From Hong Kong we flew to Kuala Lumpur – but only to spend one night in a budget hotel attached to the airport. Up early the next morning we headed to Kathmandu and Nepal. After all the trains, fortunately the flights were only about 3 hours each – not quite enough time to feel really miserable about flying. Landing at Kathmandu we did our first US dollar shuffle for visas on arrival – each visa required four staff to process. It wasn’t too painful, but a good brief on what we will have ahead of us in South East Asia.
We were met at the airport by a rep from the company who have organised our Himalayas trek. By coincidence it was a Nepalese holiday, meaning the roads weren’t as busy, but I was immediately struck by the difference in infrastructure here compared to the entire rest of the trip. While warm and friendly, the roads were mostly a disaster, potholes everywere and no such thing as a dual carriageway. There were huge piles of gravel and assorted other construction material lying around everywhere and air conditioning was ‘open the window’. This was a balance with the dust and pollution everywhere.
After crashing out at the hotel, we arose the next day and headed into the tourist section of Kathmandu (Thamel) in search of kit for the trek and a haircut. My haircut (~£4) included a neck and head massage – this should be encouraged at barbers in the UK too. A successful morning’s errand-running complete, we headed back to the hotel to await the arrival of the rest of our tour group who were flying in from London.
The group are mostly slightly older couples, with a couple of singletons as well. Everyone’s got more trekking experience than us, but hopefully we’ll make up for it with (comparatively) youthful enthusiasm. We had a group meal that evening and then headed to bed ahead of an early start the next morning. The early start was slightly delayed by a burst tire on our coach. This set us up for a traditional Nepalese sauna – being stuck for six hours in a hot coach with no aircon, 32 degrees and 70% humidity on an unpaved road. It was an experience. After that we were set up for a 2.5 hour walk into our first night’s stay. As we learned in Russia, the heat and humidity is a killer and makes all the difference. We got in after 6pm just as night was closing in.
The second day’s walk was hard going, hot and humid all day and ~8 hours walking in all. We were all a bit frazzled by the end of it, but the scenary was more than making up for it. The mountains are genuinely stunning, we got our first glimpse of a snow-covered Himalaya in the morning. We were walking along sharp steep gorges, across suspension bridges, through rainfall streams, around waterfalls and alongside an urgent river. By the end of the day we were up at around 1300m.
The third day was significantly easier going. Despite the steep climb (we ended up at ~1900m) the Sun was generally hidden behind clouds and the temperature and humidity was significantly lessened. Everyone felt better and we were able to maintain a faster pace, meaning we got in at 4pm and could relax a bit. Once we got up to ~1600m the scenary changed quite a bit, fewer trees, more scrub and silt left over from the river.
Day four was extremely pleasant. While warm in the morning, it was nowhere near as hot or humid as the previous days and we made good time. It was mostly a climbing day (up to ~2700m) but the decreased amount of distance and the more conducive conditions made for a very pleasant day. The temperature drops are foreboding though, no hot (solar) shower at our lodging and getting genuinely cold at night. Time to break out the proper sleeping bags!