Name: Hurts so good
Our legs shook and buckled as we headed down a short flight of stairs in Pokhara, Nepal, after our first “real” trek. We have had the opportunity to participate in commercial treks in many of the places we have traveled. There were the Great Walks in New Zealand, the W Trek in Torres del Pine, and the Inca Trail in Peru. For various reasons, we either could not or chose not to walk with companies and guides in these situations. Sometimes price or timing was a barrier; other times, one of us was sick with food poisoning or some other foreign (or not so foreign) ailment. In Nepal, however, we opted to “go for the gusto” and booked with a local Nepalese company to take us trekking.
Trekking, as we understand and define it, is walking significant distances over several days. There is an
element of weight to carry on one’s own back that can make or break the entire experience. As we approached the Himalayas, we were hopeful we were up to the distance and time requirements of our first five day trek, but we knew for certain we could not carry all of the gear we would would need for temperatures varying from quite warm to below freezing. We have both injured our backs in the past and are limited to 20 pounds of weight at a time. A commercially supported trek solved this dilemma for us. While we each carried from 8 – 10 pounds of gear, our porter carried the rest (40 – 50 pounds total) for us. This included his gear, our sleeping bags and down jackets, an extra change of clothing for each of us, our “pharmacy” and snacks, and toiletries for each of us. We loved our time with our porter and our guide as we listened to Nepalese songs, learned phrases in the language, and exchanged cultural tidbits and teasing. Their presence brought us so much more than logistical support.
As we trekked, we stopped nightly at simple tea houses along the route. Some were more comfortable than others, but all were basic, even by our evolving standards. Rooms were sparse with the beds consisting of a thin piece of foam on a board. Some had no electricity at all, not even a simple light. None had heat. Bedding and a pillow were always supplied, often including a thick top cover to keep out the cold at night, but in colder regions such might be washed only once a season, not day. We knew we were living the high life when bathrooms were on the same floor and contained western toilets. Such was a rarity with squat toilets often being a hallway and floor away. None had toilet paper and few had nearby sinks. A couple of places had showers if you were hardy enough to take one. The food was plain without much spice, but it was nourishing, especially the dal baht, a Nepalese dish consisting of lentil soup, rice, and cooked greens. Drinking water was always available, sometimes boiled, sometimes bottled, and sometimes both!
The first trekking we chose to do in Nepal consisted of walking up, up, up starting from about 7,000 feet to around 11,000 feet. Sometimes (rarely) there was some relief to the upward slog, and always, what goes up
must come down. During our initial 5 day trek, we spent the first 3 hours hiking moderate hills feeling pretty good about ourselves and our abilities! Then we hit the final 3 hiking hours that first day and faced 3,200 stone steps which wound straight up the mountain. Our days became blurs of steps, either up (which became preferred) or down (which was frequently icy and torturous), often for hours. The steps here are like those all over the world —- not created for trekkers; rather, historic trade routes in tough terrain connecting rural, mountain communities. We were humbled as local people, hustled by us with loads twice as heavy as our porter’s or with the intention of walking in hours distances we would need days to achieve. One reason we loved our trek was the glimpse of remote village life it gave us. A shy smile, a murmured “Namaste” were gifts given to us as we watched water buffalo and loose lines of mules being driven by us, loaded with goods such as chickens, propane canisters, and building materials.
When we returned from the trek, it took our legs about 3 days and a good Swedish massage to fully recover. “Hurts so good” was what we said to each other as we tripped and stumbled our way up and down steps around the town of Pokhara. Our next trek will test our muscle strength and endurance again and especially our ability to withstand the effects of altitude, as we will attempt to climb to about 18,000 feet. But the rewards include the chance to stare at the “rooftop” of Mother Earth… Everest.
Posted in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Images include us taking a break with our guide, a line of pack mules, Sally in our first tea house room, and the view from one of our tea houses near Gorka, Nepal.