March 23rd - April 9th: Nepal. And a few places in between.

This is the tale of traveling to, from, and within Nepal. The destination of this fine journey was Annapurna Base Camp, the center of an incredible mountain amphitheater in the heart of the Himilaya Mountain Range. We will get there somewhere in the middle of this story, and there will be photos of some of the biggest mountains in the world, but this trip was about more than just mountains. The villages, the people, the stone paths, the crazy middle eastern construction, and much more made this a truly special trip for me and my pops (the III to my IV). Buckle up for the longest SnowyPhotos post ever. Or click on a photo and flip through the slideshow - hopefully it won't disappoint.


March 23rd: Or is it the 24th? Where am I?
Flying from Chicago is no small task. First, which direction to fly? South is the only option easily eliminated; everything else is on the table. While the rest of our crew (you'll meet them later) flew west, I boarded an Etihad flight in Chicago bound for Abu Dhabi.

Vegas? Try Abu Dhabi International Airport.
From Abu Dhabi, we boarded a flight bound for Dehli and I continued my Etihad movie marathon, throwing jet-lag related caution to the wind (the ill-effects of wish I would experience for several days). I finally fell asleep in Dehli, on the floor of the widest airport concourses I have ever seen. Luckily my trusty travel companion woke me up and we boarded our final connection.

March 25th: Kathmandu
Kathmandu is not a little mountain village where people move at a casual pace, riding on the backs of bicycles and watching rice cakes dry. Not even close. If that's what you're looking for, head to Luang Prabang in Laos. Kathmandu is loud, polluted, and hectic. A million or more people live in the Kathmandu Valley, which I take to mean within a day's walk of downtown. For what it's worth, there aren't any street lights. For me, that's actually a plus. You haven't lived until you've learned to cross the street in a city with nonstop traffic from both directions. I picked up the technique in Hanoi, Vietnam: look left, look right, look left, start taking very small steps, don't stop taking small steps until you get to the other side. We arrived in the late morning and spent most of the day in a daze. Real fun starts tomorrow.

March 26th: Temples
The culture day. Bhuddist temples, Hindu temples, cremations, painting "school", and a prayer flag or couple hundred. Maybe thousand.

The many stages of cremation at Pashupatinath Temple
Cremations draw an audience of family, friends, and professionals.
White robes, orange walls.
Die-ing to Dye-ing.

Bhudda sits tall at Boudhanath.
Prayer flags. Not just a mountain thing.
Now that's stupa. One of the largest in the world.
Prayer wheels line the surroundings. Spin and pray.
Final cultural stop: mandala painting "school". Factory is an acceptable substitute.
Either way, incredibly detailed paintings made by hand and often embedded with gold leaf.

The Trek...

Day 1: Shall we trek?
Our Wildnerness Travel crew flew from Kathmandu to Pokhara on Yeti Airlines. How can you not love Yeti Air? The trek began with a pretty mellow day. A few hours of hiking, mostly downhill, on stone path, in warm air, under 4,000' elevation. It might have been a little burlier if we didn't also have a dozen or so porters carrying all the heavy stuff. Day packs with water, rain coat, and optional really heavy camera gear for everyone else.

Terraces and stone paths. Beautiful on Day 1. But they get way better!
Our trusty tents for the trip. Where have I seen this tent before?
Day 2: Yes, let us trek.
The cooking squad crosses the Modi Khola, which we chased for the next days.
Pasan, our Sardar, was the only true Sherpa of our sherpas.
Sherpas are the icebergs of mountain treks. Mostly under the surface.
Water is free-flowing entertainment in the Himilayas.
Day 3: You call that a mountain? This is a mountain.
We awoke to clear skies in Ghandruk and caught our first glimpse of the Annapurnas.
Bhudda, our guide/doctor/columnist and not THE Bhudda, points out the various peaks.
If I had a nickel for every donkey, I could probably buy a donkey.
Chomrong: Basketball capital of the Annapurna Sanctuary.
Day 4: Go down to the river. And up the other side. Repeat.
The Himilayas are known for ranges that run east-west, with rivers running north-south. This adds up to a lot of up and down and up and down... as trekkers try to reach the inner ranges of taller peaks. Today was a good day of down and up. The stone paths we were hiking on were phenomenal, especially if you like really steep staircases. The weather today followed the usual pattern of clear morning and hazy afternoons. Unfortunately, the haze turned into rain for the first time on the trip.


They're getting closer!
"You don't have this in your country?" Well, no.
I've never seen such a destructively large sledgehammer. I thought splitting wood was tricky.
 
When life gives you mountains, make terraces.
For those that thought the stone paths are only for trekkers, I present Exhibit Awesome. 
The other chicken had a blue face. You ever seen a chicken rocking Nikes?
Don't forget to stop and smell the Magnolias.
I've never eaten so much popcorn in a two week period. National food of Nepal (source needed).
Day 5: Into the Snow
That is a solid piece of lumber, probably weighing close to twice as much as the man carrying it. 
The Modi Khola becomes more glacial. Must be getting close to the source.
Machapuchare Base Camp. The door could use a fresh coat of paint. Maybe the roof too.
Day 6: REALLY BIG MOUNTAINS!!!
From Machapuchere Base Camp (12,150') to Annapurna Base Camp (13,000') is a couple hours of hiking. Most trekkers get an early morning start to watch the sun rise on the peaks. Our group got a... kinda sorta maybe mid-morning start. Sure enough, the clouds started moving in as we approached the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), but they didn't obscure one of the most majestic mountain views I've ever experienced - views of Annapurna South, Annapurna I, and Machapuchare (Fish Tail). Annapurna I is the 10th tallest mountain in the world at 26,545' and also holds the title of Deadliest Mountain, with the highest ratio of deaths to successful summits. Next time.


Morning light hits Annapurna I. 
Hey! Cloud! Could you give us twenty minutes here?!? 
Annapurna I and the squad.
And that about sums it up. 
BTR IV. BTR III. Annapurna I.
Of course. 
Is that El Cap? Eerily similar to Yosemite Valley.
 Day 7: Good thing I left my Diamox in Evanston
Now you tell me. Luckily, I didn't feel any symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. 
Trekking groups leap-frog each other a lot on the trails, due to our common destination.
This porter had been wearing a John Cena t-shirt for the previous four days.
 
Day 8: Are we going up or coming down?
Remember them steps? 
How do you keep 90% of your body heat from escaping through your head? 
Every bridge comes fully-equipped with prayer flags.
There isn't a country in the world where birds don't enjoy chilling on a good power line.
This is wheat. I'm pretty sure.
(PS In addition to bread, this makes a great desktop photo on your computer.)
 Day 9: Jhinu has awesome hot springs
Jhinu is a bustling trekker metropolis. And there are great hot springs 30 minutes away.
"Tibetan" handicraft are never too far away.
Taking out the trash becomes a bit more urgent when it is on fire.
New Bridge. Can't wait for Newer Bridge. 
Nope, I didn't buy one of those hats. I bought two.
Making lumber the old fashioned way.
Or...
Amputating toes the old fashioned way.
But really...
One of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed. Another man was on the other end of the saw.
 Day 10: The End or Pretty Darn Close
Closer to civilization, more crafts for sale and trekkers of all ages and sizes. 
Somehow I survived the entire trek without buying a can of Pringles. They were everywhere.
I did enjoy an Everest or two.
After a night camping at the Australian Camp, our crew migrated back to Pokhara by bus for a most relaxing evening at the Shangri-La. It doesn't take much to impress a group coming off ten days of sleeping in tents and not showering, but this place would have impressed even the most recently bathed. It was blissful. We then flew back to Kathmandu for a full day of exploring and a dinner with the westerner that literally wrote The Book on Nepal.

Stan Armington has been living in Nepal for a long time now and had quite a few interesting views on trekking in Nepal and beyond. Overall, he seemed none too pleased with how populated and busy the country is becoming. Regardless of his views and thoughts, he hosted us to an incredible dinner of endless momos, dahl, curry, shrimp wafers, and popcorn.

One last stop of note was a visit to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is a beautifully preserved traditional Nepalese town, on par with historic city centers in most European cities. It features dozens of beautifully crafted and carved temples, narrow windy streets, few cars, and even street food! It was about 30 minutes by taxi from Kathmandu, but the drive added to the adventure of the trip. A must do.

And just like that, Nepal was a thing of the past. However, I sure hope it is also a thing of my future. The mountains were like none other, both for their natural beauty and the culture that exists amidst them.

But wait...

Insane in Bahrain! Insane, got no plane!
A delayed flight and missed connection put us in the lovely dessert city of Bahrain for 24 hours. WooHOO!


Have money, build massive World Trade Center towers. Right?
Then build a high-end mall on the ground floor: Louis Vitton, Rolex, Tiffany & Co, Armani, etc.
0% of this fruit is grown in Bahrain. Where is the oil stall?
Had a lot of money? Rent a bunch of cranes and then stop construction.
This construction site has been as pictured for a year and a half. Yikes.
I had been craving ice cream for weeks. Craving satisfied.
The End

5 comments:

Jonathan Burhop said...

Looks amazing. Can't wait to see your ass in one of those hats driving your Subaru decked out in prayer flags. Awesome trip!

Bernard Rocca said...

I got the hats, the flags, and the Subaru. Stay tuned for photo...

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great trip! Do Sherpas (true and not) use iPads or iPhones?

Ali

Yu Kuwabara said...

Awesome post as always, but this one is incredible! Those pics take me right back to Nepal... what a special place. Sounds like it was a great trip!

David Doman said...

amazing journey and amazing job documenting it as always my man. Dropbox more photos! http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-29W6YcagDqQ/T5ocHD1a_VI/AAAAAAAAFdg/2Q8MIENkr4Q/s640/NepalAdventures+36.jpg

That might be my favorite of the ones posted.

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