We arrived in Kathmandu at 11am. Having used booking.com to book our accommodation and airport pick up we hoped this would go smoothly, a little weary after 14 hours traveling through different time zones.
Of course our pick up wasn’t there waiting for us! We got out of the airport and the stifling heat and humidity hit us hard. We were soon bombarded by people trying to offer us taxis, hotels and package tours. Luckily there were ‘Tourist Police’ around and this did keep things relatively calm. They were friendly and left us alone to wait, after discovering we were in fact a couple and no I wasn’t single!
We’d decided we would get a Nepalese sim-card for our time there and I headed back into the airport to get one while Pato waited outside for the driver. They were friendly at the desk and loaded the sim card and got it working in our phone. I had to give them a copy of my passport and a passport photograph. According to the tourist police this is to enable them keep a register of all tourists using sim cards in case of kidnapping or theft. It cost $13 for 5gb. We used the phone a lot for various reasons and barely used 1GB in ten days.
The driver arrived half an hour late and we were off into the absolute chaos that is Kathmandu. The dust took us by surprise, probably 90% of the locals were wearing protective masks. It created a haze that entirely covered any views of the cramped city or the mountains.…what mountains?! The driving was something else. Impossible to describe, imagine a two lane road with seven rows of traffic spread across both, going in both directions, with the odd cow sitting in the middle to avoid! It was utter madness and we soon realised why the driver had been late to pick us up.
We got to our hotel feeling pretty phased by the whole experience. It didn’t feel like we were in a particularly nice part of the city. Hotel Yambu was friendly and a relative oasis from the outside world. The room was not clean but it did have air-con and that was great. After a cold shower Bhuwan our trek organiser from ‘Authentic Adventures’ met us at reception and we headed over to his office to sort out all the paperwork for the trek. He sorted out all the permits we would need and had our bus ticket for the next day ready. It felt well organised and he showed us around the touristy part of the city called Thamel. It was far calmer with far less traffic (pedestrian zone…mostly) We felt a lot happier there and discovered it was in fact under 5minutes from the hotel. We had dinner, found some cheap walking poles and headed back to get some sleep, exhausted.
Day 2 – Kathmandu to Pokhara
We were up early as the coach left central Kathmandu at 7:30am. It was comfortable enough and actually had air-con. It was fascinating to watch the chaos on the roads and the landscape changing as we got closer to Pokhara. Getting teasing glimpses of the Himalayas at times. We had a couple of stops along the way, arriving at Pokhara at around 15:30pm. There were taxis at the bus station and tourist police overlooking what was going on, again it was relatively relaxed finding a taxi to take us to our hotel.
Dawa our guide met us at our hotel and we headed for a walk around Pokhara together. He seemed nice with a broad smile. Although it was tricky to communicate at times with his broken english.
We found Phewa lake and enjoyed taking in the slower pace of Pokhara. It was cleaner and felt friendlier than Kathmandu. After a nice meal we decided to have an early night in preparation for the start of our trek the following day.
Day 3: Trek day 1 – Pokhara (1400m) to Ghandruk (1940m)
The cities are noisy places with temple bells ringing before dawn so we woke up early. Having taken as much out of our bags as we could we were still left with heavy rucksacks which was a little concerning. We had a good breakfast and Dawa and our taxi were punctual at 8am. It took an hour and a half to get to Nayapul. Along the way we witnessed more chaotic roads. The Himalayas started to really come in to view on the journey and we both started to get excited.
The trekking from Nayapul to Ghandruk took around 5 hours with one stop half way up at Kimche. After passing the checkpoint in Birethanti just beyond Nayapul we followed the dust road for around 2 hours. It was hot and humid and it took some time to get used to the weight of our bags on our backs. Immediately we noticed how dry the landscape was. Dusty rice paddies lining the road, and a low river running past.
A lot of people start trekking in Ghandruk as it is accessible by road, this meant that there were a few jeeps and coaches going past us disturbing the dust which wasn’t too pleasant. However we were so excited to finally be out on the trek after weeks of planning we didn’t care.
The second part of the trek involved joining a path away from the road and onto many many steps up. It was a bit of a shock to the system and got pretty tough when we got to a sign after an hour of climbing stairs that said ‘4,525 steps left to Ghandruk.’ Narrowly beating the weather we got to ‘Ghandruk Guesthouse’ as the heavens opened. First it hailed, then there was a thunder storm, and finally the rain came. We watched from the comfort of the teahouse. The room was basic but comfortable, best of all they had hot showers and clean toilets.
As our first experience of a teahouse we loved it. The owners were friendly, the food was tasty and they understood my need for gluten free food, even making me some delicious cornbread that I know isn’t easy to make without wheat flour.
Ghandruk is a terraced village standing at 1940 meters, mostly made up of teahouses and German bakeries! The locals were friendly and it was pretty quiet as we’d chosen low season. Along the way we met several Indian families out walking and ended up starring in a number of selfies, we felt like celebrities! Sherpas had overtaken us carrying huge sacks of rice with a band on their foreheads to hold the weight, putting our slower pace to shame. Dawa on the other hand approved of our pace ‘Nepalese style!’ He said. We decided that we would try to have one break a day at half way, rather than many short breaks.
Day 4: Trek day 2- Ghandruk (1940) to Tadapani (2630m)
We woke up early for sunrise after a good sleep. Breakfast was brought to us while we sat in the garden and watched the snowy peaks of Annapurna South and Machapuchare (known as Fishtail) glowing pink as the sun rose above them. It was simply beautiful. The mountains finally felt close. What a location for breakfast. The sun soon warmed us up and we were ready to head off for day 2, feeling surprisingly fit and strong. Filtered water was available at a small cost so we refilled our camel-packs and off we went.
We saw lots of very sweet baby goats bouncing around, and many donkeys some carrying more than you’d think possible on their backs. Most of the walk took us through beautiful rhododendron forests in full bloom. Of course there were lots more stairs too. It was nice to see so much colour after the dusty, dry first day. We found the walking pretty easy, after all the steps of day one this was a bit of a surprise.
Tadapani is a small village in the middle of the forest standing at 2630m. It was busier than Ghandruk had been and had a small market stall with tourist junk. The views were shrouded in cloud when we got there but we hoped it may appear at some point.
We got to our teahouse ‘Hotel Grand View Lodge’ not long before the rain came. We realised that perhaps the weather wasn’t going to be as good as we had expected it to be for our trek. A pattern was starting to emerge with how the clouds behaved. Clear in the morning, cloudy by midday, bad weather by 3pm. We got to Tadapani sooner than expected after 5 hours walking with one stop. This meant we had a lot of hanging about to do. The locals had recently slaughtered a buffalo and were cutting it up near the teahouse. This meant many birds were circling and swooping in, including a big black Kite. This was far better watching than any TV!
When the rain stopped we went for a walk and found a pack of cards in one of the small shops. Although soon after buying the cards we realised neither of us could remember any card games (ooops)!
The teahouse was less friendly and far busier. A group of perhaps 30 Japanese people arrived but were surprisingly quiet and sweet natured. By evening the main dining/living area was full but had a nice atmosphere. With a mixture of guides, sherpas, locals and tourists sitting together around a large table. A big thunderstorm came so close that the metal pipework sparked next to the table!
Day 5: Trek day 3 – Tadapani (2630m) to Dobato (3448m)
Tadapani to Dobato was one of the most beautiful days trekking. We slept ok and were up early hoping to make the most of the sunny part of the day. It wasn’t long before we saw the first small patches of snow. There were steep climbs and winding paths on the edges of steep drops.
We stopped at Isharu after the steepest climb of the day. The owners were lovely. While we were drinking a nice hot drink the rain started. We decided to wait it out and luckily within half an hour it had stopped. We hurried on our way.
The amount of snow increased as we crossed through Dobato pass. It felt like we’d entered an enchanted valley, it was very pretty. It took another 2 and a half hours from there to get to Dobato. A lot of that was us sliding about in sludgy snow climbing over rocks and tree roots just starting to feel the effects of the altitude on our bodies. When Dobato came into sight it was a relief. As we approached we could see the teahouse was understandably far simpler in design than the previous nights.
We were greeted warmly and Dawa showed us to our room. It can only be described as a long corridor of rooms made of planks of wood and pallets covered in thin sheets of plastic. It was FREEZING. We liked the room and could appreciate the difficulty of getting the materials that high up.
We soon headed to the main living space where they had a fire to keep the place warm. All the teahouses had a heating system that involved a metal barrel as a stove with a metal pipe attached up and out of the tea house. We had another long evening of waiting around to do. Luckily by now we had a couple of card games stored in our memories…!
We met some strange people at Dobato. A group went off to meditate in the freezing cold, and a lone female traveller started washing and drying her underwear on the owners stove. I felt very giggly as if drunk, and felt my chest a little tighter than normal. Pato felt similar but to less of an extent. Ignoring it and being calm helped it subside as we adjusted to being at that altitude.
Again the weather was bad in the afternoon and there were some big blizzards. By evening we were pretty bored but had at least adjusted to the altitude and felt ok.
All the lodging costs and menus at all the teahouses we stayed at were governed by the ‘Sanctuary Tourism Committee Nepal’ that work with the teahouse owners to ensure tourists are treated well while trekking in the Himalayas. while they get a fair price. Understandably the higher the altitude the more expensive the food, also the less meat or vegetables you get with the rice. In fact don’t order meat, there isn’t a lot of point, you get a tiny chunk or two and many many bones. Surprisingly the cost of lodging was mostly cheaper at higher altitude.
As night fell a group of Australians arrived bursting in from the cold, looking a little worse for wear. One man was going around each of the groups in the teahouse asking for a nurse. Ten minutes later I was standing over him removing embedded stitches from his face using tweezers and nail scissors with shaky freezing cold hands. While Pato shone a torch for me! That got the adrenaline going. I was pleased with how well it went and we all went back to the warmth of the teahouse for a hot chocolate. What a man, he had some truly amazing life stories to share, and at 78 years old he was remarkable!
Day 6: Trek day 4 – Dobato (3448) to Sistibang (3020m) via Muldai view point (3637m)
It was a very early start for us as we wanted to get to Muldai view point for sunrise. We left at 6:30am with most of the other tourists from the teahouse. That forty minute walk was actually the toughest bit of walking for me of the entire trek. The altitude really affected my chest, it felt like something was crushing it, making it very hard to breath and my legs felt heavy. The snow didn’t help as every step took concentration not to slip. I had to make my way up slowly and everyone else got there before me. But I didn’t give up.
We got to the view point and the cloud cover was disappointing. However with patience came reward. The view of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna South appeared from beneath the cloud for just long enough to get some beautiful photographs and be made speechless. The Himalayas sure are mighty mountains.
We got back down to the teahouse quickly sliding down on the snow. A thick covering had settled overnight. The plan was to get all the way to Khopra ridge and stay the night there to see how the weather was for getting to our ultimate destination- Khayer lake. Some of the people staying in Dobato had concerned us, telling us that we wouldn’t get to the lake. The whole reason we’d chosen that particular trekking circuit was to get to a higher altitude than we had been before, and to see the sacred Khayer lake beyond Khopra ridge.
While Dawa our guide was great company; keeping us laughing, and looking after us at the teahouses, we had come to realise he wasn’t comfortable doing anything even slightly technical. We’d been talking to other guides and groups the previous evening and they’d been telling us about the high pass to Khopra from Dobato. Dawa would only take the lower pass.
We headed off on what would be Pato’s toughest day. It was a relief to feel ok after struggling to get to Muldai point that morning. We set off and I felt good as new. The paths were different to the previous days. A track that lead us into the jungle then up and along the side of exposed hills where there had been recent fires. We didn’t have to walk far before we found very large cat prints in the snow. A leopard Dawa said. They carried on for a fair distance before we found a freshly killed adolescent yak in our path. We didn’t see the cat but it was exciting to know it was nearby. We’d been disappointed by the lack of wildlife about and again we didn’t see anything else.
The path took us steeply down into the jungle, across open meadows, and up and across rivers. It was varied and fun. Although we knew we had gone down a lot… and that meant we’d have to go up again! We kept going, planning to have a break in Sistibang before doing the final ascent to Khopra.
We got to Sistibang after a tough ascent and were surprised by how well built the teahouse was. We weren’t impressed by the uninterested and unfriendly owners mind you. It was 1pm and already the clouds had done their thing of collecting together in a heavy grey mass and sure enough the rain and thunder came soon after we arrived. Pato was exhausted, a combination of lack of sleep and lack of food. He needed to recharge his energy stores and ate his way through snack bars and nuts before coming back to life a little later.
The rain didn’t stop, then the thunder came. We got a little down and after a couple of hours with no change and while looking up at Khopra and seeing the extent of the storms we decided to get a room for the night. We would have to do Khopra the following day. This also killed the dream of getting to Khayer Lake. Knowing it was a ten hour round trip. The weather alone was going to thwart that opportunity. This meant that we would have to shorten the trek from 9 days to 7. This was a real blow.
The teahouse was nicely built from stone and wood, and we had a relatively nice room. The toilets flushed and there was even soap on the sink. Its just a shame they didn’t light the fire so it was really cold all day and evening. There was a French group also sitting out the storm that ended up staying. We asked Dawa about heading up to Khopra for the sunrise, he told us it wasn’t worth it… we weren’t convinced.
Staying there made for a long day hanging around. We got out for a walk when there was a gap in the rain but other than that it was lots of card games, writing and talking. We went to bed early as it got dark and there was no electricity.
Day 7: Trek day 5 – Sistibang to Kopra Ridge (3660m) and onwards to Swanta (2200m)
Day 7, the furthest distance covered, the highest point we would reach and it marked the beginning of the descent. Frustratingly we heard the French group get up and leave for Khopra ridge at 4:10am. We were tempted to go with them! But didn’t feel that we could having had Dawa say no the night before. After a restless couple of hours we got up and were ready to leave by 7am. The weather was cloudy which made us worry that we wouldn’t see the view of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna South from Khopra. It was quite a steep but steady ascent. It took around 2 hours 20minutes to get to the ridge; through forest, up through the ruins of an old village and across farm land full of yaks. Hurray! Animals we’d wanted to see ticked off the list at last. Big fluffy black and white yaks with big bells around their necks. In fact we heard them long before we could see them. It was nice to walk without our rucksacks. We’d left them in Sistibang to pick up on our way down.
We reached the teahouse at Khopra ridge and just around the corner we found…. perhaps one of the best views we have ever seen. Standing there so close to those incredible mountains was emotional. We’d made it. That was what we were in Nepal for. It was also frustrating to glimpse the path that lead up to Khayer lake knowing we wouldn’t be walking it. We had a hot chocolate and took in the view before it disappeared behind thick cloud 5 minutes later. With mixed emotions and heavy hearts we took in the moment.
With a lot of distance to cover we didn’t stay long. Getting back down to Sistibang in 1 hour we were moving quickly! We had a drink and grabbed our rucksacks and were on our way. Dawa had said ‘All of the down today’ which was a welcome change from ‘up’ over the past few days! We set off from Sistibang knowing that time and the weather were not on our side. If there was one day we were to get wet it was that day. We walked down through the jungle, passed nomads with their herds of sheep and goats, passed locals cutting leaves from far up tall trees, passed little settlements and flowing rivers. A lot of the trek consisted of a steep descent into the jungle sliding about in thick mud. It hurt our legs to be traveling downward after so much up!
The worst part was when we crossed a river and started climbing up again. Neither of us had anticipated any ‘up’ on that day! It was difficult psychologically. The rain was spitting and you could hear the thunderstorm in the distance. We almost stopped to put our coats on, but after 7.5 hours walking we turned a corner and found ourselves looking down over rice paddies, and there in the distance stood Swanta and our teahouse ‘The Candle Inn’. We couldn’t have been happier or more relieved to see it.
Pun the owner of the Candle Inn was a joy to be around. She ushered us into her private kitchen and cooked us delicious fresh vegetables from the garden with rice. Our room was a double with its own toilet and cold shower, we couldn’t believe it! Dawa took us for a walk around the village before we settled down to some more cards and dinner. We felt so happy that evening. We were shattered, our bodies ached, and we loved it.
Day 8: Trek day 6 – Swanta (2200) to Ulleri (1960m)
We knew Swanta to Ulleri would be tough although Swanta stands at 2020m while Ulleri is only 150m lower down, we had to descend to the bottom of the valley and up through Ghorepani that stands at 2860m. So it was a lot of down followed by a lot of up followed by more down! The first part of the walk was very pretty crossing more rice paddies and following the river. Then it was a sharp ascent up the side of Poon Hill to Ghorepani. We joined the main Annapurna circuit trail there. The track was steep and we met lots of donkeys coming down in the opposite direction.. We looked out over the rhododendron forest and we could just make out the viewing platform at Muldai point on the other side of the valley. It was funny to think we’d been there a couple of days earlier.
The last kilometre or so involved A LOT of steps. Ghorepani was bustling with tourists. Dawa knew a nice restaurant with a terrace where we stopped for a break. We watched the world go by for a while and had a rest.
From Ghorepani it was all downhill. Dawa had told us Ulleri would be even busier as people stay there to do the short trek to Poonhill. So we stopped in a little village just before Ulleri. This was our worst experience of a teahouse. We call it ‘Mothmageddon’. It was built precariously on the edge of a steep cliff. It was unfinished and up on the first floor they had a layer of insulation paper covering the floor to hide all the holes to the outside. The room had a beautiful view but on closer inspection we discovered many gaps with a big drop underneath us.
As night came the moths were out in the thousands. They kept getting into our room through the holes. It was very disconcerting. After battling the bugs for an hour and blocking up as many of the holes as we could using our bags and clothes we settled to sleep. As I settled on my little bed a large spider crawled up the wall a few inches from my face… lets just say I got in Pato’s bed and hid under my sleeping bag for the rest of the night.
Day 9: Trek day 7 – Banthanti to Nayapul (1070m)
All the down! We got to Ulleri in no time at all and from there it was the famous 3200 steps down towards Nayapul. The trail was packed with tourists, guides and sherpas carrying even bigger loads than we’d seen others carrying. Some of them doing so in flip flops! A donkey passed carrying perhaps a hundred chickens in cages on its back, followed by a very old lady carrying a huge sack of rice. It was funny going down the steps as everyone else struggled up past us. It also made us realise how glad we were that we’d chosen an ‘off the beaten track’ route seeing how busy it was.
Walking downhill was a nice change for our bodies although we felt it in our knees doing all those steps. It was also one of the prettiest days with lovely views of the jungle, and the mountains. We took our time knowing it was our last day of trekking.
As we got closer to Nayapul we joined a dirt road. We walked through Birethanti where we saw a woman chasing monkeys away from her crops. They really were naughty and kept teasingly coming back to wind her up! I have to admit it was fun to watch. There were an abundance of butterflies fluttering about in the breeze, and more baby goats bouncing around.
We passed the check point in the centre of Birethanti and from there we knew it wasn’t far to go. At that point our bodies gave up. The last kilometre was painful. It was hot, the bags felt heavier and our legs ached. When our taxi came into view it was a real relief! We collapsed into the taxi and zoned out on the drive back to Pokhara.
We had our first proper shower for over a week back at the hotel and this helped us come back to reality. The hotel had stored a lot of our stuff for us for free, and it was all there safe and sound. We found somewhere to eat on TripAdvisor and went and had a real feast and a beer or two. Although sad that the trekking was over, it was nice to be back to civilisation. Dawa had invited us for a day out in Pokhara the next day and was meeting us at 9am so we went to bed early and slept like babies!
7 days, 65km walked with a total altitude gain of over 6000m DONE!
Day 10 Pokhara
Dawa was outside our hotel room at 9am sharp. We woke up feeling relatively good considering what we’d put our bodies through over the past week. The weather was beautiful and the view of the mountains from our hotel room was gorgeous. We headed out having no idea what Dawa had planned. We crossed the lake on a rowing boat and then proceeded to climb many many stairs up to the Peace Pagoda (yes our legs complained a lot!) We then had a walk down into the residential part of the city where we felt like aliens.
We met an elderly woman that was trying to catch a monkey with a rope, she didn’t succeed and we aren’t quite sure what she wanted it for! We did some touristy things in the city and then spent the rest of the day relaxing having bid farewell to Dawa.
Later we headed out for dinner and had a gorgeous thai green curry. While we were eating we could hear a thunderstorm approaching. By the time we’d finished it was directly overhead. I marched Pato back to the hotel where I could hide and he went to play with his camera on the balcony. It was a big storm that lasted over two hours!
Day 11 Pokhara
We had a lovely last day in Pokhara. Neither of us are very good at relaxing and having no plan, but we did just that and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a walk by the lake and spent the rest of the day walking around the main city taking in the sights. We saw a cow chilling outside a shop as if waiting for it to open! We ended up going back to the same restaurant as the previous day for more curry, yes it was that good! The owner recognised us and we had a nice chat. He told us we’d come at the wrong time of year for getting to Khayer Lake. We wish Bhuwan had told us that when we were in the planning stages.
Day 12 Pokhara to Kathmandu
Pokhara airport is interesting. Probably the most old fashioned airport we’ve seen. But our flight went smoothly, in fact Yeti airlines put us on an earlier flight for free, although that then meant we had a long wait in Kathmandu for the transport we had organised through Hotel Yambu. We had decided it was better the devil we knew, when on a budget so headed back to the same hotel, besides the air-con was good and Pokhara had been so hot we were looking forward to it. We had a walk around Thamel and found some dinner before having another early night. It is however pretty difficult to sleep in Kathmandu. The city doesn’t seem to sleep and then you have the pre-dawn temple bells ringing just as you’ve got to sleep.
Day 13 Last day in Kathmandu
We decided to be a little adventurous and walk to the Monkey temple 45minutes away from our hotel. We used Google maps with our Nepalese sim-card. It was a very hot and humid day which made the walk a little difficult. It was interesting to walk outside of Thamel and take in local life. Some of the city is so incredibly dusty (not helped by the earthquake in 2015) and there are still ruins of buildings that have been left to crumble.
We got to the temple and had yet more steps to climb although our legs were better so it wasn’t too bad. We were bombarded by people haggling with themselves trying to sell us things as we climbed the stairs up to the temple. There were lots of monkeys playing about.
We got to the top and were taken aback by the view of the city even with the haze caused by pollution, it was stunning. The temple itself was a strange mix of people, some there for religious purposes, some locals selling things, some tourists and lots of monkeys! At times we felt like intruders on the religious ceremonies that were going on, then you’d look over at a shop full of tourists and think ‘oh ok!’ We guess the temple stays well maintained thanks to the tourists.
We walked back to Thamel with the weather getting even hotter to find ‘The Garden of Dreams’, what an oasis hidden away from the madness of Kathmandu. It was surreal walking on luscious green grass, being surrounded by pretty flowers, fountains, statues of elephants and palm trees, with little chipmunks running around playfully. We relaxed and enjoyed the peace until it got too hot to stay there.
It is far cheaper to go to the local supermarket and get a can of beer than to buy it in the restaurants so we got a couple and headed back to the hotel to enjoy them while they were cold.
We reflected on our time in Nepal over dinner, the positives and the negatives. Overall we were a little taken aback having found people less friendly than others had described. Often we’d just felt like we were looked at as money and not as people. It was a shame as we’d had high hopes having heard other peoples experiences. Although the friendly people we’d come across were lovely. We headed back to the hotel to pack and sleep, excited to think Kuala Lumpur was our next stop. What a fortnight.
Never give up. If it’s a choice between turning back early, defeated by the weather or spending the time you have left on a trek waiting, just in case the opportunity arises and the weather is kind to you. 100% give it the chance. Perhaps if we’d stayed at Khopra as originally planned we’d have made it to the lake afterall. We will never know if we made the right decision.