October is the best month for trekking in Nepal. I flew to Kathmandu with Pia airways, the carrier from Bangladesh. There was an overnight stopover in Dhaka. I was staying in a tourist hotel in the center of town. Around the hotel a lot of people were mingling around trying to get money off the tourists. I quickly walk away towards them river and ended up in the slums of the city. There were no cars. Transport was by rickshaw and on the river by boats. I made a boat ride on the river and ended up in the wood market. Large trees are transported over the river and carried into the market. There they were cut to small pieces and sold as firewood. The people are not familiar with tourists and therefore not threatening. On the contrary they were friendly and actually showed me places where I should take pictures.
Kathmandu is the largest of the 3 old King cities in the Kathmandu valley. The center of town has narrow streets and therefor no cars. Ideal for wandering around in-between the many Hindu and Buddhistic temples. The first order of business is to sort out how to get to Pokhara where I wanted to start my trek. The trekking agencies only offered expensive fully equipped trekking trips. They supplied tent, guides and porters. For every 3 porters you needed an extra porter to carry all the food for the other porters. So the group quickly expanded. The American trekkers were obliged to take these expensive tours since they only had 2 weeks holiday to get it organized and done. I had more time and therefore only booked a bus ticket to Pokhara and organize it from there.
The bus was crowded. Part of the way I sat on the roof of the bus with some locals amongst the luggage. In Pokhara I found a young local “guide”, Khamal, who was also willing to carry my large rug sack. I felt that I no longer had to prove myself that I could carry a 20 kg+ rucksack and therefore only carried my camera equipment. It was a blessing not to have the usual shoulder pains.
There are 2 treks into the mountains. One is a 3 day one to the Annapurna sanctuary and the other is a 15 day one counterclockwise around the hole Annapurna group. I don’t like to walk in and out so I decided to do the circular rout. Unfortunately, the pass was closed due to snowfall. For how long was not clear. Still, I decided to take this rout clockwise in the hope that the pass would be cleared before I arrive after 7 days.
In the villages along the route are many renthouses where Khamal and I spent the night. The menu was manly western type quick meals of noodles, pastas and piazza. How the cooks could manage to prepare such a variety of meals for all the quests on one open fire is a bit of a mystery. In some huts the fire was in the middle of the room and we all sat around it. Your eyes were hurting from the smoke. On day 3 I met the first people who had crossed the Thorongla Pass. This meant the trail was open again!
In the early morning of day 4 I climbed up the nearby Pun Hill. From there you have a spectacular view of the Dhaulagiri (8167 m) and Annapurna (8091) mountain ranges. It was busy on the hilltop even at 6 AM). Most tourist only walk to this point so from there on the trail was not busy at all. It was the Dada Dasain festival time. In that period people trek back to there local village to receive the blessing of there elders. This is done by sticking colored rice on your forehead.
After Muktinate we started the steep climb up to the Thorongla pass (5416 m). Just before the pass there is a hut with a remarkable Didi who runs the place and cooks a healthy evening meal and morning breakfast so you have the energy to go over the pass.
My guide had never been this far along the route so we hade to find our way. The path over the pass was however clearly visible in the snow. I had no height sickness while going up the pass but it caught up with me on the way down. Khamal had to be patient with me because I felt like regularly sitting down. To make the decent less slippery I put my woolen socks on the outside of my shoes. When the sun came up, I made a pair of shades for Khamal so he would not get snow blind. The way down the mountain through the valleys was incredibly beautiful. I dreamt that I would one day take my future wife here on our honeymoon. The trail was empty because the tourists had not come this far yet after the pass was cleared.
Before reaching the tarmac main road I met a bus on the trail and boarded it. This cut of a day of walking.
The next stop was the Royal Chitwan National Park. In that park there are Tigers, Rhino’s, bears and other animals. I always wanted to see a tiger in the wild. Unfortunately, you can only seem then at the expensive park lodge where they tie up a goat each evening so the tourists can see the tiger taking his diner. The small guesthouse I was staying in did not have that facility. The guesthouse was a nice place to stay. They organized the trip on the back of an elephant into the park as well as an evening entertainment with a local “stick” dance. Unfortunately, the toilet hut was close to the well from which they pumped their water. So, I did get some diarrhea after 2 nights.
In the park you walk around with a guide who only has a stick to defend himself. He was very confidant with the rhino’s (they do not see well and you only have to hit them on the noise) but when we saw some sloth bears walking towards us, he was afraid.
After the mountain trek and the National Park, I had some time left to explore Kathmandu and the surrounding cities of Bhaktapur and Patan. All three cities have an old town center which is full of narrow streets and Hindu temples large and small. The Buddhistic temples are more on the outside of the town. The locals are very devoted and gather around to listen to priests/monks and make offerings to their favored gods. Along the river there are funeral sites where I witnessed the cremation of a local who was involved in a car accident. The town squares are often used for open air markets as well as a site for drying and thrashing rice. The streets are dirty and the hygiene is low. People defecate on the side of the road and pigs and garbage surrounds the local water supplying lakes. The cities have ample guest houses and small tourist restaurants. The busy ones are mentioned in Lonely Planet but the ones not mentioned are much more interesting.