I took advantage of my overnight layover in Shanghai and rode the rail into East Nanjing Road to trace the Bund Riverwalk by night.
The next night found me in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu overlooking restaurants and clubs pulsing with neon lights that blossom at sunset after businesses break their daily electricity fast.
For around $6, I stayed in a private double room at the Hotel Diplomat the following night in Pokhara. Rumors passed around that one other lone traveler was staying there that day, but I never saw anyone apart from the family that owned it.
Early the next morning I woke up at dawn to catch the sunrise from my balcony, have a cup of tea, and then slip back between the sheets for another few hours of sleep.
After a 2 hour bus ride to the trail head town of Nayapul and a plate of fried noodles the cost of a gallon of premium American gas, I was finally embarking on the 5 day trekking voyage through the Himalayas. These Nepalese prayer flags were scattered at several points along the path, but this heavily adorned bridge marked the start of the popular Poon Hill – Ghandruk circuit.
The majority of the first day hiking I played leapfrog with a pair of Japanese travelers and another solo trekker, both also without any guide or porter to lead or carry their bags. Every time we passed each other I’d noticed them wearing fewer and fewer clothes. To my surprise winter in the world’s highest mountain range can still feel moderate when you’re ascending to elevations over 10,000ft with the weight of a 7 year old strapped to your back.
Each small village and tea house tempted fatigued legs for a brief respite and a cup of sweet milk tea, or another local variety.
So much farm life dotted the trails. In addition to providing sources of milk and meat, some animals like pack mules earned their keep by toting propane tanks, beers, snacks, and other treats for the vendors to sell. Of course, it’s no small price to employ a convoy of mules, so businesses transfer the high cost of transport to the consumer, which ends up raising the cost as much as 2 to 3 times the normal rate at lower elevations.
At one point the violent sound of thrashing tree limbs opened up ahead of me as a troop of Gray Langurs crossed the path swinging high above the trail. Halting my steps to admire their movement, it didn’t hit me to take out the camera until they had all passed. All except this one straggler taking a pause from the fast-paced rat race of life in the trees.
By the end of the second day the front half of my left sole had completely broken off and hung limp like Roger Ebert’s flaccid jaw. RIP. Pulling a sock over the shoe actually worked perfectly to hold it together. Later I’d notice the sherpas wearing full socks over both shoes to grip the ice that you’ll see pictured further down.
I woke before dawn the next morning to catch the famous Poon Hill sunrise still an hour’s hike away from my bed.
The prime photo opportunity for amateur trekkers along this 5 day Annapurna circuit, virtually every traveler coming down the path visits this summit to capture the sun’s first peak above the sawtooth horizon.
Standing tall as the highest point on the route at 10,745 feet, Poon Hill still pales in comparison to the monsters around it.
After sunrise I headed back down to the guesthouse for some breakfast before starting again.
Majority of the trail allowed for long moments of quiet solitude, but occasionally another group of backpackers would cross paths with me.
The temporary company was usually warm and inviting, but queuing up behind a single file log jam of unsteady hikers with slippery feet disrupted the peaceful progress of the trail.
After seizing an opportunity to short cut the line, a few minute’s head start restored the tranquility of a snow covered serenity.
That night I stopped in Ulleri with a couple of Canadian guys and their porter to enjoy one final Himalayan sunset.
Waking up from a night of Nepal Ice and $5 pringles, I resolved to squeeze the last two days of hiking into one so I could enjoy an extra night kicking back in Pokhara.
A woman & her son walked up and asked me to take a picture of them and then asked for money for the favor they did me. Apart from that most locals were incredibly gentle and happy to interact with those passing through.
Every law and every sign has a reason to exist. What’s the story here?
And finally back across the Nepalese prayer flag bridge to successfully complete the 4 day excursion.
Back in Pokhara hundreds flew through the air paragliding over the Lakeside mountains while I reclined by the water enjoying cup after cup of tea and scribbling on the blank pages in my notebook.
Back in Kathmandu, it’s just another normal day of business as a man drives his tractor down the road.
Totally void of towering skyscrapers, Kathmandu’s modest cityscape hardly ever rises more than 5 stories from the ground.
One more 14 hour layover in Shanghai brought me to a Chinese tea ceremony near People’s Square. Later research confirmed this “tea ceremony” is probably the most common scam pulled around Shanghai and Beijing. Behind the man walking in the light grey jacket stand 2 of the many perpetrators running the scheme.
Fortunately for me my bank rejected the $600 charge on my credit card and left the con men with nothing from me but a hand-sized hole in their wall.
Made it back to Jeju with a huge sigh of relief and a bit more travel sense, which will certainly come in handy in a few more weeks when I’m back at it.
Talk to you all again next year!