Nepal


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A hike through the mountainous areas of Nepal is the holy grail for passionate hikers.  While I don’t think I fit in this category, the hike that we finished a few days ago has been a dream of mine for many years.

There are many different trekking options in Nepal – the most popular being treks in the Everest region (where you can trek to the Everest Base Camp) and the Annapurna region.  Each of these areas offers up hikes lasting anywhere from a day to a month.  After some brief research, we chose the Jomsom trek in the Annapurna region.

With our overly high-tech gear in tow, we (Shanna and I, along with our Nashville friends Kelly and Michael – a/k/a Miguel Leather) boarded a small plane in Pokhara for a short flight to Jomsom that included some amazing views of the Himalayas.  Less than 30 minutes later, we were on the ground and off to find porters to carry our gear for the next few days.
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Immediately upon exiting the airport (which consisted of a building about the size of your average garage), a swarm of porters about half my size attacked us.  At first, I was surprised when they quoted us a price of $100 per day to carry our bags.  Then, I realized my math was faulty and they were only asking $10 per day!  After a quick reference check by a woman in a local restaurant (we’d heard stories of so-called porters who quickly port your bags to unknown destinations), we had hired Mr. Bihm (or Beamer as we preferred to call him) and Obada for the nest 4 days.  The combined weight of the pair was around 225 pounds, with 125 of that attributed to Obada.  Guilt overwhelmed me as I handed over my 35 pound pack to Mr. Bihm.

Our trek over the next four days was gorgeous, starting in the arid landscape near Jomsom and ending in the lush tropical area near Beni.  The trek passes through Nepalese villages, crosses raging rivers and collides with large groups of pack mules carrying goods to the next village.  Along the way, humbling views of mountains over 20,000 feet were our constant companion.
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The treks in Nepal are sometimes called “teahouse treks” due to the numerous teahouses dotting the trail providing meals, lodging and, of course, tea.  The accommodation in the teahouses is quite basic with prices to match – most cost between $2 and $4 a night (which, in the case of at least 1 guesthouse, was a rip-off; the room was worth $0.82 at most).

The greatest excitement of the trip happened on night 3.  As we ate dinner at a teahouse down the road from our guesthouse in the village of Tatopani, a thief broke into our friends’ room taking away 2 ipods, a digital camera and around $50.  After we relayed the news to our 2 porters, the entire police force of the town arrived and went into action – at first wrongly accusing the owner of our guesthouse who was evidently angry at us for eating at a restaurant down the road.  Then, Miguel Leather and Kelly took part in an unsuccessful chase down the streets of the village when it was discovered that the thief had robbed several guesthouses and was on the loose.
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Later that night, Beamer arrived to tell us that the thief’s hiding place had been discovered near the town, several of the pilfered items had been recovered and the thief had escaped the authorities by diving into the turbulent river near the village (where, according to the police, he most likely met his maker that night).  After a quick trip to the police station, Miguel Leather triumphantly returned with the Ipods and camera – the $50 was either on the washed-away corpse of the thief or used as a “service fee” by the local cops (we’ll never know).  Regardless, the recovery of the electronics was a huge victory.

As celebration for the recovery, we rewarded ourselves with a very lazy day in Pokhara – a beautiful lakeside town – upon return from the trek.  Before we flew back to Kathmandu the next afternoon, Shanna and I had a flight of our own – paragliding off a mountain above the town.  A video of the flight is below.

Paragliding:

Annapurna Trek:

Kathmandu.  Long a backpackers’ haven, the celebrated destination of a Bob Seger song and the place where we, along with Nashville friends Michael and Kelly, spent a fantastic few days.
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Among the highlights were a walk around the kora with Buddhist pilgrims at the Bodhnath Temple, time spent with the gaggle of monkeys at the Swayambunath Stupa (one of Kathmandu’s most important Buddhist shrines) and a visit to the magnificent Sweta Machhendranath Temple, which we stumbled upon during our Derek-led walking tour the of the city (hey, they don’t call him “Map Boy” for nothing…).  The latter, which is revered by Buddhists and Hindus alike, boasted far, far more pigeons than people and provided a great opportunity for us to watch worshippers making offerings.
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We were also lucky to get a quick glimpse of Kathmandu’s own living goddess (although we were forbidden to take pictures of her–the one here was pilfered from a postcard).  The young goddess, known as the Kumari, is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju.  In order to be chosen as the Kumari, she had to meet a staggering number of requirements designed to ensure that she was, in fact, the goddess’s reincarnation.  Among many other necessities, she had to be a Buddhist girl from a certain caste who has, and I quote, “a neck like a conch shell,” “a body like a banyan tree” and “eyelashes like a cow.”  Hmmm.

For Derek and me, Kathmandu was this trip’s first real taste of the colorful chaos of a South Asian city.  After China, with its cool temperatures and often-gray atmosphere, the city was a burst of warmth and life.  We happily wandered the city’s crazy streets and grew adept at avoiding both tiger balm sellers and wayward scooters.
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Better yet, all four of us were delighted (and surprised) to find that the talented chef at the Kathmandu Crowne Plaza could produce a tasty approximation of a Thanksgiving dinner with only a few hours’ notice.  We had all the fixin’s–from mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie–and we’re still puzzling over how he brought forth such a wonderful turkey without the full day of cooking that such a task usually takes us.
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Kathmandu cab drivers and hoteliers alike lamented to us about the drastic reduction in tourism that their part of the world has felt in recent years.  Due at least in part to Nepal’s precarious political situation–unrest has rocked the country for over a decade as the Maoists in rural Nepal struggle against the nation’s monarchy and its chosen political system; the situation famously worsened in 2001 when Prince Dipendra, in a rage purportedly sparked by his parents’ refusal to accept his chosen wife, murdered his father, the king, and many other family members–it appears on many state departments’ “exercise caution” lists.  For travelers who do find their way to Kathmandu, these difficult circumstances ironically mean reduced prices and a wide choice of available hotel rooms.  For Kathmandu residents, however, they translate into a staggering unemployment/underemployment rate–nearly 50%–and fervent hopes that a political solution lies just on the horizon.

Happy Thanksgiving from Kathmandu!  Although we’ll probably be without the normal Thanksgiving trimmings this year (not a lot of pumpkin pie to be found in Nepal…),  we’re so glad to have a day to reflect on how much we’ve got to grateful for.  Happy, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!