The End of the Open Road

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.

Day 107: Our plane touches down in Kathmandu, Nepal. No luck seeing the Mount Everest from our window during our flight from Chengdu to Kathmandu. We make our way to our hostel in the city center and immediately explore the city to make the necessary arrangements for our Mount Everest Base camp trekking. The busy streets of Kathmandu are filled with honking cars, blasting music and great smells coming from local restaurants. Shopkeepers are constantly dusting off the floating dust particles that are spiralling all around us.

First on our to do list is buying the necessary gear for our hike. There is an abundance of trekking shops in Kathmandu so we are confident we will find anything we need for our trekking adventure. We add hiking poles, a sleeping bag, hiking pants and some hiking socks to our mobile wardrobe.

Day 108: On the second day we arrange our hiking permit at the Nepal Tourism Board first thing in the morning as they are only open until noon (Apparently this pass is no longer required so please check the official websites for the latest requirements). Once we completed the paperwork with our lovely passport photos, which looked more like mugshots, we decide to explore a bit of Kathmandu. Everywhere they are restoring, building, monuments,… On Durban Square, we notice the destruction the massive 7.8 earthquake has left behind last year. Beautiful monuments have been destroyed or are badly damaged.

Day 109: We get up at the break of dawn and are filled with excitement. Today we are starting our trek to the Everest Base Camp, one of the absolute highlights of our trip. To get there we first have to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, known as world’s most dangerous airport due to its very short runway at 9,500 feet altitude and being located in an area with very unpredictable weather conditions. We check in to the regional airport of Kathmandu, a small airport next to the bigger international airport. There, we wait at one of the gates for our boarding call.

But instead, we get an announcement that our flight is delayed due to the limited visibility in Lukla that makes it too dangerous to fly. Hoping for the weather to get better we wait it out. Around 10 AM, we see some people leave the gate and other passengers tell us to consider rebooking at no extra charge the next day. Beside, flights to Lukla are only available until noon. We do hope we are able to get out soon but unfortunately a couple moments later they announce all flights are canceled and we can rebook for a flight the next day or get our money back. Of course, now all the early 6 AM departures are already booked up by other hikers because we waited so long to rebook our flight flight to Lukla. We get a flight at 10 AM tomorrow morning. A little disappointed, we return to Kathmandu and stay another night at our hostel. We get some beers and try to forget about the unfortunate delay of our trek.

Day 110: Just like yesterday we make our way to the regional airport of Kathmandu. We notice passengers who have been waiting for their 6 AM flight still waiting to depart. And they are first in line to depart whenever the weather clears up. The message we get from the airline is to stay close to your gate because as soon as the airport authorities give a green light to fly we will have to leave as soon as possible to be able to fly inside that travel window. Some people from the 6 AM flight get out through a very small travel window and for a moment we are hopeful. But not even 15 minutes later the travel window is already gone again and we get stranded once again with a cancelled flight.

We rebook our flight again for the next day. This will be our final try as we want to see make the most of our precious time here in Nepal. That afternoon we decide to walk up to stupa at Swayambhunath. This religious site is sitting on the top of one of the many hills around Kathmandu and offers a spectacular view of Kathmandu and the surrounding area. For a moment we forget about our worries.

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Day 111: We hope that third time is a charm but clearly the Mount Everest was not meant for us, this time. The third day in a row Lukla is plagued with bad weather conditions. Today it is even worse than the last two days and no one gets out. It is still early September so we know this is not the best time of the year as we are still at the end of the monsoon season. October, January and February are typically the best time to go for a trek in the Himalayas. Our flight gets cancelled and we request a refund with the airline. We change our travel plans and set our eyes on the Annapurna Base Camp instead. This hike is entirely accessible by foot and we can complete this as we have about two weeks left in Nepal. To get to the start of the Annapurna Base camp we have to get on a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Not much later our bus tickets to Pokhara are booked. 

Day 112: The bus ride is a full day drive (7 – 9 hours) on a busy, narrow road along passes with dramatic cliffs. Traffic is insane and drivers pass each other left and right and without too much caution of oncoming traffic. In the early evening, we arrive in Pokhara, a nice town nestled around Phewa Lake and the hub for many hiking adventures. We check in to the Kiwi Hostel and get a private room, for once, so we can rest up a couple days before the hike. Besides, accommodation is very affordable here.

Day 114: We are slowly starting to get to know a few other backpackers who stay at the Kiwi Hostel and all seem to get along pretty well. We explore the town and go for a boat ride on Phewa Lake with our Italian friend, Anna. With a couple beers in our hands, we chat our lives away while floating on the lake. 

Day 115: We are prepping for our hike tomorrow and really stoked as a bunch of the Kiwi Hostel family decided to join us on the hike (or part of the hike). With the group we take the bikes and go cool down at the river. In the evening there is a open air movie night (Inception) at one of the bars. Suddenly it starts raining. And when it rains, it pours over here. In a couple moments, the streets of Pokhara have become little streams and we are trying to navigate our way home with little street lights. Trying to dodge the sewer drains which are just big holes over here. Neil, Rachel, Anna and I decide to take a taxi home as the walk is still far and the weather just don’t seem to get any better. The taxi driver must have been quite confused with our enthusiasm as he dropped us off at the hospital instead of our hostel. Luckily the two places were only a 5 minute driver from each other.

Day 116: Finally, we can start our trek in Nepal, with a delayed start and a different destination, but also with a group of new made friends. A taxi bus brings the nine of us (Rachel, Neil, Gideon, Lukas, Seba, Maisey, Barney, Frank, and myself) to the start of the trek to Annapurna Base Camp, in Nayapul. Frank immediately leaves the group in the dust as he feels his hiking pace is a bit faster and we do not want to hold him up the entire time. After a few hiccups with the permits, we are all on our way to Ulleri.

Day 118: After a short night in our lovely teahouse in Ghorepani we leave early in the morning to see the mountains and sunrise at Poon Hill. Unfortunately, clouds were obstructing the views over the Annapurnas. The trek continues and after a long day we reach our guesthouse in Tadapani where we rest up and play cards while we start seeing the stunning mountain ranges around us. Rachel picked up a guest along the way that was been munching on her leg all day long, a leech. During monsoon season they are everywhere so keep an eye open for them.

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Day 119: Rachel, Gideon and Neil decide to return as Neil is starting a retreat in a couple of days. With the remaining 5, we climb towards Chhomrong where we have immaculate views upon arrival and get a first glimpse of Mount Annapurna.

Day 120: Maisey and Barney bid the group farewell and return to Pokhara. Lukas, Seba and I continue to Deurali. An intense but immensely rewarding trekking day and one day away from the Annapurna Base Camp. We also run into Frank today who shares that he had to turn around at Macchapuchere Base Camp (MBC) as the altitude sickness was getting too bad. The best thing you can do is seek lower elevation as soon as you can.

Day 121: We start the day bright and early and set foot to the Macchapuchere Base Camp which is the last stop before the Annapurna Base Camp. We hope we do not get sick like Frank but make it in a good timing and without any altitude sickness. We are determined and keep hiking to the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) which sits at 4,130 meters. Between MBC and ABC there aren’t too many people on the trail and we are literally walking with our head in the clouds. At this point, every step we take feels like we have a block of cement tied to our feet and we gasp heavily for air. But then the ABC welcome sign appears out of the fog and we realize we finally made it ! We check-in, change to some warm clothes and get some tea and delicious Dal Bhat in the main room of the lodge. An absolute treat sipping on your hot tea in a warm place while enjoying the filling warm food and looking outside, waiting for the clouds to lift and to reveal the mountains around us. Sure enough, a few moments later the clouds open like the curtains at the start of a show and we see a glacier below us with giant mountains beyond it. And the show is spectacular! Taking into considerations that we are already standing at a height of 4,000 meters, it is insane to comprehend these mountains are still towering over us from such great heights (6000 and 7000+ meters). My mouth drops and every second of admiring this wonder of nature is worth every single step on this trek. Absolutely mind-blowing !

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Day 122: We start our descend and are on a mission as we try to reach Pokhara in three days. The first day we hike down in a steady pace and overnight in Chhomrong.

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Day 124: On our last day of the trek we are treated with a beautiful blue sky morning and amazing views on the Annapurnas behind us. A last wave off of these giants. From here we hike down to Phedi and get on the bus that brings us back to Pokhara. Upon arrival at the Kiwi Hostel, we have some familiar faces that are there to greet us. We check into our familiar room, freshen up and go for beers to celebrate this wonderful experience.

Day 125: During our last in Pokhara I decide to trim my wild curly hairdo at a local barbershop. For a few moments, I notice the barber hesitating and where to start but then he does start chipping away.

Day 126: Rachel, Seba and I leave Pokhara behind us and get on a bus back to Kathmandu where we reunite with Anna for one final night in Nepal.

Day 127: Today is one of those sad days. It marks the final day of our trip in Asia. The four of us have become a really tight group while bonding over all these adventures and experiences in Nepal. Anna already has a flight in the early morning so we hug her goodbye with sleepy eyes.. Seba takes a taxi to the airport around noon for his afternoon flight. We see each other again tomorrow at the airport in Melbourne but we booked different flights as Seba decided very last minute what is next on his travel list and my evening flight was already full. 

It is a weird feeling, how all these things come to an end. Before I know I am picking up my backpack at the hostel and wave Rachel goodbye.

What a ride…

After 4.5 months traveling through Asia with Seba this whirlwind trip comes to an end. As I am sitting in the back of a taxi on the way to the airport in Kathmandu I take in the last hectic moments of the busy evening traffic. Crowded buses and overloaded motorbikes pass me by and the city lights wave me a brief farewell before I get dropped at the airport.

I will miss this mayhem.

As I get my backpack from the taxi I accidentally scratch the back of the car. It is time to go…

Although we didn’t make it to Everest Base Camp as planned due to bad weather conditions and cancelled flights, we managed to hike up to the Annapurna base camp with a fantastic group of new made friends as a fantastic consolation price and a bloody awesome final chapter on our Asian adventure.

Again, plans change all the time when you are on the road, that is the beauty of traveling.

My backpack is bursting at the seams with gifts and mementos while my heart is full of lovely memories. Thank you Asia and all the people I met along the way for the good times. I will see you again one day soon as there is some many other places left undiscovered.

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