Today we completed a one day, five hour trek to Nagarjun Hill, 2095 meters above sea level. This is located in the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, seven kilometers from the center of Kathmandu. In every sense, this was all a very long way from Singapore’s Botanical Gardens, which we featured in our last blog. It has been a very full couple of days….
We arrived late at night and then had to complete our visa on arrival formalities – it was tough to get our brains in gear as the whole procedure was organized chaos and the last thing we were in the mood for doing was filling in forms. It was probably approaching 3.00 AM Singapore time by the time that we went to bed in our hotel in Kathmandu, so that was a twenty-one hour day for us!
We had flown Malaysian Airways on both flights, so we were a bit apprehensive after the recent loss of flight MH370.
The next morning, after breakfast, we changed rooms and ventured outside in tee-shirts as the sun was shining with blue skies – we soon realized that we were wearing the wrong clothes, with the locals all in padded jackets and woolen hats! After a sandwich for lunch, we decided that we were both jet-lagged and an afternoon nap was in order. We got up to meet our travel agent at 5.00 PM. In the evening, we walked to the famous Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu. Open link for photos of Thamel. It took a couple of minutes to realize that the Thamel area of Kathmandu was a shopper’s paradise – unlike Singapore, Kathmandu is the place for bargains – no designer shops here, just copies! We spent about an hour in a sports’ goods shop, buying some bits and pieces and after some hard bargaining, could not believe how little we had spent and finally asked the owner for a restaurant recommendation. He put us in a taxi and we went to a famous local restaurant called Nepali Kitchen, not too far from our hotel. The restaurant was huge and full of foreigners from all over the world, everybody was sitting on cushions on the floor, with low tables, having left their shoes outside. We opted for the vegetarian local Thali, a house specialty, and two glasses of red wine. The food, like the people, has many similarities with Indian food but is distinctly different. We sampled the famous local dumplings, which are a staple and a favorite. All told, we had a lovely and very inexpensive meal. There was entertainment with local music and dancing. We soon realized that Nepalese women were often stunningly beautiful. The Nepalese are charming, respectful and altogether more reserved than Indian people, in our experience. Over dinner, we started to talk to an Australian lady at the next table, sitting on the cushion close to Alf, who was on her seventh trekking visit to Nepal. She warned us that the Annapurna trek that we were doing in a few days had quite a tough climb and she passed on some other useful tips.
Next day, we met our guide and set off for Nagarjun Hill for our day hike. This young man was also going to be our guide for our eight-day Annapurna trek, so it was good to get to know each other. He had been a guide for seven years and both his father and grand-father were Gurkhas. He lived in a small village and has just returned from leading a group to Everest Base Camp. We started out wearing three layers of clothing, including fleeces but within five minutes, climbing steep steps, we were stripped down to one thin layer of hiking clothes. We were carrying backpacks for water, lunch and spare clothing. This was supposed to be a warm-up hike to get our legs used to hiking in Nepal! Rain was forecast, so apart from some soldiers, we were the only visitors in the National Park. The well-marked trail was basically up thousands of steep steps, often covered in leaves, in heavily wooded terrain. We thought that we had misheard our guide when he told us that the summit was at 2095 meters – this translated to a 750 meter climb! We soon realized that this was a seriously difficult trek, probably much harder than anything we had previously done. On one of our many stops to catch our breath, Marilyn asked our guide how this trek compared to our Annapurna trek – he politely told us this was quite a bit easier. It took us three hours, continuously climbing, to reach the summit. We were both seriously struggling and watched in amazement as a platoon of soldiers just effortlessly ran up the hill, wearing heavy-boots and taking two steps at a time. Marilyn struggled more with the ascent but Alf had serious pain in his knees descending. At the summit, we enjoyed our packed lunch, giving half of it away to a park attendant, who was very grateful and then we viewed the Buddhist stupor and looked down on the panorama below – it was a bit hazy but the rain had held off for us.. The descent took two hours, so the whole trek was five grueling but invigorating hours. We were proud of our achievement and looking forward to the multiple day trek and the floral charm of Annapurna.
We returned to our hotel pleasantly exhausted. After taking off our boots, we headed for the bar and Alf sampled the local beer, aptly called “Everest”. We watched the cricket for about fifteen minutes in the bar and then started to feel a bit heavy-eyed. We went to our room, Alf put some embrocation on his knees, set the alarm for an hour and crashed out! That evening, we had a pleasant buffet meal in our hotel. Tomorrow, we have an easy day of sight-seeing in Kathmandu and we need to pick up our kit for our Annapurna trek…