Nepal

Overview –Two weeks in Nepal

Kathmandu > Pokhara > Poon Hill & Annupurna Range (trekking) > Pokhara > Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is a hectic place where we spent our first and then last few days before flying to China. We both enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. The busy side streets and the markets are an eye opener to the bustling life within the city.

Many of the temples in the center are damaged from the 2015 earthquake, which is a shame, but they are still worth seeing. Our favorite temple was Swayambhunath, often referred to as the monkey temple, for which you have to climb an unreal amount of steep steps to get too but it was fantastic to get to the top and see the whole of Kathmandu sprawling out beneath you. Overall, Kathmandu is a great place to explore but the traffic, pollution and dust make a couple of days enough to see the main sights of the city before moving on.

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Pokhara is a beautiful laid back place by the lake side where we spent a few day after the trek to relax, it has a really nice chilled atmosphere. Things to do here include shopping, eating and adventure tours. There are lots of tourist shops selling trekking gear and souvenirs. Plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as tour companies you can book excursions with. You can hire a boat and go out on the river, but we just used this as a place to relax after our trek.

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The Poon Hill trek we did with  Green Valley Treks (see below) was fantastic. Staying in little tea houses in the middle of nowhere, waking up everyday to the smell of incense, a warm cup of nepali tea, then trekking through the Annupurna mountain range with incredible views was a humbling experience. The Nepali people we met along the way were so friendly and welcoming and we didn’t get as much hassle as we had expected, a simple ‘No’ was all it took and touts left us alone.

Highlights

Trekking. Hands down the best thing to do in Nepal. The scenery is breathtaking, beautiful and stunning in a way that pictures just can’t do justice. Having only ever walked in the UK, coming here trekking through dense jungle/forest, then climbing surrounded by enormous snow caped mountains was a magical experience.

The trekking company we used – Green Valley Treks were amazing, well organised and made sure everything ran smoothly for us our whole time in Nepal, which made the first stop a little less daunting. We found these guys through a bit of online research, as we wanted to use a small Nepalese company who have English speaking guides, rather than giving our money to a big company who tend to hire the cheapest guides possible. So we went for Green Valley as they ticked all the boxes and had good reviews. We can 100% recommend using them.

Our trek itinerary was:

Day 1 – Bus to Pokhara from Kathmandu

Day 2 – Trek Pokhara to Hille

Day 3 – Hille to Ghorepani

Day 4 – Ghorepani to Tadapani

Day 5 – Tadapani to Jhinudada (Hot Springs)

Day 6 – Jhinudada to Birethanti, then a local bus to Pokhara were we spent a few days before getting the return bus to Kathmandu.

We’d also have to mention at this point that this trek was classed as easy, but there are some seriously steep climbs. It is pretty exhausting walking in the heat and the altitude for 8+ hours a day 5 days in a row. We hired a porter through Green Valley (they make sure that the porters carry no more than a 20kg limit). We absolutely recommend doing this, as not only are you giving a local person a decent wage for doing an admirable job, you are able to enjoy the trek with minimal baggage and if your porter is anything like ours was, make a friend as well.

Getting around

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We got the return bus ticket from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The bus ride back from Pokhara took about 9 hours and it was HOT! The bus was ancient,the bus station crazy busy and the traffic intense, but it was a nice way to see a bit more of the country and chat about all the things we had seen. Green Valley provided the bus tickets for us, however hotel owners will be happy to help you organise this.

Money

We payed £604 in total for our trek with guide and porter. This is really good value as our transport (inc airport transfers) food and accommodation were included during the trek.

You will find it difficult to get Nepalese rupees before arriving in Nepal. There are plenty of small current exchange shops who will change English pounds (or any other currency) for you. Make sure you use a place that has a registration certificate displayed, have an idea of how many rupees you should be getting, count them before you leave the shop and always ask for a receipt. They along with currency exchanges in most other countries won’t accept coin, don’t get off the plane with a pocket full of change like we did. It weighs a ton and you’ll have to wait ages until you catch another traveler on their was home to swap it with.

In general we found Nepal to be more expensive than we thought it would be. Drinks are pricey, wine was hard to find at less than £5 glass and beer was between £3-£4 for a 500ml bottle. Lots of places do happy hours where you can get drinks a bit cheaper, obviously your not going there to party, but a couple of drinks with dinner certainly puts the bill up. It seems food and drink prices have increased over the last year but lets face it they still won’t break the bank.

Food in general wasn’t too expensive, for example the standard staple dish – Dal Bhat, which is made up of rice, curried vegetables, dal, a pickle and yoghurt on the side – costs about £2 if you go away from the main stretch. You’re looking at paying at least £4 for the same dish along the lake front in Pokhara. We enjoy exploring little side streets when we visit new places, so it worked out well for our wallet! The places may not look as fancy, or as well maintained but you’ll miss out if you only stick to the main street.

Accommodation

Kathmadu – Kathmandu garden House (£9.50 a night).

This is a budget hotel in a quiet corner of Kathmandu (if you can believe there is such a thing!). It is basic, clean, has good wifi, en suite bathrooms, a hot shower and a western toilet. The garden area of this hotel is a great place to sit and have a beer while reading or catching up with emails. We ate here as well, the Dal Bhat was awesome and paneer curry in a buttery masala was something to behold.

Pokhara & Trekking

During the trek we stayed in basic mountain tea houses – if you managed to sort your own trek permit and do treks yourselves, accommodation costs about £5 a night. Most have private rooms or dorms, shared bathroom, squat toilet and cold shower. They are clean and comfortable, serving simple yet tasty dishes which is exactly what you need after a long days trek.

Pokhara family home hotel (about £16 a night): This hotel was provided by Green Valley  for a night at the start and end of the trek. It is just back from the main street, has modern (for Nepal) rooms, can provide breakfast, has helpful English speaking staff. Rooms also have private bathroom, hot water, good wifi and balconies. This hotel was over our budget, otherwise we would have stayed here after our Green Valley tour.

Nanohana Lodge (3 nights at £8 and 1 at £12): This hotel is further from the main town area but still within walking distance. When we arrived we were told the room we booked was unavailable, only a more expensive room was available….We’re not sure if this was a well rehearsed scam or if some places tend to double book their rooms in case of last minute cancellations (we have seen this same thing happen to other people in other hotels). Anyway, the owner was friendly enough, we told him we are on a strict budget and couldn’t afford much more, we came to an agreement of $15 (£12) dollars a night for a room with private bathroom for a night, we were then moved for the other 3 nights to a flat across the road that maybe staff or long term tenants use. It had plenty of space, a private terrace outside and was okay place to leave your bags/sleep at night.

Good things to know

Nepal has frequent power cuts, best to have a head torch and battery pack for charging things when the power is down.

Toilets in Nepal tend to be westenised in a lot of hostels/hotels, you just can’t flush the paper. However the squat toilet is more common in bars and restaurants away from the main tourist street, as well as in budget accommodation and rural mountain areas. Embrace the squat.img_20161018_192919

We didn’t see too much begging whilst in Nepal, people try to sell you stuff sure, but not as much begging as we expected. Everything we read and everyone we spoke to reinforced the same message of not giving anything to beggars, especially children. This encourages them to not go to school and turns them from begging children in to begging adults. Even to give them sweets or small toys is a no no as these gifts are far more extravagant than anything their family can provide, so keeps them in the begging trade. In the mountains you will see young children working on farms and doing jobs that we would only expect of a strong fit adult. However, Nepal’s economy and main source of food, income and employment is agriculture, these children are working and learning how to continue this way of life. It may seem difficult but don’t offer them money or sweets as this may  encouraging them to take up begging and limit their development/education. A charity donation is a much better option.

Nepal Top Tip – So the whole time on our trek we were giving our guide the thumbs up sign to show we were okay. Its amazing how ingrained in you it is that when someone shouts ‘are you okay?’ you smile and give the thumbs up. You just cant help yourself. Anyway, don’t do it. We later found out it’s the sign for saying you need a big poo. Explains all the odd looks we got…

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Food

You can’t write about food in Nepal without mentioning Dal Bhat but Nepal’s staple dish deserves much much more an a cursory mention. In good time once we have some cooking facilities we’ll put up a dedicated post and tested recipe. For now you’ll have to make do with the photo below.

One of our favorite meals in Pokhara was down a side street at the Rose Garden Restaurant, it was cheap and the Pakoras here were amazing! We also went to the Maya pub and Restaurant  which was recommended in the lonely planet guide book, this was a good place on the main street to people watch, get reasonably priced food and drink and meet other travelers. Food in the small restaurants down the side streets is less expensive and some were amazing, try the MoMos (see dumplings in the picture above) so a quick explore is definitely worth it. If eating the local cuisine isn’t your thing, almost all the restaurants serve western food.

We stayed off meat when we were in Nepal – you only need to see the way the meat is stored, often outside in the baking heat on dusty side street, with waaaaaay too many fly’s for company. For most Nepali meat costs a significant amount of money and isn’t eaten that often. Eat what the local people eat and you won’t go far wrong! In any case most of the Nepali dishes we came across were vegetarian and amazingly tasty, so we didn’t miss meat at all. Also neither of us had a bad stomach whilst we were in Nepal, so I guess there is something to be said for the veggie way of life.

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