I’ve just bought a nice bracelet and a necklace from a Tibetan refugee in Pokhara, Nepal. There are camps/villages for Tibetan refugees near Pokhara, that I’m going to visit tomorrow. After the repression from China during the 1959 rebellion, many Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, their religious leader, had to leave their country. They are now dispersed around the world, but many leave in Nepal, others in Dharamsala, in the North of India (where Dalai Lama also lives).
I didn’t need more bracelets and they weren’t cheap, compared to the Nepalese prices, but it’s a nice way to help them. At Accessorize a similar bracelet would be expensive anyway, and these I know they are handmade with patience and care; and I know I helped someone get some food (it’s a nice feeling).
If only I had more money, I would have bought presents for everyone (= I accept donations).
Maybe once I’ll be rich I’ll come back and buy them all.
I wrote this post about the trekking in Annapurna in 2010, October 4, just a few days after the trekking. I decided to edit it, add pictures, and translate into English, because it’s one of the best things that happend in my life and my heart still beats faster when I think about those days.
diary of a one in a lifetime trekking
I feel a bit weird. I came back last night from the Annapurna Sanctuary Trekking and I don’t know. Maybe because I was used to wake up at 6am knowing what I had to do during the day, or maybe it’s the heat here in Pokhara, it’s strangling me. Or maybe I miss the people I met there and I’m nostalgic. Or maybe it’s the grey hair I saw a minute ago at the mirror (I cut the white hair two weeks ago, how could it grow back so fast???).
But let’s start from the beginning.
Monday, day 1. Wake up at 6am, small backpack ready with two t-shirts and two underpants, a tiny towel, soap and flipflops, a reusable bottle for water. No porter for us poor girls, we have to carry our own backpack, so it must be as light as possible. Breakfast with two croissants, coffee.
Two buses and at 9 am we are in Phedi, where our expedition starts. A spider has just fallen onto my head. A small one. The first hour is a bit dramatic. An hour of steps to get to Dhampus.
The Mt. Emei nightmare (8 hours of steps to get to a temple in China) grips me. From there it’s an easy path, a sloping ground among rice fields, streams and cows that step in the way, with a slight climb from time to time.
The first porter of the trekking walks with us for some time. He’s Sonkor, a 13 yeary old boy that carries in the bag secured to his head canned food and eggs (it must have been about 20kg, I couldn’t lift it). Products for the guesthouse his mother manages. He does this everyday. Shouldn’t a 13yo be at school on a Monday morning, you might think? It’s a difficult topic. We should probably consider their reasons before judging.
When we get to Pothana there’s the first check point (you need a permit to trek here). Because it’s September 27, International Day of the tourist (who knew?) we are blessed with the tikka (that red spot on the forehead) and we are given a yellow silk skarf (that with this heat I can’t wear). Phedi is not very high, it must be about 1.000m asl, I think. The Annapurna Base Camp, our final destination, is at 4.130m. Pothana, that we reach at about 12pm on the first day, is at 1.990m. Well, that’s good, you would think. No. Because after Pothana there’s the first descent. From 1.990m you go down to 1.620 in Landruk, 1.340 on the second day, and then up again to 2.210… I had already gotten a bit nervous looking at the itinerary, but finding myself hiking up a mountain, down on the other side of it to the valley, up another mountain and down the other side, and this for 4 days… it’s discouraging (to say the least) for me.
At one point my legs decided not to move, refused to take one single step, knowing that every step down meant other two up (and climbing again on the way back). Maybe it’s because I’m not used to hike this way. The treks I usually do (Carega, Pasubio, Cima Marana), you hike up those 2-3-6 hours, but once you are at the summit you know you only have descent. This is not the case at the Annapurna Sanctuary. I had ascents until the last day. And what an ascent! I don’t know what their problem is, but they definitely love steps! It’s probably too easy to make a path that follows the side of the mountain at the bottom. No, you have to walk straight to the top and down the other side. And no zig zags, they are a waste of time. Straight up, on a line. Terribly hard for me, not so trained.
Anyway, the first day we stopped in Landruk at about 4pm. A light rain was beginning to fall. In the guesthouse we met Bob, a 61yo English man that was back in the Annapurna after 40 years, a Kiwi couple that did in 3 days what we hit in one (also due to diarrhea), an Israeli couple (we will meet a lot of Israeli on the way).
The morning of the second day the alarm is at 6am. It’s the wake up time of the Nepalese mountains. Wake up at 6, trekking starts at 7 and you hike until about 2pm. Probably it’s also because the sky is bright and clear early in the morning, gets cloudy at about 10am, and often in the afternoon it rains.
After a nice 10 hours sleep and breakfast with banana pancake and honey, at 7.25 (already late on our schedule), we leave. First sight of the Annapurna South. So emotional! So first two hours going down, to the valley. Then one hour of stairs up to Jhinu. Where I enjoyed a much deserved lemon tea. It’s the first time I have an Italian-style tea out of Italy. With a lot of lemon and a lot of sugar. I really needed it. And there starts what will remain one of the worst times of my life. Another hour and half of steps up, lunch break, steps down and another hour up. It must have taken a lot of time to put all those stones as steps (and I am grateful for them, as the only time I walked on the grass I fell to the ground), but couldn’t they make them slightly smaller? A bit of zig-zag? Will never understand. The second day was a nightmare for me. And from that moment on I became the weak member of the team (the first day I was always in front while Hilde struggled a bit). My body asked for mercy. And I praied for it (“please, let me see some flat ground at the end of these steps!”).
We stopped for the night in Sinuwa at about 3.30 pm. We had walked for about 6 hours. There was the best shower on earth at that guesthouse. Hot water, a powerful stream. I had a nice mint tea with a lot of sugar. For dinner an onion soup. Of course I was still hungry, so I shared with Hilde a Gurund Bread (Nepalese bread, fried) with an omelette on top. Delicious!
I must say that the food along the trek was a pleasant surprise. Great pancakes and porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner with purea of potatoes, melted cheese and onion, fried chips with vegetables and cheese, the traditional fried rice with veggie… All delicious. Actually the trek dish is the Daal Bhaat, white rice with a piece of bread, cooked vegetables and hot pickles, plus a soup. I had it only once, on the last day, because it’s more expensive than the other dishes (3 euro instead of 2!!), but when you are finished you can have a refill if you are still hungry. I had it the last day, because I wanted to try it, and wasn’t able to finish the first serve. Me!
The first day at 8pm I was in bed. On the second day I couldn’t resist after 7.30. When I went back to the guesthouse living room after I brushed my teeth out in the cold night, Hilde was telling fellow trekkers about her one year long trip. She must have been happy to have an audience, I hadn’t be much of a companion during the last day.
On the third day more steps up and down, till Deurali, where we arrived at about 2pm. Better than the previous day. When we stopped for lunch in Himalaya, there was a group of porters that would keep us company for the rest of the trek. They worked for a group of South Koreans that brought their food from Korea, so they not only needed boys to carry their backpacks, they also needed more people to carry their food and pots and pans, plus they had their personal chef.
I found it a bit weird. It’s much more expensive to travel this way (well, we are still talking about 10 euro per day), because in the guesthouses it’s more expensive to sleep if you don’t eat what they cook (a bed usually costs 1 euro, gueshouses earn money from the food they cook; if you don’t eat there sleeping costs about 3 euro). Food becomes more expensive the further up you go, as porters have to carry it, but it’s so good! So it’s hard for me to understand why they have their own food, but I don’t care that much.
Among these kids there’s Pawan that has sweet eyes and a smile that makes my days lighter for the rest of the trek. I miss him today. I thought he was 15, he’s 18. Very skinny. I don’t know how they can carry those 30kg on their head, walking on flip-flops on these stones (most of them don’t have money to buy shoes). Pawan says he doesn’t like this job much (he started one month ago) and hopes to enter the army (the Nepalese one. There’s also an Indian army that pays better money and offers good retirement benefits, but it’s difficult to get in). He’s paid 5 euro per day. Can I take him home?
In almost every village there’s a volleyball ground (or better, a net on a flat ground). In Deurali I watched a bit these kids while they were playing. They were actually good, you can tell they play often. It must be a nice way to loosen up after 6 hours carrying 30kg over your head…
In Deurali it started to get cold. We were at 3.200m asl. Here we met a funny Chinese guy; he’s from somewhere near Shanghai. His English isn’t perfect, but much better than the average Chinese person (at least those I met in China). He also has his Chinese vegetable soup, to drink at the end of the dinner. His name is Tang. The following day we met him again at the Annapurna Base Camp, then I’ll meet him again on the way back and yesterday in Pokhara I met him again. We have become friends (it must have been the hot spring we shared two days ago). He gave me 3 bags of vegetable soup. Nice :).
So, day 4, start at 7am, final destination Annapurna Base Camp. At 10.30am we were there. It was already foggy. Fortunately during the hike we could enjoy some of the mountains around us. It was magic. It was extremely cold up there. 4.130m, fog and not a fireplace or stove in the house! I didn’t know how to warm up. I drank liters of tea, but only after dinner I warmed up a bit.
The following morning we woke up at 5.45 to enjoy the sunrise. Nice. But didn’t stay there long, because it got foggy soon. So we started the way down. I was tired of running. We did in 4 days the length that was recommended in 6 days, so I decided to relax and I started to walk more slowly. Hilde, on the opposite, was always walking fast. From time to time she sopped to wait for me. This was annoying me, I don’t know why (well, I know why, but don’t want to admit it). She was actually kind to wait for me. With me was walking one of the Koreans, who shot about a hundred pictures of me. Asians find us exotic, interesting photography subjects (at least they did 10 years ago, before they started traveling so much).
The next day I suggested Hilde to split, as she was walking so fast and the path wasn’t dangerous, there was no need to stay together (I planned the trek with her because I don’t think it’s safe to hike in the mountain alone; but this path was actually quite safe and with lots of people walking it). At first she refused, but later because she wanted to take a longer path to see another moutain (while I wanted to take the shortest way back to Pokhara), she accepted. Wow. Suddenly I felt much lighter. I was traveling alone because I like it, it had become boresome to travel all the time with someone else!
Also, when I’m tired I loose all my patience and become horrible. I lost a friend once during a trip, and almost did a couple of times more.
So I had two days all to myself in that beautiful environment. That day I decided to end the hike in Jhinu at 11am. Why did I have to rush back to the city? It was so nice up there! In Jhinu there’s this famous hot spring, that everybody talks about. I went there immediately. It was such a relief for my feet! And there I met Tang, the Chinese guy. And after a while the porters of the Korean group also arrived. It was such a pleasure to look at them while they washed their clothes in the hot water (not in the pool, outside. For 10 days they wear the same clothes because they have enough stuff to carry!), Pawan that was trying to swim in a pool that was 3m x 4 (he learnt to swim in the river), the laughs. Loved them. In the evening I was in the same guesthouse as the Koreans. They were celebrating their last night with a nice dinner and rakshi (a local wine, similar to sake) for the porters. At one point the porters (Nepalese) started to sing and play music. A guy was hitting on a drum, everyone else sang, somebody danced. I love how they dance. The way they move their bottoms and the hands above their heads. I was there with them and simply clapped my hands following the beat (probably not everyone knows that I am a terrible dancer). Koreans showed some interest for a bit, but soon went to bed. After a while it was just the Nepalese and I. One of them sang a song for me, so to thank him I had to sing too, both songs were Italian. Of course this provoked big laughs and enthusiasm.
It all ended quite early, at 8pm they close down everything. But an elder Korean sitting on a chair in the garden, was singing to the moon. A show I can still see if I close my eyes. He even sang “O sole mio”. Who would have thought to hear “O sole mio” under the Nepalese Himalaya, sang by a Korean???
At the same guesthouse was Bob (the English man we met on the first day) and a Californian guy. For Bob these 7 days were just a warm up for a 4-week trek he was doing a few days later, up to 6,000m. And he’s 61. When he came to Annapurna for the first time, 40 years ago, there were no paths and no guesthouses. He was with a friend, they were camping and eating rice they carried in their bags. It must have been nice to come back after so many years and take note of how much it has changed.
Last day was easy. All sloping ground. If only I didn’t get lost. Instead of walking for one hour to get to the first village it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes. I took a path up the hill instead of walking low and I couldn’t find the right path anymore. Then I walked fast to reach Bob (I told him he didn’t need to wait for me while I was brushing my teeth, I was going to reach him after a bit). I met him again 5 hours later, when he stopped for lunch. He was drinking a beer and it looked so fresh and thirst-quenching that I suddenly wanted one too. But at that point I couldn’t take more Daal Bhaat.
It was a pleasant day all considered. Nice path along a river, with usual streams and rice fields. In Naya Pul I got on the bus to Pokhara (on the roof, again). Here was the last time I saw the porters.
So here I am. I made it. I don’t know if I could do it again, it wasn’t easy. I am left with a broken boot and a backpack with a hole. And a lot of amazing memories.
I wrote this post back in 2010 while I was backpacking in Nepal; I’ve updated and translated in English now.
Sunday morning in Pokhara. It’s hot and sunny. Wifi slowness is driving me crazy, as usual.
I’ve decided to write a blog so that I don’t have to send emails to my friends with the same info, and mostly for my mom, that every time I call her she asks me what I’ve seen and what I’ve done and I never know what and how to reply. So don’t expect erotic scenes, or at least not with me as protagonist (I should invent them anyway, as I never meet anyone who likes me back!). So here I am. Little by little I hope I’ll be able to describe the whole trip, or at least the most interesting parts.
Pokhara is 200km West of Kathmandu, you can get here in 6-8 hours on bus from Kathmandu. Yesterday from Bandipur it took us about 3 hours. I was on the top of the bus, again. More comfortable this time, as it was just Hilde and me and a blue bag that I put under my back; I was almost asleep, it was amazing in the sun. Hilde got an electric wire on her face, but a part from that it was all great.
There’s a lake in Pokhara, and we are surrounded by the Annapurna range. There are loads of activities for tourists, from bungee jumping to paragliding guided by a hawk, kayaking and meditation, but as I am lazy and timorous, I won’t do any of this. We came here because it’s the departing point for one of the most famous trails in Nepal. The Annapurna. There’s the “circuit” trek, that in about 14 days takes you up to 5416 meters of altitude, but we will do the one that is called “Sanctuary”, 12 days up to a max of 4095m. This is the idea, but until I leave I don’t believe it. I am so lazy that I might decide to spend 10 days relaxing by the lake instead. But you can’t come to Nepal and don’t go trekking, right? Or maybe you can… Maybe if unluckly I hurt myself just before departure…
When we arrived at the hostel we found ourselves in the dorm with a Dutch guy we had met in Kathmandu. A hot one, he’s a professional model and participated to a show in which you have to hitchhike from Beijing to Bombay (editor note: it’s a reality that is quite popular in Italy too now, Beijing express). He also takes some amazing pictures. He’s sitting right in front of me in this moment. He’s got a perfect mouth and a nice blond beard.
It doesn’t look much like Nepal here in Pokhara. You can even find grilled steaks with chips. And in the evening there are plenty of clubs with live music until the early hours of the morning. I was used to Tibet and Kathmandu, where everything closes between 10pm and 12am. Well, last night at 10 I was super tired and left Hilde in a pub with her vodka. J was also there anyway, I’m sure she didn’t miss me.
Wow, I love Janakpur! People is very welcoming. A lot of people stop me on the street to ask the usual questions, where I come from, if I’m traveling alone, what my name is, if I like Janakpur. A few times I was also asked “What is the purpose of your trip?”. The purpose of my trip? I don’t know! But they are not annoying, once they are done with the list of questions they go.
This morning in the shop where I stopped to buy a coke I met a very smart boy. 13 years old, he spoke a good English and told me that the Nepalese situation is not good. Because I told him I live somewhere near Venice, he told me about Marco Polo, born in 1254 or similar, that left Venice to go to China, where he lived for 17 years, becoming friends with the emperor.
By the way, the coke was to kill potential bacteria that I might have ingestited with a weird drink I had for breakfast. Just out of the hotel this morning, desperately looking for something to eat, I saw some people drinking this yellow thing, and I decided to try it. But it was cold, I should only drink something that has been boiled or that is in bottles. This drink was probably made with their tap water and some corn flour (from the taste of it). Quite thick. Not my favorite drink. And I’m expecting trots any time.
These days they are celebrating Diwali, one of the most important holiday for Hindu. Their Christmas, as they explain it. It lasts 10 days. Tomorrow will be the most important day, when thousands of goats will be sacrificed to gods (I read this is only a tradition of Nihang Sikhs). For many families it will be the only occasion to eat meat. I would like to participate to the celebrations, but tomorrow I must leave Nepal because my visa is expiring. It would have been interesting.
I like walking around the town. Janakpur is different from other places I’ve seen in Nepal. It’s grey and dusty, roads have few cars, many bikes and many people walking. And I’ve met only one other foreigern, from Australia.
This morning while I was walking around I could hear prayers and songs coming from speakers. I sat on the steps of a temple, surrounded by many small altars, and I looked at the people around me. A family (the man dressed in bleach white) entered escorted by a group of armed men. In the temples priests (or servants?) are dressed in rags, very skinny; women wear bracelets on both ankles and their feet are red. A man sells newspapers and he has a large group of men, sitting on the steps of the temple, reading his newspapers. A cow tied to the column of a temple. She also has a red forehead. A guy moaning as he prays. In another temple two men dressed in white are sitting on the floor and are talking, one with a long grey beard, and the usual skinny man that brings them water to wash their hands.
The cow is holy for hindy. They consider it their “mother”, or at least this is what I understood from a guy on the bus yesterday. Poor hindy, I wonder what they feel when they come to Europe and see what happens to their holy cow. There are many cows roaming freely around town, it looks like if they were also taking a stroll; people walk around them, most times ignoring them, sometimes they stop to put the red powder (tikka) on their foreheads. These white cows with red forehead are quite pretty. I wonder if they have a owner and how they find them?
Janakpur Women Development Centre
This morning I went to visit the Janakpur Women Development Centre, near Mithila village in Kuwa. It was interesting. The center was founded in 1989 I believe; here work women from the village, very poor, that have the chance to create a space out of the influence of the husband. They make pottery, carpets, bags. They sell to tourists and they export, even to Italy, but the lady couldn’t tell me where exactly. I bought a cup (I love cups) and some mirrors to hang on walls. I wanted to send them home, but the post office is not like those you find in Europe. There was nothing, no envelops or packages you could buy, only a tiny counter where I was told that I couldn’t send glass because it can be broken and they don’t want to take the risk. I will try from India. It’s a shame, it would have been nice to have an envelop with a stamp from Nepal.
Lunch with family
As soon as I got out of the post office I was invited to visit a family for a tea. That became a pork with puffed rice and vegetables, and a glass of grapefruit juice. I had just had lunch, but I couldn’t refuse. The mother of the family even gave me some bracelets and a necklace. Probably they hoped I would bring their 20yo son to Italy. They were a well-off family, compared to the average nepali, all children had been to university, one was in the army, the other in Kathmandu working for Qatar Airlines. But I’m european and when I work I probably earn 4 times what they do, so for them I’m rich, a good solution for the son. They had to invite me, they said, because I’m a guest in Nepal.
They also invited me to sleep with them, they hoped I could meet the father, that was at work, and another of the brothers. I excused myself saying that my bag was at the hotel. They were incredibly welcoming, and it was nice and funny at the same time, spending some time with them.
There’s a sudoku on the page of the Kathmandu Post that was used to wrap my mirrors. And I am scared of letting one off, in case I got diarrhea.
In the afternoon I went to Janaki Mandir, a temple described by the Lonely Planet as similar to Taj Mahal. It is very beautiful indeed, different from other temples I’ve seen in Nepal. It is built in honor of Rama and Sita, husband and wife. Women wear their most precious sari to come here.
There’s a guy with a white sheet around the waist and long hair wrapped in a tail, wild, my type. I don’t now if he’s a priest or he’s studying to become one, he crossed the courtyard a couple of times carrying wood.
While I was sitting there, looking at the people around me, there was always someone coming to talk. The usual questions. A guy was slightly different. It was a true interrogation. Favorite book, hobbies, movies, and so on. He asked me what I think of the political life in Nepal. I don’t know? You tell me. Not very good, he said. He thinks maoist, despite being part of the government now, aren’t happy and want to rule alone and they cause troubles. They are like HitlerS, he said. He liked to say “it means”, to confirm obvious facts. Like “do you eat meat” – Yes. “It means you are not vegetarian”. “Do you speak Nepali?” – no. “It means you cannot understand nepali”. I don’t understand the reason of this. It wasn’t annoying, it was interesting, this approach. While he was talking to me I couldn’t stop looking at the sweat between his nose and the mouth.
I heard many people complaining about the government. They say it’s corrupt and it keeps 95% of International Aid. It’s a shame. Nepal is a beautiful country that needs a good government and a boost to the economy. People deserve to live a better life.
In the evening I stopped to drink a fresh juice of tiny oranges and I saw that many people were drinking a white thing, a bit thick. I found out it was lassi (like a milkshake, but I don’t know what it was made of, it tasted of yogurt and lemon). Delicious. I wonder how they make it. Very refreshing, and it’s a blessing with this heat. I went back after dinner (fried fish very salty) and I had two more. I wonder if I will find lassi in India too? (I will have loads).
I was really surprised by the hospitality and warmth of people in Janakpur. At first I thought they were a bit intrusive and too curious, but they have been a good company throughout the day.
Yesterday Tanja and I woke up in Bardia at 4.30 am and arrived in Tansen at about 5pm (Hilde had to go straight to Kathmandu to get her visa to India).
The most urgent affair after 5 hours on top of the bus (between Butwal – or Bitwan? – and Tansen I couldn’t get on the roof, and inside it was terribly hot) was a nice cold shower to regenerate my muscles and fix my hair. I wouldn’t have minded some hot water, as Tansen is at 1372m above sea level and it’s not very warm. But you do what you can.
Shower done, we went out for dinner. We had momo (tibetan dumplings) in a nice little restaurant. And went to bed soon. At 6pm it’s dark and because there are no street lights, at 7pm it looks like it’s deep night. In any case the hotel closes at 9pm and there’s not much to do around town, so we didn’t mind to catch up some sleep.
Second Day in Tansen
This morning we were up at 6, because our room faces the road and the walls are so thin that you can hear all noises coming from outside. With the first cars and trucks (that use the horn any minute, to alert people they are coming), we also woke up. At 6.30 the guys at the reception woke up too and turned the TV on, with such a high volume that probably everybody in the street woke up.
It’s nice to wake up so early. At 11am we had already been on the hill above Tansen, and it looked as if the day was super long. Before we got to the hill we stopped to have a coke because the coffee we had for breakfast was so light that I didn’t have the caffeine I need to on through the day. In the shop where we bought the coke the lady was watching an old movie with Silvester Stallone (in English, I don’t think she understood anything) and I would have stayed there with her to watch the move drinking coke and eating chips. She would probably have enjoyed it too.
But we had to go and we continued to the top. From there you should be able to see the Himalaya, if it’s not cloudy. But it’s very
Later on we walked back to town. Very pretty. It’s up the side of the hill, an up and downs of tiny alleys, with many tailors and shoemakers (I tried to fix the boots again). Very pleasant indeed.
We spent the afternoon in a café for foreigners, with prices slightly higher but still low, with a nice courtyard with tables and trees, toilet paper in the toilets (!! quite unusual here in Nepal). We had a nice coffee (filter coffee, of course) under a tree. Then dinner with a veggie burger and at 9pm we were in bed.
I have always loved traveling, since I was in my mother's womb. I love to see new places, meet new cultures, eat the food of the world. Recently I discovered that pictures can sometimes show more than I can do in words.
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