How many times have I started to write this post? It’s been hanging over my head for the month since we’ve been home.
I think so differently about Nepal than any trip we’ve taken. My emotions are so tied up with my memories, that I’m not sure how to tell this story. When we first returned home, I didn’t want to write about the trip because I was so physically and emotionally exhausted. I needed some time to properly process the experience. By the time that I felt ready to type out the posts, an earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, killing over 8,000 and injuring 19,000 more. I looked at pictures of devastation in areas that I had just walked in two weeks before. Suddenly my own reservations about telling the story of this trip seemed insignificant; yet I couldn’t stand to write about our vacation when so many were suffering. Just yesterday, May 12, Nepal was struck by another earthquake. I cried when I heard the news. I cried when Sukra, the guide who took care of us for 10 ten days and invited us into his home, told me that his home is now gone. I’ll never be able to think of our time in Nepal without thinking of what happened after we left. I feel beyond blessed to have seen this country filled with happiness and beauty, but it is devastating to know that the same place is now full rubble and pain. If you have not already, please do what you can to help the people of Nepal by donating. Use this link to help choose an aid organization that has been vetted and ensure that your donation is going directly to this cause.
Therefore, I won’t be writing this post with the detail that I originally intended. Instead of writing multiple posts about this trip, there will be only one (and it has a lot of pictures).
I’ll begin by stating that we didn’t make it to the end. Our trekking goal was to reach Annapurna Base Camp. We were four hours away from base camp when I admitted that I had altitude sickness (headache, crazy dizziness, insomnia, lack of appetite, vomiting, and generally just feeling “fuzzy.”). We had to descend, and we did not have the opportunity to go back up. This situation overshadowed a few of our days in the mountains for me and threatened to overshadow the entire trip. The more I talk with people and the more my muscles recover, the better I am at dealing with what at one time I deemed “my failure.” So, maybe I didn’t make it to Annapurna Base Camp, but I didn’t make it to Annapurna Base Camp while I was trekking for nine days in the Himalayas and carrying my own pack! I am incredibly grateful that I made sure to follow my tradition of keeping a travel journal. Though the trip was just a few weeks ago, many of the trekking days run together in my mind, and I am glad that I can look back each day’s events. Record your memories!
We arrived in Kathmandu late on a Saturday night and started our trek on a Tuesday morning. We spent our time making arrangements for our trek, buying supplies, and exploring Kathmandu. We visited Durbar Square, and when we arrived, we found that there was a festival going on. I’m still not certain what was being celebrated, but the place was packed. The images of Durbar Square post earthquake are some of the most shocking for me because I remember it filled with a jubilant crowd.
The next day was our day to travel to Pokhara. We had chosen to take the 30 minute flight over the seven hour bus ride. As this was a domestic flight, we went to a different terminal than we had arrived at. We followed a covered walked labeled “Arrivals” and were confused when we just saw a construction site with people smoking outside. We followed some other travelers, pulling our suitcase up the plywood ramp and onto a dirt floor. We entered a dark, damp half construction building that was littered with trash and pigeons. The domestic terminal. If you have the slightest concerns over travel, never, never, never fly domestic in Nepal. I don’t have issues with flying, but even this was a bit much for me to take.
However, we safely arrived in Pokhara and started our trek to Annapurna Base Camp the next day!
This was our itinerary:
Day 1: Nayapul (1,170 meters) to Ulleri (2,020)
Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani (2,860)
Day 3: Ghorepani (Poon Hill) to Tadapani (2,630)
Day 4: Tadapani to Sinuwa (2,360)
Day 5: Sinuwa to Deurali (3,230) *Altitude sickness!
Day 6: Deurali to Sinuwa (2,360)
Day 7: Sinuwa to Ghandruk (2,600)
Day 8: Ghandruk to Pothana (1,870)
Day 9: Pothana to Pedi – Finished!
(All altitudes are based on the map we used during the trek; it was of questionable quality and accuracy.)
When we started, we were told that Day 2 would be the hardest because of the amount of stairs we would be climbing. That was not true. Each day was the hardest day. We actually did more on our first day in order to make our second day slightly easier. That means that on our first day trekking, we did a stretch of over 3,500 steps in one hour! It was a killer! The first two days were spent working on getting to Ghorepani. From Ghorepani, you can take a one hour hike to Poon Hill for amazing sunrise vistas. It was very intense, but so beautiful. Ghorepani was my favorite part of the trek. Weather started coming in just was we arrived, and we watched clouds descend into the valley, suddenly everything was misty and magical.
These first few days also had the best views of the rhododendron trees, which were in full bloom. I had no idea that they could grow so large! I highly recommend hiking in the spring so you can see them.
Our rooms along the trek were very simple, but always similar to where we had stayed the night before. The walls were plywood, and master locks hung on every door. Communal bathrooms were usually just down the hall, and occasionally there were showers you could pay to use. It might seem spartan, but I was always very comfortable in our room (though that might have been because I was too tired to care!) Our guide always made sure that we had a beautiful view for the morning.
The conservation group that maintains the Annapurna region has created a menu that all lodges use for tourists. The prices are all fixed, so that there is no bargaining or price gouging. It’s really a wonderful way to protect both tourists and residents. However, there’s only so many plates of spaghetti you can eat. We made sure to try the Nepalese traditional food and had dal bhat and momo. Dal bhat is a lentil curry with rice and momo is a type of dumpling. We ate the dal bhat with silverware, but the Nepalese eat it with their hands, an incredibly messy affair. Most guides, porters, and some trekkers eat dal bhat for every meal during their trek. We ate it once. It was good and nourishing, but not something we craved. However, we did crave Snickers bars, which were available at every little hut and teahouse along the way!
Along the trail we crossed bridges, climbed endless steps (and then plunged right back down the mountains), and wove through terraces. We saw monkeys, buffalo (nothing like the American ones), and more donkeys than I could count. Oh, and there were a few stunning vistas every two minutes.
After our trek we headed back to Kathmandu, where we visited the Monkey Temple. It’s a Buddhist temple with a lot of monkeys!
We also went on a short flight to see a little place called Mount Everest. (It was amazing to see, but not worth the flight price.)
I was incredibly disappointed that we did not make it to base camp, but it was the perfect lesson in “it’s the journey, not the destination.” We trekked for 9 days carrying our own packs. It was exhausting and exhilarating. This trip was absolutely the most physical thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life, but it was completely worth it- even more so considering the events after the trip.
Of course, there is so much more to the story of our trip- the people we met, the things we learned, the million little stories that make up our memory of Nepal. Maybe one day I’ll come back and write it out in more detail; however, for now, I just wanted to let the pictures tell this story.
Please help Nepal however you able- prayers and donations are greatly needed.