil ay. Haha.
    Touch and go there for a while by the sounds of it, making it to the summit. Must have been incredible to make it after all that. I’m curious though, what was your guide wearing if you took his jacket and socks haha? Just a T shirt?

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    1. Haha ah classic Phil! And everyone was happy to get in on the celebratory snickers. As for the guides they handle the cold much better than I do and had lots of layers on so when I borrowed his jacket we were already in the sun and he had a fleece under his jacket as well and the socks were a spare pair he had in his bag, lifesavers!

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