Thoughts of Peace for Nepal

If you’ve ever had the privilege of visiting Nepal, you understand how this developing country grips and casts a spell on almost everyone who passes through. It’s hard to describe.

It’s that reason that the April 25th 7.8 earthquake was so devastating. And, here in the US, we are are waking up to news of another 7.3 quake in the Everest region. Simply put, it’s too much.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Nepal. Absolutely heartbreaking to think future travelers  won't see the square.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Nepal. Absolutely heartbreaking to think future travelers won’t see the square.

It’s not just the loss of life. It’s the lost of a deep and magnificent cultural history. It’s the loss of friends and acquaintances. I can’t believe the sites I visited are all but gone. And yet, if feels insignificant or selfish to be sad considering the overall loss. It is really beyond words (And I’m not often at a loss for words).

While there are many opportunities to help Nepal, here are two funds I recommend and in the first case have made a contribution to.

A stupa at Namche Bazaar in the Everest Region of Nepal.
A stupa at Namche Bazaar in the Everest Region of Nepal.

If you want to help this special country, I recommend Next Generation Nepal. My amazing friend and host while I was in Nepal knows the founder personally and confirms he does amazing work helping children who have been displaced to reunite with their families. They started and earthquake that you can read about here. Importantly, Next Generation Nepal has established ties to the country and people.

Another alternative is the Planeterra Nepal Earthquake & Relief and Recovery, in partnership with tour operator G Adventures. I’ve traveled twice overseas with this organization (G Adventures) and had amazing experiences. They are truly committed to the country’s they operate in. I also suggest the Planterra Fund because G Adventures cover 100% of their administrative costs. Your donation will go directly to long-term repair of rebuilding homes in the region.

There may be more to say but for today, this is about all I can process. Peace to the people in Nepal.

Nepal: A Suggested Itinerary

I’ve only visited Nepal once. The country probably deserves multiple trips to truly see and appreciate all it has to offer. But as a wanderlust, i subscribe to a no repeat rule. I don’t revisit countries because there are just still too many places i wanted to go. That may be short-sighted but that’s how i roll. So, if you have a “no repeat rule” or if you can only get 7-10 days off of work, here is a suggested itinerary for a visit to Nepal.

Note: I recommend starting in Kathmandu. It’s easier to ground yourself and get used to the country. It will also be easier to find a local tour operator to help get you where you want to go. But honestly, it’s the destinations that are more important than the order.

Days One-Two: Kathmandu. There are a number of sites in Kathmandu that are spectacular: Boudhanath, Pashupati (the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. Many Nepali’s choose to be cremated here, on the banks of the Bagmati River) and Swayambhu (also known as the Monkey Temple).

The main temple at Pashupati
The main temple at Pashupati

Day Three: Bhaktapur. I strongly recommend taking a day or half a day to visit Bhaktapur. It’s the previous “old city” and home to some amazing Stupa’s. You can also see women learning to make prayer wheels.

Woman making a prayer wheel.
Woman making a prayer wheel.

Day Four-Seven: Trekking. The Annapurna Circuit is a popular trek. I spent my time in the Everest Region. If trekking is your thing, you can’t go wrong with any destination.

Day Seven – Nine: Chitwan. Book a trip to Chitwan and spend two days at the elephant sanctuary. This is the one thing i couldn’t squish into my itinerary but dang, i wish i had.

Day 10: Back to Kathmandu. Hit the market for any souvenirs you didn’t pick-up along the way. Heckling over prices is encouraged. Do shop around as the quality of wares varies significantly from shop to shop. Even if you aren’t a knife fan, the Kukri house is worth checking out.

This only skims the surface of things to do. But, if you are serious about a trip hopefully this will get you started.

Nepal: Before You Go Trekking Version

Nepal is known for many things, one of them being trekking. The terrain of the country offers everything from causal strolls to moderate climbs to Everest. If you are interested in trekking around Nepal, here are some things I think you should know before you slap on your backpack.

Unless you are a some extraordinary MacGyver or Grizzly Adams type, go with a guide. As a foreigner, you don’t know the customs and cultures and you certainly don’t know the terrain. Guides don’t have to be expensive, so don’t waste your breath on that argument.

There are three easy ways to hire a guide in Nepal.

  1. Go through a tour operator in Kathmandu. There are multiple tour operators in Kathmandu that will arrange for a guide to accompany you through your trek or meet you at a specific destination prior to your hike. 
  2. Go through an operator or store at your trek destination. When you arrive at your base village before your trek, there will be several supply and gear stores. These stores almost always employ or refer customers to guides.
  3. Word of mouth. Ask your host for the name of a good, reputable guide.

In my case, my host in Nepal went with a combination of number one and three above. I flew solo to Lukla and my guide met me at tiny restaurant/hostel.

But honestly, before you hire a guide consider your fitness level and the type of trek that appeals to you. My host took multiple strolls throughout Nepal, overnighting in Tea Houses. To this day, she is in significantly better shape than I will ever be, but that was her idea of perfect. She wanted to enjoy the country with her toddler. Anything in the Everest region would have been a miserable, and potentially dangerous, experience for both of them.

After much consideration, i decided i wanted a moderate trek in the Everest area. I was comfortable physically exerting myself and being away from my base in Kathmandu for 3-4 days.

I cannot stress the importance of this process enough. Seriously, spend a day doing some soul-searching. How long can you rough it or go without a hot shower? The answers will help shape your adventure and make sure it meets your own expectations and desires.

This was my first time trekking and i immediately fell in love with the entire experience. However, i do wish i packed smarter. So another strong recommendation: pack smart. What you need clothing wise:

  • Short sleeve dry weave shirts,
  • Long sleeve pull overs,
  • Converter pants,
  • Rain poncho or jacket,
  • Socks, other unmentionables and
  • Most importantly (for me anyway) a separate warm, dry outfit to put on when you finish for the day.

What you don’t need: your latest Lucky magazine “on trend” outfit. In my opinion this includes jeans, yoga pants or short shorts. Why? Jeans aren’t practical and if it rains you’ll be soaked and your jeans won’t dry until you hit the states again. Yoga pants are too fashionable and typically too long in the Mountains. You’ll be covered in mud. Short shorts are just disrespectful. Think more along the lines of converter pants from REI or LLBean.

Please don’t mistake packing smart as a strategy for abusing your porter or guide. In most cases they will carry your pack. My list is a guide of what you need but don’t load up on crap that just makes your bag needlessly heavy for the porter.

And the best two things my host told me before i left for my adventure. First, always make the guide show you at least two places to sleep for the night. In many cases, they steer trekkers towards hostels and guest houses with showers. If you want a shower, make sure it meets your needs and you are clear on costs. Her point was that if a hot shower is not critical, you can get a better overall guest house and negotiate your own price.

Second, make sure everything you eat is fried. Deep fried. Sounds counter intuitive but as she explained it, our stomachs are not accustomed to Nepali cooking. Fried food kills any parasites that will cause problems later on in your trek. So go with friend rice or dumplings.

More questions? Message me, i am happy to share all that i know.

Happy Trekking!

Nepal: Before you go

Confession: i LOVE reading “places to go” lists. I daydream about when i would go, where the destination fits in my current travel schedule, etc. But this is the first year, i’ve actually seen countries I already visited pop up the popular destination lists.

Which brings me to Nepal. I have seen this country on at least two lists (apologies, can’t remember which ones to link to, sorry!) and think there are a few important things to consider before you jump on a 15 hour flight to Kathmandu.

I am biased in that i loved Nepal. The loved the culture, the people i encountered were kind and generous. The experience was one of the best in my life. But, Nepal is not for everyone. Let me repeat, Nepal is not for everyone. Three things to consider:

1. Nepal is subject to political unrest. I visited Nepal for 10 days, nine of which the country was under a Bandha. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is a Nepali word meaning ‘closed.’ It’s basically a form of protest where the town, markets, city or even the entire country is shut down. The protests range from quiet and peaceful to violent and freakin’ scary.

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Group of Bandha protestors

2. Nepal requires a special kind of mentality. The political unrest,Bandha days and need to be flexible are probably one rolled together.  You must be nimble and willing to change your entire trip itinerary. You must be prepared to walk. A lot. Bandha’s typically prohibit any means of transportation beyond your feet. You must be prepared to be without money. Without transportation, ATMs run out of cash quickly and banks are closed until the Bandha is lifted.

3. Nepal is a developing country. Put aside what you know or think you know about developing countries. You will see the most beautiful sights of your life and the most heart-wrenching sites typically side by side.

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Pashupatinath Temple on the (extremely polluted) Bagmati River

As a developing country, i beg you to be considerate of local customs and culture. There are many. Understand if you are not Hindu, you cannot enter many of the sites in Kathmandu. They are still beautiful from the outside. Understand that tipping is customary, especially for pictures. Seriously, your tip is less than a dollar and is all the money some people see.

What this really means is that you should be prepared for an enriching, amazing experience. But if you are Four Seasons kind of person, this might not be the best country to visit. That doesn’t mean the experience doesn’t exist, i’m sure it does. But think strongly about why you are going to Nepal and how the Four Seasons can accomplish that. I was blessed to have a host how allowed me to stay at her house.

For me, Nepal was amazing and life changing. Never in my life would have guessed i would have the opportunity to go, but i am so glad i did. If you are considering a trip to Nepal, i would love to share my experiences and offer ideas for an itinerary. You know where to find me.

I will put a separate post up on trekking as it is one of the country’s biggest attractions.