When you decide to quit your job overnight – with no “Plan B” in sight – just to see what the world is holding for you, you know that you’re the type of person who cannot settle for an “okay” life. There’s more for you out there that might bring you less guarantees than a desk job, but definitely more thrill, more adventures, and more fulfillment.
When I quit my job in February 2012, the future was still vague but one thing was clear: my first backpacking experience was awaiting me in the wild of Nepal. I knew little about Nepal then, only that it was a dreamland for trekkers and outdoor lovers from people around me. I also knew it was calling me for some reason.
Traveling from Beirut, the flight to Kathmandu, the capital, includes a stop in the UAE. Even if the sole purpose of your trip is to enjoy the beautiful mountains of Nepal, Kathmandu is a first mandatory stop: welcome to the city of chaos! And yes, Nepal wins by far over Lebanon in this field – being born and raised in Lebanon and genetically resistant to chaos, I know what I’m talking about. But amidst all this chaos, there’s an irresistible charm to Kathmandu that draws you inside its narrow polluted jammed streets. The cultural shock slaps you in the face but intrigues you too; you want to see further, know more, try to unlock the secrets of a place flooded with smells, colors, noises, and a little bit of madness in every corner.
We stayed in: Kathmandu Guest House (one of the most appropriate accommodation you can get in Kathmandu. Don’t get too excited, we’re talking Nepalese standards here).
Health tips: Kathmandu is a highly polluted capital with air quality ranking 177th out of 178 countries, according to Yale’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), only better than Bangladesh. The thick cloud of pollution is suffocating, not to mention the shortage of water the country is suffering from. It’s true the pollution is mainly concentrated in the capital, but health precautions are a must everywhere in the country to minimize the risks of contamination and diseases. Hence, some tips I’ve tried to collect to send you more prepared into the wild.
- Food cooked and served hot
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Sealed bottled water OR disinfected water
- Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
- Coffee or tea made with boiled water
- Pasteurized milk
- Carbonated drinks
- Tap or well water
- Ice or drinks made with tap or well water
- Unpasteurized milk or dairy products
- Food served at room temperature
- Food from street vendors
- Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs
- Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish
- Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
Healthcare: Although health facilities are available in Kathmandu, they are practically non-existent in the mountainous areas. This is why it is very important to carry an emergency medical kit while trekking and to be well-equipped for any possible hazard. For more details, Lonely Planet shares a comprehensive guide on this subject.
POKHARA – OR WHEN I FELL IN LOVE WITH NEPAL.
Now that we’ve got you covered on all fronts, let’s get to the fun part of the adventure. If you’re aiming to go trekking in Nepal (which you totally should), you would want to start in Pokhara. With spectacular views on the Phewa lake, Phokara is where you want to recharge your energy before your trekking trip and where you want to unwind after you’ve returned from it. Stretching along the lake and offering a nice view on the Annapurna range, the place offers behind its laid-back coffee shops, bookstores, and cute hotels, a haven for sports activities like paragliding, boat paddling, cycling, rafting, kayak, mountain biking, etc.
My favorite pastime in Pokhara was paddling and reading my book by the lake. Priceless!
How to get to Pokhara: The easiest way is to take an internal flight – the option we chose. However, if you feel like enjoying the 206 kilometers of countryside scenery that stretch between Khatmandu and Pokhara, then you can opt for a bus ride or even a rafting trip along the Trisuli River.
Some trekking tips before you take off to the mountains:
- Travel light and focus on packing layers. You don’t need the extra weight on your shoulders while trekking.
- While you can choose to hike without a guide, I recommend doing the trek with one because local guides can bring a lot more to your trip with their inside information about villages, shortcuts, roads, and local stories and traditions! You can also choose to hire a porter to carry your backpack like we did if you want to do it the comfy way. (We booked our guide and porter from the hotel we were staying in in Pokhara. However, trekking agencies are many in Nepal and you can take the time to research your own. Using one will save you time, facilitate logistics and handle the permit and paper arrangements for you). Do not book guest houses in advance. The whole thrill of the adventure is its randomness, not knowing who you will meet along the way and where you will sleep that night. Plus, trekking lodges are available on most trekking routes and you can knock on the first one you see whenever you are tired and decide to call it a day.
LESSONS FROM THE MOUNTAINS.
Many circuit treks are available but the most beautiful and challenging one is clearly the Annapurna Base Camp trek, which requires an average of 10 days to be completed and offers the most magical scenery along the way. Natural bridges, virgin jungles, endless greenery, pure fresh air, and above all, friendly faces welcoming you with a radiant smile every step of the way. Letting the pictures speak for themselves.
Trekking the Annapurna circuit was one of the hardest mind and body challenges I have achieved in my life, and a great lesson I will carry with me forever.
What the mountains taught me:
- Disconnecting is a must. Between life’s daily obligations, the musts, the shoulds, the desk job, and all the other commitments, we tend to forget there’s actually so much to this world to see and enjoy. Deciding to travel to an unknown destination where you can completely disconnect and discover a new place outside your comfort zone can do so much good to your soul. An exercise to try more often.
- Nature is therapy for the body and the soul. Forget the gym workout, the yoga session, the open-heart conversation with your friends, the all-night dancing. I mean they’re all healthy and essential but none of them compares to the healing therapy that nature can give you. It is called Mother Nature after all. Go back to it whenever you can, it will cleanse your body and mind, it will refresh your lungs and your thoughts, it will remind you how magical this world is.
- Alone time is a must time. Don’t be scared to spend time alone, especially in nature. It’s the best opportunity to reconnect and reconcile with your inner self, and probably the best way to find yourself again.
- Listen to your body. The trekking challenge was a very tough exercise for my body, which failed me many times during our hiking days. It was a good lesson that taught me to listen to my body and respect it, to accept my limits and boundaries and embrace the possible.
- Wake up for more sunrises. Nepal reminds you of the mesmerizing beauty of sunrises every single day. You do not mind waking up at 5am to climb on top of the nearest mountain and gaze at the magic of a moment that is there for us every day and which we always find a way to miss.
- You are stronger than you think. Nepal was my first trekking experience and I never thought I could go as far as I did. I was surprised by the strength of the human mind in times of physical challenge and how control can take you as far as you want to go. You might be really surprised at the things you can do with a little perseverance and determination; nothing is really impossible.
- We don’t need much to be happy. Spending time in the mountains of Nepal teaches you mainly one great thing: we need much less than we think we do to be happy. Witnessing the happiness on the faces of Nepalese is the greatest example of that. With no electricity, no TV, no internet and no form of luxury whatsoever, they still manage to live happier, with no fear of what tomorrow might hold. They live only with what they have, and the sole worry of making the best of every moment. Their happiness is contagious, their smiles always radiant, their innocence and simplicity striking. They are a reminder of everything we long to but cannot be. I take my hat off to them.
AND FINALLY, CHITWAN.
Our last stop in Nepal was Chitwan. Literally meaning “heart of the jungle”, this area has a very rich flora and fauna and lies at the foothills of the Himalayas. Enlisted as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984, Chitwan National Park is Asia’s best preserved conservation area, being home to an incredibly rich wildlife and endangered species. Chitwan is a great place for outdoor wildlife activities and adventures such as jungle safaris, canoe ride, jungle walks and birdwatching. It also offers spectacular hills and river landscapes that make it a must-visit destination in Nepal.
More details on Chitwan’s wildlife experience here.
How to get to Chitwan: we took a 9-hour bus from Pokhara, which was a pretty exhausting ride, especially after the trekking trip (although I should admit the scenery is quite worth it). I’m not sure flights are available from Pokhara to Chitwan. However, if you are flying from Kathmandu, it’s only half an hour away by plane.
ALL IN ALL, I LOVE YOU NEPAL.