Part 2 Kathmandu + Pokhara + Annapurna
08.10.2010 - 07.11.2010 23 °C
Kathmandu has an enormous amount of beautiful temples, of which many are concentrated in Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Bouddhanat and Baktapur. Consequently that is where most of the tourists are with of course a concentration of tourist shops, bars and restaurants. The Patan museum is good for a crash course on Hinduism and Boudhism. You could see for example beautiful statues of “Ganesh” (who has head of elephant: the head was cut of and instead he got the head of first what passed by which was an elephant…).
As soon as you walk a bit further you are out of the tourist area and you get curious looks from people what you are doing there. Basically Nepal has a beautiful combination of colours with all the colourful dresses, the earth brick houses and I guess the air.
Pollution and transport
Arriving in Kathmandu means arriving in a rather polluted, busy city where people use their horn at least every 2 seconds, no matter if it is useful or not. It does not matter if you are in a traffic jam standing still, they will use their horn anyway. As a reaction Richard (from Mera Peak group, see part 1 of Nepal) got himself a t-shirt and put a sign on it with ‘no horn please’.
I guess that Nepal has a deal with Suzuki as basically every car is a suzuki. And it really is amazing how sturdy the car is. We were going over roads where I would not even consider to go without a 4WD and our little Suzuki would just happily continue, shaking its passengers. In Pokhara initially it seemed that they had a contract with another company but also there are many Suzukis. Tom, who I met in Pokhara, had been travelling over land from UK to Asia in a little Suzuki and told me that he had hardly had any problems at all with his little car.
The other favourite transport mode is the motor. Not so much a scooter but really a motor. I guess that testosterone is the cause of this.
While I was in Kathmandu I have experienced 2 main festivals of Nepal: the Dasain festival which is kind of Christmas for Nepal and which was clearly a family festival: lots of presents are being bought for each other (clothing), houses are being painted to look fresh again, and you see little podia in the neighbourhood. Like back home newspapers are writing how much is being spent this year on the festival. The second festival, the brother-sister festival, felt for me like New Years Eve due to the many fireworks. It starts with honouring the animals, so Binod told me that he gave his dog a good scrub and I have seen many cows being blessed, receiving tikka (the red dot on the forehead), people crawling below them to honour them and giving the cows some extra nice food. The next day the brothers and sisters are honouring each other.
Nepalese people are very helpful and friendly. I felt very safe all the time. I have seen several times that lots of efforts were done to return some forgotten bag, papers or whatever to the owner. Nepalese people are way more polite than Dutch people and it was sometimes painful to see tourists being rude and reacting rather aggressive if a for example the airport tax of € 1.70 had to be paid... Mistrusting your surroundings really makes life so much more unpleasant...
It is actually quite interesting to see that it is normal for two men to hold hands but not for a man and woman together.
Houses in Kathmandu are mostly 3 floors high. Construction works are being done standing on some bamboo. It took me a while to understand the grid of the city. Due to the smog there are not many days at which I was actually able to see the mountains around Kathmandu (which is at 1440m).
After the exhausting trip to the Mera Peak (6476m: see part 1) it was time for some relaxing holidays. I went therefore to the relaxing Pokhara and the beautiful Annapurna valley to do some more trekking :-).
You can get to Pokhara by bus (6-8 hour drive if you are lucky) or by plane (30 minutes). 8 long bumpy hours or 30 minutes with a splendid view, mmmmh difficult choice.... So after a nice morning flight from Kathmandu I spent a nice relaxing morning at the lake side.
The great AsianHeritageTreks.com who had arranged my flight, gave me some tips for a trekking so I hiked the Nayapul-Ghorepani-Ghandruk triangle.
To be able to go hiking you have to get yourself a permit at the National Tourism Board. Arriving at the Nat. Tourism Board in Kathmandu you enter a typical administration building with several little offices with administrators. If you would expect that you would be able to get some maps or trekking info you are definitely having the wrong expectations. I was surrounded by Nepalese men all filling out forms and attaching lots of passport pictures from tourists and some waited patiently but most waited rather impatiently for the permits. I really did not understand much of the system but very quickly I got my permit and also got rid of a nice sum of money and four pictures. You actually need two permits, one for Nepal and one for the Annapurna region.
After having spent 3 weeks in a group I absolutely adored my freedom again. It is SOOO nice to just see what happens in a day, to let coincidence enter your life and not having a planned out programme. So nice to be able to choose what you want to eat, at the time you would like to eat, with the people you feel like talking to, to get up at the time you want to, etc etc. I therefore also decided not to take a guide and porter on my hike in the Annapurna but simply carried my own bag (which in many countries is very normal.... but not in Nepal), bought a map and took off...
Still having the -20 degrees celcius freshly in my memory I had taken way too warm clothing to Pokhara and Annapurna region where I was welcomed by 25 degrees celcius. I guess I could have left about half of the content of my bag in Kathmandu... Instead I was carrying ca 16kg. Anyway, it was really pleasant to hike in a nice warm area, having my liberty again and simply enjoy the surroundings and nature. Furthermore I just kept having the reflex 'wauw, a bed, wauw, they have electricity (in for example Ghandruk (Annapurna region) they are having electricity now for 20 years), wauw, there is a hot shower' after 3 weeks without all these..
Nice villages and Annapurna rules
It was really nice to see all the little villages and the agricultural activities. Since it was harvest time, many people were in the fields harvesting lots of grain. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the Annapurna region since it is such a well known valley for tourism. Although tourism is clearly very important I encountered more goats and sheep than tourists and the villages were just very charming and beautiful. Such a difference with the remote Makalu national park area which is much poorer. To ensure stable prices, the tourism association in the Annapurna region has actually made a list with the prices for the food and the rooms, so in all the lodges you can find the same menu. Rooms would range from 1 (!) to 5 (!) Euro per night for which you would get a clean room with a bed, sheets and pillow, electricity, bathroom (ensuite would be 5 euros) with hot shower! Amazing. Actually the lodges appeared to have the rule that when you sleep there, that you also eat there. I discovered this the hard way at breakfast when the lady of the house (granny) was looking very angry at me and refused to take my order for breakfast and clearly wanted to hear sorry from my side before she was willing to take my order. In poor English she told me that the open space in front of my room was from another lodge and that I should have had dinner at their lodge. Can you imagine in Amsterdam that the hotel owner comes to you very angry that you should not have gone out for dinner but should have had dinner at the hotel? Like a real granny she really made you feel ashamed, even when I was simply unaware of this rule and had told them from the start that I wanted to have dinner at the open space. So I said my sorry's and tipped them considerably. Other lodges solved this in a better way with the remark that they would charge a double price for the room if you would not take dinner at their place. In this way it was less problematic and would they still get some income.
Another rule in the Annapurna region is to indicate in advance what you would like to eat and at what time and that you all preferably order the same thing (and at the same time) to spare the use of wood for cooking.
The Nayapul - Birethanti - Ulleri - Ghorepani part of the ‘triangle’ is full of small villages. Basically you are ascending most of the time and most of the time this means hiking stairways made from rocks. There is a certain part from the river to Ulleri (1540m) where apparently they have counted the stairways: 3280 stone steps up. I calculated that it is equivalent to climbing a 200 floor building... That day I continued to Ghorepani which is at 2874m. I wonder how many floors that would have been ;-).
The Ghorepani - Tadapani - Ghandruk part of the ‘triangle’ is going through beautiful gorges, nature, lush rain forest. In the beginning you can see the Annapurna range. Also here many stone steps up and down.
Most people stop for the night in Tadapani. I had lunch there and was not too impressed by the village and due to the clouds there was no view so I decided to continue to Ghandruk. I ended up in the lovely lodge Shangri-la with a beautiful view at the ‘old’ Ghandruk, which is the farmers village.
The Ghandruk – Birethanti part of the ‘triangle’ is mostly going down towards the river which means again descending endlessly stone steps. Where on the way up you would meet children in school uniform who are playing or learning, here you would encounter many children who wanted sweets from you. As soon as you would say ‘hello’ (Namaste) they would ask for them.
The hike in detail
1 Nov Kathmandu - flying to Pokhara - taxi to Nayapul (1070m) - hiking to Birethanti (1050m) - Tikedhungga (1540m)
Sun! Up 549m, down 143m: total 692m. Hike 2h40
2 Nov Tikedhungga (1540m) - 3280 steps to Ulleri (2070m) - Ghorepani (2874m)
Sun! Up 1442m, down 91m: total 1533m. Hike 4h15
3 Nov Ghorepani (2874m) - Ban Thanti (3180m) - beautiful hike to Tadapani (2590m) - Ghandruk (1940m)
Sun! Up 625m, down 1457m: total 2182m. Hike 4h45
4 Nov Ghandruk (1940m) - Kilya - Birethanti (1050m) - Nayapul (1070m) - Pokhara by taxi
Sun! Up 116m, down 1004m: total 1120m. Hike 3h12
5 Nov Pokhara - Paragliding - flight to Kathmandu
6 Nov Summit hotel - flight to Doha - flight to London
7 Nov flight to Amsterdam
Pokhara is a real pleasant and relaxing city. It is really touristy but has a nice vibe. And the location at the lake with a view at the Annapurna range is just splendid.
After the Mera Peak and the Annapurna hike I was really looking forward to spend a day at the pool. So I searched in Pokhara for a hotel with pool, checked in, went for a swim in the late afternoon sun and was already looking forward to spending the morning at the pool.
After a nice evening stroll through town with a wonderful sunset I went for dinner in a pasta & nepali restaurant.
Binod, who is working there (restaurant is of his family), started to take care extremely well of me in a very nice way. At a certain point I asked him if he would recommend me to go to place A or B for a drink. Before I knew it, I was sitting on his motorbike and he was bringing me to a bar. Arriving there he said: “these are your new friends: Tom and Liz”. And off he went again to serve the other people of the restaurant, this time with Tom on his bike who was hungry. Life is so full of nice surprises. So I went inside the bar with Liz who appeared to be from Australia and was already a couple of weeks in Pokhara. Lateron Tom rejoined us, who has been travelling 3-4 months over land from UK to Nepal. Binod and his friend Paris joined us as well and we ended up having a great evening.
They told me that next morning they were going to paraglide. So instead of relaxing one day in Nepal at the pool, I went paragliding in the Himalayas… One advice: make sure you are not hangover when you go paragliding. One tends already to get nauseous from paragliding but with a hangover it is guaranteed that you are not feeling too well… :-)
Flying to / from Kathmandu is interesting as you enter a completely different world. Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a peninsula in the Middle East and is placed in a large sand field. When you arrive, you just see lots of sand, some air strips and furthermore some sky scrapers. During the flight with Qatar Airways you can see all the time on the screen where Mecca is placed.