Namaste from Pokhara… Back from our Trek
We have been in Pokhara now for a week. Pokhara sits beautifully in the foothills of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. It is on the shores of a beautiful little lake, Lake Fewa. Life is quieter here which is so much different than the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. People here regularly say things like “I could never live in Kathmandu.” It is a city that takes advantage of the tourism related to those wanting to go on mountain treks, paragliding, and more. It is filled with both backpackers and those visiting Nepal to experience the culture. If you ever visit Nepal, Pokhara is a place you must see and everyone will tell you so.
A week ago now we left the comfort of our hotel for a five day trek to Poon Hill. Our trek had been organized by our hostel in Kathmandu. He sent his son to be our guide and a friend from their village to be our porter. We did not realize we were getting a porter until the day before we left. We gratefully accepted as it meant we would not have to carry our own backpacks. Some people do Poon Hill in anywhere from 4 to 7 days. Seven days is a pretty easy pace and if you are in no rush it is a good way to have a relaxing hike through the mountain. Four days would be long days and if you have a limited amount of time you may need to go fast. For us, five days seemed like a good compromise between length of day and enjoying the experience. I think most people take five days.
We started with about a 45 minute taxi ride to our starting point. Neither of us can remember what it was called but I do recall checking the altitude on my watch and it was just a little more than 1100 metres. Our first stopping point according to our itinerary would be Potana or Tolka. If we were slow and took a long time then we would stop in Potana. If we were faster then we would stop in Tolka. The beginning of the trek was something like 2000 steps. When I say steps I mean rocks that have been built into stairs. They are not even, flat, or equally spaced. You must pay attention to every step you take along the way to make sure you do not twist an ankle. I am not sure how long we were climbing steps but I am sure it was an hour.
While you are trekking there are regular checkpoints. Each trekker has a TIMS card which stands for Trekkers’ Information Management System. At the checkpoints, our guide took our card and permit into the station to register us. Our first checkpoint was in Dampus. From Dampus we continued to Potana. When we arrived in Potana it was only lunch time. We were at about 1450 metres. We stopped for lunch but we all agreed that we should keep going. If we stopped in Potana, the third day of our trek would be a very long day… likely 10-12 hours. Any time we kept going on day one and two would make that day more manageable.
Our lunch stop was an hour or so. We continued to walk and arrived in Tolka about another hour later. Tolka was the second place listed as a possible stopping place. We agreed again to keep going. We were now heading for Landruk. Landruk would be another couple of hours of hiking. When we were about a half hour from Landruk, we passed a tea house that seemed bustling with other trekkers and had a gorgeous view of Machapuchare. Machapuchare is also known as the fishtail. From the angle we started at on our trek the peak looked like a single point but as we trekked and circled around it, you could see that the peak is actually v-shaped like the tail fin of a fish. We told our guide we wanted to stop here.
Throughout all of our discussions about going on a trek, Nicola’s biggest fear was being cold. We were now stopped at almost 1700 metres and once the sun goes down it is definitely colder. Tea houses are usually a concrete building with no insulation and no heat. It is often colder inside your room than it is outside. We were pleasantly surprised by how soft the foam mattress was in our room. It was a marked improvement over the rock hard mattresses we had in Chitwan. We got blankets but we also had our sleeping bags. We have hauled these sleeping bags from Canada specifically for this moment. Once inside the sleeping bag and with the blanket we were quite comfortable. Getting out to go to the washroom however is quite cold. We paid 100 rupees ($1) for wifi while we were there but it wasn’t great. I guess what can you expect for wifi in the Himalayas.
We had dinner and chatted with other trekkers from places like Germany, Spain, and England. Dinner was in a dining room that had a wood stove in it. At each of the tea houses along the way we were handed a menu and allowed to pick something from the menu. I am now three weeks a vegetarian but I was never more tempted to eat meat than when I was on the mountain. I resisted though. Nepal is a very easy place to be a vegetarian actually… there are a lot of choices on the menu. There is a good selection of choices including Nepali food, Indian food, and western food. I am not certain what I ate but during the trek I had everything from pizza to butter masala vegetables. India will be tough for me to resist eating butter chicken… my favourite Indian food. That said I like feeling healthy like I do these days than how I felt in Africa.
We were up at 7am the next morning for breakfast. After a simple breakfast (muesli for me and a pancake for Nic along with a small pot of coffee for me and tea for Nic), we were on our way again. The scheduled stop for us on day 2 was Ghandruk but that was almost certainly not going to happen because we would be there in a few hours. We would once again choose a longer day to shorten day 3. We started from 1692 metres and began descending to 1250 metres. There is nothing more frustrating when you are trekking than going downhill when you know you will just have to climb back up. That is the nature of trekking in the mountains I guess. We stopped in Ghandruk for lunch which was once again the typical kind of menu. All of the menus seem to be the same. I think they are all prepared for the tea houses by a central management authority. Either that or they are owned and operated by the same people. There are some slight differences in the menus but very minimal.
In Pokhara we had bought some water 20 rupees a litre but we were now buying water on the mountain for 120 rupees… mountain prices. However, in Ghandruk where we stopped for lunch they had signs up about a women’s cooperative that was producing safe drinking water on the mountain. We decided to fill our bottle up there for 60 rupees. We were still a bit worried about the safety of it but figured that if it were not safe that it likely would not still be promoted and we would likely be told by our guide that it was not safe. On another note, we heard somewhere that Nepal is in the top 3 countries in the world for volume of fresh water. I think we wanted to support them producing drinking water as well rather than paying for plastic bottles everywhere which inevitably would add to the garbage on the mountain.
The view from our lunch spot was amazing. We were now not seeing much more of the Annapurna range. The Annapurna mountain range is a string of mountains all in the area of 6000 to 8000 metres. Annapurna South is 8091 metres and is ranked as the 10th highest mountain in the world. In comparison, Machapuchare is a mere 6993 metres and the other mountains I have been on: Mt Kinabalu is 4095 metres and Mt Kilimanjaro is 5995 metres. We took more than an hour between eating and taking pictures of the mountains.
After lunch we hit the trail again. Again a few more hours of climbing would reduce day three. When we ended up stopping for the night, we were at a place that was filled with trekkers. We were in Tadapani. Many of the tea houses have names like Nice View, Beautiful View, Green View, Mountain View, Amazing View. So you have to pick the kind of view that you want… is it nice, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing. The place we stopped, which our guide picked by the way, did have an amazing view but I think it had a name like Hungry Eye. Now we could see both Machapuchare and Annapurna South but we could also see Dhaulagiri. Dhaulagiri is 8167 metres high. The sunset was spectacular. Although the sun does not set over the mountains which would be an amazing sight to see, it sets in the opposite side and the mountains glow as the setting sunlight acts like an orange spotlight on the Himalayas. It is definitely breathtaking.
I was expecting sunrise to be even better but it was very much the same as sunset. I guess from our angle that the mountains were neither east nor west. We were now at day 3 which was to be the long day. We knocked a lot off day 3 by going long on day 1 and 2. That said we still had about 6 hours to get to Ghorepani. Another day of many steps, many up and down climbs, and this time walking through more forested jungle areas. Our guide wanted us to get to Ghorepani by lunch but that did not happen. About an hour or two before Ghorepani, there is a spot that you come upon called Duerali that has more amazing views. Now you can also see Annapurna I, II, and III. An Australian man who has done Poon Hill 10 times told me the night before that if you were here for sunrise it would actually be better than Poon Hill because the mountains were due east. We did not stay but did stop for lunch.
When we arrived in Ghorepani stayed at a guest house that again I think was called Hungry Eye. There was a school right below the hotel with a basketball and volleyball court in the yard. I remembered that Michele, my sister, was looking for cool basketball pictures and I took some amazing pics of a basketball net with the Himalayas in the background. She told me that she has already blown one of them up to 10 x 13 and framed it for her office. I think when we get back next summer I will have so many pictures that I want to blow up and frame myself. It is hard to imagine any more spectacular than Nic and I in the Himalayas.
Ghorepani is the place where you head up to Poon Hill. Ghorepani is just under 2900 metres and Poon Hill is 3210 metres. We would get up at 5am and make the final climb in the dark to be there for sunrise. It takes about 45 minutes. It is cold at this time but while you are climbing you actually feel hot. It is at the top of Poon Hill where you get cold. You stand around waiting for the sunrise and the wind blows unblocked by anything around. I think we were very lucky though. It was not windy. I was a bit cold because I had been sweating on my way up and so got cold because I was wet. Once the sweat dried however I was much warmer.
The sunrise was amazing. Definitely worth the early rise. Again, the sun rose on the side opposite Dhaulagiri. As it rose above the horizon, you could see hills on the horizon layered on one another like a perfectly shaded painting. Nicola took one of my pics of this as her Facebook cover photo. I think it is a photo that people might buy in a store somewhere. I know that sounds like bragging but I think it is more a comment about the view… I just pushed a button. Dhauligiri, Nilgiri, Annapurna I, II, and III all turned slowly from dark to orange to white like someone slowly turned on a light or opened the shades. We stayed for more than an hour ensuring that we had taken photos from every angle possible and in every fun way we could think of.
Once we were done with Poon Hill at sunrise we headed back down to the Hungry Eye (only about 20 minutes going down). We had breakfast and then packed our bag. We had met another Canadian girl from Calgary who has been travelling for more than a year. We had breakfast with her and shared stories. She was going the other way from us… she will end where we began… as most people do. Few people go in the direction that we are going. There was a family from Singapore that was going our way so our guides planned for us to stay at the same place that night. As our guide told us… friends for you and friends for us. It was a good idea actually.
We left Ghorepani at about 9am headed for a place a little further than Thickedunga (our planned stop). It was mostly all down hill but at one point you descend a stretch of over 3000 steps. I told Aiden (son of Singapore family) that I would say it was more than 4000 to make it sound worse and he said he would comment on my blog. I told him to count them but I doubt that he did. I find going down tougher than going up. It is harder on my knees. Going up you cushion yourself up by raising yourself up. Going down a 10 inch step can be very jarring on your knees. My right knee particularly does not like it. The family from Singapore had a guide who was actually a physiotherapist and acupuncturist. I should have brought Cecil, Stacey, or Tracey with me. Actually it was not as bad as I had expected it to be.
We ended a long day 4 and I was ready for a sleep. I had a short nap before dinner. Just before dinner, the guide of the family from Singapore brought our some Nepali rum for Aiden and his sister Annika (18 and 15). Their parents (Kay and Cynthia) were not down for dinner yet. Our guide said to us that he was going to bring us a half Mickey of Nepali rum and a bottle of coke instead of tea for tonight. It was just what I needed. It had been months since my last rum I think… at least that is the way I remember it. After dinner the guides put on music and had everyone up dancing. It was a lot of fun. I ended up buying a couple more half Mickeys which I shared with everyone. We had a good evening but by the time we were off to bed (around 10pm) my body said it was done and I crashed hard.
Day 5 of the trek was virtually all downhill. We left our tea house at around 8:15am and arrived at the final checkpoint at around 11:15am. Our guide asked us if we wanted to stop for lunch but we didn’t. He preferred to eat there because it would be much cheaper for them. The guides eat Dal Bhat for lunch and dinner every day and it only costs 100 rupees each for them because they bring trekkers in. The guides and porters are treated well by the guest houses because they want them to keep coming back with more guests. A night for a room in the guest house is about 320 rupees (about $3.20) as long as you eat there. If you eat elsewhere it is 1000 or 1500 rupees. Despite him wanting the cheaper meal we were not ready to eat lunch at 11am and so we wanted to eat in Pokhara.
We took a taxi back to Pokhara from Nayarot (where we ended). It took longer than an hour for the 40 km ride because the roads are so bad. After checking back into our hotel in Pokhara and quickly washing up, we went for lunch with our guide and porter. We had not showered in days (I only showered once on the second night) so we would have been happy just to shower and eat later. However, our guide and porter were heading back to Kathmandu by bus (6 hours or more) so they did not want to sit around. Cannot say I blame them. We went to a typical Nepali restaurant. I am sure if it was Nic and I we would have eaten somewhere else but it was definitely a good experience. Nepali people eat their Dal Bhat with their hands. Nic ordered it but they gave her a fork instead. I could never eat it myself. It is much too spicy for me. I had a veggie burger instead.
We gave our guide and porter a good tip before they were off to Kathmandu. They worked hard over the five days and still had several hours before they were home. They were very focused on making us happy and making this a good experience for us. It was. Five days was a good amount of time for us. Maybe someday in the future I will want to do a longer trek to either ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) or Everest Base Camp. For now, for me, for us, this was good.
I told our guide and porter about going to Kili. I taught them to say Pole Pole (slow slow) in Swahili. They taught me that in Nepali it is despari despari (not sure about the spelling). Chito chito is fast fast and jom jom is lets go. I am sure there were more but these stand out in my memory for now.
Yesterday was a slow day for us. We were sore… at least we had some sore muscles. We got a ride from the hotel shuttle to Devi’s Fall and the Gupteshwar Mahadev Gupha Cave across the street. The funniest thing happened at Devi’s Fall. We were just standing around and looking at the waterfalls that disappear below ground (you cannot see where the water goes until you go into the caves across the street where they reappear). I looked over at Nicola and there were some Nepali high school students getting their picture taken with her. That is not strange… it happens more than you would expect. Some people think she is the actress/comedian Rachel Dratch from Saturday Night Live. Not these kids who came from some remote community in Nepal and I think were just amazed to see a white person. Before I knew almost every kid and teacher on this school trip had their picture taken with Nicola or me or both of us. Even the principal and his wife wanted their picture taken with us. We did an all staff photo and we did so many group photos with kids it was crazy. I am not sure if these kids are on Facebook but it makes me wonder what their statuses would say next to our picture. The scrum lasted for at least 20 minutes after which Nic and I both just laughed about what had just taken place. People have wanted their picture with us before but never an entire school trip of kids. Each and everyone of them shook our hands and told us their names. Not a single one could we pronounce. Even in the caves deep in the ground people to their picture with us. Not school kids but just Nepali people who were sight seeing themselves.
After the falls and the caves we went to a Tibetan village. We saw them making carpets and then our driver took us to a carpet store. I fell in love with a beautiful carpet but it was so big and expensive. I could picture it on our living room floor. I could not bring myself to spend more than $1200 on a handmade carpet no matter how beautiful it was. [Note: Late addition (now Saturday evening)… we went back and bought a carpet. My idea more than Nic’s. We are having it custom made based on the one we loved. It will be bigger than the one we had and will be for our living room. It will take three months to get. It will take 4 people more than one month to make by hand. I am very excited.]
Later on we went to a spa for a massage for me and a mani/pedi for Nic. I got a one hour deep tissue massage for $18. My muscles cursed me for punishing them more at the time but thanked me for helping them to loosen up and relax. It was excellent. A mani/pedi for Nic was $14. This was an upscale place we went to. I am sure you could get both cheaper but we found a nice place to get it done.
It is Saturday morning now and we will again have a slow paced day. We might go out to do a bit more of the sites in Pokhara but if we do not that is okay too. Tomorrow morning we will leave for Lumbini. Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha. After a couple of nights there we will head to India. We still do not have anything planned specifically in India however we do know that we will head to Varanasi then Agra then Delhi then Jaipur. That is our rough plan.
My next update will be from India.
Namaste (I bow to you; I bow to the light in you; I bow to your true self; the light in me honours the light in you -> it is open to interpretation)