Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nepal Photo Post 1 of 4

Picture time.  Finally.  I narrowed my Nepal pictures down to about 240, which I'm going to post 60 at a time as time allows.  I think it's a pretty good mixture of pictures.  Some are included simply because they are good pictures.  Others are shown because they go along with some kind of an interesting story.  Others are here because they show something unique about Nepal.  And others are included because I felt like including them.  I'll try to keep the captions short.

This album covers my departure from Korea, on September 11, 2011, some time spent in Kathmandu, another week or so in Pokhara, and the first half of the Annapurna trek, ending at Braghat / Manang, on October 20, 2011. Several of the pictures in THIS album are shown in a post from September.  The next three posts will be all-new.


Goodbye, Korea!

After a calamitous first night in Nepal, we were finally able to get some money the next day.  At a conversion rate of roughly 75 Nepali Rupees to the U.S. dollar, we both felt pretty rich.  Make it rain, Katie!

One mode of transport available in Kathmandu, the bicycle rickshaw.

On our second day in Kathmandu, we visited Swayambhu, a famous Buddhist temple atop a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley.  Swayambhu is, for reasons that will be apparent after looking at the next few pictures, commonly referred to as 'Monkey Temple.'  When Katie and I first got there, we were just blow away.  How could a place like this exist, and seeing that it obviously DID and DOES exist, how was it that we'd never heard of it prior to arriving in Nepal?  One of the coolest places I've ever been.

Baby monkeys were all over Swayambhu.

Shortly before Katie was attacked by 'King Monkey.'  I think that story is told in an old post.

Thirsty?  The monkeys at Swayambhu are all rhesus macaques, and they have no fear of humans.  Dogs, on the other hand seem able to instill fear in these creatures, that depending upon their disposition, can be either incredibly cute, or, frankly, a bit frightening when they're pissed off.

Nice to meet you.

On September 16th, Katie and I started a short trek a bit north of Kathmandu in order to make sure we at least kind of knew what we were doing before starting the 2-week plus Annapurna Circuit.  This was our first day on the trail.

A boy herding a bunch of goats on the same trail Katie and I were hiking on.  Down here, it was goats that you found on the trail.  Up higher, it changed to donkeys and yaks.

The view of an abandoned bus from Mt. Dog Fuck, Nagarkot.  No, 'Mt. Dog Fuck' isn't Nepali for anything.  It's a reference to the canine copulation that was taking place all around us as we hung out and enjoyed a sunset over Kathmandu.

And here's the sunset view of Kathmandu from Mt. Dog Fuck, Nagarkot.  If Kathmandu doesn't look as big or bright as you might expect, it could be at least partially explained by the rolling blackouts that are just a part of day-to-day life in Nepal.

A flamingo.

After completing our 5-day Kathmandu Valley trek, we celebrated by going on a Nepali beer tour.  Kathmandu, San Miguel (actually a Filipino beer), Gorkha, Nepal Ice, and Everest beers cost about $2 each, making drinking a relatively expensive hobby in Nepal, considering that a hotel room cost less than $5 a night in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu.

These are the receipts I got from my visit to an overcrowded Nepali hospital.  There's a whole post about this ordeal somewhere on my blog.  The visit may or may not have been prompted by Katie and my visit to a dirt-floored local restaurant in Nagarkot where we were served rahksi (Nepali moonshine) out of a dirty gas can.

Kathmandu, being a relatively big city (about one million people live there), has a relatively big pigeon population.  Photo credit: Katie

To get around in Kathmandu, you can walk, take a taxi, or take a bicycle rickshaw.  If you aren't trying to get up any big hills, the rickshaw is a good option.

On September 28th, we arrived in Pokhara, a tourist-friendly city that serves as the jumping-off point for the Annapurna Circuit.  We happened to be in Pokhara during Dashain, a 15-day festival that is the most important holiday in Nepal.  During Dashain, many families construct swings of varying sizes from bamboo poles.  Some of the swings are enormous, towering above the homes of those who built them.  It's rare to meet a Nepali person without a smile on his or her face, and this was even more pronounced during Dashain.

Some Hindus put 'tilaks' - the red dots you see on the foreheads of many Hindu people - on their pets.  Later, I'd see them on elephants as well.  Interesting side note: this dog was a little fucker.  The stray dogs in Nepal are friendly.  In fact, this was the only angry person or animal I saw for about 4 months.  Except for that innkeeper in Namche Bazaar...

A fruit stand in Pokhara.

I'm not going to explain this one.

There were tons of butterflies in Nepal, especially in the lower-elevation areas.  This is a 'Red Spot Jezebel Butterfly,' and I took this photo just outside of Pokhara.

Another butterfly photo.  There are 643 species of butterfly that live in Nepal.  After trying to find out what this one is for a few minutes, I've given up.  It's probably a new discovery.  Does this qualify me as an entomologist?

The Japanese-built 'World Peace Pagoda,' located on top of a hill overlooking Pokhara.

Katie and I got drunk one night and decided to build a fort when we got back to our kick-ass room in the kick-ass Hotel Elia, still in Pokhara.  Photo credit: Katie

Think these kids are cute?  Look a little closer.  What is the kid in the blue shirt, on the right, holding in his hand?  Oh, it's a big butcher-knife.  We met these kids during one of our Pokhara-based scooter adventures.  We had to cross a river to get here, but could make it no further, as the road at this point went across (by going through) a river that was frankly too deep for us to hope to be able to get across on our rented scooter.  Photo credit: Katie

Here's one of the larger bamboo swings we saw.  Photo credit: Katie

There are two particularly memorable aspects of Dashain.  The first is the bamboo-swings.  The other is the slaughter of thousands (millions?  I don't know... there are 20 million people in Nepal, so I guess it's possible) of goats, buffalo, ducks, pigeons, etc.  The blood of the sacrificed animals is offered to the blood-thirsty Goddess, Kali.  Here's a herd of now-dead goats.

Our first good view of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.  This was taken at sunrise from Sarangkot, a famous view point just outside of Pokhara.  The most prominent mountain, near the middle of this photo, is the 6.993 meter high Machapuchare.

Another early-morning picture of the Annapurna Himalayas taken from Sarangkot.

Obligatory jumping picture.

Katie picked a fight with a kung-fu master.  Actually, there were some Chinese journalists at Sarangkot at the same time as Katie and I, and enthralled by our jumping pictures and other silly antics, decided to get in on the action.  Katie: "That Chinese man kicked me in the ..."

Monks meditating, mesmerized by mountains.  The big guy is, again Machapuchare.

There are some situations I can't tear myself away from when I've got my camera gear.  Anytime there are flowers and bees together is one such situation.

Our favorite Nepali drink, Officer's Choice whiskey.  Cheap as can be, and good enough for airline pilots.  What else can you ask for?  Photo credit: Katie

We never got around to paragliding in Pokhara.  It was a very popular activity there, but expensive - over $100 US.  The lake shown is Phewa Tal, the second-largest lake in Nepal.

I loved Nepal, and hate to put up anything critical about it, but c'mon.  What kind of a message is it sending when you put up a sign bragging about the particular region being "the First Open Defecation Free District of Nepal."  Wow!  What a great place!  There aren't people shitting all over the streets!

On another one of our scooter adventures near Pokhara, Katie and I found a river with a bunch of kids playing in it.  We considered joining them, but the water below was frighteningly shallow, and as Katie so eloquently put it, she'd love to try jumping too, but "I'd go down harder and faster than those kids."  Yeah, you would.  Photo credit: Katie

We went to an amusement park in Pokhara.  Weird, but awesome.  One attraction of the amusement park was the 10-meter high wooden barrel in which a man on a motorcycle rode around the vertical walls.  Photo credit: Katie

Most afternoons in Pokhara, we'd get a couple beers, rent a canoe, and row out a hundred meters into Phewa Tal for our own sunset booze cruise.  I tried to look as creepy as possible in this photo.  Photo credit: Katie

There wasn't too much in the way of wildlife in the non-jungle regions of Nepal, so whenever there was any kind of animal in sight, I'd tend to drop everything and start taking pictures.  This is an "Oriental Garden Lizard."

Finally, some trekking.  This was the room we stayed in on October 14th, in the "Ngadi Guest House," our first night on the Annapurna Circuit trail.  Neither of us really knew what to expect at the tea houses (Lodges on major trekking routes in Nepal are commonly called tea houses) along the Annapurna Circuit.  This lodge, fortunately, ended up being one of the worst lodges we stayed at on either the Annapurna or Everest treks.  Perhaps the highlight of the lodge was our roommates, one of whom took a shit on Katie while she was trying to get to sleep.  Our roommates were rats.  That said, it was fine, and cheap as can be.  Because of the fact that the lodges on the Annapurna Circuit aren't (yet) reachable by car, they become increasingly expensive with altitude.  At only 900 meters, this lodge cost us 100 rupees ($1.33) for the night, and breakfast and dinner for Katie and myself totaled only Rs. 720 - less than $10.  Nice.

On our second day on the Annapurna Circuit, October 15th, we stayed at a lodge in Jagat (elevation 1314m) where several other groups of trekkers were also staying.  There was a family trekking together that had hired a porter-guide (there's a distinction, I believe this guy was both) who was celebrating his birthday with everyone in the lodge.  So we were treated to some chocolate cake, and per the Nepali tradition, or maybe it's a made-up tradition to make Westerners feel special, Katie and I got tilaks made from rice and some red dye on our foreheads.

Stop!  Thief!  That guy is stealing my dead goat!

... like lambs to the slaughter.  Or like goats, rather.

Short hair, short beard.  At this point, I obviously hadn't been in Nepal too long.  Katie and I stopped in Tal for lunch of tuna momos (delicious Nepali dumplings) and chang.  Chang is home-brewed 'beer' that tastes like lemonade that's short on sugar.  Interestingly, I just found out a couple days ago that Chang is also a major beer brand in Thailand.  Photo credit: Katie

On the morning of October 17th, we awoke to this spider running around our room.  We'd thought of sleeping a bit longer, but when we found out that we had roommates like this, we got up and headed out the door.

A breakdown of trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit by nationality and the month of their visit.  Katie and I were doing the trek in the middle of October, far and away the busiest month for trekking in Nepal, and there wasn't a time when we felt like it was too crowded.

"You look like Chewbacca!"

Obviously I had to include this picture.  Anytime I can make some kind of Colorado reference, I have to do it.

On the night of October 18th, we stayed in a village called Upper Pisang.  There was a monastery at the upper end of town which offered incredible views of the Annapurna range.  The tallest mountain shown here is Annapurna II, the 16th highest mountain in the world, at 7,937 meters.  The coloring in this picture ended up coming out strange, but I liked it, so I decided to keep it.  My use of a polarizer certainly had something to do with this strange effect.

Here's the same picture as shown above, but "color-corrected."  I don't know which version I like better.

The kitchen at the "Yak and Yeti Hotel" in Upper Pisang.  All the food you get on the trails in Nepal is cooked in kitchens like this, usually on wood-burning stoves, but some places do use gas that's brought up in big cylinders on the backs of donkeys.

Nepali script.  There are tablets with this script carved into them all along the Annapurna Circuit, and to a lesser extent, the Everest Trek as well.  It reads "Om mani padme hum," and there is no easy-to-understand English translation that I can find.  It is basically a mantra, and is revered by Buddhists.

More "Om mani padme hum" tablets.

One of the smaller rooms we ever stayed at, thankfully.  No, I'm not doing ballet in this picture.  I'm demonstrating how small the room was.  Photo credit: Katie

I'd never seen an avalanche until October 20th,when I saw two.  Katie took this picture while I filmed it.

I own a pair of really nice, expensive hiking boots that I wore for the whole Annapurna Circuit.  Here's what they'd done to my left heel by day 7.  Lacking moleskin, I made my own band-aid with duct tape and toilet paper.  When I finished the Circuit, I decided I'd use my running shoes for the Everest Trek - the boots were simply too painful to continue using.

We went to a "movie theater" in Manang.  You can't reach Manang by any kind of mechanical vehicle (other than a helicopter), but the village had two movie theaters.  They didn't have current releases, of course.  They had pirated DVDs  and a projector.  You got to pick your own movie to watch.  The benches were covered with yak fur, and the 200 rupee ($2.67) ticket price included a bag of popcorn and a cup of hot tea.

When we left the movie theater in Manang, we found ourselves a half-hour walk from our hotel in a snow storm.  The walk was reminiscent of the beginning of either a horror movie or a survival story.  Yaks with glowing blue-green eyes watched us walk slowly back to our hotel on a suddenly unfamiliar (due to the dark and snow) trail.  But we made it. 

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