Prep and Pokhara

When we had decided to go to Nepal we had originally only planned on going for a week to see Kathmandu and it’s surroundings and then get back to India. After speaking to a few people about our plan, particularly my dad, we decided to add some sort of trek in the Himalayas to our time in Nepal and extend our stay by an extra week. In hindsight it was kind of crazy that we were ever not going to do a trek considering the Himalayas is the most famous mountain range in the world and we would never have such a good opportunity as this to go and see them for ourselves.

At first we had planned on doing a trek to Poon Hill which was around 4 days with two days of travelling on either side to get to and from Pokhara where you go to start your trek in that Himalayan region. After spending some time in Kathmandu we decided to make some changes to our planned itinerary and had some more days available than we originally thought. With this in mind we had a look into longer treks and decided to trek to the Annapurna Base Camp instead. This was a medium length trek but took you much higher into the mountains.

For this trek, and probably for the Poon Hill trek, we needed some supplies. Thamel, the area we were staying in in Kathmandu (and the main tourist area) is absolutely full of outdoor, trekking shops where you can get everything you could possibly need for a trek in the Himalayas. As there was so much choice we took to TripAdvisor and decided to go to a trekking shop called Shona’s that had been highly recommended and it wasn’t hard to see why. As soon as we got there we could tell they really knew their stuff and that they weren’t just after a quick sale as they were honest with you when they thought you could get something cheaper elsewhere or if you weren’t going to need it on your trek. We felt confident in their advice and the stuff they gave us was perfect for our trek.

We both ended up buying a thin thermal top each which cost us 4500 Nepalese Rupees for the two of them (around £30) and were good quality. We ended up wearing these everyday and will undoubtedly use them once we’re home. Apart from trekking socks which we bought once we arrived in Pokhara, the other supplies we needed we rented. Shona’s, as well as many other trekking shops, offers a rental service for a range of things you may need on your trek such as sleeping bags and jackets. Some also rent walking boots, bags and probably all manner of other stuff if you looked hard enough. We ended up renting a sleeping bag each that could handle up to a -10 degree Celsius temperature, a 50 litre rucksack so that we didn’t have to empty our rucksacks of all of our belongings and a down coat as it would be snowing at Base Camp. We were given a receipt and had to leave a deposit and then once we returned they added up the number of days we ended up being away for and charged us for that. For the seven days we ended up being away for we ended up paying under 3000 rupees (£33) for the lot which is very cheap! The last of our supplies we got in Pokhara such as water purification tablets and trekking socks.

Apart from our trekking supplies we also had to pay for permits to be in the Himalayas. There were two permits we needed, one was called a TIMs permit which registered us for trekking and had information on such as our insurance details and emergency contact numbers. This was 2000 rupees (£22) each. We then had to get a permit for specifically wanting to trek within the Annapurna Sanctuary which cost us 2260 rupees (£25). We provided information on the number of days we planned on being in the sanctuary (we purposefully overestimated the time it would take) and the route we intended to take. We got these from the tourist office in Kathmandu and had to get passport photos for it as they attach your photo to the permits as well as keep a copy on record. We had to present these permits when we got the bus up into the mountains to start the trek, one time along the trek itself and again when we headed back down the mountain so I’m glad we had known to do this before we left for the trek.

Our hostel let us store our bags in luggage storage and the next morning, on Tuesday 13th March at 7am we got a bus to Pokhara. The bus stopped so many times along the route to Pokhara for food breaks but eventually we made it at 3pm, 8 hours after leaving Kathmandu. The roads were very bumpy and windy so the journey wasn’t the nicest but that’s to be expected as Nepal is a poor country and heavily damaged by the earthquakes they suffered in 2015 meaning their roads are often dirt tracks or heavily potholed. We had chosen to get the ‘tourist bus’ which is only different to the ‘local bus’ in the fact that is takes two hours longer because the driver will drive slower and more carefully. It is considered the safer bus for this reason and so is aimed at the tourists although, understandably, the Nepali people who could afford the extra couple of hundred rupees for the bus ticket also chose this option. Hopefully one day Nepal won’t need two different buses and will generally drive safer so as to value the lives of all of their customers and not just the richer ones or tourists! Despite the drive being quite windy, the scenery was lovely and so it was pleasant to be on the bus and seeing more of Nepal even if it was through a bus window.

We had booked to stay at Peace Guesthouse as we were able to get a private room for £5 for the night and so hoped this would allow us to get a good night’s sleep before starting our trek. It was quite hazy when we arrived in Pokhara but the views over the lake that the Guesthouse gave us were still nice. We couldn’t really see the mountain ranges that surrounded us but we would be walking through them the next day so it wasn’t the end of the world and we just hoped we would be high enough to be above the haze for the next five days we were planning on trekking for.

We went for a walk around the lake that is the focal point of Pokhara. I think we had both expected a bit more of Pokhara and so were a little bit underwhelmed by the place and the lake but I think this was linked to the weather because when we returned from the trek the weather was a lot clearer and sunnier and Pokhara looked an awful lot nicer. Yet again, the weather can have such an impact on how you view a place! Despite being underwhelmed on our first visit, the lake was still pretty and there was a lot of places in Pokhara to relax even if you didn’t want to go trekking in the Himalayas. Around the lake of Pokhara there were a number of cafes and restaurants and it really reminded me of being at a festival as people were sitting in open fronted restaurants on low chairs in baggy clothes with music playing from each place.

Despite how organised we had been we had forgotten our debit card which meant that we only had my credit card to withdraw money – something we very much needed to do before heading up into the mountains!

Whilst we waited for our food I ran to the cash point to try and withdraw money from my credit card. I have never withdrawn money from the card before and so, understandably, my bank weren’t so keen on me trying to do it for the first time in a random place in Nepal so blocked the payments. This left us in a bit of bind but luckily for us I was able to turn to the kindness of Australians! I had said to Niall that my back up plan if my card didn’t work in the ATM was to hunt down an Aussie in Pokhara and ask if I could transfer them money from my Australian bank account (we were mainly using our Australian accounts whilst away) and they withdraw us money. Although this plan could have involved me accosting a lot of strangers and demanding to know their nationality, two Aussies happened to walk into the ATM booth as I was cursing profanities at my card being declined. After hearing their accents I bit the bullet, explained my situation and asked if they would withdraw money for me. Credit to the brilliant nature of Australian’s, without hesitation, they agreed and withdrew the money I needed. They joined us back in our restaurant where we were eating so that I could use the wifi to transfer them the money I owed and we ended up spending the next half hour or so comparing our travel plans and stories of Australia. This was only a short but sweet encounter but Brodie and Reid saved our trek to Annapurna Base Camp as we wouldn’t have been able to go into the mountains had they not taken a leap of faith that I would actually pay them back and withdraw us that money. You’ve got to love the kindness of strangers!

With everything we needed for the trek sorted, we got an early night as we planned on catching the first bus up into the mountains the next morning. We hadn’t seen much of Pokhara and on our return we did question whether we should have factored in a bit more time here to explore as we met some people who had a great time visiting viewpoints and hiring boats out on the lake but we were tired from our trek and so would have been unlikely to hike to any viewpoints anyway. With the sun shining though it was easy to see why people would come to Pokhara for more than just access to the Annapurna Mountain Range. Who knows, maybe we’ll be back there one day.

Next stop: into the Himalayas!

Sending Love x

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