Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Tips for the Traveller in Nepal – Sanitation

There are lots of websites which include excellent checklists for trekkers in Nepal.  Here is oneHere is another. In these Tips for Travellers I will focus on items which I had not seen on checklists or will emphasize why some things are particularly useful, with a skew toward women’s concerns.

The first questions I am asked about my travels in Asia often  involve either the toilets or the water, so let’s get those basics out of the way.

Toilets:  (this is the right word to use when asking about “the facilities”.  The word “rest room” sounds too much like “restaurant” to a Nepali ear and will lead to frustration and confusion.)

Here’s the straight dope: Be prepared to squat. Throne-style toilets are not always available.  One of our fellow travelers anticipated this and did exercises in advance specifically to stretch her Achilles tendons. Balancing on the balls of your feet while hovering over the hole with nothing you would care to hold onto for support can be tricky.

The typical Nepali toilet room will look a lot like the picture.  There is often a deep window sill on which you can rest your pack or personal items;  there is a tap with running water used to fill the bucket and to sluice off the floor, hence the floor is often wet.  The bucket of water is for washing, and there is no toilet paper.  I never figured out once you have washed yourself off (using your left hand only) how you then gt yourself dry enough to pull your pants back up.  So I stuck with Western habits and accepted BYOTP as the norm.

To bring:

  1. Pop-up sanitary wipes – these come in packages and are much easier to handle in an Asian-style toilet than a roll of toilet paper. Packs of tissues are also good. Paper used as toilet paper does not go down the hole, but into a waste paper basket inside or just outside the W.C.
  2. Small plastic bags for trash – in case you need to go in the wild, or the basket is outside the W.C., and also to pack out Kleenex, trail mix wrappers, and other trail detritus.  You want to leave a clean footprint.
  3. A sink stopper. You will find a sink at each guest house, but for washing clothes, cleaning contact lenses, etc. you will need your own stopper.
  4. Panty liners.
  5. A portable clothes line,  clothespins, and biodegradable detergent.  You will have opportunities to hang up clothes at the guest houses, but you can’t expect clothespins, and evenings are breezy – you don’t want your backup panties blown 500 vertical feet down the valley.

Water: No, you cannot drink the water from the tap in Nepal. Anywhere. Most hotels will offer bottled water in your room;  the more ecologically sensitive will provide a water station for filtered water to refill your bottles.  Recycling is very expensive in Nepal because everything has to be carried off the mountains to the nearest facility, which is probably in Kathmandu.  The carriers are either heavily laden pack mules, or equally heavily laden human porters.

To bring:

  1. Water filter/ UV SteriPen and iodine tablets or equivalent.  The water filter / Steripen will take care of 90% of the nasties you might find in the water but the other 10% are really nasty, so don’t forgo the iodine.  There are iodine equivalents which do not leave a taste in the water and do the same job.
  2. Two water bottles – one for drinking from and one for filtering into and  refilling from.  If you are using a water filter make sure your water bottles are compatible in size – you should be able to screw the filter  onto the water bottle securely.  You can find running water at most tea houses and it takes only a short time to filter a fresh quart.

Medical treatment: although we occasionally passed medical clinics, usually funded by some foreign organization, we learned later that these clinics are staffed poorly, intermittently, or not at all.  Avialable anti-biotics and other medicines are often past their expiration date.  Evacuation to India or Bangkok is your best bet if you become seriously ill or injured, but this is very expensive.  Best to get your vaccinations up to date and avoid getting sick!

To bring in your own medical kit:

  1. Sunburn protection
  2. Antibacterial ointment
  3. Blister treatments ( Dr. Scholl’s Blister Protection/Prevention pads are very effective in keeping “hot spots” from developing into full-fledged blisters.  Most list-makers mention moleskin;  I had moleskin but never used it.)
  4. Aspirin – very effective in preventing altitude sickness
  5. Ibuprofen for muscle aches
  6. Bandaids
  7. Spare eyeglasses if you need them. Extra contact lens solution if you need it.
  8. Eye drops – your eyes can get very dry at high altitudes.
  9. Any medications which you are accustomed to having available as needed.

But enough of the scary stuff!  In my next post we will finally get on the trail!

Nepal – day 8 – Pokhara – Jumping off point for Annapurna treks

The ever-helpful 3Sisters Adventure Trekkers called just as we collapsed into our suite after our airport ordeal (see Day 7) –  alternate arrangements are made.  Since the weather is not expected to change tomorrow, we abandon hope of flying to Pokhara, the central starting point for trekking the Annapurnas east of Kathmandu.  They have arranged to pick up us at 6AM in their  jeep and take us to Pokhara.  It is an 8 hour ride over a road which is probably the best in Nepal outside of Kathmandu, since it supports the all-important tourist trade. (That doesn’t mean there weren’t some white-knuckle moments!).

I’m not a big fan of SUV’s but in Nepal a large four-wheel-drive vehicle actually makes sense.  The road passes through  rural country and busy villages;  traffic alternately easy and harrowing.  The passing lorries are elaborately painted with pictures of gods, flowers, and strange beasts, set off with ornamental grille work also elaborately painted, and often sporting banners flying from the fenders.   These ornaments help take your mind off how very closely they pass on the narrow road clinging to the mountain side – art at work!

The  Chetri Sisters Guest House is friendly and comfy, though not as isolated as the pix on the website would have you think.   It was full of other trekkers, either families planning to trek together or other groups of women.

Although the 3 sisters started out as a service devoted to women trekkers on the well-established Annapurna circuit,  the slower pace, moderate burdens, and nightly accomodations have attracted families and other groups which include men – they have even added a couple of male tour guides to the staff (who also enjoy the benefit of the humane load limits imposed by 3 Sisters management).

Pokhara is a tourist town, with all the tourist ameniteis including souvenir shops, ATMs, and restaurants of every persuasion.  We ate lunch down by Fewa Lake along with several other women who will be traveling with us for the first two nights, shared a bit of a beer and chat.  Celebrated view of lake surrounded by snowy peaks invisible; instead we had a foggy Chinese-y landscape of gray lake and gray sky and darker gray foothills swimming out of the mist. (Can you spot the hills in this picture?)   We returned to a mandatory orientation meeting with our  guides-to-be, a presentation on Empowering Women of Nepal (3 sisters NGO), and a dinner of the Nepalese national dish, dal bhaat – rice, lentil soup,  curried  stew (sometimes this includes meat, sometimes not) and a pickled vegetable.  (Watch out for little pebbles in the lentil soup!)  We went to  bed to the sound of  rain pounding on the roof and gushing down the  gutters – hoping this augurs clear weather for tomorrow.

Nepal – government in transition, US helping hand

Another unexpected connection between my life and Nepal surfaces in this story on how the new Nepalese constitution is being drafted with the assistance of theU.S. Department of Defense with assistance from the  Naval Postgraduate School  in Monterey.

If you are planning a trip to Nepal, knowing something about the political situation will help you in a number of ways, not least in being able to have meaningful conversaton with the guides and hoteliers you may meet.  Study up!

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