Last Afternoon in Kathmandu


One quick but full afternoon in Kathmandu remained between me and Europe. Soon after getting back, I went out to a late lunch with Team Australia. We went to the Kathmandu Garden of Dreams, which has been restored to its prior glory with funds from the Austrian Government. The garden was an oasis of calm in the middle of a very hectic capital city. It was hard to believe that outside of its surrounding walls, the hustle of Kathmandu continued. The meal was delicious, the company entertaining, and the escape from Kathmandu welcome. After saying another goodbye to my trekking companions from Australia, I met back up with Susan and Bill who I met in Pokhara for dinner. They have been on many treks over the years and were full of information as I had already begun to think about what trek I might want to do next.

Nepal, the people I met there, and all its natural beauty has easily been one of the highlights of my journey thus far.

Kathmandu Garden of Dreams

Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara was a nice change from Kathmandu. Calmer, cleaner, and more picturesque, Pokhara was the city from where I began and ended my trek. The Lakeside shops and restaurants were fun, vibrant, and all with a fantastic view, especially when the clouds would cooperate. Just before the trek, it was a bit surreal to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine as the television footage would cut in and out with the electricity.

After returning from my trekking adventure, I had a couple extra days before continuing on to Europe and decided to spend most of that time in Pokhara instead of Kathmandu. The speed and atmosphere of the town was much more pleasant. During this time, I rented a bicycle and toured around the different neighborhoods, visited the Ghurka museum, tried to visit the mountaineering museum (but was turned away by a worker’s strike), and caught up on emails and journaling. In addition, many of the friends I made throughout the trek were still there and we shared stories and dinners. Unfortunately, the day I chose to leave, the bus system employees were striking. I needed to get back to Kathmandu in order to catch my flight the next day, but all buses had been canceled. My only choice was to fly the very short, roughly 30-minute flight from Pokhara airport. The strike affected more than just buses as it was impossible to find any transportation to the airport, so I had one final trek as I walked to the airport alongside Bill and Susan from San Diego from my hotel who were also doing the same thing.


In the terminal while waiting for my flight, I had the small world experience of running into a couple who lives only 15 minutes away from me in the San Francisco Bay Area. Setareh and Salvador were very friendly and talking with them made the short wait and even shorter flight literally and figuratively fly by. When we boarded the plane that seats maybe 20 people, the captain soon emerged and started by saying, “Unfortunately, the flight has been delayed…”. I held my breath waiting for him to say because of a strike and then it would be almost impossible to get back to Kathmandu, but I was relieved when he finished his sentence with “… because of bad weather in Kathmandu.” The weather in Nepal had been changing so quickly that I am confident the wait cannot be too long. Although we were shuttled back into the waiting area, we only had to stall about 20 minutes before re-boarding the plane and taking off.

Pokhara airport

Sunset, Sunrise on Top of the World

I always try to manage my expectations so that they can be met or exceeded. However, with the ABC trek, my expectations of Base Camp continue to escalate with every meter gained in altitude. And more specifically, my expectations of sunset and sunrise dominate my thoughts of our final destination. I hope sunrise will be perfect because most mornings thus far have been almost perfectly clear, and greedily, I hope we are lucky for sunset, as many of the afternoons have been cloudy and rainy. Both events exceed expectations.

Annapurna Sanctuary Sunrise, Nepal from Andrew Stein

In the afternoon, a cloud swallows base camp and visibility drops to nothing; however, just before sunset, the clouds part showing off the peaks of the surrounding mountains. The clouds that remain are only additive to the sun’s wave goodbye. The line separating white from gold on the mountains slowly ascends as the sun continues to drop. The blue of the sky, which I thought couldn’t be any deeper, slips to navy, midnight blue, and eventually black letting stars I never knew existed start to appear. Fully half-satisfied, I begin my prayers for an equally successful sunrise in the morning. I predict that such a sunrise would meet my elevated expectations and be a lifetime memory.

Sunset at ABC

Waking up as the sky begins to light and layering myself in wool, down jackets, scarfs, gloves, and anything else that would fit to protect myself against this below freezing weather, I venture outside to find no clouds and a perfectly clear, crisp sky. Despite my finger tips starting to lose feeling because I refuse to put down my camera, I am prepared for something special. I investigate the landscape to figure out what spot to be in and when during the next two hours as the sun would rise above the mountains eventually lighting and warming the Annapurna Sanctuary. Now I have a rough morning plan, my camera, the perfect weather conditions, and a big smile.

Sunrise at ABC

The first mountain tip, which sits around 8000 meters high starts to shine like the first candle of many. All heads at base camp turn to respect this first light. Soon the second and third peaks are illuminated and the sunlight starts its journey down to the base of the Sanctuary. We all patiently wait for the warming rays of the sun while trying to keep our hands and noses warm by blowing into cupped gloves. Almost too quickly, the sun reaches the floor of Base Camp and the sky starts taking on that unrealistic blue from the night before. The color in my photos will look as if photoshop might be responsible, but it’s natural. The blue’s richness seem as though it should allow constellations to show through, and although the moon remains very visible, the stars do not. I continue to spin and marvel at the mountains around me until I warm up, take a couple too many photos, and feel ready for breakfast.

The sun performs for us at our trek’s destination making the Annapurna Sanctuary feel like it’s on top of the world.

An Extra Boost

Days four and five along the trek easily presented the greatest challenge, and luckily, Subash had indicated as such from the beginning. Because of the forewarning, I told my traveling musicians to wait back control-wheel until they were called forward. Day four began with a steady downhill, but after reaching the valley’s river, the climbing began and it was time for some of my favorite artists to make their headphone-jack call. One by one, after receiving their signal, the tunes began playing from headphone left and headphone right. The awards for most motivational, energizing and inspirational probably belong to Michael Jackson and Mika, but Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Cee-lo Green, Chris Brown, Aerosmith, Black Eyed Peas, Fatboy Slim, George Michael, and Journey also deserve praise. They all started playing on day four, but were kind enough to save some energy for their encore performances the following day.

As Seen on the Trail

The trail is full of surprises with what gets carried up and back down and with the types of activities that can be seen nearby. Goats, cats, dogs, donkeys, ponies, buffalo, chickens, and roosters are all common sites, and unfortunately, that means their excrement is also. Fifty kilogram wood lodge-building beams, raw yak meat, cans and bottles full of Coke, Fanta and Sprite, and bamboo baskets filled with everything else passes by us in both directions. There are no roads and helicopters are too expensive, so everything is either carried by donkeys, and when donkeys are unavailable and/or the cargo too heavy, porters carry it using two thin shoulder straps and one large forehead ribbon. It’s hard for anyone to complain of fatigue after witnessing this.

Carrying live chickens

buffalo along the trail

carrying heavy wood beams

Too heavy for the donkeys

Goats blocking the way

a donkey carrying chickens


The lateral collateral ligament (LCL), also known as the fibular collateral ligament, can be found on the outside of the knee connecting the femur to the fibula. Although not entirely sure that this was the ligament at fault, based on the location of my pain, I have chosen to hand it the blame for my discomfort. Uphill was cardiovascularly challenging, but downhill was challenging in most other ways, and especially on my joints. My “extra bone” ankle was sore but okay; however, the lateral side of my left knee was not as okay.

After the first day of descending, my knees were sore, but I hoped by stretching upon arrival and before starting the next morning, I would be okay. I started down the trail on day 7 of my trek and instead of trekking or even just walking, my gait is best described as hobbling. I am soon passed by Tim, Mark and the rest of Team Australia, who take pity on me and offer help. They start pulling out their wrapping tape, scissors, and strong anti-inflammatory medication. I take out my razor in an attempt to shave where the tape will be placed to avoid the unnecessary “waxing” that would occur upon its removal. My shaving was helpful although I know it wasn’t perfect based on the burn I felt when tearing the tape off.

The LCL works with the MCL, ACL and PCL (also located in and around the knee) to provide stability. With my lateral collateral ligament unhappy, the tape would have to help maintain said stability. Two wide strips were placed where the LCL and MCL are located on either side of my patella bone, and two narrow strips were wrapped around the top and bottom holding the thicker tape in place and hopefully locking the knee.

In the end, my knee was stabilized, my pain was lessened, and the final stretch of my Himalayan adventure made much more enjoyable. I owe those days to Team Australia. Thank you! Fortune and luck were again on my side and it’s hard for such a pattern to go unnoticed.

Trekking Solo

More than anything, trekking solo meant I could set my own pace, start when I wanted, break when I wanted, and take photos when I wanted. Because the Annapurna Base Camp trek is relatively popular, there were many others on a similar path to me, and oftentimes, I would run into the same faces again and again.

I knew that the views would be spectacular and the trek challenging, but I did not realize how much I would connect with some of the other trekkers along the way. These individuals added to the journey as much as any of the vistas. Here are some of those faces that made my trek so memorable.

At the Annapurna Sanctuary Lodge

Subash and I on the trail

Team Australia and me

Me with Team Korea

Jump shot

Gurung Wedding Photo

Hot Springs near Jhinu

Tilla and I have the same hat

The lodge at base camp

My new friend and I in Ghandruk

Guides, porters, and friends

Back in Pokhara, safe and sound


Portoculture (n.) – the study of guides and porters who trek through Nepal (etymology: derived by combining the words porter and culture, the term portoculture was not in use until 2011).

Scenario 1: Food/Drink Service

At each of the lodges, all food orders were placed with the trekkers’ respective guides and porters, the order was then relayed to the kitchen, eventually the food was given to the guide, and finally the meal was delivered to the trekker by the guide. This same relay system also occurred when it came time to pay. Although it seems inefficient, this is part of the service structure that has been set up over a long period of time, and it was how I operated with Subash probably about 90 to 95% of the time.

Scenario 2: Card Games

Many days, trekkers and their guides arrive early to their destination and are faced with the task of passing the time. Domal and Dalmara (I probably butchered the spelling here) are two card games that the Nepali guides taught me over several afternoons of looking for ways to stay busy. One afternoon, I learned a third card game and when I indicated that I was ready to play, the guide told me that they were gambling. I asked how they were gambling if no money was changing hands and no one was recording the results of the games. He responded vaguely by saying that they were keeping track in their heads. I waited a little longer to see what happens, and eventually he won a hand, so I asked him how much money that earned him. He avoided my question. Then I realized by gambling he meant try to take the silly foreigner’s money. To let him know that I caught on without saying so directly, later in the evening, I asked how much he won or lost. He said that he had broken even. I just smiled.

The next day, the same guide ended up at our lodge again, and this time I had started a game of cards with my own deck. We were playing Domal and not for money. He indicated that he wanted to gamble again. I made him spell out the rules very carefully. We bet 5 rupees on each game, and by the end of the hour, I was up 65 rupees (almost 1 USD). Gambling did make the game more exciting (probably because I was winning), and made the afternoon go very quickly.

Scenario 3: Dal Bhat

Dal Bhat is a meal consisting of rice, lentil soup, curry, and vegetables. I ate many throughout my trek because it was the only dish that kept coming until I was full. Bottomless Dal Bhat can fill up anyone. This was also the meal that the guides would eat at least two and sometimes three times a day. It was identical to what we ate, except they always used their right hand to eat, and eating curry, rice, and soup with a hand is an impressive feat.

Scenario 4: Guide to Guide Loyalty

The guides are very loyal to each other and to “the business.” As I was making friends along the trail, one morning Subash turned to me and asked if we talked about “the business.” I had an idea to what he was referring, but acted otherwise and said no and asked him what the business was. He was referring to the business of trekking operators, their costs, their programs, and their perks. He then proceeded to say that the guides are angered when we talk of such things. I wanted to tell him that when you have over 100 businesses offering almost identical services, it is hard not to price compare in a capitalistic society, but I just nodded and said thanks for letting me know.

Another example of guide to guide loyalty occurred one evening when I was talking to a guide who had previously worked with the owner of my trekking operator. He was describing treks off the beaten path, seeing another part of Nepali culture, and walking paths that were just opening up to the public. When I asked for his email and contact information for the next time I visit Nepal, he refused to give it to me. He explained I should talk to my current trekking operator and ask for him. I told him I understood his concerns and that we could exchange contact information as friends and that I would not tell anyone we had done so. The next morning he reluctantly gave me his information.

Stories Heard Along the Way

Trekkers talk trekking. Throughout my journey, I learned of famous climbers past as well as stories of those currently on the trail, and only the biggest of world news made its way up to the top. In my case, this meant learning about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In this entry, I will describe some of the more memorable stories/rumors that spread over the mountain. Before even departing on my trek, I was talking with a couple who had just returned from Everest Base Camp, and they had a frightening tale to share. They described a girl under 30 years old at around 4400 meters on her way up to Everest Base Camp. She felt horrible, her lips were blue, her symptoms numerous, and her energy completely depleted. She did not continue her ascent and instead stayed at a lodge at 4400 meters while the rest of her group left her behind. The guides and other local Nepali were confident that if she rested at that altitude, her condition would improve and she could descend with her group when they returned. Sadly, she never had the chance to descend. A couple days later, this young girl at a high, but not excessive altitude of 4400 meters, passed away. The dangers of the mountain are real, and it is important to listen to our bodies as we trek.

This next story occurred on the same night I was at Annapurna Base Camp; however, I did not learn about it until the following day. This time, symptoms of altitude sickness came suddenly to a woman of about 40 years after she reached ABC. Her condition escalated so quickly that there was little time to react before she slipped into unconsciousness. She had to be carried from Base Camp and eventually helicoptered off the trail. I do not know how this story ends, but if she suffered from something as serious as cerebral edema, the risks are very serious.

Climbing and trekking is an exhilarating and sometimes dangerous activity. Annapurna’s highest peak holds the greatest death rate with respect to those who attempt to reach the summit. Although not many have tried, I heard about one of every two climbers die trying to summit Annapurna. In comparison, summiting Mount Everest has a lower death rate but higher total deaths because of the large number of attempts each year.

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek Itinerary

Me at ABC

Annapurna Map
With Nayapul as the heart, the artery and vein of my journey can be traced as red and blue. Click map to enlarge

Day 1

Start: Nayapul (1070 m)

Lunch: Sudame

Destination: Tikhedhungga (1540 m)

Lodge: Chandra Guest House

Trek difficulty: Easy to breathe and easy to walk though there was some climbing. The day was overcast and the temperatures remained moderate.

Highlight: The highlight today was getting to know the other trekkers doing similar routes to me. There was a Japanese woman with a Nepali boyfriend staying at my same lodge. There was a man from Hong Kong also traveling solo, and although he seemed too cool to talk to anyone, I tried anyway. To pass the time, Subash taught me a couple fun Nepali card games that I would be able to use to impress the other guides and porters over the duration of the trek. And I met Paula from Chicago. She was staying at the lodge next door, and I realized we had taken the same bus from Kathmandu. We shared stories over some chicken curry and banana pancakes before heading to bed early so that we would be ready to go bright and early the next morning.

Clouds come every afternoon

Day 2

Start: Tikhedhungga

Lunch: Nangge Thanti

Destination: Ghorepani (2860 m)

Lodge: Sunny Hotel

Trek difficulty: The first two hours were all at a challengingly steep incline. Afterwards, the path remained semi-level or slightly uphill.

Highlight: The two highlights from today were recognizing that I was, in fact, climbing through the Himalayas from the first two hours of intense climbing. These hours let both my lungs and my water bottles feel their wrath. Before lunch I went through 3 liters of water and didn’t even feel I had to go to the bathroom because I lost all that water while perspiring. The second highlight was at my Ghorepani Lodge, where I played cards with some of the guides, porters, and Grace and Eva (both from Hong Kong), and I had a chance to play basketball with the local Nepali children as the sun set shining on the snow-capped mountains.

View from Sunny Hotel in Ghorepani

Day 3

Start: Ghorepani

Sunrise hike: Poon Hill (3193 m)

Lunch: Ban Thanti

Destination: Tadapani (2630 m)

Lodge: Himalaya

Trek difficulty: Today was an easy day that started early with the sunrise walk and ended early in Tadapani. The hike to the top of Poon Hill was steep, but it lasted less than an hour.

Highlight: Watching the sun touch one mountain peak at a time as it climbed into the sky was surreal and very photogenic. After it rained much of last night, the sky was almost perfectly clear, with just a couple clouds to provide the rays of sun more surfaces to light. In addition, after a nice walk through the forest and along a river, I spent the afternoon and evening playing cards and learning the stories of the other trekkers, guides, and porters also staying in Tadapani. The temporary Tadapani community we created felt so natural and warm that I was sorry to leave it behind the next day, but maybe it was its ephemeral quality that made the community all the more special.

Sunrise from Poon Hill

Tibetan flags on Poon Hill

Along the trail to Tadapani

Day 4

Start: Tadapani

Lunch: Chhomrong

Destination: Sinuwa (2360 m)

Lodge: Sinuwa Lodge

Trek difficulty: Tough! Although we lost almost 300 m in altitude, we did so by making our way through two valleys– down, up, back down, and back up. I was exhausted. Upon arriving, I needed a Coca-Cola’s worth of sugar to be functional enough to change into warmer clothes and get ready for dinner. The rain during the second half of the day added to the challenge as the trail because slippery and my rain coat uncomfortable.

Highlight: Subash and I are the first to arrive at our lodge, and after gaining back some energy from the day, I asked Subash if he thought that others would be coming. He didn’t know. I see a couple pass by, hesitate, and the look around, The owner of the lodge runs outside and says something in Napali to their guide. I watch hopeful that they might choose the lodge. They start to walk away, the lodge owner disappears into the kitchen, and then I see them hesitate again and turn around. I yell to the owner that they are coming back and she smiles at me and goes back outside. These two trekkers from Belgium will be my hiking buddies and eventually good friends as we all make our way up to ABC.

Sunrise from Himalaya Guest House in Tadapani

School in the mountains

Day 5

Start: Sinuwa

Lunch: Himalaya (2920 m)

Destination: Deurali (3230 m)

Lodge: Panorama Guest House

Trek difficulty: Difficult and again it is up and down and up and down. The Annapurna trek doesn’t believe in flat. Even at the end of today’s hike when we are eye level with our lodge, we need to climb up, down, and then back up again before reaching our destination. That said, a slow and steady pace made the day more than manageable. I felt much better after day 5 than I did after day 4.

Highlight: The sun was out most of the day, the views were beautiful, and I was finding my “trekking groove”. It is also a great feeling when I was able to arrive to my lodge just before bad weather rolled in and that is exactly what happened today. Minutes after getting to the Panorama Guest House, visibility drops to nothing, the temperature falls, and rain drops start appearing. Again, the small group staying at my same lodge was very friendly, and many of them enlightened me about the famous climbers who had attempted the famous Himalayan peaks.

Sunrise in Tadapani

Day 6

Start: Deurali

Destination: Annapurna Base Camp (4130 m)

Lodge: Annapurna Sanctuary Lodge

Trek difficulty: Although the path itself presented with only moderately difficult inclines, the continual rise in altitude made this last day to our destination a true challenge. Luckily, it was only a half day and the motivation of knowing what lay ahead was enough to keep me going strong.

Highlight: The highlight today was watching the clouds clear as the sun was setting. I forgot about the tough times getting there, I forgot about the mitten I had lost earlier that day on the trail, and I forgot about the challenges that were ahead in getting back down the mountain. At the moment, surrounded on all sides by white mountains towering at around 8000 meters high, there was no where else I rather be. The sky was changing colors while I walked around the Annapurna Sanctuary seeking out the perfect perfect of this uncapturable moment. The sun sets, I go back into the lodge’s dining room, have some pizza and a lot of hot masala tea while the guides and guests all play cards, Yatzy, and compare stories of our journeys to the top.

On the way to ABC

Pond at ABC

Day 7

Start: Annapurna Base Camp

Lunch: Dobhan

Destination: Sinuwa (2360 m)

Lodge: Sinuwa Lodge

Trek difficulty: Much harder than I had anticipated. A long day of mostly downhill can be brutal on knees, ankles, and feet. And the difficulty of downhill is only compounded when it starts to rain as it did for the second half of the day.

Highlight: Waking up at 5am for the moment I had awaited the whole journey had to be the highlight of the day. As the Annapurna Sanctuary warmed up while the sun climbed over the mountains, I wish I could’ve been there forever. However, at around 8am, the descent back down began. Climbing down almost 2000 meters and unfortunately with a lot of interspersed uphill made for a sore evening. For dinner, I had some tomato soup with gurung bread to warm up, but as I ate, I could not shake the anxiety of what tomorrow would be like if my joints didn’t feel better. A highlight, though, would have to be after reaching Sinuwa, where I arrived to a full lodge of excited trekkers both on their way up and back down the mountain. This was the first evening that I crossed paths with a group of 8 Australian trekkers, who would end up being some of the best trekking partners. I would eventually get to know all eight of them plus their 2 guides and 4 porters. They were a wonderful group that I feel so fortunate to have run into.

ABC Sunrise

ABC Sunrise BW

Day 8

Start: Sinuwa

Destination: Jhinu (1780 m)

Lodge: Jhinu Guest House

Trek difficulty: Today should’ve been one of the easiest day. It was a short distance, all down hill, and the weather was overcast yet dry. Unfortunately, extremely sore knees can turn even the easiest of days into a challenge.

Highlight: My sore knees ended up being both a negative and a positive. A short way down the path, the Australian team came up behind me, recognized the pain I was in, and fixed me up. Tim and Mark gave me a stronger anti-inflammatory and taped up my knee in an attempt to stabilize my patella. Although I didn’t feel 100% afterwards, their tape and medicine worked! I was soon caught up to them and continued with Team Australia to Jhinu. Later that afternoon, soaking my sore knee in the Jhinu Hot Springs was exactly what my muscles craved and I gained a little more confidence about the upcoming days.

Tree next to path to Jhinu

Day 9

Start: Jhinu

Destination: Ghandruk (1940 m)

Lodge: Annapurna Guest House

Trek difficulty: Today was downhill for the first third, and uphill for the next two. Again, the trek was only a half day of walking, and luckily for me, the uphill does not hurt my knee in the same way that downhill does.

Highlight: Upon arriving in Ghandruk with the Australian trekking team, we have a big lunch and then walk around the relatively big town. We dress up in wedding gear, and I “get married” to the four Australian women as well as to their assistant guide Tilla (because we happen to be wearing the same hat). The laughs we shared as we all got dressed continued straight into the evening as we all recapped highlights of our trek over some cold Everest Beers. For dinner, I had the most delicious Dal Bhat of the whole trek, and considering this may have been Dal Bhat number 15 of the trek, that is a true recommendation.

The path back to Nayapul

The path down continues in shade

Day 10

Start: Ghandruk

Lunch: Birethanti

Destination: Nayapul (1070 m)

Trek difficulty: Today was all downhill and flat, but my knees kept reminding me that they were tired. That said, especially after getting to the flat area, the day went very smoothly and easily.

Highlight: Walking back through the town of Nayapul, I remembered how I felt on that first day. I was nervous and anxious as I had little idea about what was to come and what to expect. Those last 20 minutes after lunch, I felt a sense of accomplishment as well as a tinge of sadness for having completed the trek. I will miss the lodges, the other trekkers, the friendly Nepalese, and getting up for sunrise most mornings to watch as the sun rose over the Himalayas. It was this sadness that made it clear how much I truly enjoyed this adventure.

Morning in Ghandruk

Ghandruk shines