Check it out! Here is the link on You-Tube:
During this day’s transition from Kathmandu, Nepal to Chiang Mai, Thailand, DM and I broke every rule of the experienced traveler, including:
1. Allow plenty of extra time to get to the airport in case of traffic.
“Our international flight is at 1:30PM; let’s arrange for a taxi at 10:30” say I.
“Oh, that’s silly,” says DM. “It’s only a 20 minute ride to the airport – make it 11:AM.” I didn’t feel like arguing, and also refrained from saying “I told you so” when the taxi arrived 20 minutes late, and traffic was horrendous.
2. Besure to check that you have all your belongings before leaving the hotel.
Three blocks into the noon-time traffic of Kathmandu, DM shrieks “Oh No! I left my purse on the couch in the hotel lobby – we have to go back.” Fortunately, the taxi driver knew a back street, and the purse was still there. And even more fortunately, the plane was a bit late.
3. Be sure to check the rules about currency exchange if you have any significant amount of local currency left.
I had about $70 US in Nepalese rupees, which I decided in our hurry not to pause to exchange at the airport in Nepal. It was only when I got to the US and tried to exchange that I found out that it is “illegal” to take NPR out of Nepal, and no other country will exchange the currency.
4. Be sure to check that you have all your belongings before leaving the plane.
I stepped aside to check the connecting flight number as we waited to exit the plane; only after we were halfway up the concourse (fortunately, still within the security area) did I realize my backpack was too light – I had left my fanny pack/purse on the airplane seat. I swam upstream against the flood of exiting passengers to retrieve it, and we loped through the concourse to catch our flight rather than making our anticipated R&R stop in the Thai Airways Orchid Lounge.
5. Be sure you have some local currency in hand on arriving in a new country.
We had planned to grab some Thai currency in the Bangkok airport, but had no time between flights due to flight delay and my brain-dead episode. By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, the ATMs and currency exchange booths were shut down for the night. Fortunately, DM’s neighbor had given her a few leftover baht to use as mad money – just enough to pay the taxi to our hotel.
So yes, we knew better. God watches over fools. We got there anyway.
in the high season you WILL need reservations or risk sleeping on the dining room floor.
This day we again put DB on a jeep – this time first thing in the morning – and DM and I set out on foot for a four hour trek partly along the bus road (DB and Bina waved at us as they passed) and partly along the old trekking road. We had the three assistants as guides – nice young things with big smiles and minimal English – and we had a fine time walking through a series of small stone-built villages, over stone bridges, along an amazing series of conduits for flowing water (the actual river was way downhill from us). We shared trail mix and granola bars and rested frequently, but still made our destination in the four hours allotted.
Jharkot is just a smidge(3500M) down the hill from Mulktinath, the high point of the trek (3802M according to my new hat). Since we arrived before noon, we had a leisurely lunch on the veranda looking at Nilghiri Peak across the valley, then explored the town, including an ancient Buddhist monastery dating back to the 700s, with some fascinating paintings and artifacts. We are amazed still at how cavalierly the Nepalese treat their history – no hesitation about touching a fragile old canvas, or allowing flash photos of an ancient wall mural. The town was very Tibetan in feeling, according to Dianne, who has been to Tibet, all gray stone and low doorways leading into dark corridors or bright courtyards; lots of Buddhist elements mixed in with ancient animist totems – very alien to us.
We also had an impromptu tour of a women’s collective engaged inproducing seabuckthorn juice concentrate for the local market. (If seabuckthorn replaces the acai berries craze, you read it here first!) The women do everything from gathering, crushing, and simmering the berries for juice to scalding, labeling and filling recycled bottles for the market. The space for the seasonal operation is provided by the local Buddhist monastery; the proceeds are used to assist poor families in the village. (The catch is that much of the money goes back to the monastery to pay for religious services)
In the evening we gathered around the table under which a charcoal brazier radiated warmth, and after dinner ended up playing a Nepalese version of gin rummy with our guide Bina; assistant Bandana; Katharine, a Dutch management consultant who was trekking solo with a guide, and a charming Italo-French skydiving instructor named David who had just come over the Thang Lo pass solo – no guide, no porter. We had a lot of inter-generational, inter-cultural laughing and silliness, and at 8:30 the three of us decided it was past our bedtime and left the younger folk to it.
I was amazed at the ability of a battered deck of cards to erase boundaries – we need to play more often!
In general, women in the rural areas of Nepal dress very conservatively, with long sleeves and long skirts being the norm outside of Kathmandu and Pokhara. Nepalese who run guest houses and other tourist services on the Annapurna circuit have become enured to seeing women in trousers, but bare shoulders and short shorts will draw unwanted attention.
How much does it cost to trek in Nepal ? Well, that depends on the trekker, the trail chosen, and unforeseen circumstances. (There will always be unforeseen circumstances).
For our 12-day trek, the total quote from 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking was $1222 per person – about $100/day. This included flights from Kathmandu to and from Pokhara, and from Jomsom to Pokhara, most guest-house charges (including all meals, tea, beds, but excluding sodas, mineral water, and alcoholic drinks), transportation to the start of the trek, guide, and porter service.
In addition, from 3 sisters I rented a down sleeping bag, trekking poles, a large back pack for the assistant guide to tote my stuff in and a down jacket, at a total charge of 1320 NPR ( about $1.43/day for 11 days).
You should plan to tip the guide and the porters/assistant guides. Plan on 20% of the cost of the trip for the head guide and maybe 15% for the assistant who carries your backpack. (Oops! Cost just went up, didn’t it?) This should be in cash, so allow for time to visit the ATM in Pokhara or make sure you have retained enough cash from before the trek.
In addition to the tips for the guides, budget at least 800 Nepalese rupees (about $10 USD)/day of trekking for odd expenses and shopping. Have the cash with you in small denominations – there are few ATMs on the trekking circuit, and lots of irresistible expenses: Tibetan crafts, pashmina scarves, yak-fur blankents, Internet cafés…. If you flash a large-denomination bill, you only invite inflated prices.
Haggling over prices is traditional throughout Nepal. It is very easy to get swept into a competitive spirit of trying to get the cheapest price no matter what – try to keep perspective. If you pay 500NPR ($5.90 USD) for a yak-wool blanket and your friend is gloating that she paid only 450NPR for hers – that’s a savings of 60 cents. Relax!
If you are worried about security for your cash and equipment, bring your own lock for your guest-house door. Most are secured with a padlock of some sort, but monitoring of the access keys is haphazard.
We actually ended up with a small refund on our prepayment as we had to use jeep and bus transport instead of in-country flights – but that’s getting ahead of my story.
Remember that you must change your Nepali currency back to Thai or US or whatever you will need next at the Kathmandu Airport – some other countries, including the US, will not accept Nepali rupees for exchange. If your next stop is Thailand, you will be glad of the Bhat if you find ATMs closed (as we did) on your arrival in Bangkok.
(I learned this the hard way – if anyone is going to Nepal and wants a bargain rate on abour $70USD in Nepali Rupees let me know – no foreign exchange or bank on the West Coast will take them.)
Up and packing at 6:45AM; our troupe of 9 women engaged in a yoga session after breakfast led by our tour guide – we all share the same thoughts on how to fend off age – just keep moving and don’t look back!
On the trail an hour later. It is still foggy. Yesterday was a warm-up for today’s journey, which is twice as long, twice as high. Happily DB shows no symptom of altitude sickness or exhaustion today, even though we are constantly gaining altitude. We left the rain forest behind and below, and walked instead past orchards of cherry trees in full blossom. Occasional drizzle brought out the rain covers and water-proof parkas.
Today’s segment was billed as 5 hours of walking; we stretched it to 10 hours, with breaks, including close encounters with bullock carts, pony caravans, and a herd of goats. At intervals along the trail there are stopping spots, walls of stone with two steps constructed at a height convenient for the porters to lean against the lower step while resting their carefully-balanced baskets on the ledge. The design works equally well for backpacks.
Tip to trekkers: be careful to sit ON the stone bench if possible. Nepal boasts a species of stinging nettle which can penetrate a pair of lightweight trekking pants with no trouble. It’s not a memory you will cherish!
We finally arrived at Lower Ghorepani at 5PM. Ghorepani is a nest of bright-blue-painted guest houses, all claiming the best view of the Annapurnas. Due to the persistent overcast, we had no way to judge. We shambled past guest house after guest house and finally a good half hour later reached ours – the Sunny Guest House. We are told that in clear weather from here the view is terrific. Tomorrow, if the skies are clear in the early morning, we will get up at 4:30 AM and hike another mile uphill to get the panoramic view of the Annapurnas from Pun Hill. Tonight again it pours rain.
Talk about herding cats! 20 women (9 trekkers, two guides, 9 assistants/porters) trying to get organized at once on the front porch of the Chhetri Sisters guesthouse. The people all fit inside three large SUV’s; half the gear went on top held on by bungee cords and tarps. Trekkers carry their own day packs with a few layers of clothes, at least two quarts of water, rain gear, and whatever else you deem essential for the day. Beyond that, 3 Sisters porter’s packs are limited to 25 lbs – 20 lbs for the guest and 5 lbs for the porter. 3 Sisters porters are provided with hiking shoes and decently balanced back-packs, and wear logo shirts and jackets while on the job.
To help you appreciate how ground-breaking this is for Nepali touring, here is a shot of a typical male porter on the trail. The whole load is balanced with a tum line across the forehead; if it should slip, he 1) tumbles or 2) strangles and either way is 3) dead.
The trail to Hille, our first night’s stop, goes up through rain forest past villages where rice was being harvested and left to dry in the sun, past blooming hibiscus, poinsettias, and twining squash vines. Fog and overcast made walking easier, as we climbed up and up on dirt, granite, marble steps, as the Mohdi Kohla River receded further and further below.
At one point we were overtaken by several impossibly tall and fit Germans wearing helmets and carrying kayaks. Suddenly they plunged off the trail and down a narrow footpath – they were evidently kayaking through the rapids back down the valley to Pokhara. This takes adventure trekking to an entirely new level!
Hille is a small town whose livelihood depends on trekking traffic and rice. In this part of Nepal the lucky color is blue (probably still influenced by Hindu tradition, where blue is the color of Vishnu.) So every guest house is painted the same electric blue – very appealing visually but hard to distinguish one from the other.
Warning: If your guest house advertises solar showers, this means that if the day has been foggy, or if you arrive behind other groups of trekkers, there will be no hot water for you. Set modest expectations!
It was here that we first experienced the unpredictability and scariness of altitude sickness. All three of us live at or near sea level but had trained for the trek by hiking at 9000 feet in the Rockies; DB had spent quite a bit of additional time with additional hiking at 9000-9500 feet in the Sierras. At Hille the elevation is a modest 4800 feet. DM and I were tired but basically exhilirated by our first day’strekking experience; DB was stupefied. The combination of altitude and exertion left her so exhausted that she was between incoherent and comatose. DB and I managed to get some aspirin into her, manoevered her into her sleeping bag, and crossed our fingers.
(Coming next: Day 2 – Hille to Ghorepani )
There are lots of websites which include excellent checklists for trekkers in Nepal. Here is one. Here 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.
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.
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.
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:
But enough of the scary stuff! In my next post we will finally get on the trail!