Childhood Bucket List Item: Ride Black Beauty — Check!

Riding Black Beauty - Marwari Horses of India

If you don’t know, as a kid I was a obsessed with horses. I rode competitively for a while in hunter jumper and dressage, and when I wasn’t at the barn, I was reading the entire [amazon text=The Saddle Club series&asin=B00J2J20P8] (shout out for Stevie! She was so cool. Did anyone else kinda want to be her?!) and Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague… or playing with my horse figurines… or studying different kinds of horses. You get the idea.

So on every trip Rick and I take I scheme to find some way to horseback ride while we’re there. Rick is a really good sport about it, in fact, he might not admit it, but I think he has a little horse fever now too! And he would tell you that my scheming is never really all that sneaky because A) I’m predictable. If we’re going a trip, I’m going to be looking for what kind of riding options there are in that area. (“Rick, Antarctica has horses, right??” j/k… kind of), and B) I get way too excited when I find some where we can ride and can’t contain myself.

So far we’ve ridden in

  • Costa Rica, tied for my favorite, Esteban and his family are amazing!
  • Colombia, my other favorite
  • Mexico, Manuel at Tierra Chamahua, love him and the vaqueros
  • In the U.S. lots of places, but most recently Colorado
  • …and now add India to the list!

So the childhood bucket list item – the dream of riding Black Beauty! And I got to do it yesterday!! He was seriously, movie-worthy gorgeous horse. My Black Beauty was a Marwari horse, a rare breed only found here in Rajasthan India. One of the characteristic features are the curved in, crescent shaped ears – so cute!

They are warm-blooded horses, known for their stamina in the desert and for being very brave. They were bred as warhorses, and learned very fancy moves because they would have to carry their riders into battle against enemies who were riding elephants. So these horses were trained to stand on their hind legs in battle so their rider could reach his opponent on an elephant’s back and attack him. Now they are generally trained in dressage. They have a beautiful gate.

My wonderful horse was incredibly affectionate, smooth gaited and a bit high spirited. It was a dream riding him.

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So childhood dream to ride Black Beauty – CHECK!

 

The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

Well, I promised to write about the Good, the Bad and Ugly of the trip and we had out first ugly experience. I’m writing this as I look at the most beautiful building in the world, the Taj Mahal… but it took going through one nasty place to get here!

We traveled to Agra from Nepal overland – jeep to bus to mininus to bus to train- looking back, we should have just flown. The bus rides were bumpy, crowded (I never knew my body could fit into that small of a space, its like when a mouse has to squeeze its body into a hole a third of it’s size… that was us on the minibus), but overall not bad. We had heard horror stories of the boarder crossing at Sunauli so we got out of there quickly. It wasn’t until we arrived in Gorkahpur that it got bad.

I’m hesitant to try to describe it – it’s hard to put that magnitude of disgustingness into words. And I don’t want to sound overly negative… but there was nothing positive about our experience there. Before you read further, I am happy to say that we have made it past Gorka-hell and found Agra to be much better!! The people are friendly and helpful and endearing, the Taj is beautiful and we’ve found a little rooftop café where I’m sitting now writing that has the sweetest staff, great food and serves clandestine beers! J So know that’s it’s gotten better! But before it got better… it was really bad…

As soon as we got to Gorkahpur, the smells were overwhelming – garbage, poop, dead things. Our bus was passing the train station… we shoved our way to the front and opened the door, since the driver wasn’t listening to us that we wanted him to stop. We were moving pretty slowly since the streets were so crowded, so Rick and I decided to just jump off while it was moving. We got into the train station, and we had heard this was a major transportation hub so we expected there to be some signs in English, or someone who spoke Engilish… but no. Not a word.

Then we noticed the staring. Everyone was staring at us.
Everybody's looking at me!
We finally found a random man that spoke a little English and as we tried to talk with him, a crowd gathered around us of about 25 people just watching us. The man was essentially no help – but did show us the women’s only line for tickets which I got in. At which point I became a celebrity and the women all wanted to take pictures with me. Not horrible yet.

Ok – so we finally figure out, we can’t buy a ticket from the station for the reserved seats. We find a travel agency a travel agent finds us and facilitates the procuring of a train ticket. We end up getting paying an arm and a leg for a ticket, but there’s only one train to Agra and it’s not until 1:00pm the next day (and it’s about 6pm)…. So looks like we’re staying the night in Gorkahpur.

We have our guide book and the name of one shabby hotel. Note, the guidebook says of Gorkahpur “Gorkahpur, known for it’s flies, is a stop for trains. Don’t spend any time here if you can avoid it.” Excellent. Known for its flies truly is the nicest thing I could think of to say about the place. Unfortunately, there’s no other overland route from where we were in Nepal to India.

As we walked out of the train station, we were bombarded by yelling tuktuk and rickshaw drivers and we had to duck and weave to avoid them. Only then we noticed we were walking of streets literally made of trash and feces. We looked around, surely we were walking in the dump by accident…. But no, there was no avoiding it. It was everywhere. People stood on it, had snack carts on it, were laying on it. It was unavoidable. Plastic and paper were the best hope of what you stepped on. More often it was a mucky squish of rotten bits of food, poop, some dirty water and goo. We walked up and down the street looking at different hotels, thinking surely there would be a decent looking one… we found the one the guidebook recommended as “not entirely horrible.” The room was dirty disgustingly filthy absolutely everywhere… the floor, the bed, the walls! Smears of unkown brown. Piles of dirt. The bathroom… well I’ll let the pictures tell you. I don’t think the toilet had every flushed. (oh and let me add that the next morning our bathroom had the lovely addition of a ton of fresh rat poop). I didn’t brush my teeth or wash my hands because I was too afraid to go in the bathroom for more than to quickly pee and run out!

Horrible Nasty Bathroom

There was literally NO WHERE to go that was remotely clean. No restaurant, no shop, no hotel, NOTHING. I’ve never experienced that before.

I have never so badly wanted to completely crawl inside my own skin. I wanted to untouch everything.

The animals were so sad. Cows wandered freely down the streets (very common in Nepal and India) but the difference was that they were sick because of the filth. We saw cows with hooves they couldn’t walk on that were literally rotting off. Dogs with holes in their sides literally rotting.

We found the Hotel Sunrise to be the lesser of the evils of hotels – I think? I mean at that point there wasn’t much of a difference. You saw the pictures, this was no Four Seasons.

We went back to the train station because at least we weren’t getting yelled at there by people trying to sell us things and we could see the floor of it, so less trash.
Desperately waiting on a train - The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

We walked around there for a while, and decided we should eat something (we hadn’t eaten all day… and pray for no food illness!). And as we are walking out this lady is walking towards us… with a kinda crazy smile. It was crowded everywhere so someone bumping into you or walking right up next to you isn’t weird… and I figured that’s what she was doing. I smiled back and she walked up next to me and hits me in the right upper arm/boob. Like hits me with her hand… not a bump, very much on purpose. And then keeps walking. I’m shocked. Rick’s shocked. We look at each other and try to explain it away as maybe she was just trying to touch me? That had happened a couple times where people just walked up and touched us. So maybe that was it?

Fast forward to the next day… we’ve been stuck in Gorkahpur for 14 hours or so now. We don’t want to be in our nasty room, or the train station… the only think I can do to keep from feeling like I’m touching something disgusting is keep walking. Perpetual motion. Just keep walking around, trying not to touch anything. So we got up early and started walking around the streets hoping we find the nice part of town. We find a somewhat quieter street a couple blocks away from ours – less horns, less yelling – it has a couple of schools on it. So we walk it’s length (probably 2-3km), back and forth. And finally decide to head back towards the station to check on our train… and as we’re walking down the street through the crowds, of course, I briefly notice a lady looking at us (not really a weird thing at this point, pretty much everyone starred at us) and walking towards us (again not weird)… until she gets right up next to me, and with a balled up fist, punches me in the boob!! WHAT THE!?!? I squeal and stop and she’s already gone, disappeared into the crowd. It was the same crazy-eyes lady!! On a different day, in a different part of town, she found me and attacked me again! What was up with this lady?!

So now I’m kinda freaking out, feeling attacked – there’s no where safe or clean! We go to the train station to check on our train…. And learn it’s 3 hours delayed. NOOOOO not more time in Gorkahpur.

I’m on the look out now for Crazy Eyes and trying to avoid the ever present ick on everything.

We pack up and decide to just wait at the station (at least we can sit on a bench that doesn’t have trash and poo piled up on it, and there are police around to protect me from Crazy Eyes). We wait… and wait… the train is more delayed by hours.

Finally our train arrives and I have never been so happy to get on a train… we RUN to our coach as soon as it pulls up. We have reserved seats in a sleeper car – let’s just say it’s the most relaxed we’d felt in two days, and the best sleep we’d gotten. Oh and we finally had food we felt remotely safe about eating.

So if you go to Gorkahpur…. Scratch that. Do not go to Gorkahpur. Fly from Nepal to India. Whatever it costs, it’s worth it. Trust me.

Gorkahpur, known for it’s Flies, Crazy Eyes, and never-ending disgusting-ness!

Check out the list of things we loved about India!

17 Things We’ve Loved about India

The Taj Mahal in India
  1. The People.
    Super friendly people everywhere that just want to chat. To ask where you’re from, how long you’re here, tell you about their city, the culture. It was amazing – true genuine hospitality and friendliness. Everywhere!
  2. Diwali Lights.
    It is the festival of lights and, boy, do they decorate accordingly! There are Christmas lights everywhere – it’s really festive and puts you in a fun mood. And while the strings of lights were cool, my favorite part were the little candle flames everywhere giving off this warm glow.
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  3. Rick is a celebrity. Photo ops!
    We had a lot of folks asking to take photos with us. It was quite funny to us. And as soon as we would say okay to one guy, there were 10 more that appeared wanting pictures too! Like they were just waiting for the first brave guy to ask. We humored just about everyone that asked… even when it meant we were standing around for photos for 15 minutes. And we just get a picture with them too – because, why not? It’s fun… but the staring does get a little weird after a while. Crazy eyes!
    Being a celebraty in India
  4. Party Cows.
    We call them Party Cows – they were painted and decorated for Diwali and all over the streets. There were also Party Donkeys, Party Goats… pretty much if you could get it to stand still for long enough, it was painted!
    Party Cows in India - Dawali
    “Party until the cows come home” – uh oh, I think the cows came home. Knock, knock.
  5. Jaipur Shopping Festival.
    In celebration of Diwali, Jaipur has a huge shopping festival. The stores decorate their store fronts with crazy elaborate scenes – it’s like NYC at Christmas.
    Diwali - India
    Popular Indian night club? Nope, just people waiting to get into the temple for Diwali.
  6. Diwali.
    Ok, I know that’s three things for Diwali, but it was so fun! Everyone was super friendly on the “big night” of Diwali Oct 23 when we were in Jairpur. Cheery people shouted down the street at us “Happy Diwali”… came out of houses to tell us “Happy Diwali”.Diwali - IndiaThere are also poo sculptures involved. Not so sure on what these mean or what they are for (or if it’s real poo), but all over the streets on the 24th there were little “gingerbread man” sculptures made of poop.
  7. Street Food.
    The best food we’ve had on the trip so far! Street food in India is delicious. From dahl and chapatis, to lassis, to samosas with curry flavors inside. We basically never really know what it is, but if it’s popular with the locals and there’s a line in front of the cart, we’re in! The flavors have been incredible.
    Street food in India
    We are in Delhi until this evening, so more street food is in our near future!
  8.  Sunsets.
    Absolutely stunning sunsets. Everyday. So the cause may not be so sexy… I think a lot of it has to do with the pollution, but the results are amazing.
    Sunsets in India
  9. Palaces.
    Lots and lots of palaces. I think Udaipur had the best ones! We spent 4-5 days in Udaipur, it’s a beautiful city, said to be the most romantic city in India. I can see why, it’s set on a couple of lakes and has beautiful palaces surrounding the lake, and even in the middle of the lake.
    Palaces of India
  10. Marwari Horses.
    I loved getting to ride them so much, it’s a separate post.
  11. Trains.
    The trains are awesome. You can get everywhere by train… and it’s like a moving hotel if you get an overnight one (awesome for us budget travelers!). And it’s a nice, comfy hotel – I think I got my best sleep on the trains in India. And you wake up and you’re in your next destination.
  12. Henna.
    It really is beautiful how intricate the designs are.
    Henna
  13. Taj Mahal.
    Pretty impressive place.
    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
  14. Elephants and camels everywhere.

    Elephants and Camels in India
  15. Tuk tuk rides.
    Always an adventure – but far better than to be in one, than dodging them on the street, they can be ruthless.
    Tuk Tuk Rides in India
    Pay up, buddy! No free ride here!
  16.  Rooftop cafes.
    Roof Top Views in India
  17. “Everything is possible!” … and “it’s not possible”
    We heard both. A LOT. We made a wonderful friend in Agra who took care of us at his rooftop restaurant every night we were there. The first time we walked in we were greeted warmly and told “what would make you happy? Everything is possible!”
    Everything is Possible at Join Us Cafe in Agra, India
    On the flip side, when someone here wants to say no to your request (like “May I take a picture of your shop?” or “May I have another beer?” near closing time)… the answer is a very proper sounding “Not possible.” It’s very disarming…. We’ve come to find it kind of endearing and funny now. But there’s a little part of me that always wants to argue, “It’s not really that it’s ‘not possible’, sir. I think what you really mean is you don’t want to!”

We have one last day in India to enjoy the wonderful culture, people, sights and flavors.

Today Sponsored by Rox!! Whitewater Rafting the Seti

Today was an epic day!! We got to go whitewater rafting, care of Roxanna! As a going away gift, Roxanna Martinez gave us such a cool gift – she wanted to gift us one awesome day of adventure on our trip. And I promised I would make it an a most excellent day that she “sponsored” and do something special. Oh boy and we did!!! THANK YOU, ROXANNA!!

So thanks to Rox, we got to do a special treat that Rick and I had both been dreaming of doing, but didn’t think it was possible in our budget – enter Roxanna’s gift! 🙂 We both love whitewater rafting, but had only gotten to go on our honeymoon We each secretly hoped we’d get to go on this trip… but hadn’t said anything to each other yet. And Nepal is know for it’s rafting (think Himalayan mountain range rivers!). So we happened to start talking to a couple of guides in Pokhara and learned instead of taking a bus to Chitwan National Park (our next destination), we could do a day and a half whitewater rafting trip down the Seti River.

Our river guide - just kidding! This was the owner's son playing in front of the shop. So cute with this rafting helmet and mini-kayak
Our river guide – just kidding! This was the owner’s son playing in front of the shop. So cute with this rafting helmet and mini-kayak

We met our guides in Pokhara and rode to the put in point. We were the only guests on the raft. The Seti is the warmest river in Nepal, and goes through gorgeous gorges and jungle forest, and has views of the Annapurna range.

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It wasn’t long after we got our instructions on “Paddle forward”, “Paddle back” and “GET DOOOOWN!” that we hit our first rapids. The raft twisted around and we paddled hard and made it through – I only thought I was going to fall out of the raft once. Rick says he wasn’t going to, but I’m pretty sure his back touched the water.

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Our awesome guides with the selfie
Our awesome guides with the selfie

Then we reached a calm stretch and the guides said time to swim. In the back of my mind I’m thinking… hey, once we get to Chitwan, aren’t we going on a crocodile watching expedition? And we’re rafting to there now. And I’m swimming in this warm river. Hmmm…. But we jumped in anyway! We actually got to swim through some small rapids which was really fun!

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We continued and hit a couple more sets then reached our stopping point for lunch. The guides made this amazing set up. They prepared everything from scratch and we got to eat on the beach, and relax a little.P1040981

More rafting, with the rapids getting a little bigger each time! It was so fun!

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We were tired when we reached our camping beach. Since it was an overnight trip we got to camp right next to the river. I was totally surprised by everything those four guys were about to pull out of the raft – we had a sweet camping set up. We got a tent, and they created a “lounge area” out of the raft and a tarp.

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And then we started to learn that our guides were also chefs. I think we got a 7 course dinner that night… the food just kept coming and it was all good! We started with f  freshly popped (over an open fire) popcorn. Next was this “party mix” of what I think were dry ramen noodles, popcorn, diced up cucumber and onion and spices – it was super addictive! Then we had soup. Then we had bread. Then we had the main meal, which was spaghetti with meat sauce and a couple of sides of vegetables. It was all delicious and it all came from our raft!

As they prepared the meal, we played games with them… just little games with rock and sticks but it was fun. Rick was building things out of little bamboo sticks – and he, feeling highly confident in his skills, challenged me “ok, Liz, what do you want me to make? Anything!” first thing that came to mind was a rocking horse! Rick did not like that challenge so much at first… but of course, if you know him at all, he’s going to take it on and figure it out. So about 30 minutes later, here is the bamboo rocking horse! J pretty impressive!!

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As we played and ate, it grew dark and our guides set up us with a campfire on the beach and lanterns throughout camp. The stars were spectacular!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many or seen the milky way that clearly. I guess that’s the upside of the constant power outages… very little light pollution in Nepal! We found a bunch of constellations and a couple shooting stars. And when we were finally exhausted, we slept very well in our tent.

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The next morning we woke up to tea ready for us to go, and breakfast. We packed up and got ready to go. It was cloudier today and we were told we would cross into a new river the Tiraslu, which is much colder than the Seti River… so we got wetsuits! I don’t think I’ve worn one before so that was an experience! But they certainly worked to keep us warm! We went through many rapids that morning and then got to swim in this new colder river – Rick jumped in first and I could tell by the look on his face it lived up to it’s cold reputation! I wasn’t really planning to get in, but Rick said I had no choice as he grabbed the back of my life jacket and pulled me into the river with him. It was cold, but with the wetsuit quickly warmed up to bearable.

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The crew joked with us and taught us more Nepali words. I have to say, it’s the most fun rafting crew we’ve ever gone with. All smiles and really knew what they were doing -plus excellent chefs!

We finished our trip (back in the raft) with one last great set of rapids! What a treat!! ROXANNE THANK YOU SO MUCH!! We loved every second of it!

 

Home Sweet Home, Pokhara!

Bayan Tree, Pokhara, Nepal

Well, we completed our trek, it took us 14 days in total. As most of you know we were incredibly blessed to have gotten through the mountains before the blizzard and avalanches hit. The tea houses varied quite a bit, all of them simple accommodations, but some were still quite comfortable and had hot gas showers (a hot solar shower is just a lie. Never believe it!). Some of them were very new and quaint, with sweet families that welcomed us. Others were…. Uncomfortable to say the least… let’s just say some of the bathrooms made me prefer to use the woods trail-side instead of going into the bathroom. ICK!

Tea House CollageSo after our little three day extra bit of hiking, we returned to Pokhara. Its funny to say but it felt like going home! We actually knew the town we were going to, we knew we were going to stay at Banyan Tree and that they had hot showers and a nice balcony, we knew where our favorite restaurants were. We were excited to get there! It was so relaxing when we arrived.

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We had been running low on money for the last three days, so had to limit what we ate and drank… we got into Pokhara, got to the ATM, and got a big lunch at Silk Road, which has safe salads (I am craving fresh veggies constantly here… it’s hard to get them regularly because only a few places wash them in iodine water).

We started working on what we were doing next, but first a little relaxation! Rick had found a spa in Pokhara. We checked our budget and we had been saving money, so time for a treat!! A spa day!! It was awesome and cheap. We ordered a full day spa for the next day. Which turned out to be perfect timing because it started raining that night and the rain continued non-stop the entire next day and night – it was the remnants of Cyclone Hudhud, which then moved into the Annapurna area and caused the massive snowfall, blizzards and avalanches that caused the disaster.

The spa was so cool because everything was done by hand. I was taken to this little clay hut, where the ladies brought water they had boiled from the house to wash my feet. Then my spa day started with a full body scrub – it was intense! I think it was walnut shells. I probably needed it after hiking for two weeks with limited showers. Then I got hot oil hair treatment. And then we got a full body massage – wow, it was the best massage ever! They call it the “Trekkers Deep Tissue Massage” and they were not messing around (Rick and I still have slight bruising on our calves from it, but without it we would probably still be hobbling around, we were so sore from the crazy hiking). I then got a facial, spa lunch and a pedicure and manicure (those are not their specialities. They were so sweet, attentive and tried really hard, but I’m pretty sure they learned the techniques from YouTube and didn’t really get the purpose of the actions they were doing. Like the cuticle cream… just went on my nail… and then they used the cuticle tool to just scrape over my nail… same actions as a normal manicure, just in the wrong place. It was pretty amusing.)

I felt so relaxed and clean after the spa, it was wonderful!

And that night we went to dinner at a new restaurant – it was a Turkish restaurant. We were a bit confused by the menu (since it was in partial Turkish, partial Nepali, partial Chinese and a smidge of English). The owner/chef came out and talked with us. He was so proud of his restaurant and told us all about his garden, and well water, and where the meat came from and how he had learned to cook from his grandmother, and the history of the restaurant. He told us that he would prepare a special tasting for us! We got a chicken gyro platter, and Alexander the Great kebab platter, and these little garlic breads with a dipping sauce. Everything was SO good!

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Rick and I were so excited – after eating Dal Bhat (rice, lentil soup, and curried veggies) for almost every dinner for two weeks, we were ready for something different. Dal Bhat is the traditional dinner of Nepalis and it’s the main thing served on the trek at tea houses (the saying goes “Dal Bhat power. 24 hour!”). Even when you get something else, it’s basically same flavor different form. Momo – same spices, just in a dumpling. Noodles – same veggies, same flavors, just on noodles not rice. Omlette – yep, same spice, same veggies just on eggs. Macaroni – same, same, different noodle shape. Soup – you guessed it, same veggies, same spices, just more liquid.

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We hadn’t even realized we were so tired of it, until the Turkish food. And it tasted so different and SOOO good! I definitely took for granted the variety of food flavors I was able to get in the US… either at restaurants or when I cooked. Asian one night, Italian another, Mexican another… or even just different spices.

So we thoroughly enjoyed our little break in sweet Pokhara — comfy place to stay, hot showers, spa day and yummy food! We’re happy campers!

 

Going Down. Down. Down. Muktinath to Pokhara via Poon Hill

Going Down. Down. Down. Muktinath to Pokhara via Poon Hill

So to get this online a little quicker we’ve condensed the downhill part of the trip, Muktinath to Pokhara via Poon Hill, into one post. We both worked on writing it so I hope it’s not to hard to follow…

Muktinath to Jomsom to Tatopani – October, 9 2014

Liz’s 3 things:
– Jeep to bus to jeep
– Worlds deepest gorge
– Best and worst of Nepali people

We took a jeep from Muktinath to Jomsom. Barely made it on the jeep – lets just say lines or who got there first isn’t really a thing. Rick may or may not have had to use his sticks. Probably one of the roughest roads I’ve been on. But we were so glad to be out of the cold desert!

 

Nice and cozy in the jeep!

The Worst Part of the Day:
In Jomsom we said goodbye to Brad and Song as they were going to fly to Pokhara then we barely got on a bus (Liz says,”Thanks for Rick’s aggressiveness we made it!”). And about 5 min later we got a flat tire. It was changed over the course of an hour (by a boy who couldn’t have been more than 11 years old… gotta start ’em early) or so while we watched subsequent busses pass us. Back on the road, we should’ve taken note that the mechanic got on with us. We proceeded to stop for every single broken down vehicle on the road – an entire bus of people. We got to experience lots of roadside culture… Dropping off a parts. More work on the tire. Different bus broke down and blocked a bridge. Yet another bus drove INTO river instead of bridge. A dozen jeeps backedup at a narrow point where the bus didn’t fit. Needless to say it was a looooong bus ride.

Even the cows were a little aggressive in Jomsom!
Even the cows were a little aggressive in Jomsom!

Bus in the river Nepal Bus broken down Nepal

 

Little Nepali Girl with Kitten
During one of our many “Stops” we saw this little girl with her kitten.

Narrow roads in Nepal

Once we made it to Ghasa though, we had another problem. No room on the bus that was leaving then for Tatopani. Also no room for non-Nepali on the one that was coming in a couple hours to go to Tatopani. Mind you this was all learned by running around a crowded dirt lot with 10 busses sitting there in half sign language, half nepali and a lot of “No!” But definitely some non-Nepali discrimation going on! Liz got to practice putting her American desire for efficiency and relaible timelines to rest. I say she did really well.

The road down to Tatopani, Nepal

The Best Part of the Day:
So we thought we were going to have to walk and just as we were about to set out this older nepali man flags us down and asks if we want to share his jeep. BEST decision of the day!!  We got in the back and got to enjoy wonderful conversation with these three native nepali men from Upper Mustang (that’s farther north than we were, it’s a desolate super high altitude desert plateau. It’s $250/day just to get in for US citizens).

Jeepin' on The Road to Totapani, Nepal Waterfall on The Road to Totapani, Nepal The Road to Totapani, Nepal The Road to Totapani, Nepal

 

Broken Jeep in Nepal
Our jeep broken down but only briefly as the driver was also a mechanic!

 

They were all brilliant well educated and knew nepal so well! The youngest was a genetic scientist about to go study genetics of snow leopards! They told us we were jeeping through the worlds deepest gorge! And no kidding the drop from 20,000+ ft mountains to 300 ft above sea level was crazy and made for incredible scenery.

The Road to Totapani, Nepal

We were a little sad we didn’t hike that piece of it… BUT the beauty of slow travel and having everything on your back is that you can fix that!

Out of the Jeep! Nepal

We’re Thankful for:
So while they offered to take us to Beni, we got out early at Tatopani to enjoy the hot springs and do some hiking in the area. At the recommendation of one of our Nepali jeep mates we stayed at Darmasali Hotel which his cousin owned. We stayed in a lovely guest house with an orange garden all around. Then it was a short walk through the garden and down some stairs to the hot springs. Great hot springs, highly recommended!!! It was more polished than the last (Chame) and a lot more popular, it was privatized so we payed 100NPR each to get in but totally worth it. Two giant knee deep hot tubs one was crazy hot, the other was larger and more of an enjoyably hot temperature. They had drinks and food for sale as well but all we wanted was a bottle of water.

We debated staying in Tatopani  for a couple of days just to keep using the hot springs but instead decided to hike to Poon Hill instead of continuing on the road to Pokhara as it’s kind of on the way; except for the 2000m climb. It adds a couple days but we think it will be great!

Chicks with Chicken
Just a bunch of Nepali chicks.

 

Tatopani to Sikha – October 10, 2014

3 things:
– Bonus time! We thought we were heading straight back to Pokhara but changed our minds and started the Poon Hill trek, so I consider this “bonus time” and somehow bonus time always seems to end up being the best time. I think today may be my favorite day of trekking.
– Lush green mountain sides
– Snow capped Nilgiri Mountain

The Road to Totapani, Nepal

The Best Part of the Day:
Hard to pick… We started off late and said “we’ll just go as far as we feel like” there’s something really cool about that open ended-ness. The other days I guess we could have done that, but we had a pass to get over and it was a cold, harsh environment. Now we’re in this tropical, but mountainous and cold at night, but warm in the day environment. We saw only a few trekkers today. And it really seemed like the locals were friendlier. The landscape is finally what I had dreamed Nepal would be like… Lush, but incredibly steep mountainsides with waterfalls flowing, shaded rocky paths, mixed with rice fields, and snow capped mountain vistas the whole time. And it seems like Rick and I have hit our communication groove finally…

Or maybe it’s just me and I’m finally starting to settle into this new life?

Nepal

Rick scored the best room!! We have two sides with windows! A double bed! With a good mattress!  A gas hot water shower – in our room!!!

Our Room in Sikha, Nepal.

I’m thankful for:
Just about everything today!! I’d say freedom to do what we want and go where we want.

Flower

Sikha to Ghorepani – October 11, 2014

Sikha to Ghorepani was a nice relaxing hike once we figured out which way to go…

Sign to Ghorapani, Nepal

3 Things:
-Yak cheese – amazing!!
– Baby goat playing on baby water buffalo
– Stairs, stairs and more stairs!

A baby goat playing on a baby water Buffalo

The Best Part of the Day:
We found a guy selling yak cheese and it rocked!

Yak Cheese is Good!

The Worst part of the day:
We say a snake!

A snake in Nepal

I’m thankful for:
A short hiking day!

Nepali Horses

 

Gorepani to Poon Hill to Pokhara – October 12, 2014

3 things:
-Sunrises
– Stairs. Stairs. Stairs.
– Home sweet home – Pokhara!

Our earliest start yet, 4:20am hiking. The goal is to beat the sun up to Poon Hill (3210m) for an amazing sunrise. We made is up to the top and witnessed a pretty remarkable sunrise across the mountains. Then it was down down down. Due to some budget miscalculations on my part (and pretty much zero ATMs on the trail, with the exception of Jomsom) we decided to try and make it all the way to Pokhara today.

The sunrise view from Poon Hill, Nepal.

 

The sunrise view from Poon Hill, Nepal.

The sunrise view from Poon Hill, Nepal.

The Best Part of the Day:
It’s a toss up between the beautiful sunrise from Poon Hill and making it back to our little home in Nepal, Pokhara.

The Worst part of the day:
Our day included some of the most rediculous “stone stairs” imaginable, Know as the Stairs of Ulleri 500 vertical meters of stairs… Soooo thankful we were going down, but still took it’s toll. So many stairs the number was actually noted on the map (3420 but there is no way that is accurate as some of the steps had steps of their own, like little baby steps). For a little perspective, imagine going to the very tip-top of the needle on the Empire State Building; then taking the stairs all the way down, then once you got to the ground floor you still had 70 more meters to go down… and they are all made out of rocks, of various sizes shapes and textures. Fun times!

Stairs!

This side of the mountains still seemed to have the better scenery, lots of beautiful waterfalls and jungle.

Jungle stream in Nepal.

Once we made it into Birethanti, and got our TAMs cards checked one last time we got a great offer on a taxi to Pokhara (2000NPR) so we took it! We would have continued to hike down the road to Natapul for another 45 minutes but judging from the view from the taxi, the taxi ride was definitely the better choice… lots of touts, a small garbage dump between towns and a dusty busy road.

The Bridge in Birethanti, Nepal.

We rolled into Pokhara and straight to find Bayan Tree right where we left it 2 weeks earlier with it’s awesome porch waiting for us to kick our feet up!

Bayan Tree, Pokhara, Nepal

 

Thorong La Pass!!! (5416m) – October 8, 2014

Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Today was THE DAY! We went over Thorong La Pass at 17,769 feet! And even climbed a little higher to go over 18,000 feet!

We stayed at High Camp the night before, the highest you possibly can stay overnight on the Circuit.

Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

It’s a 3 hours climb to the pass from High Camp. All 110 beds were filled at high camp, porters and guides were sleeping in tents and rumor was about 40 slept in the dinning hall. The next morning high camp was buzzing at 4 am. We started up with Song at 5:09 am. It was cool seeing all the little headlamps make their way up the path in the dark like little glowing ants.

P1040394

The wind on both sides of the pass gets unbearable starting at 10am so you want to be over and a couple hours down the other side by then. It was crazy to see the line of hikers, going by the light of each of our headlamps only, slowly crawling up the mountain. And it was so cold!!

Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

We watched the sun come up as we made our way up. It was a steep incline up all of the way. We struggled to breathe at the high altitude and with the steep grade… so it was little baby steps the whole time. Little by little we inched our way up the pass. We were definitely ahead of most of the crowd though, so we were feeling good about our progress.

Sunrise Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

We summited the pass at about 8:15 AM. I think we had expected it to be this beautiful viewpoint, peaks all around, glorious mountain views…. It was not. I don’t know why I was thinking that, I mean it’s a pass, the low point to cross between mountains. It was gravely and steep. But what it lacked in beauty it made up in grandeur. I still couldn’t believe how high up we were.

Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Song had grand plans of hiking up the hill an extra 250 ft to clear 18,000 ft with his altimeter watch. We agreed that would be a cool accomplishment so we joined him and made it to 18,010 ft!  That extra 250 feet, I have to admit, were pretty hard just due to the altitude and lack of oxygen. But totally worth it! That means that we hiked higher than the 2nd highest peak in the United States – only Mt Mckinnley is higher than where we hiked in the U.S.

18010 Feet Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal
18,010 Feet Above Sea Level

Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

We spend about an hour on the pass, took a bunch of pictures, had some tea and then started down the other side.

Down was very steep and gravely. We made our way down and at the first tea house ran into Brad who had come up to meet Song. He had gotten altitude sickness and decided it was better to just get over the pass and down than go back down to Manang.

Mules going up Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal

We checked out the “Russian Sauna” we had seen lots of stickers ads for which turned out to be a large (and presently cold western sauna (cedar boards and all) and they wanted 5,000npr ($50usd) to turn it on for us, just a touch out of our price range 😉

Small avalanche Thorong La Pass Annapurna Circuit Nepal
Another small avalanche

We ended up staying at Hotel Bob Marley which had a great shower and bathroom (!!!!! YEA !!!!) and good food. We enjoyed a hot shower, apple pie and a beer to celebrate our big accomplishment. It still got really cold at night in Muktinath and was super windy… in a moment of weakness, Liz couldn’t help herself and bought a warm wrap/shawl make of baby yak wool from a local craftswoman. It was incredibly warm… I have a feeling you’ll be seeing that wrap in a few pictures over the next week! She won’t take the thing off!

Made it to Muktanath Annapurna  Circuit Nepal

 

 

Churi Letdar – Thorong La High Camp (4925m) – October 7, 2014

Throng La High Camp, Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Mountain Goats

It was a very cold and overcast start to the morning at 7:00am. We saw a large heard of big horn sheep on the way to Throng Phedi. Later we found out from Brad that there was a wolf stalking them as well, but we never saw it. We survived the “danger zone,” a 20 minute section that cuts across an extremely loss gravelly rockslide area the warning signs say “Step lightly.” It was about two hours all in to Throng Phedi. We saw a hand written note from Brad to Song on the gate entering the village that said thatBrad was going to cross the pass today and would meet him in Muktinath tomorrow (crazy as he started in Yak Kharka and apparently passed us somewhere on the trail, probably along the section where there were 2 routes, one on either side of the river). After a quick break we were off for another 1 hour and 15 minutes of step climbing on lose rock up to high camp.

the Danger Zone Annapurna Circuit Nepal P1040310

A lot of other people were talking about going over the pass as it was only 10:15am when we reached high camp and the clouds were moving out. We decided to stick with our plan to enjoy the altitude and the views and have an easier start to crossing the pass in the morning.

Thorong La High Camp Annapurna Circuit Nepal Thorong La High Camp Annapurna Circuit Nepal

After getting a room we took the short 20 minute hike to the view point to take pictures. Then we settled into the dinning hall and talked with an isreali couple planning a road trip in the US for their honeymoon… Made me a bit jealous for good food!! Shortly there after, Song came into high camp and we spent the afternoon chatting with him and playing 3 man spades before more of the Isrealis showed up and we learned to play Yanni, and made up a few new catch phrases; “You gotta risk it, to get the biscuit.” We think it’s the made-up equivalent of “go big or go home.”

P1040363 P1040361 P1040375 Thorong La High Camp Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Liz’s 2 Things:
– 16,158 ft highest we’ve ever been! Thorong La High Camp is the last place you can stay before crossing the pass
– Blue Mountain Sheep – we saw a whole herd close up!
– Cold, cold cold! Boy it was cold and windy. We arrived in Thorong La High Camp early and it was chilly then, only to get chillier. Even inside, they said it wasn’t winter so no fire inside… which means NO heat! bundle up and order some hot tea and hope for the best. The bathroom run was quite cold. It was not near any of the rooms mind you… it was out in the middle of the complex, a good 20 yard sprint from the dining hall where we hung out or our room. But a good sleeping bag and a down jacket and we made it.

P1040297

Best Part of Liz’s day:
Crazy panorama views from up here of the Chulus, the Amnapurna range, even Annapurna 1 (which is the biggest and we haven’t gotten to see yet!!)

Thorong La High Camp Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Liz’s Worst part of today:
Thorong La High Camp is crowded and lacking in charm or amenities, and freakin cold!! We got in early, about 11am, which was good so we got a room (about 40 guides had to sleep in the kitchen and many porters had to sleep outside in tents). But getting in early kinda sucked because it was too windy and cold to be outside really so we had to sit around in the common room of the tea house – unheated. I swear I was cold for 20 hours straight! But we did make some new Israeli friends and learned a new card game “Yanniv”? Which I turned out to be pretty good at and it was a lot of fun!

I’m thankful for: still feeling good, no altitude sickness which can be deadly at these altitudes. God is blessing us with good health, a wise and careful husband who acclimatized us well and good meds to help too!

Thorong La High Camp Annapurna Circuit Nepal

Memory Verse:
Assurance of guidance (Proverb 3:5-6)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 

We’re safe and sound!

Many of you have probably heard about the horrible blizzard and accompanying avalanches that have killed a number of trekkers, porters and guides on the Annapurna Circuit.

We want to let everyone know that, while we were just there a couple days ago, we are safe, made it out before the storm and are no longer in the region effected. Our blog on the other hand (due to a general lack of Internet on the circuit) is still a week or so behind. So rest assured we are safe, but you’ll hear a lot of places talked about in the news on our blog for the next few days.

Please join us in praying for the families of those involved, as well as those involved in the rescue efforts.

Rick & Liz

Update:
Liz found this link with current accurate information updated frequently:
http://www.taan.org.np/live/

Update Oct. 27, 2014:
If you are looking for missing trekkers from the disaster, their is a Facebook page set-up to try and help reconnect people. It has an unofficial status list updated regularly as well as other information. Please check out the Annapurna Nepal Blizzard and Avalanche Info Share Page on Facebook if you might have or need any information.

Lost in Translation – Episode 1

Lost in Translation

When Liz and I were brainstorming some blog ideas with some friends before we left one of the ideas was to document things “Lost in translation;” i.e. things that for whatever reason translate really funny, or don’t seem to make any sense at all.

With that back story, I present the very first episode of “Lost in Translation.”

Throughout the trek in the little villages there have been a number of posters, etc. with community messages on them. Many of them around hygiene or keeping Nepal clean; public service announcements.

Then we found this:

Lost in Translation

Unfortunately there wasn’t an english translation, but from the illustration it’s pretty obvious what the message is… maybe not.

Anyone wanna take a shot at translating this one for us? Don’t worry if you don’t know Nepali.