In 2000 I made it back to Nepal (click here for my first trip) and much had changed. In ’95 Durbar Square, the ancient heart of Kathmandu, seemed to be a forgotten (or yet to be discovered?) area of the city, and in the mornings and evenings was virtually deserted, at least by travelers. Freak Street was still pretty freaky, and you could find places to stay for $2 a night. 5 years later my $2/night hotel had morphed into something prohibitively expensive, and even the apple pie was getting pricey!
Oh, and the cows had moved on to greener pastures, it seemed. When I first went the whole old city (particularly at night) was taken over by roaming bands of holy cows and wild dogs. Traffic, awful enough without livestock, was often gridlocked. Cows, being sacred, were rarely kicked or shoved, so they presented a real obstacle course along the narrow streets of medieval Kathmandu. But in 2000 they were mostly gone, due, I think, to a government policy to make the place a little easier to get around, and more hygienic to boot.
But we went to Nepal to trek, and ended up doing two, after I recovered from an evil bout of bacterial diarrhea (speaking of hygiene!). I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re ever in Kathmandu with health problems (chances are reasonably high) the place to go is the CIWEC Clinic, curing incontinence since 1982!
The first trek we did is called the Helambu Trek, the only major one in Nepal that actually starts in the Kathmandu valley. It’s just a taxi ride out of town, then you hit the trail where the flatness ends. Too simple.
Well, not really. This ‘moderate’ (proof once again that Lonely Planet writers may not go everywhere they write about) trek turned out to be just about the toughest one I’d done. Since you are going north, cutting across east-west mountain ranges, and without the aid of giant valleys like the Kali Kandaki of Annapurna fame, it is an endless trek up and down and up and down…steeply. I would recommend this one though, if you only have time to do a one-week trek, since you start close to the city and easy to get back as well. You also have the choice to hook up with another trek right in the Himalaya, called Langtang, which together would be nearly 3 weeks, I think.
I don’t remember what happened, but there are no pictures from this trek. Probably we had no time to stop to enjoy the view, or in the last few days, our fingers where too frozen to press down the shutter button.
But somehow we’ve got pics of our next trek – Jomsom. Jomsom is actually the 2nd half of the Annapurna trek, done backwards, and therefore pretty well known to me. But Shoko had never been to Nepal, and as far as I know, the Jomsom trek is just about the best intro to hiking in Nepal that there is.
The walk takes about a week, and cuts up one of the deepest valleys in the world. If you are there in the right season (Oct-Feb) you have outstanding views of 8000+ meter mountains on both sides of you. And, like any trek in Nepal that starts low and finishes high, it’s really interesting culturally. Hinduism predominates in the lowlands (were rice can be grown it seems) and Buddhists rule the sparsely populated higher elevations.
Following are a few random shots of said higher elevations. This first one is walking up the Kali Kandaki, probably around 2000 meters up.
This one is much higher, as you can see from the total absence of trees. I think this is even past Jomsom town itself. The wind is wicked here, by the way, and whips down the valley like clockwork, starting up in the late morning,and in full rage by the early afternoon.
Here is more wind, this time on top of the gompa (monastery) in Kagbeni, an amazing medieval village on the doorstep of ‘forbidden’ Mustang. It’s not actually forbidden, but independent trekkers are. You need to take a tour to get in there. This is looking north into this mysterious and expensive land.
And a little higher up the trail from Kagbeni, now near Thorong la, the 5500 meter pass that I crossed the other way in 1995. The scenery up here is other-worldly and, especially after 7 or 8 days walking to get here, you really feel the isolation. But you are never far from civilization really, if you call cold Heinekens civilization!
Back in Kathmandu after the trek we had lots of time to sight see while we waited for India and Pakistan to give us visas. Here is Bodnath, the place where much of Little Buddha was filmed…and incidentally one of the largest stupas in the world and one the holiest sites in Nepal.