Getting to Nepal was downright the worst transportation we’ve been on and had to endure on our entire trip... and I truly mean endure. It was an absolute mental and physical grind the entire way.
First off, not one single person in Varanasi could give us a straight answer, or the same answer, to our very important question of “how do we get to Nepal from here?" Everyone had a different opinion, a different method and altogether different information to give. Travel agents, bus stations and hostel managers - not one person seemed to know the exact/ proper route to Nepal.
We ended up meeting a girl in a hostel lobby who had just returned from the main bus station which was 45 minutes away; she said she had just bought a direct private bus from Varanasi to Kathmandu but it runs only every other day at 7pm. So we kept this in mind as we continued to ask and gather intel on this mysterious transportation route. After much debate on whether going comfort versus budget-friendly, we ended up wanting to go the comfort method. We decided the private direct bus that goes directly to Kathmandu that leaves every other day at 7pm from the main bus station would be our best bet. We had to make it to the bus station an hour before departures so we took our "expensive" tuk-tuk ride 45 mins to the bus station at 5:30pm only to arrive to hear that the bus wasn’t running that day (March 7th) and the next bus was at 10am on the 9th. What the hell kind of system is this! The girl we talked to at the hostel had JUST come from this same bus station!! So dreadfully, we were told our only option is the public bus which goes somewhat close to the border and we’d have to cross the border by foot to arrange another bus on the Nepal side. However, one positive was that there was an A/C bus leaving at 7:30pm. So we grabbed dinner and boarded the “A/C tourist” bus which based on our experience, was never as advertised. Of course, it was not. The two seats only managed to fit Carter's full bottom and one-half of mine, the bus driver was a lunatic (again, not surprising) and we had to spend 10 hours overnight this way. We were in grind mode and we knew this would be a difficult journey so we traveled through the night sitting upright and tried our best to keep positive...eventually at 5am we arrive at the town neighbouring the Nepal boarder. The bus driver and other random Indian people who seemed to have nothing else going on at 5am, took it upon themselves to guide us and the 3 other backpackers to where we needed to go. To stamp us out of India in the immigration offiice and continue onto Nepal. With some guidance we took our first, and last, cycle-rickshaw across the boarder into Nepal.
Again, a very friendly and easy process to get our visa-on-arrival at Nepal immigration. Immediately after customs and our arrival by foot to the bus station, like everywhere else in the world, the bus station hustle began. “Sir, where you going? Pokhara - here! Pokhara - here!” “Sir, Kathmandu, this bus. In. Yes. Kathmandu. Come!” "Sir, how much you pay?" "Sir, best bus in Nepal...Pokhara yes!" In the same way the allies do not negotiate with terrorists, we do not negotiate with bus station hustlers! We continued to walk, ignoring men following us to get us into their buses. This one insistent man keep following us promising us this one bus was the only bus going to Kathmandu. The bus he was pointing to, I find it hard to even call it a motor vehicle... it must have been manufactured in the 70s and has not received one repair or scheduled maintenance since. It’s a local city (mini) bus. Open dusty windows. Small Asian sized seating, absolutely no knee room, even for me! Again, based on our past experience, we KNOW it will be jam packed to the brim with locals getting on and off (every few kilometres) for the entire duration of the journey.
At this time, we see the horror of our future - Google maps read that it would be 6 hours from the border to Kathmandu on this bus. Nuh-uh. Nope, not after a 10 hour overnighter. So we shoo him away and continue to walk towards the bus station where we were looking for a more reliable/comfortable looking bus...because there are at least 6 in the bus station that look like beautiful tour buses. Then we hear “mister! I don’t lie. This only bus to Kathmandu!!” It’s the same guy hanging out of the door of this awfully dreaded bus slowly creeping beside us. We are still not sold in the slightest, told him no until he turned around and parked it again. Just up ahead was a police check so we decided to ask the cop if there were other buses going to Kathmandu at ANY time that day (because we were damn hell bent on NOT getting on this bus we had seen with this sassy crook). He gets on the phone and says “yes, there is only one bus going to Kathmandu today, the rest are going to Pokhara...wait here it will come by soon” So we sit and wait patiently with the officer, big smiles on our faces awaiting the bus he's referring to. When all of a sudden the dreadful mini bus comes rolling down the street, with the same Nepali man hanging out the side door, a stack of money in his hand and a shit eating grin on his face. "Ahh here is the bus my friends" the officer says. Good God Almighty. At this point we had no choice to admit defeat and pay this man to board his sh*t box on wheels...
We board the bus and it instantly gets worse. The annoying man tells only 10 minutes into the trip that it's not going to be 6 hours, with the mountain roads, traffic and construction, it will be 10 hours to Kathmandu!!!! UGH. Here we are 5 kms from the border and we have already stopped TEN times to try and pick up locals until they deem the bus sufficiently full to carry on the trip (this is very common with the local busses, they hang out the doors and yell the final destination as they pass through crowds of people in hopes someone will board...AND IT ALWAYS WORKS) This. Is. Going. To. Be. Awful.
Fast forward 1 hour, the bus is jammed packed entirely of Nepali locals, and Carter and I. For whatever reason, the man won’t put our bags on the roof, so now locals are just sitting in the aisle with our bags, and they're getting stomped on, or sat on, by everyone squeezing in. Carter and I are squished up against a window and his poor legs are basically in the splits because he can’t fit his knees in between the seat in front of him. Locals were sitting on the floors in the aisle, standing in the aisle, beside the bus drivers bench, hanging out the door, and sitting on each others laps....FOR HOURS. This bus was at maximum capacity, 20 people ago. We were in mental agony.
Fast forward another 4 hours, we stopped for lunch as these busses always do, so we assume this must be half way. We inquired, to double check and now the annoying man is saying still 11 hours!!! We weren’t even a quarter of the way there. OMG. So we get back onto the “bus” and I start a new show 'The Sinner' that I had previously downloaded onto my Netflix app (thank friggin' goodness.) I am completely checked out and trying to take my mind off of this reality. Carter is beside himself rattled with unfortunately no Netflix show to preoccupy him. Even though Carter didn't want to watch The Sinner with me... the entire row of Nepali males behind me did. There were some race scenes in each episode and I could feel the intensity of the men's eyes watching my screen from behind me, so we were all entertained for a little while!
As the journey goes on, we find ourselves on mountain side cliffs with no guard rails in most spots, overlooking a 100 meter drop into a massive rushing river, and overtaking trucks around corners while other vehicles are coming head on. There was definitely a few moments where we thought that at any moment this bus could tumble over the edge, ending this nightmare... which actually didn't seem like such a bad thing at the time!
Two hours later, the bus is in dead stopped traffic on the a cliff side with other busses, trucks and cars lined up as far as we can see. HOW? We are in the middle of nowhere! Well, the bus driver turned off the engine, and we sat there for 1 hour. Seriously, see the picture below.
Long story short we arrived in Kathmandu from the Indian border after a 16-hour journey on this mini bus. I crushed the entire season of 'The Sinner' and had plenty of time to talk Carter out of the deep dark hole he put himself in. Even though we were really pissed at the annoying guy and even more mad at the sheer amount of time this ride took, we discussed that our anger turned into empathy somewhere along the way. We felt so bad for the other people on this bus. Here we are, completely rattled at the fact that we have to take this bus...one time in our lives, while crammed into a tiny seat. While local people surrounding us take this bus all the time out of necessity; almost half of them are standing or sitting on the hard floor, and some have newborn babies or young children accompanying them. It was a very eye opening experience for us.
When we finally arrived in Kathmandu, Carter had some new Nepalese friends through a lacrosse connection who met us in Thamel (the tourist neighbourhood in Kathmandu). They had pre-arranged a guesthouse for us. It was quite nice coming into a city, especially after the ordeal getting there, and having accommodations taken care of and friendly faces waiting for us.
The next day we explored the Thamel neighbourhood. Thamel is an amazing maze of pedestrian streets with shops upon shops dedicated to handcrafts made my local tribes, trekking stores and delicious looking restaurants. It was such a complete change from India! There were Buddhist flags lining the streets over top of us; it looked quite magical, just as you would probably imagine Nepal to look like.
The next day, the lacrosse guys picked us up at our guesthouse and showed us around some sights before Carter put on his lacrosse clinic that afternoon. We visited the neighbourhood of Paten, which was so beautifully historical, the Golden Temple, the main square and the living love goddess temple. We also had local egg bahra at a hidden treasure hole in the wall. Carter tried the locally made rice whisky here and he said it’s the best homemade alcohol he’s had on our trip so far (he's had a lot to compare it too!)
The lacrosse clinic had 10-15 Nepali men in attendance; most were just learning the game but had a very big passion for the sport. Carter started teaching them the basics, moreso so they will know how to teach others once the lacrosse organization gets up and running in Kathmandu. Carter started the clinic with how to hold the stick properly when passing and catching and then he went onto passing the ball, line drills and practice tips they can use for their own team practices and training. It was so amazing to see an entire group of men and friends who were so passionate about such a foreign game. They are determined to bring the game of lacrosse to Nepal and start the league across the country. It was especially special to watch the villagers come in, gazing curiously over at us, and the kids running full speed into our clinic and immediately picking up the sticks to be taught. And even MORE amazing was to watch the men, whom Carter had JUST taught, teach these kids... and then these kids teaching kids who showed up after them. Some of the kids were absolute naturals at it as well! Some just used the ball to practice their cricket throw - but all in all, it was such a successful and heart warming afternoon.
After the clinic, we all shared some chai (chee-ya) and talked more about the history and logistics of the game. Shortly after that, we split ways and a couple of the guys offered to take us to the Monkey Temple. This temple is infamous to watch the sunset because it sits above the Kathmandu Valley. This temple was gorgeous, not so much the actual building itself but the entire hill it sat upon was completely covered in prayer flags, new and old. Colourful and sun-bleached flags ran from the top of the temple, to trees, down walkways - it was incredible. The entire temple itself was surrounded by prayer wheels so Carter and I walked left to right spinning each one by hand for good luck.
Our final day in Kathmandu was solely focused toward getting gear and getting equipped for our Himalayan trek! We were embarking on a 10-12 day trek to Poon Hill & Annapurna Basecamp, 4130 metres above sea level. I already had my fake down jacket from Vietnam but Carter needed to source out a “North Fake” jacket as they call them here. Since Thamel was entirely based around trekking tourism, the price hunting was fun and easy to do. The haggling and joking with shop owners even more so. At the end of the day we purchased: two fleece sweaters, one down jacket, one customized patch that Carter designed to go on said jacket, 4 pairs of thermal socks, two gloves and a bottle of Nepal’s signature whiskey.
Below is Carter and his Nepali bestie. He spent an entire 3 days in this guy's embroidery shop. 3 WHOLE DAYS. I had to drag him out by his ears (practically) to let this poor guy get to work on the custom patches Carter and he created.
The next morning we packed as little as we could survive with on the mountain into my bag and left everything else behind in Kathmandu as we set off for Pokhara; the starting point for all treks Annapurna. The bus was much more enjoyable this time around; we fit into the seats, it was actually a direct bus that never stopped to pick up locals, and only one person was puking out the window. We’d call that a successful trip! We got into Pokhara 7 hours later (exactly what we were told at the beginning of the trip, again, a rarity success!)
Pokhara is beautiful, the city center surrounds a grand lake. So all of the shops, restaurants, hotels and bars are either lakeside/view or only a couple moments walk to it. This town is even more so set up for tourism, so the shops and restaurants, although are much more expensive, are great in quality and diversity/selection. We indulged in some adult beverages (I needed some liquid courage to go into the first day of trekking to be quite honest) and had the best pizza we’ve had on the trip thus far at Godfather's Pizzeria. If you haven’t noticed a trend in our blogs, I’ll just call him outright right now: Carter has a pizza problem. He’s addicted. Every time we get into a bigger city he Googles the closest Pizza Hut because "who knows when we may find good pizza again”... even though in every city he manages to find it.
Other than hopefully the proper gear we picked up the day before, we were pretty unprepared, if I am being completely honest. We’re going on a 10 day trek in the Himalayas, independently, and we don’t even own a map?!? Our saving grace right now is that our lacrosse friend, Ananta, has set us up with a guide who is trekking with a solo lady from Scotland, who happens to be doing the same route as us up until Poon Hill (which is only the first three days of ten). We’re relying on him to get us to where we need to go and pick his brain for what we need to do for the last seven days of our trek. We have our gear, our altitude sickness meds, tiger balm for sore muscles, our Annapurna Conservation and trekking permits and a guide "kinda".
We should be set... but we’ve both lost weight. Carter an astonishing 30lbs!! Our muscles are basically gone and our legs are noodles, how are we going to accomplish this?!
From Pokhara, we jeep to the entry point of the sanctuary, Galapule. We registered at two separate checkpoints, get entered into the system as “active trekkers” and start the first couple hours of hiking. We’re dressed for Basecamp temps, so our first few moments in the sun we are already de-layering and sweating. We should be in shorts and t-shirts but we’re in trekking pants, undershirt, and fleece. Better to be over prepared than underprepared! (Minus having to lug it all up the mountain, whatever, it’ll probably hopefully come in handy later on.)
This portion of the hike just follows a very rough road, where the occasional Jeep or 4x4 would pass us carrying locals, other lazier trekkers or supplies. It was an ascent most of the way but it was a great warm up start to our 10 days of inclination. About 2 hours in we stopped for lunch and it was in the most surreal village - it was as though we had stepped back hundreds of years. As we ate lunch, we watched a husband and wife use two bulls to cultivate their terraced farm land, the homes were traditionally made with stone and had slate rocks as the shingles and everything else was made of wood. On top of it all, we were in the deep valley looking up at a mountain side of farm terraces all the way up to the top.
Our “guide”, Rajan, said this is a tribal area and the indigenous people here have been settled here for thousands of years, hence why so much of the land and mountain side is already cultivated. We then got up from lunch, I could already feel that my legs had stiffened, and we continued on for another hour or so until our destination for the night, Tikhedhunga. Already, I know this: we have to get better at drinking water (we barely got through one litre for the both of us), Carter needs to walk slower or shorten his steps or else I am going to die trying to keep up with him, we will need to stretch every night BUT I really think we can do this trek without too many aches and mental anguish.
We stayed at Laxmi Guesthouse, the room was only 500NRP ($6CAD) for the both of us. A very, very basic double bed... and that’s it. We have to pay 150NPR for a hot water shower, pay for wifi (which we didn't, as we wanted to go off the grid), pay for really anything else we would need or want and it will only get more expensive as we move higher up the mountain. As soon as we settled in, Carter had to hang everything he was wearing that day because it was soaked in sweat. This will be an issue all the way up the mountain... at least it's warm enough down here to actually dry. He may be putting on icicles as we move higher and it's too cold to dry out.
This village was such a nice, relaxing and peaceful place; from our balcony you could hear the river rushing, someone in the village was playing Nepalese music, and kids were laughing far off in the distance. This was only the first night but it’s set our expectations high for what’s remaining. We have decided that each night we get to our final destination, we would take a shot of whiskey as a congratulatory present to ourselves. And then to our surprise, Rajan invited us to come along with them to the near by waterfall to take a refreshing swim! Of course Carter jumped in like the polar bear he is and I used the waterfall pool like a recovery ice bath for my legs.
Our first night, we enjoyed a great chat with Rajan and Helena, the Scottish lady, who told us she was an author who is living in Nepal as inspiration for her next book. *After we finished the hike and connected back with the internet, Google also told us that she's won many awards for her book "The Big House" and is published by the same publisher as JK Rowling!* After dinner and our chat, we headed to our room, took an extra blanket to layer our bed with, rolled out our -20 sleeping bags and fell fast asleep! Here's a view of our luxurious mountain accommodations **note the bedside whiskey bottle**:
Waking up at 7am to hot porridge and masala chai tea in the valley was amazing... but then BAM! 3500 steps right off the bat to start off our day's trek. Struggling up these steps, we passed little villages, suspension bridges, and goats along the way. Ullier is the town at the very top of this hill, so we stopped for a Snickers break (our chocolate bar of choice for the trek - we ate so many, Snickers should probably contact us for a sponsorship deal) and a Coke to keep our energy levels up. Also, this was the first glimpse of snow covered Annapurna 1 peak. It was breathtaking! And also completely overwhelming because we could see how much further we still needed to go!
After our snack stop, there were another 2000 steps no one told us about! We stopped for lunch at the very top (and thankfully, the end) of the steep steps. Here, we enjoyed another plate of vegetable fried rice which is basically the only thing we can afford in the mountains as the prices go up and up with the elevation. Ullier is the last mountain town that motorized vehicle can reach; after that, everything brought up is on the backs of porters or mules and that's why the prices for everything dramatically increases the higher you go (understandably). After our lunch break, we finally bought a map, since the next day we’d be leaving our friend Rajan, who has been an amazing “complimentary” guide thus far.
Again, up we go, but these stairs zig zagged through towns and had plateaus that helped our calves' cause. Today was CLEARLY an ascent day; straight stairs... up hill... grind. The elevation we were now at is above 2000M, and with your bag on your back, you definitely move slower than normal. But then you are consistently seeing porters who are carrying all the bags for 2 or 3 trekkers each, that weigh anywhere from 20-30kilos each bag, and they put your little dinky 14 kilo bag to shame. It makes you toughen up a bit. And by "you", I mean Carter because he was my mule, I can confidently say I would have doubled over by now if I had to carry the bag he was lugging up the mountain.
This is Carter trying to carry a porter's load - this weighed 60kilos. If you can't already tell by the strain in his neck and how red his face is... it's fricking difficult. And these guys are doing it in flip flops and stopping for cigarette breaks frequently along the way. It's a sight to see, and even then its hard to believe.
We walked for another two hours before reaching a tea break but this stretch of our hike was so beautiful. We walked through deep forest of the sanctuary; the natural waterfalls that turned into the most crystal clear cold mountain water streams; the moss covered trees and the blooming rola ghuna flowers that were varying from hot to light pink. It was like scenes out of a Disney amusement park but it was just one tiny beautiful speck of the Himalayas.
From our last stop, we were pretty tired from the intense non-stop incline all day but powered through to Gorephani for the last hour and a half. In total, we trekked uphill for 8 hours with only 4 scheduled stops. We checked into Peace & Excellent View Guesthouse and it was incredible! As soon as you stepped inside there was a big fire going that people were gathered around looking at their pictures from the day, playing cards and drinking chia. The worker who showed us to our room started the rate from a 700NPR double room with attached bath - in which we asked for less because we were on a budget. He got excited at the fact we were on such a budget that we were doing the trek without a guide , so he showed us another room for 300NPR which was quite cozy and had the biggest warm-looking duvets at the end of the bed. We settled in, enjoying the warmth of the sun coming through the windows, and then 15 minutes later the same man came back to say “you know, it’s not so busy I give you best room for 300!” We had a free hot shower and free charging outlets - a rarity in the mountains! Even our first stop was charging 150NPR for each luxury. This place had a very nice homey feel, including the delicious homemade dinner we received. Carter and I spent the entire night on the bench by the fire, talking with other trekkers and drinking some well earned beers. I don’t think we even lifted a butt cheek.
This experience, even though it’s the first full day of hiking, will be incredible. More than I ever thought possible or anticipated. I wasn’t negative going into the trek but I definitely had my trepidation’s about it - will I be sore, are we going to be warm enough, can we shower, will we get lost, should we have a guide? Are we crazy? But even after the first night, I feel completely comfortable that we will be just fine, and moreover, we will throughly enjoy ourselves and the new experiences and sights the daily treks bring us. Rajan was very nice and informative. He’s been trekking as a porter and then guide since he was 15! He is now 24 and has 8 years of experience under his belt! He was in the mountains during the 2015 earthquake and he first hand saw the devastation that overtook the village he was stranded in. Children were orphaned, families were robbed of their livelihood and homes were destroyed. He was guiding three British girls and together they’ve started a fund and organization that has an office in Toronto so he was very enthusiastic when he found out I was a professional fundraiser.. from Toronto. I am excited to get home and visit the office to really learn how I can help. The mountains themselves are magical - every new peak takes your breath away. I can’t imagine the monstrosities these ranges are but I guess we’ll find out at Annapurna Basecamp (ABC) as we look up to the tenth highest mountain in the world!
Last night’s sleep was an absolute dream!! Not only were we tired from the ten thousand steps we took the day before, we were warmed by the lodges fire all night AND used our sleeping bags and the huge blankets provided to us for the warmest cloud-like sleep ever. We woke up at 4:45am to climb Poon Hill for sunrise. On a clear day, you can see the entire mountain range with over 7-9 different peaks. We layered up in everything we brought to bare the midnight temps at 3200metres. Again, up we went. It was an hour of straight stairs. The top was a land platform and we could faintly see the mountain peaks in the distance as the sun came up behind them.
It was fairly cloudy so unfortunately not every peak of the range were visible. However, for Carter and I who have never been around mountains like this, even seeing the 4-5 that were visible, was completely amazing. The clouds move fairly quickly over the peaks and ridges so every few minutes the scene would change; another unique and beneficial experience to mountaineering. We enjoyed a hot tea (for a crazy 170 rupees!) and waiting until the sun fully shone through. The sight kind of left me speechless and still has. I don’t really know how to explain how amazing and magically mysterious mountains are. We could stare at them all day, the sight of the same mountain range will never get old. We stayed up on Poon Hill for an hour before we decided we better head back down for breakfast and get on our days' trek.
We were heading to Tadapani which is 5 hours away. We had a big egg breakfast and went up to pack... but before we actually started packing, we snuggled in the huge blanket for the last time for a few extra minutes. Rajan left without us as Helena, the older Scottish lady he was guiding, was going much more slowly these days. So we sat by the fire while we warmed up before leaving for the day. We were probably 45 minutes behind them but we caught up with them fairly quickly. It didn’t take long before we could see how slow she was really moving today (we can’t blame her the trek is TOUGH and she’s an inactive 60 year old - she’s actually rocking it). So we went on ahead of them. Today was a really great day; the first hour was a steep incline a mixture of stairs and natural roots. The next 2.5 hours was downhill - which is the worst for me - and it was mostly dirt path and roots with strategically placed rocks. It was a fairly easy day in terms of hiking and body-tiredness.
We had lunch in Barithani, where the price of Coke went up from 150NPR to 250NPR and the vegetable fried rice went up from 320NPR to 400NPR! From there we had another hour downhill and a very steep climb for 45 minutes before we reached our final destination of Tadapani at 2:30pm. Altogether it took us the 5 hours it was supposed to. We forgot to ask where Rajan had booked that night so we wandered around asking for his name with no luck. We ended up staying at Supper Viewtop Lodge (yes, Supper with two ps) and got a panoramic room of windows with views of the mountains. It was magnificent; laying in bed you’re entire view was the Annapurna range. And all for a whopping 300 rupees! The man at the lodge whispered to me “how much you pay last night... ok is good, you pay same tonight” when I told him 300.
Side note: It's only day three and I am ALREADY running out of adjectives to describe the views and sights we are experiencing! So, please bare with my "amazings", "fabulous", and "breath takings" - there is just not enough words in the English language to describe the Himalayas!
The two windows in the back were our room; those windows were at the end of the room and we also had an entire wall of windows looking over Fishtail Mountain (the peak you can visibly see in this photo)
Around 3:30pm, we saw Rajan and Helena come into the village and we called down from our room window to make plans to meet for tea. We met Rajan at his lodge and he helped us map out the rest of our journey. He gave us recommendations for the better teahouses along the way since he's been climbing Annapurna for the last 8 years and has always sourced out the best ones in the village based on little perks they had (good views, best coffee, hot water)
As we were finishing up our tea at Rajan's teahouse, a man from OUR guesthouse came over to tell us it’s dinner time and we should come back to order (LOL) I am not sure how he found us but he was ensuring that we ate at his place and not theirs. This is very common and expected in the mountains because the room rates are SO low, they make their money off their guests eating dinner and breakfast there as well. It was quite funny. So we went back to our place, that also had a fire by wood going, and ordered some soups. This is the last fire we would see for the remainder of the trek, even though it will be getting significantly colder. We learned that this is because the sanctuary is so protected, it's prohibited to cut down trees for fire wood. We also met a very nice bloke from the UK who has been traveling to Nepal for mountain treks for over 30 years and we had a great conversation with him and shared travel stories. Just as we were finishing dinner, a storm rolled in and we got tucked into our sleeping bags and watched the thunder and lighting in the peaks of the mountains before falling asleep.
In the morning we were woken up by Chinese tourists yelling and laughing at sunrise taking peace sign and namaste photo after photo with the breathtaking clear views of the mountains. From our beds, and the comfort and warmth of our sleeping bags, we could see Annapurna South, Machapuchare Mountain (nicknamed Fishtail Mountain) and Annapurna 1 in the distance - it was right out of a green screen movie set.
We had a great slow lazy morning where we took pictures of the sun coming up and shining light on the mountain tops for an hour. We enjoyed a hot cup of organic coffee and then finally our breakfast. We chatted with a very nice guy from Hong Kong who was travelling on his own, and the British man some more before packing up and heading to Chhomrong... but not before we got in on the fun the Chinese tourists were having with their photo shoot!
We left at 9:30am. Getting to Chommrong should take us about 4 hours of downhill and 'Nepali flat' they call it. Now that we’ve trekked this route we learned what Nepali flat really means...up & down, up & down and is never actually flat. The first portion was all down hill, dirt path and no stairs, zigzagging through hillside terraces as we descended down into a mountain pass/valley. However beautiful, it freaking hurts the toes - jamming into the front of our runners.
There are "informative" signs along the trail and we've been using them religiously since we left Rajan. Which should tell you how little we actually knew about the trek... we were relying on the jam-packed informational map below:
After two hours of downhill we finally came to a big river and suspension bridge. We climbed down to the rushing river, for a Snickers break and basked in the sun's heat while slipping our feet into the glacier water to rejuvenate them for the rest of the hike.
From there it was up hill in the midday's hot sun so we stripped down and pushed through the next stair climb. The rest of the way was pleasant, Nepali flat trail, through farmers' field terraces as they were working away and little villages. We got to Chhromrong at 2:45pm. It was a nice easy relaxed day of trekking where we stopped a lot to take in the scenery and experience the nature around us. We stayed at Panoramic Point Hotel and bargained down the price from 400 to 200 rupees because our “friend” Rajan recommended this place to us. Hopefully this works in our favour every time. Tonight will be all about body recovery - hot shower, stretch, tiger bomb massage and rest. We ended up meeting Ting, who was a solo female trekker from Tiwan, who we kept running into and staying at the same lodges as us the past couple days. We talked with her all night and learned about the volatile history between Tiwan and China. Ting was one of our favourite travellers we met thus far, such a nice girl. She has inspired us to one day visit her in Taiwan!
All of us had our first dhal bhat dinner which was delicious and unlimited, so Carter and I had second and third helpings. The Nepali have a saying “dhal bhat, power 24 hour” and the guides eat it for lunch and dinner every single day. It consists of dhal (lentil soup) and bhat (rice), sautéed spinach, pickled spices, and fried potatoes. I loved each and every portion of it. After dinner we talked routes with Ting's guide who was very friendly and helpful and then quickly got ready for bed (read: dhal bhat food coma).
The view from Panasonic Point (and me pointing to our room):
We had a nice sleep in today because it was so quiet in our hotel; only us and Ting were staying at Panasonic Point Lodge. We woke up again to beautiful views from our window of Annapurna South and fishtail mountain, without even leaving our beds. We also decided we were going to take an easy approach at ABC and take two nights to get up to the Basecamp as oppose to the one that Ting was following with her guide. We only had a 5 hour trek today to Dovan which sits at 2600metres.
We ended up having some cell service on Carter's phone which has a SIM card so we sent our first “we are still alive” text's and FaceTimed Jen (Carter's sister) and James (our good friend) to try and show them the mountains.
We had our breakfast, packed and made our way to the famous and very old 'German bakery' on the other side of the village that serves a great cup of coffee (which is a rarity among the instant coffee we have been drinking). We enjoyed an americano on the porch of the bakery, roasting in the morning's sun before we were off for the days trek at 9:30am.
Chhomrong and the following villages were so quaint and quintessential it was SO beautiful. As we approached Bamboo, our lunch spot, about 4 hours after we left, it began to hail and rain. It was a wet hike the last hour to Dovan, our final resting place for the evening. To help my running shoes slipperiness, Carter cut down and whittled a bamboo shoot and I used it as a hiking stick.
We arrived in Dovan at Tip-Top Hotel and Lodge at 2:30pm in the rain. We bargained down our accommodation price to 300NPR and settled in, got a hot drink and started our “chores”; me, writing this entry, and Carter sewing on patches to his backpack. Apparently we had the Philippines flag upside down and the red on top means war, so a man called us out on it and he’s now resewing it on properly. Note to self: check the position of the flag before sewing!
There’s a nice older couple lodging beside us who are from Burlington, Ontario and we swear a dog has been following us all through the mountains from day 2!
So many of the porters are doing this trek in flip flops; we’ve heard it’s snowing up at abc and I am worried about my running shoes but knowing that they’re doing it in sandals gives me faith I can get away without the proper footwear as well. A lot of the terrain, smells and foliage remind us of Muskoka and/or walking the Bruce trails back at home, it’s a nice reminder and help for any home sickness I may have.
Dovan to Deurali - the last stop before making it to ABC. Deurali sits at 3200M, so if we were to take altitude sickness pills, it would be here that we should have started. However, we were trying to go without because there are some side affects of the medication we didn't want to deal with.
The trek today was quite "lax"; it was only a push of 500M and took a short 3 hours. We reached Deurali quite early because of this and had the opportunity to thaw out all afternoon and dry all of our clothing completely.
As we were having lunch, we witnessed our first avalanche way in the distance. We heard a huge crack, quickly looked up and very close to the peak of the mountain opposite of us, saw snow rapidly falling down the mountain side. Luckily, they were all happening so high above us that none of the snow ever made it even close to any of the villages. By the end of the day, we saw three separate avalanches which was pretty surreal! This also was a clear giveaway that getting to MBC and ABC may be a bit more challenging than we were expecting. Many trekkers coming back from basecamp were telling us that it had snowed 2 feet over night, the conditions of the trail was awful, etc etc. The owners of the hotel were also warning us about which trail to take up; they urged us to ask guides along the way if we should cross the river or continue on the path on this side of trail because it was more succeptable to avalanches. Sorry mothers... we're glad we didn't have access to the internet so you are both just learning about this now.
Deurali to ABC; the final stretch. This stretch was only to take 4 hours - 2 hours to Machhapuchre Basecamp (MBC) and another 2 to ABC. I consciously took this day super slow to give my body time to acclimatize as much as possible and as slowly as possible, as we were trying to do this trek without taking our altitude sickness pills. We started early in the morning, just after 7am and layered on everything we brought for the cold. Without the sun, the valley was frigid with wind blowing through and snow on the ground. Between the running nose, snot rockets, and taking in the breathtaking scenery, we stopped a lot. However, leaving early and while it was still cold made it less likely to run into avalanche issues, as the peaks wouldn't be warmed enough yet for the snow to melt and slide. Since you're reading this... you know we made it across to the other side of the valley safely.
Finally around 8:30am the sun came through and over top of the mountain into the valley and we started to dethaw. We approached MBC, the first of the two base camps, around 9am. We ran into our friend Ting from Taiwan who was on her way down. We were told by Rajan to stay at MBC for an extra long lunch or break to ensure we were listening to our bodies and how we were reacting to the altitude. MBC sits at 3900 metres. So that’s exactly what we did, we took a seat in the sun, ordered natures altitude medicine of ginger tea and garlic soup and waited on our body’s to give us the thumbs up or down before moving onto ABC.
After two hours neither of us were feeling any negative effects of the altitude so we decided to go on to our final destination, Annapurna Base Camp at 4130metres. This walk was incredibly surreal - walking through snow covered valley as 9 peaks towered above us. Everywhere we looked and turned there was a massive mountain. It was incredible and a sight/feeling/ experience neither of us have ever had in our lifetime.
Although beautiful, this walk was a biatch. Because the sun had been doing its job warming us... it was also warming the snow and ground beneath us making the trail extremely slippery and wet for a girl in runners. Also because of the elevation, every step up seemed like 5 extremely steep steps and I had to stop many more times than normal to catch my breath. The last hour was the worst because you could see ABC in the distance and it seemed like eternity before reaching it. After two hours, we finally walked up to the “Namaste, welcome to ABC” sign!! It was magic, relief and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment all at once.
Wow. Waking up at ABC for sunrise... wow. Is all I can get out. We emerged, hesitantly, from the warmth of our sleeping bags and 2 blankets on top of us to go outside for sunrise. We didn’t even have to get changed because we were both already wearing our fleeces and down jackets. We headed to the temple on top of base camp, where hundreds of prayer flags are flapping in the wind, to be surrounded by Annapurna mountain range every where we turned. The sun coming up over fishtail mountain was shining an orange hue of light on the other mountain tops. It was right out of a painting, like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
We decided to go in early and beat the rush for breakfast and wait for the sun to be fully out before taking more pictures. We went into the warm dining hall, had a hot cup of tea and omelette sandwich and by the time we headed back out to the temple the sun was jussssst reaching the peak of the mountains to fill the valley with sun. This is also when the helicopters started coming in, one every 15 minutes, dropping off rich tourists, others to pick up people from Basecamp, and also to take tourists heli skiing. It was absolutely incredible to see how nimble the helicopters flew through the air and so close to the edges of the mountains.
When we started our descent it was still cold enough we could walk across the snow without falling in - this was one of the best experiences because we went off the main trail and walked by ourselves in the middle of the Annapurna valley with mountains towering over us on either side, the sun warming our faces and the helis flying over top of us.
By the time we got to MBC, the valley and the snow had heated up enough that we had to stick to the main trails again. Everything became slush and muck on the trails from the heat and foot traffic going to and from basecamps. Everyone had on clamp ons, spikes, or proper hiking boots... I had on my Nike frees and a hand made bamboo walking stick; the fact I did this entire trek in *unideal* shoe wear without getting soaked shoes and freezing feet, is something to be proud of!
It should have taken us 2 hours or less to get down to the next village of Duerali but we were stopping so much to watch the heli skiers come down the mountain or taking in the scenes, that it took us 3 hours. So after that, our camera was dead and we really started to make up our time getting down the mountain. Going down for us was much worse than going uphill, our knees couldn’t take the constant impact but nonetheless our goal was to make it to Chhomrong, the town that took us 3 days from ABC, while going up the mountain.
Fast forward to hour 8 of going down and I was in the most amount of pain EVER. My toes were squashed, my thighs were on fire, my knees about to give out. I was ready to give up and stop at the town before Chhomrong. God bless Carter's sweet, positive soul... he kept saying "you got this girl, keep going, you can do it". Finally, I snapped from the pain and "jokingly" said to Carter "I don't need your f*#$*ing cheerleading anymore! I need a Snickers and to get down this damn mountain!"
THANKFULLY we ran into a father and son duo and we ended up stopping and chatting with them for a decent amount of time - time enough to allow my legs to recover a bit and continue onto Chhromrong. Captain Carter, as I unaffectionately was calling him, wouldn't let us stop longer than 15 minutes in order to get to Chhromrong before sun down. We made it to our goal, and ultimately, I truly was happy he pushed to get me there. It also meant that the next morning we didn't have to go an hour down into a valley and another hour up stairs first thing in the morning.
We had a good “sleep in” that was much needed and deserved. We rolled out of bed at 8am and slowly packed our bags, eager to get to the German bakery and slurp down some americanos and freshly baked goods. As we walked up the last of the grueling steps of Chhomrong we ran into 3 Nepalis taking a break and asked the best way to get back to Pokhara if we were skipping the hot springs in Jinhu. One of the guys was Amrite, a guide who we had saw at ABC. The group he was guiding to ABC were too tired and decided to take a helicopter back to Pokhara for a whopping $450USD per person...WHAT!? What a casual decision, no big deal!! A 15 minute ride through the mountain range for $450USD - I wish that was in our budget! I could have used it yesterday.
Amrite took us under his wing and we were off to Sinwa together. But not before Carter stopped at the hotel we stayed at the first time in Chhromrong to collect his $0.50 socks he forgot the first time round. Amrite was only 22 years old and FAST like a mountain goat. It was hard to keep up with Carter's long legs, especially after how sore I was from the 10 hour climb down yesterday, but Amrite's speed up and down the mountain was exhausting. The weather didn't make this portion of the trek any easier either; it was all sun and no breeze so Carter and I sweat like pigs.
Amrite was a very nice guy though, he taught us even more information about Nepal, their government and the British Gurkhas and his own life. We took a break at a river crossing and in typical Carter fashion, jumped right in and went swimming. Once he saw Carter dive right in, Amrite took off his shoes and enjoyed the cold rejuvenating water on his feet. This is probably something he wouldn’t have done or enjoyed if he was with his real tour group, it was a nice experience for all of us to share!
After that we ran up one side of the mountain (almost quite literally) and took a lunch break at New Bridge, a small village on the side of the mountain. Here is one of the more interesting porter loads we saw while trekking:
Unfortunately it was here that we learned of a tourist's body being found not too far from where we were having lunch at the bottom of the river's edge. He was apparently an older gentleman, so it could have been exhaustion, dehydration or just an accidental misstep. Whatever the cause, we could definitely understand how something like that could happen based on how tired our bodies were and the fact that we didn't know the terrain all that well. This trek has been such a fun and exciting experience for us that it didn't really strike us as a dangerous adventure. After hearing this news, you sit and consider the risk involved and absolutely understand how something like that could happen. Very unfortunate.
We continued on through cute villages and farm terraces until we made it to Siwua and waited for the bus that heads to the bottom of the mountain. Right next to the “bus station” (aka the side of a dirt road) was a farm of baby goats - we went to play with them, they were SO small and cute but so freaking loud when they baaaaaaaa-ed.
Around 3pm we boarded the local bus that was blasting Nepali music videos (almost like Bollywood) and bounced and crashed around down the awfully bad constructed mountain road. The bus driver had extreme skills - there were times I would look down out of my window and just see what was at the bottom of the cliff, not even the edge of the road so we were teetering on the roads edge and the only thing between us and certain death was the “Nepali luck” of the driver, says Amrite. It took us about 4 hours between stopping for locals to get in and out, snail pacing through small towns and villages, and waiting to pass construction, to get to Pokhara. Once back in the city we went back to Trekkers Inn hotel to collect the bag we left behind and were too tired to source out a cheaper place so we ended up staying there again, in a cheaper room. We had the longest and hottest showers and finally had a incredible scrub to get clean from the mountains, then headed to feast - we ate SO much at an amazing place called Laxman, such great Greek salad, pizza and butter chicken.
After that, we caught up on some much needed wifi time and went to bed to wake up early the next day for the bus back to Kathmandu.
WE DID IT!
After this experience, we decided that instead of being those crazy adventurers wanting to tackle the "World's 7 Tallest Summits", we decided, why don't we just be those adventurers who make it to the "World's 7 Tallest Basecamps"!!!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!