I have extreme respect for the Sherpas and porters in Nepal. The amount of weight they carry is absolutely mind-boggling, usually close or more than their own body weight.
Good NPR article on sherpas: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4707462
All these pictures were taken along the Shivalaya-Gokyo-Gorakshep route.
After Bardia, it was back to the hills to do a bit of whitewater kayaking. For $150 Fred and I did a four day kayaking course on the Trisuli river. It was amazing. Run by some local guys, we stayed in bamboo huts next to farms carved into the incredibly steep banks. The local transport where we were consisted of pickup trucks with benches fitted into the beds. Twice a day we would cross a rickety suspension bridge across the river, grab the kayaks and flag down a truck to load them in, Then we would all clamber in wherever there was space, often enough hanging out the back or sitting on the cab roof. A brief exhilarating ride later around tight bends and we would put in. The next few hours paddling down the river learning techniques and just shredding gnar in general.
I was successful in learning the eskimo-roll, but it requires you to ignore all your vital instincts. When you are upside down in murky cold river water stuck in a kayak you instantly go into oh shit oh shit oh shit mode.
Soon I was down to a few precious days in Kathmandu before my flight home. At various times travelling I thought that I would be ready to go home, but now that that time was here I was definitely not.
Nowhere else have I been in the world where religion is so ingrained in daily life than Nepal. There are shrines and temples, literally everywhere, many of them quite old. Down back alleys in the middle of intersections, in national prominence like at the Kathmandu Durbar Square. Businessmen in full suit and poor beggars alike stop and pray daily. The religious tolerance here is also inspiring. Millions of HIndus and Buddhists live side by side by side without problem, without complaint.
Then it was the journey home. All 50 some hours of it.
In Japan I had a nine hour layover, just enough time to get out and see a bit of the city. At one point I fell asleep on the train and would have missed my stop if a nice woman had not woken me up. It felt very clean, very sterile, not like the rest of Asia I had visited. There were actually cross walks and traffic lights.
Before I left people warned me about “culture shock”, about how it would be very hard at first in these foreign countries. Nothing I experienced was as hard as coming home. It felt a little bit like I imagine it is for tribal members that make first contact with the “outside world”. I enjoy being home, but life here seems filtered, a bit unreal, a bit to tame.
While I was gone I’m afraid I caught a serious disease for life. The travelling disease. Someday soon it will hit and cause me to grab my backpack and go for it. Can’t wait.
From the roof of the world to almost to sea level. After 15 days of trekking that’s where my Quebecer friend Fred and I headed, to the streamy jungle of the terai.
I think its commonly assumed that Nepal is an icy mountain country only inhabited by sherpas and yaks. Its actually vastly diverse, far more than I would have believed.
Some mindblowing facts.
102 ethnic groups recognized by the national census (6 in the US)
Elevations from 53m above sea level to the highest point on earth, and many different types of landscapes; tropical jungle, plains, sub-tropical forests, high pine forests, alpine meadows, desert, the list goes on.
The entire country is smaller than the US state of Nebraska.
Where we were heading, the fertile tropical plains of the Terai, comprises 17% of the land area, however over 50% of the population. Our destination was Bardia National Park. This park has similar scenery to the more popular Chitwan National Park, yet a fraction of the visitors. Like most trips in this part of the world getting here involved some…memorable… transportation, in this case a 14 hour bus ride.
The pre-monsoon weather was hotttttt (six t hot). Over 40 degrees Celsius hot. Aircon? What is that? Everyone valiantly tried to open windows, but moving at 15 mph its hard to pick up a breeze. And the constantly shifting road surface meant that oftentimes the bus cabin would fill with dust if the windows were open.
We left Pokhara at around 2 PM. After a few unexplained multi-hour stops and nightfall we appeared to be making some progress. For a dollar I bought a bag of delicious fresh litchees from a bus vendor.
Around 11 we rolled into a roadside food joint. I had some truly detestable curry and peed into a nearby field. When I came back to the bus it was evident by the wheels and smoking parts strewn over the side of the road that it wouldn’t be running soon. Fred and I managed to switch to another bus heading the same direction. We were lucky enough to get seats, but by some quirk of design the ceiling was about 6 inches from my head, so that every time we went over a bump (often) I was perilously close to being concussed.
Finally at around 4 in the morning we made it to Amballa, the dropping off point for Bardia. We had splurged and got a real nice place for $4 a night, including jeep pickup. The area here is in the remote western area of the country and very underdeveloped.
For us, the name of the game was tigers. Bardia contains less than 60 tigers, but it is lauded as one of the best places in the world to see one. The local guide we hired told us he sees tigers this time of year 8 out of 10 times out in the forest. However they are not nearly as dangerous as the rhino and elephant that are also in the forest, which kill people every year. While we were staying there, a young bull elephant had been rampaging local crops, and we were warned not to go out after dark.
Our guesthouse armed us with stout sticks and off at dawn we went. All the local guides had cell phones and if one spotted something he would text the others. So we would be walking our own way looking for game when the call would go through that something was afoot. Then we (Fred, the guide, and myself) would sprint off in another direction along narrow game trails, dodging branches, jumping logs, and trying to keep up in hope of a view. There was also a lot of waiting on the side of strategic locations, mainly along water holes in rivers. I think I went through over 1000 pages of books in two days.
Eventually we were rewarded.
After two days still no tigers made an appearance. It was still amazing to see wild rhinos and elephants. We had one close pass with an elephant. We were walking to a river through thick foliage when an enormous elephant appeared right in front of us. Luckily he didn’t see us, but when even the guide runs away fast, you know it was close.
I had some time on my hands so I loaded up my bag with some my other pair of underwear, some cookies, peanut butter, my jacket, and a sleeping bag and headed for the mountains again.
The first few days sucked. A massive Chinese funded hydroelectric project is turning what was once peaceful, beautiful farms into an ugly industrial complex. (When completed Nepal will likely be selling much of the energy to China as well) As I attempted to sleep in my first accommodation (free) dump trucks and other heavy equipment rumbled by at all hours of the night.
The route was supposed to be on hiking trails but 90% consisted of walking on dusty jeep roads.
Regardless the scenery was still pretty nice. Down low was almost tropical. There were banana trees.
On my map there was a suggested itinerary for the route. It recommended nine days to reach the village of Manang, and I was there in four. I was a bit worried about altitude sickness but in the end I was fine.
After the pass the next village was Muktinath, a pilgrimage site unique in its value to both Hindus and Buddhists. There is a large temple complex and other smaller temples dot the city. After the pass and days in the cold, a yak sizzler and a beer never tasted better.
Kagbeni is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too. It is an ancient city, an oasis of rice paddies and fields in the desert and surrounded by incredible mountains. And they have YakDonalds. Yes that’s right, YakDonalds. The Big Yak was incredible.
After 18 days it was back to Pokhara. No more Dahl Baht for a a while. (The best thing to order while trekking, because even if its bad, there is free refills. I can eat a lot of Dahl Baht. )
Some images from Pokhara, where I have been living for the past week or so.
We were exploring on motorbikes one day near the end of the lake. A local guy, after first trying to sell us some hash (seems like everyone wants to) asked us if we wanted to see a baby tiger. He brought us to this enclosure in the forest where it turns out a leopard cub is being raised and studied for scientific purposes. One of the researchers talked with us for almost two hours about leopards and tigers in Nepal. They are feared by villagers and are responsible for around 25 deaths a year, mostly children and women. Some good pictures and information here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/animalography/ and http://www.wildtiger.org/jackkinross.html
Currently I am living with a Swedish friend I met on the trek. Dane couldn’t cope with the lack of bagels and had to go back to America. In a few days I will be starting the Annapurna Circuit trek alone, should be quite an adventure.