Hazy morning scene over Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
I had moved to Hong Kong in 2009, in part so that I could see the world, but a year had nearly come and gone and I still didn’t have much traveling to show for it. Hong Kong itself was an incredibly fascinating city to live and work in, and a part of me felt like I was on holiday every day. I had found a close-knit group of friends that became like family to me, and I attended a church that engaged and challenged me week after week – the months flew by without a second glance. Still, I was eager to take advantage of my time in Asia, not knowing how much longer I would be in this part of the world. There was a short trip with friends in March to northern China to visit an orphanage, but that was the full extent of my travels thus far, and I was keen on going to places that I figured might be of the once-in-a-lifetime variety. So in the spring of 2010, I got together with three other friends, Cora, Derek, and Vikki, and threw around the idea of trekking in Nepal.
Kathmandu occupies the greater part of the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley.
Low apartments and guesthouses stand shoulder to shoulder throughout the capital.
Cora was and is an old friend from my university days, and she was instrumental in helping me land on my feet when I arrived in Hong Kong the year before. It was through her that I met most of my friends in the city, including Derek and Vikki. Her group of friends was mostly made up of young, single expats from all over the world, trying to make something of themselves in a brand new city, and I quickly fit right in. With little-to-no attachments in our lives and a decent amount of disposable income, it was never hard to find travel companions. After doing a bit of research and reaching out to various trekking companies operating in Nepal, we decided to do a 5-day section of the Annapurnas Circuit – the Ghorepani Poonhill trek. We would fly into Kathmandu for one night, fly out to Pokhara the next day, trek for 5 days, and then spend another couple of days back in Kathmandu.
Derek and Cora make their way to Kathmandu’s domestic terminal.
The flagstone paths lining the tarmac at Pokhara’s tiny airport.
As we descended into the Kathmandu Valley a few weeks later, I looked out the window and observed a city shrouded in darkness, little pinpricks of light puncturing the cover of night from the valley floor to the steep hillsides surrounding the Nepalese capital. We stayed at a B&B we found online, Asmita Rooms, on our first night, and we went back to stay there on our last few nights in Nepal after we returned from our trek. It was perfectly adequate – clean rooms, comfortable beds, a serviceable breakfast, and a convenient location. On that first night though, we just needed a place to crash before waking up early the next morning to catch our cross-country flight to Pokhara, ground zero for trekkers heading towards the Annapurnas.
Derek approaching a group of donkeys in Nayapul, the starting point of our trek.
Cora and Vikki lead the way across the cable bridge at Birethanti.
Pack mules carrying supplies further up into the hills, a common sight throughout our trek.
Our first encounter with the ubiquitous dal bhat, one of the staples of Nepalese cuisine.
Girl carries a load of lumber in the afternoon heat.
The next morning, we took a cab to the much smaller local airport to catch our flight with the incredible Yeti Airlines, a decision that was made in no small part because of its name. The flight itself was short, maybe around thirty to forty-five minutes, and after landing at the even smaller airport in Pokhara, we were met by representatives from our trekking company, Above the Himalaya Trekking. They had helped us book and coordinate much of the logistics of the trip, including transportation to and from Pokhara, as well as our individual trekking permits, and they picked us up to make the ninety minute drive to our actual starting point in Nayapul.
In time, we left the hamlets behind, following the river north towards the mountains.
A man leading his two oxen through the brick-lined paths of his village.
Clear mountain streams flowed through the wide valleys of the Annapurnas foothills.
This little girl perched beside us as we took a snack break in the mid-afternoon.
Deeper and deeper we trekked into the Himalayan wilderness.
The elevation gradually increased, and our pace noticeably declined as the day wore on.
The itinerary for our first day would take us from Nayapul to Tikhedhunga, at an elevation of 1540 m. We met our guide and our porters in Nayapul, but I can’t for the life of me remember their names – not surprisingly, as this trip happened almost six years ago. Our guide was a tough love kind of guy, pushing us to work our tired, out-of-shape bodies to climb just one more hill, but he’d take the time to sit and rest with us when we needed a break as well. Our porters were the real heroes though – they took two of our heavy bags each and climbed ahead of us each day in order to secure rooms for us at the next guesthouse.
A beautiful sun-dappled valley, stretching out into the hazy distance.
At this elevation, we began to see farming terraces on the surrounding hillsides.
The final stretch towards Tikhedhunga, our home for the first night.
The first leg of our trek took us through the town of Birethanti. From there, we walked through green valleys and farmers’ fields, picking our way across narrow streams and brooks, before entering into forests of bamboo to have a short lunch in Sudame. After lunch, we began the long, slow climb towards Hile, for which we were utterly unprepared. Looking back now, I don’t even recall why we were struggling so much, or what we were complaining about, but I do remember how utterly defeated we were once we finally arrived at our guesthouse in Tikhedhunga. This would end up being the low point of our trek though – as our bodies adjusted to the workload, the groaning and complaining began to fade, and some of the views we were treated to over the next few days were almost enough to make the pain fade away. In any case, after stuffing ourselves with momos and yak cheese that night, we dragged ourselves off to bed, both to rest up before the next day’s hike, and to forget about the one that just happened.
A golden hallway at our Tikhedhunga guesthouse.