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Nepal - November 10, 1999
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Namaste. I'm sad that my time here has come to an end. I get too attached to the places I visit! Fortunately we arranged our flights in advance. If we hadn't already arranged flights, I'd never leave and make it to the next interesting place.

I sit here in this little email place looking out the window at a cow chewing on a piece of cardboard hoping someone will walk by and feed it something. One cow was very lucky last week when my travel companion, Christine, fed it her chocolate croissant. Cows are sacred here so they wander the streets and no one bothers them. They don't bother anyone either, but you do need to watch where you walk, especially when wearing flip flops or sandals!

You've probably never known anyone that went to Nepal that didn't have wonderful things to say about the country and people, and I'm definitely no exception. However, it is so difficult to describe Nepal in words. There are some things words just can't capture - that you just have to experience to understand. I will try to write about my experience, but for anyone who is truly an outdoor lover or interested in the Hindu religion, culture and people, I urge you to experience Nepal. Even a short stay of two to three weeks is enough to get a flavor.

One of the best aspects of Nepal is the intense contrast between the noisy, dirty, crazy, yet also fascinating city of Kathmandu and the serene, natural, beauty of the Himalayas and lush foothills below.

Kathmandu
All in all I had about a week in Kathmandu. My time there was filled with eating wonderful food, shopping, and I even found a music school where I met Sasindra, my 24-year-old guitar teacher. After picking up my guitar in Bali, I wanted to take some lessons right away. Christine decided that she also wanted to join me in learning how to play the guitar, so she bought one in Kathmandu (US$23!) and we took our lessons together. For a few dollars we had our daypacks rigged to carry the guitars while trekking. And, before the trek, we went in search of a trekking guide who plays the guitar. People laughed at us for looking, but after four days of asking around, we found Sajan. Not only did he give us a few lessons along the trek, but he also helped us keep the guitars tuned.

The Annapurna Circuit
We chose the Annapurna circuit, one of the most popular treks, because it covers such a wide range of culture and terrain. Fortunately it was far less crowded with trekkers than we expected. The Everest treks have become very popular now so perhaps fewer people are doing this one. I do highly recommend this trek. It starts and ends at about 3,000 feet and when you go over Thorong Pass, the highest point, you are at nearly 18,000 feet. You can stay in tents or teahouses. I really enjoyed the teahouses as they allow you to meet more of the locals. The trek was far more beautiful than I ever imagined. It takes anywhere from 15 to 21 days (I think it took us 18 days). Each day we walked for about 6-8 hours (although the day we went over the pass took 12 hours) and every 30 minutes the amazing scenery would completely change and each day would be more beautiful that the last. Most of the trek follows a river so there is plenty of water, and it sounds wonderful. The Himalayas are truly spectacular but even the hills that we walked through the first and last few days are so gorgeous - very green and lush. We had fabulous weather too. We only had to walk in the rain one day. Most days were cloudless with deep blue skies contrasting against the sharp, bright white snowy peaks and lush green hillsides. It is amazing to walk from village to village with no cars! Life in the mountains is so simple and peaceful.

Many thought we were crazy for carrying guitars on our trek, but they turned out to be the biggest hit. Everywhere we went someone could play. It was a great source of entertainment in the evenings. We were usually able to gather a good crowd of the local Nepalese in each village who would join us and sing along to the music. My braids were a hit too. I had my hair twisted into about 150 small braids before leaving and all of the village children had to touch my hair! I had no idea what an unusual sight that would be for them. So many wanted "just one braid" to keep. Now that they are looking more and more like dreads than braids I am getting very tempted to cut them off. Fortunately Christine's sister, Lisa, brought balloons to give the kids and that usually kept them entertained.

Our guide was a bit more of a "social director" than a source of information, but that was great for me as I felt very fortunate to be included in the Nepalese gatherings in the evenings. I would be sure to do that again! Meeting other trekkers is also fun and interesting, but for me, nothing could compare to the experience of the evening drinking, talking and sharing sessions with the locals in these villages and the Nepalese guides and porters. This also gave me the opportunity to try all of the local food and drink - local rum with tea and sugar (wonderful!), apple brandy, Rokxy (local wine), local whisky... the best part is that you never get a hangover! I think it is because they don't have all those nasty preservatives. Common snack food with drinking is small pieces of dried or fried meat, including yak, goat, deer, buffalo and mutton. Although I thought I was going to be a vegetarian through this trek, I couldn't resist trying the local food and I admit that I even enjoyed it. Even the dahl baht, the main local dish of rice, lentils in sort of a soup, and a vegetable (usually potatoes), was good in most places and we ate that for many of our meals.

For anyone who is thinking about trekking in Nepal, I would love to be a source of information for you. I have kept the name of a trekking company and guide who is awesome. I also made notes of several tips I wished others had told me before my trek.

Dashain and Dipawli Festivals
We have been fortunate to be in Nepal during some important festivals. Dashain is the biggest festival during the year and it was going on at the beginning of our trek. The Nepalese say this is a lot like Christmas because it's a time when family all comes together and celebrates. Our last week in Nepal was Dipawli, which is five days of celebrations. The second to last day of Dipawli is Tihar, the Nepalese new year, so everyone was really partying! And the last day, Dihar, or some say Bhaitika, is the most important. This is a day for brothers and sisters to spend time together and honor each other. The sister gives the brother a tika of seven colors (on the forehead) and a blessing for a long life. The brother gives the sister a gift of money. It is especially important for those who are married, as they don't see each other as often anymore. I think we should have such a festival as well. I adopted my trekking guide, Sajan, as my brother and he invited us all to his sister's home for dinner to celebrate the festival with them. That was a really awesome way to spend our last night in Nepal.

Now we are off to Bhutan. Bye for now,
Karen

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