So my family, and I’m sure all of you, think all I do is trek… but REALLY, if you look back, I’ve only been trekking twice (this last time included)! What can I say? Nepal is made for trekking (sorry, Peter, that's just what they call it here!). So when Sam said, “Hey, want to go trekking?” I had to say yes! I saw the trip as a way for me to clear my head before really digging in and writing up this thesis (I know, my REAL reason for being here). At least that was my rationalization for taking another week off from work to go have some fun. I AM in Nepal, people. ;)
Sam and I trekked in the Annapurnas before (the Poon Hill – Ghandruk loop), but this time we thought we’d check out the other side of the mountains – the Jomsom – Mukintinath – Tatopani trek. All in all about 103km (that’s like 64 miles, apparently). All of our friends had already been on the trek and from their pictures it looked amazing. Sam and I were both running out of time in Nepal (SAD! :( ), so we decided to venture back to the Annapurnas in the offseason… and oh yeah, it’s winter.
Much like last time, we took an early bus out to Pokhara. This time we had Isa and Camille with us as they were headed up on a short weekend trip to Bandipur. We saw a crazy jeep accident on the road that stopped traffic for a bit and drew a lot of attention from all the tourists and motorists. It freaks me out to ride on the roads here, but there's not much I can do for people driving crazy on the scary roads here. Once in PKH, Sam and I decided to forgo the carbo-loading at our favorite Italian coffee bar and restaurant Café Concerto (actually, Sam and I only know 2 restaurants in PKH) and went all in for Korean barbeque (Natsuil or something – the other restaurant we know). I still don’t get the whole “oooh… Pokhara!” thing. Sam and I both are just underwhelmed with the place (Can you ever just be “whelmed”? hahahha). So pretty much for us, Pokhara means barbeque pork… which isn’t a bad thing. :) After eating, we went to back to our hotel because we had an early flight to Jomsom the next morning.
Sam, Camille, Isabelle and me on the early morning bus. (Photo by Sam)
This is what we do in Pokhara - eat pork like we've never seen it before.
Day 1: Pokhara – Jomsom – Kagbeni
The flight to Jomsom from PKH is short – maybe 20 minutes, but it’s a beautiful flight since it goes right through the Annapurnas. That means you get to see all the mountains from above before hiking past them on the trek. It was my first time flying within Nepal and seeing that tiny, tiny plane was a little unnerving, but it was fine. I think I trust the pilots more than some of the drivers I've seen on the roads. It's cute though, because they give you cotton to put in your ears because its so loud and some little candies to get you through the flight.
The tiny plane that carried us.
Me in the tiny plane... I was a little worried. Tiny planes and big mountains would scare anyone, right?
The rest of the survivors.
Mountains from above... and still they are big. I THINK this is Dhaulagiri.
Once we landed, we realized that Jomsom was kind of like a ghost town… little did we know that’s how most of the towns would be like on this trek since it’s the off season. Everything was closed... and there were barely any people around. We were also freezing cold… I even put on gloves and my scarf while we were hiking to Kagbeni. I usually never get cold while hiking, but there we were, dressed out in winter wear, ready to get trekking.
Checking in at the permit and registration office. (Photo by Sam)
On the way... at least we know we're headed in the right direction. (Photo by Sam)
It's like walking through a desert... of rocks. (Photo by Sam)
The way to Kagbeni is pretty straightforward. You head out of Jomsom and you can see Kagbeni after some time. Kagbeni is my FAVORITE place in all of Nepal (seriously). The place is just so beautiful and the people are so interesting. Sam and I were walking through town and maybe about 10 people (mostly men) were playing some game by the river. I wanted to join, but boys never let me play here. :( It was also an interesting time for us to be there as it was Lhosar (or Tibetan New Year) and so the whole town had pretty much disappeared to the community meeting hall for drinking and gambling. Another ghost town, but this one's pretttttty.
The view of Kagbeni from a cliff behind the town.
Sam and I stayed in this amazing lodge – The Red House which is owned and operated by some close friends of my next door neighbor here Hari. The Red House is a converted 400-year-old monastery at the edge of town. It has some of the original structure… and it even has a massive golden Buddha tucked away in one of the family’s rooms. Like, seriously... massive. The place is just great… the food is really good… and the owners are SOOO nice! Sam and I had a good time just hanging out in Kagbeni and at the Red House, which is good since we decided to stay there 2 nights!
We also considered hiking into Upper Mustang (which is a restricted area - we heard permits go for like $700 or something) but we hiked up to this cliff behind Kagbeni that was past the restricted area checkpost and got a great view of Kagbeni from there. On our way back in, we found out the area's not restricted until past the next town. :( And we thought we were all cool like that.
Day 2: Kagbeni – Muktinath – Kagbeni (or running down the mountain)
Muktinath is at 3700m (the highest I’ve been) and this part of the trek is known for some altitude sickness problems. I was unsure if I wanted to go… but because it’s one of the major points on the trek, I felt like I should (even though both Sam and I were lethargic and headachey – early signs of altitude sickness). The hike there is along a road (no, we didn’t take the special underused trail that everyone told us about) through the desert-y like landscape. It’s uphill (which I don’t really like) but it wasn’t actually that bad… but you can definitely feel the altitude. Or at least, I could. Sam even made me take the altitude tablets because I was unable to concentrate on anything for more than a second and wasn’t feeling right.
Looking back towards Kagbeni on the way to Muktinath. Look at that sky!?
Sam and his fancy camera - I'm jealous.
Yay - we made it! Do I look slightly out of it? It's totally the altitude sickness. (Photo by Sam)
So we get to Muktinath, thinking, cool, we’ll get a jeep back to Kagbeni – easy. We talk to the jeep guy and he says oh, the jeep will leave when we’ve got enough people… probably 2 or 3pm. Sam and I keep walking up to the actual temple. I’ll admit I was cranky… from the hunger (nothing was really open except for one restaurant/hotel which was full of women doing a special puja for something so the owners couldn't feed us too… again ghost town) and the altitude.
The town of Muktinath from the temple... mostly closed except the massive amount of women gathered for a special puja ceremony.
But the temple was really cool. There’s 108 water spouts which you’re supposed to run through and wash your face with each for good fortune or something. Keep in mind… it was winter and at 3700m, there was a bit of snow. The water spouts were freezing cold, but after the hike, we’ll just say it was refreshing and jarred me into a better mood (which I'm sure Sam was grateful for). After checking out the temple a little more, Sam and I headed back into town to search for food… and catch our jeep.
The food search was successful… but the jeep catching was not. It left half an hour before we got back to the jeep counter. So our plans were foiled and we had to run back down to Kagbeni before dark (as neither of us wanted to or were prepared for night hiking). I like the downhill, but Sam does not. We made it back to our lodge with plenty of time for the sun to set. We even stopped along the way to buy some handmade scarves from a nice old lady. I'm a sucker for talking to old Nepali ladies. I want a Nepali grandmother! Hiking up to Muktinath and back was tiring, for sure, so sleeping that night wasn’t a problem.
The jeep that wouldn't be ours. Jerks. (Photo by Sam)
Heading back down to Kagbeni before the sun goes down. (Photo by Sam)
Day 3: Kagbeni – Marpha (or dust storm and wind burn)
I’d heard about the gale force winds on the way to Marpha… it’s true. Walking from Kagbeni to Jomsom and then Jomsom to Marpha is like walking through a wind tunnel of stone-filled desert. Sam and I were completed rugged up… and still I end up with wind burn. Walking was difficult as I was being constantly pushed by the wind - we were walking directly into the wind. We made friends with a cute couple – an Australian and a Japanese with a cute girl guide from Three Sisters (we called them The Japanese Couple). Gotta say, I’m pretty jealous of the girl guide… I would LOVE to guide treks, but with as slow as I am, I could probably only guide the oldies. :) We made it to Marpha (the apple capital of Nepal!), which is a cute village with cobble stone streets and apple brandy by the gallon. I’ve had the apple brandy before… it’s good, but Sam and I didn’t partake while we were in town. Inspired by the town, I’ve named my sleeping bag (finally!) Marpha.
This is me... maybe you can't tell because I could barely see. Crazy wind. (Photo by Sam)
Sam's self portrait (also dressed up to protect himself from the wind and dust). (Photo by Sam)
Alas, we made it to the apple capital of Nepal. (Photo by Sam)
The pretty monastery in Marpha.
We got up early (well, Sam earlier… I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of bed on the trek) and walked around Marpha before heading out for our next stop - Ghasa. There was a really pretty monastery at the top of town. And Marpha is just a cute town. I love Kagbeni, but Marpha is also cool. Apparently there is a movie called ‘Kagbeni’ but instead of being filmed in Kagbeni was filmed in Marpha. Two completely different towns (there’s not much similar about them)… so the people of Kagbeni are supposedly pretty pissed that this movie with their name was never even filmed in their town.
Day 4: Marpha – Ghasa (or we’ll get there before puja)
Sam and I had originally planned to hike from Marpha to Tukuche (but that was only like a 2 hour walk), so we changed it up and pushed on to Ghasa (based on the map, supposedly a bigger town – but not really). During the hike, Sam and I were both pretty tired… and hungry. We didn’t stop for lunch because there was NO place to stop. Seriously. The hike that day felt incredibly long and we had no idea why! Both of us were struggling that day (probably from the not eating). Eventually we stopped in Kalopani for tea at this great lodge where the lodge owner’s son served us tea and talked with us the whole time. He didn’t even charge us for tea because he was so happy to meet us. He was a great kid! We wished we could stay, but we had to push on.
Early in the day's hike... the way to Ghasa.
Later on during the day, looking back on the way to Ghasa.
We still needed to reach Ghasa and it was starting to get late. Along the way, I asked a couple of old ladies how many hours to Ghasa (in Nepali) and they assumed I was Nepali and told me I’d make it in time for puja (blessing ceremony which is done at sunrise and sunset). They were super cute old ladies - again, a sucker for talking to oldies. We did make it to Ghasa (and in time for puja if I did that kind of thing). And we found out that Sam was reading the scale wrong on the map… and we were actually walking double the amount of kilometers as we originally thought. Totally explains why were exhausted… we thought we were hiking 12km but instead it was like 24km.
The lodge kid at our place in Ghasa was also super nice. Found out that he was from Chitwan and was living in Ghasa because there was work there and not in Chitwan. Kind of odd since Chitwan is another big tourist-y area and there should be plenty of work there. I really like talking to the kids that work at the lodges because they’re interesting – leaving their homes to find work somewhere else and trying to get into the tourism industry. It's a little sad. The lodge wasn't so nice. However, we did get a chance to do some sightseeing of the Taj Mahal from our room since there was a big poster of it on the wall!
Sam and the Taj Mahal... who knew it was Ghasa, Nepal! :)
Day 5: Ghasa – Tatopani (or Hot Springs, here we come…)
The second major point of our trip was the hot springs at Tatopani (literally, hot water). We decided the day before that we would stay in Tatopani for two nights because we hiked longer during the days and had some extra time. Sam and I were pretty stoked that we hiked so far and in a short time (for us). We had planned for the trek to be about 6 days or so… and we cut off a whole day and that's without realizing the map's scale. The way to Tatopani again was ghost town-y and so for the second day in a row, Sam and I hiked on without lunch.
The town of Tatopani from the Hotel Himalaya's roof-top.
The great staff at Hotel Himalaya. These guys were so nice to us! (Photo by Sam).
Tatopani itself was pretty nice – we stayed at a cool hotel (The Hotel Himalaya) where the lodge kids were super nice and loved talking to us (so I got to use my Nepali). We even sat and watched some soccer with them. How is it that I always end up watching sports with the guys?? The food was good. And it was close to the hot springs. We went to the hot springs soon after our arrival and met up with Team ABBA (our name for this annoying couple or brother/sister – difficult to tell – with a matching annoying guide/boyfriend - again, difficult to tell) who were annoyed we beat them to Tatopani after they caught up with us with an hour later start. Once we were all in the springs, though, Team ABBA definitely drew in the stares as the girl was in a bikini (hello, scandalous!) and getting massaged by both her brother/boyfriend and her guide/boyfriend. I was happy to have the local men’s attention diverted to Team ABBA instead of on me. The subsequent times Sam and I went to the hot springs, it was a little uncomfortable as I was the only girl and looking Nepali, I confuse everyone. We met some great Nepalis (one was a helicopter pilot!) and just had a good time hanging out. Our two days in Tatopani were great – soaking in the hot springs and just relaxing. Getting back to reality was going to be a challenge.
Enjoying the time off... relaxing in Tatopani. Look how brown I've become (and windburned)!
Day 6: Tatopani – Pokhara (or a day full of travel)
Sam and I decided to forgo the boring and dusty hike from Tatopani to Beni and opted for getting a jeep and then a bus. This day started Sam’s 3 full days of travel to get back to HTD. Our bus back to Pokhara was stopped for a bit because of a bandh but what can we do? We were back on the road after some time and we picked up some young Buddhist monks who decided to play like ninja fighters on the roof of the bus. Seeing their shadows as we were driving was so funny! We ended our trek as we began with a pork feast at Natsuil (again, highly recommend it).
The trek was great… seeing a different side of Nepal. It’s alien and not what you expect when you think of Nepal and it made it that much better. I love Nepal and trekking has made it more so. Amazing how the Annapurna region can look completely different on either side of the mountains. My next trek will be Mount Everest Base Camp (hopefully… if the weather is good), but I’ll be doing that one without Sam. He’s back in Australia now so I'm in seach of someone to continue my adventures with...