In Kathmandu, I don’t have a clue how to cross the street. There is never a break in the mass of cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, motorcycles and rickshaws. There aren’t any traffic signals and no stop signs. I figure the safest thing to do is to stand very close to someone who appears to live there and cross when he or she does.
There are many temples, Hindu and Buddhist. We see holy men and beggars. Funerals are taking place by the Bagmati River evidenced by the large burning pyres. The smell of smoke and incense fills the air.
We are flying to Pokhara, the jumping-off point for a trek in the Annapurna Circuit. The weather is not good. In fact, it looks like pea soup. We are in a small plane, two single rows of passengers divided by a narrow aisle. I know we are surrounded by 26,000 foot mountains but I can’t see them. Neither can the pilot. I am sweating. I am terrified. We had been told that the flight from Kathmandu was to take half an hour. It was definitely taking longer than that. And then suddenly the plane slips out of the clouds. I see the city. But wait. It looks just like Kathmandu. Did they have the same architect? It is Kathmandu. Unable to land in Pokhara because of the weather, we had returned. We stay in the small domestic Kathmandu airport for hours waiting for the weather to clear. Finally, we are able to fly to Pokhara and then the next day, on to Jomsom. We tour the tiny town of Jomsom, remote and desolate. We visit a small hotel whose claim to fame is that Jimi Hendrix once stayed there and “his” room is decked out with various Hendrix memorabilia. We begin three days of trekking at just under 10,000 feet in elevation. Our wonderful guide, Mani Rai, assures us it never rains on the Jomsom side because it is in the rain shadow of the mighty Himalaya. It then rains for the next three days.
The only means of travel in this area is by foot or horse. As a result, we see people transporting unbelievable things on their backs: a washing machine; a cageful of chickens; a two by twelve board that is twenty feet long requiring the bearer of it to walk along the path sideways! We stay in a place that is so cold, the only source of heat is a small stove located underneath the table in the dining room. The bedrooms are unheated. We spend a great deal of time at this table trying to keep warm with the help of home-made peach schnapps that tastes terrible.
We then move to the Ghandruk side of the Annapurna Circuit and trek the 23,000 steps to the small hamlet of Ghandruk, at the foot of Machhapuchchhre, the “fishtail” mountain. Who counted the number of steps is unknown (I certainly did not but can attest that there were many). We traverse hanging bridges that sway in the wind as we cross. The porters run across them carrying their heavy loads while wearing just flip flops. They seem other-worldly, never appearing to tire.
Our journey ends at the Rum Doodle Bar in the Thamel district of Kathmandu, a gathering place for trekkers, where we toast our good fortune in having experienced the beauty and culture of Nepal.