Tue 4 Oct 2011 - Tue 29 Nov 2011
Number 1 – The Trekking
I imagine that trekking is the first connection people make when thinking about Nepal. It’s true, the treks here can take you to the highest peaks or the highest passes, through villages, through changing landscapes and through changing temperatures. The treks range from the best organized (Annapurna Circuit) to off the beaten track. You can choose to stay in tea houses, ranging from a few simple rooms attached to a family’s home to full-scale, albeit basic, hotels, or you can camp with a guide and porters. You can trek for a few days or a few weeks. The beauty about trekking in Nepal is that it is all possible and affordable.
We chose to do the Annapurna Circuit, primarily because it has a variety of scenery, one of the highest passes and is popular enough that you can follow the path and stay at tea houses without needing a guide. We were wary of being stuck with a guide that we didn’t get along with, or being tied to an itinerary without room to recuperate or relax as needed. We started our walk from Besishahar, took an acclimatization day at Manang, crossed the Throng-la pass on day 10 (5416 masl), then flew back to Pokhara from Jomsom on day 13. The reason we flew back instead of finishing the circuit was that the construction of a new road on the West side of the circuit meant moving to the side while trucks, motorbikes and jeeps passed us. This made us feel more like we were walking along a highway than hiking on a rural trail. I think we picked the right month to do this trek. We missed the rush of the crowds in October, and in November the temperature was cold but bearable at nights at the top, and warm in the sun at the bottom. We still reminisce about how cold it was on some of those nights. Thank heavens we carried our sleeping bags, and could get blankets from the tea houses. We would sleep in our clothes, forego a shower as it was cold water only at the top, and wear our wool toques to try to keep the warm in. On most nights we went to bed soon after the sun set – 7 pm – and woke when the sun rose at 6 in the morning. Trekking in the Himalayas is a great way to reset your daily routine, get back to nature and challenge yourself. It was an incredibly rewarding experience.
Number 2 – the Tourism
Nepal’s busiest cities, Kathmandu and Pokara, are fully set up for tourists. There you can eat at restaurants that serve everything from Thai to Korean to Tibetan to Italian. You can find fresh bakeries on the corner, buy snacks at the many shops, and drink at the many bars. You can stock up for your trek at the many trekking shops, buy souvenirs at the many stalls, or watch a movie or a live band. There are a range of hotels to suit every budget, sights within walking distance or a tuk-tuk ride away, and plenty of tourists and locals to give you suggestions. Now, if this isn’t your cup of tea, you can journey to any of the close-by towns for a feel of Nepal that is more authentic. The beauty of Nepal is that you have the choice. While on our trek we were daydreaming of TV, pizza and hot showers, but after getting our fill once back in Pokara, we went to Lumbini, a Buddhist town with only a few tourists. Kathmandu is a magical blend of both worlds since you can stay in the tourist centre, called Thamel, or venture a short distance away to have a taste of real Nepal.
Number 3 – the Festivals
While in Kathmandu we were lucky enough to witness two festivals – Tihar and Dashain. The wonderful part about these festivals was that they can be experienced on the streets, with shops, houses and entire neighbourhoods colourfully decorated. People flock to the street, and the festive atmosphere adds to the typical good nature and hospitality of the Nepali people. We were able to experience the festivities with all of our senses. We saw sand mandalas marking the entryway of each home so that the goddess Laxmi would visit them, larger mandalas on streets, kites fighting in the sky, and a special concert at the Durbar Square. We heard children going door to door singing songs in exchange for a few rupees, heard firecrackers snap, crackle and pop in the streets, and heard musical parades pass on the street. We smelled the oil in lamps lit for Deepavali, the garlands of marigolds which decorated door frames and the many special dishes cooking in Nepali kitchens.
We stayed in Kathmandu for 20 days, and got to know our hotel manager, Raj, quite well. When it was Bhai Tika, the brother/sister day of Tihar, he invited us to his home to celebrate with his family. We were so delighted and honoured to be a part of his family’s traditions, and we had a wonderful time! We watched as his beautiful sisters put tika on the foreheads of the men and boys, then Raj, the eldest brother, put tika on the girls. We ate delicious food, prepared by Raj’s sister in massive quantities! After having a snack while sitting on the floor, we sat at the table and ate again! We thoroughly enjoyed trying a little bit of everything, and their hospitality meant that our plates were never empty. It was so lovely to meet the family and get to know them a bit – and now we are friends on Facebook!
Number 4 – the Architecture
In many places around the world, the key sights are a bus or taxi ride away from the city. In the historic cities of Nepal, such as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan, the beautiful and unique architecture can be found on almost every street. Skilled craftsman display their work on the door frames or window coverings of each building. Courtyards and neighbourhoods share temples and stupas right in the middle of the daily action. Hidden idols, lingas, and engravings can been found with just a small search. In many cases, you don't need a guide book or to pay an entrance fee - just go for a stroll and look around! In other cases, such as the Durbar Squares, you pay a fee but the area still feels completely part of the city. There are no fences or ropes and you can climb the massive temple steps to watch local life pass by, touch idols that have recently been covered in tika, and observe the daily use of ancient buildings. The worn and aged facades, sometimes restored, sometimes not, just add to all the charm.