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The hermit kingdom cont'd

Nepal | Tuesday, November 17, 2015 | 13 photos

This week we were in Pokhara, the "base camp" town 8 hours west of Kathmandu in the heart of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

We arrived just in time to get see Diwali celebrations - oversimplified, it's Hindu Christmas and the biggest holiday in the Hindu calendar. Don't forget, despite the strong Buddhist influence, Nepal is 80% Hindu (like India but unlike Buddhist neighbors Tibet and Bhutan).

People put up massive decorations of lights at home - kind of like Christmas but without the cheesy reindeer or Santa Claus. On the third last day they put decorations on the sidewalk in front of their homes - candles, flowers and colorful handmade designs. You can spend hours walking around at night admiring the wonderful decorations. The second last day is a Bollywood style version of Halloween - girls dress up in their best red saris and go house to house dancing and singing to collect money. Again, extremely entertaining to just walk around and enjoy the entertainment - some groups are extremely professional and others are well, better for the blooper reel of American Idol. In fact, it appeared many of the less talented groups actually did on purpose to visit touristy restaurants so they could be quickly "bought off" by staff to leave so as not to annoy the patrons. :-)

On a somber note, Diwali celebrations were much less festive than usual due to the current fuel crisis. For over 2 months, India continues to block fuel delivery to the landlocked country (also essential medicine) which has caused major job layoffs, food preparation issues and transportation issues. Many people don't have much money or any job which following the April earthquake and dramatic decrease in tourist and tourist dollars is a terrible combination. So, don't cancel your trip to Nepal! The people are wonderful and your visit will only help the country recover faster!


We made it back alive! This time, we got a real taste of the mountains - much much more than the previous hike. Up front and close! It felt like being in the front row of an Imax movie - you could almost reach out and touch them they were so close. We were lucky to have good weather in the morning during our hike and the photos will testify to that.

4 days of hiking and sleeping in tea houses, we had some amazing sunrises. We climbed from 1000m to 3300m, and then back. We had gorgeous views of some of the highest snow capped peaks of the world - no, not Everest, that's east of Kathmandu. We saw Dhaulagiri (7th highest in the world, 8200m/26600ft), Annapurna South (7200m/23700ft, actually smallest of the 9 main Annapurnas!) and Machapuchre (7000m/23000ft, slightly reminiscent in form of the Matterhorn, it's never been summitted, it's the tallest of the sacred mountains of Nepal and thus climbers are banned). Btw, Everest is 8848m/29029ft, Mt Blanc is 4800m/16000ft and Denali/Mt McKinley is 6200m/20000ft if you need a point of comparison. All mountains above 7000m are in the Himalayas so the tallest 200 are all here. Further, roughly 80% of these are in Nepal, ergo the expression "roof of the world".

Again, due to the earthquake plus the current fuel crisis there were very few tourists. Great for us! Trails were not that busy (very pleasant) and tea houses were empty despite November normally being the busiest month. The only odd exception was the sunrise at Poon Hill (see photo of crowds) otherwise we were very alone the rest of the time. So hurry up and book your tickets before the tourists start to come back! Seriously, high season can be horrible with traffic jams on the trails.


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