Nepal - The Annapurna Base Camp trek (Part 1)
There are so many amazing trekking adventures when it comes to visiting Nepal. The Annapurna Base Camp trek is one of the most popular treks in the Annapurna region and now I know why. To be honest this was my first time on a high-altitude mountain, and I had no idea what to expect. No matter how much training you do, I think nothing prepares you enough. Yes, it was harder than expected but at the same time it has been a life changing experience. It’s a continued physical and mental struggle. I’ll try and take you through my trip, without sounding like a travel agent. My intention is to show you the beauty of the of Nepal and the Himalayas, through my eyes.
I must admit that my very first impression for Kathmandu was: Chaos! Retailers trying to sell you things, a dusty polluted atmosphere, people everywhere, were all I could see. After spending two days there, you realize that Kathmandu is so much more…it’s culture, rich history, beauty and welcoming people. Recovering from the 2015 earthquake Kathmandu has come a long way!
We were staying in Thamel, the absolute destination hikers since the streets are lined up with hiking equipment stores, souvenir shops, bars, hotels and restaurants.
On our second day we enjoyed a visit to Swayambhu, one of the holiest Buddhist stupas in Nepal, also known as “Monkey Temple”. The main entrance has 365 challenging steps which need to be climbed before you reach the main stupa complex. From the top of the hill, you can see a panorama of Kathmandu, along with frisky monkeys and prayer flags hanging around the temple.
Following this was our visit to the Pashupatinath Temple. The temple is the largest Hindu temple and is the holiest of all, dedicated to god Shiva. It’s located on the banks of Bagmati river, around 6 km east of Kathmandu. The water flowing in the Bagmati River is considered to be holy and it is used for cultural and ritual ceremonies practiced at the temples. Hindus arrive here to find shelter for the last days of their lives and be cremated on the banks of this holy river and the day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. It is believed that those who die in the Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as humans. The Bagmati River’s water is considered to purify the people spiritually and it’s believed that it washes away someone’s sins. All around you there is a feeling or mourning, grief and death and after witnessing a live cremation all I can say is that you can never forget the smell…the smell of death. Watching the ritual really gives you mixed emotions, respectful yet shocking.
Another cultural shock was the fact that monkeys are wandering around the temple complex on both banks of Bagmati river and are sometimes seen to eat parts of the cremated body, from the river. Cheeky creatures who are usually not friendly, snatching things from unaware tourists – sunglasses, food, cameras or mobile phones. While leaving the complex one of them run and grabbed an ice-cream right out of someone’s hands, within seconds! Would recommend: Do not make eye contact, stay away no matter how cute they might seem, evil little creatures.
Wondering around the Bagmati river complex you might meet Sadhus. You can recognise them from their unique, exotic appearance and the paint on their faces and bodies. The paint they use is made by the ash from the wood used to cremate bodies there. They believe the remains of fire protects their bodies from weather conditions and their souls against evil. Sadhus are wanderers, who are trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating. They gave up worldly pleasures and tend to live isolated, dedicating most of their time in self-purification, worship and devotion. Those who do not live in isolation tend to live in nomads, making holy Hindu places, like the Pashupatinath, their permanent or temporary residence. Sadhus are very friendly and willing to take pictures with you, but always with a fee so be prepared.
Following Bagmati River, our tour continued to the Boudhanath temple, one of the most impressive landmarks in Kathmandu and the largest stupa (35m high) in Kathmandu. Boudhanath is considered to be the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. It’s built in the shape of a mandala, replicating the Gyangtse of Tibet. On each side you can see the Buddha eyes which represent awareness.