Tag Archives: Nepal

90 Second Travel in Nepal: Guest Video

The picture Ben sketched in writing of our 4 day Poon Hill trek is certainly vivid (strangely-dressed fellow travelers included), so it barely needs any accompaniment.  But to h0ld up my end of the guest posting deal, my 90 Second Travel video of the Poon Hill trek is here!

Check out Ben’s other 90 Second videos from the past 6 months…they are entertaining and perfect for those with short attention spans and love of traveling vicariously.

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Poon Hill Trek: Guest Post by 90 Second Travel

Ben, my Nepal travel partner and fellow blogger, has been documenting his 6 month trip across Asia in quirky 90 second travel snippets.  But while we were in Nepal, I seemed to be the one taking the video, and he was the one making insightful comments, so we decided, this time, to switch…  So here is his account of our 4-day trek to Poon Hill/Ghorepani. My 90 second travel video is coming soon.

Day 1:
I told Hannah to pack light, but she didn’t listen and has spent the evening bearing her very heavy load up some very steep stairs with an expression very reminiscent of a participant in a desert marathon or someone who has spent more than two hours inside of a Walmart.

The only difference between the weight of our packs is Hannah’s new SLR, the kind of machinery that looks like it can take X-rays of distant falcons, or, in the hands of a photographer like Hannah, at least some really beautiful pictures. If there was ever opportunity to use it, that is; after 48 hours of nonstop rain in our base in the tourist hub of Pokhara, we had come to a kind of silent consensus that our four day trek up to Poon Hill would be wet, leech-ridden, and just generally miserable, but better than coming to Nepal only to sit in cafes all day (the most promising indoor activity being the Brontosaurus Nepali Language School).

But miraculously, skies had cleared and there was even talk from a guide at lunch, which seemed so reckless that I didnt tell Hannah, that monsoon season itself had ended the day before the trek.

But by 5 PM our first day of the trek, we’d already forgotten all of that.  We were too busy taking in Nepal’s spectacular beauty; terraced rice patties, granite mountain rivers, and cobblestone villages that we agreed evoked, inevitably, Switzerland, a country that cannot seem to stay out of any conversation about tall mountains (I’ve now been to the Switzerlands of India, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, none of which look much alike).

After several false alarms relating to several downhill guesthouses disingenuously claiming to be part of our destination town that is several hundred steps higher, we settle at the Super View Guesthouse. Our bedroom that night costs $2 and has a hot shower, plywood walls that leak conversation and cigarette smoke and has possibly the best view of any place I’ve ever slept.

Day 2:
We had about 500 meters to climb on Day 2.  Thankfully, the incline turned out to be quad-kinder than our first.  It took us through a misty, moss-furred forest where ferns grow on trees.  We agreed that if any trees could talk, these would be those.

It took us less than four hours to reach Ghorepani, where we have to stop in order to catch sunrise the next morning on nearby Poon Hill.  In the next few hours, we learned we’d beaten not only a nasty downpour, but great migrations of package tour trekkers.  A dozen Brits and handful of Koreans wearing puddles of monsoon decamped in Hotel See You Lodge’s dining room, plucking off leeches and killing them with salt on the floor.  The wood stove acquired a coat of saturated Gore-tex.

One of the Koreans stripped to his Superman boxers and Incan-inspired fleece and didn’t put on any more clothes for the rest of the evening.  Hannah and I agreed that this is pretty much the definition of swagger.

Day 3:
This is the day that our trek earns its name: Poon Hill.  Nevermind that this sounds like an overlook where Eisenhower teenagers would go to neck or some kind of redneck euphemism.  This view’s best at sunrise, and the general mood is what you’d expect for a 5 AM, hour-long uphill climb.

The sunrise and view of the surrounding peaks are so spectacular that if I tried to describe them I’d just wind up recycling adjectives from middle school poetry.  I will say that if you plopped Poon down in Virginia, it would be a beast of a mountain at 3100 meters.  But this is Nepal, and next to titans like Annapurna–the 10th largest peak in the world and almost 8k meters high–poor Poon’s been demoted to hill.

The crucial point is that we beat the masses of organized trekkers back to Hotel See You Lodge for breakfast.  We’d begun to feel a little smug around these groups of 5 to 10.  They booked their trips at home for some ungodly sum and have guides and a small army of porters.  As an advancing mass, they give a vague impression of very well-fed refugees with expensive rain gear.  But you don’t want to get stuck behind them in ordering meals–they’re allowed to get whatever they want off the menu.  (Except for drinks–you’d periodically hear one of them asking permission from their guide for an extra soda, just like my Special Drink quota growing up in the Paviour residence).

Because Hannah’s got to get back to work, we packed two days of walking into Day 3.  Since its mostly downhill, it didn’t feel quite like 9 hours of walking.  We spotted Koreans ordering ramen for lunch and decided it would make a good, cheap snack.  Except the noodles have actually been imported from Korea, across oceans and on the backs of donkeys, driving up the price to an unfathomable $4.  I later learn that some Koreans eat nothing but these noodles for their entire trek.

Snow View Lodge is built from stone with Hobbit, head-smacking doorways and oddly angled homemade staircases. We’re the only guests. We sat on the porch, reading while a seven or eight year old girl put our soreness into perspective by hauling giant baskets of sawdust in a wicker basket slung across her head with a band of cloth.

Day 4:
We’d assumed Snow View had taken its name from a playbook of the all-powerful Committee. The Committee has set standardized menus, prices, and spelling mistakes across all of the guesthouses in the Annapurna region.  Maybe it also named guesthouses; Hungry Eye Guesthouse appears to be the Motel 6 of Annapurna.  Anyway, Snow View actually has a snow view of a nearby whitecap called Fish Tail.

As we descended, we talked about how easy it is to get used to beauty like this, how ordinary it can feel in the moment to stop for a Coke at a snack shop overlooking a valley with multistory waterfalls and plateaus of rice terraces.  At the time, it’s just a soda and shade; but in memory, or pictures, it becomes something profound.

It’s still sunny and hot as we return to civilization (aka wi-fi) in Pokhara. We’d been planning our post trek dinner practically as soon as we left: Godfather’s Pizza, our favorite authentic Nepali restaurant.  Their pizzas and pastas come sprinkled with AUTHENTIC yak cheese (raising questions on how you go about faking yak cheese).

It is only then, on the walk to the restaurant, that we are finally caught in the rain.

 

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Pokhara: Rain or Shine

30 minutes after taking off from Kathmandu, the tiny Yeti Airlines prop plane bumped to a stop in front of the Pokhara Airport, and I stepped back out into the rain.   My cab driver swerved to miss cows in the middle of the road and marchers demonstrating for an international airport connection as we sped into town.

Before I knew it, I was greeting Ben, my hometown friend who I had last seen in April for Pi Mai Lao.  In the intervening period, he had been traveling around Asia on a wild 6-month solo trip, from Laos to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and India, and now to Nepal, capturing all of it in clever 90 second snippets on his travel website.

“So, it’s raining,” we both astutely observed.  “Didn’t count on that.”  (Or maybe Ben did, but while in Laos packing for this trip in the sticky tropical heat, my mind was imagining idyllic Himalayan scenes complete with clear blue skies that revealed snow-capped mountains.  The words “end of the monsoon season” had refused to implant themselves in my daydreaming mind).

But the rain kept coming, so we quickly decided that leaving the next day for a trek (as we had originally planned) didn’t seem such a good idea.  So we retreated into soggy procession from tea shop, to lunch, to snack, to dinner, sipping on countless cups of hot spiced chai, our eyes begging the grey skies for some relief.

What is there to do? Just more of this.

Pokhara is a lakeside backpacker hub–a misty lake surrounded by rolling countryside and a small city with all of the requisite backpacker characteristics.  There are countless knockoff North Face shops (selling what seem to be pretty good quality goods), cafes with sluggish internet connections, and tour operators vying for backpackers’ rupees.

We were feeling pessimistic about the prospect of hiking for 4 days in relentless rain, having visions of leech-covered legs and putting on damp socks and boots again each morning.  The first 2 days in Pokhara were thus spent trying to figure out an alternative hike to our original plan, but really nothing sounded ideal.  In good weather, Nepal is a modern Shangri-La for travelers, where anything seems possible.  In the rain, well, there’s not much to do.  Inexplicably, after debating the inevitable misery of a soggy hike again and again, we decided to take a leap of faith, and slogged across town to the hiker’s permit office to get the necessary paperwork to go on our original trek.

“The rain might stop tomorrow,” the locals kept telling us.  Apparently there was an important holiday coming, and the monsoon always had to continue until the festival, which this year was unluckily falling later than usual.  On our second day in Pokhara, women around the town came out to celebrate Teej, dressed in glittering red and green saris.  As we watched them descend upon the muddy carnival occurring lakeside, we realized the locals were right after all.  Minute by minute the rain was getting lighter, and soon a bit of sun even parted the clouds.

Good thing we got those trekking permits.  Jam jam…let’s go!

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Namaste, Kathmandu

Any hopes I may have had, while studying advertisements of snow-covered mountains in the arrivals hall, of exiting the airport and taking in a deep breath of crisp mountain air, were dashed as soon as I stepped into Kathmandu.  It was hot, like I hadn’t left Laos, and the air was crowded with low-hanging monsoon clouds and a fog of dust and exhaust.

Clearer skies over Thamel.

After a 20 minute journey from the airport–over canals, past storefronts of glittering formal saris, down alleys seemingly meant only for bicycles–I arrived in my pit stop for my first night in Nepal.  Thamel: backpacker’s paradise.


What do you want?  What did you never realize you wanted?  Yak wool sweaters in every color?  Kama Sutra playing cards?  A hang gliding tour of Mount Everest?  Ride in my rickshaw?  Namaste–hello–the shopkeepers and touts called from every angle, eagerly hoping for a customer.  The narrow streets were a constant and colorful human traffic jam of pedestrians, rickshaws, cars, motorbikes, and carts, feeling like an obstacle course of sorts.

Not long after I settled in and walked a few laps around this neighborhood, those monsoon clouds started to sprinkle, and soon to fully open up into a heavy rain, which would continue for a few days.  Discouraged from much further exploration by the dark, soggy evening, I instead enjoyed my first dinner of momos (Tibetan dumplings), and got some rest.

The following morning, the rain hadn’t let up at all, but I was scheduled to fly to Pokhara, northwest of Kathmandu, to meet my friend for a trek.  I was rather looking forward to a flight out of the domestic terminal–I’ve developed quite a fondness for Asian domestic terminals, with their single rooms and non-mechanized baggage delivery, among other charming features–but was worried about the ability of my flight, on Yeti Airlines, to take off in the rain.  Indeed, we were delayed, and I entertained myself by watching a group of Japanese tourists dance to Gangnam Style. But miraculously, we took off at a reasonable time, and I arrived safely in Pokhara, later learning that the rest of the day’s flights had been cancelled.


When I returned to Kathmandu at the end of the trip, the rain had cleared, so I was finally able to wander a bit further from the rows of postcard stalls and jewelry sellers of Thamel.  I walked from there to Durbar Square, a historical center downtown, with palaces and temples of interesting architectural heritage, and more importantly, supreme evening people-watching.  Children flew kites from the steps, as salespeople, motorcyclists, tourists, and families thronged through the plaza.



The next morning, before my flight back to Bangkok, I managed a quick trip to Swayambhunath, commonly known as the “monkey temple,” for the troupes of furry bandits that inhabit its hilltop.  It’s one of the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites, and, unfortunately for me, lies atop a 365-step climb.  My legs were still in agony from trekking, but I slowly crept to the top, allowing a few old ladies to pass me on the way.  At the top, prayer flags waved and devotees spun rows of prayer wheels, the tranquility occasionally punctuated by a monkey squabble.  The bustle of Kathmandu appeared distant now, cloaked in city haze and clouds, the last of many remarkable views on this adventure.

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Bound for the Himalayas

In a few hours, I’ll be en route to my next destination…Nepal!

For the next 10 days I’ll be traveling on the “roof of the world,” which will be, I imagine, quite different than any other place I’ve seen.  I’ll be meeting my friend Ben there, who was last here during Pi Mai Lao and has been travelling around Asia ever since.

Less than 2 weeks is really far too short to spend in the country of a million treks, but I hope just to get a taste of the Himalayas and of the geographic and cultural landscape of Nepal.

The rough plan: Kathmandu–>Pokhara–> several days trekking in the Annapurna region –>Pokhara –> KTM–> and home.

I’ll be back to blogging at the end of the month, with some exciting blog updates coming this fall!

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