A hot minute has passed since my last story but I assure you the experiences have continued on. You may have seen some images about my experience on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Indeed, it has been one of the most unforgettable experiences of my travels. Some of you pm-ed with questions of who, what, where, when, how, so I hope this will answer your questions, it’s quite easy, in general, so have fun reading along and if you still need further details, stick out your finger and type away.
Nepal Visa Requirements, Travel to Nepal, Visit Nepal, Trekking Nepal, Trek Nepal, Stay in Thamel
For traveling to Nepal, you will need a tourist visa; this is very easy to obtain upon arriving to the international airport in Kathmandu. Bring US $ cash currency to pay the visa at the airport. Before paying the airport clerk, you will digitally fill out a form at the machine booths. During high season (March-April/October-November) it is recommended to obtain your Nepal visa online so you can avoid the lines at the machine booths. I arrived in May so there was only 1 person ahead of me- easy peasy. 1 month visa costs US$40, the next option is 3 month visa US$100. I would strongly recommend the latter, it doesn’t mean you will travel all three months but it will give you time to discover many different places in Nepal as well as time for trekking.
Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal, Travel to Nepal, Annapurna Circuit Trek, Buy trekking gear
My first stop was Thamel, the tourism quarter of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. Comparable to Antigua Guatemala, Thamel is the first stop for international travelers arriving into Nepal. This is where they typically arrange for trekking plans; meet other travelers and fellow trekkers, while taking a few days to become acquainted with the new atmosphere. Upon exiting the airport, I split a taxi with other travelers, headed to Thamel, Nepali ₹600/ $5.50/ € 4.70.
Approximately 15 minutes later, we arrived into Thamel’s labyrinth of densely concentrated streets; tuk tuks, street vendors, tourists, and local crowds of people moving rapidly in all directions. The midday sun was burning through the fumes of Kathmandu’s atmosphere, while the dancing shadows of countless prayer flags added a festival like feeling to the streets of this commercial neighborhood.
Although Thamel’s streets are small and narrow, they are extremely vibrant and active with life; vendors begin conversations with you on the street about where you are from, what trek you are going to do, how long you will stay, and, of course, tempt you to peruse their stocked shelves of special handmade goods and Nepali memorabilia.
You can get almost anything here, including knock off trekking and camping gear, endless supplies of textiles, Indian clothing, Thangka shops, jewelry shops, prayer flags, incense, alcohol, hash, LSD, Mdma, and surely any other party cocktail you might fancy. One of Nepal’s main exports is alcohol, and walking the streets of Thamel at night, you will get an idea of how that plays a role in the city culture. The shops, restaurants, cafes and bars stay open until late hours while young Nepali boys and girls roam around looking for fun. I was ready to check out after two days!
Guesthouse in Thamel, Bodhi Inn, Stay in Thamel, Hotels Thamel
For your stint in Thamel, I recommend you stay with Prazal, at the Bodhi Inn. It is simple, clean and possibly in the quietest part of Thamel! It is also very economically priced at ₹500/$4.50/ € 3.90 per night. Find it easily on maps.me. Remember to download this app on your phone, it is a must when traveling and provides you with an excellent offline map so you know where you are going. Prazal is a sweet Nepali guy who manages the Bodhi Inn, he will take good care of you. Julie and I stayed several times between travel destinations when we had to come through Thamel. He has recently changed the name to Hotel Triratna, but you can contact him at +979808024625. That’s Prazal on the left, and the occasion was a parting gift- a long life blessing – before I headed back to India to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Guesthouse Pokhara, Stay in Pokhara, Visit Pokhara, Transportation to Pokhara, Buses to Pokhara
After city adventures and a few excursions, we bought our tickets to Pokhara for ₹700/$6.40/ € 5.50 each. The next morning, at 7:30am, Julie, Noor and I set out for the beautiful lake destination, northwest of Kathmandu.
One important thing to note about travel in Nepal is that transportation takes extremely long. Poor infrastructure, urban planning, and the deplorable existing roadways make it very challenging to reach places. For my urban planning friends, there is a lot of work to do out here! Traveling 204km to Pokhara took the whole morning and part of the afternoon (approx 8 hours), arriving to our destination at 3pm!
Julie is Pitta, if you remember from Ayurveda, predominantly the fire type, a determined
French Canadian that get things done, and at incredible speeds, in comparison to the hippie traveling residents of Pokhara’s North-end. We were looking for our next home and she found the perfect place, just a short, yet steep walk up the hill, away from the main road. We stayed with a lovely Nepali family at Gurung Guest House. I had my own room with a bathroom and a daily view of the beautiful Phewa Lake from up there. I am sure I could have paid a little less, but I was happy to settle for a clean quiet private room at ₹500/$4.50/ € 3.90 per night. Contact Gita if you are in the area and need a
guesthouse in Pokhara: +979815115643
Annapurna Circuit Trek, Trekking Annapurna, Mardi Himal, Jomson Muktinath, Annapurna Trek, Trekking Nepal, Annapurna Conservation Area
Julie and I began talking about trekking Annapurna, exploring our options while she was also waiting on news for a development job in the Middle East During that time, I reunited with my roommate from Kopan Monastery, Melissa from Belgium. Mornings included meditation at the Ganden Yiga Chozin Buddhist Meditation Centre, followed by a mid morning vinyasa yoga class at Umbrella Cafe. One afternoon at Umbrella Cafe, I met Paola, uma garota Portuguesa and this was serendipitous in ways. I loved visiting Portugal in 2015 when I left Miami to move back to Guatemala and did a little summer vacation in Europe. On a completely separate connection, Melissa and Paola became roommates at the Buddhist Center in Pokhara soon after I met Paola…small world!
Tatopani Muktinath Trek Annanupurna Conservation Area Nepal Mustang Jomson Marpha Kagbeni Mardi Himal
All of us wanted to do a trek and were looking at our options, to consider were the following (1) number of days of trek (2) rain and leeches during Monsoon season! (3) and trekking equipment. Originally I was recommended Mardi Himal (himal = mountain), one of the newer treks in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). However, the stories of rain, leeches and cooler temperatures swayed us towards a dryer and shorter trek. We decided on Tatopani – Muktinath trek. We heard from recent visitors there was no rain, no leeches and moderate temperatures. Perfect.
Requirements for trekking Annapurna, Trek permits Annapurna
For trekking Annapurna Conservation Area you will need to purchase 2 permits. You can purchase both permits in Pokhara in the TAAN Pokhara Secretariat office or at the the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The TIMS permit and ACAP permit cost approximately ₹2000/$18.30/ € 15.75 each; bring local currency with you to pay in cash. You will need to present your passport and if you have 2 passport photos these will be glued onto the forms you will need to fill out in the office for each permit. If you do not have printed passport photos, in the Pokhara office they will take your picture and print out 4 copies (for free). We were able to do this process in about 30 minutes since we are in off-season. In high season the wait will be much longer so just prepare yourself and give yourself enough time.
Here is a list of items I purchased and other items I already had with me for the trip:
- Walking sticks ₹80/$0.73/ € 0.62, per day rental (extremely worth it)
- Hat, very necessary for sun, ₹400/$3.65/ € 3.15
- 2 pairs of sport socks ₹300/$2.74/ € 2.36
- 2 long sleeve thermal shirts, thermal pants, 1 dry fast short sleeve shirt ₹3200/$29.25/ €25.20
- Second hand rain poncho ₹300/$2.74/ € 2.36
Other important items for trek:
- Hiking shoes (also rent or buy in Pokhara)
- Closed shoes
- Flip flops (for showers)
- Water resistant jacket with warm lining
- Dry fast towel
We also bought snacks for the trek: mix of nuts, dry coconuts, granola bars, and water tablets to purify tap water and sunscreen.
We set out north on a bus from Pokhara to Tatopani, leaving approx 8am arriving to Tatopani around 3pm, cost ₹420/$3.83/ € 3.30.
Upon entering the Annapurna Conservation Area, we made our first check post in Tatopani (ACA officials will review and mark your permits as you progress over the trail, and there will be a post in every main town). We began our trek as soon as we arrived (we were excited and ready!), crossing over the river away from the road into the mountains. We arrived to Dana after about 1.5 hours of trekking and decided to stay the night and start fresh the next morning. In Dana, our accommodations were extremely basic, mostly where Indian tourists stay, but our lodgings were free as long as we consumed meals (you will find this policy in other guesthouses, but not all). Guesthouses will also have free wifi, however, the quality is not always reliable. Dinner: Thugkpa (Tibetan vegetable soup) and a chocolate pancake, total ₹420/$3.83/ € 3.30.
The alarm clock rang at 5:30am, we ate breakfast just past 6am: Masala omelet, black coffee ₹260/$2.37/ €2.04.
Our hike began from Dana towards Kopchepani and this particular piece of the trail was also one of the most beautiful experiences over the hiking trip.
The trail just over the river out of Dana is like out of a story book, the lane covered with Mary Jane, encouraging us to keep following the path, passing little stone houses, cabbage patches, and the local farmers sitting on big boulders, in their daily meditation. Welcoming us further on the path were buffalos, roosters, little chicks, cows, local children and women tending to their daily activities. The trail continued up the mountains becoming extremely steep in certain parts and then back down again. The never-ending green mountains and Himalayan snowy peaks flirting at a distance seemed unreal, yet incredible to the naked eyes.
How many kilos would you need? Help yourself; there is plenty of cannabis plants growing on the trail to keep you company.
On the way, we encountered children and young girls walking to school.
We trekked up to a teahouse with amazing views, sitting in the shade enjoying a tall glass of delicious mint tea (₹50/$0.45/ €0.39) with a little rest. They had some buffalo, sheep, a baby cat, two small children, and a baby sheep eating her breakfast.
Clearly, we were having a moment.
We arrived to Marpha around 3pm after an extremely bumpy ride on the local bus and located the Paradise Guest House, recommended to us by a friend from Pokhara. We consumed a late lunch – a delicious spinach and lentil burger ₹400/$3.65/ € 3.15, and paid ₹100/$0.91/ €0.73 each for the night for a private room with 4 beds and a bathroom. After we filled our bellies, we explored the village of little quiet streets; Tibetan men and women tending to their shops of antiques, selling jewelry, yak scarves, and other handicrafts. The view of the town nestled between the mountains is another kind of experience that is overwhelming to the senses as well as the silence that is so characteristic of villages and towns in Mustang area.
Breakfast the next day: oats porridge with apple and mint tea ₹260/$2.37/ €2.04. Paula ordered delicious local tsampa porridge (made from local grown barley) with apple, a great choice! Our trek to Kagbeni began around 7:45am as we entered into a cool dry desert ahead.
Half way through, we arrived to the town of Jomson in the early afternoon. Important to note, Jomson has a small airport that connects flights to Pokhara for approx. $125, most likely they also connect to Kathmandu and it is a good option for those with travel time constraints.
In Jomson we decided to stop in the Himalayan Java Coffeehouse. Much to our surprise, this was unlike any other coffee house we had been to. This place is run by two creative Nepali musicians from Kathmandu, Ruxit and Sanish. They played music for us, and we sipped on our java bean coffee. Sharing this moment with them was unexpected and soooo lovely!
From Jomson, we continued hiking down vast barren lands of sand valleys against mountains and, following the riverbed, meeting with our silence in the large vast space of earth ahead. The winds were strong and consistently blowing, luckily, in the same direction as we were headed towards Muktinath. The temperatures over this piece of the trail were also a bit colder which also had to do with walking in the shadow of the mountain and the strong winds. For this my long sleeve thermal investment came in handy.
There were many amazing moments on the trek for feeling joy, for silence and reflection, this was another one of those rare and special experiences. Since it is best to keep it simple, this is what I will say about: when you are out there, you realize and feel there is nothing, you are the space with the elements, the wind, the shadows (or the light), and the big earth in front of you, and every thought you ever had, disappears. You become completely silent within, and everything (you included) feels as one.
Arriving to Kagbeni, we found a place to stay at the Snowboat guesthouse which is run by a very kind old Tibetan woman and her two children. We enjoyed lunch in her lovely decorated dining room, followed by much needed hot bucket showers!
We cleaned up and headed out on the town. Along the way we visited a monastery, as all of these towns have at least one or more. Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, many followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India while many others settled into the dry desert mountains between Tibet and Nepal, known as the area of Mustang. As one author, introduces
“Mustang was and still is an enchanted region where nature and culture intermingled to keep a very old tradition alive. Culturally, geographically, and historically Tibetan, but within borders of Nepal, it has become a time capsule of Tibetan heritage and a place where the rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is carried on”
Luigi Fieni’s preface in a book on Mustang Cultural Heritage, Cologne 2014.
On our afternoon excursion, we lost ourselves down narrow passageways, sneaking into nooks between adobe and stonewalls, climbing up small wooden ladders leading to secret rooftops, or so it seemed…there was no one else but us and the magnificent space of sky, clouds, mountains, the wind, prayer flags, the sun and the shadows.
We entered into a little shop owned by a second generation Tibetan woman. There was something special about this place and she had some very unique antiques. I had not yet bought any souvenirs and decided on some key chains made from old Tibetan coins. Above her merchandise was a picture of HHDL.
Stay tuned for the next part of Annapurna Trek.