Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nepal - Pokhara

Leaving Tukche, we hiked several hours north to the city of Jomsom, where we spent one night in order to fly out early the next morning. My roommate and I were already itching to explore so as soon as we signed into our guest house, we dropped our bags, changed out of our hiking boots, put bandages on our blisters, and left to walk the village streets.

The locals were definitely more used to foreigners, probably because Jomsom has the only airport nearby. There were several souvenir shops and restaurants, but we barely had time to look around before eating dinner and going to bed (although I didn't do much sleeping - the room was freezing, even after layering with several pairs of pants, my heaviest jacket, and two pairs of wool socks). Our flight left early the next morning, but I do wish we had had more time to explore and take pictures. It really was a beautiful town, perched high in the mountains.

We landed in Pokhara less than twenty minutes later - the shortest flight I've ever been on. For that whole week, we chilled at a beautiful Americanized guest house. The streets were filled with souvenir shops and restaurants that boasted of having American cuisine. I became very familiar with Pokhara, often taking walks to nearby cafes or buying fruit from one of the many fruit stands.

Because this city is so touristy, we had a lot of opportunities to do fun things. On Wednesday we went white water rafting, a first-time thing for me, which is a big deal because I don't know how to swim. I was so afraid I'd fall out and be sucked down the river or under the raft or into the rocks. At the end of it, not only did I not fall out, but I had such a great time. I credit all of the fun to our awesome rafting guide, who was so quirky that he made us laugh the entire time.

The next day a group of us went paragliding. I'm sure paragliding in general is a thrill, but paragliding throughout the Annapurna mountain range, with barely a cloud in the sky, and beautiful birds flying all around you, was breath-taking. I felt so small, and that's a good thing. I could not stop praising God for his beautiful creation - the huge mountains right next to me and the "tiny" trees below me.

Even though Pokhara is one of the largest cities in Nepal, there is still so much nature all around. The Annapurna range, which is a group of mountains belonging to the Himalayas, could be seen clearly from the balcony of our hotel, where I often hung out to read. My favorite was Mount Machhapurchhre, which literally means "fish tail" in English. The city was home to so many different types of trees, parks, and a huge lake just down the street from where we stayed. Any direction you turned, you could see at least five different birds flying around. Nepal definitely turned me into a bird-lover.

The people! I had figured that since this was a touristy town, everyone would be used to - and probably annoyed by - the many foreigners who walked their streets. But I have never met more friendly people. They were curious about us, where we were from, what we were doing there. One of my favorite memories is when my roommate and I took a boat out to one of the temples, talking to one of the locals the whole ride about everything from where he grew up to his views on Nepali politics. These people wanted us to learn about them. They taught us more Nepali phrases then I can even remember and they loved sharing their culture. I felt privileged to be there.

I realized only after we left this city that I barely took any pictures. I took that week as a time to relax, become familiar with the culture, build relationships, read, write, think, and learn. So I apologize for the lack of pictures that honestly do not give the beauty of Pokhara any justice at all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nepal - Tukche

Arriving in Nepal after a couple days of travel, we were immediately thrown into even more traveling. A 6 hour bumpy ride in the back of a friend's SUV through the pitch-black, curvy roads, led us to the city of Pokhara, where we spent less than 12 hours in order to quickly sleep and eat. The next morning, we immediately took a 12 hour bus ride on the edge of a mountain to the village of Tukche.

The mountain roads were barely big enough for our bus, sometimes just wide enough for the four wheels to fit before the road fell off into a cliff of rocks and trees. At times, I would look out the window and not be able to see any road underneath us at all. The fear factor didn't bother me, but after about the ninth hour of being jostled around, I was definitely done with the bus. I left with my ribs still rattling and bruises on my hips, sides, thighs, and even my head from being thrown against the sides of the bus while going over bumps.

For the next week, a group of friends and I hiked into surrounding villages about 1-2 hours away. We returned every evening to the same guest house in Tukche. I was able to explore a little bit and found Tukche to be a quiet, slow town with very friendly people and no other foreigners in sight.

The sun rose early. We'd wake up at 5am to find that the sun had already been up and shining for who knows how long. By the time we came back from the surrounding villages around 5pm, the sky was already dimming drastically. The nights were cold. I had forgotten to pack my hat, which I had planned to use while sleeping, so I had to sleep cocooned under the blankets with not even a hair sticking out, leading to many restless nights. The days were hot. I sat out on the roof to read for a few minutes before breakfast and came inside with a fresh sunburn.

Out of all the places we visited, I still think that Tukche was the most beautiful. Surrounded completely by mountains. Everywhere you turned, there were beautiful views of river beds, farms, valleys, snowcapped mountains. It's a humbling and beautiful thing to wake up to the Himalayan mountains outside of your bedroom window. It is even more humbling and more beautiful to walk through the dusty mountain paths, touching the trees, hearing the exotic birds, and watching the locals go about their day. Definitely the most beautiful place I've ever been.