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Thursday, November 27, 2003

Hanging out in Pohkara
Pokhara, Nepal

The staff at Himalayan Encounters put on a great show last night at dinner. The garden was transformed into a festive mela celebration, with a colourful mela tent, and lanterns hung on trees. We were served delicious Nepalese food, and all enjoyed the rum and coke. For dessert, there was chocolate cake with 2 types of icing in between. Very yummy indeed.

After dinner, Winston presented a slideshow of our trek and it was fun to listen to the porters and guides get excited over their photos on the screen. We finished off the memorable with singing and dancing with the guys. It wasn't till we were sitting down watching the Nepalese men dancing with the girls (in our group) that we realized that they were quite small in stature. The girls looked quite tall and big next to most of them.

We had all planned to sleep in this morning, but most of us woke up by 6:30am since we had been waking up at that time each day on the trek. At 9am, Gabby, Raj and I headed off to the Pumpernikel Bakery for breakfast, and was joined by Bel. We did a bit of window shopping on the way back to the hotel. The streets of Pohkara is extremely quiet considering that this is the peak tourist season. It sure made bargaining for goods that much better for us.

By 11, six of us had gathered together to go for a boat ride. Winston, Raj and I got into a boat, while Gabby, Sara and Cindy shared another. We spent 2 hours on the lake, mostly chatting, floating about in the middle of the lake. We did row to a temple on an island in the lake but there wasn't much to see there. After our 2 hours of boating, we went to the 'Enlightened Yak Restaurant' and enjoyed sandwiches and burgers.

Winston went off to do emails and burn CDs for our trekking photos while the girls all went shopping. Before we went boating, Raj surprised me with a silk elephant tea cozy for my birthday (I had been eyeing them since Kathmandu). Thanks Raj!! Anyone coming over to visit us will see it promptly displayed when we have tea! :)

We're all meeting at 6pm today over at the office for dinner (and those of us going to Chitwan National Park have to pick up bus tickets). We're hoping to go to a restaurant that also has Nepalese dancing as a fun final group dinner. We'll let you know how that goes next time. My guess is we'll get online again when we get back to Kathmandu on Sunday, Nov 30th. Wish us luck that we'll sight a Bengal tiger in Chitwan!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Siklis Trek
Pokhara, Nepal

The trek was fantastic, I know, we keep saying it. Even with sore calves (which also means that we're in better shape than before), we would gladly do another trek here again. We left Pokhara on Saturday, November 22, at about 9am. This is after we all met at the base camp for a full breakfast and stored away our valuables (which we didn't need on the trek).

The bus was 100% full - the seats were all taken (as Winston mentioned earlier; there were 36 of us), and the roof top was also jammed with packs, baskets, and all our supplies, It was with excitement as we jumped off the bus, and then in awe at the heavy loads of our porters. We really did feel humbled and appreciative of what they were doing.

We were led by Chitra on a path that led us through farmland and village homes. We enjoyed watching the farmers use buffaloes to till their land, and saying namaste to the women and children. It was also interesting to feel a 2 second earthquake while we stopped for a rest. The views were beautiful along the way; we could see fishtail (Machhapuchare) along the way, and dried paddy fields and farm life. We stopped for lunch by a river, not expecting Tara and his cooks to feed us anything other than sandwiches. Not only did we have tuna sandwiches, we also had fries (yummy), salad, and banana. There was also orange drink to quench our thirst.

The group is quite conscious of our sanitation, and we had to go through a 5 bowl process of cleaning before each meal: dettol soap, water for the soap, dettol water, clean water, clean water. There was no chance of any of us getting sick from bacteria or anything like that on this trip. We were also told that all vegetables and drinking water were treated for several minutes with iodine, so again we did not have to worry there. This was also our first introduction to our toilet tent, which we learnt to use and appreciate for the rest of the trip. A hole about 1-1.5 ft deep is dug, and a tent set over it. Toilet paper is provided, as is a plastic bag to collect the used paper. Dirt dug up can be used to cover what's in the hole, and paper collected in the plastic bag gets burnt. It's a great system, actually.

After lunch, we set off again for our trek and finally had to ascent steep steps before reaching our campsite. At this point, we were at approximately 2000m high. Just before reaching our campsite, a goat herder and his goats were on their way down the hill, so it was great fun when I stood in the middle of the pack as they bleated their way down the hill. There were many tiny ones and they were so cute I wanted to pick them up.

We encountered our first Maoist here. After talking to the two men for a long time, Prakash came up to the campsite and told us that he had not paid them yet since they did not have any receipts with them. For those of you not familiar with this process, the past few weeks have seen Maoist collecting 'tax' money from trekkers to aid their cause. Receipts (dated) are issued to prove that you have paid, and subsequent meetings with Maoists past by quickly once they see that you have paid the fee. So it was important for Prakash to collect these pieces of papers as evidence for the rest of the trip.

Sure enough, they returned early the next morning before we left, and Prakash managed to talk them down to half price (1000rp per person is the usual rate) and collected the receipts. Winston's talked about the wonderful three course meals we've had so I won't say much here. We also had tea every evening and woke up to morning tea in our tent, along with warm water for washing. Ah.. what luxury.

Day 2 was the hardest day of our trek. It was ALL uphill. We ascended 1000m that day, over a course of 3.5 hours. We reached Tara Tops, where we had ample time to relax. It was very cold here, as we were just slightly over 3000m. Our tents were set up, and a campfire was made. We spent the afternoon reading, writing, playing hacky sack and chatting. Unfortunately it was cloudy for most of the day so we didn't really get to see too much of the 'supposedly' best view of our trek.

After dinner, we sat around the campfire and the crew sang and a bunch of them danced. We were also invited to dance with them, and both Winston and Ray, actually did go up too. Hehe.. then we tried to entertain them and was quite pitiful at starting songs that we couldn't finish. Still, it was great fun, and we must have sang over 50 songs. We even got everyone to sing their National Anthem when we ran out of songs; it was that pitiful.

It was very cold that night; the water outside froze and there were frost all over. Poor Winston had a light sleeping bag so he was quite chilly all night. I had a warm sleeping bag, but my feet were frozen so I was quite for much of the morning too. Oh well. We all woke up to Ruki's giggling and "Wake up Winston" as she observed the beautiful scenary around us. Sure enough, we had a 360 degree view of blue skies, mountains, white clouds, and sun rays. The sun rise brought beautiful orange colours to the clouds, and pinks to the mountain peaks. Immediately in front of us were some of the highest peaks in the Annapurnas - 6000m to 8000m tall. It was beautiful, and we were so glad that the clouds cleared. Of course, we took tons of pictures that morning.

We also posed for a group shot with all the porters before they headed off with our gear up there. The backdrop was too stunning to miss. After breakfast, we headed off (mostly downhill) to an area called Parche. The hike brought us through the rhodedendron rainforests. We hope to come back someday and see these trees in full bloom. It is supposed to be quite beautiful. The day's trek brought us across several waterfalls as well, and we could see the Seti River down in the valley below.

We arrived at our lovely campsite at Parche before lunch. We had a huge meadow, that was also used as a football field. In the background, is the village of Siklis, which sits at 1980m high. The tents were already set up when we arrived, so we were able to relax. Cindy and Cherie joined the guides in playing cricket, while Raj and I walked up to the far side up the hill. We had a bird's eye view of the entire campsite and joked about keeping a log on the toilet tent visits. It was nice to have a chance to catch up with my friend (whom I've known longer than Winston and knows all my weaknesses).

At 3:30pm, we all met up and walked to visit Siklis. Boy, it sure is hard to walk with sore legs which most of us had. We crossed more waterfalls, and encountered buffaloes, school children and local villagers along the way. The houses in Siklis were all double storeyed, with space for their animals, a vegetable garden, electricity, dried corn and strong fences. Apparently most of the men from this village belong to the Gorkha army, so it's a fairly weathy lifestyle. The people here are Gurung, and practise buddhism. What Prakash did not warn us was that the while the village lies on a hill (so we know it's steep), that we would walk from the bottom up!

On the way back to camp, we encountered a herd of goats on their way back to their village. Prakash and Chitra convinced the herders to leave their goats there for us to look at, and we weren't quite sure why, but all the guides started to go after the rams and hung on to their anthlers. Hmm... Prakash managed to catch a black kid (who must have been so freaked out) and brought it over to show us. Of course we had to pet it though we gave him heck for terrifying it in the first place).

I went to bed early since I was tired from not much sleep the previous night. It was very comfy in the tent; cool but not too cold. I also had my bottle water filled with hot water right before bed, so my feet were toasty warm this time. In the morning, we heard Ruki laugh again. Apparently she had seen Bel sleep with her boots on and thought it was funny. It was a beautiful morning and of course, we took loads of pictures again.

Day 4's hike consist almost ALL downhill, on very steep steps made out of rocks. We walked down for about 2 hours with the view of the river below us the entire time. Halfway down, we stopped for a break while the guides ate instant noodles (of course Winston and I had to try too). We saw Prakash pull up our Maoist receipts to show a young man and he let us continue immediately. We finally reached a suspension bridge, and Chitra enjoyed jumping up and down on it each time one of us crossed. There were 2 other bridges to cross and after walking in the river (only filled during monsoon season) and along a path, we reached our lunch spot in a farmer's house. It was neat walking along the river, seeing all the huge boulders that would normally sit below the water surface. We could hear the current Seti River gushing nearby. It's a whitewater rafting river, and we could certainly see why.

After lunch, we had a short walk on a path next to the river. At one point in time, we had to walk over a 'currently being constructed' walkway as everything there had been washed away by the rains earlier this summer. It was quite neat to see the workers in progress though we were probably delaying their efforts by crossing. The campsite normally used for this trek was washed away by floods in July, and the alternate place has been turned into a taxi stand. So Indra found a farmer to let us use his paddy field as a place to stay for the night. It sure was weird to see our tents on the tiny stalks of leftover paddy, though it was not too comfortable to sleep on.

A bunch of us walked down to the river with Dabi to wash up. It felt great to get my hair cleaned though the water was quite cold. Winston took off his shirt and waded into the water with his swimming trunks on. The expression on his face was amusing as he expressed how cold it was. We were worried for a second there as he was carried away by the rapids, but luckily he stopped at the next rapid because his knee bashed into the rocks). Sheesh.. I was beginning to wonder if I had to jump him to rescue him.

Ray, Cindy and I stayed behind to admire and collect rocks after the others left. There were beautiful specimens there, lots of serations from the layers of different minerals, including quartz, garnet, limestone, graphite, etc. It was much warmer here, at only 1000m though many of us went to bed early since we were tired from walking in the sun.

In the morning, we saw several men surround Prakash holding what looks like receipt books. We found out later that he was asked by three different groups for money: camping fee, women's development fee, and local area development fee. I'm not sure how much he actually paid, but as long as he got his receipts, he would be reimbursed at the office.

We certainly did not expect to go uphill on our last day, but sure enough. It was hot, but we enjoyed chatting all the way. At a rest stop (actually this was at the top of our path before we headed downhill the rest of the way), Prakash bought huge plaintains (bananas) for us. They were quite sweet, thought extremely filling.

We got down to our bus in a relatively short time; just 2.25 hours of walking. Apparently the bus had driven in farther than normal, saving us 30mins of walk. Several of us girls had to use the bathroom before we left (40min bus ride) and it turns out that there were leaches where we were. Cherie and I had gone first, and didn't even notice anything. Then we saw Cindy, Ruki, Raj and Sara running and jumping around and the guides clued in that there were leaches about. Looking down at my boots, I see these tiny black wormlike things. Thank goodness the others realized what had happened or else I would have been on the bus with leeches all over my feet. I found two underneath my sock when I took my left foot out. Bleah.

Getting back to Pokhara, we checked back into pretty much the same rooms we had last time. Again our main bags were delivered (I told you we were pampered). We all took hot showers and were glad to be clean and in clean clothing. It was funny to see everyone lined up in the lobby handing over laundry. We were served lunch at the office and dispersed for the afternoon with instructions to return at 6:30pm for our final group dinner with our entire support team.

Raj and Gabby volunteered to get 2 bottles of rum, while Vanessa and Bel would get 3 bottles of coke (our gift to the porters in addition to tip money). I went and got a mini haircut (mostly trim the hair behind my neck) and a 30 min leg massage. It was very nice, though my calves are still sore. I have to go now as it is already dark and it's almost time for dinner. Tomorrow we have a free day here in Pokhara. See you then!

Nepalese Notes
Pokhara, Nepal

Wow, my calves are starting to look as muscular as they did after the Balls of Steel bike ride down to Mexico back in '96! We didn't actually go all that high on our trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal, but we did reach about 3200 meters and got our fair share of walking and hiking in on our five-day trekking adventure.

There are several things that I thought were noteworthy; Jen will share the details on the actual itinerary soon.

Trekking in Nepal
Like I mentioned a few days ago, we got a gist of why people flock to Nepal to trek. Honestly, it really is all that it's cracked out to be. Hiking through the Cascades in Washington is spectacular, camping in the Stein Vally in B.C. is fantastic, but trekking in Nepal... well, it simply takes your breath away. Sometimes literally, like when you jump into glacier-water rapids to wash up... brrrr!

Somehow, there is something surreal about waking up just before sunrise to watch the snow-capped peaks that tower over you turn pink then white with the rising sun. At night, if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky, the blanket of stars stretching from one horizon to the other is the last thing you see as you duck into your tent for the night.

It has been a little while since we last did a 5-day hiking/camping trip, but boy, what a place to get back into stride. If you get a hankering to do a bit of hiking somewhere in the world, we can heartily recommend Nepal as a location to consider, despite its popularity and hype.

Intrepid Tours and Himalayan Encounters
Ok, so this is a shameless plug for the outfit that we travelled with, but they did such a great job, we want everyone to know about them. Intrepid (http://www.intrepidtravel.com) is the tour company that we used to visit China last year; we're pleased enough with them that we've gone ahead and booked two MORE trips with them to visit Thailand/Laos and Vietnam.

In Nepal, Intrepid subs to a trekking/rafting company called Himalayan Encounters (raftnepl@himenco.wlink.com.np), based out of the Kathmandu Guesthouse; these guys are nothing but professional. From the guides to the cooks and porters, the staff of Himalayan Encounters outdid themselves in the efforts they took to make sure that we were safe and had a fantastic trekking adventure. Our lead guide Prakash made sure that everyone's whims were catered to and provided all kinds of extra tidbits like additional walks, lots of interaction with locals, and loads of information on Nepal from his decade of experience leading trekking tours.

Our trek was a fully supported one, as we were walking about the Siklis region where there are no teahouses. This meant that Himalayan Encounters had to provide a small army to support us; I think there were 13 porters, 6 cooks and 5 guides supporting us wimpy 12 tourists. They carried large two-person tents, a huge dining tent, cooking supplies, toilet tents, camping chairs, and enough food to feed 36 people for five days. It was a pretty incredible operation.

If you're looking for a tour group to consider joining when you visit Nepal, these guys are fantastic. Two thumbs up!

An Inferiority Complex
Ok, I'm usually reasonably confident in my abilities to do most things, but never before have I felt more like a wimp than on the first few minutes of our trek. When our bus stopped at the starting point of our trek, all the porters jumped out and with hardly a word, starting lifted these incredibly heavy loads onto their backs using a wicker basket and some rope, and started trotting off down the trail.

We used to moan and groan about carrying our packs up the trail to Garibaldi; these guys were carrying THREE packs bound together with rope, AND were practically walking faster than us with just our daypacks! There was one metal crate filled with eggs, tomatoes, and canned goods; it weighed much more than Jen did, which meant that the porter was carrying well over 110 pounds, all on his head! It was absolutely incredible. Even after five days of walking with these guys, we were still amazed at their loads.

Prakash told us to look at it this way: we were providing them with employment; most of the porters are seasonal farmers and this was how they carried their crops around anyway. Without tourism to help them, their families would be even poorer than they are already.

But still, it's pretty sad when you watch a guy carrying your pack along with two others, AND he's using just rope and bamboo, AND he's walking faster than you, AND he's just wearing plastic flip flops (seriously). *SIGH*

We're Getting Fat (Again)
I don't want to get too carried away with waxing on about how good these guys were, but our cook Tara and his team of five assistant cooks made the most amazing dishes on our trek. We had three huge meals each day, all cooked over portable stoves with seemingly minimal ingrediants. Instead of losing weight on this trip with all the walking and hiking we did, we're all pretty sure we gained weight, the food was so good. We never finished all the food that was on the table; we often said that the trek was basically "walking from one meal to the next." Some of the memorable meals: pumpkin soup, grilled yak-cheese sandwiches, spicy vegetable pakoras, Nepali sweetbread, and apple pie (no kidding). Thanks Tara!

Everybody Love Raymond
This paragraph is mostly for those from SPL; Jen has told me much about how
everyone wanted Ray to take a vacation, seeing as he threw away hundreds of vacation hours last year and hardly ever gets out of Seattle.

Well, what a way to get bitten by the travel bug; we enjoyed watching Ray's
reactions to everything almost as much as the trek itself! Each day we saw eyes open as wide as saucers as we had one experience after another. Things that Jen and I even take for granted like catching a rickshaw ride from the airport to the hotel were sources of interest for Ray; it was like watching someone looking at television in colour for the first time!

Still think that I'm exaggerating things a bit? Ok, well for those who know Ray, picture this: Ray sitting on the roof rack of a Nepalese bus along with the packs, clinging on to dear life while ducking low-hung power lines and wayward branches. Or how about Ray "preening and primping" in front of the entire tour group to get his hair ready for a photo while sitting on a rock in the shadow of a 7000 meter peak. Or how about Ray leaping across a stream with an expression on his face like a boy who has just discovered a whole new world just outside his doorstep?

We're looking forward to hearing about your future international adventures, Ray!

Group Dynamics
Cheers to Canadians Gabby, Raj, and Jenn, Americans Sarah, Ray, and Bell, Brits Ruki and Vanessa, Aussie Cindy, and Kiwi Cheri!

Heh, I think most of my fellow tourmates might get a chuckle out of this one. I always find it interesting to see how people interact at the beginning, during, and the end of a tour. This one wasn't really different, but on our previous trips, there was never a 10-2 ratio of females to males.

The dynamics were pretty typical; at the beginning everyone is polite and cautious; by the end people have loosened up a bit and the true colours start to show through. Once again, we're happy to report that we had a great tour group where everyone interacted together well. Of course, some people are introverts and others extroverts; that's to be expected. We have yet to join a group that has that dreaded "sore thumb" who makes the whole experience somewhat miserable for everyone else (knock on wood).

This time though, Jen and I were the only couple in the group, which was a little surprising. And coming up with things to talk about with nine single women for five days wasn't nearly as difficult as I initially thought it might be, although there were a couple of times where I zoned out, as the conversation centered around shaved legs, shopping, and "boy talk." Man, I was glad when they got that out of their systems! :)

All in all, the group interaction reinforced for Jen and I the benefits of mixing things up in terms of independent travel and travelling with a tour. Now we have more friends to visit in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the US!

Meeting Maoists
We did indeed encounter Maoists on our trek, actually, we met up with them on three of the five days! I'll let Jen fill in the details, but essentially, the meetings were pretty non-events; our tour guide took care of the negotiations, paid the Maoist "tax", and got a receipt. For those worried about coming to Nepal because of the Maoist issues, from a tourists point of view, we don't think there's any reason to be concerned.

Some Similarities
Now that we have been through a few developing countries, I think it's fair for us to be able to make general observations between some aspects of rural life in these parts of the world. I was struck by how similar certain streets of Kathmandu looked like Tunis, which was similar in many ways to Marrakech, which looked like Nairobi or Varanasi. In North America, we really take sanitation for granted; "street grime," for lack of a better phrase, seems to be a pretty common denominator for many towns and villages. Shopkeepers and open markets are key parts of each town, and seem to be jarringly similar in many of the countries we've visited so far.

In the rural countrysides, subsistence farmers seem to follow similar practices whether they are in Nepal, Tunisia, India, or Morocco. We have yet to encounter the massive plots of farmland that are ploughed by tractors; instead, we see many small family-owned parcels of land that are tended to by hand and oxen or horse.

Things like water supply, sewage removal, and electricity also seem to be managed and maintained in a similar manner in various countries unlike ours. Not only that, but village communities appear to be much closer knit than the neighbourhood communities that we have at home; sure we're really close with our neighbours, but how often have we shared laundry lines, water wells, and pack mules to pick up our supplies from the market?

This may all seem rather superficial, but nevertheless, I think it's a salient point for us to remember when we're visiting these countries. Those of us who are fortunate to live in a first world nation and can afford televisions, highways, and McDonalds are being supported by those who are less fortunate... and they are in the majority by far.

Nepal Adventure
Pokhara, Nepal

I'm going to try and remember all the places we've been to and things we've done the past couple of weeks. Winston wrote about our day trip through Kathmandu on the 16th of November, and a bit about our 3 day trek through the Kathmandu Valley.

We woke up early and had breakfast at 7am the morning of the 17th (Monday) at the Northfield Cafe just a few doors up from the Kathmandu Guesthouse. Food here is good, though service is a tad on the slow side. The cornbreads and toasts have received many thumb ups.

We met up with the group at 8am to sort out the baggage; we were leaving our big packs behind as they were to be delivered to Bhaktapur after our 3 day trek. All we carried with us were enough clothing for the 3 days. Armed with our daypacks, we boarded a bus which drove us to Sundarajil. Poor Raj started the day with a migraine (we think it's because she shared a bottle of red wine with Ruki the previous night) but we were very relieved when she felt better during the hike.

We hiked along a pipeline on a path which led us through some farm houses. It was neat to see so many local Nepalese in their homes and saying 'Namaste' to everyone we met. After an hour of uphill, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. Food took almost 2 hours to get to us; since there were 12 of us, plus 4 guides (Prakash - our awesome leader; Tara - to be our cook on the big trek; Indra and Dabi), the preparation of our lunch was a bit slow.

Nevertheless, after a nice rest and a full stomach, we set off uphill again (many stone steps) and reached Chisopani before sunset. We stayed at the Annapurna Hotel, and it was VERY cold that night. Maybe it was more humid there, or we weren't used to the cold yet, but we were all freezing!! Prakash had told us that it would not be that cold, so most of us didn't bring enough clothing. Oh well...

Cindy became my walking partner as neither of us could walk uphill as fast as the others and we enjoyed taking many water breaks along the way. Dabi kept us company, and held Cindy's hands as when we had to go downhill ;) It was cute.

I can't remember if we described everyone on our tour yet, so I'm going to do it here: Cindy is from Australia, and is the youngest in the group (only 22!). She has Malaysian Chinese parents so we have lots in common. Cherie is from New Zealand, and is also very young, and quiet. We're going to visit her when we go there in April. Then there is Jenn who is from Kingston, Ontario (Canada) and she's doing her masters in Biology. She's a great singer and knows tons of jokes and stories.

Those three were born on the 80s... sheesh. You should hear the 'generation gap' discussions we have.. it's fun! A decade earlier, we have Gabby, of course from Edmonton, whom we've already enjoyed travelling with last year in China. It's definitely a lot of fun having her here. Sara is from the States, and she just joined us here after being on another Intrepid trip in Thailand. She's a ton of fun, and have great stories to share. She's a dietitian, and we look forward to her moving to Seattle (right Sara?!). Vanessa is from Cambridge, England, and loves to drink Coke :) hehe.. We love teasing her about it since she gets a bottle a day wherever we are (or just about).

Raj lives in New York now, but she's originally from British Columbia, Canada as well, and was my roomate for 2 years at UBC. I had called Raj the day before we left for our big trip to say hi, and told her about our Nepal trip. A day later, I got an email that she's booked the trip and will be joining us! What an amazing surprise!! It's been fun hanging out with her again. New York is a long way from Seattle.

Bel lives in Tucson, Arizona, and has also done lots of Intrepid trips. It turns out that she did the Essence of China tour (the same one we took) a month after us. What a coincidence. Maybe we'll meet again on another trip someday. Ruki is from London, UK, and is a TV producer. She's going to run a half-marathon in Vancouver next Spring but unfortunately we won't be back yet. She has a great laugh and seems to giggle early in the morning while we were camping thus waking us up. Ray, is my 'boss' from the library at home. It took me less than 24 hours to convince him to join us here in Nepal, and I think he's glad he's here. It took him a few days to adjust to 'travelling' and relaxing, and now he walks around with a huge grin on his face :)

OK.. back to our valley trek.. the next morning, we headed off for Nakargot. This trek was slightly easier as it was a combination of up and down, and what's become known as 'nepalese flat'. There is no such thing as totally flat (as we're used to at home). Nepalese flat is a terrain that goes up and down every few minutes. We all enjoyed the beautiful views of the Himalayas as we walked, and stopped many times to take pictures.

We reached our hotel, Country Villa, before sunrise. A funny thing happened our way there; just before getting to the hotel, we had to climb a steep path (shortcut) to get to the top. Half of us were standing up there when Cindy and Gabby saw us. Cindy looked up at us, and when she found out how we had gotten up, we heard a "you've got to be shitting me' in an Australian accent - we all cracked up laughing.

Our hotel rooms were very spacious and nice; we were all very grateful for the hot showers as there was no hot water in Chisopani. In the morning, 10 people gathered on our balcony (Winston and I were on the top floor) to watch sunrise. It was beautiful, with the mountains changing from dark to pink to white (snow). We could see Mt. Everest, though no one really knew which one it was. It's in some of our photos so we'll have to try and figure it out later. Since Mt. Everest was still quite far from where we were, it only showed up as a tiny speck along the range.

After a nice buffet breakfast, we trekked downhill past a village and school, before catching a local bus to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is a nice town with lots to see. Our big bags arrived just a few minutes after we did; we were all very glad to be able to change into clean clothes. After lunch, we went for a short tour of the town with our guide, Kiraj, from Kathmandu. We visited Potter's Square, where tons of pottery was made and laid out to dry. Then we went to a fish pond, and bought food to feed them fish. It was fun watching the fish all open their mouths - some of the fish were so big that their lips were almost the same size as ours.

The part of the town we were in did not have many motorized vehicles; just a few scooters now and then. It was neat to walk along cobblestone, and look up at the brick buildings with wooden carved windows. There were many children and they were extremely friendly. At one point along our walk, we stopped to buy freshly made doughnuts - very yummy indeed, and cheap at only 3 rupees. We also sampled the local curd (yoghurt) which was quite delicious.

The next morning, we woke up very early (5:30am) as we had to catch a 7am bus out of Kathmandu. With a 30 minutes breakfast stop, we reached Dumre at about noon, where we transferred to a local bus to Bandipur. Prakash, Cindy, Winston, Gabby and Jenn wrote on top of the bus (it was a 7km uphill ride) and enjoyed it. The rest of us hung out with the locals in the bus.

Bandipur was not on our itinerary, but since it was along the road to Pokhara, Prakash asked if we wanted to go there. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived; Himalayn Encounters (our tour company) has a guesthouse there called "the Old Inn". The village is quite free of tourists as it is not mentioned in many tour books (it was not in Let's Go). It was a major trading center as it was along the old road between India and Tibet, but since the new highway from Pokhara to India was built (in 1972), it has been left untouched.

The setting was idyllic; we had a wonderful view of the mountains from the terrace, and it was quiet. We sat around reading, writing and admiring the views for a while. Gabby, Raj, Sara and I went off for a walk along the farm terraces and met several local women carrying huge loads on their backs. They all stopped to say 'namaste' to us; since this town gets relatively few tourists, the locals are very friendly and curious to see us. We took pictures of the mountains, and watched school kids play cricket. Sara left (which we were happy to see - it was her birthday and we wanted to go shopping for her) and we went and bought her beer, bracelets and cupcakes.

Usha, was the nice woman at the local store. She was too shy for me to take her photo, but she asked us to write our names in her book and where we were from. I gave her a Canada pin, and as we left, she called me back and gave me a packet of blue bracelets. It was very sweet of her indeed and we will always remember her beautiful smile.

We went back to the hotel and set off for a sunset walk with Prakash. Just 15 minutes uphill (for Cindy and I, 10 for the others) were beautiful views on both sides of the hill. On the one side, was a glorious sunset behind a mountain range, while on the other side, was a brillianly coloured peak. We sat up there until it started to get dark and we had to descend.

Dinner that evening was traditional Nepalese food. It was wonderful! We had curries, and vegetables, rice, papadans, chutney and dal. We truly enjoyed it. We slept well that night, and woke up to a great breakfast. The three meals at the Inn cost 490rupees, which was a great deal. Tons of food too. I forgot to mention that they had served us fries the previous day for lunch, and there were the BEST fries most of us had ever tasted (Jenn and I ate a lot!).

We boarded a local (but chartered) bus (a bunch of them went up on the roof again) to Dumre. Here, they had to come back into the bus for the rest of the ride to Pokhara. The bus was full, and picked up many passengers along the way. Many of them had to ride standing up. We were stopped many times for security checks. In a couple of cases, the Nepalase all had to get off the bus and walk across. Two other times, armed guards actually boarded the bus and scrutinized all of us.

We arrived in Pokhara at about noon and settled in at our hotel (the Tibet Home). Himalayan Encounters has a 'Pokhara Base Camp' which is a nice area which consists of their equipment store, office, kitchen, guest rooms and lawn area. We were greeted with cool lemon drink when we arrived, and our bags were brought to the hotel. It was just a 2 minute walk away. After showering and doing some laundy, Raj, Gabby, Winston and I went off for lunch. The others had already left by then..

As we were eating, we were joined by Jenn, Vanessa and Bel. It was fun eating on a rooftop; we could yell down whenever we saw a tourmate. After lunch, Raj, Gabby and I went shopping (I bought earrings and a metal water bottle). We plan to look some more after our trek.

With the news of our mix up with the Bhutan trip (long story but I think Winston will talk about this) it was a bit of a stressful evening for us. We still made it to our pre-trek meeting at the office and went out for dinner with the group. Dinner was in a nice restaurant called Monsoons. The food was really good though it took a long time to get to us. There was a big group of 20 foreigners who had ordered before us so we had to wait till they were served.

This blog has gotten very long, so I will talk about the trek in a separate blog. Just to finish off about Pokhara; we're staying in the lakeside region which is where most of the tourists stay. There are multiple trekking equipment stores, along with supermarkets and souvenir shops. The only people we saw were tourists, though there were quite few in numbers. We could only imagine how busy this place must be when there are more visitors. The news of the Maoists attacks have kept many of them away, and considering that this is peak season for this country, it certainly is very quiet.

Back from Trekking
Pokhara, Nepal

Namaste! We just returned to Pokhara today after a fantastic 5 days of trekking. I will write more later about the details of our trek as well as events from the past couple of weeks! The mosquitoes here are biting, so I want to get some insect repellent on first before sitting here for too long. Talk to you again soon!


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