visit to Nepal it feels a little bit like coming home. Even though traffic is chaotic and noisy with cars and motorcycles honking their horn every 5 seconds and pedestrians trying to cross the streets Kathmandu still has a certain charm that is hard to describe and it hasn’t changed since our last visit in 2004. After freshening up there are only two things we need to organize and that is getting a trekking permit and collecting our bus ticket to Pokhara.
When that is done it is time to go back to memory lane. We’ve been talking for weeks already about going to our favorite restaurant for the best Nepalese and Indian food in town only to realize that things have changed as our restaurant is nowhere to be found L. The rest of Thamel, the famous tourist area, hasn’t changed at all. Restaurants, bars, tourist shops selling everything from trekking gear to Buddha statues and t-shirts is all you see here, apart from the honking cars and motorcycles.Today no sightseeing as we are too tired from the flight as the three of us nearly fell asleep during lunch. The next day we are heading to Pokhara from where we will start our 6 day trek in the Annapurna region. It is a long and bumpy 7 hour bus ride with beautiful views of the several valleys we cross with bustling villages, rice terraces, White Water Rivers and green hills. Pokhara has definitely become a lot more popular since our last visit in 1997. It looks more like a 2nd
Thamel with all the restaurants and shops. Also the type of tourists has changed. In 1997 the majority of tourists were young travelers but now it is more families, pensioners and elderly Asian groups that linger in the streets. We spend the late afternoon and evening with walking around a little bit, having a beer and enjoying some nice Indian food. The next morning we wake up with the first glimpses of the Himalayan ranges from our balcony. The Machepuchare aka the "fishtail" is one of them. This mountain is the only mountain in Nepal that has not been climbed as it is a holy mountain and you are not allowed to climb it. After breakfast we take a taxi to Naya Pul from where we will start our trek. Here we realize that the guy that organized our permits was a sneaky guy. He gave us a permit for a group with porters and a guide which is cheaper than a permit for a group without porters and a guide. Off course we paid for the expensive one and he only gave us the cheaper one! Luckily at the checkpoint they didn’t make a fuss about it so we could start with the trek. As the treks in this region are quite popular you basically just follow a well trotted trail with guesthouses dotted along the way. In these guesthouses they all have the same menu with the same prices as they are set by the organization that is running the national park. The first day we climb gradually through a valley with farm houses and rice terraces. It is a sunny day and warmer than we anticipated and the heat makes it more tiring to climb. We end up in a small village called Tikedunga. We stay in a small guesthouse and have dinner choosing from the standard menu and realize that we will have fried rice, fried noodles, spaghetti, pizza or curry for lunch and dinner the next 6 days. OK they also have apple pie as the treks in this region are aka the apple pie treks.
The next day we gain more than 1000 meters in altitude up to 2600 meters and the first couple of hours is climbing more than 3000 steps of what looks like a never ending staircase in a forest. The altitude doesn’t make it any easier as well! No mountain views yet, we only get a glimpse of Annapurna South in the morning. Late afternoon we arrive in Gorepani. A bigger village as this is the start of point for the early morning Poon hill sunrise climb so all trekkers gather in this village. The first pains and aches are starting to show as it was quite a strenuous climb. Next morning an early start at 4.30 am for the sunrise on Poon hill. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of overcast so we didn’t get the full 280 degrees of mountains you can have here and the sunrise was not as spectacular as we had in 1997 the first time we did this trek, but we did get a glimpse of the Dauglari and good views of the Annapurna’s and the fishtail. Back in Gorepani we got some nice views of the Annapurna’s from our guesthouse! After breakfast we head off again with some of our muscles and knees protesting. But when we look at the porters carrying 2-4 backpacks, of which some of them are these huge Samsonite suitcases, we can’t really complain! This day we get to see more of the Himalayan Mountains and walking through a rain forest at 2800 meters looking at snow capped peaks of over 7000 meters is quite an experience. Although we’ve seen it before it is still amazing to see. The last steep climb to Tadapani is killing but we are rewarded with nice views. In Tadapani you have an unobstructed view of the Annapurna South, the Hincuili and the Fishtail.
Next morning we have a beautiful sunrise and again spectacular views. Our muscles are still stiff and Bert’s knee is still a bit sore but he found a walking stick that will help him descending with less pain. We’ll see how far we get on this 4th
day. Our first break gives us an immediate bonus. While taking pictures of the mountains Ton hears something in the forest. To our surprise we see a whole family of monkeys. Beautiful white bearded Langurs and we even see a mother with a baby! All the other trekkers are not interested so we have the monkeys to ourselves. The rest of the walk is mostly descending through thick rain forest and we arrive in Gandruk for lunch. The clouds are getting thicker and it looks like it is going to rain. We are planning to walk some more but during lunch it really starts to rain. The lunch is the best meal we had on the trek and it looks like it is will rain for some time so we decide to stay in Gandruk so we can enjoy dinner here as well! After an hour the rain stops and we decide to go for a walk in the village. This turns out to be another bonus. Gandruk is not just a trekker’s village but a charming medieval kind of village. Only the electricity poles and satellite dishes make you realize that you are in the 21st
The clouds are slowly disappearing and we again get the full view of the mountain ranges. We enjoy the views from our balcony until the sun sets. The family makes us another delicious meal and although it is from the “standard” menu list here they finally use spices and herbs and not just salt! The next morning we again have clear views and after breakfast we unfortunately have to leave. We’re leaving the mountain views behind and start walking back to Pedi the final destination of our trek. The last two days we have more views over farmland and forests with rice terraces as far as the eye can see. We finish the trek with a steep decent on another long staircase. It was a beautiful trek with amazing views. Strenuous at times and our muscles and tendons just made it till the end. In Pokhara, while enjoying a well deserved beer a wood oven Pizza and an Illy espresso, all the muscle pains we had during the trip are forgotten and only the good memories remain.
Then it is time to head back to Kathmandu. In Kathmandu we thought we had a reservation in the same hotel as we had upon arrival in Nepal but no that is not the case. The manager tells us with a smile that yes we have a reservation but he doesn’t have rooms for us! But he will take us to another hotel. The first one he shows us is just too dirty for words but hey he could try right. So he brings us to another one which is actually a lot better than his own. We are fed up with this guy so we decide to stay in this hotel. We get a good discount so we have a better room for the same price. In the evening we even found a good replacement for our favorite restaurant. All organic and very tasteful! The next days it’s time for some sightseeing. As soon as you leave the tourist Thamel area you get into the real Kathmandu, the Kathmandu we like. The city is alive with people wandering on the streets either for shopping in the many little shops or going to one of the small Hindu or Buddhist temples that you find literally on every corner of the street. We go the main square, Durbar square, where you find a congregation of impressive Hindu temples and shrines. We also go to Patan which used to be a separate city but is now part of greater Kathmandu. Here Durbar square is even more impressive with more elaborate temples than the one in Kathmandu. For our last visit in Nepal we go to Baktapur.
This is a village that used to be one of the 3 kingdoms in the Kathmandu valley. Patan and Kathmandu are the other two. Baktapur is the prettiest of the three. The city is surrounded by a wall and is more or less traffic free which makes it a nice place to wander through with its cobbled streets and again a Durbar square and several other squares with Buddhist and Hindu temples, statues and shrines. This was a nice place to end our trip to Nepal.
We are ready for our next chapter Bhutan so I want to leave you with one of the sayings that we saw on our trek: The grand essentials of happiness are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
This is the start of a new adventure. This time we are taking along a good friend, Bert with whom we've traveled before. After a smooth flight to New Delhi without delays, a long and tiring wait for 8 hours at the airport and another short flight we arrive early morning at Kathmandu airport. Clearing customs and getting a visa was also a piece of cake. As this is our 4