Well, it’s high time that I put fingers to the keyboard and started sharing with you all some of the stories from our epic trip of a lifetime to Nepal last fall. I wasn’t sure where to start, so to kick things off, I focused on getting the pictures posted on flickr. Luckily, that work is done, and you can see ALL the pictures in the collection. As you’ll see below, to make it as easy as possible, I managed to whittle down the ‘best of’ shots to just under 200! A tough feat in such a picturesque part of the world. You can scroll through them below, or better yet, watch the gorgeous full-screen slideshow (click the little “play” icon)! At any rate, this, my first post in the series, will focus on the relative hustle and bustle of the start and finish of our trekking, which found us in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Read on for the details!
As many of you are aware, I have decided that the mountain goat is probably my spirit animal. I’m always most relaxed when surrounded by imposing peaks. Some years ago, several people suggested I should make my way to the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It’s taken a few years to act on the advice, but last fall, for our 2 year anniversary, Deanna and I decided to do just that, and spend the better part of a month in the high Himalaya, and experience the true culture and beauty of Nepal. We booked a trip with a local tour operator based on recommendations, packed our bags, and made our way to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu.
While cities the world over may seem substantially the same, any of you who have spent time in far flung corners will know that there are clear differences in all of them, from sights, smells, and sounds. We arrived in the late evening after over 24 hours of transit, so after a full nights’ rest, we were ready to explore and see the very sprawling city of Kathmandu. Luckily, our guide arranged for a driver and for him to personally give us a tour of the city. With only about 24 hours to see the capital before driving off into the more remote regions, we had to be efficient.
In our opening day, we managed to see major sites such as the Monkey Temple, the Garden of Dreams, and a traditional temple / monastery. More importantly, we did a lot of wandering through the market areas and just generally taking in the sights. We were particularly interested to see what sort of obvious damage was still visible from the earthquakes earlier in the year. We didn’t have to look far, as there were lots of clear signs of rubble, and of people still recovering. However, there was also a clear sense of perseverance all around us. Probably the most unfortunate view was the destruction of the Boudhanath temple, which is one of the largest Stupas in Nepal, and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Of course, it is only one of many treasures that suffered great damage.
In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the core of Kathmandu was a very special park that we visited, the ‘Garden of Dreams’. Although relatively small in size, this greenspace in the centre of the chaos is a great place to just relax for a little bit. It has apparently also become a go-to destination for young Nepali folks to go for a ‘date’. Easy to see why. Although you pay a small admission fee, once inside, it’s easy to find some peace in the gardens.
As a real treat for us though was the fact that at the end of the day, our guide (and company owner) actually invited us to his family’s home to share a meal with them. This was definitely something not to miss, as we got to see how the Nepali live in their own homes, and be treated to some great home cooking of a traditional Nepali dish, Dal Bhat. It’s a meal we’d have many many times over the course of the next few weeks! To cap off the night, we pored over the maps and itinerary for the upcoming trekking while sipping hot tea. All in all, a pretty amazing first day!
We did spend another day in Kathmandu, but not until the very end of our trip, and by then, our focus was on picking up a few souvenirs, enjoying the last couple meals there, and reflecting on our whole trip. However, before that, we had spent a couple nights in the city of Pokhara, the largest city in the Annapurna region. Whereas Kathmandu was very chaotic and noisy, imagine Pokhara being Ottawa and Kathmandu being Toronto. Still large, but much more laid back. This is a true tourist town, with countless people in town either finishing off their trekking, or gearing up to head out. Since we were all done our trekking, this was our rest and recharging point. In fact, the first stop for me was to find a barber shop to have a hot shave, getting rid of my mountain man beard.
It’s worth noting a few things about Pokhara. First, it is a lake-side town, so it great options for heading out on the water and admiring the peaks around you. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit overcast when we were there. Secondly, thanks to a national fuel shortage (compliments of a blockade by India), things were even quieter than usual in the core of the city, with only limited vehicle traffic. Of course, that actually meant a few headaches for us as well (e.g. having to fly from there to Kathmandu due to lack of buses / cars). I think this is a town we could have easily spent an extra few days in.
As it was, we spent most of our time on foot wandering around the waterfront area, thanks to a plethora of bars and eateries. However, the stop wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a place called the World Peace Pagoda, an imposing structure high in the hills surrounding Pokhara. Getting there would have been a challenge, were it not for our sense of adventure. We ended up renting bicycles for half a day and making the trip on two wheels. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on it being so HOT and hard a ride up the winding mountain road. However, we were rewarded with great views of the Pagoda, as well as the entire city of Pokhara sprawling out beneath.
In addition, having the bikes gave us a chance to visit a few of the other more far flung sights such as Devi Falls. As always with a bike, it also allowed us to explore the whole region with no fixed schedule or expectations. We meandered around here and there on side streets, getting somewhat mixed up about where we were, but stumbling across plenty of cool opportunities to interact with local and see the back alleys. Good thing we felt safe out there.
While I’m always the first to tell you all that I don’t like cities, these two Nepali destinations would be on a ‘must see’ to any trip to Nepal. Firstly, you can’t avoid (nor should you) Kathmandu on any flights to the country. The entire Kathmandu valley is massive in size, with the population of this city of about 1 million sprawling out in an area of about 50 square kilometers. Pretty much all the buildings are below 5 stories, so you can imagine it spreading out. Secondly, Pokhara is truly the ideal ‘chilling out’ town of Nepal. There is enough of an ‘east meets west’ vibe here, that there are endless options for entertaining yourself and people watching. For those reasons, this seemed like a good way to start the chronicles from Nepal. But much more exciting to me will be sharing the next major sections of the trip: the actual trekking! Stay tuned for those stories coming up.