Friday, December 31, 2010

Nepal 8: Sunrise at Poon Hill then back down the moutain

Beginning of the sunrise at Poon Hill.

Today we were up super early, like out the door by 5:30 AM. Nim was taking us to see the sunrise at Poon Hill. We had about an hour long trek to get the dark. Nim had a headlamp and Steve actually made great use of the built in flash light on his cell phone.

A bunch of other tourists were all headed up to the same spot. There were a ton of stairs as usual. I felt pretty sinus infectiony/coughing sick in the morning so the trek up to Poon Hill was not the easiest. My breathing sounded like a wolly mammoth wearing a darth vador helmet. When we made it to the top, you could see for miles and miles. The air was freezing cold and everyone was dressed in hats, gloves and winter coats. There was a small booth with a tiny generator where a man and woman were selling some hot drinks to arriving tourists. 

Me and Steve on Poon Hill. Altitude of 3210 meters.

I staked out a spot up on the observation tower and waited for the sun to rise. And waited. And waited. And waited. I had to crouch down out of the wind every once in a while because my face was going numb. My fingers were too cold to change any of the tiny buttons on my camera so I just put in on one setting and hoped it would work. While I was crouched down beneath the wall of the observation tower platform the guy next to me said in a British accent, "Sun will be risin soon. You better come up here. It'd be a shame to come all this way and miss it." So I stood back up into the freezing cold, holding my Nikon D40, just waiting for the sun to make it's entrance into the last day of 2010.

People watching the sunrise.

Finally the sky got dark orange and pink. The clouds reflected the colors of the sun. Behind one mountain to the left there was a small glimmer of bright orange light. The all of the sudden, the sun rose. You could actually see it moving up into the sky. It moved quicker than I thought it would. Within 2 minutes it had already come into full view above the mountains. All the tourists made the classic "oohhh ahhhh" noises and the cameras clicked away. It was really something.

Me, Steve and Nim after seeing the sun rise on Poon Hill.

After some pictures Nim said it was time to go back to the hotel for breakfast. It was cold. Nim said, "Ah yes, very cold. Don't matter if you're doctor, engineer, tourist, Nepali, girl or boy, everybody feel the same cold." 
Breakfast was a pancake and muesli with hot milk.

By 8:30 we were packed and out the door, off to begin our day long decent down the moutain we had been climbing for the last two days. It was snowing slightly when we left.
The trek was long, and all downhill. That long set of stairs that was so difficult to climb was almost just as difficult to go down. I counted the number of steps I took, it was around 4088. By the end of that 45 min hike down those stone steps I didn't really have full control over my knees or any of my leg muscles for that matter. 

Swinging bridge we had to cross towards the end of the day.

Got lunch. Steve got lasagna and his new favorite thing: Tibetan bread with honey. It was really good. I got macaroni with egg and vegetables. I also got this thing called rice pudding. I think it was literally hot instant vanilla pudding with cooked rice mixed into it. Not the best thing ever but the concept made me chuckle.

I didn't take many pictures on the hike down the mountain. But here's some things I saw on the trek down: porters carrying little kids in baskets up the mountain, other trekkers and guides, chickens, bulls, goats, sheep, rams, tons of scenic views, lots of stone steps, trees, rivers, every kind of fam animal poop, Nepali kids, people carrying loads up the mountains, mules carrying loads up the mountain, tea houses, houses, hotels, farms, and some clouds.

Towards the end of the hike it started to rain. I put the rain cover on my hiking backpack but didn't really mind that I got soaked with rain. We hiked for such a long time. I started humming Disney songs to myself to keep from being bored haha! Finally made it back to Naya Pul and waited for our taxi. I was exhausted.

Looking a little tired and rainy after our 8 hours of hiking.

The taxi took us on a slightly frightening and very slippery ride back to Pokhara. We got our bags and went to our new room in the Vagabond Hotel. A guy showed us to a room on the second floor. It had one bed. I nixed that pretty quick and asked for a room with two beds. No offense to Steve but seriously? I just hiked around a mountain for 8 hours! There was no way I was sharing a bed with anyone! Our new room with 2 beds was on the first floor, which meant my tired leg muscles didn't have to climb anymore stairs that day. Score.

Worst news ever: the hotel uses a solar water heater and because of the rain that day, there was no sun, annnnnd the water hadn't been heated. Long story short I was soaking wet, really cold, couldn't move my muscles and there was no hot water. BUMMER!! Nim came to the rescue and informed the hotel staff we were going to need a bucket of water heated up. A half hour later a guy showed up with a ginormous bucket of really hot water. The showering process was slightly more complicated but at least there was some hot water. I showered first and used half the bucket so there would still be some for Steve. 

Right when Steve was done showering they showed up with ANOTHER bucket of steaming hot water. At this point we weren't really sure what to do with this bucket because we had both already taken showers. We didn't want to waste it so we carefully created two small hot tubs. There was this whole ordeal of evening out the bucket water temperatures by adding cold water so that we wouldn't cook our toes off. Finally, with both buckets at perfect hot tub temperature, we sat there with our feet and hands in the water. Best idea we've had all week.

The mini hot tub set up.

It was New Years Eve so we headed out to the street to find a place to eat. Walking through Pokhara was great people watching. The road was still closed off for vehicle so restaurant stands, cotton cany vendors, carnival game and rides were set up everywhere. Steve had picked the pizza place last time we were in Pokhara so he said it was my turn to chose a restaurant. I was in search of two things: a fire to sit by, and an Everest Beer. We've been seeing signs for Everest Beer all along our trek. The would say funny things like "Be at the top with Everest Beer, Nepal's beer." I decided it was necessary that we try this famous Nepali beer while in Nepal.

Steve with his Everest Beer.

The Laxman restaurant gave us a great table right by the fire and two tall, ice cold Everest Beers. The restaurant had a great vibe to it. We decided it was because the tables were full of Australian travelers. I ordered naan bread and the traditional Nepali set meal. Steve ordered two cheese burgers ha! 
Me and my traditional Nepali set meal.

My dinner was huge but I was starving so I easily inhaled the entire plate. After dinner we walked around Pokhara for a little while. By 11:00pm I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open so we headed back to the Vagabond Guesthouse. Pretty sure I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow. Quality New Years Eve (despite the fact I didn't even stay awake until midnight).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nepal 7: Trek to Ghorepani

The view once we got to Ghorepani!!

Woke up and felt slightly sick. I think I might be getting a sinus infection. No worries though, I decided the mountain air would cure it during our hiking today. Breakfast at the hotel was perfect: 2 fried eggs, potatoes, toast with butter and honey, juice, milk tea, and muesli with hot milk. Afterwards we packed up our stuff and headed off towards our next stop, Ghorepani. We had only about a 4 hour trek to do today because we had finished the super long stairs yesterday.

The landscape changed to more jungly vegetation.

Started our trek and go figure, there's more stone stairs. JOY!! But it was not nearly as bad as the continuous stairs yesterday. It was cold out but we didn't need jackets because hiking kept our blood pumping. The landscape changed to a more forresty jungly type of environment. There were trees everywhere, small streams crossing the trail, and random waterfalls around. 

Me and Steve by one of the water falls that crossed the path on today's trek.

My favorite part of today's hike was seeing other hikers coming down the trail. They were all so happy. The would say stuff like "Oh it's worth it when you get to Ghorepani!" or "Keep drinking water!" One little girl said, "You're almost there, just one more big set of stairs." 

Most other hikers had porters with them. Porters are basically just locals that you can pay to carry your stuff for you. Due to our new hiking backpacks and presumed athletic ability, Steve and I decided against hiring a porter. Some of these porters were carrying huge loads of stuff. I don't know how many things you really need to bring to the top of this mountain but one high maintanence looking girl had a porter with her who was carrying a suitcase that looked like it weighed about 75 pounds. Insanity. The best was when families with small children (there were quite a few of these hiking the trails) had hired a porter to specifically carry a child!! The kids would just sit in these little basket things and enjoy the ride while the porter lugged them up or down the mountain trails!

A little boy being carried down the mountain by a porter. As his parents walked by I said, "Geeze, he's got the best deal!" They laughed and said that at this point they wished they had the same setup for themselves haha!

The natural greeting in Nepal is 'namaste'. Every time a local person or even traveler passed by we would exchange namastes and smile. I passed one group of little kids playing a game and one little boy stopped playing just to look up and yell "Namaste!!" at me. It was great.

Nim led us past a herd of mules up the mountain. At one point we stopped for a water break. Nim heard bells and said, "Ah! The mules are coming! We must go!" It was so funny. It was like the mules were slowly chasing up the mountain.

One time, there was a whole herd of about 50 goats coming down the trail. I stopped to take some pictures (naturally) but Nim thought I couldn't get by. He seemed to think I was going to fall off the trail because of these goats. So he stayed back and yelled at all the goats to move. I thanked Nim and looked at my camera to see if I got any good goat shots.
Goats everywhere!! And some sheep maybe??

We arrived in the town of Ghorepani. We had our trekker certifications checked at the police checkpoint and headed into the small town towards our hotel. Around the bend of the town on the staircase up to the hotel the view suddenly blew your mind. Four snow capped moutains with green hils in front of them. Clouds misting off the top of the snowy peaks. Houses no where in sight. Seriously middle-of-no-where-pure-nature-awesomeness.

The "Nice Viewpoint Lodge and Restaurant" sure lived up to it's name. This is a picture of the 'nice view' from the hotel. Pictures can't really do this justice though. It was mind-bogglingly magestic.

The 'Nice Viewpoint Lodge'. All the tea house hotels had names like 'Great View Hotel' or 'Scenic Hotel and Restaurant'. Basically all of them had a different way of saying, 'stay at this hotel because you can see the view'. haha The door to our room read "Please: put off your shoes and shandles use." 

At the hotel we ate lunch and then had the rest of the afternoon to hang out. We checked out some of the few shops in the town. There were two book shops and considering the fact they were located on top of this random mountain, they had a pretty broad selection of novels. Steve bought 'Water for Elephants' and headed back to the room to read. I searched around the town for a spot of sunshine to sit in.

A goat just chilling outside of the hotel.

I was sitting on a wall of the town just watching people. I saw one family headed up the stone steps path. Just picture this scene: The mom had on a hiking backpack and was holding the hand of a 6 year old boy. The six year old had on a small back pack and some intense trekking shoes. He had clearly been climbing this whole way on foot. The Dad was carrying an eight month old baby on his chest with a baby carrier thing AND he was wearing a full hiking pack on his back. There were two porters. One just had a basket of the families stuff on his back. The other porter had on a hiking backpack that was designed to also hold a very small person. So that porter was carrying stuff, and a 2 (or 3) year old as well. 
Talk about a family vacation!! 

View of the sunset hitting the mountains from the hotel.

Headed back to the hotel. Bought a chocolate bar and a book, 'Three Cups of Tea'. My mom suggested this book a while ago and I decided it would be nice to have something to read for the rest of the trip. The chocolate bar was wrapped in a golden foil. Immediately I thought of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. When I got back to the room I was singing, "I've got a golden tick-et!! I've got a golden ti-cket!!" Okay, I was kind of tired. 
The golden ticket chocolate bar.

We ordered dinner and read our books downstairs. It was so nice and warm by the fire and the sound of all the hotel people speaking Nepalese was somewhat calming. It's kind of a bouncy sounding language. So far we've learned that "Jam jam" means "let's go". I think I'll use that one back in the states haha.

I was broken from my reading trance by the sound of loud sizzling. Apparently the dish I ordered for dinner was served in a pan while it was literally still cooking. It was a chicken leg with potato wedges, cooked carrots, cabbage and spinach. I topped off dinner with a glass of Masala tea. It was great. Steve got mixed noodles and soup.

My sizzling plate of dinner: potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and chicken. Yum.

We made plans with Nim for the morning. We're getting up super early to hike up to Poon Hill for the sunrise. The view is supposed to be spectacular. It was cold up on the mountains at night so I was siked when I found out there was hot water for showers. I'm telling you, these little tea house hotels really know what they're doing. I took an awesome hot shower, changed into my clothes as quick as possible (because the air was freezing) and then realized that the permanently open window in the bathroom might have just allowed viewing access of my shower to the entire mountain. Ha! 
This bathroom had an actual toilet!! It was such an awesome surprise!!

Poon Hill tomorrow at 5:30 AM!! 
Then an 8 hour trek back to our starting point at Naya Pul!! 
It's gonna be a long day!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nepal 6: stone steps from Naya Pul to Ulleri

Panoramic view from the steps of the World Peace Pagota at sunrise.

Woke up at 5:00 AM. Met Nim downstairs and took a taxi to the World Peace Pagota to see the sunrise. I don't know how these taxis can handle the roads. The roads leading up the mountain to the pagota were the bumpiest, turniest, rockiest, steepest roads we've been on. Amazingly we made it there in one piece. 
World Peace Pagota right before sunrise.

Nim told us about The World Peace Pagota. It's a Buddhist stupa that was built in 1998 to promote world peace between different countries and cultures. To go up the stairs of the stupa we had to take our shoes off and leave them at the bottom. The marble steps were kind of cold but thanks to my newly purchased warm warm socks I was fine with walking around shoeless.

Some statues built into the sides of the World Peace Pagota.

Three guys were walking around playing drums and chanting. Two other men at the bottom of the stupa looked like they were doing yoga of some sort. There were about 10 other travelers there waiting for the sunrise. I heard the first American tourist of the trip. It was a lady on the phone with an American accent talking about her sister in Boston. There was a little Nepali boy doing cartwheels on the lawn and annoying his older sister. The sunrise was amazing. 
Me and Steve right before sunrise on the hill of the World Peace Pagota.

 Headed back to Hotel Grand Holiday for breakfast. We checked our bags and hopped a cab with Nim to start our trekking adventure. The taxi took us to our starting point, Naya Pul. It was a little town area in the flood plains. 

Some girls on their way to school. Taken from the window of the cab on our ride to Naya Pul.

It was about 35 degrees Farenheit when we got out of the car. We grabbed our packs and followed Nim. At first we were walking through a fairly busy town. Tons of shops and people outside. Then the land emptied out to be more farmland and plains. The sun warmed up the temperature so we took a break to lose some layers. Nim told us about the trekking scene in Pokhara. He explained how around 2002 people (tourists) realized the trekking scene in Nepal was awesome so the industry grew to meet the bigger needs. People began building smalls hotels, shops, and houses along the popular trekking trails. It's not commercial at all, but people in the area cater to the trekkers in order to boost their lifestyle and economy. Nowadays the most common form of trekking is what we were doing called "Teahouse Trekking". Basically we trek in the mountains and at night stay in these little houses/hotels for meals and a bed to sleep in. 

A view we saw at the beginning of the trek.

Nim said when he was a kid he remembers the trekkers coming through his town. They would set up campsites and sleep in tents. Nim and his friends would try to get close to the campsites to see the weird strangers. They always used to wonder what food they ate and what they were doing in the mountains. Now Nim is a guide for these exact kind of trekkers!

A local woman carrying stuff down the mountain. We saw tons of people using this method to carry really heavy loads. Because the roads arn't drivable, everything the people need they have to hike up the mountains on foot.

Most of the day was just walking. The scenes were incredible and I wanted to take pictures every two steps. We had to avoid packs of mules heading up and down the mountain. Herds of sheep shared the paths with us as some points. We crossed two checkpoints and had to have our trekker forms checked. The trekking permits were included in our packet from the tour guide at the first hotel.
Steve and Nim.

Saw a group of people portioning out a bunch of red bloody meat on a tarp by the river. Nim told us that when town's people decide to kill a bull for meat, every family gets the same amount of every part of the bull. Every single part of the bull is used; meat, bones, intestines, hooves, marrow and scull. Nothing goes to waste. One guy just sat there and waved a branch at each pile to keep the flies away. This was one of the most fascinating scenes I saw the entire trek today.
People distributing out the parts of the bull by the river. I have a much closer up shot but I'm not trying to make any one sick while they're reading this. Sooo, I decided on this scenic more zoomed out picture.

Bathroom at one of the stops. 
Out of necessity, I got very used to this type of bathroom. 
Let me tell you, it's not easy.

We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. I got this awesome mixed macaroni dish with eggs and spinach in it. 
Deliciou macaroni dish I had for lunch. 

Nim told us we had two choices at this point. To break it down we could either do the long hike today or the short hike. Eventually we had to tackle a huge set of continuous stairs. We decided to get them over with today so we kept hiking. 

Some local people sitting in a field.

The steps were pure PAAAAINNNNN. They never ended. We were continuously walking up these steps for 1.5 hours. It wasn't like a stairmaster machine either. There was no rhyme or reason in the placement or thickness of these steps so you had to really be on your A game if you wanted to avoid tripping and falling down the mountain. A lot of people were coming DOWN the steps and seemed so happy. I just glared at all of them because me and gravity were in a serious battle up that mountain. Everyone that passed by said the view at the top was worth it. I thought, yea, right, we'll see about that.

Just a few of the never ending stone steps.

FINALLY we reached Ulleri, the town we were staying in that night. I was so siked we had made it. We stayed at the Meera Guest House and Restaurant. It had a great view and hot water!!!! I was SOO siked about the hot water I was literally singing in the shower.

The Meera Guest House on the left and my bed on the right. 

The Meera Guesthouse had nice people, warm blankets and only two other tourists. We ordered dinner then sat around the fire an talked with Nim and this couple from Hong Kong (but the husband was from Australia). Had macaroni and chicken for dinner. We headed back to the room. I passed out and slept like a rock.

Some of the veiw from the Meera Guest House.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nepal 5: Elephants, Pokhara, Waterfalls, Caves and Pizza

A wishing well at Davis Falls.

Woke up early and had the breakfast buffet. Gobind took us to the elephant breeding center. We read about the elephant breeding and training techniques and got to see a bunch of the elephants outside. 

Creepy foggy bridge that led to the Elephant Breeding Center. I really watched my footing on this for fear of tumbling right into the Rapti River!! 

Elephant mom with her two twin baby elephant boys. Look at the baby elephants tiny little tusks!!
These are the first elephant twins to be born in captivity in Nepal. You could tell that they were joking around like brothers, you know in an elephant 2 year old kind of way.

Elephants at the breeding center. It's early in the morning and still foggy. Most of the elephants were just chillin eating their breakfast. 

The center used to have one male elephant that would father the elephant babies. Now they have a random wild elephant stud come into the center during mating time because apparently that works much better.

We headed back to the hotel and packed up quick. We took the truck to the bus station and hopped on our bus. The luggage was being kept on top of the bus. Due to my Lonely Planet book and some other literature, I just wasn't fully confident in their bag tying skills so I decided to keep mine with me in my seat. 

The bus we rode to Pokhara. Check out that Nike swoosh and the namaste hands on the front.

This bus was full of people, probably about 30 different travelers all headed to Pokhara. There was this one little boy that basically ran the entire operation of the bus. In every town or city street he would hop out and yell, "Pokhara!! Pokhara!! Pokhara!!" to see if anyone needed a spot on the bus. In the packed streets of the city the boy would hop out and guide the bus driver by hitting on the sides of the bus. There must have been some really good coded bus driving language going on here because we never hit any people or cars. When the kid did recruit new passengers he was the one that handled the money, bags and seat assignments. He couldn't have been more than 11 years old. This kid was impressive.

The 11 year old bus master. I'm telling you, this kid was running the show.

We stopped at one point for lunch. Steve and I just got some snacks and hung out on the porch of the restaurant. This little girl and her younger brother, ages probably about 5 and 3 were interacting with all the people from the bus. Clearly they were used to these travelers coming through their families restaurant and they knew how to get good stuff from them. The little 3 year old boy even tried to steal Steve's Snickers bar that he had just bought. So funny!! 

The little girl and boy from the restaurant stop. So freaking adorable.

In the city I had bought a bag of oranges so I gave each of them and orange. The little boy immediately started peeling his and eventually managed to get orange juice all over his face, hands and shirt but he was happy. The little girl ran off with her orange and came back empty handed. She didn't speak english so I kind of gestured and made a face asking where her orange went. She grabbed my hand and brought me to a little room towards the back of the building. She motioned to look inside and sure enough, there was a slice of the the hands of a monkey!! She had brought the orange back to the room to share it with her pet monkey!! She peeled another piece and coaxed the monkey to take it. He was a feisty little guy, hopping all over the place despite the leash tied to his foot but he was thrilled for the orange slices.
The little girl giving her pet monkey a slice of the orange.

Back on the bus and on our way. The rest of the bus ride was a super bumpy near death experience as usual but the scenery was awesome. 

In Pokhara we got off at the bus station and really had no idea where we needed to go. Again there were taxi drivers everywhere trying to convince different bus passengers that they knew the best hotel in Pokhara. We looked around for a while for someone with the name of our planned hotel. When we had almost lost hope we saw a guy towards the back holding a little piece of ripped paper that said Stephen Rugg. I mean really!? What is it with the random little papers with Steve's name on them? It's lucky that we ever find these guys anyways because their writing is so small haha

The taxi took us to a road that was in the process of being blocked off. He explained that  we would have to walk the rest of the way becuase the street was being closed for the New Years festival. We were fine with that so we grabbed our bags, paid the taxi driver and started hiking down the road. The street was bustling with all sorts of activities but no cars or motorcycles. There were shops along one side and booths and carnival games along the other. 

The Grand Holiday hotel sign and building.

Got to our hotel, The Hotel Grand Holiday. The room was nice and the location was great. We met our guide, Nim. He is going to be our trekking guide for the next three days. He was a really nice man and knew English really well. We weren't supposed to leave for trekking until the next morning so we discussed some options for activities to do that night. 

I had read about Davis Falls in the Lonely Planet guide book and asked Nim the best way to get there. He said he would come along to show us. We caught a cab and rode up a mountain to Davis Falls. The water fall was pretty crowded because there were a bunch of school groups there but it was still really neat to see.

An over view shot of the outside part of Davis Falls.

 The legend of the waterfall's name is somewhat of a grey area. The posted historical background reads exactly as follows:
"On the 31st July 1961 A.D. at afternoon sudden flood from phewa lake swept away a swiss citizen Mrs. DAVIS having bath with her husband beside the fall. Finally she was dead, her body has been recovered after a long time. Since that time the fall has been taken it's new names as DAVIS FALLS."
I know, loving that english grammar haha. No matter what the legend, the water fall was awesome. 

Me and Steve at Davis Falls. Nim was so worried that we were going to fall off the rocks during this picture. I don't think he understood A.We aren't huge klutzes and 
B.we had new trekking shoes with epic rock gripping abilities.

Turns out it's not only an awesome water fall thing at that site but also a cave that you can explore. The cave was so humid and spooky and crowded but totally worth the hike down the slippery stairs. There was this temple thing half way down the cave path. I would have photographed it but there were strict rules against it because it is a religious sight.
Nim explained that when the people were digging out the cave they found this temple statue thing so now it is a Hindu holy place. There were gifts and flowers surrounding the statue and in order to get closer to it you had to remove your shoes.

The dark, spooky, humid cave underneath Davis Falls.

Our first good glimpse of some snow capped mountains when 
Nim took us for a walk around the cave area.

On the way back to Lakeside (where our hotel is located) we picked up some cold medicine for Steve. It was really cheap and apparently he said it worked perfectly. We made plans to meet Nim tomorrow to go see the World Peace Pagota early in the morning and then head out to start our trekking through the Anapurna mountains. Nim left. Steve went to watch some intense ping pongers. I went to look at the shops.

Remember the disasterous story earlier in my Nepal posts about how Steve and I had matching jackets? Fixed that problem because on the ride into Pokhara I saw and AWESOME jacket and just decided I needed to get it. Matching jacket or not I would still have bought this thing. It was a bright orange Northface winter jacket gortex outter shell thing. I bargained with the lady and got it down to about 20 bucks. I was pumped.

Steve wanted to try this pizza place for dinner. After a few minutes of convincing I decided pizza would be fine. Turned out to be a great restaurant. The pizza was great and we sat right on the porch so we could see all the events going on in the street. It made for some quality people watching.

Steve super siked about having pizza for dinner!!

Packed up for tomorrow's trekking adventure. We had two bags the hotel would be storing for us during our trip. Everything we needed for trekking we fit into our new hiking backpacks. So pumped for trekking!! It's gonna be an early morning tomorrow!!