Nepal and Bhutan Trip Report (Part 1)

So as well as talking about food on this blog, I’ve also decided that occasionally there might be scope for posting more generic trip reports about my travels. Things to see and do, my experiences. Think of it more like a travel diary!

I figured my trip to Nepal and Bhutan is a good place to start with this. I probably won’t go back and rehash too many trips, since I rarely keep a travel diary. Maybe once or twice. So we’ll see what I can find when I get home.

This trip was taken over Christmas and New Year. I am an atheist, and not especially close to my family, so the “holidays” such as they are, mean nothing to me. I’d rather take the time off to travel and explore the world.

This is Part 1 of my trip report from Nepal and Bhutan. Because the trip was so long, the report is quite long, so I decided to split it in half. You can read the second half of the report here! This half of the report is solely on Nepal, whereas the second half concludes the rest of my Nepalese adventures as well as talking about my side trip to Bhutan.

Warning in advance, this part of the trip report contains a photo of a cremation ceremony, so if that makes you squeamish, or offends your beliefs, you might want to skip over my Day 2 entry. There may also be some colourful language at times – in both parts of the report. I’m sure you will understand why when you see it though.

Also at the time of writing this, 100 Nepalese Rupees and 60 Bhutanese Ngultrum is approximately US$1 (give or take a cent).

Anyway, on with the adventure!

Day 1 (Arrive Kathmandu…max: 1350m):
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu Winner: hot shower, flushing toilet, free wi-fi
When you arrive in Kathmandu Airport from overseas, you need to fill in a visa application form for the duration of your stay. The forms are on big legal notepads over by the windows (the form you get on the plane is the immigration form, not the visa form). Then you take the visa form, a passport photo (there’s a photo booth there if you didn’t know about this requirement in advance), the immigration form you got on the plane, and the visa payment (US$40 for a 30 day multiple entry visa). Then they stamp your passport, you collect your bags, pass customs, and head outside to the chaos. As I had pre-arranged everything for this trip, I had a driver waiting for me to take me to my hotel. Meant not having to deal with taxis. Except the guy holding my sign wasn’t the driver, and he demanded a tip just for holding the sign (I carried my own bags to the car). Annoying, as I had paid for this in advance, not some dodgy “something for my mates” game. Anyway, finally got to the hotel after some crazy traffic. At the Gaju Suites that was my pre-arranged accommodation, check-in was easy. The hotel is simple, but nice enough. Bed, flushing toilet, hot shower. My only real requirements in a hotel to be honest. Plus, free wi-fi! Not the fastest internet, but enough for email and Facebook. I ventured to the money changer in the hotel lobby, and apparently in Nepal, they work off the official exchange rate, so everyone charges the same, which is nice. I got my Nepalese rupees and went upstairs to the Reef Restaurant for dinner. Not bad, I got chilli fries, but you can read more on that here…After dinner I basically just had a shower and crashed.

Day 2 (Kathmandu Sightseeing…max:1350m):
Gaju Suite Hotel
Kathmandu Winner: hot shower, flushing toilet, free wi-fi
I had pre-arranged a scenic sightseeing flight this morning out to Everest. Which meant a 4am wakeup, as I was being picked up by my trekking guide to go to the airport at 5am. No traffic that early, so it was a nice quick drive. My guide gave me the ticket at the domestic terminal and went to wait in the car for me, as you can’t actually get inside the terminal without a ticket. To get inside, you show the police your ticket, put your bags through x-ray, and pass through a metal detector for a patdown. Then you take your ticket to the relevant airline counter to get your boarding pass. In my case, Yeti Airlines was doing the mountain flight. Got the boarding pass and had to go through another security check point to get to the departure lounge (another bag x-ray and another patdown). The patdowns are segregated by gender by the way. There’s a male line and a female line. Inside the departures area there are a couple of small shops selling drinks and snacks, but you can read more about that here. After about 10 “your flight is delayed due to the weather” announcements, they finally cancelled it. Went outside to get the paperwork so I could either rebook or get a refund, and then went to find my guide outside. Headed back to the hotel until it was time to start my sightseeing tour. I had a different city guide for that. We headed out to Bhaktapur where there were many different temples. Some really stunning architecture! Bought a painting at one of the local art schools, which was a genuine original – I met the artist. I probably paid more than I should, but art is subjective, and if you actually like it, then whatever you pay is “worth it” so to speak. Then got lunch at a rooftop restaurant (vegetable momos – made with rice flour…Winner!), before heading off to a Hindu temple site at Pashupati. It turned out to be a Hindu crematorium site, so there were dead bodies. And lots if smoke. You couldn’t actually enter the site unless you were a Hindu, but you could see it all from the other side of the river. From there we went to visit a Buddhist temple site at Bouddhanath. It was beautiful seeing inside the monasteries. The artwork was amazing! After that we went back to the hotel so I could meet with the company rep about the trekking. Had to sign liability paperwork, prove I had insurance etc. Then my trekking guide took me to the shop so I could buy a couple of last minute trekking items. Had almost everything except for trekking poles and a sleeping bag liner. Got them cheap, so all was good. Back to the hotel restaurant for dinner (chilli chips and tomato soup), and to pack, as I had another 4am wake up call for the 6.15am flight to Lukla.

IMG_3621My simple but tasty breakfast at Gaju Suite Hotel…

IMG_3638Inside Bhaktapur…

IMG_3689 The Hindu cremation ceremony inside Pashupati…

IMG_3709Inside one of the Buddhist monasteries at Bouddhanath…This was the only one I visited in  either Nepal or Bhutan that allowed any photography.

Day 3 (Kathmandu-Lukla-Phakding…max: 2810m…estimated 3:00; actual 2:30):
Royal Sherpa Resort
Up at 4 to shower and finish packing before being picked up at 5am. I left my suitcase at the hotel while I was trekking, and just took a duffel bag. I also had arranged for a packed breakfast, so got that to eat while at the airport. Again, the early morning meant no traffic, so the drive was quick. The same security formalities as yesterday, but at check-in, they weighed my duffel bag and carry-on. Easy enough. A short delay due to the weather again, except we did eventually get off the ground. The flight to Lukla took about 25-30 minutes. Lukla has been rated one of the most dangerous airports in the world. It’s on a cliff face. I took some video of the landing, which wasn’t actually all it was cracked up to be, so I’m not including it in this post. Upon landing, we took our bags to a local guesthouse to sort out our daypacks for the hike to Phakding. The porter met us there and he’s carrying my gear for the next few weeks. The hike is said to take about 3 hours, but even taking it easy, we did it in about 2.5 hours. It wasn’t the most spectacular trek, but it was nice enough. The guesthouse in Phakding was simple but nice. A bed, pillow, and shower/toilet. You need to bring your own sleeping bag, toiletries, and towel etc. though. The showers are cold too, so not so nice when it’s 0C outside! If you want hot water, they will boil some and give you a bucket full. It costs a few hundred rupees. I basically just used cold water and a washcloth and soap, as I know the guesthouse in Namche Bazaar tomorrow has hot showers. Yes, I do occasionally go a bit feral on these trekking trips. It becomes unavoidable to a degree when you don’t always have access to a shower. When we arrived, I ordered dal bhat for lunch. The meals during the trek were included in the cost of my trip. Then crashed for a while before dinner, when I spent some time backing up photos from the last couple of days. They brought out some black tea and cookies for me as a pre-dinner snack, but I couldn’t eat the cookies. I don’t think my guide quite understands vegan yet. Might take a couple of days to explain it. There was also some kind of “Nepal’s Got Talent” show on the tv in the dining room. It was hilarious! I got vegetable curry and rice for dinner, and a mandarin and banana for dessert. Simple, but good food. Then, a fairly early bedtime. Wasn’t especially tired, just a bit cold, and my sleeping bag was warm!

IMG_3735The airport in Lukla. Looks cool, but in the plane I wasn’t all that awed by it.

IMG_3757The ubiquitous dal bhat!

Day 4 (Phakding-Namche Bazaar…max: 3470m…estimated 5:30; actual 4:25):
Yak Hotel & Restaurant
Namche Bazaar Winner: hot shower, flushing toilet, wi-fi
6:00 am wakeup, 7:00 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. Got porridge with cinnamon for breakfast. Was literally the only thing I could find anywhere that I could eat. Not even fruit. The porridge was gluten free by some stroke of luck, I had to ask to see the packet though to check for myself. Lucky it was, otherwise I would have had literally nothing to eat for breakfast (ran out of snacks last night). Which is problematic to the extreme when you’re about to spend most of the day hiking at altitude. The hike itself was pretty amazing. Some spectacular scenery – and my first sighting of Everest! Awesome. We were making such good time that the village my guide had intended for us to stop at to take lunch was reached just before 10:30am. So I just said we should keep going to Namche and have lunch there. So we did. I think my guide was a little surprised at how easy I was finding it, but seemed to understand when I told him what sort of training/sport I do at home (I race triathlons and run marathons). It’s kind of nice doing this trek on my own with the guide to be honest. Means working to our own schedule for the most part. If I want to stop and take photos, I can. If I want to keep going and not take a break, I can. That’s not practical when you’re doing it in a group. And it’s quieter – I’m enjoying the solitude I think. I suspect all my future trekking will be done like this. I can’t imagine doing it in a group again. Anyway, after reaching Namche Bazaar around 12:30pm, I got lunch at the guesthouse (some chunky vegetable soup with rice noodles). I had my concerns about gluten in the broth, and the noodles actually being made with rice flour, but it was fine. Then sorted out some wi-fi so I could check my emails. My guide said it was expensive (1000 rupees for 24 hours), which may be expensive by Nepalese standards. But by Australian standards? That’s cheap! So I was happy. And an actual real hot shower!!! Totally worth the 300 rupees! Then…DOOM!!! And calling it doom is an understatement! My iPhone died. It literally crapped itself. For no apparent reason, it just stopped working. Tried everything to fix it, factory reset and all, to no avail. Went to dinner to try and settle myself down and stop stressing out, but no such luck. I got dal bhat again, and it was good. I just couldn’t bring myself to relax because my phone died. I am surgically attached to that thing. I have an acclimatization day in Namche tomorrow, so I am going to see if I can find a replacement iPhone or Android phone. Not holding my breath though…FUCK. Dear world, I hate you right now.

IMG_3790Trekking from Phakding to Namche Bazaar…

IMG_3793My first sighting of Everest!!!

IMG_3805The vegetable noodle soup I got for lunch…

Day 5 (Namche Bazaar Acclimatization…max: 3880m):
Yak Hotel & Restaurant
Namche Bazaar Winner: hot shower, flushing toilet, wi-fi
The itinerary I organized included an acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar. I guess most people need it. I personally didn’t, but a day off never hurt anyone I guess? Plus, given the fact my phone died last night, I turned out to be grateful for the extra day in Namche for an entirely different reason: I could try and hunt down a new one. At breakfast, same problem again: all the vegan options contained gluten. And I was told explicitly by my guide not to eat the fruit, as he said once you left Lukla, they leave the fruit just sitting around and not refrigerated properly or anything, so it was usually turning rotten, especially at this time of the year. So one less food option for me…Fantastic. It’s fine, I can deal, it’s just making things exponentially more difficult. Even though it was’t on the breakfast menu, I asked if they could make me some french fries. Unhealthy, but carbs are carbs I guess, and you need them for trekking. I am anticipating being forced to just suck it up and eat toast at some point and having to suffer the consequences because I won’t have any other option. I hope like hell this doesn’t eventuate, but I’m fully expecting it at this point. We went for a morning hike up to the Everest View Hotel up on the hill behind Namche Bazaar. Absolutely stunning views. So much so that I actually got my guide to take a photo of me with the mountain panorama in the background. And if you knew how much I loathe having my photo taken, you’d understand why this is a big deal for me. We ventured back down and checked out the Sherpa Museum before going back to the guesthouse for lunch. I got dal bhat again – sticking to the safe options at this point. So after lunch, I got my guide to take me phone and food hunting! No luck on the phone front, so will have to go hunting in Kathmandu. Stupid piece of crap Apple products making my life difficult. But I had epic luck with the snacks! Dried fruit, nuts, wasabi peas, candy, gluten free museli bars! Winner! I paid a fortune for it really, but when you need food, you need food. I expected it to be expensive up here, so came prepared. Almost $70 for a box of museli bars, a small packet of peanuts, 2 small packets of cashews, a small packet of sultanas, 3 packets of dried apricots, a container of wasabi peas, some coconut candy, and a packet of tissues. A little OTT price wise, but at least I have trekking snacks now! And if I run into issues at breakfast again, I have the dried apricots. Not ideal, but it’ll do. Had a rest for a while after that and spent some more time trying to fix my phone. Gave up again and ended up sitting down with my guide to discuss the trekking itinerary. A few locals who were recently in the area have said they “have a feeling” that Cho La Pass may be about to get hit with some bad weather. There is nothing in the weather report to indicate this at all, but the locals have been living here for ages, and may well be able to read the weather better than the professionals. We basically came up with a contingency plan if we can’t cross the pass – we’d have to backtrack to Phortse Thanga after we get to Gokyo and then head up to Everest Base Camp. We’ve been making good time each day, so my guide thinks it will be possible. If we weren’t making good time, he said he wouldn’t have suggested it and he would have forced me to make a decision on choosing either Gokyo or EBC and only doing the other if the pass was open. I’m hoping the pass will be open, but if not, there’s at least a plan in place now! For dinner, I again got the dal bhat. Not sick of it yet, which is good! I notice each guesthouse so far has a slight variation on how they serve it anyway, so it’s not exactly the same every time. Although, while I like it, the constant gas from the lentils is annoying. Another early night after that, as we’re back on the trail again in the morning.

IMG_3820Trekking up to the Everest View Hotel

Day 6 (Namche Bazaar-Phortse Thanga-Dhole…max: 4200m…estimated 6:00; actual 5:00):
Himalayan Lodge & Restaurant
6:30 am wakeup, 7:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. Slight modification from the original itinerary, which only had us trekking from Namche Bazaar to Phortse Thanga today, but my guide wanted to push through to Dhole instead because the weather was good, so we did. Struggled this morning to be honest. Was sick last night, presumably from the food. It wasn’t a non-vegan or gluten issue as it didn’t feel like that kind of “sick”. Just a generic bout of bad food I suspect. These things happen to the best of us at some point, despite every precaution. As a consequence I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. Anyway, for breakfast I again resorted to ordering fries. Blegh. My skin hates the oil, but being a relatively long trekking day, I had to carb load somehow. On the road again at 8am for the hike to Phortse Thanga where we planned to stop for lunch. As I still wasn’t feeling fantastic, the trekking was a little slower than usual. We got to Phortse Thanga at 11.30, which was our scheduled arrival time anyway. The trek from Namche Bazaar to Phortse Thanga was pretty spectacular. A clear day gave us stunning views of Everest! After stopping for lunch (I got vegetable curry and rice, with a glass of hot lemon), we made our way to Dhole, a slightly less spectacular trekking segment, but a couple of small icefalls along the way were pretty. This was apparently meant to take close to 3 hours. We made it in a bit under 90 minutes. I suspect whatever the problem was from last night had made its way through my system by lunchtime. Arriving at the guesthouse in Dhole, it was cold. First time I’ve really felt cold on the trek so far. Only going to get worse from here as well…So I wanted a hot shower. No luck. The guesthouse shower had literally frozen solid. But I was able to get a bucket of hot water, so just had a “washcloth shower” instead, and dunked my head in the bucket to wash my hair…Total sophistication right there! Suspect this may be a common occurrence as we get higher. Doesn’t actually matter in the end, I don’t mind not showering every day. Especially when you’re wearing mostly the same clothes each day (the only thing that is actually worn clean each day on these long treks is underwear). You don’t have the space to pack enough for a clean set of clothes each day, and you don’t really have the time to do laundry along the way. You can generally wash underwear and sports bras and hang them off your daypack to dry using carabiners though – again, total sophistication! Started to make inroads into my trekking snacks today as well. Polished off the wasabi peas. They were good, but I think the ones I normally buy at home are hotter, or just have more wasabi coating. In hindsight, yes, I do realise that I probably shouldn’t have eaten the wasabi peas today given my stomach problems, and should have raided the nuts or dried fruit or candy for energy instead. Oh well. Had a rest for a while before dinner. Uploaded my daily photos to the iPad. Learnt the lesson about backing up memory cards the hard way. Had a camera stolen once upon a time (fieldwork/conference trip during my PhD), and while the university’s travel insurance policy covered the replacement, I lost all my fieldwork photos. Now I back up my SD card every day when I’m travelling. For dinner I ordered steamed rice with plain vegetables. Something simple and not even remotely spicy, so as to not upset my stomach again. I actually got served steamed rice and curried vegetables. Such is life. At least it was edible, just maybe not the best thing to eat with an already upset stomach. It’s improving, just not feeling the best. Pretty much just drinking water, Sprite and hot lemon at this point. No caffeine at all – some might call that a miracle! After dinner, I was feeling the cold, so basically went back to my room and curled up in bed to type this up before going to sleep. Never have I been more grateful that I bought a sleeping bag liner (even though my sleeping bag is rated to -15C), and that the guesthouses will provide an extra blanket if you need one as part of the nightly rate. Brrrr.

IMG_3850On the walk from Namche Bazaar to Dhole…

Day 7 (Dhole-Machherma…max: 4950m…estimated 3:30; actual 3:05):
Peaceful Lodge and Restaurant
6:45 am wakeup, 7:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. Kill me, I want to die. Not entirely joking. Up early to repack and eat breakfast (oats cooked with water, I added sugar). Then started making our way to Machherma. Not especially hard or anything, but I think the altitude hit me today. I was fine while we were hiking, but as soon as we got to the guesthouse in Machherma around 11am and we sat down for lunch, the epic headache from hell hit me. Even my trusty panadene forte didn’t help. At all. We were meant to go for a short hike up the hill after lunch, but I was basically curled up on top of my sleeping bag and blanket feeling like I wanted to cry and just wanted to cuddle a teddy bear. Obviously the afternoon hike was off the cards. As it wasn’t getting any better after a few hours, I went to find my guide to see what he recommended. He got the kitchen to make me a bowl of garlic soup. I didn’t even question the ingredients – if it got rid of the headache, I could put up with a stomach upset. Plus, at this point, my guide finally seems to understand what I can and can’t eat. So I trusted him not to give me something that would make me sick. It was fine in the end, turns out that garlic soup is just water, chopped garlic, salt, and a few spices (kind of tastes a bit like curry soup with garlic actually). Tasted ok. And after about 15-20 minutes the headache started to let up quite a bit. So much for western medicine, huh? The trusty local remedy worked, and my prescription painkillers didn’t. Played cards with my guide, the porter and the guesthouse owner/manager until dinner (some slight variation on poker, picked it up pretty quickly). I got more of the garlic soup for dinner with some plain steamed rice for carbs – and a hot lemon. Headache improved further, but not entirely gone. Really liking the hot lemon instead of tea. Less dehydration due to caffeine. I suppose the flipside of that is my neurosurgeon tells me to consume caffeine to help with my headaches and migraines. Can’t win today! At least my guide thinks the altitude sickness is pretty mild, as I haven’t lost my appetite or anything. Just got the headache. He did suggest that if this happens again during the day though, that I shouldn’t go to bed to try and sleep it off, but that I should sit around outside and try to get more oxygen. Makes sense. Sat by the fire in the dining room for a while (the rooms here aren’t insulated too well) before heading to bed. It’s interesting that the altitude is affecting me here. I’ve been trekking higher than this before and been perfectly fine. I did Kilimanjaro – without an acclimatization day – and was fine. So it kind of hit me out of the blue today. Only getting higher from here, so hopefully this won’t happen again! Tomorrow might have another change of plans. The trek to Gokyo is around 3 hours, but if we get there and the weather is good, we’ll get lunch in Gokyo and head up to see Gokyo Ri tomorrow instead of the following day, which will give us a spare day in case there’s any issues with Cho La Pass. Plus, it sounds like there may be another group heading over the pass the day after tomorrow as well, and I suspect my guide wouldn’t mind the extra company. Crossing the pass seems like it’s going to be a long trekking day. That being said, if the weather when we arrive at Gokyo isn’t great, then we’ll just stick to the original schedule.

IMG_3891_2To give you an idea of the guesthouse menu options…This is the menu from Machherma – but note that the options are pretty much identical at every guesthouse along the Gokyo-EBC trekking routes.

Day 8 (Machherma-Gokyo-Gokyo Ri-Gokyo…max: 5340m…estimated 7:00; actual 6:15):
Namaste Lodge Gokyo
Gokyo Winner: hot shower, wi-fi
Same again: 6:45 am wakeup, 7:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. Fuck everyone. Fuck everything. I want to go home. So breakfast was oats cooked with water. Tasteless mush. Then an almost 3 hour trek to Gokyo. Not bad scenery. Got an early lunch at the guesthouse in Gokyo (garlic soup and steamed rice) before doing the hike up to Gokyo Ri and back. One of those times where I was pushing my limits. Was only about 30m from the top, but the headache I had was so bad that I could barely keep my eyes open. Barely made it, and the porter carried my daypack that last bit up, and all the way back down. On the way back down, my headache started to improve, but I felt nauseous. Puked my guts up about halfway down. Fun. Eventually made it back to the guesthouse for a rest. Went up to the dining room to use the wi-fi so that I could check my email…And found out I’ve lost my job. Effective immediately. Yep, they tell me this when they know I’m travelling, via a 2 line email. Classy. Fuck it all. I give up. Played cards until dinner (dal bhat), and then raided my candy stash. Because why the hell not? I physically feel like shit. And I just lost my job. Pretty sure candy exists for days like this in the first place. There was the option to pay for a hot shower, I just couldn’t be bothered. Fuck the world, I’m going to bed.

IMG_3914The view from up on Gokyo Ri…Pretty!

Day 9 (Gokyo-Thangnak…max: 4850m…estimated 3:00; actual 2:40)
Khumbi La Hotel & Restaurant
An easy day trekking wise. 7:00 am wakeup, 8:00 am breakfast, 8:30 am departure. Got oats cooked in water again for breakfast. Funny that everyone told me I’d get sick of eating the dal bhat – I’m not. I’m sick of oats. Honestly, I would kill for some plain toast to eat my vegemite with at breakfast. Some places do seem to have rice flour, so I think I might ask if they can make me some chapati using rice flour instead of the regular stuff (if the guesthouse has any to start with). Probably might cost a bit extra on top of my meal plan, but it’s a price I’m prepared to pay. It’s odd the things you miss when travelling sometimes. Anyway, the trek from Gokyo to Thangnak was ok. Lots of ice to contend with, and not especially spectacular, but it was still relatively easy. At the guesthouse in Thagnak, we got lunch. I wanted potato fries and ketchup. Just one of those things. But no potato! Sad. I ended up asking if they had rice flour or anything (through my guide), and they did, so I ended up getting the chapati I wanted at breakfast. Just ate it for lunch instead. Came with the option of pineapple jam. Gave that a miss and just had chapati with vegemite. Felt fine after, so no gluten! Going to have to attempt this again. Had a bit of a rest after that before dinner. Options for dinner felt limited due to the lack of potato. Nothing to really put in a curry. And basically all the other options contained egg or cheese. They could have made me vegetable momos using the flour they used for he chapati at lunch, but no go. Momo’s weren’t on the menu, and they didn’t want to make them. In the end I got vegetable fried rice. I wanted a day off the rice. It sits heavy in my stomach and doesn’t make for comfortable trekking. Such is life. I guess one thing I sort of didn’t really think about when booking this trip is the fact that it is off-season for trekking right now in Nepal. So most of the guesthouses are shutdown and the ones that are open are running on bare minimum supplies – including food. So they’re running out of certain things, and probably won’t start getting more in until the season picks up again in late February. Pretty sure they’ll never run out of rice or lentils though! Early night, since we have a stupid o’clock start tomorrow for Cho La Pass.

Day 10 (Thangna-Cho La Pass-Dzongla…max: 5370m…estimated 8:00; actual 7:40 )
Hotel Zongla Inn and Restaurant
4:45 am wakeup, 5:30 am breakfast, 6:00 am departure. Too early. Too hard. I cried – literally. Got chapati for breakfast and smeared on my dwindling supply of vegemite. Breakfast by headtorch! Headed out to brave Cho La Pass. Holy. Fuck. First off, we were trekking while dark. On ice. Then more ice. And more ice. Not snow, but slippery ice. Without crampons (I asked when I booked this trip if I should bring mine, they said it wasn’t necessary…they lied!). Even trekking poles were useless 95% of the time. I kid you not, today was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I race marathons – not to finish, but to post (relatively) competitive times. And I race triathlons at Olympic distances, again not just to finish, but to actually seriously compete. But this tops it all. I got to the top of the pass and sat down and cried for a good 5 minutes. I wasn’t tired, it was just such hard work. The training I did for this trip helped, but was still so totally inadequate to prepare me for days like today. About half an hour after hitting the top of the pass, as we were heading down, a snow storm hit and didn’t let up the whole rest of the day. And so I ended up crying again when we reached the guesthouse in Dzongla. Such hard work. It was pretty spectacular scenery. Especially for a geologist. Maybe not so interesting to the non-geologists. The folded bedding was amazing! I ended up getting my much craved fries and ketchup for lunch! After all that hard work, I was so glad to just be able to order and get what I wanted. Took a short nap after lunch. And I just want to say, I am so glad that I get a room in the guesthouses to myself. They’re all twin rooms and made up as such. Which means that when it’s just that cold, I can steal the extra blanket off the second bed! Sleeping with a sleeping bag liner, sleeping bag, and 2 blankets…Yep, it’s a little bit cold up here! Ended up getting dal bhat and a Sprite for dinner. Sugar craving. So warm in the dining room. Was almost tempted to drag my sleeping gear in there to spend the night. Except apparently they let the fire die out at night. Shame, but understandable. Getting dry wood up here must be hard, so they wouldn’t want to waste it when they do find it. Another slight change of plans for tomorrow…Original itinerary had us trekking to Lobuche for the night, but we’re going to push through to Gorak Shep instead. Will just pass through Lobuche, might get a snack or something there, but that’s it. Gorak Shep sounds a little nicer anyway. I heard something about hot showers…

IMG_3968Cho La Pass…Trekking through 7-8 hours of this. Now imagine that a blizzard hit about 20 minutes after I took this photo. And that was my day…

Day 11 (Dzongla-Lobuche-Gorak Shep-Kala Patthar-Gorak Shep…max: 5545m…estimated 8:30; actual 7:30)
Yeti Resort
Gorak Shep Winner (in theory): hot shower, wi-fi
6:30 am wakeup, 7:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am departure. My guide is certifiably insane. Anyway, started out for Lobuche after breakfast (chapati and jam). Was a bit snowy and icy to start out, but that let up after the first hour or so and turned into a loose rock pathway. Much easier! Made it to Lobuche just before 11am, so decided to take lunch there. I got garlic soup and potato fries. I didn’t have a headache or anything, but figured the garlic soup couldn’t hurt as a preventative measure…Because my guide had just told me that he wanted us to climb up to Kala Patthar this afternoon! Yeah, after 5-6 hours of hiking, he wanted us to climb to the highest point on the itinerary. Hence me calling him certifiably insane. When we got into the guesthouse at Gorak Shep, we took a break for 20 minutes before heading upwards. Was about a 90 minute hike up and an hour back down. Worth it though, some totally spectacular views. Just maybe would have preferred to do it another day. The hiking today was just a bit too long. My endurance is fine, but even I have my limits, and it’s pushing them at this altitude. After coming back down (descent was so windy it almost blew me over at one point), I asked about using the wi-fi. They do have it, but whoever their ISP is is having network issues. So it exists in Gorak Shep in theory, just not working the day I was there. Such is life. Apparently I will be able to get online tomorrow night. We’ll see. Also, those rumours about a hot shower in Gorak Shep? Partial truth. There are hot showers, but they’re not working properly right now. Frozen pipes. Again, I’ve been told: tomorrow. The itinerary for tomorrow seems to have changed again as well. Originally we were just meant to head to Everest Base Camp and then back to Gorak Shep. But my guide is saying he wants to head to EBC and then get as far down as we can. He said either back to Lobuche or to Periche. This will give us 2 days up our sleeves, rather than the one day we have right now. Might come in handy, as we just found out all the flights from Kathmandu to Lukla have been cancelled for the last 3 days due to the weather. So I think he wants to get back to Lukla sooner rather than later in case we run into the same issue. Makes sense, but it is making for some stupidly long days. Anyway, got vegetable curry and rice for dinner. More or less the same as dal bhat, just minus the lentil soup. Was good. Then I pretty much crashed. Long day. Also got a relatively early start tomorrow for EBC. Need the sleep.

IMG_4027Everest! And as close as I got to Tibet. The mountain on the left of the photo is in Tibet. So close, yet so far!

Day 12 (Gorak Shep-Everest Base Camp-Gorak Shep-Lobuche-Periche…max: 5400m…estimated 8:10; actual 7:20)
Hotel Pumori Pheriche
Periche Winner: hot shower
5:45 am wakeup, 6:30 am breakfast, 7:00 am departure. Wakeup is a relative term. It was so windy last night that I barely got any sleep due to the noise. Nothing on the menu I could eat for breakfast, so ended up eating the last of my gluten free museli bars. Going to be slim pickings for snacks until we get back to Namche Bazaar so that I can restock. Anyway, headed off to Base Camp at 7 am. Oh. My. God. I have never been so cold in my entire life. It was only -25C, and I’ve been in way colder temperatures than that, but the wind…Holy crap. With the strength of the wind and the wind chill factor, it felt more like -60C. It quite literally almost blew me over at one point. No jokes about me being underweight, it actually did knock my guide over at one point. We got to Base Camp, stayed for a few minutes to take photos, and then went straight back down. A bit anti-climactic really! But at least there is photographic evidence I was there. Then we headed back to Gorak Shep and down to Lobuche for lunch. I got garlic soup and vegetable fried rice. I think I’ve finally figured out what’s been making me feel ill. The garlic soup. It might work for the altitude sickness, but it’s been giving me the runs. Now we’re heading back down, there’s not really a whole lot of use for it anymore. So we’ll see if my stomach problems let up now that I’m going to stop drinking it. After lunch we headed down to Periche. Of course today is the day my feet decide to start hurting. No blisters or anything, just sore feet. It made for some slow going after lunch, but we still made it in on schedule. I run further each day at home for training, but at the end of the day, at home, I can just soak in hot water. Here, that’s not so much an option. That being said, I did manage a very quick hot shower at the guesthouse in Periche. Basically they boil some water, put it in a bucket on the roof, which is linked to a very rudimentary pipe and shower hose. Enough to soap up, rinse off, and quickly wash my hair. Felt infinitely better after that. Washed off almost a week’s worth of grime (wet wipes each morning and evening only go so far), and psychologically, I think it just helped to wash away some of the misery about the whole job situation. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much and just enjoy the rest of my holiday, but it’s always there in the back of my mind regardless. Oh well. Got a “veggie burger” and fries for dinner. My guide made me laugh though – he told the kitchen not to use egg to bind the veggies together to make the burger without me needing to tell him…Two minutes later he asks if I want mayonnaise on it! I get the impression he had no idea what mayo is actually made from. Still, made me laugh. Ate the contents of the burger and the fries, but not the bread itself. I wanted veggies, just not curried veggies, which seems to be the only option. I’ve tried asking for plain vegetables multiple times, and I always get given curry regardless. Ordering the veggie burger seemed to be a way around the “I want plain vegetables” issue. They were fried rather than steamed, but still made for a nice change. Stayed up for a while playing cards, then went to bed. An easy day tomorrow. A slight change to the itinerary…Again. Apparently we’ll spend a few hours trekking to Tyangboche, where we’ll spend the night. But the amazing thing is that after lunch, the Buddhist monastery there opens its doors for visitors for a little while. It’s the biggest monastery in the region, and it should be an amazing experience. I may well be an obnoxious atheist – why deny it? – but I love having different cultural experiences like that. I admittedly hate the Catholic church, but it didn’t stop me appreciating the artwork inside the Vatican. Same thing applies here I suppose. Now seriously, it’s been a very long day…Bed.

IMG_4043Yep. This is the sum total of Everest Base Camp. Glad I made it, but totally underwhelming.

Day 13 (Periche-Tyangboche…max: 4270m…estimated 3:30; actual 3:30)
Hotel Himalayan
Tyangboche Winner: hot shower, wi-fi (in theory)
7:00 am wakeup, 8:00 am breakfast, 8:30 am departure. Woke up at 4am anyway. Just stayed in bed till I had to get up and repack though. Ended up eating the dreaded oats for breakfast, the only thing on the breakfast menu I could eat since I’d run out of my own snack food as an alternative. And nothing in the guesthouse “shop” was gluten free. The Pringles were oh so tempting though…Anyway, the trek from Periche to Tyangboche was spectacular. It had the picture perfect “winter wonderland” feel to it. Very much the whole “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” vibe, to the point where it got stuck in my head for a couple of hours. Loved it! Got into the guesthouse at Tyangboche for lunch, and honestly? That is the best dal bhat I’ve had in Nepal so far. Without question. It was the tastiest curry and the best lentil soup out of anywhere. There is a hot shower at the guesthouse which I chose to bypass, as I can shower again tomorrow in Namche. And there is also wi-fi…In theory. In reality, apparently they have the same ISP as the guesthouse in Gorak Shep, and are having network problems. Might be working tomorrow, just not today. After lunch I took a short rest before going to visit the monastery – a whole 30 seconds walk from the guesthouse! Only rules were: take your shoes off; and no flash photography. Easy enough. My socks probably smelt feral, but whatever. I think I ended up offending the monks anyway *sigh* They brought around an offering of tea to the visitors. I had to turn it down, because it was a thermos of milk tea. I was the only one to say no. My guide explained why I said no, but it still didn’t go down particularly well. Now apparently me being vegan causes actual offense, not just a “wtf?!?!” reaction. Wonderful. Should I apologise to the world because I have a potentially fatal dairy allergy? Get stuffed. Anyway, stayed to listen to the monks pray for a little while, it was very relaxing the way they chant. Wants to put you to sleep almost. I’m glad we modified the itinerary slightly to take this opportunity. Visiting and staying in Tyangboche was never in the original itinerary, but because we were 2 days ahead of schedule due to previous itinerary changes, we had the time. I’m grateful for it. Tyangboche is a stunning place, and the monastery visit, while short, and me inadvertantly causing offense, was amazing. Then headed back outside to take some more photos before relaxing a bit. For dinner, I ended up getting vegetable curry and rice. The curry I got with the dal bhat at lunch was so good that I wanted more of it! Just my luck though, they must have had a different chef on for dinner, because while the veg curry I got wasn’t bad, it wasn’t the same level of awesome as the one at lunch. You win some, you lose some! After that I sat around the obligatory dining room furnace for a while dozing. Then headed to bed. Back to Namche tomorrow. Hot showers and wi-fi that works!

IMG_4102 A mountain goat spotted along the trail…I got the “My Highland Goat” song stuck in my head for hours. 

IMG_4143In Tyangboche…

Continue on to the second half of my trip report to read about the rest of the trekking and my time in Bhutan!


4 thoughts on “Nepal and Bhutan Trip Report (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Nepal and Bhutan Trip Report (Part 2) | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

  2. Pingback: On the road in…Bhutan! | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

  3. Pingback: On the road in…Nepal! | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

  4. Pingback: Druk Air…KTM-PBH-KTM | The Vegan Frequent Flyer

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