for 22 days
Namaste! Nepal was recently voted by travelers in 150 countries as the # 2 country to visit, just being beat out by New Zealand. Nepal has 8 out of the 14 highest mountains in the world which provides excellent outdoor activities: trekking, hiking, white water rafting, kayaking. It also has a beautiful sense of architecture in the areas in and around Kathmandu (in Patan and Bhachtapur) with high buttresses and magnificently carved figures throughout the woodwork. The country is situated between India and Tibet, so it’s a mixture of both Hindi and Buddhist cultures, but without any strife whatsoever. Buddhist statues and stupas (temple sort of thing) lay on the same spot as Hindu statues and temples. Nepal is also the only Hindu kingdom in the world, but the Buddhist cultures seems more visible to us as tourists.
Going to Nepal to trek in the mountains was one of the “must do” items along with African Safari. We were told by everyone who has traveled extensively that Nepal and trekking were one of their most enjoyable experiences. Well, that sounded good enough for us. But, all we could gather was we would just go for a long walk in the mountains (not climbing) for days or weeks on end and stay in local “tea houses” along the way. We would also see the traditional villages and culture that is pretty unchanged for thousands of years. What we didn’t know was that we were setting out for the highest walking pass in the world at 5,415 meters (17,799 feet) which is higher than any mountain in Europe and the oxygen content is ˝ that at sea level. This is also a very common place for people to die every year from altitude sickness. Yikes! We didn’t find out these little extras until a few days before departing from Kathmandu, so we needed to do a bit of cram studying up on what we getting ourselves into.
Well to say the views and mountains were stunning, would be a great understatement. Trekking in the mountains of Nepal was probably what most people think a trip around the world is: relaxing, beautiful, quiet, enchanting villages, old monasteries, fascinating and kind village people. Well for once the stereotype was true. It was even double that in our perceptions as we just came out of our 3 month trip in India where it was like visiting a wild circus act in an oven. I don’t think there could be 2 more distinctly different experiences of countries that boarder each other. Thank God we traveled in that order to enjoy each country that much more.
One of my special favourites about trekking were all of the old suspension bridges made from wood and rope with snow-capped mountains towering over the lush green rice fields below. There are plenty of high gorges and rivers to cross in these canyons between the mountains. It was really fun walking on the occasionally shaky crossings 300-500 feet above the icy river crashing down below. Real post card kind of moments, but fortunately no one was around to sell postcards.
For the trek, we hired a porter (who was a mountaineer guide slumming it in the off season) to carry our gear for our 3 week journey into the mountains. Basically 3 days of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a huge bag of medicine. About 25 kilos - 55 pounds. Luckily our guide, Lao, was interested in doing his normal guide stuff and walk with us, instead of just carrying our gear. He told us of his culture, being born into a Hindu caste, but switching to Buddhism as it seamed to be a fair system for him to move up in his life. He also told us of the pain in the ass tourist that triple load the porters and how his neck was half crooked his first week as a porter 10 years ago. The porters (basically the same thing as a “Sherpa” but Sherpa is an ethnic group that porters up Mt. Everest) in Nepal carry huge loads on their backs which are secured by a big strap that goes around their forehead and is strapped to the load behind. So if you can imagine lugging 50 to 100 pounds bent over attached to a cloth strap to your forehead, wearing sandals (flip flops), for 3 weeks straight up a mountain in the rain and snow, that’s the life these people have to make a decent buck. We happened to put all of our gear in my backpack for Lao to carry and he had on some good boots, as he knows what to do.
The climate and terrain change are just incredible, starting at 800 meters and topping off at 5,4150 meters, which is much higher then most people sky dive from! It started at tropical rainforest, then to wooded pine trees with 500 foot waterfalls, then the trees were getting scarcer and dryer, until we were above the tree line, not far from the snow. The latitude there was near that of Miami Florida, so the snow line is a bit higher up than most mountains in the world. We had several rock avalanches to contend with as we walked on the side of the cliffs. Most of our time was on a path about 8 feet wide with a sheer drop off to the river below. Not too bad until the caravan of donkeys came past us with sacks of freight hanging over their sides. The donkeys have cow bells on them so you have a few moments to get close to the side and out of the way. The only way anything is brought up to villages are by these donkey trains, just as they have been doing for thousands of years. Pretty cool.
If Nepal was stunning enough, Julia made it extra special by buying me a scenic flight out of Kathmandu that cruised by the peak of Mt. Everest up at 29,035 ft (8850m)!
POLITICAL SITUATION: The political situation in Nepal last year was a country under Marital Law to combat terrorist groups attacking the military and palaces. These are the Maoist rebels, who are part of the local communist party, that were excluded from the legal process by the current government. The Nepal government only turned to a constitutional monarchy about 10 years ago, so there still is a lot of abuse of powers in the government. In June of 2001, Most of the Royal family was shot and killed in the palace, reportedly by the prince, heir to the thrown. He then committed suicide. I have my doubts on that but it really set the stage for the Maoist troubles.
While we were in India, we had reports of curfews in the cities, to protect against the Maoist raids, and dozens of rebels getting shot down almost daily by the military in local outbreaks. What he have learned is that in many countries, you can’t rely too much on the press. The government gives “official” statements to the press, which is under the thumb of the government, then is printed as ordered (suggested). Other news agencies around the world such as AP, UPI, Reuters, etc pick these up as is, and then reprint it. But unless you are there first hand, you don’t know who to believe. Fortunately, we had many friends we met traveling, that arrived in Nepal ahead of us and gave us their reports.
One of the things that had really moved us on all of our travels was visiting the Tibetan Refugee Camp in Kathmandu. This is where the refugees are sent to after they cross the Tibetan boarder. The refugees have been escaping political persecution from the Chinese government over the past 40 years. Over 1 million Tibetans have been killed by the occupying government in Tibet and there are hundreds of political prisoners sitting in jail, most being monks and nuns, who are the intellectual leaders of the communities. The Tibetans that escape usually leave in the middle of the winter crossing over the Himalayans usually walking for 3 months.
When the arrive in Nepal many have severe frostbite and need some amputations. The center we went to with a Buddhist nun is where they are fed, clothed and medically looked after. Within a few weeks the refugees are bussed to Delhi, India for processing and then give refugee status in Dharamsala, India where they each get to personally meet the Dali Lama. In Dharamsala they are given the option of studying to be a monk or nun, or getting academic and job training. This refugee camp in Kathmandu is where we will be sending some of our profits from our carpet business.
Bruce and Julia, World Travelers and
Adventure Seekers Extraordinaire.