The Ammermans & The Himalayas Meet
It's been nearly three weeks ago that we went to Nepal and experienced that mystical, old and mountainous region. I keep telling myself to actually sit down and make a blog post about it before all of the tiny, wonderful details begin to fade but I've been devoting so much of my free time to working on the children's book that I'm illustrating that I haven't spent much time on my poor lil blog.
I've finally put aside some time (before I have dinner and promptly fall into a shepard's pie induced slumber) to document some of the amazing details of our week long trip to Kathmandu and Pokhara. And first off, let me say that if you have not gone to see the Himalayas...put this on your bucket list. There have been two things that I've seen so far I've my travels that are a MUST for anyone who loves to be left speechless by nature and that is the Sahara Desert and the Himalayas. Hands down...completely, freakishly gorgeous.
Alright...prepare your eyeballs to be completely drowned in imagery.
We first started our week off in Kathmandu and we landed at night so we didn't get much of an understanding of where exactly we were or what the place looked like. I noticed that it was 1. dark 2. cold. Why is it so dark? Well, come to find out Nepal has scheduled power cuts that normally leave one light/wifi on but for lower income businesses or homes, it's usually only lit by candles as they don't have generators to keep it going. You'll notice that there are candles lit in the business windows on completely dark and freezing cold streets.
Our first night we stayed in our freezing cold converted temple turned hotel. I'm almost certain we were the only ones there and it was deathly quiet. While the building itself was pretty awesome, I think this was the originator of the head cold that followed me the entire trip. We didn't get much walking around done as, strangely enough, everything closes really early in Nepal. Like, we're talking 8:00 pm and almost every thing is shut down other than the ubiquitous "dance bar" and a few road side momo stands. Also, momos are the amazing Tibetan filled/steamed dumpling with hot sauce. So good and so addicting.
We left early the next morning with our version of Nepalese take-away breakfast. We went to the bus stop that was not marked bus stop but was only slightly resembling a bus stop in that there were a lot of buses parked in the same area. It was on that bus that we sat for the 8 hours it took to bump, jostle and cling to the side of mountains all the way to the town of Pokhara.
Our view of the mountains as we were only 1 foot from the edge. Literally living on the edge. :|
We then stopped along the side of the road about 2-3 times to find a toilet, get some food and, of course, the famous masala tea. I think Justin and I drank at least half a dozen everyday.
Generally having iron stomachs, we were wildly eating whatever looked appetizing at these side of the road stands and I have to tell you...we were not once disappointed. I often times find that some of the best food can be found at these meager family owned and ran food stalls. I haven't gotten sick from one of them yet but I HAVE gotten sick from a chain grocery store. What does that tell you?
There is nothing better than a plate of hot chickpeas and a big ole' samosa on a chilly day.
These were definitely almost the reason we got left by our bus on the side of the road. They don't tell you, "hey everyone! We're leaving in five minutes!". They just turn the bus on and start rolling away and you better be on it.
We then got to beautiful Lakeside Pokhara and walked from the bus stop to our hotel the New Annapurna Guest House. Which can be found here:
We spent the majority of our time in this area and did some minor trekking up Sarangkot. They claimed it would take one 1/2 hour but three hours later we were still struggling up this mountain and I have to say..there were parts we were climbing up stone "steps" so I wouldn't categorize it as an easy lil walk. Every time we would come upon a break in the trees we thought, "this is it! we've made it!" but..no, not so. We kept going and going until we came upon a small mountain village. The children with their red mountain cheeks and their round bellies came running towards us screaming, "chocolate!". We were, at that time, hiking with a Swedish couple who were getting their bags unzipped and searched for sweets. They were basically like...I'm sorry mountain baby but if I hiked all this way up here with a snickers..I'll be the one to eat it. We then eventually turned around and hiked back down before the sun set and as we know..there is no light once the power cuts start happening so we definitely didn't want to be on the top of the mountain in the dark. I did manage to snap some pics before we took off to a lil restaurant with one guy cooking in a tiny kitchen that eventually managed to get our dinner out to us two hours after ordering. Haha. It turned into a joke that I think was mostly brought on by severe hunger. Thanks to our hiking friends for making our hike back down fun :}
Thinking here about just being airlifted. Cardio for days.
We got a chance to visit the Tibetan Refugee Camp about 20 minutes outside of Pokhara. I have to say that it was a small and extremely impoverished area that these displaced Tibetans now have to call home. Even though their situation seemed dire, they still were extremely positive and happy to share their experiences with you.
We went to see their monastery and while we were walking around, all at once the monks got up and started walking towards the temple. They threw off their simple sandals, ducked under the curtain and suddenly you could hear the sounds of those telescopic Tibetan horns. There were signs that said "no photography, no videography" so I kept my camera away but you can check out this youtube video below of the same place we went to and you can get a feel for how meditative the monks chanting and praying can be.
We were invited into the monastery, asked to sit on a threadbare rug and listen. We sat there for nearly an hour as the monks switched from praying to chanting to throat singing and back again. It was a cycle that seemed to build and build and culminate into this fervor of drums and horns and voices. We were also then served a customary Tibetan welcome drink. I have to say it was um...not...amazing. I finished it because it's considered rude to not but I looked it up later and we had definitely drank some salted yak butter.Apparently the monks drink it because it has tons of calories and helps to keep them warm. I feel like I'll leave the yak butter tea to them. It was, however, definitely an experience.
We then rented a boat on the nearby lake in Lakeside and drifted around until lunch time.
It was so nice to just float around and watch the pilgrims go to their island temple. We could see the smoke from the flames that are kept constantly stoked and could hear the bells as the people were walking by and gently running their fingers along the edge of the bells to create a constant tinkling sound.
The only way I can describe Lakeside when the fog descends is mystical. You know that right behind that fog are mountains so huge you can barely understand it. For the majority of the time we were in Nepal, it was foggy. We didn't get to see the mountains until we got to the top of Sarangkot to see the sunrise.
The morning we woke up before the sun was my favorite moment in Nepal. It was also one of the last things we did before we made the 8/9 hour bus ride back to Kathmandu.
Since we had already climbed Sarangkot we figured we would hire a car to take us..also it was incredibly dark and cold. Freeeeeezing cold. You have to keep in mind that my tolerance for cold has dramatically decreased since I've been living in the desert for nearly two years. He dropped us off after weaving through tiny mountain village and clinging to the sides of tiny mountain roads. He asked if we wanted him to stay and we told him that we'd just hike back down on our own once the sun came up. He turned around, left and we were alone in silence on top of this mountain with very few sleeping residents. I looked around and thought...okay, so now I suppose we climb. Up we went through the dark towards a crude staircase that led up and up. We eventually came to a sign that said "Sarangkot" and then came upon a small shack where a mother and her daughter sat to collect our fee by candlelight. It came out to be about 30 cents each. They use this money to help with their buildings and farms in their small village.
We then went over to an opening where we saw the lights of the city of Lakeside in the valley below. I tied a scarf around my face to trap my breath in to keep me warmer as we sat on some stone steps to prepare for the sun. At this point we had not seen the Himalayas at all because of the immense amount of fog. I sat there and I could barely make out an outline of something but I thought...this is way too big..if these are the mountains, then this is going to be ridiculous. The starts started to slooooowly disappear and the sky ever so slightly began to get lighter and lighter. We could see the sun start to rise on our right and the silhouette began to turn into mountains.
Eventually the sun climbed higher and higher and changed the mountains from black to orange to pink to white. We could finally see these immense monoliths! It was the biggest, most humbling thing I've seen. You really start to feel like you're minuscule.
So after this amazing morning we, in fact, did not hike back down as some British and American girls had rented a big van and offered us a ride back into town. We hopped on and then spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and watching The Big Lebowski at Movie Garden.
The next day we got back onto our bus (for a much cheaper rate!) and bounced all the way back to Kathmandu where we spent the night in the most "touristy" part of town called Thamel. This was definitely way different than the first night we were there as there were loads more people. Thamel really reminded me a lot of a less intense Bangkok.
Here we managed to do some major chilling after having walked nearly 5 miles (or more!) everyday for the past week. We checked out some really awesome restaurants and spent some time just walking down the less touristy streets trying out any of the street food that looked good.
Yup. Thats a leaf bowl. Bowl made outta leaves. Can everyone do this, please?
We then managed to squeeze ourselves into a ridiculously small cycle rickshaw and had the guy pedal us to where the child goddess lives. The Kumari. Apparently they believe that she is inhabited by the spirit of a goddess and once she reaches puberty the spirit leaves her and enters another young girl. She is not told no, her bare feet don't touch the floor, she cannot live with her family again until the spirit leaves her and when people visit her they want her to show no emotion as that is considered good luck.
That same day we managed to make our way to the airport to be told we were going to be late to our connecting flight in Dubai because of the fuel embargo. We had to fly to India to buy more fuel and then fly to Dubai where, at this point, we've pulled an all nighter and THEN our flight to Doha was delayed. Needless to say I was extremely ready to go bed after dealing with FlyDubai for nearly 13 plus hours.
All in all it was one of the most amazing trips and I really hope to go back one day to hike the Annapurna Circuit. Also to eat mo' momos.
If you ever get the chance, you need to find yourself amongst the cold, crisp air of the Himalayas. You'll never regret it.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
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