(I wrote the first journal–Katmandu:…and these are Ryan’s first journal entries. I will be slowly but surely posting our Nepal journals in relatively chronological order. Will switch from my perspective to Ryan’s and so forth. These are only mildly edited for grammar, but otherwise as written on the trail. Enjoy!)
April 6-9 Kathmandu
With the Banda on, we have an extended stay in the city. K-town is both nicer and worse than I imagined. Our area –Thamel- is crazy-touristy, but there is everything we need a short walk away.
Met our guide, Rajbir, and he took us on a walk to Darbur Square (royal museum) and the Monkey Temple. Lots of steps, prayer flags, and foreigners. Rescued a little girl from ferocious monkeys. Got great views and spun the prayer wheels.
Sarah bought a lovely Mandala (hand-painted Buddhist scroll) from a special Mandala school/dealer. The man was both convincing, and a little pushy. Can’t doubt the quality and details though. $35 is a bargain for 20+ days of painting with a silk frame included.
There is a hotel/tattoo parlor. Don’t know which is more scary…
Food is good so far. Bummer we must be so cautious. I want to try all the Nepali things. Lots of delicious veg/indian/curry stuff. Still safe to eat some veggies here.
Welcome dinner at restaurant with dancers and aggressive whiskey (rakshi) pouring. Very fun! Tried one Nepali beer: Gorkha…Budweiser-esque.
Jwalant, the owner of Crystal Mountain Trekking, is very western-articulate with English, tech savvy. He appears to even trek just for recreation himself.
Rajbir is hard to read. His English is ok. I think he understands better than he speaks. He has a terrific look: very ideally Nepali with his hat and beard. He has a good set of trekking clothes that he has been wearing while guiding us. I can’t tell if he is shy or prefers not to chat with us too much. I wonder if he enjoys his job? I will know more in the mountains. City guiding is not his thing. No judgments here!
A man approached me in the street, “excuse me, Marijuana?” A very polite drug dealer.
The shops around Kathmandu are endless, at least in Thamel, the Khou-San of Kathmandu. Though they appear varied, they fit into a select few categories:
- Restaurants/inns: from the fancy to the sketchy to the very sketchy.
- Trekking companies and gear shops. Bargains to be had, who knows how to get it all home.
- Map/book stores: my favorite with new/used books, postcards, maps, incense, knickknacks. The best and biggest, Pilgrims Books, is 3 floors!
- Gurkha knives: curved blade carried by legendary soldiers now for sale to tourists: up to 48 inches long!
- Bags/scarves/shawls: hand-made-ish nepali wares in 100% silk, cashmere, yak hair are available.
- Art shops: come in 2 varieties: mandalas and scenic paintings. I love the style of the latter, even though they’re all really similar which makes me skeptical that they are original.
- American bootleg DVD shops: Fast Food Nation and Tina Turner music videos, ‘nuf said!
Drive by bus from Kathmandu to Arughat, then by crappier bus to Soti Khola. Each road we turned onto made me thankful for the last one! I imagine Going-to-the-Sun Road, only with 2-way bus traffic. Somehow the vehicles were able to pass each other without killing anyone or too much delay. Tons of dust from dirt roads.
The second bus was open to the public and I got the full Nepali sardine can bus treatment. All the people here are so beautiful, from small children to old men.
The drive went up and down several steep, high ridges. Almost every inch of which is terraced, cultivated, and inhabited. The Nepali heartland I suppose. Between the mountains and the cities. The land here is quite beautiful as well.
At one stop, there was a small boy collecting trash in a wheelbarrow. He wheeled it across the road and dumped it down the hill toward the river. At times I cringe at the pollution and rubbish. But I must remember I am glancing at a highway corridor, and the same highway in the US has just as much litter. As we continued, things were honestly quite clean all things considered.
A note on Nepali driving: Although Nepalis are extremely aggressive drivers (they need to be given the lack of traffic control devices), many of their colorful vehicles have little safety reminders printed on their bumpers. Somehow the contradiction works out and Nepalis seem to get from A to B without ending up dead, though I would never be able to drive here. As was the case in Ghana, the horn is as much a part of driving as steering. They signal each other like ships in a narrow channel, with a thank you honk after. Some of the safety slogans: “speed control” “drive slow live long” “use horn” “wait for signal.”
Getting to know our little Nepali family: Kadgha Bardur Rai is our younger porter, he seems more personable, but maybe a bit slower on the trail. Very friendly despite speaking little English.
Podham Rai is our older porter. He looks like a true Nepali villager with his vest, partially toothless grin, and flip-flops while hauling his load. (as we ascended into higher elevations, Podham did start wearing a very nice pair of boots–Crystal Mountain outfits their people well).
Although we expressed our discomfort with having someone else haul our gear, Rajbir assures us this is nothing to the Rai people and for them a heavy load is 120 kilograms! We watched one guy carrying a gas powered generator on his back today, fantastic!
It was the first day of our trek! I have never glimpsed a country so steep as Nepal. The people inhabit canyons with nearly vertical walls and terrace and farm their way up thousands of vertical feet. They are incredibly strong hikers and the trails can be absurdly steep with endless stone steps.
Rajbir is very safety conscious. At times patronizingly so. In the end, I guess its for the best. Hopefully as we get to know each other he won’t worry like my mother when we’re around cliffs.
Today we walked from Soti Khola to Khorla Besi. Including stops, almost 8 hours. Longer than in the itinerary, but a late-ish start at 0800 made the morning/late morning sun punishingly hot. Jennifer probably had some heat exhaustion with sweating, diarrhea, nausea. All in all, she is remarkable for 62 years old and always carries a terrific attitude.
The trail today (and tomorrow, and the next day…) follows the Budhi Gandaki (old woman river). The river is swift with large rapids and the lush canyon walls are 2-3 thousand feet straight up.
The views are tremendous with perilous cliffs, breathtaking waterfalls, and wonderful flowers. The best so far are on what I have deemed “pickle trees” since the large, beautiful, pink-white flowers are used in the pickle toppings. The people and villages are continuing to impress me. Jennifer spends evenings engaging the local children in art projects.
I am consistently in awe. Despite this being day 1, I was tired at times and worry about my Achilles, but feel strong. Was happy to trade roads and buses for trails and donkey trains. And awesome suspension bridges. We crossed 2 of them today. Can’t wait for more!
**Featured image: Jennifer avoiding the mule/donkey trains. A typical looking trek day in the lower elevations.