Hiking in the Himalayas

Nepal was the country we were most excited about for many reasons. Mostly because we would be attempting to trek in the Himalayas which was on our bucket list! We flew from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and then caught our flight to Kathmandu. That very same day our flight was delayed and we weren't sure exactly why and assumed it was general airline issues. I then received a message from a close friend asking whether we were near Kathmandu airport and that she was scared we had been in the crash that had literally happened a few hours ago. My heart sunk and I was completely saddened and taken back by what had happened. A plane had skidded off the runway at Kathmandu airport and caught fire causing most people on board to die. Thoughts ran through my head; that could've been us and I felt so lucky. All the excitement was forgotten for that moment. 

We arrived late at night and could see the remains of the plane from our window as we landed safely. The airport was so small and there were no ATMs inside. Our taxi took us to an ATM on the way to our accommodation and luckily it worked. We had to walk the rest of the way down the street as cars weren't allowed. So, with our big banana bags on our backs, we attempted to avoid potholes, piles of stones and anything else we couldn't see in the dark. Morning came and off we went to explore the streets of Kathmandu, but most importantly cross off the items on our trekking shopping list. We'd heard that Kathmandu is a great place to find all the bits you need for your hike and also at a good price. We rented sleeping bags, bought hiking poles, water bottles, warm yak wool hats and most importantly snicker bars. Then the tricky part was budgeting how much money we would need for the time we would be trekking as there would be no banks in the mountains! We also got our permits for our hike and a map but also downloaded the route on our phones. We managed to pack our bags all ready for our adventure in an evening. We plan to write a more detailed blog of how we planned our route and what we brought along with us. 

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The following day we caught a bus to Pokhara which was the bumpiest ride of my life - no joke! Jonny and I were constantly slipping off our seats and there was no way you could sleep. The bus took us along mountain passes which were conjested with traffic, trucks carrying goods from India and Nepal decorated in colourful paints and musical horns. Then a taxi took us to the wrong place which we didn't realise till we got to the reception and they were like you don't have a booking under your name, so we had to walk to our place which was a tad annoying but hey, we found it. The town of Pokhara was huge and busy but also incredibly beautiful, surrounded by mountains and a large lake where numerous boats paddled to and fro. This place has been made popular due to its location as the gateway to the Himalayas and some of the most famous and beautiful peaks and valleys in the world.

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The next day we caught a local bus to Phedi, locals would jump on and sell fruits and vegetables. One lady bought a large bag of oranges and shared them around. We were the only ones to get off the bus at Phedi and looked like the middle of nowhere. There was road construction going on and it was difficult to find the path. A local taxi guide showed us where to go and we were then followed by our first beautiful Himalayan mountain dog (it was love at first sight!), which was an ongoing theme for the whole hike and I was tempted to take one home with me. We carried on up some very steep steps which took my breath away and was a tough ascent but the dog made it look easy. Luckily though there was a lady at the top selling chocolate. The views from up here were out of a painting, rice terraces on the side of mountains that outshone those we'd seen in Bali. Traditional haystacks with farms perched on these hills and views reaching over into the valleys. Our first stop for the night was Dhampus, we passed kids who were walking home from school smiling and laughing.  

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The place we decided to stay had a small Himalayan mountain pup who couldn't help but nibble at my legs and the naughty thang made a hole in my leggings but I had to forgive him because just look at him! We ordered some scrumptious hot Nepalese potatoes with vegetables and then watched the storm roll in, it was so fierce. We wrapped up into our sleeping bags to warm up and the lighting flashes were so bright and the thunder echoed in the valley below.

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We woke up in then morning to the most incredible sunrise and mountain panorama that made us feel like ants. It was astonishing at how big they were compared to the Alps. We set off for our first day of a full day hike and passed our first official check point. Then we treated ourselves to pancakes as a snack with a picture perfect view. Then we wondered through Rhodendron blooms and passed mountain monkeys playing in the trees which led us to a beautiful village on the edge of a mountain. We stopped at one house and asked to look at the rooms  and looked good so we sat down on the bed and then realised there were no plugs which we needed to charge our camera batteries, we explained that we couldn't stay and the lady then blocked the door and said we would have to pay 500 rupees anyway. We explained we were sorry and that we cannot pay that and she said you must pay as you have messed the bed (we had just sat on the bed not rubbed our dirty feet or anything else on the bed). We then told her we would be back for food which she smiled and let us out. We found a place next door that was much better and friendlier. We understood she was perhaps desperate for business but her reaction made us a bit unsure of her. We spent that evening watching the local guides playing cards, played with more Himalayas mountain dogs and watching a sunset over the peaks ahead of us. 

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We were the first ones to get up and watch the sunrise and they set up a table for us to watch it for breakfast, we had honey porridge and hot chocolate to warm our bones up. We set off along the hike and it was peaceful and beautiful, crossing suspension bridges and passing waterfalls that run into the river down the valley. Prayer flags were drapped over the suspension bridges and the wind swooshing down the valley made them dance. The first couple of days our backs were being broken into carrying our packs and we could feel our legs starting to turn to hurt. We arrived at sugar mamma's in Chomrong and had heard of her famous chocolate cake and pizza, so of course we had to stop and give it a go! We were not disappointed with either and the pizza was made with yak's cheese which was delicious! The hospitality and kindness of Sugar Mamma did not go unnoticed and you could stay in rooms that had wonderful views. We met some other travellers who were headed to ABC and joined them on our way up to base camp. The next day was a tough one, mostly steep climbs uphill for most of the day and the sun was scorching on our necks. The weather was changeable and could be hot and sunny one minute, then cold and windy the next which is typical in the mountains. We crossed wooden ladders over waterfalls and rivers and carried on up and up to our stay for the night. We spoke to a group of British lads who had just come down from Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) where we were headed and they'd had a nearly fatal accident but luckily their Sherpa (who was only a small but obviously a strong little man) was able to save this 6ft plus, broad British bloke from falling to his death. They were laughing and buying him beers but realised how lucky they were to be alive. 

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Most mornings we set our alarm for 5:30am so we could catch the sunrise, have breakfast and head off onto the trail in good time. One of my favourite drinks on the trip was fresh ginger & honey which was a perfect drink to warm you up in the cold mornings. We could feel the air starting to thin and also get colder the higher we got, which made it tougher to walk uphill. We had lunch overlooking the valley we had just come from and whilst we ate, a local Gurkha blessed prayer flags whilst burning incense which would eventually make their journey to the top. We finally reached our first sighting of snow and the landscape drastically changed to even steeper valleys and spectacular waterfalls on both sides of the valley. The sides of the mountains were covered in snow and you could see frozen icicles hanging off the rocks and we heard the rumbles of avalanches nearby as the sun started to melt the snow. Jonny spotted a white headed monkey and we saw plenty of pink and red rhododendrons coming into full bloom. We arrived at Machapuchare Base Camp that afternoon and hid in our sleeping bags till morning came and slept off the aches.

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We all treated ourselves to a lie-in after a week of getting up mega early, we were woken by the sound of helicopter landing right outside our room. It was tough getting going again but the views kept getting better and better and the weather was full of clear blue skies. Eventually we were completely surrounded by snow where helicopters would fly over our heads as they dropped off skiers who were coming down the mountain slopes on fresh snow. We stopped and watched the skiers for a while then we climbed to the top of one of the hills close to us and we could see the glacier down below at a steep slope below with one small slip you would be no more. I really needed a pee so we walked up to the huts and got a room and dumped our bags so we could go back and explore the beautiful scenery everywhere you looked! We had lunch and then walked to the memorial of Anatoli Boukreev, a russian climber who had successfully climbed 10 out of the 14 ascents of the 8,000m peaks without oxygen. Jonny had been reading his book 'The Climb', that tells the story of the 1996 disaster on Everest where eight climbers (you may have seen the movie 'Everest' which is the same story). He hadn't realised till the night before that he had actually died by an avalanche on Annapurna - the peak we were climbing to it's base camp. Once again this trip seemed to bring the message home that there are many things out of our control in your life which can take away your life and we can't live our lives in fear of this. We should use this as a catalyst to carry out our passions, our pursuits now, not next year or tomorrow but today. You only have one life, so that dream you've had of for example living in another country, going travelling, writing a book - make plans and most importantly make it happen! 

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The journey back down from ABC absolutely killed our knees. We walked all day long for 9 and half hours, trekking up and down covering a total elevation of 5,000ft and a distance of over 14 miles. Finally, we got back to the famous chocolate cake and yak pizza at Chomrong cottage (Sugar Mamma's) and it was totally worth it. She'd remembered it was Jonny's birthday and she'd made him a cake even with a candle, it was the sweetest thing and made that long trek all worthwhile! We had trooped all day downhill which is why our knees hurt so much. Then we reached the bridge up to Chhomrong we could see the looming thousands of steep steps ahead of us. The chocolate cake is what got us up them. I was so grateful we had taken walking poles because I had relied on them so much that day, especially as my knee had started to feel strained and it hurt to put my body weight on it.

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The following day we walked all the way back to where we could get a Jeep from which was when I'd never felt so happy knowing that I wouldn't have to walk for a while. We had also were dreaming with the girls who walked with us that there would be nice ice cold drinks just around the corner, which funnily enough there was after trekking through the midday heat! We met the sweetest little Nepalese girl wearing a Christmas jumper. This country stole my heart and the memories and friends we met along the way will forever be treasured and it is definitely one of the few places I want to go back to. We'd like to give a big thank you to ON running for the waterproof trail running shoes and outerwear that were perfect for the mountain weather conditions which made us feel prepared for anything, until next time Nepal! 

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Hannah Verman