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Nepal

The magic of Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur


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Kathmandu Valley is a place praised by many. Some love it for its temples, spiritual atmosphere and calm, others enjoy hiking, historical buildings sightseeing or shops. People from all around the world arrive to Kathmandu to enjoy healing powers of spa treatments, yoga and meditation. In total, we spent 11 days in Kathmandu and still we would be delighted to be back one day to this unique place. Apart from backpacker Disneyland of Thamel district, Kathmandu hosts plethorea of sights to see.

First we visited Swayambhunath Temple, also known as Monkey Temple. A mix between Buddhist and Hindu Temple on the hill overlooking Kathmandu Valley surprised us with its solemn and peaceful atmosphere. Despite political unrest, religion is never a subject of conflict in Nepal. Hindu and Buddhist coexist peacefully in the same territory for multiple hundreds of years. In the temple itself, one needs to be careful with monkeys which are ready to snap your water bottle or camera in an instant.

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Another interesting place was Boudhanath Stupa, called Boudha by locals. This white enormous stupa is a place of pilgrimages and worship for Tibetan Buddhists. It is also a center of refugees from Tibet and monks. The sound of mantras and Buddhist incantations permeates the air. Believers circumnavigate Boudha clockwise, making a wish every time they turn the praying wheel. It is a place where everybody could achieve englightment thanks to bestowed merits and blessing, the poor and rich, the religious and non-religious, devoted or not.

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In the evening, we visited the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple, a very important place for all Hindu living in Kathmandu. Its located at the banks of Bagmati River and dedicated to Lord Pashupatinath, the national deity of Nepal. The temple was extremely interesting and moving as it is a place where Hindu cremate their relatives and throw their ashes into the Bagmati River. In terms of significance, this temple is compared to Varanasi in India and is its local representation. Witnessing several funerals provides meaningful insight into the circle of life and death. After the body is wrapped in shroud, relatives pay the last goodbye and the ritual starts. The body is set on fire, with wood or straw intensifying the burn. Once only ashes are left, a temple boy swipes all ashes into the river.

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We have also seen an interesting custom of floating small candles on lotus leaves down the river, which we assume was a way to remember about deceased relatives. One boy picked up this “boat” and started playing with it on the river bank.

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Kathmandu Valley is full of ancient cities, towns, hills, villages and settlements. Out of many, we have decided to visit two: Patan and Bhaktapur. Patan is a sister city of Kathmandu, much less destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. We visited the beautiful Patan Durbar Square and also watched the photo exhibition dedicated to women who fought for democracy in Nepal.

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Out of the three cities, Bhaktapur has the most preserved old town. Its center street and lanes are out of limits for motorized traffic and almost untouched by the 2015 earthquake. Bhaktapur’s most famous sights include the Golden Gate of the former palace, with fabulous wood carvings at the archway, and Nyataponla Temple. Its five-storied building is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of female force and creativity – Siddhi Laxmi. Apart from beautiful historical buildings, strolling around Bhaktapur gave us insight into the daily life of its inhabitants. We have seen many women threshing rice and other grains after recent harvest.

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Overall, we were very pleased with our stay in the Kathmandu Valley. Mild temperatures, wonderful variety of food and leisure activities made for a good relaxation after the two hikes we completed earlier.

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Posted by samandmarta 19:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Everest Base Camp Trek - Part 3

To the top of the world and back again


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The day we have been waiting for started very early. We had our breakfast at 6 AM so we could make it to Everest Base Camp (EBC) before the clouds appear. Mornings were usually very clear, but clouds started creeping in most afternoons. This day we felt how fit we had become in the recent month, due to the high-altitude trekking we did in Tibet. On the way to Gorakshep we passed hundreds of trekkers that had started even earlier than us, but that were struggling with the thin air, while we were feeling very energized. In Gorakshep, at 5150 meters above sea level, we were supposed to spend the night, but not before making it to Everest Base Camp. We rested briefly at our guest house, drinking a few cups of tea.

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The path to EBC was running parallel to the lower parts of the Khumbu glacier. This was technically the most difficult part of our journey, as many parts were going through fields of huge rocks deposited there by the glacier. The EBC trek is, in general, very busy. Around 400 trekkers start the path every day in October, so there was never a feeling of isolation or solitude during this trek. But this very last segment was surprisingly empty. It seemed like we have left most other trekkers behind and we were able to enjoy the views in peace and silence. Along the way, Mount Everest came back into view, now closer than ever, after being hidden from us for the past three days.

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When we finally arrived at the Base Camp, around 10:30 AM, it felt somehow anticlimactic. Mount Everest is only climbed in spring, so in October there are no climbers and no tents there. Only an inscribed stone and some prayer flags remind visitors of what must have been a very interesting place in spring. Also, the views of Mount Everest are actually best half-way between Gorakshep and EBC. At the Base Camp you can hardly see the peak. Still, we were happy to have made it till the end of the trek and spent around an hour there, absorbing the energy of this place where so much history has been written. The entire time, there were never more than 20 other trekkers there and we could really enjoy our time. Only on the way back to Gorakshep the crowds started to come our way.

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We were back in Gorakshep around 1 PM and there was nothing left on our itinerary for the day. The next day we were supposed to climb Kala Patthar, which is one of the best viewpoints for Mount Everest, but Sam felt like he had enough energy left to go there already for sunset. From the 5650 meter high peak, the views were amazing. Sunset was also a much better time for photos as the sun was illuminating the Everest peak.

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The next day, we woke up at 4:30 AM to climb Kala Patthar again, this time together. From the top of the peak, we watched the sun rising from right behind Mount Everest.

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Most people who trek to EBC would now start the descend back to Lukla. This involves three long days of climbing down. We chose to save us the effort and have booked our trekking with a helicopter ride back to Lukla. Neither of us has ever been in a helicopter so it was quite an interesting experience. However, the flight was almost too short. In only 15 minutes, we flew back the distance that took us nine long days of hiking.

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After one night in Lukla, we were again very lucky to have a clear morning where our flight was able to depart roughly on time and bring us back safely to Kathmandu. In conclusion, trekking to the Everest Base Camp was a lifetime experience for us. Sam, at first, did not want to do this trip, because he prefers quiet places with less people. But while it is true that this trek is very busy and you even run into “traffic jams” from time to time, you don’t notice the crowds most of the time. The mountain panorama is so impressive, that the other people on the trek are easily forgotten. It is not just about seeing Mount Everest, but the entire area is astonishing. You can see three of the world’s five highest peaks and countless other amazing mountains. In the end, Sam was extremely happy that Marta convinced him to do this trek.

Posted by samandmarta 18:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Everest Base Camp Trek - Part 2

from Namche Bazaar to Lobuche


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The fourth day of our trekking was the least picturesque one. Almost the entire route between Namche Bazaar and Tengboche we spent inside clouds and consequently had no views. However, the stay in the village of Tengboche proved very interesting. After arriving at our guesthouse, we went to visit the Tengboche monastery, the most important one in the area, where we were fortunate enough to witness the making of a sand mandala. Four monks were working on the beautiful, almost finished mandala and added their tiny amounts of colored sand to the short-lived piece of art.

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It was a cold morning when we woke up the next day. The ground was covered in frost, but the clouds had cleared and brought us back the fantastic mountain panorama with Nuptse (7861m), Everest (8848m), Lhotse (8516m) and Ama Dablam (6812m). The weather stayed like this the entire day and we had this fantastic view in front of us for most of the trek. Shortly after lunch, we passed the 4000 meters elevation and at the same time went above the tree line. From that point on, brown and grey colors dominated the landscape around us. We spent the night in Dingboche, at an elevation of 4350 meters.

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From Dingboche, we had another acclimatization hike on our itinerary, the climb to a peak called Nagerjun. On this day, we had to climb 750 meters up to an elevation of 5100 meters and then back again, which made this the most strenuous day so far. The steep climb was absolutely worth the effort though, as it provided breathtaking views. On one side, we could see a different face of Ama Dablam with two glacial lakes at its base. On the other, we saw Taboche (6495m), Cholatse (6440m) and Cholatse lake. And last but not least, we also saw Makalu, at 8485 meters the fifth-highest mountain on earth. Thereby, we managed to see 6 of the 14 eight-thousanders in less than a month, including 3 of the 5 highest peaks.

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The following night was exceptionally clear, allowing Sam to take some great night photographs of Ama Dablam and Lhotse.

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Feeling excellently acclimatized, we departed towards Lobuche the next morning. This day was quite easy for us, as we ascended up to 4900 meters only, less than we did the previous day. Along the way, we passed a graveyard for climbers and sherpas. Many stone piles were standing around with inscriptions about the deceased. A special place to rest in peace for those who were connected to the Himalayas. We went sleeping, excited for our visit to Everest Base Camp the next day.

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Posted by samandmarta 18:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Everest Base Camp Trek - Part 1

From Kathmandu to our first view of Mount Everest


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We landed back in Kathmandu on October 7th and spent another two nights in the Nepali capital. There, we visited the famous Kathmandu Durbar Square. Unfortunately, this historic area is still severely damaged by the earthquake, but some of the temples were open for visitors. Among them was Kumari Chok, the residence of the Kathmandu Kumari. The Kumari is a little girl, who is proclaimed to be a living goddess by Hindu priests. From that point onwards, the poor girl is no longer allowed to walk or live with her parents. Completely by accident, we managed to visit her residence exactly when she was about to make her daily appearance. For about half a minute, she was brought to the window and looked down on the excited crowd in her colorful costume and painted face, but with a sad face.

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Our Everest adventure started with a flight to Lukla. Lukla airport is often called the most dangerous airport in the world, not because there would be many accidents, but because it is extremely difficult to start and land there. The runway is only 527 meters long and is angled upwards on a hill. Moreover, at the end of the runway a steep cliff rises up, making it impossible to abort a landing attempt. Only special planes and experienced pilots, trained especially for this airport, are allowed to land there. Flights to Lukla are also cancelled very often, because landing is only possible when visibility is clear and it is often cloudy around the airport. Luckily, everything went well with our flight and we had beautiful views of the Himalayas from our seats.

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Our travel companions, a fun and exceptionally well travelled couple from Australia, and our guide were arriving with a later plane, so we had to wait in Lukla for a while before starting the first segment of our trek. This short segment brought us from Lukla to Phakding and was the only time we would be walking more downhill than uphill, as Phakding was located a good 200 meters below Lukla.

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The next day, we hiked from Phakding up to Namche Bazaar, gaining around 800 meters in elevation. Along the way, we had to cross the same river 5 times across increasingly breathtaking bridges. Namche Bazaar is the largest town along the Everest Base Camp trek. There were many hotels, shops and restaurants. You could even eat Fondue or Raclette there.

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From Namche Bazaar, we did the first acclimatization hike of the trekking. This means that we would hike to a higher elevation, but come back to the same place to sleep, thus helping the body to adjust to the higher altitudes. First, we hiked up to a monument of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first man on Mount Everest (together with Sir Edmund Hillary). From there, we already got the first glimpse of where we were heading. Mount Everest could be seen in the distance behind the Nuptse ridge. We could also see Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain on earth, and Ama Dablam, the Himalayan answer to the Matterhorn.

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Ama Dablam (6812 meters high) was one of the most recognizable and impressive mountains during the trek. Its name is Nepali for “Mother Daughter”, in reference to the two steep peaks of this mountain.

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After the monument, we went up further to the Everest View Hotel, located at 3880 meters above sea level. We rested for a while and enjoyed the view of Mount Everest with a cup of tea, before going back down to Namche Bazaar for the night.

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Posted by samandmarta 18:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Towards Annapurna - Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek

Exploring the Dhaulagiri-Annapurna range


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We immediately fell in love with Kathmandu when we arrived from Tibet. Fantastic food can be found at every corner and the Nepali people are so incredibly friendly. We spent the first days in Kathmandu doing nothing but eat, sleep and making plans for the coming time in Nepal. Because Marta did not want to leave Nepal without seeing Mount Everest, we planned to do the Everest Base Camp trek. As a warm up, we have decided to do a trek in the Annapurna area near Pokhara. It involved 4 days of hiking and one day staying in Pokhara, the second biggest city of Nepal, located near the Phewa Lake.

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Our first day of hiking was through terraced mountains where locals grow rice and other vegetables. We started at an elevation of 900 meters above sea level and passed through local villages inhabited by people from the Magar and Gurung tribes. We finished at 1570 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) in a village called Tikhedhunga. Our guesthouse was decorated all around with Christmas colorful lights. All facilities were well maintained and rooms were shared only by 2 hikers.

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The second day was much more strenuous. We had to hike 1300 meters up to a place called Ghorepani at 2850 m.a.s.l. This village was a gateway to Poon Hill, a major lookout point for the Dhaulagiri-Annapurna range of the Himalayas. When we arrived, the sky was very cloudy, however, from time to time, clouds cleared and we could see the snow-capped peaks of Annapurna I and Annapurna South.

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The next morning, we woke up at 5am to hike to Poon Hill for sunrise. From Poon Hill, we saw a beautiful panorama of the Dhaulagiri-Annapurna range, including the two eight-thousanders Annapurna I (8091m) and Dhaulagiri I (8167m). The last peak was especially interesting, as it was completely covered in snow.

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After spending one hour at Poon Hill, we hiked back to Ghorepani with our guide to enjoy a warm breakfast before embarking on the further hike to Tadapani. Shortly before arriving, we were caught up in heavy rain. We spent the rest of the day warming up at the oven in the common area, talking with other hikers from Norway, the USA and other countries.

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On the last day of our hike we went 1700m downhill, via beautiful lush green rice terraces, which looked amazingly fresh right after the monsoon season. Again, we passed through many villages inhabited by the Gurung tribe. After reaching the end of the trek in Nayapul, we drove back to Pokhara.

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For the next two days, we enjoyed good fresh food in Pokhara and life at a slow pace, knowing that a few days later we will be departing on another trek.

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Overall, we very much enjoyed hiking in the Annapurna area. Teahouses were well equipped and maintained, decently clean and stocked with tasty food. Views during the hike were also great, although, the best ones we enjoyed from Poon Hill. This 4 day hike was, in our opinion, a good teaser for the famous Annapurna Sanctuary (the trek which goes to the Annapurna Base Camp) or the Annapurna Circuit. As we liked the Annapurna area very much, we feel encouraged to come back one day and try one of the longer treks, where one can see Annapurna I, II, III, IV and South much closer.

Posted by samandmarta 18:30 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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