Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit Trek – Sightseeing And Gearing Up In Kathmandu

December 1 2013

Singapore -> Kuala Lumpur -> Kathmandu


**Namaste! I trekked the ACT with my friends in December 2013. Our trekking on foot started in Bhulbhule and ended unexpectedly early in Muktinath. The pictures, notes and observations may not be completely accurate as of 2015. The trip is divided into a series of posts in an attempt to help with organization and to include more detail. **


Journal Entry:  Packed until 1:30am last night. Was thinking of getting spirulina powder or multivitamins but thought, whatever, I don’t have time for this. Maybe I’ll come back to Singapore a malnourished mess. Anyway, I laid out all my gear on the floor. I’m paranoid I’ll forget something. Tried to put everything into my bag while I Skyped my friend and, to my surprise, it all fits! Not only that, there was space left. Had to persuade myself not to pack an extra sweater.

Gabe was suppose to pick me up but it turns out his flight was four hours earlier than mine to Kuala Lumpur. Oops. So I just grabbed a taxi by myself. Checked in at the AirAsia counter and was surprised that my bag was only 10.9kg. Incredible. But it makes me nervous. Maybe I forgot something. Changed some USD for the trip, wandered about the airport and ate the leftovers I brought with me from my fridge. The PowerMonkey charger went through security without incident. My seat was in the first row, kinda cool.

The KL budget airport SUCKS. The food is terrible, it’s crowded and disorganized and the stores don’t offer much to look at. Tried to find Gabe as we were suppose to be on the same flight to Kathmandu but where’s this Starbucks he was talking about? Nice plane to Kathmandu! An Airbus A330-300. Lots of empty seats on this AirAsia X flight. I knew I forgot something! Just remembered about the ID photos for the visa in Nepal. Looks like extra time at immigration.

Comments:  Never having been in Nepal before, I was worried that there would be a total lack of vegetables in the mountains. I need my vegetables. It turns out it was not necessary to buy vitamins. It was only for a short while that we had to subsist on potatoes, flour, rice and instant noodles. Most of the time, there was at least cabbage around, if not carrot. Always lay your stuff out before a big trip. You get a nice bird’s eye view of everything you’re bringing.

Turns out, the Starbucks (and everything else that’s nice) is OUTSIDE of immigration at the KL budget airport. So it required me to officially go “in” Malaysia, as opposed to straight into transit. I should’ve known, as it would’ve saved me from a bad meal and complete boredom.

You need photos for the visa on arrival in Nepal. No big deal, there’s a booth there for you to take photos but it’s expensive. BUT during peak tourist season, it may be a zoo. Speaking of zoo, the baggage claim in Kathmandu was very sketchy and your bag could be easily stolen (though I’ve never heard of that happening). It’s just that it’s chaotic and messy. We were waiting forever at the belt and it turns out all the large backpacks were simply placed at a different baggage location. No notices, no one to look after them. Just dumped in the middle of baggage claim with a ton of people all looking for their bags. Someone did ‘check’ your baggage tag but I it didn’t seem like they really looked at my name.


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On the tarmac at the KL budget airport.
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Our digs whenever we were in Kathmandu. Pretty clean and comfortable with a decent breakfast for marginally more money than the backpacker hostels. Slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of central Thamel district.
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Typical street in Thamel district, Kathmandu. Lots of character.
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Little trinkets and souvenirs for sale on the streets of Thamel.
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As a music teacher, these singing bowls provided endless fascination. I wanted to buy one to show my students but the big one I wanted would’ve busted my baggage weight allowance.

December 2 2013

Thamel District, Kathmandu

Whirlwind night and day. We got picked up at the airport by Santosh, our guide and was driven to Hotel Moonlight, just on the edge of Thamel. The streets seemed very empty at 10pm and there were few lights even though we were on Ring Road, which is sort of the like the ‘expressway’ of Kathmandu. We had found some food at a restaurant still open. Hotel Moonlight was basic but clean with hot water (which felt like such a luxury when we were back in Kathmandu later on the trip). The neighbourhood dogs were really loud though and someone was moving about upstairs at 5am.

Thamel during the day is totally opposite: chaotic, messy and full of people. The streets are tiny with lots of alleyways and shortcuts. Motorbike zip by at an alarming speed, considering how dense the pedestrian traffic can be, and incessantly honking. Tons of trekking gear shops line the crowded streets. Lots of bookshops, touristy stuff, bakeries, souvenir shops.

Met Arjun at the office to settle our trekking bill: 890USD each. We crossed the street and walked a few minutes to Hardcore Nepal to pay up for the caving trip.

*Gear in Thamel

Off to buy gear in Thamel. I needed a fleece sleeping bag liner and fleece buff. There are shops everywhere selling trekking gear. Mostly all fake stuff though but the basics are of decent quality. The favourite brand to fake seems to be The North Face and Mammut. They make no lie of it though, some stores even have real and fake sections!

But if you want to buy gear in Thamel I suggest only buy stuff you don’t mind breaking or using once. So any essentials like hiking boots, sleeping bags, backpacks – buy at home. The fleece, pants, trekking poles and other miscellaneous items are decent. But always try for sizing and test stuff out on the spot. If you’re buying food, make sure you look at the expiry date. Same goes for medicine.

One gear shop we frequented was actually really popular with the guides and porters themselves. Called Kala Patter (Kalapatter? Kalapather? Many spellings of the same thing in Nepal), the shop front was on a street but the real deal came from their third floor ‘warehouse’ tucked away across the street. To get there you had to walk up a dark staircase, past a Tibetan restaurant and some trekking company offices. The place was a complete mess, with jackets and fleece and mittens piled high up to the ceiling in no particular order. Some rooms were so full you can only look at the stuff from the doorway, the rest of the room inaccessible. But DAMN were the prices solid. I got a ‘Mammut’ artificial down vest for $15USD, which I still use to this day. My friend got gaiters and a decent-looking pair of pants.

Kala Patter … (or
Kala Patter … (or

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The rest of the street in Kathmandu were really fascinating as well. I loved people watching there. Some highlights included meat and cheese being sold unrefrigerated. I wonder what it would be like during summer, when it would be really hot? Cause the half wheel of cheese just sat there the whole day and I’m sure the meat (and fish, for that matter) just stayed in the open until someone bought it. Food, gear and booze were in cheap order; no wonder Thamel is a trekker’s paradise.

I observed a young boy delivering hot milk tea in this wired rack that perhaps held 6 cups, with a handle at the top. There was this inherent ‘old world’ feel about this place that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was this hum of chaos and activity that was inherently human and organic. I began to immediately like Nepal. Sometimes, you just find ‘your place’.

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School children.
School children.

After a day of exploring and shopping we sat down for a meal at a place Arjun recommended: Thakali Blanchha. The Thakalis are known in Nepal to serve very delicious food, most notably their dhal bhat. A national dish that sustains Nepalis across the country consisting of rice, lentil soup and an array of sides ranging from pickles to leafy greens to curries and meat. Served on a huge plate, it was as beautiful as it was tasty. Another great thing is that you eat until you are full. Refills are free of charge so long as you are still eating rice.

At first we used a spoon and fork but after observing that we seemed to be the only ones, we opted for good old fingers. It was liberating. Gabe ordered a Mustang coffee and the thing was LOADED with rum. Excellent. My liking for Nepal has been confirmed.

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The boozy Mustang coffee.
The boozy Mustang coffee.

After dinner we bumbled around lost, looking for the Monkey Temple as the sun was setting. Unsure of Kathmandu’s nighttime safety I must admit I was a little on edge. The no streetlights thing kinda got to me. Gabe, enthusiastic as ever, pressed on, dragging me with him. But it was totally worth it, despite the giant stairs to the top. All of the temples here are amazing and monks still reside in most of them. The sparkle of gold and the flap of prayer flags invited us in at the top and we were treated to a spectacular view of Kathmandu. The valley looked beautiful in front of a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a golden sunset. Sublime.

The name for the place is apt – monkeys were everywhere. The walk back took almost two hours and despite the dark streets, they were busy and perfectly safe.

Approaching the monkey temple.
Approaching the monkey temple.
Killer stairs but good training for the trek.
Killer stairs but good training for the trek.

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Candles.
Candles.
Can you spot the monkeys?
Can you spot the monkeys?

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Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Valley

After walking back to Thamel, we settled in for some beers and good food and even a live band to boot. Trekker’s Paradise.

-J

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