Day 1 (9th Nov 14) – First encounters with the locals
Route: Kathmandu – Besi Sahar (by car) – Bhulbhule (ca. 2H30min)
The day before the trek, our group met at Trek Nepal Int’l office in the busy Thamel area to get to know each other and to learn more about our 15 days ahead of us. I must admit I struggled with Ganesh’s (our guide) accent in the beginning but my ears tuned into his Nepali accent eventually. On a map, he showed us how much walking we would be doing on each day and how long it would roughly take us. After the huddle, Ben and I pick up the sleeping bags and the down jackets which we had reserved the day before.
***At this point, I’d like to say: if you do rent equipment, make sure you take it with you right away and don’t agree to picking it up at a later stage!*** It turned out that the shop owner had rented out one of the sleeping bags we had reserved to someone else and he only wanted to give us a second one if we paid more money.
Well, this was the point when my germanic directness emerged and we were oh so close to going somewhere else and request a refund, had he not magically pulled out another sleeping bag for us – not the same one we initially wanted but one that would do just fine for the icy cold nights up in the Annapurna region. Keep in mind that it can get really cold up there – you really do want to make sure your sleeping bag is filled with down feathers and not cheap polyester fluff!
Relieved that we got what we paid for, we wandered to Electric Pagoda for our last dinner in Kathmandu. Afterwards, we re-packed our bags and made sure that our backpacks would not exceed 25-30kg which was what our Porter would carry (and boy did I feel bad about having them carry our luggage which seemed to be the easiest thing in the world for them, whilst we struggled with our minuscule backpacks). There was also something so wrong about having someone carry your luggage for you.
The next morning we all gathered at the Trek Nepal office. The journey was going to be delayed as we were waiting for a Spanish couple and a French guy who was going to join us. Ben and I decided to wander around Kathmandu to find small daypacks as the foldable ones we had brought with us were just not going to be sturdy enough. After buying two Deuter (which turned out to be fake ones – not surprising, as they were rather cheap for branded items) daypacks we headed back to the office and shortly after drove off in our comfortable minivan. Edward (Ed) the french guy jumps in apologising to everyone whilst laughing at the same time, he had overslept and was woken up by Ganesh who phoned him a while ago.
The bus heads towards Besi Sahar where we will be going off and start our trek, with an estimate of 2h30 hours to Bhulbhule. On our way there we stop for a toilet break and our guide Ganesh buys us a bunch of small bananas. This is where I experience a local toilet for the first time. The smell is rather unpleasant and I find it hard to adjust to a comfortable squatting position. ‘Let the adventure begin!’, I think to myself and giggle.
On my way back to the bus, I buy a few mandarines which are incredibly tasty. We start an awkward chit-chat with the rest of the group – the Spanish couple would be going off with another guide whereas Holly, a welsh lady – Raphaelle, a french lady living in Switzerland, Edward from Paris and Ben and I would form the group for the next 14 days.
We continue our bus journey and all of us keep dozing on and off to chat to one another occasionally. The remainder of the drive to Besi Sahar seems quick. We sit down for our first lunch together – we study the tourist approved menu with interest not realising that we will be eating the same dishes over and over again for the next two weeks. All of us order some or another variation of fried rice. Edward feels relatively unwell after the long bus journey and barely touches his plate. Ganesh seems in quite a rush – I assume because of our delay in the morning, he wants to get going as soon as we can as to arrive at our first accommodation (the teahouse) in daylight.
The land is relatively flat with just a bit of elevation (80m in total on this day) – it is indeed a very slow start to what will be a strenuous work-out in just a few days. We walk through small villages where we are greeted by nepali kids, folding their hands together in a prayer-like form and greeting us with a ‘namaste’ followed by cute little giggles which make us feel welcome in their country. Namaste means translated ‘I honour the divine God in you’ a greeting I had only ever encountered in the yoga classes I had been to.
How much more power does a ‘Namaste’ have, compared to a simple ‘Hello’?
We cross our first wooden suspension bridge which connects two pieces of land separated by a landscape of massive boulders and a light-blue river. I’m a bit nervous to walk over it – I’ve never been very good with heights and it does not seem like a very solid construction – my mind seems very distrustful of anything non-western, I notice, even though I have been a seasoned traveller having experienced less stable foundations beneath my feet before. Yet, only having left Europe recently, my mind is suspicious of what it perceives to be a sub-standard built.
The landscape just before Bhulbhule is very hilly and we walk past big fields of green and yellow grass. The roofs of shacks are only attached to their foundations by the weight of the stones placed on top of them. We arrive just before dawn and are shown to our rooms. A very simple room with two wooden beds – one soft and one hard mattress and small cracks and holes in the floor and ceiling.
We can see the kitchen from our room through some holes in the floor, quickly getting used to the chattering around us, as the noise travels up from the rooms next to us and the kitchen below us. Some of us shower in the evening, whereas I decide to skip and shower in the morning as I want to wash my hair and don’t think sleeping with damp hair would do me much good – especially now that I have a cold. I figured I have more chance for my hair to dry in the morning than in the evening. We join the rest of the group for dinner and start chatting to an English lawyer and his partner.
We retire to our rooms after dinner and decide to go straight to bed. I find it easy to settle into my sleeping bag – it is incredibly warm as I chose a -30C down feather model which makes me take off my merino wool socks and jumper which had initially decided to wear to go to bed. Ben is not used to sleeping bags and wrestles with it for a while before he finds a somewhat comfortable position. “I can’t sleep like this”, he moans. “Trust me, in a few days you will!”
Have you ever been to Nepal? What were your first impressions? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.