Jesse and I just returned from a whirlwind 3 weeks filled with endless plates of dahl baht (the local dish of rice & veggies), countless cups of tea, smiling children with runny noses, and strange glances at the Amazonian blond girl.
The adventure began in Kathmandu, a mass of humanity that assaults your senses on every level. There are people and motorbikes swarming around you, cars honking, people yelling, smells of spices, smoke and urine, an energy so palpable you can almost touch it. We visited beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and shrines and the impact of their religion is felt in every aspect of life.
We also visited Pashupati which is where Hindus bring their dead to be burned on funeral pyres next to the river and later sweep the ashes into the water. The government kindly provides the wood for this. What struck me was the group of local onlookers sitting on the other side of the river just casually observing families getting rid of what they call "the used vessels" of their loved ones. Everything has a public, community feel to it here even death.
After two days in Kathmandu, we hit the road for a 5 hour drive to Pokhara and the gateway to the Annapurna mountain range. Just as we were arriving in Pokhara, the traffic stopped. Apparently, the students in Pokhara were protesting something and had parked jeeps across the main road into the city. In case you aren't familiar, strikes like this happen fairly regularly in Nepal so I almost felt like it was my right of passage to experience one.
Because of the frequency of the strikes, certain rules have been established so that ambulances, wedding parties and yes, tourists are allowed to pass through the barricades. Our guide unfolded a well-used sheet of paper from the dashboard with one word in Nepali written on it "Tourists", taped it to the windshield and we were whisked through an endless line of parked trucks, buses and motorbikes into an unnaturally quiet city.
Nepal is a very mountainous country but it’s not all straight up. It is up and down, then back up and then back down. Peaks and valleys repeated. Except for our hike to Nangi which included a grueling 5 hr UPHILL climb followed by another 1.5 of rolling flats. In case you missed my capitals, it was 5 hr of steps going up the side of a mountain. Imagine getting on the stairmaster, selecting the most difficult, high altitude setting, and putting the timer on 300 minutes. After that, though, I am pretty sure I can climb anything you put in front of me. Did I mention I lost 5 lbs on this trip?
I used my trekking poles to save my knees on this assault and apparently some old women we passed said confusedly, "Well, her face looks young but she is using old person sticks." This area was not used to seeing westerners and all their fancy hiking gear. Actually for the first couple days, we were in towns that tourists don't stop in and we didn't see another white face anywhere. Needless to say, blondie here and her 6 ft 4 escort turned quite a few heads walking around town. In one town - Kusma - we had some time to kill and so Jesse and I sat outside our "guesthouse" (which had never had western guests before) like the locals do and just played cards. Within a half hour, we had a small crowd around us trying to communicate. I had one teenage girl who kept repeating the same sentence to me over and over again like all of a sudden I would miraculously understand Nepali and say, "Oh yes! I understand now. You just had to repeat it to me 10 times." Kind of like how people sometimes speak to foreigners louder to "help" them understand. I had to laugh. Between my Lonely Planet translations (they all were able to tell me the time and where the bus was), my handful of Nepali words, hand gestures & funny faces, a small photo book of my home and family (a real hit!), we were able to have a.... interaction - not quite conversation. I am also pretty sure they were telling me to ditch Jesse and marry one of the boys sitting there. Or maybe we were just supposed to buy him dinner.
The last adventure I'll share was the flight out of Jomsom back to Pokhara, a 20 min flight and possibly the most intense I've experienced. First, the plane is so small it is a seat, aisle, seat. The cockpit was 2 feet away with no curtain so I could have grabbed the wheel if I thought it necessary. The "stewardess" comes down with a tray of hard candies and cotton balls… for your ears. We take off and wind through the narrowest valley, mountains towering above and around us. I have a photo of the window out of the cockpit and a wall of mountains in front of us - luckily we turned. Very crazy but I decided to remain calm and would only freak out if I saw the pilots freak out. They didn't.
Kate... who uses old person sticks