“Nepal offers the ultimate ‘off the beaten track’ experience, with its wide range of truly adventurous outdoor activities and unforgettable vistas and views .”
I arrived in Nepal (on my own) knowing namaste meant “hello”. This was the full extent of my local knowledge. I had a hotel booking for one night and, apart from that, the next month lay before me – free, exciting and slightly nerve-racking.
However, as I was soon to discover, an open schedule really is the best way to see Nepal.
It took two hours to get through customs, but I got some interesting travel tips from the more informed backpackers in the queue.
Once through customs, I found my bag in a corner of a room where about 500 others had been dumped.
I soon found myself in Thamel, the tourist section in the centre of Kathmandu, which was as good a place as any to have a drink and find my bearings.
The bar was a Hebrew place (I later learnt) called OR2K and had an interesting vibe: loads of hippies and dreadlocks and people sitting on the carpet eating falafels with melodious tunes of Coldplay dulling the candid conversations which surrounded me.
The routine for the next three days in Thamel was to walk in the general direction of some ancient archaeological magnificence that all tourists “had to see” (according to Lonely Planet, anyway), and stop every 20 minutes at a coffee shop, rooftop garden restaurant or a café for breakfast, coffee, beer and momos, which are delicious, tiny boiled pastry things – marvelous.
Connecting with the locals in these tourist areas is challenging because the only ones who speak English are generally trying to sell you something, so in the end I spent most of my time talking to other tourists.
There were tons of Israelis, Canadians and Dutch people. One Israeli told me they went to Nepal after their three years of national service to learn how to feel again.
After talking to enough tourists, I figured out that what people actually came to Nepal for was to trek. So I went shopping, which is a time-consuming affair as you either have to bargain for everything or pay steep prices.
I eventually managed to get the necessary sleeping bag and a cheap knock-off backpack. At 7am the next day I hopped on a bus to Pokhara and settled down for the 200km, six-hour ride (R40). I then spent most of the journey trying to figure out how the driver could possibly think it was safe to overtake other buses around blind corners on a mountain pass.
Pokhara is a beautiful little tourist town bordering the Phewa Lake, from where you can see the highest peaks of the Himalayas.
I almost never got round to the trekking because the town was so picturesque. There are lots of little guesthouses to stay at along the lakeside, with more than enough tourist shops and cafés to keep you entertained.
Hiring a bike, I spent a day riding around trying to dodge bad drivers and stopping at various places for drinks and snacks. I drove most of the way around the lake as well as up some high hills which allowed for some awesome views of the splendid little town.
To go trekking, you need a permit or two but it takes an hour to get them and then you are off.
I chose the Annapurna base camp hike because it takes only seven days and walking never was my speciality.
The walk was challenging, as I was arrogant enough to believe I didn’t need a porter or a guide. There are a lot of stone staircases which sometimes take hours to climb or descend. If you go without a porter make sure you pack light (less than 10kg).
Despite my suffering, the trek has to be one of the most beautiful in the world, with stunning waterfalls, rivers and snow-covered mountain peaks. The trail takes you over swing bridges as well as through forests, little villages and tea plantations. The views made it all well worth the effort.
At night we stayed in tea houses, which generally had one or two giant dining room tables where everyone relaxed, played games and ate.
All too soon the trek came to an end, and after sad goodbyes I made my way back to Kathmandu. The only thing left to do was rush around town buying cheap clothes, board games, swords, knives and tea before boarding my flight back home. It is another world and I’ll definitely go back – if for nothing other than the momos.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Visa: Collected on arrival $40 for 30 days.
Accommodation: Costs anything from $6 to $50 a night.
Bars and Clubs: All close at 11pm or midnight on Fridays. Not the wildest party place.
Transport: Taxis charge a maximum of $5 to go anywhere in town.
Flights: Etihad Airways flies to Kathmandu (Nepal) with a stopover in Abu Dhabi.