It goes without a doubt that Nepal leaves you wanting more - more time, more trekking, more freedom. Nepal is nostalgic and will unleash a love for travelling that will last the rest of your life.
As I feel my heart pulsating with excitement at the thought of my second return to Nepal, I stop myself to take in the my surroundings as my plane touches down in Kathmandu airport, a city where I have spent very little time. Nepal is a place where everything is unpredictable. This is where spontaneous decisions and actions are made and you discover things about yourself you never knew. To me, one day seemed like enough to experience the beauty, bustling businesses, hidden temples and towns, and the dust and despair of streets; all that shapes Kathmandu.
It wasn’t until that evening when I was having dinner with a Nepalese friend that I decided to skip my overnight stay in Kathmandu and head straight to Pokhara on the night bus. I’ve heard many stories, or better yet, legends, of the buses in Nepal. The fast paced traffic over-taking other vehicles at 50mph on thin rocky mountain edges, with 300 meter drop-offs is something that would alarm anyone during the day... however, I was going to experience this during the night. The 20 minute flight to Pokhara is always a tempting alternative to the 8 hour bus ride, but tickets are extremely costly (around $140) compared to the $9 bus. The distance between the two towns is relatively short, but the roads are in disrepair and the journey over ground is gruelingly slow and bumpy.
The bus seemed to bounce and jolt over every crack in the road making it difficult to get comfortable, and after a long sleepless night I finally arrived safely to Pokhara just before dawn. The nostalgic smells and scents filled my lungs and as I inhaled the fresh mountain air that brought back memories from my previous visit one year ago. I began to walk the unfamiliar streets of Pokhara, dragging my suitcase across the uneven grounds and keeping a close eye on the feral dogs that approached me. A few locals were opening their shops in the early morning hours to attract travelers both staying and going, but in the early morning hours the street remained unusually quiet. The town is still resting and it won’t be long before the sun rises and the streets are filled with life.
My boyfriend Max had spent the last few weeks here, paragliding throughout the Himalayan Mountains. Pokhara is the heart and soul for paragliders in Nepal, attracting both tourists who want to experience their first tandem flights as well as experienced pilots from around the globe who want to fly big lines in the mountains. Max and I had been planning to go on a week long trek when I arrived, so he had been focused on getting as much flying in as possible during his time alone.
When I arrived at the hotel, we shared a long heartfelt embrace and we were both overcome with excitement at the thought of the adventures ahead. I thought back to a year ago when Max and I had first met here in Nepal as two adventurous strangers, and now we were sat here as a couple in the local coffee shop drinking masala tea and planning our memorable journey together. We discussed the details of the trek, scanned the map, checked the weather forecast, and decided to head up to the mountains the next day. That afternoon we packed up our things and went out to get all the permits and paperwork we needed to head into the Annapurna Conservation Area that surrounds Pokhara.
The next day Max and I began our journey by catching a local bus that would take us to the start of our trek, a small town tucked away in the mountains called Ghandruk. The actual bus stop is about a mile shy of the town and requires an hour or so of hiking up staggeringly steep steps before the first houses begin to appear. “Namaste” the locals call out to us as we marched up and up the seemingly never-ending staircase. We continued on until we reached the far edge of town, where we stopped at the last tea hut with what seemed to be the best view. One of the reasons why trekking in Nepal is so incredible is because there are tea houses scattered throughout small villages in the mountains, making overnights a breeze because you don’t have to bring your own tent, food, water or even a sleeping bag. In fact, you can easily make the 10 day hike to Annapurna Base Camp (4100 meters) with just a day pack because there is lodging and food available all along the way. For this reason, Max and I had extra space in our packs which he promptly decided to load up with extra camera gear, making the ‘lightweight hiking’ concept a distant memory.
The next day we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and ate breakfast on a tiny wooden table on the edge of the mountain side. We stared out at the beautiful golden glow as the sun’s rays first lit up the massive 8000 meter peaks in the distance, and finally all the surrounding peaks in the valley. After a lazy morning, we continued our hike towards the next village called Tadapani. We were excited and giddy, moving with great speed, and it seemed our legs were already becoming accustomed to the steep, weaving trail.
When we arrived in Tadapani, we were told a storm was coming that night so we scrambled around the tea-house for extra blankets and prepared for a cold evening. We stayed up late that night wondering when the storm would hit, but the sky remained clear and the stars came out in full force. After dinner, we stepped outside to look up at the sky and stood there in awe as thousands of glistening stars shined brighter than we’d ever seen before – their light reflecting off the snowy mountains in the distance and creating a beautiful glow in the valley. We grabbed our cameras and stayed up for hours playing with exposure and lighting, trying to capture the beauty of this incredible night.
With heavy eyelids after a long day of hiking and a late night of star gazing, we both fell asleep the moment our heads hit the pillow. After a restful night we woke up early to watch sunrise, and were both a bit surprised at the sight of snow on the ground. Hadn’t the sky been clear just a few hours earlier? We looked out and saw a handful of fluffy clouds in the distance, and the sun was just beginning to peek through. The crisp cool air brushed up against our faces as we sipped Nepali tea on the mountain’s edge and watched as the morning glow reflected in the snow around us. I looked at Max with a grin and whispered “this is so magical!” and could see he had the same expression on his face. The most incredible feeling, however, was knowing that this was just the beginning.
After another slow morning playing backgammon by the fire and soaking up the beauty of the fresh snow, we continued onwards towards yet another beautiful mountain town called Chhomrong. This time, the trekking took us down a steep wooded forest accompanied by a nearby stream running down the mountain side adjacent to the trail. The morning light was beginning to glow through the forest canopy and the birds were alive and chirping with a sense of vigor. It was by far the most incredible morning so far. The beauty of the forest was overwhelming and we felt a heightened sense of awareness to our surroundings. We could hear the sound of each footstep as it pressed on the freshly laid snow, we watched as the sun rays glistened across the forest floor as they peered through the windblown treetop canopy above, and we listened as the snow slowly melted and the falling droplets orchestrated their own natural symphony. There was a buzz of energy around us that morning, and it left us with an overwhelming sense of inspiration and faith in the natural beauty of the world.
After descending the valley, we crossed a large river and headed up the other side – another three hours of uphill trekking ahead of us covering miles of terrain and thousands of stairs. As the day progressed, we saw a storm approaching on the horizon. Luckily we reached a tiny hut in the mountains just as the weather began to turn. A thunderous cloud appeared in a matter of minutes, and almost instantly there was a heavy downpour of rain and hail all around us. We huddled around a small fire in the tiny hut, trying to stay warm as the air temperature quickly dropped. We waited out the storm by chatting with the locals and feasting on local gurung (Tibetan bread), a sweet dough accompanied with honey or jams. This simple meal became an instant favorite of ours. We continued to sit by the fire, playing backgammon and watching the fog roll through the valley until finally the rain stopped and our window to continue trekking presented itself. It was late afternoon by now so we had to move quickly to make it to Chhomrong before darkness settled in. Luckily we were both feeling energized from munching on honey soaked Tibeten bread all day, which gave us just the sugar rush we needed to hit the trail hard for the last hour.
When we arrived in Chhomrong, we had the option of
continuing up towards Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), which was our original plan, or to head south down the river basin which would bring us to a legendary hot spring the next day. We had a look at the weather forecast, and the storm that had just passed left ABC at a blistering negative twenty five degrees, a temperature neither of us had prepared for. The decision was a quick and easy one… hot springs! I had never been to hot springs before but Max assured me it would be well worth the detour. Just the thought of visiting frozen ABC chilled me to my bones so it seemed like a no brainer.
The next day we headed towards Jinhu hot springs. Mornings in the mountains are brisk and cold, and the thought of the refreshingly hot water was motivation enough to walk at about twice the pace we’d been going during previous days. We made it to Jinhu in what seemed like no time at all, and when we arrived we stared in awe at the beautiful turquoise green pools ahead of us, watching as steam lifted from the delectably hot water… I think we’ve found paradise! We quickly jumped in and with big smiles on our face and we sat for hours in the peacefully quiet hot springs surrounded by nothing but forest and the nearby river. We looked at each other, and without exchanging a single word we both knew we were thinking the same thing “coming to the hot springs was definitely the best choice.” After four days of trekking through the mountains, we were two smelly travelers with achy sore muscles, and the hot cleansing mountain water felt like the most refreshing thing in the world.
Days in the mountains pass quickly, and we took in as much as we could with the time we had. Waking up to the morning bird songs, watching the first rays of sun hit the nearby mountain tops, hearing the ringing bells from horses and mules that carried heavy supplies from one village to the next, watching the locals conduct a way of life which has seen very little change in thousands of years; it was all a very magical experience.
Our trek was coming to an end, and we planned the rest of our route to meander across the last remaining ridges and valleys that separated us from Pokhara in an attempt to put us as close to possible to town and avoid the long bus ride that we took to the start of the trek. Our last day was filled with nostalgia as we reminisced back on the week long trek we had just undergone. With each step, it was as if the sound of honking cars, busy roads, and barking dogs grew closer. Neither of us wanted the trek to end. When we finally made it to the last small village in the mountains, we found a jeep back to Pokhara and just like that we were headed back to the hustle and bustle of big city life. We looked at each other, wishing we had more time, more trekking, and more freedom in the hills. We sighed knowing that our adventure in the mountains had come to an end, but at that very moment there was a glimmer of hope in our eyes. We knew that we still had another week together in Nepal to create more fun filled adventures no matter where we ended up, and that’s exactly what we created for ourselves. We spent the next week exploring new towns and villages, paragliding together through clouds and over mountaintops, feasting on amazing food, meeting fellow travelers and sharing far-fetched stories, and enjoying the magic of this incredible country.
Nostalgic Nepal, an enchanted place with so much to explore and discover. We know soon enough we’ll be back. These are the days we love. These are the adventures we live for. This is the life that inspires us.