Monday, March 14, 2011

Nepal: Intro/Logistics

Monkeys, Frenchmen, and Chickens:

What can I say. I spent a month and a half trekking alone in the Nepali Himalayas. I was free to go where I wanted, when I wanted. 

 I usually paid $2/night for a dorm room. My first few nights I roomed with a Japanese student named "Tomo", who's been on the move for 11 months and crossed Iraq, Iran and Pakistan unscathed. My other roommate was Jean-Baptiste--a French filmmaker travelling overland for 5 months. Jean joined me for a week of backpacking in Lantang. Hilarious guy that made fun of the nutella I bought, and then ate half the jar himself. 
Jean-Baptiste: my french companion

Kathmandu is polluted, sprawling and the faster you get out of the capital, the longer your lungs will function. The Monkey Temple is worth seeing (keep your food safely hidden) and wander the streets, but apart from that… there’s not much to see. It's safe to walk alone at night. You won’t be bothered except by the local kids trying to sell you grass and shrooms, using the profits to buy glue. As long as I walked at a fast-pace and had a look of “don’t fuckin’ talk to me”, touts and beggars didn’t dare approach. 

River in Kathmandu
Monkey Temple

Nepal had a 10 year civil war with the Maoist Rebels, and there are periods of unrest, but otherwise Nepal is a very safe place to travel (even if you see a lot of people with machine guns). 

My budget was $5-$10 per day, and it was easy to find a good place to sleep and decent food. I usually ate one hot meal a day that consisted of boiled potatoes, plain rice, momos (dumplings) or noodles. I snacked on biscuits and coconut-flavoured cookies. Fruit in the mountains was scarce. In 40 days I'd eaten a total of 4 satsumas and 1 apple. Vegetables are more widespread, but they are always heavily boiled and salted by the locals when served with chow-mein. 

I trekked during the "off" season, so there were hardly any tourists. The only reason everyone is afraid to go to the Himalayas at this time of year, is because of the cold. But it's really not that bad (well, that is debatable, but if you're like me, you'll be fine) During the day it's about +5 degrees and at night it gets down to -15 C around 19,000 feet. Almost every day there were blue skies, and the few times when it was cloudy it wouldn't rain, just a blanket of snow. A nice change to Seattle's rainy winter weather that I'm used to. 

Transportation in Nepal is mainly by rickety, multi-colored buses. To get to the start of the Lantang trek, I had to take a 9 hour bus ride to the village of Syabrubesi, which was located only 117 km away from Kathmandu. We slowly wound our way through the hills and rice terraces, stopping every few minutes to navigate a mud hole or to pick up more passengers (when there wasn’t enough room inside the bus, people hopped onto the top). I shared a seat with a chicken, that wouldn’t sit still and took every opportunity to try another escape-attempt. Every time there was a bump in the road, the chicken and I would go flying into the air; I would hit my head on the ceiling, the chicken would make a leap of faith, and I would snatch it back into my lap. The chicken’s owner didn’t seem too concerned.  This repeated itself countless times until I finally arrived at my destination dusty, bruised and covered in chicken feathers. 

Many of the guesthouses are owned by Tibetans that fled Chinese oppression in the fifties. If you promise to eat at least one meal with them, they give you a room for free. These rooms are not heated, but they have a bed and a flickering light if you are lucky. If you ask, you can usually get a blanket, but they aren't warm enough to get you through the nights, so a sleeping bag is a must. I recommend placing your water bottle inside your sleeping bag at night, or else you will wake up with a chunk of ice that refuses to melt for another two days.
Frozen water

The toilet situation varies, but basically it's a hole in the ground in a shed outside, about 50 feet from the room. I quickly learned the benefits of not drinking my fill of milk tea before bed, because jumping out of your sleeping bag into -10 C, and then sprinting in your un-laced trekking shoes through the dark, is not a very pleasant experience. 

After two weeks of not showering in the Everest Region, I decided it was time to take off my hat and bandana. I asked for some hot water and was handed a bucket of luke-warm water, a metal cup and was led into the shower/toilet room outside. The floor was covered by a layer of ice and it turned out that my shampoo had frozen solid. I dunked my hair into the bucket, thawed out my shampoo and after five cold minutes managed to wash my hair... which then promptly froze into a solid clump. Not my best moment.
The infamous bucket shower

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