What You Need to Know About Traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal

Report from 5/29/18

I woke up this morning feeling a bit better than I did when I first arrived. The excitement returned, and I slept off some of the anxiety that accumulated. However, that does not mean that anything changed Kathmandu is honestly a city that is very loud, dirty, and traffic is absolute nonsensical chaos. I knew all this going in, but it doesn’t matter how much prep and research you put into it, nothing will really prepare you for your first time alone in a 3rd world country. And that is exactly what I am going to debrief you on today: The ugly, and the beautiful.

This morning I met my one other climbing partner that signed up for the same date block as I did. I do feel better that I’m not alone. Besides us two, our team will consist of 2 guides and 1 porter. There will also be a cook and staff up at Island Peak Basecamp. After our briefing meeting this morning at the Himalayan Glacier Office, our awesome guide took us to a few iconic sites. (I will tell you his name when I figure out how to spell it).  As excited as I was walking through the beautiful streets of Thamel that morning, here is where it gets interesting and my blood pressure probably shot through the roof: We had to take a taxi… in daytime Kathmandu traffic…

First off, I would like to say that after what I survived today, climbing a giant mountain is going to be easy! Now, you’re probably asking yourself “wait, what?!”. Let me explain… I am a very anxious person. I like the mountains because of the solitude. I hike alone most of the time because I like the quiet, and peace that comes from being in those mountains. I love that I live with trail heads in my backyard. I HATE going into the city. It’s stressful, fast paced and crowded. I’m not a fan. Anytime there is some sort of event, or party or something that forces me to go into downtown Salt Lake, I cringe, I complain, and I get stressed out. I deal with it, and I’m just thankful I don’t live somewhere like New York City or LA. Kathmandu is a very crowded, and very densely populated city. For those at home Kathmandu Valley is much like Salt Lake Valley… only half the size and double the population.

So, I put a crazy amount of faith into this taxi driver as he drove us all over town. This is what I learned about Kathmandu Traffic:

  1. There are no rules of the road… not really anyway. There are lines on some streets, and there are these weird giant pillars in the middle of certain intersections, and occasionally you will see traffic cops helping move things along on the busiest streets, but really, there is nothing like you see back at home. No street signs, speed limits, not even stop lights! Everyone just kind of goes. 
  2. Nepali drivers are probably the best drivers in the world, and Utah drivers really are probably the worst. Despite the seemingly organized chaos on the streets of Kathmandu, Nepali drivers have mad skills. They have to be extremely attentive. It’s like you’re driving through a neighborhood and kids on both sides of the street are accidentally kicking their balls into traffic, constantly. They are also incredibly aggressive and assertive drivers. Now, I don’t mean angry or road rage-y, I mean they find any window of opportunity and take it. There is CONSTANT honking, flashing brights at each other and weaving around cars and bikes, but non of it is with hostility, it’s all done as almost like a note of “hey I’m here” to bigger cars or pedestrians. 
  3. Traffic RARELY comes to a standstill. In rush hour in Salt Lake, there are several areas of the Valley that come to a complete standstill. In Kathmandu, because everyone is forcing there way around everyone, traffic is always moving.
  4. Car accidents are rare and if there ever is a car accident, it’s usually not a big deal. We have a max speed limit of 80mph in Utah. People die… all the time. Wrecks at home are often horrific. Because of the attentiveness of everyone on a bike or in a little Suzuki driving around Kathmandu, nothing really ever happens. There appear to be close calls everywhere to the untrained eye, but once you figure out how it all sort of “works” you realize that’s normal traffic for them. 
  5. Cows chill in the road. So do goats and monkeys. 

Now for the cool part. The part everyone scrolls down past all the other stuff to read right?

First we went to the infamous Shree Pashupatinath Temple. This is the giant, iconic and recognizable Bhuddist Temple in Nepal. Back in 2016 when the earthquake hit, the top of the temple completely crumbled. They have since rebuilt it and the site looks as if there never was an earthquake. 

We circled around the temple taking a million pictures before heading to our next stop, Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. This is where the internet sometimes gets confused. This is because the sites look very similar however the monkey temple is much, much smaller and has more architectural features. Many mistake Shee Pashupatinath for Swayambunath and vice versa. In fact, I myself thought that was the case. But names aren’t important, all that matters is the beauty that comes from these sites. It is indescribable. I had seen pictures of both, and for years I dreamed about it, but nothing compares to the real thing. The smell of incense in the air, prayers being offered, and despite the crowds, it is a peaceful place and completely worth the crazy drive.

A question I’m sure some are wondering, as I wondered myself, how is Nepal doing since the earthquake? Well, they are healing, but there is still a lot to be done. I’m sure I will see in the mountain villages later, as I have heard the status it is much worse , but in Kathmandu, the buildings that took the most damage were old, brick, and poorly structured. most of the city still stands. However, there are signs of damage and hurt everywhere still. as we drove around, there were lots that were still a pile of rubble that have yet to be rebuilt. Some sites were still in the rebuild process, many sidewalks and roads are still damaged, and there is a huge homeless problem. as we drove buy these beautiful temples, on the outside were dozens and dozens of people seeking sanctuary and refuge begging for rupees. It is a hard, sad, and humbling site to see, especially as I am there for leisure. The one thing to avoid is feeling guilty. Nepal thrives on tourism. By traveling to this country to visit, and showing interest in the historic sites, paying entry fees, paying permit fees for climbing, and buying local fare, that money helps their economy get back on track. I remember when the quake first happened, I wanted to jump on the first plane out here to help, but it wasn’t even aloud. Planes were grounded for days and no one was allowed into the country. Now, they appreciate the help, but they also just appreciate people coming to visit and taking an interest in their home country. Nepali pride is evident everywhere and as much as I enjoyed the temples in town, I cannot wait to see the mountains I came here for.

A Day in Singapore

Report from 5/28/18

Most people would freak at a 22 hour layover in a foreign country where leaving the airport requires you to obtain a visa. However, I had a blast!

Changi Airport is the BEST airport in the world, and I’m not just saying that. It has actually won “Best Airport in the World” for almost a decade straight! I arrived around 9pm Sunday night. Changi has transit hotels and lounges in every terminal so my first priority was finding one of the hotels and passing out. They charge by the hour to try to accommodate various flight schedules. I paid for 9 hours which ran be approximately $130USD. A little steeper than I would normally pay for a hotel but it was super nice! The only downside is I could not figure out how to adjust their thermostat so I kept waking up in a sweat. Singapore is so unbelievably humid and I sleep cold.

Anyways, woke up the next morning ready to explore. I had read about a free Singapore tour hosted by the airport that can be done without needing a visa so that was priority number 1. I found the registration booth, signed up and went and found some breakfast. The tour began at Merlion park where you get beautiful city views and of course get to take a picture with the infamous Merlion statue! We then drove through china town and little India and stopped in Maylay town where we got to see the beautiful mosque, wall art, and smell the delights of Ramadan festival foods. The night tours get to stop in the treetops garden, unfortunately the day tour does not, but I got to see a glimpse of it as we drove by.

Once I got back to the airport it was time for my own tour. My goal was to find and hit every garden. I hit all 3 of the main terminals but my all time favorite was the butterfly garden in terminal 3. I have never seen so many butterflies in my life!!

Singapore is known for being high end. People there fancy the “nice things” so Changi Airport is like a massive mall and all the shops are high end designers. But I’m not nor have I ever been interested in that kind of shopping. I found Singapore shops because I was in search of culture. Batik is the traditional garb of Singapore. Batik is the art of creating beautiful and intricate patterns in rich dyes. The Singapore Airlines flight attendants wear Batik as their uniform and I thought they were absolutely gorgeous and I wanted one. I literally had to buy the biggest size they had because they are sized for tiny Asian bodies, not broad shouldered, tall Americans. At least it fits!

After a long day of exploring I bid farewell to Singapore. My return layover will be much shorter and won’t allow as much time to explore. I arrived in Kathmandu last night to some immediate culture shock as it is a vastly different corner of the world. The city is loud, dirty, and traffic is absolute nonsensical chaos. I knew all this going in but it doesn’t matter how much prep and research you put into it, nothing will really prepare you for your first time alone in a 3rd world country. After a spike in anxiety, I got some sleep and am ready to face it head on because underneath all that are smells of incense, curry, and a culture I have loved and adored for years without ever even being here. Today we head to the main Himalayan Glacier Office and relax in town before we head to Lukla tomorrow. I am excited for what awaits me.

Solo Trekking

Finding myself in the woods.

Report from 10/7/15

Over the summer, I struggled through some life bumps in the road. After 6 years in therapy, I was finally getting to the bottom of my deepest darkest inner demons that had resulted in my depression as a teen, and my eating disorder during adolescence. This was that stuff no one ever wants to look at, let alone work on. As the school year began to close in on me, I decided I desperately needed some alone time in the mountains and not just a hike by myself, but an overnight trek into a quiet place where I could decompress, de-stress, and get in touch with that nature-linked spiritual side. I had hiked alone plenty sure, but I had never slept out in the wild alone. It was sure to be an interesting night.

Life delayed my solo trip for a few weeks, but once school started I knew I needed to make it happen before my brain felt like it was going to explode. A few weeks ago in mid-September, I embarked on my night alone in the wild. I picked a beautiful spot, in the saddle between Devil’s Castle and Sugarloaf Peak Utah; a saddle between two peaks that I had been curious about camping in for years.

I made it to the saddle just after sunset. The hike itself only took me two hours, but I had a much later start than I had hoped that day. I pitched my tent in a small wind shelter built out of slate, cooked my food, and went to lay down in my tent.

That night was NOT a quiet as I hoped…. The weather forecast was calm and clear, but just after dusk the wind picked up. Sleeping at 11,000 feet, I knew there was a chance of wind, but the normal wind pattern for this area of Utah has southerly and westerly winds which the shelter was built to block out. What I encountered were winds from the North winds which would blow into the doorway opening of the shelter and swirl around in my small little nook. My tent was SO LOUD, and the wind didn’t die down until after midnight. I felt myself digressing to my childhood ways of hiding under my sleeping bag from the wind as I slept alone, on a mountain, in the wind. At around 2am I was awoken by howling in the night. The saddle I was located on straddled 2 valleys with great acoustics and full of wildlife. I could hear the howling and laughter of coyotes but I couldn’t tell which valley the sound came from or how far away they were. I continued to hide in my sleeping bag wishing for the sun to come up. It was a new moon, and with a thin layer of cloud cover, the night was dark and empty. I had never felt more alone in my life. Not a star in the sky, no one to comfort me but myself. It was a test of strength of mind and a test of self.

I woke up the next morning just before the sun rose. It was calm, cool and the most refreshing feeling in the world (despite my lack of sleep). Every dark, lonely feeling from the night before was immediately washed away with the sun’s morning rays. I sat on the ridge overlooking the Albion Basin below me. The Autumn colors were glowing at first light and I felt that indescribable feeling of awe as I watched the sunrise. After about a half hour of just enjoying the view, I decided to greet the sun in the best way I could think of that had been inspired by a wandering friend… 😉

Something about that moment was awe-inspiring. (I don’t know what it is, but if you have never gotten naked in nature, I highly recommend it.) You feel completely free in every way imaginable. No worries, no stress, nothing to constrict you both mentally and physically. You really can embrace the world around you and truly become one with nature.

After my hippie moment, I finished off my morning by trekking up Sugarloaf Peak. It was a short hike from my campsite and it was a great way to finish off my experience. I had climbed these mountains countless times over and over but had never seen them quite like this. It was exactly what I needed and left me feeling rejuvenated for everything that was still in front of me. The greatest lesson learned in the whole experience was that despite whatever darkness or challenges you may come across in your life, you can make it through it and will be greeted with light on the other side.

~Sometimes you just have to get out there and get lost in the world~