Hong Kong city life and Nepal's majestic Himalaya
19.09.2012 - 16.10.2012 24 °C
Once upon a time, there were two exchange students. They both left their home countries Hong Kong and Holland, to cross the ocean and to go the great country of Canada to learn how to speak English. Both were chosen by families in the little town of Sylvan Lake Alberta, where they both attended H.J. Cody high school. That's where it all begun
10 years later, they meet again, in Hong Kong and have a fantastic two days of catching up! And they lived happily ever after. The end.
No, seriously, Hong Kong is fun, cool, relaxing but European priced, which is something we haven't had in a while and we find everything extremely expensive! We visit Stanley Market on the ocean, pass Repulse bay, explore Causeway Bay, Kowloon, visit the peak with April, enjoy the night markets, visit a theme park that is home to a famous mouse and enjoy the luxury of having normal toilets, bathrooms, toilet paper and soap in public washrooms and good food in to us common places (they had Delifrance bakeries here! we ate the most delicious sandwich in three months)
Once upon another time, there was these two girls from Holland, who both decided in time of economic crisis, to quit their jobs and travel the world...
They flew from Hong Kong to Kathmandu through Delhi, and the main reason to visit Nepal was the Himalaya range, luckily for them, visible from the plane when flying in from Delhi early in the morning. Once arrived in Kathmandu, they witnessed the oldest international airport they've ever seen before. No building in their home country looks older then this airport. That standards changed, was immediately clear when the "luggage belt" showed up..
The city itself is crazy! Busy, dirty, polluted and poor, very poor. The first sights of Kathmandu make it seem like there was an earthquake and a tsunami just days before. Piles of rocks, rubbish and garbage, combined with tree branches and leaves everywhere you look. It's a weird sight, we realize this is the furthest from home (standard wise) we've been since we started this trip. Our hostel is ok. It's private, there is a bed, but the water that comes out of the tabs is orange/brown and cold.. We explore a bit of Kathmandu that is within walking distance from the hostel and shop around for the trekking. A day later we decide to book a 14-day Gokyo, Everest Base Camp (EBC) loop and we leave two days later, exiting!
The last full day we have in Kathmandu, we spend exploring all Kathmandu's famous sights. Bauddhanath, the biggest stupa in the world, it was amazing! Pashupasinath, a place where they burn the deceased, Durbar Square, Bhaktapur square and the monkey temple (yes, there are monkeys). It was a very interesting, but exhausting day! We enjoy a great steak, in a by a friend recommended restaurant, say cheers to the trekking and hope for a safe return!
The next day we leave for the trekking, from our hostel we are being picked up by our guide (Chuda) and a driver that bring us to Kathmandu airport, because we have to fly to Lukla before we start our trekking. It's only a 35 min flight, so no biggie. This is what makes this trek more expensive, but if you wanna see Everest, it's this or, take a bus for a day and then hike 6 extra days (with appr. 800 mt elevations up and down daily, and the extra costs for the accommodation, food and beverages make it the same price as flying), so we flew. Delayed that is, because about an 1-1.5hr later then expected we are on our way to Lukla. The plane is a Twin Otter DHC 6/300, a small plane that fits 19 people. When we go in, we're sitting one seat from the cockpit, and the cockpit is separated from the rest of the aircraft by a curtain, that remains open. We can look through the front window of the plane, sweet! The cockpit itself seems older then out grandparents ever were... Different, that's for sure. After 35 minutes we see a little strip of asphalt near some houses on the edge of a mountain, Lukla is in sight, but the runway seems way to short!
Two days after our arrival in the mountains, we learn that Lukla is the most dangerous airport in the world, not only because of its short runway, but also because of the situation, it's on a cliff, in front of another mountain. And the reason we were delayed on our departure day was not because of the weather (we assumed it was), but because another plane that was heading to Lukla crashed, (on the Kathmandu end) killing all 19 of its passengers (7 Chinese, 5 British and 7 Nepali)... We were in shock, we were just arriving at the airport when it happened, and didn't notice a thing! Our guide didn't tell us, because he didn't want us to get scared, which was probably a good thing. So here we were, alive and well on our way to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar.
On day one we walked only 2.5 hrs from Lukla to Phakding. It was mostly downwards, but very nice. Lots of green, waterfalls, yaks that carried products up the hill as well as the so called porters (mostly (young) men that carry anywhere from 30kg - 50kg up the hill for $9 a day. Insane!)
During this trek we sleep in so called tea houses. Ran by Sherpa families, they provide a bed (+ blanket at high altitudes) and have a little restaurant in living room style where all the trekkers and the guides and porters can eat and sleep before heading on the next day. The building(s) are not insulated, so we were happy with our rented sleeping bag, even though Helens' shed feathers like crazy (I looked like a chicken when I woke up every morning ). During the whole trek we have a twin room everywhere, quite nice, we thought we would be staying in dorms. There is one stove/furnace in the living room/restaurant, which runs vey efficiently, on yak poop. The women gather the poop outside, flatten it and lay it to dry in the sun. Once its dry enough the men collect it and use it, together with some lamp oil, to start the stove/furnace.
We have an acclimatization day in Namchee Bazaar, a place at 3400mt, quite a town compared to the other hamlets we've passed on the way up. Still forestry, big bridges over rivers and some great views of big white snowy peaks tempted us on the way. We can not wait to get higher. On day four we can see Mount Everest for the first time. With less snow then surrounding peaks, Everest is not as big as we thought, but its a very colossal peak, and we are already at 3500mt. It would probably be a lot bigger if you would look at it from sea level. Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam are other peaks we see and they are all amazing.
The weather is gorgeous after day four, barely any clouds at all. We are able to trek in a T-shirt up until 4800mt, insane! In Macchermo we visit a little meeting in the hospital about altitude sickness, quite interesting, I guess hiking in higher altitudes is more dangerous then we knew. When we reach Gokyo on day five (4800mt) we have a slight headache. Maybe it's because of the altitude, maybe it's because we walk quite fast (and gain too much elevation in too short of time), but luckily its gone the next day. Since day two, there have been two Austrian ladies as well as two German men walking the same distances as us every day, and some of them will until the second last day. Since we sleep mostly in the same places, we make some new friends
Soon we get a new nickname, "The Flying Dutch Girls". We basically took about a little more then half the time our schedule tells us every day. Gokyo Ri is the first peak we climb above 5000. It's 5360 and we start climbing at 4am, in the dark, a sky full of stars and a bright moon that gives us enough light to climb up the hill without a light. But is it ever though. You can definitely feel that there is about 40% less oxygen in the air here, compared to sea level. The fact that it's dark is good so you can not see how steep the mountain is your climbing. When we get to the top, just over 2 hours later, the view is amazing!
We do this pattern of walking early in the morning twice again, once for the crossing of the Cho La Pass (we had to go early because of the possibility of falling rocks and melting snow And ice once the sun was warming up the mountain), and the second time for climbing our highest peak this trip, Kala Patthar at 5550mt. Every time a sky full of stars and a bright moon led us up the mountain and once on the summit, we would wait for the first sunlight and actual rays to shine over Mt Everest and neighboring peaks, truly witnessing majestic Himalaya!
The trek itself was fantastic, we loved it soo very very much! But pictures can describe better then words, so:
After we got back to Kathmandu, this time in a little bit newer airplane, still small, still shaky, everyone on board obviously nervous but at least we didn't crash. We learned that two days after we flew, there was no airtraffic possible to Lukla for 7 days because of the weather. Good for us, since it was nice and quiet on the mountain. On our last two descent days, we met literally hundreds of trekkers going up.. It was a turn off, so busy, but we were happy we weren't part of them and that we were able to enjoy all the peace and quiet on the mountain! We were invited by our agency (High Spirit Treks) to dinner. They took us to an authentic Nepali cuisine restaurant, with live entertainment, Nepali music and folk dance. Very interesting and delicious food! (The Rakshi, a local made alcohol which is very very strong, was a little too much after being a saint for 14 days). Afterwards, met up with two Danish girls who we've met in China, our guides from the last two weeks joined us and had a great night catching up with everybody again!
Our last days in Nepal, we spend in the south of the country, in Chitwan NP. In contrast to the high mountains we visited in the north east, in the south they have jungle, with crocodiles, elephants, rhinos and much more. We did a three day trip to Chitwan, which took us 6 hrs on Nepali roods to get there. We enjoyed some local cultural show, saw rhinos (from quite far away, but close enough to see that they were rhinos), did a jungle walk, had a canoe trip where we spotted two different types of crocodiles, we bathed with the elephants and made an elephant back ride through the jungle. Incredible! And weird to think that only two days earlier we were still in the Himalaya, and now in a bathing suit on top of an elephant in the extreme heat! I guess we can slowly prepare for what's coming next, and that is Malaysia! It was sad to leave Nepal, which we thought was kinda weird, because neither of us have ever been in a place so dirty which yet felt so comfortable when it was time to go.. Let's see what Malaysia has in store for us!