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Monday, December 22, 2014

Nepal 3: Stone stairs and animal poo: My Himalayan journey


Monday was Trek day. Kim's husband helped us pack most of our things into one giant pack the night before:



Here Kim is wearing our pack

And here is a comparison to a normal backpack on Christin
We hired a guide and a porter (A "sherpa," if you will, though Sherpas are actually a specific people group that live at a very high elevation and they are the ones who take folks up to Everest. We were definitely not going that far so our porter was of the non-Sherpa variety but most people call all porters Sherpas, so I digress...). Our porter would be carrying our pack throughout the trek so we kept everything under 50 lbs total. Which, as you can imagine, meant we weren't taking much - we basically all had one outfit (with one to spare for emergencies) and no plans to shower (which was fine since I'd already scalded all my sweat glans off in Kim's shower in Kathmandu).

To begin our trek, we had to fly to Pokhara, so our first adventure was exploring the domestic air travel procedures. The airport basically resembled a construction site on the outside, and a warehouse on the inside. There was one row of kiosks representing each domestic carrier and the airlines were named things like "Yeti" and "Buddha Air." This was exactly the aesthetic I wanted going into a Himalayan adventure.


Walking into the airport


front door


inside


Our plane was a small propeller filled so full that a poor guy had to ride in the jump seat, awkwardly staring at the other passengers.

hey buddy! you're going the wrong way!

The flight was short and it gave us our first glimpse of the peaks.




We landed in Pokhara and walked towards baggage claim, which ended up being this:




Where someone handed our bags to us through the front window like a Taco Bell order.

We gathered "Christina" (the name we gave our giant bag after realizing we had a ticket for "Christina" instead of Christin. Thankfully no one cared that Christin's ID didn't match her ticket and both Christin and "Christina" were able to get on the flight) and headed out to find our guide.

Our guide's name was Dom. There was a group of Nepali men who we assumed were guides standing around at the gate and we spent a few minutes awkwardly staring at them before finally hesitantly inquiring "Dom?" in various directions to see if he was there.

He wasn't.

Though fortunately we didn't have to wait long for him to drive up and after quickly making a shocked face upon taking in the height of Christin and I, he grabbed Christina and we all took off in his jeep. We drove towards the trail head, catching glimpses of "Fishtail" mountain along the way, 


That pointy cloud in front of us is actually Fishtail. The peaks looked fake because they were so tall and cloud-covered. 
and stopped to have the first of many Masala teas (which was a relief to me since the drive was making me a little vomiting-goat-y...).
Me, my tea, and a gorgeous river.
We took our jeep up as far as vehicles could go, then we got out and finally started our journey on foot.

And here's how our trek proceeded from here on out: Every time we started walking, Christin and I (the un-experienced hikers) would put on several layers of clothes, hike for 20 minutes, then ask Dom to hold up so we could stop and take off some of our clothes.

Every. Time.

So after our de-layering, we continued the start of our trek.

The terrain changed throughout the journey, so I've bunched everything into four main categories in my brain:

"Terraced Fields"
"Lord of the Rings'ish"
"Everest-y"
and
"Fern Gulley-esque"

We started with Terraced Fields. I had seen photos somewhere of Bali years ago and all I remember were these gorgeous hills where the landscape was in terraces, stair-stepping down the hills and I always wanted to see something like that. When I learned that there were fields like that all over Nepal, I was stoked. (And I also decided I probably never needed to go see Bali then. Sorry, Bali! This is awkward...)

Our trek started out as a series of stone stairs.  -- the whole dang trek ended up being stone stairs. Like, seriously. There were very few moments where we were not in the process of going up or down a stone stair the entire four days. I marvelled at the fact that there are entire communities all the way up in those mountains because there is no level ground to be had. They call it "Nepali flat" - you're pretty much always going up or down.

And because there were no cars around now, things were moved by mules. And the villages usually had water buffalo, goats, and various other pets roaming around as well. So our stone stairs were often the bathroom of choice for these animals, so there wasn't a day that went by that didn't involve stairs and manure.

But -- the views. I felt like I was already at the top of the world on the first day because we headed straight up the sides of mountains (of terraced fields) and you quickly couldn't even see the bottom of the valley below, just a giant crevasse between you and another giant mountain (of terraced fields).

a village in terraced fields
more fields up close

stone stairs among terraced fields

stone stairs heading up the side of the mountain...


....stone stairs looking down into the valley....
..stone stairs by a typical restaurant....

stone stairs in my sleep. stone stairs in my dreams....stone stairs in my soul!...
I mean, seriously. We climbed all the stairs. All of them. All of them ever made.

But I wish you could understand how crazy high and open it all felt. Breathtaking.




We stopped and ate Dal Bhat


 and ended the day arriving at our first Tea House:
Sitting outside our tea house overlooking this amazing expanse of pure World
Tea houses are all along the trekking routes and they provide a room with a bed and heavy blankets, a public toilet (which is typically a hole in the ground that we lovingly refered to as the "squatty potties") and they offer meals. They aren't heated, so we also brought small sleeping sacks to cocoon ourselves up in under the blankets. Everything is incredibly inexpensive (like 4 bucks a night to stay) and you meet other trekkers along the way, so it's a really cool experience.

Outside of the tea house

One of our rooms (which also had incredible views)

I fell asleep that first night to the sound of mule trains outside my window, where people led lines of mules with tinkling bells on their collars to transport goods. It's like the high altitude version of the CSX.

We got up early the next morning, had breakfast and masala tea, then headed out again.

Putting on our clothes, hiking 20 minutes, then taking half of them back off...

At some point we stopped to buy souvenirs because how often do you get the chance to haggle over jewelry on the side of a mountain? Here I am, mid-negotiation:
Even at high altitudes, shiny things=girl magnets


We had about 5-6 more miles of stone stairs ahead of us so we bought our things and headed into Lord of the Rings territory.

More in the next post.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful blog entries on your Nepal experience! I'm hoping to be there October 2015. Just wondering (ie very concerned) about fitness. What training did you do in preparation? Thanks again, I loved your posts. It's almost exactly the same as my itinerary so I got a really good feel of what to expect.

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  2. Thank you! Honestly I didn't really train for it except for one 8 mile hike I did before the trip. I usually jog a little and stay fairly in shape and that was enough. If you wanted, you might start walking stairs and hills (up and down) beforehand to prepare. And don't overdo it your first couple days -- you may not feel tired then, but the cumulative effect starts to kick in after that!

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