Kayak Clinic on the Seti River

As part of our trip to Nepal, we wanted to do a river kayak course.  After resting a few days in Pokhara, we returned to Kathmandu to obtain our India visas and started researching our kayak options.  We decided to go on a 4-day clinic with a company called Paddle Nepal, on the Seti River.  Unfortunately, it required us to take a 7 hour bus ride back to Pokhara… but it was totally worth it - the trip was awesome!

Day 1: Learning the Basics
We spent our first day on the Phewa Lake where we learned some basic kayak skills such as how to: hold the paddle, safely eject from the kayak, rescue other flipped kayakers, and the fundamentals for doing the eskimo roll.  The instructors were excellent - by the end of the day, both of us were able to do the eskimo roll in the lake.

Days 2 - 4: Riding the Seti River
We spent the remainder of the clinic learning to ride the rapids of the Seti River.  The Seti River is perfect for beginners practicing their basic kayaking skills - the water is warm and fairly deep, rapids gradually increase from day 2 to 4 and range from class 1 to 3+.  We also lucked out with perfectly sunny weather over the 3 days.  On top of that, the campsites were sandy and beautiful, the food was great, and we went during the full moon so we got to see 2 brilliant moon-rises.   We took a few spills in some of the rapids but managed to roll back up a couple of times (turns out it's a lot harder to roll in big rapids!).  We enjoyed the experience so much that we're hoping to perhaps practice our skills in one of SE Asia countries that we'll visit next!!


After the clinic was over, we made our way back to Kathmandu on a local bus.  Since, the clinic ended right after the Dashain festival, all of the busses were packed full of Nepali families returning from their villages, back to work in the city.  The bus ride that was suppose to take 4 hours, ended up taking us 7 hours.  For the first 3 hours, we had to ride on top of the bus since there wasn't any standing space inside.  We later discovered the top was actually an uncomfortable privilege - after 3 hours, the driver got in trouble with the police, so we were all forced to cram inside of the already over-filled bus, where we suffered the last 4 hours of bus ride.  Despite seating at the top merely being a hard metal rack intended for luggage, it was actually far more comfortable (and scenic) than being sardined inside!!!



After the Annapurna Circuit Trek, we decided to enjoy a few days of well-deserved rest and relaxation in the adventure centre of Nepal, Pokhara.  From here, you can zip-line, hike, kayak, raft, paraglide... just to name a few, and there's also several sites to see in the area: the World Peace Pagoda, Sarangkot's view of the Himalayas, walk along the Phewa Tal Lake, visit a Tibetan refugee camp.  In our case, we mainly chilled and indulged in a lot of good food at the Moondance restaurant, but we also rented scooters (about 10usd per scooter for 1.5 days), and scooted the surrounding area to see some of the sites.

We happened to be in Pokhara during the Dashain festival - a 15 day festival that on one of the days, each family in Nepal sacrifices an animal… that adds up to a lot of animals!  We could see the herds of goats making their way toward Pokhara the day before the sacrifice, and we watched as families picked through the herds to find the perfect goat to buy (which they either walked home on leashes or managed to carry on their motorbike/scooter).  We learned that not all families sacrifice goats - the type of animal depends on the cast that your family belongs to.  On sacrifice day, we saw our hotel staff preparing (sacrificing) a goat in the hotel parking lot…. not sure this ritual would fly so well back home ;) 

Annapurna Circuit (Poon Hill)

In this part of our Annapurna Circuit trek, we entered the Annapurna Sanctuary to climb to Poon Hill to see the sunrise over the Annapurna range.

Day 13: Tatopani to Ghorepani (15km - 1600m elevation gain)

It seems that we were not tired of climbing mountains as today we set out to climb 1600 vertical meters over 15km.  For those in Calgary, it's approximately similar to climbing from the Sunshine parking lot, to the top of the Continental Divide chair and for those in Quebec, it's like climbing Mont Tremblant twice in 1 day. Overall it wasn't as hard as we expected, but we were definitely happy when we finished.

Day 14: Poon Hill: Ghorepani to Gandruk (21km) 
We woke up early to climb 350 meters to the top of Poon Hill to get a great view of the sunrise over the Annapurna Ranges.  It seems we weren't the only ones... there was close to 200 tourists all up there waiting for the sunrise with us (we found out later that Poon Hill is a popular 5 days trek from Pokhara).  Once we had our heart's content, we made or way back down (and up and down a few other big hills) to reach the village Gandruk.

Day 15: Back to Pokahara (14km)
Today we originally planned to trek to another small village in the Annapurna Sanctuary, but after an hour of going down a bunch of stairs, we changed our minds and opted to go to Pokhara a day early to give us extra time to go the Embassy to extend our Nepal Visas.  Guillaume had decided that he wanted to do the Everest Base Camp trek (14 more days of hiking) which was departing Kathmandu the day after we were scheduled to arrive…..some of us have more energy ;).  We took the short-cut route down, which meant we got to skip over going up and down a few more hills, and went directly to Pokhara where we enjoyed a big pitcher (or 2) of refreshing Mojitos.  On the way down the mountain we also saw two praying mantis with which we took a series of pictures (since they look so cool).  

The Annapurna Circuit was definitely worth it, and the team at Global Adventure Trekking was a huge part of the success of this trip.  Special thanks to Krishna who went out of his way, even after the trek was over, to help with the lengthy India Visa process, and making our entire stay in Nepal so welcoming and enjoyable.  He did such a great job; we definitely give them our highest recommendation.  For more information, go to their website: www.GlobalAdventureTrekking.com.

Just a word of warning for anyone thinking of doing the Annapurna Circuit - they are extending the road even further so, unfortunately, much of the culture and the experience of this particular trek may change drastically in the next few years.

Annapurna Circuit (200km trek)

Our main reason for coming to Nepal was to do the Annapurna Circuit - traditionally, a 20 day, 300km trek through the Himalayas.  In our case (as the title indicates) it was a 15 day, 200km trek.  Our trek was shorter because in 2010 they decided to build a road over a large part of the trekking circuit to make bringing in supplies and emergency access easier.  Since trekking over a dusty road with a lot of Jeep/bus traffic isn't so much fun, we opted to spend one day on a bus (to skip over a section of the road after the Thorong pass), and instead spent the extra days trekking through part of the Annapurna Sanctuary.  Overall, the Annapurna trek turned out to be an awesome experience - it was a perfect balance of walk and rest time, and had a great variety of scenery including old villages & monasteries, rice fields, waterfalls, forests, and, of course, Himalaya mountain landscapes.  Since Annapurna has become such a popular trek over the years, the accommodations and food quality were surprisingly good, especially considering how small and remote some of the villages are! 

Day 1: Local bus to the start of the circuit (4km)
Our first day involved a 7h local-bus ride from Kathmandu to the start of the circuit, Besheishar.  Since the local bus was late (it took 2 hours just to get out of the Kathmandu traffic jam), we had to make up time by taking another local bus to the next town, Bhulbhule.  We then did a quick 45 minute walk to the village, Ngadi, where we spent our first night.

Day 2: Ngadi to Jagat (22km - 470m elevation gain)
For our first day of actual trekking, we hiked 22 km through huge valleys of gorgeous rice terraces - appropriate since the name Annapurna comes from the sanskrit meaning "full of food".
Day 3: Jagat to Bagarchhap (17km - 800m elevation gain)
We spent most of the day climbing uphill along a new road that is currently being built along the circuit.  Nothing spectacular happened, but we could slowly see that the vegetation was already slowly changing from rice terraces to trees and scenery similar to the Rockies.
Day 4: Bagarchhap to Chame  (12km - 600m elevation gain)
This was the first day that we started seeing some of the Himalayan peaks including Manasulu (8400m), Annapurna 2 (7925m), and some others that we don't remember the names of :).  We also found a small hot spring in Chame, where we dipped our feet in for a bit.  After dinner, we watched the movie "Into Thin Air" that was playing at our restaurant - a film based on a book that was written about the Everest Expeditions in 1996 where 12 people died attempting to summit Everest.
Day 5: Chame to Lower Pisang (12km - 500m elevation gain)
Today the vegetation started changing to conifers. The evening temperatures are much cooler here so we already had to start wearing sweaters and long pants in the evenings.  We felt right at home since, other than the villages and Himalayan peaks in the background, the scenery felt exactly like hiking in the Rockies.  From here on, we saw great views of the Himalayan peaks every day.  We arrived at Lower Pisang and relaxed a bit before crossing the river and climbing uphill to explore the village of Upper Pisang and its Buddhist Monastery.  We enjoy a cup of Lemon tea, courtesy of the monks, while admiring the sunset and view of Annapurna 2.  On our way back down to Lower Pisang, our guide, Dipindra, pointed out some Marijuana plants which, apprently, grow freely along the country side. 
Day 6: Lower Pisang to Manang (19km - 700m elevation gain and 400m elevation loss)
We arrived early in Manang (3500 masl), so we visited the well-preserved older parts of town to get a feel for the lifestyle and culture of the people living here.  In the afternoon, while Jen took a nap, Dom and Guy hiked up an extra 300 meters to check out a Tibetan Stupa.  Along the way, they ran into another group of people who told them about a monastery a little higher up where you could get some tea.  Once they reached the top, to their surprise, they met the "Hundred Rupee Lama" who gave them tea and a blessing for 100 rupees.  The Lama, now 96 years old, lives with his 64 year old daughter and spends most of his day meditating in his house on a cliff.
Day 7: Acclimatization day in Manang (5km - 400m elevation gain, and back down)
To help avoid altitude sickness at altitudes higher than 3000 masl, the rule of thumb is to "hike high and sleep low" to help your body adjust to the changes in altitude.  So we did an acclimatization day and hike in Manang, which involved hiking up to about 3900 masl to see another Tibetan Stupa, an abandoned village, and a view of the Machapuchare "Fish Tail" Mountain (6993 masl), Machapuchare Glacier, and Machapuchare Lake (3600 masl).  We then returned to Manang to sleep.  Since the acclimatization hike took less than 3 hours, we spent the afternoon reading and then checked out a movie at the local projection hall.  They served hot mint tea and popcorn, and played "Seven Years in Tibet"… still a great and inspiring movie, even after all these years :).
Day 8: Manang to Leder (10km - 700m elevation gain)
The day started a bit roughly.. Guy had bad diarrhea that kept him up all night.. and the next morning, Dom accidentally dropped the lid for his SIGG water bottle into the squat toilet that was backed up.. but.. other than that, and Jen starting to have stomach issues later that day.. the rest of the day was really amazing! Only 1 hour after departing Manang, we stopped at a little tea house in Gunsang where we saw one of the greatest views of the Annapurna ranges.  The weather and tea house atmosphere was so reminiscent of warm, spring-skiing days at a ski lodge patio (minus the smell of burgers cooking on the bbq), that we just had to stop and sit out on the patio to enjoy the view with a cup of hot Sea Buckthorn tea made from berries that grow in the area (packed full of vitamins and other good stuff) ;).

By the end of the day, we reached Ledar - 4200 meters above sea level.  In Ledar, evening temperatures went below 0 and the buckets of water for "flushing" the seat toilets were covered in ice by morning.  We were lucky to stay in a tea house that had a "sun room" where we spent the afternoon soaking in the few remaining hours of warmth while reading and playing cards until the sun went down and the temperature took its drastic evening dive.

Day 9: Ledar to High Camp (11km - 600m elevation gain)
High Camp is the last camp before going over the Thorong Pass, to the valley on the other side.  When we stopped for lunch in Thorang Phedi, our guide (Dipindra) sent our porter, Diplal, up to High Camp ahead of us to obtain rooms (most camps are first-come-first-serve).  By the time we arrived, we discovered it was a good move as we encountered several other trekkers who arrived to discover that the camp was full.  Since they didn't get rooms, they would have to spend the night sleeping wherever they could find floor space in the dining hall.  Just before dinner, we did a quick little hike up to another nice view point of the valley.  Here, we had to layer on all of the warm gear we had, as the temperature and wind chill was now really cold.
Day 10: Thorong Pass: High Camp to Muktinath (15km - 600m elevation gain, then 1700m elevation loss)
After a short night of cold and very poor sleep (at this altitude, 4800masl, the air is quite thin so all 3 of us repeatedly awoke due to lack of air), we got up at 4AM and went off into the dark to cross Thorong Pass, 5416 meters above sea level.  We were very lucky that none of us got altitude sickness - we saw several other groups with people complaining of headaches and/or vomiting in the morning.  We even encountered a few people who had to hire donkeys to carry them up through the pass because they were too sick and weak to walk up on their own.  By the time we reached the top, we were absolutely frozen, but managed to stop for a few quick pictures and a cup of hot tea before starting the long journey down.  In total, we went up about 600 meters and down 1700 meters before finally (and exhaustedly) arriving at Muktinath around 1pm.

We took a nap and then hiked back up a hill to visit the local Hindu and Buddhist temples.  Dipindra and Diplal performed a ritual where they burned incense and gave offerings at the temple.  They then gave each of us a tikka and tied a coloured ribbon around our necks for good luck.  We also washed our sins in the 108 dhungedhara (stone taps), sat and listened to some Buddhist nuns chanting Tibetan mantras, and saw a natural gas fire that forever burns in the Buddhist temple without being fed. 
Day 11: Muktinath to Jomsom (20km - 1100m elevation loss)
On our way to Jomsom, we stopped in a village called Kagbeni to visit a Tibetan Monastery that was built in 1429.  We also encountered tons of mini cows along the way, which we thought were all baby cows, but it turns out that this is actually the full grown size of cows in this area.  They were super cute, and one stopped to try to eat Jen's hand :).
The typical Annapurna Circuit trek involves spending a night in Kagbeni, but since we wanted to make our way to the Annapurna Sanctuary sooner, we continued on to Jomsom.  What we didn't realize is that every afternoon in the Mustang Valley, the winds really picks up, lifting all of the dry and barren dirt from the ground into a nice gusty dust storm.  Luckily we had purchased neck tubes for the trek and they made fairly decent masks for minimizing the amount of dust getting into our faces and lungs.  As we passed along the dried up river bed, we also searched for fossils by finding the right type of rocks and breaking them open by smashing them with bigger rocks.  After a few attempts, we actually managed to find a couple of cool ones :).
Day 12: Jomsom to Tatopani by Local Bus
Normally at this point, completing the traditional Annapurna Circuit would involve walking 2 more, 6-hour days on a windy, dusty, trafficked road to reach Tatopani.  Since walking this road wasn't overly appealing to us, our guide had recommended that it would be far more interesting and enjoyable if we instead took a local bus to Tatopani and spent more time in the Annapurna Sanctuary area… to be continued in another post.

Bhaktapur & Nagarkot

We decided to escape the city and enjoy the Kathmandu valley.  On this 3 day loop, we went to the Medieval city of Bhaktapur and the famous view point from Nagarkot

Bhaktapur is a really well preserved medieval town where you can walk the main squares to see towering temples, red brick wall architecture, wood carvings/balconies, and statues.  There's far less traffic in the streets so it's also a lot more relaxing than in Kathmandu - you get a real sense of the calm, quiet, daily life of the population, as you wander the side streets and browse the various artisan wares.
We also visited Bhaktapur's pottery square, where local merchants dry their grains and pottery creations.
There are also a lot of Kama Sutra carvings in the temples there, but the most interesting/entertaining one was - if we can do it… animal can do it too.
After Bhaktapur, we went to a really small village 24km from Bhaktapur, called Nagarkot.  The village itself isn't particularly special, but if you go further up the hill you can stay at the Hotel At The End Of The Universe to relax.. and if you're lucky you'll see a view of the sunrise/sunset over the stunning Himalaya mountain range.  That is - if it's not covered in clouds or mist… Unfortunately, for us, the range was totally covered in clouds pretty much the entire time. But we did, for 1 minute, manage to see the summit of one of the mountains peeking through the clouds.  It was enough to conclude that if we could have seen the entire mountain range, it would be stunning… but.. it will have to be for another day.
One last thing - If you ever go to Bhaktapur, you must try the King Curds (aka Juju Dhau)…. a really rich and sweet local yogurt,,,, mmmmmm.. SO GOOD!!.


Nepal is totally different than any country we've seen so far.  Nepal used to be 22 kingdoms and there is strong evidence of influence from the various surrounding countries such as Indian Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Mongolian architecture, and centuries of Muslim monarchy.

Our first stop was Kathmandu.  Here we decided to take a week off and leisurely wander the streets in and around the city.  Kathmandu isn't exactly the most relaxing city... but in our case, we found a hotel in Thamel (Pariwar B&B) with great rooms and a quiet atmosphere that isolates us from the activity and chaos in the touristy area of Thamel.  One interesting fact here is that they have daily "load shedding" - the electricity infrastructure doesn't meet the city's needs so the government rotates which districts have electricity and when.  Turns out that if you're watching an interesting movie on TV, you have to be careful as you might end up missing the end of it when the power goes out!  ;)

One of the first places we visited was the old town and surrounding streets… we did a lot of people watching there.  By fluke, we happened to visit the Durbar Square (Palace Square) on the only day in the year when it's free ("Tourist Day").  Since we managed to save $15 USD on the entrance fee, we decided to hire a guide to get explanations about Hinduism, and the history/architecture of Durbar Square… It was a rather complicated explanation so.. let's just say we're a bit confused with all of it :).
We also passed a lot of time in Thamel (the tourist district) where there's a huge variety of restaurants and hotels.  The few streets that make up Thamel are flooded with anything that a trekking tourist might want/need at really cheap prices!  For example, you can get a puffy knock-off North Face down jacket for about $35USD.  For fun, we asked a couple of places if the jackets are real.. the typical answer is something like "Well.. they're not exactly real, but.. they're not really fake either…" :).  At least they're honest I guess! :).  
The food here is amazing (especially after China!!).  We are feasting like kings on Butter Chicken, Curries, Masala Tea (Chai Tea) with our food bills totalling anywhere between $2.50 and $9 USD!.  Some of the restaurants we've tried and recommend so far are: Third Eye (Good Indian Restaurant), Himali Kitchen (Cheap Curry Dish), Cozy Cafe & Restaurant (Great food and Chai, with a personal touch..).

At the Cozy Cafe, the Chef, Giri, comes out to introduce himself to each customer.  The food was so good and Giri was so friendly that Jen asked if he offered cooking classes.. and what do you know…. he did!!  We booked a private cooking classes from a real chef!  And it was so much fun we decided to book another class when Guillaume arrived in Kathmandu.  We learned to make everything from scratch, including:  Steamed Chicken Momos (Tibetan Dumplings), Vegetable Momos (both the steamed and fried versions), Momo chutney, Chicken Tikka Masala Curry, Paneer Butter Masala, Roti (Indian Whole Wheat Bread), Naan (Indian Bread), Water Buffalo Tenderloin with Fries and Steamed Veggies… This was a really basic kitchen - during the electricity load shedding, Giri cooks by candle light.  All in all, the cooking classes were one of our biggest highlights! :) 
We also managed to meet up with Jessica and Kyle (and the Brunner family) for a day and a half.  They'll be doing the Everest Base Camp Trek at the same time that we're doing the Annapurna Circuit Trek.  For the short time that we were with them we did a bit of book shopping for the treks and visited Boudhanath, the biggest Tibetan stupa in Nepal (with the fiercest stare) ;)