PART 1 – MANILA, PHILIPPINES TO KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Nepal has never been in my travel plans. Of all the countries that I wanted to go see, Nepal never really made it to my list. But out of what was probably misplaced curiosity, I decided to just go. I started reading blogs, travel guides, and news advisories. I read anything and everything about Nepal that I could get my hands on. When you read about Nepal, you’d be quick to find out that the best thing to do in Nepal is to go trekking. I only had about 7 vacation leaves to spare so I had to be smart about what I was going to do on this trip. So while there were city tours, paragliding, rhino safaris, and white water rafting, I decided to go trekking.
My Nepal trip was starting to become a logistical nightmare. Not only were the flights expensive, the schedules were difficult to manage. Cheaper flights meant red eye flights with an eleven-hour stopover. The more convenient flights meant paying out at least three times more. I also started exchanging e-mails with a number of random local Nepalese independent trekking guides. There was no way for me to guarantee if any of these guides would deliver on their end of the deal. While some won’t even budge on a request for a bit of a discount, others were too eager to drop their prices to have me book with them. The itineraries were a headache, too. Some itineraries would require me to stay longer, which I could not afford to do. The other option was for me to squeeze in most of the two-and-a-half-days’ worth of trekking in just one day. All in all, the preparations were very stressful. But I had my heart set on going. Luckily, I came across WanderList Travels, a Manila-based travel company that offers Nepal travel packages. (Thank you, WanderList Travels! Looking forward to my next trip with you!) And so I went. The more I read about Nepal, the more I got excited. The blogs and travel tips weren’t short of reminding the readers that the trip was not going to be easy and was not for the faint of heart. But seeing pictures of the sights that I was going to visit made me decide that I was going to enjoy myself in this trip by any means necessary. Like what all those who went before me said, all I needed was an open mind and an open heart.
The first leg of my trip was a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur. Yes, I opted for the cheaper flights. After my 3-hour flight to KL, I had to spend the night in the airport. I’ve read enough blogs about the KL airport so I knew that in my 12-hour stay in KL, I will have to sleep on the floor at one point. I arrived in KL at around 10:30 pm. I took my time walking to the immigration counter, and then to the baggage carousel. I figured that if I took my time, the wait wouldn’t be so bad. I spent the next 12 hours walking from store to store (whatever was open at that time) and trying out each food stall there was in the airport. After walking around and eating at every place I saw, I figured that I had to rest and reserve whatever energy I could for the next couple days’ trek. Walking around the airport to look for a place to rest proved to be quite a task. Not because it was hard to find a place to sleep in that was hidden. It was hard to find a place to sleep in. Period. To make a long story short, I found my spot, closed my eyes, and prayed to God that I will wake up with all of my belongings in one piece.
Soon enough, I was already on my way to the plane that was going to bring me to my ultimate destination. Seeing Nepal-bound people of different nationalities added to the excitement. But my lack of sleep made sure that I slept through the 5-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. I only woke up when the crew announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.
PART 2 – KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA TO KATHMANDU, NEPAL
From the air, Kathmandu looked like a very crowded city, with the houses and buildings very closely knit. The Tribhuvan International Airport was fairly small so right after landing, I got my bag, secured my entry permit, and found my way to the arrival gate. So yes, I was able to choose one of the independent Nepalese guides through WanderList Travels. I was so happy that I saw a person who looked like what I expected my guide to look like based on the picture they sent, and he was holding a piece of paper with my name on it. Now, I was very, very excited. I was actually here. It’s really happening. I’m really doing this. Welcome to Nepal.
My guide had arranged for a private car that will bring me from the airport to my hotel in Kathmandu, the Hotel Nepalaya. Cars in Nepal are very small. With just me and my 35L pack in the back seat, it was already a pretty tight squeeze. It took us about 15 minutes to get to Hotel Nepalaya, with my guide being nice enough to show me important infrastructure and spots. As we drove through the streets of Kathmandu, I saw why the cars had to be small. The streets were very narrow and were shared with pedestrians. This was also a validation of the crowded houses and buildings that I saw as my plane was landing. The buildings were simple box-type structures. No fancy architecture, shiny walls, or smooth tiles.
After checking in, I left my bags in my room and started to walk around the streets of Kathmandu. The streets were lined with shops that mostly offer trekking apparel and supplies. In between these trekking shops were restaurants, tea houses, and jewelry shops. It was around 3pm when I started checking out the streets so I only had a few more hours before calling it a night. I had to sleep early because I had a 7am flight to Pokhara, the jump-off point of my Annapurna trek. I didn’t have much time to look around so I decided that I would explore more of Kathmandu when I got back from Annapurna. So that afternoon, I spent the next few hours buying a trekking pole, taking pictures of some of the nearby temples, and finally having my late lunch/early dinner.
After walking around some of the nearby streets looking for a place to eat, I decided on the Yak Restaurant. I asked for their bestseller – the Buff Phing. It was buffalo beef stew and rice. For drinks, I decided to go ahead and try the Tongba – their Tibetan Hot Beer. They weren’t kidding when they said it was hot! I was served with a varnished bamboo glass filled with small seeds, which was then filled with hot water! The host told to me let it brew for a few minutes before I start drinking. I anxiously go through my Buff Phing while waiting for my beer to brew. I was straddling the line between hesitant and excited to try this hot beer. And, what do you know! It did taste like hot beer! Awesome!
I went back to my hotel at around 7:30 pm. My first few hours in Nepal were amazing and I couldn’t wait to experience more. I quickly prepared my things for the next day and fell asleep, with dreams waking up to even more adventure.
PART 3 – KATHMANDU, NEPAL TO POKHARA, NEPAL
I had a 7am flight to Pokhara the next morning so that meant that I had to be up by 4am. I checked out of my hotel after some well wishes from the staff. As soon as I was at the lobby, my guide was already there waiting for me. He had already arranged for the car that will bring me back to the airport. It was a short and quiet ride. I was so anxious since this was going to be the first day my trek to Poon Hill, a 5-day trek in the Annapurna region. The Poon Hill trek is one of the shortest treks you can do when in Nepal. But being that I only had a few days, I had to cram my itinerary a bit more.
At 7am, I found myself sitting at the last seat in the back of the 30-seater propeller plane that will take us to Pokhara. It was a 30-minute flight so there was really no time to take a nap. And besides, I kept imagining different scenarios of things that could happen in the next few days. While I was excited to see the sights for myself, I was dead scared. In the next few days, I was going to climb to an altitude of about 3,200 masl (meters above sea level). While this altitude is a piece of cake for most, I knew it was going to be a serious challenge for me. I had to gain about 1,000 masl per day, which should be done in about 5-6 hours. Not too big of a deal, right? But when you’re 5’2”, a hundred and eighty pounds, with asthma, a busted right knee and a snapping left ankle, you know it’s going to be hell.
“If at some point you don’t ask yourself,
‘What have I gotten myself into?’,
then you’re not doing it right.”
After landing, my guide and I went straight to a local restaurant and he told me that I should eat a heavy breakfast. I had to make sure that my energy level would be able to get me through a day’s hike. Next, we went to a bus station where we had to wait for about 45 minutes for the bus that will take us to the jump-off point for the Annapurna trek. The bus was filled with foreign trekkers who were also on their way to Annapurna. With all the excitement of the morning, I slept through the 2-hour bus ride.
The next few days were all a series of going up, up, up, and up. You can literally just look up to see where you’re going next. Most of the trekkers I got to talk to along the way were pacing themselves just as I did. We were all so anxious to see the end of our up-hill challenge but at the same time, I was already dreading the time when I will have to trek back down because it was sure to kill me knees and my legs. All in all, it was physically exhausting! I remember how there was one night that I wanted to skip dinner just so I can sleep already but my guide insisted that I eat so that my body could easily recover and be ready for the next days’ trek.
But you know what kept me going? Everything in Nepal did. The people were lovely and the place was beautiful. The Annapurna trail boasts of incredible views. You struggle to catch your breath with every step and yet your surroundings are sure to take your breath away. You get to experience walking through sand and dust in the rockies under the heat of the sun, keeping pace while trekking through thick forests, and freezing your fingers of at the summit at 4:00 in the morning. It’s a new world each day and it doesn’t get better than that.
Yes, it was exhausting and painful. But you know what? IT. WAS. WORTH. IT. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
PART 4 – THANK YOU, NEPAL.
I wish I could have stayed longer. Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries even when it is landlocked between two major economic players, China and India. But what it lacks in modern infrastructure is more than made up for by nature’s grandeur. While I got to go to Nepal’s two major cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara, 7 days was simply not enough.
I easily fell in love with Nepal. The simplicity in lifestyle, the beauty of nature, and the endless adventures made me realize how much we’re missing. There’s just so much of the world that we have yet to see. There are so many different ways of life that we can experience and learn from. So yes, Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries. But their richness and grandeur don’t come in extravagant things. Not in shiny cars or flashy brands. It’s in the peace of the mountain tops and the quiet that you find in the trails. It’s in the strength of the sherpas and the softness of the Nepali smile. It’s in the thrill of the trek and in the serenity of the outdoors. It’s in the sanctity of the temples and the majesty of the Himalayas. It’s that simple. It’s that humbling.
Thank you, Nepal. I’m coming back for you. And Mount Everest, you’re next.