Nepal – there wasn´t much I knew about this country before entering it. A friend of mine had volunteered there once. The terrible earthquake of 2015. And of course, the residence of the highest mountain in the world. That was about it. So when we decided that we needed a break of India a short trip to Nepal seemed like a good idea. A little bit of trekking and some water rafting. Just two weeks to recharge our batteries before heading back into India. That was the plan. What I didn´t know was that this country would blow me away. That we would have to extend our visa. And that I was about to experience a trip of a lifetime. A trip that would turn out to be one of the most challenging and at the same time most rewarding things I had ever done so far.
Remember how we were stuck in Varanasi in India for a few days? Well, after six hours of finally leaving Varanasi we got to the border of India and Nepal. Mike and I had agreed on getting a 15-days-visa for Nepal. We knew there were other options of 30 days and 90 days but as we were just looking for a short break of India´s madness we felt two weeks would be enough. So why not save some money and get the cheapest option. (Obviously, it being us, we would end up paying way more than necessary at the end. But more about that later.) We got back on the bus ready to get to Kathmandu where we were told that it should only be another six hours. (You probably think now: “ONLY??” Jap, six hours is definitely “only”. Especially after having been in India.) If it would have been only those six hours… When we stopped for food after two hours some of the passengers decided that the air condition that had been broke since the morning should get fixed. So the driver, the conductor and some other men that had just showed up randomly tried to make it work again. For one whole hour. For those who don´t take busses that regularly – opening the windows works just as fine. Especially after you have been on the bus for about 16 hours and all you want in life is to get to your destination. So with the one hour delay (on top of the regular delay) – and with the air condition still not working – we continued our journey. The bus crawled up the mountains while the traffic got thicker and thicker. When we finally got to the top we could see Kathmandu down in the village. What we also saw: A queue of traffic that didn´t seem to end. An endless amount of cars all over the city as well as on the way in. On top of that you have to know that the roads in Nepal are bad. And when I say bad I mean terrible. What would take fifteen minutes in Europe will take one hour in Nepal. And when you then add the traffic – well you can imagine. It took us another two hours but after 21 hours on the bus we had made it – good evening Kathmandu, hello Nepal. We were in the country of the Himalayas and the next day we wanted to find out which trek we had to do to see the almighty mountain of all the mountains. But for now all we could think about was a cold beer. So another short taxi ride, a quick but efficient shower and we sat at the bar in our hostel, enjoying an ice cold “Everest” (I am not kidding. That is really the beer brand`s name.)
The next morning we were ready to find a trek that would suit us. We had met some English guys in the South of India who had told us that there was a trek that wasn´t as tough and long as the Everest Base Camp Trek but on which you could still see Everest. (On the Everest Base Camp Trek you walk until you get to the Base Camp from where the mountaineers who actually climb the summit of Everest start their climb up. It takes around 8-10 days to reach the Camp.) The trek where you didn´t have to do that but could still see Everest sounded like a brilliant plan to us. Both of us definitely didn´t have the money to pay for the Everest Base Camp Trek with a guide that cost around 1000 US Dollars. We also didn´t feel like we were fit and good enough for that trip as we aren´t really “trekkers”. Sure, we really like a good hike, but 15 days just walking – well, I don´t know about that. On top of that: To be able to do the Everest Base Camp Trek (everyone calls it the EBC) you have to fly to Lukla, the starting point of the trek. Which is only a 30 minutes flight but as it also a tiny plane that only holds about 15 people it costs 360 US Dollars return. So we looked up some travel books, searched the internet and went into some travel agencies. Only to find out something we didn´t like – there was no trek like that. If you want to see Mount Everest – you have three options. Option 1: You have to walk the Everest Base Camp Trek. Option 2: You walk up only two days of the EBC until you get to the “Everest View Hotel” but that means you still have to take the flight up to the starting point. And then you can see a little bit of the summit from very, very far away. Option 3: You take a scenic flight from Kathmandu on which you can see it from the air as well as a short touch down near Base Camp. Cost: 300 US$. As you can imagine: Option 3 was out of the equation straight away. It wasn´t just the money which was obviously way too much for us. It was also the laziness of it as we came to Nepal to do some trekking and not to just sit in an airplane. And yeah, it was obviously the money as well. Option 2 was no option either. I wasn´t going to pay that much money for a flight to then just do a two day hike where I would only see Everest very far in the distance. So there was only Option 1 left: to do the EBC. But we definitely didn´t have that money. So we realised: We had to just forget about seeing Everest and do another trek. We decided to go back to the hostel and get on the internet to do some research. Back on the hostel´s roof top we got talking to some other travellers. And found out that actually there was an Option 4: Do the EBC by yourself. Without a guide. Now that sounded like a little bit of a wild idea to us. Walking up to the highest mountain in the world just with a map by ourselves? We got to know that actually most of the travellers in our hostel were doing exactly that. Some were trekking the EBC, some were doing the Annapurna Circle (AC) or the Annapurna Base Camp Trek (ABC) – two treks on the other side of Nepal – but almost no one was hiring a guide but instead they walked by themselves. We listened to peoples stories and read up some about the EBC Trek – but to be frank with you I didn´t feel ready for it. I was just not going to walk up there by myself with my fear of cliffs and my lack of trekking experience. Even though Mike was more inclined to do it than I was, after some thinking he agreed that we were just not ready for it. So we put the idea of seeing Everest down to rest. I mean we could always come back to Nepal and do it then right? (Yeah, as if that would ever happen…) Instead we decided to do the Poon-Hill-Trek: A four day hike up to a bit more than 3000 metres that was described as “easy to moderate”. (Just as a comparison: EBC is “difficult”.) It sounded probably a little bit too easy but hey on its way you could see Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world. We decided if people could do EBC by themselves then we could definitely do this trek without a guide. So we read up the distances we had to walk every day, where to sleep for the night, and how much money to take. We went and got our trekking permits as well as a permit to be allowed to trek in the Annapurna region. And the next morning we got on a bus that would get us to Pokhara – a lovely little town at a lake in the west of Kathmandu and the closest town to the starting point of our trek.
Poon Hill Trek – Length: 4 days, Altitude: 1070 metres to 3185 metres
We got to Pokhara eight hours after leaving Kathmandu. Just so you know: The distance between the two cities is 200 km. A typical example for Nepal´s bad streets. We checked into our hostel, put the stuff that we would need for the four days in our small front packs (we would leave the big backpacks in the hostel) and the next morning we rose at 6 am to get the bus to a little town outside of Pokhara where the actual trek started. If you remember I mentioned earlier that Mike and I would never classify ourselves as “trekkers”. So we don´t really have any “trekking” equipment. Which in our opinion was no issue for this trek: T-Shirt, sport shorts and running shoes should be sufficient enough. One thing I owned though that Mike didn´t was a water bottle. We had read that during the trek you can refill your bottles at drinking water stations. Anyone of you who has ever had the same plastic bottle for a while knows that it starts smelling really bad at one point. So you really need a water bottle which isn´t made out of plastic. I still carry the bottle with me I once bought for our trip to Ethiopia but Mike lost his on the way somewhere. So at 6 am in the morning in the taxi on the way to the bus stop Mike realised that actually he really needed this bottle. And believe it or not there really was one shop open which actually sold them. (No need to say that Mike wasn´t in the best position for some good haggling so he paid way over the top. But it definitely was worth every penny.) We then got on the bus which dropped us of at the starting point of the trek and we finally started walking.
The next three days we walked. And walked. And walked. We walked through towns and villages. Hiked up mountains and went down into valleys. We walked past green fields, white rivers and amazing landscapes. But most of all we walked a hell of a lot of steps. To be precise – more than 3000 steps. And that was just on the first day. Needless to say that after two hours of steps the fun of the hike goes slightly down. But that feeling when you take the last step and there is the town and you know this is where you´ll stay the night – absolute priceless. The first night we slept in a really cute guesthouse overlooking the mountains. And for the first time in two months it was actually cold. We got our jumpers, scarves and gloves out and sat overlooking the hills while having a hot cup of tea. Such a good feeling. (At this point we didn´t know how much tea we would have in the next weeks…)
The next day started with – have a guess – oh yes, more steps. They led to a waterfall and into the forest. And it also led us into the rain. A heavy rain that wouldn´t stop for the next hours. Wet and understandably not in the best of moods we arrived in Ghorepani, our stop for the night. Where things turned around: The weather cleared, there was a hot fire and the guesthouse served hot Masala Tea. (Masala Tea is black tea with a lot of milk, sugar and some spices. THE tea to drink in Nepal.)
The next morning the highlight of the trek awaited us – watching the sunrise on Poon Hill (3185 metres) overlooking the Himalayas including Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world (8091 metres). And what a sunrise it was. After walking up the mountain for an hour in the dark we stood watching the sun rising up behind the mountains while drinking hot tea. It was one of those moments you will always remember. Where you stand in awe of nature, feeling emotional and thankful to be part of this world and to be able to witness a beauty like this. We spent a good hour up there and then went back down into town, had breakfast and walked on. After a few hours of walking I noticed how quite Mike had gotten. Now don´t get me wrong we don´t talk all the time when we´re walking. But still every now and then someone makes a comment about something. Mike though hadn´t been saying anything for a good hour now. I asked him if anything was up and it just burst out of him:” I don´t think I can leave Nepal without having seen Everest. I just can´t do it. I have to see it!” Bam. That was a statement. I told him to really overthink it and make sure that he really wanted to do it. Was he willing to pay the money for the flight? Did he think we would be able to make our way without a guide? Was he sure he wanted to walk nonstop for up to 15 days? He fell quite again and then 30 minutes later I heard him say behind me: “I´m going to do it. Yes, I´m doing it.” Anyone who knows me knows that I don´t back down from a challenge. If someone around me does something challenging I have to do it as well. And if my boyfriend says he is going to walk the Everest Base Camp Trek, well then there is no way that I am not doing it. Even if I am scared. And oh yes was I scared. Scared of all the unknown cliffs that I was sure would turn up after every corner of the way. But damn me if he was doing it and I wasn´t. So somewhere in the hills of Nepal walking down a muddy path it was decided: Mike and I would do Everest Base Camp!
Back in Kathmandu
With that decision made we couldn´t really think about anything else anymore. We finished our trek the next day, spent another night in Pokhara and then went back straight to Kathmandu – there was so much to sort out. First of all we had to get a visa extension. Remember? We had only gotten 15 days, which now wasn´t enough time at all. So we went to the visa office, paid a fee way more than the original 30 days visa would have been and were now able to officially stay another extra 15 days. We also had to get a national park permit for the Everest region this time and another trekking permit. We then went to a travel agent who booked our flights to Lukla. You might think now:” TRAVELAGENT? Isn´t that a little bit 1990? Just book the flights online.” Normally I would agree. The difference here was: When you walk the EBC you might have an idea of how many days it will take you. But then you always have to allow for an extra couple of days in case you´re not feeling well because of the altitude or if you want to do a detour, etc. So you have an idea of the date you want to fly back out but you can´t be sure that it will actually turn out to be that date. If you book your flights with an agent he gives you the option to just ring him two days before you want to fly back and he then changes your flight to that day. (We would see what “change the flight” actually means when we wanted to leave Lukla again two weeks later…) So it was official. We had our visa, permits and flights – all we needed now was some actual trekking gear. Because even though the running shoes worked well for the Poon Hill Trek we didn´t know if they would be good enough for what awaited us. And we assumed that shorts and a T-Shirt weren´t really the right clothing for a height of 5000 metres.
For those of you who have never been to Kathmandu – it`s a town full of trekking shops. Basically every shop sells everything you need – from boots, to fleeces, socks, gloves and hiking poles. So we went to this one shop that seemed perfect: On the main road, but still quite small. A shop that sold everything but where you could tell there was room for price negotiations. The next two hours we spent haggling our lives out. We literally negotiated about every piece of clothing we bought. The biggest issue though were the hiking boots. With prices starting at 60 US$ we said no straight away. We then looked for some trousers and after they were decided came back to the boots. Got the price down a little bit but then haggled over a T-Shirt. This went on for a good two hours until we had everything we needed and the boots were down at 40 US$ with the promise of the shop owner to buy the boots back for a small amount of money when we came back from the trek. We each left the shop with everything we felt we could possibly need for this trip: One Trousers with a zip (I don´t think I would ever see Mike in one of those), one Nylon-T-Shirt that absorbs sweat better than regular cotton ones, one fleece jacket, two pairs of socks, one pair of boots and one pair of hiking poles. Gloves, hats and scarves we already possessed and I had also gained a down jacket from another traveller we met in the hostel the night before. We made a detour into the supermarket to buy some purifying water tablets (as buying water gets really expensive in the mountains), trail mix, muesli bars and the cream of the cream: two Snickers bars each. (Which are insanely expensive in Nepal.) For that moment when you really need one. Back in the hostel we then repacked our backpacks. As we would carry our bags ourselves, everything we didn´t need on this trek got taken out and only the things we would really, really need were packed.
We were ready. Immensely down in our budget but so excited for what was to come. We had done our research, knew where to walk and sleep each night and when to have a rest day due to the altitude. Our phones and cameras were charged to the maximum and we had enough money in our pockets to last us the trip. (As there aren´t any ATMS up there.) The next morning we got up at 5 am, took a taxi to the airport and at 7 am Mike, I and another 15 people were sitting in the tiniest airplane I have ever been in on the way to the most dangerous airport in the world. To walk 15 days to see the highest mountain on this planet. The plane rolled on, got some speed and took off. Mount Everest, we were coming for you!
… Some more impressions from the Poon Hill Trek…