Written By: Jim Miller
We landed in Kathmandu International Airport from Dubai after a 4.5-hour flight. It was a very quiet airport and receiving our visas was a breeze (US citizens qualify for a visa upon arrival after completing a brief form and paying $25). Our first take on Kathmandu (KTM) was that it was very dirty and sadly, not much progress had been made since the massive earthquake struck in April 2015. The second surprising takeaway was that almost everyone we encountered spoke English, which made it very convenient for us. We stayed one night in KTM but wanted to get a good night’s sleep so we kept our exploring to a minimum.
The next morning we woke up and caught our 7am bus to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. Most hostels in KTM sell bus tickets to Pokhara, but I recommend doing a little research because they may try to over charge you (we paid about $10 each). The bus was about 9 or 10 hours with several stops along the way for bathroom breaks and food.
Advice: When taking one of these buses, make sure you get one with A/C, especially if you are there in the summer time. It’s only about $2 more per person and definitely a game changer.
Once we arrived in Pokhara, we took a short cab ride to our hostel and settled in for a bit before speaking to our hostel owner about hiking packages. He quoted us about $110 each for a 3 day, 2-night hike that included everything: guide, food, lodging, and hiking permits.
My friend was a little skeptical so we walked around the city to do some more research. While eating at a local restaurant, we started talking to the owner about hiking and he gave us a lot of great recommendations knowing people in the tour guide industry.
The key part in our success to hiking Nepal was going hiking through the restaurant owner. Unlike the travel agencies or hostels, he has no real incentive to charge us more than it should cost. It does require another layer of trust, but we found most people in Nepal to be trustworthy and generally kind people. So we hammered out the details and met his friend who would take us on the hike the following morning.
The final arrangement included:
$30 dollars per person for the guide
$10 taxi out of downtown Pokhara
$12 housing and food accommodations per day
We departed in the in the morning to begin our journey to the start of the trail. We also coordinated for our own accommodations and food costs. He assured us that the guesthouses we would be staying at would be no more than a few dollars each per night and, again, we took his word.
At 4:30 am the next morning, we woke up and walked downtown to meet our guide at the restaurant which he awaited us with the taxi on standby. The main reason that we woke up so early to begin with was to see the sunrise at Sarangot, which was one of the stops along the way. However, when we arrived at Sarangot, it was too cloudy for us to see anything. Our guide informed us that it’s very difficult to predict the clouds in the mountains because they roll around from peak to peak very quickly. Our second stop was at a small restaurant for a quick breakfast (eggs, toast, and tea) before continuing towards the Australian Basecamp.
There were small villages along the way that we would stop at for 10-minute intervals and much needed breaks every couple of hours.
Advice: The kids at these villages would walk up to anyone who looked foreign and ask for candy, so it’s not the worst idea to bring some chocolate with you to give them. It costs us almost nothing, and it really puts smiles on their faces.
After we stopped in one of the larger villages, Kande, to have some lunch, we made our way up the final leg of the trek to the Australian Basecamp. By the time we got to that elevation, we were hiking right through some clouds and fog that was rolling over the mountains. It was pretty damn cool; our visibility was only a few feet and it made us feel even more isolated than we already had experienced.
Australian Base Camp
When we finally arrived at the basecamp, it was pretty cloudy so unfortunately, we couldn’t see any of the Himalayas around us. Needless to say, we were pretty bummed. We did however get a brief peek at them for about 5 minutes right before sunset, but no good photo opps. We ate dinner at the guesthouse and met a few people that were staying there as well, all interesting people with diverse backgrounds. Before going to bed I remembered that there happened to be a full moon out so I went on our roof to look at the mountains and was surprised to see Annapurna 2 (the 10th tallest mountain in the world) and Machapuchare! Both were fully visible and the snow from the peaks was reflecting the moonlight, which made for beautiful views. However, because they were so far away, we still had no good photo opps. So we took our mental photos as if that would be the last time seeing them.
I woke up at about 6am and looked out the window, but all I saw were clouds. I went to the main house for tea and hung out for a bit before looking up and being stunned to see that every cloud went away leaving both peaks fully exposed again (this time in the light)! I ran and woke up my friend so she could get her camera and take some shots before they disappeared into the clouds again. This time the clouds gave us almost an hour of unobstructed views before returning. We got so many great photos, it literally made our entire hike worth it! As the day progressed, the clouds would come and go as we wandered small trails around the Australian basecamp. After a long day, we hit the sack much earlier than the night before to prepare for the next day.
In the morning we woke up, had breakfast, then made our way back down the mountain. We were further down the valley than where we started, so it only took us about 5 hours to make it down. As you would expect, the way down is MUCH easier than the way up. We took a few of those little breaks and when we got to the bottom, we waited for a local bus to take us back to Pokhara. We said goodbye to our guide, thanked him, and gave him an extra $10 as a “thank you” and went on our way back to Pokhara to enjoy the rest of our stay there before taking the bus back to KTM the next day.