After doing my short trek in the Annapurnas (the Poon Hill trek) I basically became obsessed with (read: inspired by) the tiered farming in the hills, the different layers of textures, shapes and colors that you see in the hillsides and mountains, and the interesting people you meet along the way. This led to many ideas and inspiration for the collection that I am designing. So naturally, I wanted to get out there to get more photos and ideas.
So another trek was planned—this time to the Langtang region which is just north of the Kathmandu Valley. When I say just north, I only mean distance wise (it’s something like 170 km away), not length of travel time wise. That 170 km took 10 hours by local bus to get there. Outside of local busses the only option is dropping a good amount of money (around $100/person) to take a jeep up (which takes just as long, as the roads are narrow and windy and there isn’t much room for passing the slow busses—it is just marginally more comfortable). Needless to say, the 265 rupee (about $3.50) bus seemed to be the better option.
Word for the wise—when making this decision, please, please book your ticket in advance. Otherwise, you end up in the back row of the bus being thrown 3 feet in the air every time you go over a bump (and by every time, I mean every 30 seconds). You may also be unfortunate enough to end up in the middle seats in the back row, which means you also have a 50% chance at any given time of someone landing in your lap or just sitting on your feet. We quickly learned the reason why the Langtang trek wasn’t as popular with the tourists.
However, the trek was totally amazing and totally worth the nightmarish bus ride (and we learned our lesson and booked our tickets ahead of time for the ride back—we sat “comfortably” towards the front of the bus for the 10 hour return ride). As always, I was totally inspired and amazed by the scenery and everything I saw and took tons of pictures. Here is a sampling:
As I mentioned in my last post, we didn’t run across too many people while on our hike. It was nice hiking during the off-season so the trails weren’t totally overrun with people and we could enjoy quiet time at the tea houses.
However, of the people we did met along the way, there were a few interesting ones. One, in particular was our favorite.
At the end of our first day, we arrived at the first tea house tired and weary. The people who ran the guest house and a curious looking foreigner were sitting outside. After they convinced us to stay (not that much convincing was needed….) we sat and had some beverages (CP some coke, me some milk tea) and started chatting.
This guy turned out to be a Canadian who has spent 5 months out of every year for the past 29 years in Nepal. The most amazing part: he has spent rarely anytime in Kathmandu or even towns that many foreigners would have heard of. He does research in the forests (I really wish I could remember exactly on what—it seemed to be everything) and spends most of his time in the villages in the hills. He knows everything from what the real food of the nepalis is (the hill people at least—some sort of millet porridge thing that apparently gives you 12 hours of energy from one serving) to all the trails off the main hiking routes to how to protect himself from a wild animal or hunt for dinner (including what plants are poisonous to certain animals but not to humans). He was like a human encyclopedia for the indigenous culture in the hills.
Over the course of the evening, we were told grand stories while sitting by the fire. During Maoist strikes, he walked from Pokhara to Kathmandu and from the hills surrounding Pokhara down to the border to India (Nepal may be a small country, but this is still no small feat). He has spent most of his life living in the remote woods in Canada working for the national park service. He has trained special ops military from several countries on survival in the wilderness. Basically, the man is a superstar when it comes to the outdoors and awesome life experiences. I wish I could remember all his stories; though, me telling you them wouldn’t compare to how awesome they were to hear in person.
At the end of the conversation, we finally all got around to asking each other’s names.
He introduced himself like this “My name’s Jim Woods. All my friends call me Jim Woods in the Woods.” Seems pretty appropriate to me! Though, CP and I decided we liked the sound of Jimmy Woods in the Woods.
At that point in time, CP asked him, “If we google that, will we find you?”
His response? “The way I have lived my life, I don’t think I have much of a web presence.” (though, now, I guess with my blog post he’ll have some web presence!).
While we didn’t meet anyone else on the trip who had quite the same effect on us, we did meet some nice people along the way. We met a couple who lives in Dubai who was in Nepal trekking for their honeymoon. We met a large group of Americans who were a part of the Sierra Club. The one who I first started talking to was even from the Bay Area (outside of the other Fulbrighters and the occasional expat, you really don’t run into that many Americans here). We even ran into a couple we had met the previous week in Kathmandu at Jazz Upstairs (a local live music place) in the last hour of our last day (we were exiting, they were entering). (everywhere I have been with CP I have run into someone I know—surprising to find it on the hiking trail) At the bus stop on the way back to Kathmandu, we ran into another San Franciscan that we had met through a friend a few weeks earlier. It really is a small world here!
As I am sure you gained from the last post, the trek was amazing. We saw great views and met wonderful people. Here are some more photos from the hike for your enjoyment! (of course, as usual, there’s a lot!)
… and that was only the beginning … of the trek; and my earning the nickname “Gimpy B”.
While looking at the map on the morning of our first day, we spotted the note of 3,280 steps that fell somewhere between the end of day one and the beginning of day two. Not wanting to start out the second day having to climb that many steps, we decided that we would push through on the first day to get them out of the way.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter which day we did them, either way I probably would have ended up with my bum knee. By the time we reached the top of the steps and the beginning of the town (very slowly of course) my right knee felt like it was going to fall off. Needless to say, I was very happy to stop at the first tea house and not climb to the top of the town to find a “better” one. Turns out, we probably had the best one in town anyway (only paid 100 rupees for a double AND we had an awesome view of Annapurna South). We also met a really cool Canadian guy and had some delicious (and refillable of course) dal bhat (meal of rice and lentil soup).
The next day the hike was a bit easier and we made it to Ghorepani, the town we stayed in, much quicker than we expected. Even though I was wearing my knee brace, I was definitely in a bit of pain by the time we reached there, so I was happy to give my knee a rest. It was quite cold there and actually started to snow, which made us a little nervous for the visibility we were going to have the next morning on top of Poon Hill. We spent the evening sitting by the fire in the dining hall, reading, playing cards, and of course, eating dal bhat again. We called it a pretty early night, as we had a 5 am wake up call coming our way.
5 am came quickly and the reality of the cold we’d be hiking in set in pretty fast once we were out of the protection of our sleeping bags. The best time to see Poon Hill is early in the morning just after sun rise as this is when the visibility is the best. So, we set off on our hike at 5:15 am in the dark, in order to reach the top during this time. It was a pretty steep hike up, but once to the top it was definitely worth the hiking in the dark. We had a great sunrise and we could not have asked for better visibility. There wasn’t a single cloud covering any of the peaks. So our little snow storm the night before didn’t impede on our views. The only thing the snow DID do, was add to the nice snowy covered path where I, of course, slipped and fell on the way back down. This is really where the nickname Gimpy B started to stick.
Once back down at the tea house, we packed up, ate some biscuits and oranges for breakfast and set off to head to the next town. The beginning of this hike also had AMAZING views. I really do feel spoiled having the opportunity to see such amazing mountains. We thought we would reach our late breakfast spot within an hour or so based on the distance on the map. However, it took about 2 1/2 hours because there was MORE snow. Which, you guessed it, I fell on a few more times. I really couldn’t escape the nickname and the destiny that came with it.
We reached the town that most people stop at for the night around 3:30. We had decided we wanted to get a little further, to shorten the distance we had to go the next day. Seemed like a good idea at the time, because even though I was tired, I had taken some pain killers and my knee was actually feeling somewhat normal again. And besides, we had seen a sign saying that the next tea house was 45 minutes away, what could POSSIBLY go wrong.
After setting off, we quickly realized that we were much more tired than originally thought and I was definitely slowing down from “pain killers are awesome” speed back down to gimp speed. After a little over an hour, we reached a very small town and stopped for a break. Why a break rather than for the night? I honestly have no idea. I think it’s because we were somewhat delirious and were not aware of our own stupidity. So, we set off again in search of the next little spot that wasn’t on the map, really having no idea how long it would take to get there with only a little over an hour of daylight left. Smart, I know!
After setting off this time, I immediately started having visions of leopards and killer monkeys coming out to get me when I inevitably had to sleep on the side of the trail because this magical tiny town was never reached. This got me to pick up speed and I started repeating to myself: “I’m not getting stuck in the dark. I’m not getting stuck in the dark.” Christaporter/CP (who earned this nickname since he was kind enough to carry the big bag the whole way) stopped for a break at one point to eat a granola bar because he was becoming delirious from the lack of food all day. What response did this get from me? “No! We can’t stop to eat! We’ll get stuck in the dark! Quick, break it in half and we’ll eat it on the way”.
Luckily, we reached the tea house just in time for the sunset. We were the only guests and settled in to the chairs facing the AMAZING view of the mountains and had a much deserved (albeit 150 rupee) coke. We survived through our own stupidity.
Day 4 started off a bit slowly, as my body realized the full stupidity of the actions of the day before. I’m pretty sure CP was thinking that we weren’t going to be getting far since I was barely moving at all. Luckily, for his sanity, the pain killers kicked in and I was able to pick up the pace to a relatively normal speed again. That is, until we reached the 700 meter drop in elevation, immediately followed by a 4oo meter climb in elevation. Normally, I would say downhill would be better, but that quick of a drop made for thousands and thousand of steps (I’m pretty sure it beat out the 3,280 steps of the first day). By about step 300, I was only able to take one step at a time as I could only put pressure on the leg without the bum knee. I’m pretty sure the locals thought I was crazy with my “step down, stop, step down, stop.” Once to the other side of the river and the top of the next hill, we had a nice lunch and then the rest of the day was easy peasy with barely any change in elevation.
A nice Nepali man at lunch had recommended a good teahouse for us to stop at in the next town, so we decided to find it. We were a little shell-shocked when we got there and found the place almost full. Now, it may not seem like a lot of people, as there were only maybe 10 others plus some guides and porters. But to us, it felt very weird to have to interact with that many people at once. After all, we were trekking out of season and had only come across a few trekkers per day leading up to this. This night went like all the others: fire, reading, books, food. Except, after 3 straight days of dal bhat, we decided we need a bit of a change, so we went for the macaroni (living dangerously, I know!).
Our last day was pretty easy as it was a short day with not too many stairs. We made it to the final town by about 1 and were able to have a leisurely lunch and then grab a ride with a jeep back to Pokhara.
Once back in Pokhara there were only two things on our minds: hot showers and go out for the burger and beer that had been on our minds since the delirium of day 3.
…and approximately 10,324.2 stairs later….Gimpy B is back in the ktm and headed off to Goa! (I’m pretty sure the knee can handle the sand 🙂 ).
On our research retreat, we had one more day trip to a town called Bandipur. It’s a small town on the top of a hill with great views of the mountains. In some ways it’s a complete tourist town. However, it is overlooked by most who drive by it because it’s a bit out of the way from the main road which leads to Pokhara. Because of this, the town has remained very pristine and a little more untouched. While, I think the town deserves some more recognition, I do hope it keeps these characteristics.
When we left the Riverside Springs Resort in the morning, it was very foggy and visibility was very low. It was still this way when we reached the turn off for the road up to Bandipur, but as we drove up the switchbacks and got higher, the fog broke. We had a spectacular view of the mountains to the north and the sun was shining. The air was clean and warm and we were set up for a really great, relaxing day.
We basically just took the few hours we were there and walked around the town, taking in the views and the people. We found one place in particular which had absolutely wonderful views of the mountains (some of the best I have ever seen). We grabbed lunch at a little restaurant with views looking down over a valley.
There is apparently a silk farm here, which we didn’t get a chance to see as it was time to head out. Though, I have no doubt I will go back again and will have a chance to check it out. After visiting the town, we all were trying to find ways to conduct research there. Even with only spending a few hours there, it was definitely one of my favorite places I’ve been to in Nepal.
The day was finished off with hanging out by the pool (ben took a dip) and our nightly research discussion and dinner by the fire.