7.05.2015

annapurna circuit days 1-3

this post chronicles our one day of prep in kathmandu and then our first three days of hiking along the annapurna circuit, a popular trekking route in the himalayas. our time on the trail ended up being ten days, and it was a truly remarkable experience. we saw more spectacular beauty than we could have ever expected, and we interacted with really amazing people (fellow trekkers and local folks) along the way. it was really an epic adventure.

the annapurna circuit is such a great way to see the himalayas because it is a really challenging hike through very remote and fantastically gorgeous, changing landscape, but food, water and accommodation are very plentiful along the way. all the way up to about 15,000 feet there is a village every 3-4 hours of hiking with guesthouses that include cot beds, sufficient bathrooms, simple restaurants and sometimes even a hot shower! the entire circuit takes up to 28 days; we decided to do about half (up and over the high point and then descending back to about where we started). we met fellow trekkers from all over the world, loved the food, were grateful we packed as light as possible for hugely different climates, only got a few blisters, and were totally blown away by the scenery, which transformed pretty much every single day. there were some times when it was a bit miserable, but many more when it was quite a bit exhilarating, triumphant, and really fun.

while we were hiking, a devastating earthquake hit nepal. we were incredibly fortunate to be safe. i’ll share more of our experience with the earthquake in upcoming posts.

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after we crossed the border into nepal, we had an awesomely chaotic experience buying tourist entry visas and finding the jeep we had “booked” to take us to kathmandu. then, we were in for a six hour extremely bumpy ride squished in the back seat. the scenery outside the window was a stunning introduction to nepal, a country we totally fell in love with.

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once we got into the bustling city, we were transfixed looking out the window. so much so that i didn’t even snap a single picture. we moved through traffic and through hoards of vibrant humanity. nepal reminded me a lot of india, and i loved that vaguely familiar feeling of colorful chaos. it’s impossible to describe.

after we arrived in central kathmandu, we found the office of the trekking agency that had helped us obtain permits and flights for our hike through the himalayas, and then set out on the streets of the thamel neighborhood to buy a few things we needed for our days trekking. thamel is stuffed with people, colors, hiking equipment, and life. it was a little crazy finding what we needed, but pretty soon we were all set to head to the mountains.

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^^ i spotted this monkey on the telephone wires! apparently there are loads of them around kathmandu!

after unpacking and repacking our bags at our hotel (we left about half of our stuff in kathmandu while we were hiking), we had a good night’s rest before heading to the “trailhead” in a town called besisahar, about 4 hours from kathmandu. the drive was again full of beauty and interesting sights. we had lunch and then started our trek, not knowing what an adventure we were in for!

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^^ our first peek of the snow-capped himalayas! ^^
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^^ the very, very beginning of our long journey on foot ^^
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^^ this young boy walked with us and practiced his english for a couple of hours. fast new friend. ^^
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^^ the first couple of days we saw lots of crops growing up the sides of the mountains. it was amazing, and really beautiful! ^^
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^^ it was more jungly and more hot and humid than we had expected. we wondered quite a bit during the first few days why we were carrying so many warm clothes as we sweltered under the warm warm sun. but later on we were sure glad we had brought all those layers! ^^
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^^ there were tons of waterfalls along the trail. we filled up our water bottles very often the first few days since were sweating so much in the heat. we brought a steripen with us, which was an excellent purchase. it purifies water using uv light – amazing! it was pretty neat to drink right out of the waterfalls! ^^
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^^ we crossed a lot of these suspension bridges, over the river that the trail followed. ^^
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^^ tiny villages burrowed into the mountainsides. ^^
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^^ we walked through several villages each day. i loved the colorful paint and the happy people who would always greet us with a friendly namaste as we trekked on through. ^^
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^^ this is an example of a guesthouse room – all were a little different, but most about this level of luxury :) ^^
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^^ the trail was constantly changing – narrowing or widening or becoming very steep or flat through a valley. ^^
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^^ we passed lots of local people carrying goods along the trail to stock up the shops and guesthouses. they were always faster than us! //on day two (yes, we are wearing the same clothes…)  we stopped for lunch in this pretty town. ^^ every day we ate dhal bat, which is all-you-can-eat veggie curry, rice and lentils. really yummy.
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^^ by day three (yes, still the same clothes…) the landscape had turned from dense mountain jungle to more rocky-mountain-feeling. the vegetation continued to thin out with each passing day! ^^
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^^ our night three guesthouse. so colorful! and they had hot water for a much-needed bucket shower, and a rooftop to eat momos (nepalese dumplings) on! ^^
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^^ our dinner view ^^
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^^ every morning we woke up excited to see our surroundings, because the afternoon clouds always obstructed views by the time we arrived at a guesthouse. above the building here you can see the mountains we were about to head right into! ^^

to be continued!

7.03.2015

www.travelchinatibet.com

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getting to tibet isn’t particularly easy, but we felt that it was definitely worth the effort, both because our experiences there were outstanding and because we worked with a really, really wonderful company that was incredibly helpful. our seven day overland tour from lhasa to the nepal border wass made possible and led by www.travelchinatibet.com (TCT), and we can’t recommend their services highly enough.

it was ian’s dream to go to tibet, and he found TCT via tripadvisor at the very beginning of our trip planning. he had several conversations on the phone with bruce tang and each time he hung up after their conversations he said “that guy is awesome.” bruce helped us every step of the way in securing our visas and permits and answered all of our questions, about tibet and china generally, with thoroughness and kindness and extensive knowledge. we touched base with bruce several times while traveling through china before heading to tibet, and he was always ready to help, which was so so nice as we were in a very foreign place and headed somewhere that is very strict and quite complicated insofar as tourist travel.

when we got off the train in lhasa, our tour guide tenzing was waiting for us and immediately began sharing interesting information about tibet. tenzing is native to tibet and speaks very good english. from the very start of our tour we were impressed with the organization, the accommodation, and the adventure. as featured in my most recent posts, tenzing took us to all kinds of amazing places on our journey from lhasa to the nepal border, teaching us so much along the way. all overnight stays were taken care of, and some meals were provided while all others were easy with tenzing’s recommendations. i felt like the tour was the perfect combination of adventure with relative comfort along the way. in the middle of our seven days, we got a call from bruce, just checking in on us to make sure all was going well. we assured him that we were truly having an awesome time, and that only continued.

traveling through tibet it an experience that we will really treasure forever. it is a fantastically beautiful place in so many different ways, and is unlike anywhere else on earth. if you ever have the opportunity to go to tibet, let www.travelchinatibet.com help you get there and then enjoy your experience. we cannot imagine a better company to work with.

here’s a couple of photos from our last moments in tibet, as we crossed the “friendship bridge” into nepal on the final morning of our tour. it was crazy cool to see two countries at once on opposite sides of a river!, and then to cross over the bridge into a completely new place (and go back in time instantly thanks to time zones!).

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bruce, tenzing and the rest of the team at TCT: thank you for a really, really incredible time in tibet!

7.02.2015

mount everest!

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^^ another “arms out” picture. just for good measure. but seriously. it’s the tallest mountain on planet earth!!! ^^

to get to everest base camp from nepal, you have to hike ten days through the himalayas. to get to everest base camp from tibet, you just have to endure many hours of rural and bumpy driving. our journey to the foot of the top of the world was pretty exhilarating, laced with a bit of car sickness/body cramps/altitude sickness/lack of sleep misery. it was worth it a million fold and ten hours of crazy driving sure seems better than ten days of hiking to get a spectacular glimpse of the majestic peak of mount everest.

some photos from the drive:
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^^ we asked our tour guide if there would be bathrooms along the way, and his answer was, “don’t worry, there’s nature!” so this is what our bathroom breaks looked like ^^ we got to know the members of our tour group even better than in the four previous days! :)
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^^ as we approached the turn off to the extremely bumpy road leading to base camp, our tour guide pointed out everest’s peak in the distance. we all got pretty excited and took a lot of pictures of this stretch of mountains, worried that we might have bad weather that would obstruct our views the next day. now, i have no idea which one is actually everest above, and we definitely got better pictures the next day. haha! ^^
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^^ the sun set long before we reached the tents we’d sleep in that night. the landscape was otherworldly. ^^

when we arrived at the tent hostels, it was nearly midnight. we got off the minibus one by one and everyone gasped. the stars were insane. so so so bright- the night sky was positively shimmering. that’s a moment i’ll never forget.

we slept on benches around the perimeter of an awesome colorful tents at 18,000 feet and 25 degrees or so. it felt quite difficult to breathe, and it was pretty freezing, but i thought it was about the coolest thing ever. i woke up a couple of times in the night and just felt so excited to see the mountain when i woke up  and so giddy about the whole experience. unfortunately ian had a terrible night’s sleep and was feeling the altitude :(

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we stepped out of the tent as light just barely started to fill the world around us and this is what we saw, right outside the tent, just slapping us in the face with its majesty:
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probably one of the most truly breathtaking moments of my life. pictures and words can’t even.

the boy and i and our new australian friend decided to walk the 4 km from our tent to base camp, rather than take the bus. it was a great way to really soak in the magnificence of our surroundings as the light grew and changed. the boy wasn’t feeling well but was still cheerfully in awe. it was so cold at the overlook down into base camp – the wind chilled us to the marrow of our bones. that sure piqued the senses :)

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^^ outside our tent before we took off to walk to the official base ^^
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^^ i couldn’t stop snapping photos of the peak (obviously). it’s just so spectacular. ^^
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^^ can you tell from this photo that ian was feeling the altitude and lack of sleep a little? :) ^^
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^^ if you look closely in this picture, you can see the climbers’ yellow tents. we both decided you have to be absolutely crazy to attempt summiting everest! ^^

we took the bus most of the way back to our tent, but walked the last bit so we could explore the monasteries and shrines that have been set up over the many, many years. it was a little sunnier and warmer and less windy by then!

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as we headed back towards civilization, all of us couldn’t stop turning over our shoulders for a few more glimpses of the world’s tallest point. the drive back to the main road and then on to our last stop in tibet, a mountainside city on the border of nepal, included stops to see a big stupa, to eat lunch, and to see an overlook of the himalaya range. it also included some heavy snow, sheer cliffs on the side of and large overhangs of mountain above the road, and some serious windiness. i’ve got to say, it was pretty wild.

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^^ the men in our group hopped out of the bus to do a bit of clearing so the bus could get by … ^^
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^^ our last stop in tibet. we had an awesome final dinner with our new traveler friends in this neat town built literally on the side of a mountain. ^^

before we left on our trip, i didn’t think much about going to everest – i thought it was a cool bonus but not something at the very top of my excited-to-see list. it was actually incredible and became one of my favourite life experiences ever.

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