the Long's Strange Trip

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~  On the Roof of the World ~
October 10 through October 24, 2000
$1 U.S. = 72 Nepalese Rupees
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Kathmandu, Nepal
October 10 through October 13, 2000

(ccl) After seven weeks in India, we were ready to breathe the clean air of the Himalayas, and to escape the constant hassles that await around every corner there.  But India still had a couple of tricks left up her sleeve, just so that we wouldn't quickly forget her.  On Monday, before our flight on Tuesday, our goals were to get the web site updated and get our souvenirs mailed home.  I handled the web site portion of things, because, let's face it: I'm the technical guy.  Wiley's the shopper, and he still wanted to find a bronze statue of the god Ganesh.  He got his statue, and headed out for the post office before 2:00.  At about a quarter till five he returned to the hotel, as mad as I've ever seen him.  He had gone through the entire, bureaucracy-laden procedure of getting the two boxes ready to be mailed, when the post office workers kindly informed him that they wouldn't be able to weigh and  post his packages today, as it was 4:00, and they were closed.  The cab driver sped him to another post office, which was open until 4:30, where he was escorted to a seat and allowed to sit, holding his boxes, until 4:30, at which time the employees at that post office, who had been previously sitting, staring blankly into space, informed him that they, too, were closed for the day.  We decided to carry the boxes with us to Kathmandu and have them mailed from there.

The next morning our hearts were light as we arrived at the airport at 8:00 for our 10:15 flight to Kathmandu.  Quickly, we realized that something was amiss, when we approached the Royal Air Nepal counter and saw that there were at least fifty people there ahead of us, many of them angrily shaking their tickets in the faces of the employees and pounding their fists on the counters.  We learned from other travelers that the airline had cancelled the previous day's and night's flights to Kathmandu, and all of these people were trying to get on our flight.  When I got to the counter, the incredibly rude woman told me that because I hadn't re-confirmed our tickets, we did not have seats on the flight.  My protests that I had tried for the past four days to re-confirm the tickets, and had never been able to get through to the office (the line was constantly busy, except during the lunch hour, when it went completely unanswered) fell on deaf ears.  We were told to wait, and boarding passes were issued to other passengers.  Mass chaos reigned, and I thought one man was going to have an aneurysm when he was denied a seat on the flight.  I tried to accept my fate, and relax, and calmly wait until we were placed on a flight.  Wiley, the Zen master of patience, sat quietly on our backpacks in the floor of the airport, reading a book.   

After those people who were issued boarding passes on our flight departed for the gate, there were about twenty-five of us who were milling around, waiting for "what comes next".  We were told that we would be taken to a hotel, fed lunch, and placed on a flight that would leave at around 4:00.  A high degree of skepticism raged through the group, but we went along.  The hotel turned out to be a new, five-star hotel close to the airport, and we were each given a room where we could rest through the afternoon.  A few hours later, the passengers from the first flight joined us, having gotten to the gate only to discover that there was, once again, no flight.  At about 7:30, we heard a knock on the door, and were told that the bus was leaving for the airport, and that we would be on our way to Kathmandu around 10:00.  Most people were still very skeptical, but we kept our senses of humor, and sure enough, we were airborne at around 11:00.  We breezed through immigration and customs and emerged into the cool Kathmandu night at around 1:00.

Hiran's cousin wasn't there holding up a sign with our names on it, as promised, which was understandable, given the delay of the flight.  It turned out that a plane had sucked a bird into its engines on take-off earlier in the day, and they had closed the entire airport for several hours.  The fact that there was never any communication about this to us or to the people waiting on the ground is typical of the third world, and a major differentiator between Easterners and Westerners.  We DEMAND to know what's going on, how long the delay will be, why we're delayed in the first place, etc.  They quietly accept their fate, figuring that, eventually, they'll get there.  Certainly, their method of dealing with the situation results in less stress and probably less heart disease in the long run.  

After visiting the hotel at which we had reservations, waking the desk attendant, and finding out that, in fact, they had no reservation for us, we went to another hotel down the street.  Exhausted, we gladly fell into bed and crashed for the night.

We had a couple of days in Kathmandu before we left on our trek, and we had a formidable "things-to-do" list to accomplish during that time.  We met Hiran, our guide, who we had been emailing for the past eight months.  He turned out to be just as humble and sweet as his emails had sounded, and he apologized profusely for the mix-ups at the airport and the hotel.  He told us that it's a two hour bus ride, then a six hour walk, to the small village where he comes from.  He was the first person from there to ever attend and graduate from college, and when he did, his father told him that it was now his duty to build and support a school there in the village.  When Hiran was little, he had to walk to school in a "neighboring" village, two hours each way.  He came to Kathmandu alone at 17 to attend university, having never been to the big city before.  Today, Hiran spends 50% of his income on the school that he built in his village, paying the teacher's salary and buying the supplies needed by the 72 students.  

Hiran spins the extra large prayer wheel - the REAL wheel of fortune  You don't meet too many people like Hiran in a lifetime.  He is the kind of good, quiet, unassuming soul who inspires you to try to be a nicer person, and to maybe do some good for your fellow man before you leave this earth.  We talked about how he had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism five years ago, because he couldn't justify the bloody and brutal animal sacrifices that Nepalese Hinduism rituals involve.  A lifelong vegetarian, Hiran ate dhal bhat, a simple meal of lentil soup, plain white rice, and vegetable curry at lunch and dinner and drank hot water instead of tea for the ten days we were with him, probably so he could save more money to put back into his school.  When he forgot and left his sunglasses behind at a rest stop along the trail, they were gone when he went back for them less than a minute later.  He knew, I'm pretty sure, who had them, but he chose not to confront them, trusting, I suppose, that the Buddhist tenet of karma would do that work for him.

Kathmandu is a dream-come-true for road-weary travelers.  Restaurants sell cold beer and incredible food as diverse as burritos and spinach tortellini.  Menus announce, "We soak all our vegetables in purified water.  We serve only purified drinking water and ice made from purified water.".  The first day, I had one of the best salads I've ever eaten for lunch.  I probably hadn't tasted a raw vegetable for two months, and I was in heaven.  Sometimes, it's the little things.  Indian food is great, but the lack of diversity in restaurants is stunning.  You can have vegetarian Indian food, or you can have non-vegetarian Indian food.  Sometimes, you can order a pizza, but that's about it.

We experienced two technological "firsts" in Kathmandu, the capital of one of the poorest countries in the world.  We tried Internet phone calling with mixed success.  At 10 rupees per minute, it's extremely affordable, but there is a slight delay between the time that you speak and the person on the other end hears you, which can make for a confusing and garbled conversation, if both people try to talk at one time.  I tried to talk to my parents twice, and had a pretty decent connection the second time.  Wiley talked to his dad.  It won't be replacing the regular phone network any time soon, but once the Internet network is upgraded to voice-quality switches, the long distance companies could go out of business.  

The other discovery in Kathmandu was music stores that will record CD's onto mini-discs.  You may remember that we recorded a choice selection of tunes onto mini-discs before leaving home, and then left them on a chair in a Moroccan restaurant.  We re-recorded a few when Paula came to visit us in Greece, but in Kathmandu we were able to pick out a few more, and add to our collection of music, at a cost of only $1.50 per CD, plus the cost of the blank mini-disc.

In addition to having great food, Kathmandu sells just about anything you want or need.  The streets of Thamel, which is the main tourist district, are lined with Internet cafes, souvenir shops, drug stores, convenience markets, and stores selling trekking gear.  Since we had sent home most of our winter clothes several months back, we needed to buy fleece jackets, because it gets pretty cold in the Himalayas at night.  Patagonia and North Face knockoffs are everywhere, and you can get a decent, although probably not long-lasting, fleece cardigan for 600 rupees.  Hiran promised to rent down-filled sleeping bags for us in Pokara, so after sending off a few last-minute emails, we were ready to hit the trail.  We planned to get back to Kathmandu with several days to spare before our flight to Bangkok so that we could visit some of the many interesting temples and palaces there.

The Jomsom Trek, Parts Unknown, Nepal
October 13 through October 22, 2000

We left Kathmandu at 7:00 A.M. by bus for Pokara.  Pokara is Nepal's second largest city, and is the main base for exploring the Himalayas on some of Nepal's best-known treks.  Graceful Lake Fewa is the center point of town, and many budget hotels and restaurants have patios that look over it.  Like Kathmandu, there's food and drink to satisfy any craving, but it's the more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere that keeps many trekkers here long after they've come down from the mountains.  We were only here for one night on the front side of the trek, just long enough to catch a plane to Jomsom early in the morning on Saturday, but we did manage to put Hiran in an acute case of culture shock by taking him with us to see the movie "Fight Club".

Our trek started in Jomsom, and we were scheduled to fly there at 6:30 Saturday morning.  From Jomsom we would walk to Kagbeni, our first overnight stop.  The next day we would hike straight up to Muktinath at 3810 meters, then on day three we would come back down, desending more than 100 meters and re-tracing our route to Jomsom, and on to Marpha at 2665 meters.  After a night in Marpha, we would spend a night in Ghasa, and the next on the bank of the Kali Ghandaki in Tatopani, before heading back up again to Ghorepani at 2775 meters.  The last two stops were to be Tadopani and Ghandruk, and from Ghandruk we would hike the last 15 kilometers into Naya Pul, where we would get a taxi back into Pokara.

It can be difficult to get to Jomsom by plane.  The flights have to leave Pokara early enough in the morning in order to arrive in Jomsom before the tremendous winds there kick up in late morning.  On the day that we were to fly into Jomsom, heavy fog at the Kathmandu airport kept our plane from arriving in Pokara on time, but we finally took off around 10:00 A.M.  Cosmic Air was the name of our airline, which I thought was a name incredibly appropriate for a guy like Wiley who's always seeking new levels of consciousness.  It's so, like, cosmic

Our first view of the Himalayas  The flight was short, only about 20 minutes, but completely breathtaking, in ways that were both good and bad.  We got our first views of the awesome heights of the Himalayas from the windows of the small turbo-prop, and saw the neat patchwork of the green rice terraces and the red buckwheat fields.  We climbed over a pass, and the small town of Jomsom, accessible only by air and foot, came into view.  As the pilot made his approach to the runway, and turned the plane sharply at the end of the narrow valley, we got a feel for exactly how ferocious those winds could be.  The plane sat down hard on the runway, and the pilot slammed on the brakes in order to bring it to a stop on the ridiculously short runway.  As we walked out of the airport, I heard someone say that the next flight out had been cancelled, due to those same winds.

After a quick breakfast in Jomsom, we started out for the first day's march.  Hiran's cousin, Hari, had come along to be our porter.  Our guidebook told us that you really don't need a porter if you're in good health, but our opinion is that not having to lug your backpack up and down hills all day definitely enhances your enjoyment of your surroundings, which is what we were there for.  The load was a relatively light one for Hari, who looked much younger than his 22 years, and he often arrived at our destination for the night half an hour or so before us.  It actually worked out quite well - when Hiran was concerned that all the rooms at the good tea houses would be taken, he sent Hari out ahead of us, to reserve a room.  These "teahouses" are really small hotels, and some are nicer than others.  That's one of the places where a guide really comes in handy - he knows which places have the clean bathrooms and the clean kitchens and the good food. 

After a short two hour walk across flat, rocky terrain that followed the Kali Gandaki River, we arrived at the windy hamlet of Kagbeni.  Kagbeni is as close as you can get to the little-visited area of Mustang without paying the $700 per person entry fee (contributing, no doubt, to the fact that it is little-visited).  After a short nap (an activity that became something of a habit throughout the trek), we went on a tour of the little town with Hiran.  We saw children with dirty, cherubic faces, chapped red by the fierce winds that blow around the narrow streets and tunnels of the town.  They invariably smiled, clasped their hands together in front of their chins, fingers pointing upwards, and greeted us with a cheerful, "Namaste!", which means "hello", or "I salute you", or my favorite, "My soul and your soul are one".  Some of them enthusiastically played a game with round black rocks that involved throwing the rocks forcefully against the smooth paving stones that covered the alleys of the village.  As I stood and watched them, I thought of all the toys American kids have to play with, and how Christmas morning in most American homes would stupefy these kids.

Hiran demonstrates the proper technique for spinning prayer wheels  Earlier in the day, Hiran had coached us about the proper way to walk by the many Buddhist chortans, or prayer walls, that dot the landscape in this area.  Many of the people who live here are refugees from Tibet, so they are Buddhist.  These prayer walls are sometimes just a pile of stones, many of which are carved in intricate designs and contain prayers or meditations, such as "Om mani padme hum", a mantra which invokes the name of God, recognizes the essential existence of all matter, and asks for the revelation of enlightenment.  Some also contain prayer wheels, which are cylinders usually made of copper and again inscribed with "Om mani padme hum".  The proper way to pass these walls is always to keep them on your right side, the side which Buddhists consider to be pure.  If prayer wheels are there, Buddhists spin them as they pass, softly chanting while doing so.  In Tibetan Buddhism, the influence of Hinduism is strong, as is the influence of B'on, an ancient religion that involves some sorcery and black magic.  If you've seen the movie "Kundun", about the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, you may remember a couple of scenes where the young Dalai Lama consults an oracle, a man who goes into a trance and is able to see the future - this is the influence of B'on.

Snow-capped mountains and villages  The second day of the trek marked the beginning of the really tough hiking.  Our destination was the pilgrimage town of Muktinath, some 400 meters straight up the hillsides above our heads.  The walk was beautiful, as the path wound its way through groves of popular trees that were in the process of shedding their last few golden leaves, and past small lakes which reflected the surrounding hills.  As we climbed, the views got more and more spectacular, since we could see more of the awesome snow-covered Himalayas.  Hiran effortlessly reeled off the names of each peak, along with its altitude.  When asked about a lower peak, not as high as its neighbors but still substantial by our standards, he said, "We don't name the ones without snow.".  In Nepal, the Roof of the World, you've got to be a pretty decent-sized mountain to impress the locals. 

Prayer flags fluttering in the afternoon light  The last thirty minutes of the climb was brutal - straight uphill, and in the thin air at 3810 meters, we all gasped for each breath.  In the afternoon, after a lunch of "mountain burritos", served fiery hot off the stove in iron skillets, we visited the Hindu and Buddhist temples to which we had witnessed pilgrims traveling over the last two days.  According to legend, the Hindu temple to the god Vishnu simply "appeared" one day.  The world was desperately short of water, and Vishnu responded by bringing the water forth from the mountains to the people below.  Today, 108 brass cow head spigots spew forth cold, crystal-clear mountain water, and pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters as they have for three centuries, said to cure illness.  I mentioned above that Hinduism and Buddhism are intricately intertwined in Tibet and Nepal, and at this temple hundreds of colorful Buddhist prayer flags snapped on the stiff breeze.  Buddhists believe that by inscribing prayers on the flags, then flying them from the tops of mountains, God will see and grant their prayers.  Sacred waters

On the way back down to the villages from the temples, we stopped off at a Buddhist convent, where nuns from 8 to 80 chanted prayers together in worship.  Most of them had shaved heads, giving them an odd, asexual appearance.  The image of those silent little girls, resigned to a life of meditation and service there on the side of that cold, wind-swept mountain, will be with me for a long time.  We stopped at the house of a local woman who was making raksi, a homemade liquor distilled from rice, that tastes a lot like saki.  She let us sample a little, and it was pretty good.  I asked her mother if she would mind posing for a picture, and she quickly said, in English, "Ten rupees!".  Normally, I walk away when people demand money for having their pictures made (I could have made a fortune in India if I had practiced this), but her wise old face bore the evidence of many years of hard work, and I just couldn't pass her by.  When I showed her the photo on the LCD screen of the digital screen, she was so delighted, I'm pretty sure I could have had my ten rupees back, had I only asked.  Tibetan woman counting prayer beads

The next day we descended back to Jomsom, then into the small fruit-growing village of Marpha.  As difficult as it can be getting up the big hills, going downhill for any length of time seems to always take its toll.  Hiran aggravated an old soccer injury he sustained in high school, and had to wear a knee brace for the rest of the trek.  It didn't seem to slow him down in any way, and he maintained his usual cheerful attitude throughout.  He told us that a much bigger player on an opposing team drove a kick squarely into his knee during a game.  There was a doctor available at Hiran's school, but all he could do for him was to give him some pain killers.  Hiran rested for about a week, then hobbled back to his classes.  More than likely, he tore ligament or cartilage, an injury that would have been easily and quickly repaired with arthroscopic surgery in the West.  We take so much for granted, including access to the best health care in the world.

The day winds down in Marpha  Marpha grows apples, and all over the ancient-looking town, trees were laden with red, golden, and green fruit.  Restaurants proudly advertised desserts like Chocolate Apple Crumble, Apple Pie, and Apple Fritters, and drinks like Apple Brandy and Apple Cider.  Marpha, like Kagbeni and Muktinath, has many Tibetan refugees, and prayer flags, prayer walls and stones, and statues of the Buddha are prominently displayed throughout the town.  We took a walk through town after lunch, visiting a local Buddhist temple with wild Tandric paintings on the walls.  We took pictures of local schoolkids on their way home from a day of study, and admired the fields of flowers that are rife in the town, like the in the rest of Nepal.  Marpha clings to the side of a steep hill, and the ancient stone houses seem to huddle together to stay out of the wind.  Darkness comes early, thanks to the surrounding mountains, and like most small villages in Nepal, most people rise and retire with the sun each day.  Young clowns

The reason that so many Tibetan refugees live in the north of Nepal is that in the 1950's the Chinese invaded Tibet, once a part of China and at this time a peaceful, deeply religious country, and took it back under their control.  In the process, they systematically tortured and killed many devout Buddhist monks and priests, who refused to renounce the Dalai Lama as their leader and swear allegiance to the Communist Chinese government.  During this time, the Dalai Lama fled to Dharmsala, India, where he lives today, and many Tibetans fled to neighboring Nepal.  Having an interest in Tibet since reading Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk several years ago, I have read with interest the accounts of the recent United Nations summit on world peace.  Although major religious leaders from all over the globe were invited and participated in this unprecedented event, the Chinese protested that if the Dalai Lama were allowed to attend, they wouldn't.  Guess who won?  It sure wasn't the Dalai Lama.  It is unreal to me that our Congress recently voted to extend full trade rights to China, which has an appalling human rights record, and yet we continue to sanction and punish Cuba, a tiny, struggling country barely 100 miles from Florida.  If our aim is to open minds through open markets, it seems to me that what's good for China would be even better for Cuba.

The fourth day of trekking was the hardest we'd had yet.  We were on the move for six hours, through rough terrain, including a particularly harrowing section of trail that had been wiped out by a landslide and was little more than a foot wide.  Although a misstep wouldn't have meant sure death, it would have been a long, painful tumble down a sharp gravel embankment to the rocky riverbed below.  I was particularly happy to get that section of the journey over.  Throughout the trek I kept reminding Wiley of my mother's admonition of, "Don't get too close to the  edge!", issued when I called her from Kathmandu.  Mother would have really liked Hiran, because he was constantly reminding us of just that.  Indeed, on this day, we passed the body of a female hiker from Germany who we were told had died suddenly on the trail the day before, and were reminded that although the scenery is beautiful and the trekking exhilarating, it can sometimes be a matter of life and death.   This probably qualifies as "too close to the edge"

Swingin' across the river  On this day we crossed the first of many metal suspension bridges that allow passage across the roaring waters of rivers choked with the melting snows of the Himalayas.  At first it was fun and exciting, and a little scary, to cross these things, but you haven't lived until you've been trapped in the middle of one with a large herd of frightened goats being driven to the market in Pokara.  These bridges can get to swinging back and forth pretty good, and that's about the time you realize that the metal cables along either side of you aren't really that high, after all.  

The town of Tatopani was our next stop.  In Nepalese, tato  means "hot" and pani  means "water", and the town takes that name from the hot springs that bubble up to the surface there.  We stayed in a great little tea house there, with a beautiful garden and cottage-like rooms with stone walls.  The hike that day passed through what's considered the world's deepest gorge, and by many waterfalls.  Tatopani would be a great town to spend a couple of days in, relaxing and enjoying the hot springs, but we had to press on to Ghorapani (Ghorapani means "horse water", and it was probably named this because of the many mule trains that come through this area).  Ghorapani is more than 1500 meters above Tatopani, so this day was a tough one, as we struggled uphill most of the way.  When we finally reached our tea house, we were in the clouds!  My sweat-soaked clothes quickly turned ice-cold on my body, and I was grateful for the wood-heated shower and the fireplace, although I realized that the precious firewood in the area would be gone in a couple of years at the rate the tea houses were burning it.  It's one of the issues I struggle with as a tourist.  Certainly, tourism in many areas results in the preservation and sustainment of many fragile areas.  But the presence of tourists also has a definite impact, and at times may be endangering the very wilderness that you came all those miles to see.  I don't have the answer to this dilemma.  I suppose the important thing is to be aware and to minimize your impact on the area, to the extent that that is possible.

From Ghorapani it's an hour's climb to Poon Hill.  At 3210 meters, Poon Hill has awesome views of the peaks of the Annapurna mountain range, and it's a great place to be for sunrise.  Of course, we weren't alone up there, and the amount of top-end camera equipment up there was stunning, as people attempted to get the perfect photo of the peaks.  Sunrise was spectacular, as it slowly lit up the tops of Annapurna South, Dhaulagiri I, and Fishtail from the east.  The snows turned first pink, then golden, then brilliant white with the first rays of the day.  I think after a few days of walking amongst these giant peaks, the highest in the world, you become a little jaded.  But as if to remind us of our choice spot at the top of the world, as we headed back down the mountain for breakfast, a plane flew by - below us!  Sunrise lights up the Annapurna range

Throughout the trek we passed many mule trains, carrying goods from Pokara to the towns along the circuit.  Vehicles can't get through to these areas, so the mule trains are a vital part of the transportation picture.  The lead mule was always outfitted in garb worthy of the circus, and each mule wore loud copper bells which clanged loudly and announced their approach.  You definitely wanted to know that these guys were coming, because often the trail wasn't big enough for the mule, his packs, and you, and you had to scamper up the side of the mountain to let them pass.  Hiran was constantly coaching us to stay "hillside, please", as he was concerned that we were going to get knocked right off the face of the mountain by a mule in a hurry.  I tried to explain my vast experience with mules to Hiran, telling him that my hometown was known across the globe as the "Mule Capital of the World", and that we actually had a large festival every year with a parade and a liar's contest, all in honor of the mule.  He flashed his trademark smile, nodded and laughed, but I think he's probably still trying to put together in his mind why Americans would make such a big deal over a mule.  This guy would relish a turn as King Mule in Columbia

The other workhorse of the Himalayas is of the human variety.  I'm talking about the men, and yes, believe it or not, women, who haul massive loads along the steep, rocky paths, keeping the tourism machine churning.  We passed and were passed frequently by these simple, typically uneducated people, whose lot in life has left them few career options.  Hiran told us that many of the tour companies really abuse these people, and take too few porters on a trek, which necessitates that they carry huge loads.  They are supposed to get paid additional money when they carry over 100 kilograms (that's over 200 pounds!), but Hiran said that even with the extra money, they still get paid less than $2 per day.  As they huffed by us, stooped under impossibly full baskets steadied by a band around their heads, we could smell the smells of sweat and smoky wood fires on them, and see the desperation in their eyes.  Porters haul loads of wood up to 3810 meters at Muktinath

The last two nights were spent in the somewhat unremarkable, but nice, towns of Tadopani and Ghandruk.  We had to climb still higher from Ghorapani to reach Tadopani, but once there the ride was 90% downhill.  The terrain changed again drastically to something like a tropical rainforest, with moss-covered trees draped with parasitic air plants.  Hiran told us that tigers and other wildlife live in that forest, but we only saw a lone monkey.  Tadopani was also socked in when we arrived there, and we spent probably the coldest day of the trek there, in a room that had only wooden shutters (no glass) on the windows.  We enjoyed our time at the tea house there, mainly because we arrived in the morning and were able to relax, read, and talk with other travelers.  Around the big dining room table we met three sisters from Germany who were hiking the Annapurna Circuit, a three-week undertaking, together.  I thought about my own sisters at home and wondered if they'd ever be up for a little quality time in the Himalayas together.  Barbara, Nancy, what'dya say???

Our last day of the trail was a (relatively) short 3 1/2 hour walk into the small and filthy town of Naya Pul.  As if it's not hard enough re-entering civilization after ten days out in the untamed wilderness, we were greeted by trash, open containers of petrol in the street, and the vacant stares of people who live life in a frontier town.  I was glad when we sped away in a cab for Pokara.  We had come almost 180 kilometers on foot in nine days through alpine desert, pristine evergreen forests, windswept river beds, and tropical rainforest, all the while craning our heads upward and open-mouthed at some of the most awesome mountains in the world.  Time out in nature always gives you time to think, and we both spent a lot of time pondering our future and talking about the path we will take when we come home in March.  The trek was certainly one of the most amazing things I've ever done, and a highlight of the past year. 

If you go trekking in Nepal, here are a few tips that might help make your experience as rewarding as ours:

  • On the well-traveled circuits, like Annapura, Annapurna Base Camp, Jomsom, and Everest Base Camp, you can go without a guide.  The trails are well-defined, and even if you stray off the path, local people are more than willing to help.  On these treks, you don't need camping equipment, because there are tea houses all along the way.  The furnishings are rustic, and most don't have rooms with attached bath (although many did).  The beds are pretty comfortable, usually with a foam mattress about three inches thick.  We brought our Therm-a-rest mattresses, but never used them.  All you really need is a good sleeping bag.

  • Having said that you don't need a guide for these treks, a good one can definitely enhance your experience and make things easier for you.  Hiran is an extremely accomplished and capable guide, along with being a really good person.  He has completed nearly 50 treks in the Himalayas in his seven years as a guide here, and knows first aid, mountaineering, and rock climbing.  You can contact him at

  • I wish I had brought ear plugs on the trek with me.  The walls of some of the tea house rooms are like balsa wood, and you can hear everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, that goes on in the rooms on either side of you. 

  • Bring a water purification kit or filter on the trail with you.  Mineral water is outrageously expensive, and since litter isn't easily disposed of out there, plastic bottles are becoming a big problem.  If you don't like the taste of the iodine in the water purification tablets, you can add a little vitamin C or Tang.  You can even buy a kit at REI that contains both iodine and vitamin C tablets.

  • Take out any non-degradable trash you generate, like plastic.

  • We saw lots of groups who were camping with big trekking organizations.  These are the companies who advertise in the backs of magazines like "Outside", and charge probably three times more than you'd pay if you just came to Nepal, got a guide and a porter, and stayed at tea houses along the way.  Unless you're just really enamored with sleeping in a tent in 32 degree weather, you're probably better off going either on your own or with a guide.  The tea houses are more than comfortable, you meet lots of people around the dinner table, and many people end up finding trekking companions and lifelong friends this way.

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