Gearing up for the Annapurna Circuit in Kathmandu; Five years later, not much has changed.

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Gizmo & Rob are conspiring to rent a Royal Engield for a few days in Nepal and tour around.  We stopped at a shop in Kathmandu to check them out

Lacy: I have been saying for 5 years that Kathmandu is the wildest and craziest place that I have ever encountered in my life. Returning with Rob, even after exploring other countries in Asia this year, has not changed my opinion of this city in the slightest. If anything, it has further confirmed it since I have even more to compare it to after our travels this year.  Indonesia is a little crazy and backwards and Cambodia was far more modern than we expected, but truly nothing compares to the chaos, poverty and air pollution here in Kathmandu. Rob got a crash course in experiencing what I have been recounting to him ever since I spent 4 months living and teaching here in 2013.  It filled us both with a lot of joy to spend the last 2 days walking around Thamel (the tourist area) to get the necessary gear for what We believe will be our epic trek along the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas.  You stumble into a gear shop every 3 feet here because trekking is such big business in Nepal.  We purchased 2 sleeping bag liners to protect from bed bugs and be warm enough at high altitude in the teahouses we will sleep in along the way. Teahouses where we stop each evening will provide blankets and very basic accommodation as well as Dal Bhat for dinner and porridge for breakfast for approx $5 each.  A rain jacket for Rob was critical (he mailed his back home with several other items when we left Kenawa months ago) since we fully expect some rain on trail during monsoon season. Batteries for headlights, power bars and medicine to combat altitude sickness. We will be climbing to 17,770 ft!  There is a method to climbing this elevation – stopping to acclimatise yourself at certain points and never ascending more than 1,650 ft in one day.  Altitude sickness is a concern and we will be careful along the way. The highest we have previously hiked is Mt Whitney last year in California – 14,508 ft.  A second item that can ruin this trip or any trek is our feet. We have hiked enough miles to know that having the right gear on your feet is EVERYTHING.  We scoured Thamel for good new hiking socks and liners. Sure, we have a few pairs with us already, but more is better in this scenario so we can make sure our feet are dry as much as possible with the rain.  Preventing blisters is key. We picked up our permits yesterday at the tourism office and it really excited us both to feel “official”!  Starting to feel real as we approach our anticipated start date of July 26th!!  

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Buddha Park in Swayambhu

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Aside from gearing up for our 2 days in Kathmandu I also wanted to show Rob where I lived for 1 month in Swayambhu and 3 months in Kalimati. Both areas within Kathmandu, but not part of the tourist path. As such, he got a glimpse into the real local living in Nepal that I experienced when I lived here and teaching math classes and volunteering in a preschool 5 years ago.  It’s intense. The dust and smog in the roads still requires me to wear a mask to prevent so much crap from getting in my throat. Even though I have been my throat still hurts. The masses and crowds of people, conditions of roads, trash in the waterways and roads rival Indonesia and Cambodia.  When I returned to Dallas after experiencing what living in, not visiting, a third world country was like it changed me forever. I was so much more aware of all the things we take for granted in America. Without going on a  tangent, I truly believe every person should experience life at this level somewhere other than their home country to truly understand how our actions have global impacts and just simply to be grateful for what you have and protect precious resources.  The exposure to life here that I provided Rob with in such a short timeframe was a lot for him to take in. He said I gave him a bit of whiplash, but he absorbed it and we discussed how he now understood what life was like for me here five years ago and why I came back with a new perspective. A bucket list item for me was to return to Nepal with Rob and do just this, show him where I lived. I just honestly never knew if it would happen, but amazing things continue to transpire this year for us. 

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We ate lunch at the local restaurant by my old home in Kalimati.  I was so glad it was still open and we both enjoyed enjoyed saag paneer and blazing hot naan from the tandoori for $3.30 total 🙂

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On our walk to the Monkey Temple in Swayambhu the second morning in Kathmandu, Rob agreed it was time for him too to don a mask against the smog

Rob: Lacy (Figure 8)* and I (Daddie Gizmo)* have decided to hop from SE Asia deep into Asia and the Himalayas.  *Trail names like these are given to you by your fellow hikers on long distance hikes such as the PCT that we trekked last year. A bucket list hike for Figure 8 has been the Annapurna Circuit, a route in Nepal that encircles the Annapurna Region of the Himalayas and 4 of the tallest mountains in Nepal that are not named Everest or K2.  We will hike from low valley to high mountain passes reaching 17,770 feet. This is well above our pinnacle height of 14,500 ft last year at the top of Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. With side trails and a possible climb to Annapurna 1’s base camp we should cover 250-300 miles in 3+ weeks with a serious amount of elevation gain and loss along the way. The weather at this time of year should also give us the extremes of it’s ability. It will be very hot and humid in the lower river valleys with snow and ice in the mountain passes and toward Base Camp. I’ll be starting the hike with  a chest cold, a high ankle strain from our week long Yoga retreat, 8 week old broken foot that is mostly healed well and 1-year-old twin torn meniscus that have only been successfully tested on a 3 day climb of Mt Tambora in Indonesia.  Fingers & toes crossed.

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Our first step was landing in Kathmandu 2 nights ago. We have been traveling in 3rd World countries for about 4 months now, but the impact of Nepal’s capital city has been a bit of a sudden impact.  Just about everything seems to be under construction or reconstruction from the major earthquake 3-ish years ago. Smog is thick in the air.

 

The Bagmati river that runs through Kathmandu is apparently cleaner than it has been in the past, Lacy says, but that still means that banks are solidly built with trash, especially plastic. It doesn’t help that a local trash collection / landfill is located right on the banks with the overflow just cascading down into the river. Everything seems to make its way to the river and it’s banks from daily rubbish to non-running cars that appear to be public parts cars. Lots of stray dogs and large crows live on the river banks in an endless foraging routine along with many local children from the shanty areas who search and play at the same time.

 
One great thing is that we are so glad to be back in an area where street food is the norm and $1.50 can buy a local curry and amazing naan bread for lunch. Gearing up has also been fun to shop through all of the little Outfitters that cater to the climbing and trekking crowd.
 
Buses carry us and the locals from town to town with virtually anything strapped to the roof. Building supplies, tires, scooters, people and sometimes even luggage. Our bus, where I’m writing from now, is a cacophony of engine, traffic, loud phone voice noises topped off with diesel and dust in the air.
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Then (left – 2013) and now (right)

 
You must love, adorn, name and have your truck blessed to help it travel safely. Only pictures can describe.  I really love it!
 
The differences between Buddhism in Cambodia and Nepal seem to be all in the way it is celebrated and represented. There may be many more mini Stupas, modern era Shines and massive ancient Temple cities in Cambodia, but Nepal makes up for it in color. Cars, homes and people wear daily marks of blessings or offerings.  The Golden Temples are covered with bright paintings, banners and long strands of multicolored prayer flags. Followers visit the vibrant Pagodas along their daily routes to spin the many rows of prayer wheels.  Then just add in the 52 color rainbow on most vehicles and the bright fabric and gold laced / sequined saris, dresses and long tunics worn by the women with tikas between their eyes that do their best to offset the dust and dirty air.
Monkeying around at the Monkey Temple in Swayambhu: 
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Roads are gravel and broken brick mixed with recycled concrete dust that is layered onto the dirt / mud and pounded in place by a million truck and bus tires. Pedestrian areas can be 50-90% large pavers but this just invites the motorcycles to use these alleys as shortcuts.  Thankfully, as we exit Kathmandu and get into the countryside the main highway is paved.
 
I’m very much looking forward to leaving the pollution behind and getting into the mountain air and mist on our way to Pokhara this morning, the gateway to the Annapurna region.

 

**Rob and I completed this blog as we rode 8 hours from Kathmandu to Pokhara this morning and afternoon.  It’s possible to see the Himalayas from Kathmandu, but because of the haze and rain clouds during the 2 days we were there I was never able to give Rob the view of these massive mountains looking as if they are suspended in the high sky.  Our bus ride wasn’t complete with a peekaboo view of the tips of the Himalayas and we both got a chill of excitement upon viewing them.  We both said it feels great to be back in the lush mountains.  A few photos from our journey today…

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I couldn’t get a shot of Himalayas from the bus, but this the view from our hotel room!
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A great Nepali lunch where the bus stopped.  I’m so glad Rob enjoys this kind of food as much as I do

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