What a first introduction into Asia, we entered Nepal with a foremost thought to mountains and a spiritual people; we leave fixed mostly on the earthquake that at this point has claimed over 8,000 lives. Our time in Nepal has taken place in only really three places yet from those three places we have indulged in experiences as grand as they are diverse. We expected mountains and beautiful people but we have been delivered a whole lot more. We now leave a nation brought to its knees and pleading for foreign assistance with tourism, the major part of their economy, in ruins and a capital city that quite literally needs rebuilding from the ground up. They say Africa gets into your blood but it seems that it’s not just Africa: Nepal is dirty, heartfelt, chaotic and beautiful all in one. Here’s our top ten experiences from a tumultuous time in a country that has kicked us in the back side as much as embraced us.
If it weren’t for the earthquake Manang might be a little higher in this list. As the final place before Thorung La, the highest pass in the world, Manang is as bustling as a town can get so far away from the world as we know it. We saw a local archery festival, caught a movie in the smallest, dodgiest cinema ever conceived and reached out to loved ones in a time of global upheaval. That earthquake overran our time in Manang, it spelt the end of the road for our ambitions on the hike so the bitter sweet experience that is Manang scrapes into number ten on the shake of a mountain.
9- Braga, Annapurna:
Is it Braga town or is it the worlds best carrot cake? After five days solid trekking and the first site for our rest period it is a little tricky to separate the two to be honest. But Braga remains a place in the world that can unquestionable be said to have heart. A centuries old town persists in the face of modern development and simply laughs off gentrification to retain the charm of years gone by. Another carrot cake please.
8- Paragliding, Pokhara:
Soaring with the big birds, what more can we say. Flight or indeed any distance from the ground on which we walk often comes with an adrenaline rush but paragliding proved quite a different beast. So easy, so casual, so free from the rush of wind and the noise of any engine; serenity comes pouring forth with all the power of a flying dream. But it is no dream; to see the Annapurnas and vultures eye to eye, the terraced mountainside of Sarangkot below is more like a dream than not, up there the difference doesn’t seem so great.
7- Eating out, Pokhara:
After hiking about 150km with heavy packs up and down the Himalayas these two little ducks needed a refresher. It could have been the makeover day, it could have been the beers by the lake and it could have been hanging out with Team America; well it was a bit of all these things. But recovery for all of us with eating disorders comes with food, and food we had. Momos, thukpas, curries, tandoori’s, masalas, biryanis and everything else possible. We ate ourselves happy and it truly worked, boo to you feel good dieters who say we shouldn’t eat our feelings.
Even without the heart-wrenching aftermath of the earthquake seeing these most humble, generous and good hearted people torn in pain the Nepalis as a people were always going to rate highly. So rare is it to see fortitude, humility, sincerity and humour wrapped in the one package. Our heart went out to Nepal before the earth shook, and now it is broken like so many of their buildings. So much is broken but that indomitable resilience lies beyond the reach of natural disasters somewhere that is truly unbreakable. Nepalis, we salute you and look forward to a brighter day for you.
Like an artwork that is vulgar, dirty and offensive Kathmandu sits on the wall yet it continually draws you to look at it, you can’t take your eyes off it. Even the relatively touristy Thamel defines chaos, then we poked our head out of the bubble: wow. We were even treated to a tea tasting in a rare opportunity amongst the filth and rubble of a city crammed with too many people. It’s still a squalid splash on canvas and we’d never live here but we’d hang it anywhere that would give us the chance to look at it the most.
4- Ghermu, Annapurna:
In a first day hiking that rocked our perspective of Annapurna there was one saving grace and that was the few towns off the road, Ghermu was the site of our first hiking lunch. Stuck to the hillsides like glue this cluster of towns sticks out as the first strong image of what formed our impression of this country and its people. Hardy, beautiful, immense and courageous; no wonder we leave so captivated.
The spiritual heart, the throb of Kathmandu religion lies pretty much everywhere in this spiritual city but Durbar square is a hotspot no doubt. We saw Durbar square just days before it was reduced to rubble, a world seeking salvation and enlightenment crammed into a place of too much colour to be real. We aren’t part of the spiritual fervour but no matter, Durbar square is a place to behold regardless of your opinion of the faithful.
2- Tashi Palkhel, Pokhara:
We travel for a number of reasons and above all is probably experience; experience in life, experience in different cultures, experience in learning about our world and therefore our own place within it. Few places wrap up a completeness of experiences like Tashi Palkel. A settlement of Tibetan refugees welcomed us to sit in on monks chanting, look in on a hand made carpet workshop and haggle with the best of them in a market feeding frenzy. In just a couple of hours we left as different people to when we entered in the definition of what travelling is all about.
1- Gyaru, Annapurna:
Annapurna remains a double edged sword to us, the worlds greatest hike reduced to a few days of it’s former glory. Nearly 20 days has shrunk to just a handful; hydro power, a road and power lines have stripped the grace from so much of the famous walk leaving just a few days free from the grip of development. In one day walking from the staggering town of Gyaru and indeed a time of centuries past the Annapurnas stopped playing coy with us and revealed their grandeur. What we wanted to see in twelve days we got in just one and a hike that would otherwise have been a disappointment was rocketed to overwhelming status. Annapurna may not be what it was but it only took one day to make it our number one.
See our other Top 5/10’s.