Trekking in Nepal – 2016

The monsoon in Nepal has ended, the days are mostly sunny, and mountain trekking is as good as ever in those areas spared from earthquake damage, especially in the Everest and Annapurna regions. In the Kathmandu valley things look quite normal though a second look will reveal some demolished buildings. Bhaktapur was harder hit than most parts of the valley and whole neighborhoods are still digging out of the rubble. Although half of the residents have left the city, most return each day to rebuild and work in the shops.

Taumadhi Square, Bhaktapur
Taumadhi Square, Bhaktapur

Though dozens of major World Heritage sites have fallen, most are still intact. It’s not the same here as before the quake but it is still a vibrant, fascinating place. While is now possible to enjoy trekking again in most regions of Nepal, there is a fuel shortage that has made transportation difficult, especially around the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara. Ironically this problem was brought on by one of the greatest triumphs in modern Nepali history. After eight years of failed efforts to deliver a new constitution, the earthquake spurred a spirit of cooperation and the Nepal parliament approved one of the world’s most progressive democratic constitutions. Unfortunately a large constituency along the Indian border has disputed some of the constitution’s provisions and has blocked the Indian border in protest. The restriction of fuels and other critical supplies has been a major problem for most Nepalese and an annoyance for many tourists. It should also be noted that while there has been some violent protests along the border this area is very far from Kathmandu which remains very safe.

ITrekNepal guests at Everest Base Camp -  October 2015
ITrekNepal guests at Everest Base Camp – October 2015

Fortunately the Bhaktapur Paradise Hotel where most ITrekNepal guests are staying has an ample supply of cooking gas and our drivers have a good stock of fuel so it is still a pleasant environment here. With the inauguration of the new government intent on remedying these political problems, the shortages are expected to ease in the next couple weeks and life should back to normal for everyone fairly soon.
In the meantime the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara are exceptionally peaceful. Similarly, the relative lack of tourists has made the popular treks even more enjoyable since there are no crowds to contend with.

Kathmandu or Bhaktapur?

Since I arrived in Nepal, when I am not out adventuring or on treks, I have lived in Bhaktapur, which is located right outside Kathmandu. I have loved living here because of the access to great hiking paths, hidden valleys, temples, and it is away from most of the noise and pollution. But after visiting the main tourist area in Kathmandu (Thamel) a few times, I can see the advantages and disadvantages to staying in both places.  If I were only in the Kathmandu Valley for a couple days before and after going on a trek I would probably decide to stay in Thamel because it is the most happening spot, an easy place to meet other travelers, and if you were to look in a guide book it would probably be the recommended place to stay. It is a difficult decision though because, in my experience, it is not a very authentic picture of what Nepal is like and the people who live here.

Before going to Thamel, other than on my way to Everest Base Camp, I had seen very few white people. I had just assumed that Kathmandu did not have that many tourists until I walked around Thamel and realized that all the tourists just congregated in one area.

The streets of Thamel are crowded with stores, people trying to sell you things, and white tourists with dread locks; at night there are a lot of bars and tourists out having a good time. Whether this is your scene or not is up to you. I am happy living outside of the city, and being able to go visit with reasonable ease.

My one major recommendation is that if you do decide to stay in Thamel remember that there is a world outside of those busy streets, and go and explore other parts of the Kathmandu Valley. Definitely take the time to see the beautiful city of Bhaktapur, the temples in the valley, and check out Gundu Valley or the other mountain and valley villages outside of Kathmandu. An easy way to do this is to rent scooters, if you feel comfortable, or just take the public buses and walk. It is definitely worth it because these villages are truly something magical. The people living in them are genuine and happy to see tourists because it is uncommon. They will invite you into there homes, let you pet there animals, practice their English with you, walk with you for a while, offer you food, tell you their names, yell and wave to you from windows, and give you the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. This kind of exchange is not possible in Thamel. So, no matter where you stay, see if you can catch a glimpse of both parts of the Kathmandu Valley.

Kakani

After a hour and a half winding up mountain roads above Kathmandu, we arrived at Kakani (Sunset Point).  If you get carsick I would not recommend this expedition! There was a little bit of haze in the sky, but that is to be expected in the Kathmandu Valley.  We walked around the mountain village where little boys played soccer on a dusty gravel pitch, women bathed in the outdoor taps, and chickens ran the streets freely. We watched the sky change colors as the hundreds of prayer flags blew in the fresh mountain air.

Boy Playing Soccer