It was a mention made offhand that started it. An Australian girl traveling alone through Peru said she didn’t handle altitude very well, she’d already been to Everest base camp and that was even higher than this. Where was Everest base camp? In Nepal. Did I want to go?
I never made it to base camp. Everyone who goes to Nepal goes to base camp, about thirty thousand people descend every year from all over the world to this one part of the country, and they never go anywhere else. Base camp, or so I’ve heard, is an ugly place. The trees have been razed to make warm showers for travelers. There’s litter everywhere. Plastic doesn’t decay. Once you drop it on the ground, it will remain there forever. Instead, I would go on a trip titled Lower Everest Trek. This trip would begin at the house of a local family, and would continue by foot across areas almost entirely untouched. The land would be lush and fertile and you would only see other people now and again carrying up to 70 pounds in a basket, using a strap that wrapped around the basket and braced against the forehead. Infrastructure would be non-existent. Local people, when you saw them, would be happy to see you. I don’t have pictures of these people, mostly because I think it’s rude. There you are, carrying 70 pounds on your way home to the village, and here is a complete stranger taking your picture to take home and show their friends.
Altitude was not a problem. I took altitude medication when I went to Peru, and never acclimated properly. When I tried not taking the medication, I got nauseating headaches and went back on. In Nepal I didn’t take anything, which sounds insane. There were the usual effects – higher altitude usually meant more pressure on the kidneys and the almost incessant need to pee. The world become your toilet. It also means slower digestion, and difficulty digesting proteins. I tried to stick to eating mostly carbohydrates the higher I went. But what was different on this trip, was that the elevation was gradual. Every day we walked, and every night I slept at a consistently higher elevation so my body was able to acclimate naturally. The highest I went was 13,000 feet. From that vantage point, I saw the peaks in the first photo. Their names: Gauri Shankar (a sacred mountain that no one is allowed to climb), Karyalung, Khatang, Numbur, Everest, Lhotse, Amadablam, Makalu, Buruntse. My spelling may not be entirely correct.
|View from the Cheese Factory|
While I was researching for guides – this was not the kind of trip I would feel comfortable just “winging it” on my own, living on luck and a prayer – I was surprised by the lack of information available. When I got to Kathmandu, I could understand why. There were next to no Americans. There were Europeans (Germans mainly), Australians, Indians and Chinese (these being the two neighboring countries). It could have been because the country only recently opened for business. Nepal had immersed in civil war from 1996 – 2006. In 2006, the country became a republic. During the war, the government devoted all its resources to fighting the Maoists, and forgot about its people. While I was there, the country was still putting itself back together. We rode part of the way in a jeep across dirt roads. The next day, it rained and the roads washed away. So the country is still finding its way.
Above is a Mani Wall, which is a Buddhist structure built along the roadside. As you see, you cannot separate Nepal from Buddhism. The two are intertwined. If I talked about Nepal and casually omitted any mention of Buddhism, I might as well have just hiked the Appalachian trail.
My biggest fear on this trip, was not the physical exertion, the country conditions, or accidentally drinking exotic e. coli and getting diarrhea. It was potentially handing over money to a fraudulent or inept travel agency. In that sense, I was very lucky. I wanted to work with a smaller travel agency, and I wanted a local guide, and both these needs were met. The trip was very well organized, my guide provided food for me in the middle of nowhere, three meals every day, and I did not get sick. In fact, I ate very well.
Himalayan High Treks This agency is based in the US and has offices in San Francisco. I took the Nepal: Lower Everest trip. The agency will help you prepare everything you need. The Nepal trip is listed as moderate, so you can pick the level you are most comfortable with.
Three Jewels Adventures: Our guide for the Nepal trip, Amber Tamang, also owns his own travel agency based in Nepal and can offer more extensive and personalized trips. I trust Amber, and I also trust his staff. I always felt safe as a female in the middle of wilderness.
Third Eye Travel: I worked with Sonam and Usha to book my Airline tickets to Kathmandu, Nepal. Airline tickets were my biggest expense, and I wanted to get a deal on a nicer airline, such as Cathay Pacific, because flight would take a long time, a layover was inevitable, and I don’t believe in unnecessary suffering.
I will talk a little about Kathmandu in another post.