The Travelling Trooper Hikes Poon Hill (Day 1)

Trevor and I traded the warmth of the desert for the chilly air of the Himalayas. We arrived in Kathmandu on Boxing Day evening.

First thing the following morning, we met up with our tour guide, Prakash, and took an 8 hour bus ride to the town of Pokhara, 200 kilometres west of Kathmandu. We were in Pokhara to hike the Poon Hill Trail and see the breathtaking Annapurna Himalayan Range at sunset.

We arrived in Pokhara the late afternoon, so with limited options for how to pass the remainder of the days, Trevor and I strolled the streets. We took some photos along the lake before the sun set and I bought a couple things from the market.

Content with my purchases (a fridge magnet and a painting to add to my collections), we called it an early night because the next day was the start of our hike.

Prakash was friendly, though admittedly, quite difficult to understand at times because of his thick accent, but we managed and quickly became friends.

At 26, Prakash is the oldest of four siblings, which means he has to take care of them and provide for them while they complete high school and university. Like all trekking guides, he started out as a porter. That was seven years ago.

My favourite thing about him, though: He falls asleep even quicker than I do on a bus. Neither of us barely saw anything on our 8 hour sojourn to Pokhara. From the few glances I took, though, it was a beautiful ride. At least I think it was.

Trevor and I met Prakash in the hotel lobby early in the morning and drove an hour to the starting point of our hike in Nayapul. The end goal for the first day was Ullery. We hiked about 15 km in six hours and gained 900 metres of elevation to hit just over 1900 metres.

We passed by many small local villages along the way. They were all pretty much identical–restaurants, hotels, and craft shops to cater to the hikers. The locals are very friendly and are great at disarming you with their humour and charm so you forget about just how much your body aches, as they are eager for your business.

Nepali food was pretty standard fare on the hike: Rice, meat, delicious lentil soup, potatoes. Restaurants also offered up western food like pizza, spaghetti, American breakfast, etc. And in fact, I would quickly learn that every restaurant had an identical menu. Apparently some committee meets together to decide the menu and set the prices. (I learned that from my informative guide.)

A few other things I learned about Nepal in general from Prakash:

  • At its coldest, Nepal can get as low as -30 in the mountains and 0 degrees in Kathmandu.
  • They have public and private school systems.
  • A few years ago, the king’s brother had his family killed so he could claim the throne. Things didn’t go his way.
  • Until recently, there were something like 160 political parties. Now parties are starting to merge together. If I understood correctly, the leading party is a combination of the biggest Conservative party and the Communist party. And just like politicians all over the world, these guys have no morals. They aren’t loyal to their parties at all. They’ll jump ship at the drop of a hat if it’ll benefit them personally.

Now as for the hike itself, I was under the impression that this would be a simlar expreience to Ultimate Kilimanjaro; I thought I was joining a group. That wasn’t the case though. Since it’s low season, it was literally just Prakash and I.

But that’s cool. We met people along the way, like the Spaniard Special Education teacher, and a Korean girl with her father. This wouldn’t be the last time we’d see each other over the next few days.

The first part of the hike was fine–follow the dirt path over rivers and streams, enjoy the songs of countless different types of birds, nearly trip over yourself a dozen times as you get lost gazing at the tree-lined hills that roll on and on and on and on.

Then all of a sudden, things took an ugly turn. We encountered my worst nemesis: Stairs. Endless stairs.

Now here’s the thing…I love hiking. There’s an old episode of the Simpsons where Bart is sent to military school. Lisa signs up just to prove that she can do it. When she can’t handle the physical training and the teasing from the other boys, since she’s the only girl, she considers throwing in the towel. Bart stops her and reminds her that she signed up because she was looking for a challenge. She responds with, “YAAA! A CHALLENGE I COULD DO!” I feel like that’s how I feel about hiking. My knees are always a concern for me, but I’m always up for a hike because I want to do it while I know I still can. I think of people like Rich and Mary from Kilimanjaro–now in their 60’s–and I pray that my knees can still muster the strength at that age, but I’m doubtful. At some point, I won’t be able to take on the challenge anymore. Especially if there are fracking stairs.

Scale a mountain? Done! Hike 25+ kilometres in a day? No problem! But nobody said anything about stairs! Poon Hill Trail should be renamed Stairway to Heaven Trail! Or is it Hell?

At one point, Prakash and I were taking a rest to let my poor calves and knees recoup–they were on fire–and he casualy turns to me and informs me that from this point, we are approximately 3, 900 stairs from Ullery. I was ready to lay down and die right then and there.

Not long after that, I got one hell of a charlie horse and cursed this godforsaken mountain. Prakash kindly offered to switch bags, but my bag wasn’t the issue. I don’t think he would be willing to trade lower torsos with me. I also would’ve killed somebody for hiking poles. My calves were unbelievably stiff and sore. I made a mental note to stretch every day in the morning and afternoon.

I powered through, and we soon caught up to the Spanish teacher. After a short break, we walked together for a good ten minutes or so. He and his guide looked like they were ready to take another break. (Also, I found it insane that his guide looked like he was ready for a day at the office–he was wearing dress pants and a button-down long sleeve shirt. Though I guess this is his ofice.)

I asked Prakash how much further we had to go to get to the hotel, and he said it was only ten minutes away. “I CAN DO TEN MINUTES! LET’S DO THIS!” I screamed louder than I intended, and we left my Spanish friend behind. I wanted to get to the hotel more than anything. I turned back to Prakash and added, “YOU BETTER NOT BE LYIN TO ME!” He laughed…I didn’t see what was so funny.

When we arrived at the hotel, I lay in bed for close to an hour before finally mustering the energy to stretch. I hadn’t been in that kind of pain since the last day of the descent on Kili. I truly felt like an old man.

We spent the rest of the night chatting with Natalie and Pieter, a Belgian couple that was staying at the same hotel as us.

Oh, and a piece of advice if you’re ever in Nepal: If you’re feeling a little extra peckish and decide to order a couple of spring rolls as appetizers for your meal, just know that spring rolls are not spring rolls in Nepal. I ordered a pair of spring rolls to go with my main dish, and I got two massive empanada-looking things. I ended up eating my spring rolls and I gave my main dish to Prakash.

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And so it begins!
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Why, hello, Fishtail 🙂

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Minor traffic jam. Every time I had to walk past one of these, I’d think, “Please don’t poop on me. Please don’t poop on me. Please don’t poop on me.” This was when Prakash told me there were ONLY 3, 900 stairs to go.

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Final push!

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View from my hotel room.

 

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