Nepal, Day 5: Up (1.015m), Down (410m), Distance (21 km)

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The next Morning…

Another day shows up with 100% sun and tropical temperatures, The trek of today is beautiful, following the shimmering green water of the river in mainly uphill direction. We are surrounded by steep hills in green and brown and witness km after km how the landscape slightly changes: The river turns into a torrent, the valley becomes a ravine and we spot snow on the 6-thousand-something peaks that come in sight.

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… Om Mani Padme Hum …

The higher we get the more signs of Buddhism cross our way. With loud Om Mani Padme Hum we roll the mani wheels, praying for bright weather and a good hiking trek.

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Houses, huts and villages we pass by are mainly inhabited by farmers with a bit of rough land and some goats or sheep.

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Farmer’s Life may look picturesque, but might be Less when actually Living in the Quonset Hut

Not before long the path is merely a set of stairs. I heard rumours about more than 5.000 treads you need to take during the Annapurna circuit and here they are, all laid-out at my feet. With every step I take I learn a bit about myself and the finding of the day is: I do not like them. At least not in the given quantity… However, being part of a hiking group means follow the flock.

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This Obviously is a Before-the-Stairs Picture

Fortunately, the path includes some rope bridges that cheer me up. It is no surprise that I am more of the dancing kind and thus I sway and float over the river.

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Do we need to Worry when the Prayer Flag Decoration is Missing??

On altitude below 2.000m, we meet further animal flocks such as monkeys and sheep. We eventually get accompanied by a handful of cuddling goats that intend to come along for about an hour.

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Making Friends

As the afternoon enfolds, we leave them behind to increase the height between us and the river. It surely needs some uphill way in order to reach Dharapuri on its 1.860m. The highest point of today’s tour is marked by a stone gate that would be beautiful if not for strange tourists in silly poses.

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We reach our “Green Park” lodge in the late afternoon and immediately start the run for the adventurously installed hot shower. Compared to the prior night, we are blessed with almost luxury common “bathrooms” and a nice terrace outside. Even at our current height, it gets remarkably cold as soon as the sun settles behind the surrounding mountains, leaving the outside table abandoned.

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Cold Evenings already on 1.860m

 

2018_03_23_210cThe higher we get, the more I itensify my nightly relationship with Fred, the -43° expedition sleeping bag. Only time will tell how well it will suit in higher levels when reaching 3.000 or 4.000 altitude meters…

Nepal, Day 4: Up (900m), Down (372m), Distance (18 km)

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Ready!

Isn’t life about reality versus expectations? Contradictions and tension? Well, in this context we are blessed with daily distances that surpass our expectations. With a group of 14 trekking tourists it is more than likely that some show up with modern GPS world- and fitness-measurement equipment and it caused a bit of a riot when we learned that the ASI Tour Schedule is barely reliable.

Measures

From a fitness perspective it is hard to believe that not all of us have been amused when it turned out that there is no easy warm up with daily 500-700 altitude meters (up, what else), but rather around 1.000. Some might have chosen another tour or would have exercised harder, especially when the gap between facts and (scheduled) figures will escalate in the next days. So what, here we are and this is only the first day, so let’s start fresh.

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cha-cha-cha / lalalalalaaa

The path starts easy enough in tropical surrounding and not before long we reach the first of uncounted rope bridges. At first, I like them because of their image: Prayer flags, temples and rope bridges are the typical pictures presented on the first pages of every Nepal travel book. As soon as I take my first step on the flexible bridge, I have a wide grin on my face. It is like dancing and best you can do is sway your hips and balance light-footed towards the other side.

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The river will remain our companion, springing blithely below the bridge in shades of grey and green. We constantly walk up through fields and rice terraces, passing by small villages that only consist of three tiny houses or huts.

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The first larger village is good for a tea stop under a tree with more prayer flags than branches. Even with a misty sky the air is warm and the socks are steamy.

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Later during the day, the way gets a bit chewy, but still full of detections: Monkeys playing in a cotton tree. A three-step-waterfall in the distance. A flock of donkeys that passes us by and stoically walks on the rope bridge. And finally we reach our destination Jagat.

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Jagat, one of the largest Villages on our Trek

With eight firm porters, our luggage is there long before our arrival – luxury that we worship every day. No matter how more or less inviting the room for the night might be during the trip, as soon as I lay down Fred on my bed, I feel at home. For the Jagat night coming along with colourful dreams in pink and blue…

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Nepal, Day 3: Let’s Get it Started

“Liebe Gäst…” is our guide’s standard introduction whenever he explains his world  or tries to get the inert mass of us moving. After the stupendous culture of Bhaktapur, we will now take off for the trek, the main sensation of the Nepal journey. We leave the Sweet Home hotel and start our lesson about Nepali traffic.

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Early Morning in Kathmandu

  1. If your horn is out of order, do not even think about starting your engine (also see: China, Italy).
  2. When your car exceeds the dimension of a smart, take care of spiritual shelter: paint Gods on it, trim it with all kinds of colourful and blinking materials and write blessings on the windscreen.
  3. Drive left. Mostly.

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Passing by Kathmandu early in the morning, we do not fully appreciate the road’s quality. It is only with the experience of two more weeks that I may now look back and worship the smooth asphalt road, the peppy turns and the gorgeous views out of my window straight down into the ravine. For any unknown reason most of the pictures have been wiggly, though.

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The next bus and the dirt road beneath will prove that Indian car technology is incredibly stable. We sign in at the check point of the Annapurna Conservation Area in the afternoon and soon after that we finally start walking.

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We pass by a Chinese hydro station, leave a small waterfall on the right side and after 2,4 km I see our first lodge.

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Holiday Trekker’s Lodge / Lamjung

What did I have in mind? Something further out in nature, without occasional busses or jeeps on the dirt road. A solid building rather than corrugated metal huts. Honestly, I had no idea of “lodges” and how they might look like, so the first night is my personal acclimatisation to this kind of travelling. With Sabine on my side and Fred (my sleeping bag) wrapped around my body I feel cosy and warm and am ready for the upcoming trek.

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It even is decorated on the Inside

Nepal, Day 2: Bhaktapur

Based on the Nepali calendar, we are in the middle of December 2074 and the preparations for the New Year festivities have begun. Thus, it is no wonder that the first thing we see in Bhaktapur is a ritual mask dance.

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Mask Dance in Bhaktapur

Our first destination in Nepal is Bhaktapur, one of the ancient Newa kingdoms. Thanks to international support, the damages of the 2015 earthquake are at least partly repaired and the town’s core welcomes speckled tourists with beautiful architecture and inviting coffee shops.

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Street Life in Bhaktapur

 

We stroll around and admire the temples, the king’s palace, the summer’s palace, the monasteries, the brick buildings and the wooden art around ancient windows. Our home base is the Sweet Home Bhaktapur: advisable not only for its perfect location but also for wonderful food and the remarkable kitsch lamps in the rooms.

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Part of the King’s Palace – and just a Stone’s Throw away from our Roof Top Terrace

We learn about Newa traditions and influences from further ethnos. At the Painting School, we see beautiful Mandala / Tibetan Art paintings. You can almost touch and feel the extensive patience of the painters – a way of living that is light years away from my regular daily schedule.

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Starting here and accompanying us for the next weeks is the contrast between beast and beauty, between conservation and destruction. Still, there is a lot left to do in order to heal the damages of the 2015 earthquake.

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This is how Nepali live after the Earthquake: They get by and Look Forward

Traditional handicraft is still vivid in the alleys of Bhaktapur. For Hindu rituals, for weddings and other festivities, a lot of special vessels are required. Thus, the majority of products is not for tourists, but rather for the local inhabitants.

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Skilled Pottery

The heart of the city is the Taumadhi Place, dominated by the Nyatapola Temple. With its five story pagoda it is the highest temple of the Kathmandu valley, guarded by stone figures that keep evil monsters out and valuable assets in. Legends say, it was built as a home for the Goddess Lakshmi, offering a female companion to God Shiva (living in a smaller and older temple nearby) who needed to be calmed down.

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Nyatapola Temple

Bhaktapur is the perfect start into Nepal: vivid with shops and cafés, traditional with ancient architecture and handicraft (including singing bowl experts), far from being overcrowded and – apart from the omnipresent dust – it is the cleanest part of this country I have seen throughout the whole trip.

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Golden Gate to the King’s Palace

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The Shopping Street of Bhaktapur is Worth a Promenade

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The Peacock Window of the Pujari Math is Famous. Another Version of it is Installed in the Kumari Temple at Kathmandu.

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Buddhist Monastery – a very Peaceful Place

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Bye bye Bhaktapur… Tomorrow we will begin our Great Challenge

Nepal, Day 1: The Flight

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THIS is what I had in mind: Annapurna II

Today is flight day. Or flight night, to be more exact. We enter a plane of Turkish Airlines with destination Istanbul and guess what: my seat is already taken. The flight attendant I ask for help is neither willing nor helpful, but at least she leads me to another window seat. With the plane’s wing below my window I see not a glimpse of the earth, but for the first part of the trip this is ok. More important is the second flight: 23:59 hours before departure I took severe care about the reservation of a window seat on the left side: all for the gorgeous view on the Himalaya.

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Angry or Equanimous? Depends more on your Inner State than on External Factors

It will be the second (2 out of 2) time that Turkish Airlines is uncapable to deal with conflicting situations. My seat mate might be a nice guy in better times, but tonight, he is drunk. So boozy that he is unable to stand up or sit straight. Every now and then he falls over and bumps at the seat in front of him. Or at me. But all of this would be okay if not for the breathing: He smells disgustingly sour of alcohol. I wonder if he is part of a Yeti clan, for what all that I have heard they are not supposed to smell of roses… Anyway, I will not stand this for further 5 and a half hours.

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My father would have said: “Riecht wie toter Hund ganz hinten”. But that would be a very nasty description of my flight neighbour…

The flight attendant turns the situation into the best for the drunken (he now has 2 window seats all for himself) and leads me to a free seat in the middle of the plane. Bye-bye mountain view…

In exchange for the smoggy view on distant mountain peaks, I get to know a bit about Nepal from the young Nepali at my side. Later during my journey, I will think back quite often to the clean-up-Nepal campaign he told me about and why a change of mindset is deeply required.

During the flight, I meet 4 of the 14 group members of our trekking trip, but recognize only 1: Sabine, the friend who started it all along and with whom I share the holidays, lodge rooms and a lot of laughter. However, we will have plenty of time to get closer together within the next two weeks while the trek unfolds.

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Plenty of Time to Work on my Karma

Nepal: What Had I Thought??

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Departure day:

My right foot hurts, although only when wearing shoes. With fresh snow falling outside, I count 7 mosquito bites (must have caught a flying monster inside my flat). Besides, I have finally caught a cold – 10 months of preparation and now I have to deal with a sore throat and feel like a hangover (without any alcohol, that is). Taking all this into consideration, I come to conclude that the Nepal / Himalaya trip has probably been one of my worst ideas ever.

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Other Regions might be more Inviting. Less Exciting, though.

So what, it is all paid and thus I wave a mournful goodbye to brave little Hector and head off to the airport. At least I have one high aim for the trip: go find the Yeti and pose for a picture with him.

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Hi there, here I am…

This in mind, I lean back in the suburban train with confidence and excitement – not being aware of the fact that the first challenge will come up during the flight. It is funny how you may worry about life and focus on negligible details (such as overstrained luggage), only to get caught off-guard from an unforeseen flank.

Best is to lean back, relax, and pray for the best…

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Preparing Nepal: The Equipment

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The Devil is in the Detail

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Imagine a range of temperatures between -10 and + 20 °C. An expedition sleeping bag that keeps you cosy even when the inner temperature in the lodge drops to -15 °C. Heavy hiking shoes. Insulated bottles for 2-3 litres of water and tea. Clothing for 3 weeks, rain protection included. A camera beyond the lenses of regular smart phones. Add “bring-your-own-bathroom” (toilet paper, towel, flip flops, hygienic wet wipes, …) and masses of plasters. And then set the limit to 15 kg max.

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This is my first trekking trip; thus, I am free of any prior experience or knowledge. My approach is based on working routines: I set up a list in excel and fill it with all details and their weight. Then I calculate each item in or out until I reach the given maximum. Astounding enough for a girl with “nothing to wear!” in her closet: the main challenge was a minimizing one, eliminating 20% of the planned items right from the start.

 

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Lucky me that I head neither clue nor equipment when I signed in for the trip in summer 2017. You may have remarked the significant increase in the outdoor markets throughout the last months, evident in the pictures around. Most of the clothing is 100% Merino wool – it is comfortable to wear and refreshes itself overnight even after a soaking-sweating-hiking day.

 

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I count down the days until departure and take care of the last steps until I enter the plane. I give over my apartment keys to the friend that will move in, check the required amount of cash for visa and other fees, fully charge camera and iPod and climb up to the Rotwandhaus for the last time (and for lamb chops and for coffee and for the exercise of it).

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Then I will compare my luggage with a more experienced friend and wonder what I might have forgotten (mini skirt? Bikini? Nail polish??)…

 

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