In less than two hours, we would be landing at the less than impressive airport of Kathmandu from New Delhi. We finagled our way to baggage claim to grab our packs and waited in line to get stamped into the country. We knew we may be in Nepal just barely longer than 30 days, so we discussed the 30 day visa policy with the officer who assured us that one day past the visa date was really no big deal. Feeling good about this news, we exited the airport to find Mohan, the owner of Makalu Adventures, waiting for us with necklaces made of fancy orange flowers. His driver took us in a comfortable, air conditioned vehicle to at small guesthouse in Thamel that we had researched prior to our arrival. Makalu Adventures is the company we contacted in order to hire a guide and porter for the nearly three week trek we would begin in two short days. They were extremely accommodating and helpful throughout the entire process.
John and I saw a room in the Avalon guesthouse and then walked around touristy Thamel to make sure we were content with the price and quality of Avalon. After a few comparisons, we settled on Avalon and were very pleased that we did. The staff was very friendly and they served a nice breakfast each morning on their rooftop patio overlooking Kathmandu. The room did not have any air conditioning (it was nearly 100 degrees F in Kathmandu), the water was often turned off, and the power was only on for a few hours a day, but it was sufficient (and pretty darn cheap!). After all, we were about to walk for the next three weeks, we might as well get used to some discomfort!
Tek, our friendly guide, came to our guest house and met with us the first day since he only lived two blocks away. He explained what we would need for the trek and gave us some details about the impending adventure. We thanked him and agreed to meet up with him the following morning to shop for our gear in Thamel. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting acquainted with the city, scoping out some gear shops, and eating at a highly reviewed restaurant called Café Des Art. We were being even more cautious when it came to food in Nepal because we didn’t want to end up sick before the trek began. This meant we were still vegetarians and were willing to spend $3 for a meal at a highly reviewed restaurant rather than $1 at a sketchier alternative.
After perusing the town, we showered up at our guesthouse and prepared for the Makalu Adventure shuttle that would pick us up and take us to a nearby cultural dinner show. We were joined by two other trekkers around 60 years old who had just returned from a failed attempt at another long trek in the area. They were pretty down about it and didn’t give us much confidence as we were trying to get pumped up for the journey! Regardless, they were friendly enough and we all met Mohan at a very nice restaurant to taste local dishes and watch a show with traditional Nepalese dancers. Midway through our meal, I was surprised to find I was being scooped up and taken out on the dance floor to bust some moves! Luckily, I had just spent days in the slums of India learning some epic dance moves from the girls, so I could attempt to hang with the talented Nepali dancers. When I was allowed to return to my seat, I finished up the delicious meal and washed it down with some rice wine. It was a super fun evening and we felt like we knew Mohan and the company a bit better and were getting more excited about the next few weeks!
The next morning, we were greeted nice and early by Tek. He took us to the Makalu Adventures office (which was surprisingly fancy inside), where we finalized the details of the trip and paid our fees in a huge wad of cash. We were going to be charged a large percentage for a credit card transaction, so we took out money at the ATM. One USD is worth more than 100 Nepalese Rupees, so a bill for accommodations, food, a guide, and a porter for three weeks required a lot of Rupees!
Once business was out of the way, it was time for two days straight of hellacious bargaining for gear. We never intended on doing a trek of this magnitude when we were planning the trip back in the states, so we were not prepared at all. Among other things, we needed good bit of warm gear including heavy gloves, thermals, headlamps (since ours were stolen), quick dry t-shirts, hiking socks, larger water bottles (ours were only ½ liter), and I needed hiking shoes! I already have trouble finding shoes with options galore back in the US, so I knew the hiking boot shopping trip would be pretty painful. I ended up finding a pair of Chinese-knockoff boots that would do the job and bargained down to about $40 USD. Everything in Thamel has a markup from 200% to 1000% above a reasonable price and shop owners try their hardest to get money out of tourists. That meant we had to bargain for every little thing we were buying and since we had to buy so many things, it became extremely exhausting. It literally took us two full days to get everything we needed and not spend a fortune. Luckily, Thamel had a decent market with lots of food for trekkers like granola bars, dried fruit, and Snickers, so we also stocked up on snacks for the journey as well as other essentials like iodine for water purification in case our SteriPen’s battery died.
After our shopping spree was over, we were fully exhausted and wondered why we committed to a three-week trip with less than a week to prepare. Now it was time to pack it all!
Our last evening in Kathmandu was spent packing our backpacks, stuffing our warm clothing and sleeping bags in the porter bag, and making sure we had enough first aid items and medicine in case anything went wrong. We went to bed exhausted and hot with a mixture of excitement and nerves filling our bodies in anticipation of our Himalayan adventure.
I kept a handwritten journal each day during our trek, so the subsequent entries will be diary entries with details about our day-to-day experiences. Of course, we took a ridiculous amount of photos (shocking), so the entries are accompanied with a series of photos so that you can visualize our journey, step-by-step (literally). Enjoy!