If you are looking for a romantic and lovely trip with your honey, DO NOT go trekking for two weeks in Nepal. What with the muscle fatigue, the puss-filled blisters, the sour-stomach farts, the grimy clothes and one episode of fire ants in someone’s butt crack, things can get pretty real on the trail. For us, it was a totally unforgettable experience though!
Seb had already been trekking in Nepal seven years ago with friends and was ready for the challenge and dramatic high desert landscape of Upper Mustang. This bit of Nepalese wilderness on the border with Tibet has only been open to tourism since the 90’s it still requires a significant amount of money and effort to gain access via government permits and official documents. Due to the hassle and government limitations, only a handful of tourists visit every year (less than 1,000 according to the local nature conservation brochure); with a French photographer and newbie American trekker amongst them in 2014.
I’ve never seriously trekked before – other than a few hikes in Myanmar – and given our total lack of training or preparation, I was understandably a bit nervous. How would the trail be? Would I be able to keep up with the men (Seb, our guide Panta and porter Rupak)? Would the scenery be worth the hike? To document the experience, I kept a daily journal along the trail with short entries of my totally subjective feelings about good and more challenging aspects of the trip.
July 5, Day 1
Nervous and excited to leave Kathmandu. We’ve stocked up on trekking gear in the touristy streets of Thamel and took the early morning bus for Pokhara. Riding through the clouds, we get our fist glimpse of the green peaks of the Himalayas. Can’t wait to get on the trail! Met our porter, Rupak: a roguishly handsome young devil in neon sports gear – not at all the crusty mountain man Sherpa in buffalo skins I was expecting. One last hot shower before leaving!
July 6, Day 2
Today I looked fear in the face…and was reduced to panicky sobs into Seb’s chest. Our early 20-minute mountain flight to Jomsom base camp was cancelled due to heavy clouds and rain, so instead we took a 3 hour taxi ride through the mountains followed by the scariest 8 hours of my life on a local bus. The janky old bus bumped along the winding mountain road on the precipice of slippery, rocky cliffs and it seemed like we would go plunging to our death at any moment. Stopped in a little mountain lodge to sleep and un-tie the knots in my stomach.
July 7, Day 3
Another morning near-death bus experience on the final 4 hours to Jomsom – this time in the pouring rain. After lunch, we finally set out trekking: an easy rambling, rocky jeep path through dry, desert-like mountains and crazy windy valleys. Reminds me of New Mexico or covers of National Geographic in the Middle East – not at all the Himalayas I was expecting, but beautiful nonetheless. Mountain hotel in Kagbeni with a view on the glacial caps of Annapurna and sounds of village cowbells.
July 8, Day 4
First full day trekking: 6 hours along the rocky trail. Not very much climbing so far, but feet are definitely exhausted. We’ll sleep well tonight in this windy hilltop village despite the large group of Chinese women that just arrived and are demanding copious amounts of noodles for dinner.
July 9, Day 5
Rainy, cold start quickly gave way to hot piercing sun and major climbing – a 700m ascent before lunch. Woke up with a huge blister on my toe, which is swelling with each step. Can start to feel the lack of oxygen up this high (3700m). A touch of altitude sickness tonight – I’m extremely cold and headachy and have no appetite.
July 10, Day 6
Feeling loads better today after Panta prescribed and prepared a wild oregano tea from herbs he picked along the trail. Panta, of Voyage Himalaya, is Seb’s guide from many years ago and he is an absolute gem. He’s a self-made man with more stories than anyone I’ve met – from helicopter rescues in the wilderness to almost getting arrested for calling the then-King of Nepal a monkey. He’s extremely well read, is an expert in everything health related including acupuncture and reflexology, and enjoys studying philosophy and politics in his spare time. He is an excellent guide and is permanently positive and encouraging along the trail. We’re in really good hands.
July 11, Day 7
Lots of energy and easy going today – either we’re getting stronger or the path is getting easier…or maybe both. Started the day by climbing for a full 2 hours and ended the day by shuffling through the silty dust downhill towards our half-way point – Lo Manthang. The repetitive dal baht dish of rice and lentils must be getting to us: I farted 63 times today (yes, I counted). Blisters growing.
July 12, Day 8
No hiking today! Another form of long physical torture (to our butt-bones, anyway) – 3 hours riding poney-sized ornery mountain horses up and down the desert valleys to visit a monastery and comparatively lush green landscape. Rest of day spent relaxing and visiting ancient Tibetan walled city of Lo Manthang. Hot shower and bucket laundry – hallelujah!
July 13, Day 9
Finally on our way back “down” the trail, but still have 5 days’ walk ahead. Feeling fit and ready, but cannot face the idea of another plate of dal baht or potatoes – feels like force-feeding and I dread every meal because I have to eat for fuel. Craving pizza and steak.
July 14, Day 10
One thing I will miss is this lovely temperate coolness in the windy mountains. Feels nice to hike in long sleeves and not sweat to death. Trekked just half-day today, but lots of climbing – didn’t remember so many downhills on the way up. Gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains and glaciers from our lodge.
July 15, Day 11
A long 8-hour day today – morning spent in the thick mist and drizzle and afternoon in blustery wind. We had to do the equivalent of two days trekking today because we found out (by asking other guides along the way) that there is little hope to take the flight back to Pokhara, and I refuse to get back on that death trap of a bus. Hmmm. Also, while forging a swift black river today, I accidentally threw my shoe into the water. Would’ve been a serious disaster had Rupak not gone dashing down the rocky shore in his bare feet to recover it 100m downstream in the rushing current. Had to walk the last 3 hours with one soaking dirty foot, but at least its better than 4 days hiking in flip flops.
July 16, Day 12
No surprise; no planes leaving Jomsom. So we discussed options: between a non-existent 20-minute flight, an almost certain death in a 12-hour local bus, or a long, wet slog for 3 additional days, we chose to hoof it (the men gamely gave in to avoid more terrified tears). Temperature and climate changed dramatically today: high desert wind in the morning, lush tropical jungle by evening.
July 17, Day 13
Beautiful, beautiful green jungle valley today! We descended 1300m as we picked our way along the unbelievable “road” – I’m sooooo thankful not to be in the terrifying bus along this route. Started the day at 6am by forging a glacial melt-off rushing river – had to strip down to undies and anoraks. Got fire ants in my butt when trying to get dressed among the weeds. Ouch. Natural hot springs soothed our aching muscles at our lodge in Tatopani.
July 18, Day 14
Last day, hardest day. Can’t wait to get back to clean toilets, hot showers and good food. It rained all day today and we had to wade through about 15 rivers crossing the trail – by the 3rd time, we decided to just forget about taking off shoes/socks to get across and just splooshed through. The end result of walking 15km in wet socks is two new giant blisters. Ugh. Crazy taxi drive from Beni to Pokhara through monsoon landslides and rivers. Best shower EVER tonight.
July 19, Day 15
Can hardly believe we have no walking to do today – just the 6-hour bus ride back to Kathmandu, but I feel like I can deal with any scary mountain road now that I lived through my greatest fear realized on the local bus last week. It was such an amazing and crazy adventure. Panta was the best guide – always available, patient and encouraging. Rupak was the perfect porter – discreet, helpful and a killer card shark. Seb and I somehow made it through with only minor problems and some of the most memorable (albeit stinky) moments of our travels. Now, time for pizza.