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I have been passionate about travel since I was 16 years old and my grandfather took me on my first trip out of North America (to Sweden!) And I have created opportunities to visit some pretty amazing places and do some amazing things... so planning something out of my comfort zone for my 50th birthday was a bit of a challenge.
But I have always loved mountains, so I decided to head to the Himalayas and have a "wee walk".
Since I was going to be doing this on my own, I did a lot of research on what company to use, and I finally settled on Treks Himalaya, Pvt. Ltd, owned and operated by Krishna Adhikari. From our very first email exchange, Krishna answered all of my questions, as well as provided relevant information to help me further my research. We amended my itinerary several times until I had it "just right": two nights in Kathmandu, a 14-day trek thru the Everest region, two more nights in Kathmandu, and then three nights in Bhutan. Krishna took care of all of the details: in-country flights, visas, paperwork, reservations, hiring a guide and driver for my day of exploring in Kathmandu, and meeting me at the airport with a marigold necklace (a traditional welcome).
That is when having a guide like Krishna is a necessity for trekking: with a few phone calls, he summoned a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us the 5.5 hours to Pokhara, he hired a different porter to make the trek with us, arranged lodging for the first night, and rescheduled our air tickets for a return flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu at the end of the trek. Pfew! And off we went...
Kathmandu was chaotic: narrow streets filled with motorbikes, cars, bicycles, walkers, stray dogs, and the occasional cow, with nary a stop light in sight! But the Nepalese are kind, funny, and easy-going, so I just relaxed into the adventure and engaged in my favorite pass-time: people-watching. We visited several temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, and spent some time observing traditional cremation ceremonies at the river. Watching the troupes of monkeys at the "monkey temple" was a lot of fun.
The next day we were due to fly out to Lukla to begin the trek, but thunderstorms delayed the flight for several hours, and did not appear to be lessening over the next few days. So, we changed plans on the fly: rather than trekking the Everest region, we would drive to Pokhara and trek the Annapurna region. (You cannot drive to Lukla, so Everest trekking is dependent on that flight to the trailhead.)
If you are not familiar with the concept of trekking in Nepal, it is not luxurious, but it is also not camping. Each night was spent in a small lodge, maybe 6-15 rooms with a shared bathroom, similar to a youth hostel. Several times I had a bathroom attached to my room, it just depended on what was available in which village. And almost every place had WiFi!
There was hot food for breakfast and dinner, and again at lunch along the way; rice, noodles and pizza were the main offerings, quite tasty, and perfect energy for long walking each day.
Krishna made all of the arrangements as we went, and with over 20 years in the business, he has connections to many of the providers along the trail.
The route wound up into the mountains thru picturesque villages clinging to the hillsides among terraced fields. At the lower elevations, we occasionally passed locals working the land or engaged in other routines of daily life. We would stop every hour or so for tea or coffee at one of the lodges. With just myself, Krishna (my guide), and Bohdri (my porter) in our party, I got to set the pace, which included a lot of pauses for photos of the gorgeous scenery, and often just to admire the view.
The scenery was spectacular: huge rhododendron trees, waterfalls, villages, monkeys, flowers, bamboo, rivers and bridges. And the mountains! Always we were praying for the clouds to clear to get a glimpse of those astounding peaks. I went in August, the end of monsoon season, and heard many comments from the locals about how it was usually much more clear in late August than it was this year. But we were indeed rewarded with some stunning vistas, mainly of Annapurna South (top and middle photo) and Machhupichhre (below).
"Annapurna traffic jam"
If I were to go back, I would target late March or early April, when the rhododendrons are in bloom and the hillsides are covered in pink and red. The high season for trekking is September thru November, but March thru May are also popular. June and July are the monsoon season, and of course December and January are quite cold, but many folks do still trek in those months!
No mountaineering experience is required, nor is any special equipment. Trekking poles are recommended, and I was grateful for mine on the downhill trails. Much of the walk is flagstone, or stone stairs, so for training I would recommend finding a high-rise building near you and walking up and down the stairs! You will be walking 3-6 hours each day, but with plenty of breaks, and a porter to carry your gear if you desire. (I only carried my water, my electronics, and an extra layer.)
After the trek, I enjoyed a couple of days of relaxation in Pokhara, a charming lakeside resort town. And then it was back to Kathmandu and the energy and chaos of that vibrant city! I downloaded an offline map for my phone and ventured out into the streets of Thamel, the bustling ex-pat neighborhood, and picked up souvenirs for my family (and myself!) and absorbed some of the local cafe culture.
My last three days where spent in Bhutan, a small, reclusive kingdom of roughly 800,000 people. Always geographically remote, the country has also been notoriously reclusive and difficult to visit. It only opened for tourism in 1974, and only allowed the internet in 1999! That being said, my guide and my driver, courtesy of We Cool Bhutan Tours and Treks, were friendly and knowledgeable, and made my short visit fun, educational, and very memorable. Treks Himalaya make all of my arrangements for me thru them, including my visa and my flights, all I need to do was enjoy myself.
My Bhutan visit culminated in a hike to the famous Tiger Temple (at left), actually a series of temples anchored to the hillside at 10,200ft altitude, and over 1000ft up from the valley floor! The stunning natural beauty, amazing architecture, and deep sense of history and reverence, combined to make this a memorable finale for my adventure.
If you are considering a visit to either country, I am happy to talk with you and share my experiences, and would love to help you plan yours! I also highly recommend Treks Himalaya as a partner in tourism to make all your arrangements to visit this part of the world, and can serve as a liaison for you in the planning and booking process. Please call the office and ask for Amy, or reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nepal and Bhutan Trip This was my specific 21-night package, which assumes a single supplement as I was traveling solo. There are multiple itinerary options to work from, and we can craft one specifically to your time constraints, interests, the size of your party, and hiking ability!
2 nights hotel Kathmandu, including breakfast
Full day tour of Kathmandu, with guide and driver
14 nights trekking, including guide, porter, in-country transport, lodging, three meals per day
2 nights hotel Kathmandu, including breakfast
3 night/4 day visit to Nepal, including guide, driver, lodging and all meals, entry fees to attractions, Bhutan visa, and round trip flight from Kathmandu to Paro
Airport transfers with meet and greet in Kathmandu and Paro
Taxes and fees
Grand total: $3,110
Not included: Travel insurance (required). Tea, coffee and other beverages. Any meals not specified above. Nepalese visa. Gratuities. At the more remote elevations, there are charges for WiFi, device charging, and hot showers IF they are available; trekkers are responsible for these costs, but they are normally only $1-2 each.
Interested? Call today for more information! 800-275-9876 or 425-827-5656