Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NEPAL

Where do I even begin? You can only describe a place half way around the world so well; to really understand it you just have to go there. But, I will do my best to paint a picture of the experience for you.

Kathmandu

The capital of Nepal is absolutely huge, colorful, poluted and BUSY! We got out as soon as we could. A taxi driver (who earned commission) drove us to a Guest House where we paid $20 for a room and quickly organized the trek with Shankar, a representive of Swan Valley Trekking. We got a package that included meals, lodging, a guide, a porter, bus tickets and our permits. We left for the trail the next day.


Our Crew

Our guide, Jivan, and porter, Rom, are neighbors from Ghorka, Nepal. Jivan spoke pretty decent English while Rom remained the silent strong type. Jivan was social and taught us card tricks and games. Rom sat beside us giving Brad pointers on which cards to throw down. Jivan lead the expedition setting the pace. Rom took up the back carrying his load. Jivan and Rom both ate Dal Bhat always with glasses of "mountain medicine," or local wine (kinda like Saki). And of course there was Katie, Brad and myself. Katie and Brad kept everyone laughing. I recorded the trip with a detailed journal and photographs.


The Bus Ride

video

We loaded up on a colorful bus titled 'DVD Coach' and we puzzled over the concept of a TV in this short fully loaded animated shuttle. But sure enough, they played a Nepali movie that included lots of Indian style singing and a dramatic story of a forbidden love, or at least that's what we gathered from their actions. The bus was public and so we stopped often to load up and drop off while all our bags were tied down on the roof. I really had no worries about theft, even when passengers were riding on the roof. People are pretty respectful in this country. So we endured 7 hours of potholes, cramped quarters, a crazy driver who passed cars no matter what, and LOUD Nepali music. And everyone honks musical horns while passing, adding to the music of the trip. We all had a laugh when Katie got splashed with muddy road water jumping up from a puddle when another bus passed us.

The Trek

Click on link to see map of the Annapurna Circuit



Ngadi (930m/3,050ft)

Our 1st stop on the trek came a bit early due to Brad contracting some sort of illness that kept him throwing up until the next day when he started to feel better. We think it was food related, but it was just a one day bug. It was Jivan's birthday and so we celebrated with Everest beer, card games and a Snickers bar.








The Jungle

We continued trekking alongside a river in lush greenery. Waterfalls poured out from all over and my legs broke out in pimples due to the humidity. Whatever lodges we stayed in Jivan always led us right to our rooms and ordered tea and snacks for us. Having a guide took a lot of stressful decision making out of the equation. We ran into donkey trains carrying loads of supplies and porters making thier way in flip flops with a strap over their foreheads to carry their own loads. We crossed lots of bridges as we slowly climbed our way to higher grounds and got little peeks of some big snow covered peaks.


Chame (2670m/8757ft)

As the headquarters of the region, Chame was full of modern luxuries such as a Western toliet attached to our bedroom, hot showers and Internet. We were able to connect with our families to say we were doing fine. The weather is getting a bit chillier.





Pisang (3240m/10,627)
The days are getting shorter due to acclimazation and our surroundings are looking more like Tahoe with dryer air and more pine trees. We witnessed a man here who burst in the door at dinner coughing and disoriented. The next morning we found out he died from Pulminary Edema. He didn't have insurance for a helicopter evacuation and didn't descend enough to cure his symptoms. Serious stuff here in the mts, and we all hiked on with a little more respect for the place.


Manang (3540m/11,611ft)

We are well into the mountains here and every view is breathtaking. Glaciers and avalanches bombard the tall peaks and the sun shines brightly off of them. There is a bakery here that we took full advantage of and we did a little day hike to help acclimate. We also attended a talk on altitude sickness and its effects at a free clinic, which was helpful even though Jivan knows it all anyway. But we were all feeling good thus far.



Gunsang (3900m/12,792ft)

What a cool little place equipped with a few rooms, a rooftop deck of the incredible Annapurna Range, and a whole wheel of Yak cheese to flavor our food. We really enjoyed the 2 hour hike to this place where we continued to acclimate.


Thorung Phedi (4420m/14,498ft)

Literally translated "foot of the mountain," this was our last stop before the pass. It was cold and began snowing that night. It was at this lodge where I really felt like we were on a mt expedition. There was a sense of anticipation in the air as we looked around at the two sorts of people there: porters who wore simple clothes vs mountaineers who wore solid gear. We ate a lot of carbs and played a lot of cards before curling up in our sleeping bags ignoring mice scampering underneath our beds.


The Pass (5415m/17,761ft)

We awoke at 3:30am, ate breakfast, turned on our headlamps and started up the switchbacks with a line of headlights behind us and in front. It was completely dark save for the stars in the clear black sky. As dawn approached you could just barely make out the outline of the mountains as the light started to reflect off the snow. We kept going UPUPUP and it was cold.




But how could you complain when your hands were cold with gloves on while Rom simply shoved his hands in his pockets to stay warm? We stopped for tea part way up and took in the views. There was a man outside with a donkey looking for weaker hikers to pay him a fortune for a mule ride to the top. We continued on foot.


No one had altitude sickness symptoms, but my body had slowed down quite a bit and I took it very slowly. Brad wrote a message in the snow to encourage me. Then the top came into view and Rom was there to give us high fives as we put our packs down to take congratulatory photos. And yes, there was a tea shack at the top. Then we started the decent, which was long, slippery and hard. But we were happy the pass was over. WE DID IT!


Muktinath (3710m/12,168ft)

I took a shower and we spent the morning exploring the temple, which is a sort of Mecca for the people of Nepal. Prayer flags flew everywhere within these closed grounds as the leaves yellowed above the flowing creeks. It was a beautiful area with lots of bells that when rung bring prayers to the sky.


Kagbeni (2800m/9184ft)

This is where I celebrated my birthday in another fine lodge with a bathroom attached to our room. Katie and Brad got me a treat as a gift: Pringles! And we started ordering bottles of Everest early to celebrate. We taught Jivan some drinking games, including Kings Cup and Screw the Dealer. He really got a kick out of the games and we all laughed when we tryed to explain the 'Busta Rhyme' rule in Kings Cup. We told Jivan to just pick any word at all and Katie would have to rhyme with it and it would continue around the circle. So he looks at Katie and says, "Water." Katie's smile faded as she tried to think of a word to rhyme, but couldn't, so she drank. A pretty clever guide =)


Then a woman from the kitchen brought out a chocolate cake much to my surprise! She wrapped a Yak shawl around me and everyone sang. I blew out the candles and we passed a piece of cake to everyone in the room. What a wonderful way to turn 27.


Kotapani (2530m/8,298ft)

We had a long day of hiking to Katopani and none of us were really sure why. There were places to stop along the way, but Jivan wanted to keep going. We joked that he had a girlfriend waiting for him. To cut off some time from the trail, we decided to ford a river flowing with glacial water. It was such a cold long process of wading barefoot through the river that it would have been faster to have gone around! Oh well. Our feet were tired that night and we ate a huge delicious meal of Dal Bhat...the best so far.

Tatopani (1190m/3,903ft)

Hot Springs! We talked Jivan into staying 2 nights here, and if he said no we threatened to drug his mountain medicine =) Americans like to rest! But we relaxed near the hot springs for 2 days here as we were ahead of schedule.


Ghorepani via Poon Hill (2750/9,020ft)

Ugh Poon Hill. UPUPUPUP all in one day. I had a harder time climbing these endless stone steps than going over the pass! The next morning we summited Poon Hill at sunrise to watch Mother Nature show her radiant morning colors against a backdrop of the highest mountains in the world.


To Pokhara

We had 3 extra days and so were going to cut into the Annapurna Sanctuary, but as we started to head up more stone stairs, Katie's chest started hurting and it was hard for her to take deep breaths. We stopped to assess the situation and I told her, "Katie, if you want to turn around and go down, I'm totally ok with that." And so was Brad. We were all a little burnt out on the trek and so we decided to make our way to Pokhara to rest for 5 days.

And so we trekked 300 km or 184 miles over a 17,761 foot pass through the Himalayas. It was stunning, tiring, adventurous and fun.


Pokhara (884m/2,900ft)

We killed time in Pokhara, the 2nd largest city in Nepal but not nearly as crazy because the tourist section is located near a large calm lake. We spent our time rowing in it, hiking to the Peace Pagoda, eating Banana Choc Chip cake, shopping and riding bikes to museums. I came down with some sort of diarhea/stomach cramp thing, but took some antibiotics and felt better. Then we got on a bus back to Kathmandu.


Kathmandu (again)

Jivan was there to greet us as we stepped off the bus. He insisted we stay at his place with his 2 cousins. They rented 2 rooms below their landlord about a 10 min walk from Thamel, the tourist district. We were the only tourists in his neighborhood. They had 3 beds and insisted that Katie, Brad and I take 2 of them. They shared the other and 1 slept on the floor. They made Dal Bhat and breakfast for us everyday and wouldn't let us give them a cent. They took us out to the Nepali bars, which was a unique scene of dancing and singing. Again, we were the only tourists in their bars. We picked up last minute souvineers, saw a whole lotta temples, including a monkey temple, which is exactly what it sounds like, and an area where families cremate their dead and send them down a river.

I can't believe the experiences we had while in Nepal and the hospitality we were shown. I would reccommend a trip there in a heartbeat. I've included a few more tidbits below from the trip. ENJOY!


Moods of the SteriPen

We used a nifty device called the Steripen to purify our water. We filled our bottles from a local water source and then waved the magic Steripen UV light wand in the water for 90 seconds per liter of water. It scrambles the DNA of bacteria, so you're still drinking them, but they are unable to reproduce to make you sick. If the process is successful, the Steripen gives you a :) If something went wrong, it :( At altitude, it gets finiky and often :( much to our dismay, but Jivan :) and fills our bottles with boiling water. After the pass, the Steripen was back to its old self, smiling away after liters of water were purified. It was an easy and reliable process.


Typical Meals for the Day:
Breakfast: fried egg + chipati (flat bread) OR apple porridge, tea
Snack: apple or banana, tea
Lunch: fried noodles, tea
Snack: popcorn or french fries, tea
Dinner: Dal Bhat*, tea

*DAL BHAT- the staple food of every Nepali that can be found EVERYWHERE
1. a heaping pile of rice
2. lentil soup
3. curried vegetables
4. pickled radishes
5. curried chicken (only at dinner)

How to Eat:
First, you pour the lentil soup over the rice, then with your right hand (never never never your left because that's what you clean your bum with after the bathroom) you take the curry and mash up the potatoes into the rice and mix in the veggies. They you put a scoop of the mixture into your hand and use your thumb to shovel it all into your mouth. Add in the delicious chicken at intervals and eat the pickled radishes last if they aren't too spicy. You can always ask for more of everything, but you never waste anything on your plate. It really is a delicious dish!!!


The Art of the Squat Toliet

Many of you may cringe at the thought of not being able to sit on a 'throne' while going to the bathroom, but I must say the Squat Toliet is very effective. After arriving in Nepal I was very afraid of being stopped up due to the grossness of a sloppy toliet you hold yourself over. I imagined straining my leg muscles over a poop covered floor to go, but in reality it wasn't that bad. First of all, there was usually a porcelin toliet placed in the floor and once you get into that natural squat position, it all comes out. And eventually, the stinky outhouse smell stops bothering you. I don't know why we sit on toliets at all reading a magazine waiting for the drop. With a Squat Toliet, you squat and then you're done...it's easy! Then you pour buckets of water down the hole until gravity works its magic.


Tips on making your squat toliet experience enjoyable:

1. Roll up your pants

2. Bring your own TP

3. Aim correctly

4. Relax and have fun with the experience =)


Religion

Hinduism and Buddhism are ever prevalent in Nepal and often you can't tell the difference between the two. Posters of Buddha and Vishnu are hung next to each other in lodges, Monasteries and Temples are built right next to each other. Prayer flags are everywhere and I'm still unsure exactly which religion they serve, so I assume both. Most people wear the tika, or red dot on the forehead and Hindu sadhus and Buddhist monks are often roaming the streets. Both religions offer a lot of color and traditions. I asked Jivan which religion he practices, to which he responded Buddhism, but his Facebook page says he's Hindu. Nepal is one country we can learn from as far as religious tolerance goes: religions meld into daily life without a sense of competition and with complete adaptation.


Other Tid Bits

1. No public displays of affection (Katie and Brad!)

2. Dogs are everywhere and don't belong to anyone

3. Don't open your mouth in the shower

4. Jivan's cell phone works everywhere except over the pass

5. The best place to dry anything is on the roof


And now for the sentimental side: my last journal entry. Most blogs spill out its creator's inner thoughts, so I guess I will do that just this one time. Hope it's not overkill =)


November 6, 2009 TRUCKEE
I am home in Truckee at last. Staying with Ingrid and John in Santa Cruz (Brad's brother and sister-in-law) was wonderful, but I was so ready to get home to take a shower- it had been 6 days. We went out for a huge breakfast with pancakes, sausage, and coffee and rode our bikes to the restaurant. It's a wonderful feeling to be comfortable with customs and culture. I knew how to ride on the roads, what to order at breakfast, how to ask the waitress for something and how to pay properly. It can be unnerving to not know what's acceptable and what's not during the simplest tasks in another country. Here, back in America, I can just be myself and know I'll fit in.

As we were driving back from Santa Cruz in a comfortable safe car on a comfortable safe pothole free but highway patrol loaded interstate, I couldn't help but wonder what Jivan would think of it all if he were here. It's so exciting to show a foreigner your own country- there is a great amount of pride in it. For Jivan, it's the beauty of the Himalayas and customs of his people and sharing in food. For me it would be showing him the great architecture and bridges of San Francisco and how clean the bathrooms are. We would cover so much ground on our efficient highways and still find solitude by Lake Tahoe. Anything he could possibly want is accessable via the huge variety and size of stores and markets and malls. Opportunity is at your fingertips here in America and I wouldn't change my place of birth for anything in the world.

I walked into my apartment in Truckee, put my things down, marveled at how clean it is, and then jumped in the shower. It was a very long shower (mostly because I had to shave a month's worth of leg hair) and I scrubbed my skin pink. My feet are still dirty though. I clipped my toenails, swabbed my ears, and plucked my eyebrows. I put on cotton underwear, cotton pants and a cotton shirt, having grown tired of polypropolene attire. And I felt CLEAN! And the biggest difference is that I'm staying clean.

I did my laundry and a stink that I thought would never come out has turned to 'spring fresh.' Everything is so easy in the kitchen and all my stuff has its place, unlike Jivan and his cousins' kitchen/bedroom. I am so glad to be home.

After I went to the grocery store where everything is packaged and processed, my phone rang and it was Jivan calling to make sure we all got home alright. The hospitality continues, ever over the miles and after the fact. It was good to hear his voice because I do miss him and the high regard in friendship that he holds us all in. I feel spoiled just leaving him and his country so I can come back to my luxurious lifestyle, and even though my lifestyle is meager by American standards, all of our lifestyles are very very luxurious in comparison. It's so easy to just leave all that behind, but so many people in Nepal don't know the difference and most seem very happy with their lifestyles. People in Nepal are happy- genuinely so. There is certainly something we can learn from that: take in life as it is, respect the higher power that has brought us all here, be self-suffiecient, and value your few but useful possessions. Love your family, celebrate festivals and don't overindulge yourself. I think every American can work on those things that a Nepali finds everyday in his work and life.

Nepal was an incredible experience. The people are sincere and friendly and the landscape is breathtaking. The country makes it easy to visit and go on any trek you want with all services provided. It is crazy in the cities, but the hospitality is unlimited. My mind and body took on Nepal with an enthusiastic fervor, drinking in the extreme differences, the exercise, the food, the people and children and the beautiful surroundings. But toward the end my body grew tired and I became accustomed to the culture and grew weary of the begging, the nomadic lifestyle, the pollution and lack of sanitation, causing me to learn something about myself: I value travel, I truly do. Having the opportunity to leave your comfort level to compare your simple and narrow idea of what life is to the stark contrast of life in other parts of the world always steers your mind away from ignorance. You grow as a person and value what you do have more. But I learned that in comparison to such a poorer lifestyle, I was very ready to come home instead of continuing to embrace it. I thought I was tougher than that. I give myself credit: I went and experienced it and would do it again in Nepal or another country like it, but I love my life here in America and how convenient this country can make life be.

I am so amazed and proud that Katie, Brad and I traveled so far to a completely different culture, trusted its people with our lives, and climbed a pass that reached 17, 761 ft. I hope I never pass up those kids of opportunities because they are few and far between. Life is too short to look the other way. I wonder what the next adventure will be =)

1 comment:

Steve Zander said...

Kim,

You rock my socks off!
Sound's like an epic life adventure.
I hope to be a part of the next outing!