Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trekking around the Kathmandu Valley

Story Three: Trekking around the Kathmandu Valley

Katie and I have two big objectives while in Nepal. We want to do the 3-week Annapurna Circuit trek, and we want to do the 3-week extended trek to Everest Base Camp. Each of these treks might be stretched out to 3.5 or 4 weeks, we don't really know enough details yet, and are going to play it by ear. But we do know that both of these hikes involve reaching elevations of over 5,000 meters, and Everest Base Camp is at an elevation of 5545 meters – about 18,200 feet above sea level. Needless to say, we're going to need to acclimate. So we decided it would be a good idea to do a few short hikes around Kathmandu (only at an elevation of 1300m, lower than Denver, Colorado), and on Friday, September 16, 2011, we set off from our guesthouse in Kathmandu for the village of Sundarijal, an hour and a half by bus from the city center.

Our initial, planned itinerary went something like this:
  • Day one: Bus from Kathmandu to Sundarijal (1.5 hours), hike to Chisapani (5hrs), stay the night.
  • Day two: Hike from Chisapani to Nagarkot (10 hrs), stay the night.
  • Day three: Hike from Nagarkot to Changanarayan (6 hrs), take a cab back to Kathmandu.

Backpacking (or 'trekking' in this and most non-American places in the world) is very different from anywhere I've trekked before. Unless you are in a super-remote area, you can count on walking through a village every 3-4 hours, and each of these villages will typically have several 'teahouses' available where you can stay the night and have your dinner and breakfast prepared for you. And depending on the season and the village, the prices can range from so-cheap-it's-basically-free to cheap. Because Nepal makes it so easy to be flexible with your trekking schedule, our final trekking schedule ended up working out like this:
  • Day one: Bus from Kathmandu to Sundarijal (1.5 hours), lunch at Sundarijal (2 hours), hike to Chisapani (4 hours), stay the night.
    The very beginning of the Sundarijal - Chisapani hike

    Katie hiking through what sometimes seemed to be endless fog.
  • Day two: Hike from Chisapani to Nagarkot (8.5 hours), stay the night.

  • Cute Nepali children

    Day three: Day-hike around Nagarkot, stay another night in Nagarkot.
    Talk about a creative restaurant name.  Just below the Nagarkot View Tower, Nagarkot.

    Katie, climbing up the Nagarkot View Tower, just before the monsoon that almost ruined the rest of our evening.
  • Me climbing the Nagarkot View Tower.
    Day four: Hike from Nagarkot to Changanarayan (5 hours), stay the night.
  • Day five: Hike from Changanarayan to Bhaktapur on the Kathmandu Valley floor (6 hours), stay the night.
  • Day six: Feel like shit, cancel rest of hike, taxi back to Kathmandu, go to hospital.
Notables from the six-day trek:
  • Our room in the teahouse in Chisapani (first night) cost 100 rupees. That's about $1.33, or $0.67 each. When you stay at a teahouse, you're expected to eat their food, so that's where they make their money, but food and drinks are also ridiculously cheap. Over the course of our single night and morning at this teahouse, we had 3 large pots of tea, one large pot of coffee, a very-filling and delicious dinner AND dessert, and an awesome breakfast. Our total food bill – 1,200 Rupees, about $16, or $8 each. So a cheap day on the trail can be done for about $10.

    Mmmm... chow mein.  I don't know if I've ever had chow mein, but I discovered it in Nepal, and it changed my life.
  • About two weeks into our Nepal adventure, we STILL haven't seen the Himalayas. The views from Nagarkot are famous, but the Himalayas have been hidden from view for the whole time we've been in the country. Annoying.
    Trailside view en route from Chisapani to Nagarkot.  If there were no clouds here, the Himalayas would be visible at the top of this photo.

  • Leeches! Katie got 4, and I got 3. I was the one wearing shorts. Go figure. And then there was the one we found in our hotel room in Changanarayan that I had to crush to death with a Nalgene bottle 5 times before it finally died. Reminded me of the invincible spider from Australia. And by the time it was actually dead, one little corner of our hotel room looked like a murder scene.

    Hooray!  Leeches!
  • Diarrhea. I'll leave it at that.
  • Seeing a local boy herd a herd of 50+ goats down a mountain road.

    Herd those goats, 10 year-old boy!
  • Mt. Dog Fuck, Nagarkot. The best place in Nagarkot to view the sun setting over Kathmandu is from a small hill in town inhabited only by fat, friendly stray dogs … that can't stop fucking.
    Sunset over Kathmandu, seen from the world famous Mt. Dog Fuck, Nagarkot.

    The view down onto the road out of Nagarkot from the famed Mt. Dog Fuck.
  • Drinking home-brewed Chang (Nepalese moonshine “beer” that tastes like lemonade without enough sugar in it) and Roxie (Nepalese moonshine liquor that tastes almost exactly like saki) in a dirt-floored restaurant for 15 rupees per cup. The drinks were poured by a Nepalese hobbit from old gasoline cans. Classy. In an totally unrelated story, I found myself in a Nepalese hospital three days later with crippling stomach and body pains.
  • Being trapped in the “Friendship Hut” across the road from an Army Base a few kilometers from Nagarkot in a monsoon. When it rains here, it can rain HARD. We spent an hour or two in what basically amounted to a small gazebo, trying to avoid the downpour. Eventually, when it started getting dark, we had to give up and walk back to town, understandably miserable in the dark, pouring rain. And all this just after I'd had to run off the road to poop in the woods, and had gotten bitten on my ass by what must have been a spider.

    Katie testing out her $4 raincoat in monsoon rains at "Friendship Hut," just outside Nagarkot.  It wasn't waterproof.
  • Having this same night turn totally around because of our having dinner with a Nepalese family, who rather than watching TV together at night, sang songs while one of the men played the guitar. We tried to reciprocate the kindness they'd shown us by singing the only song that both of us knew: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
  • Forming a hippy death-pact, whereupon if any of the following rules are broken, a mutual suicide has been deemed the most prudent action:
    • Dreadlocks (either of us), and head-shaving (Katie).
    • The use of patchouli for anything at all ever.
    • The use of the word “chakra.” More items will be added to the list as our terrifying free fall into hippydom provides more specific examples of punishible-by-death crimes.
  • Seeing Changanarayan, the oldest Temple in Nepal, and a mere 5 minute walk from our $4.66 hotel after dark.
  • Meeting 5 Nepalese college students, 2 of whom were out celebrating having just passed their final college exams. We relaxed with them on top of one of the hundreds-of-years-old temples in Bhaktapur Square, and then bought them dinner and chang at a local restaurant.
  • Surviving an Earthquake that neither of us even felt, but that resulted in several deaths mere miles away in Kathmandu.
  • Waking up in Bhaktapur after a sleepless night of fever-induced tossing and turning, body pain, and spending the rest of the day in a Nepalese hospital, being taken care of by Katie and the manager of the hotel we'd moved into a mere hour earlier. But the whole hospital thing deserves it's own entry. So be patient, both of you that have managed to read this far...

    And some more photos... 
    I'm eventually going to have a full album of "animals in weird places."

    See what I was saying about "Animals in weird places?"

    Haggling for bananas or something.

    One way of getting around Nepal.

    This is a picture of corn.

    I love it: "I'm bored.  No electricity."  The whole country has rolling blackouts.
    I believe this is a flamingo.

    ...and more "Animals in weird places."

    Here's a necessary caption: This is a butterfly.

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