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Hi, I am Tereza. The Sketching Project is me sketching everyday life around me, all over the globe.

Life Around the Himalayas: TREKKING IN NEPAL

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had moved to England after spending half a year travelling, volunteering and exploring different places and cultures around the globe. And the current lockdown makes me fully aware of how lucky I have been! What's even more, I get the opportunity most travellers never do: sit down and live again through the adventures I experienced. The result? This blogpost, packed with my sketches, photos, little stories that will allow you to relive my journey. Today, I will take you to the 11-day trekking adventure of today's blog post formed the beginning of my two-months long trip to Nepal.

Who is this blog post for?

  • All of us locked down at home, feeling the urge to get out there and see the world

  • All the explorers aiming to experience new places from a local perspective, uninterested in overpriced areas crowded with tourists

  • Everyone who loves nature, animals and beauty

  • Anyone who wants to know about how different people around the world go about their everyday business. You will wander alleyways and streets, sneak into households, meet Nepalese people or try Nepalese dishes

  • Anyone travelling to Nepal in the future, who wants to find out useful tips and information

However, this blogpost is no comprehensive travelogue. During the weeks spent in Nepal, I saught an answer to a seemingly straightforward question:

What is everyday life in and around the Himalayas like?

I wanted to get to know people, live with them, and share all those little moments that make Nepali people Nepalese. I planned to wander the main streets of Kathmandu and Pokhara, but more importantly, to spend time in the suburbs and in villages, excited to find out what real life is all about. I wanted to climb hills and feel overwhelmed by the beauty of our world, and at the same time, to try to understand how people live in these hostile and remote areas.

Each day of my trekking adventure will be summarised in an authentic sketch or a photo with a telling story that goes with it. I focused on those helping me telling the story of everyday life in Nepal.

The ITINERARY for our first ten days in Nepal (7th - 17th October 2019):

  • Day 1: arrival to Kathmandu

  • Day 2: Kathmandu - minivan to Pokhara

  • Day 3: Pokhara (850 m) - taxi to Nayapul (1070 m) - Jeep to Kimche - walking up to Ghandruk (1940 m)

  • Day 4: Ghandruk (1940 m) - Meshar (2940 m)

  • Day 5: Meshar (2940 m) - Dobato (3420 m)

  • Day 6: Dobato (3420 m) - Muldai viewpoint (3640 m) - Chistibung (2975 m)- Khopra (3660 m)

  • Day 7: Khopra community lodge (3660 m) - Khayar Lake (4665 m) - Khopra community lodge (3660 m)

  • Day 8: Khopra (3660 m) - Chistibung (2975 m) - Swanta village (2200 m)

  • Day 9: Swanta village (2200 m) - Tatopani (1190 m)

  • Day 10: Tatopani (1190 m) - bus to Pokhara (850 m)

  • Day 11: Pokhara - bus to Kathmandu

I described a few necessary know-hows for this trek in one of my previous blog posts. If you plan on going yourself, have a look and click here!

Day 1: Kathmandu

On a bright morning 7th October 2019, just as the plane started slowly descending, I first glimpsed the Himalayas. Stepping out of the comfortable environment of our aeroplane, I inhaled the strong smell of dust. What first caught my attention was the dense cloud of smog resting above the city of Kathmandu. On one side lies Nepal; a country of inexplicable beauty, tranquillity and richness of nature and culture. On the other is Nepal; the loud and messy, with people dancing and shouting, with streets full of motorbikes, sellers and dirt. These two perspectives are going to form a never-ending source of surprises, making it impossible not to fall in love with this strangely amazing place.

Sketch 27: Business as We Know It

The first evening, I set the eyes of my pencil on a very mundane moment from Thamel, the bustling centre of Kathmandu. In the sketch, a tourist is trying to negotiate a better price for his fruits. A local is working hard to overcharge the foreigner, with a broad and friendly smile on his face. Definitely an everyday situation for everyone living in Nepal and a novelty for me, a European used to fixed prices. The first few times of such a strange shopping experience, I felt like in the middle of a bazaar that I only read about in books. But soon, this way of bargaining became a natural part of my day. Such was the first glimpse into Nepalese culture: I expected it to feel a bit random or confusing, but exciting and friendly.

Date: 7th October 2019, evening

Location: Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal

Day 2: Journey to Pokhara

It is said to be one of the most tourist-friendly cities in Nepal. With its Lake Side full of organic coffee shops, restaurants ranging from Mediterranean to Burgers or Chinese bistros, Pokhara might seem a bit out of place. But do not worry, we are in Nepal after all!

We arrived on a minibus from Kathmandu, a journey I highly recommend if you want to get to know Nepalese cities and people in them. Our transport was not "Tourist only", meaning it was was crowded, lacking air conditioning, and a lot of fun. Listening to (at this point still catchy and not yet annoying) Nepalese songs, we were slowly bumping our way forward, a 200-km long journey in neat 8-11 hours.

This was the first time ate breakfast as Nepalese: at 11ish, we stopped at a bistro, being served a full plate with legumes, rice, noodles, dal and curry. A slightly different experience to European toast and cornflakes! Needles to say, the food was delicious and cheap. In Nepal, I usually went by the rule: "The dodgiest the tastier", and it sure held true this time.

The journey gave me time to enjoy the scenery of settlements; with endless shops and restaurants, chaotic traffic, rubbish scattered everywhere, haphazard houses and sheds inhabited by people of all ages, playing, sitting and chatting, surrounded by animals of all kinds. Have we opted for an expensive bus with "lunch included" and a prescribed seat number, my experience would have been weaker.

Pokhara is known to be a western tourists-friendly city. The city has more of a structure than, for example, Kathmandu. Most streets have actual firm, built roads. However, stepping out of the bus far away from the famous Lake Side (the tourists' district) gave us valuable insights into what the real Pokara is about.

The first street we walked is captured in my sketch for the day.

Sketch 28: Boulevard, People and Goats.

I don't know whether the goats were supposed to graze on the hot concrete pavement, but apparently, this was the perfect place to have them.

Date: 8th October 2019, afternoon

Location: Pokhara, Nepal

Image 1 (please slide for next image): Me being appreciative of all the infrastructure lying beneath the surface of our cities, making them function smoothly.

2: A policeman taking his job very seriously, making sure the streets remain orderly.

3: The way the Nepalese run power lines in their cities. Completely random, hopefully not deadly, strangely photogenic.

In the evening, we searched for all the missing gear, stocked up on some energy bars, and gathered all the permissions for trekking from Pokhara's tourist information points. Nepalese cities have been chaotic, loud and vibrant, and we were ready to exchange them for a more natural scenery for a while...

Day 3: Pokhara (850 m) - taxi to Nayapul (1070 m) - Jeep to Kimche - walking up to Ghandruk (1940 m)

For our Nepalese trekking experience, we chose the Khopra Ridge Trek. It is a new and relatively unknown trek with all the views Himalayas have to offer, and starts here in Nayapul.

It was an ever so needed change to the congested urban areas. However, the first part of the trip, up to Kimche, was accessible to jeeps, making it quite dusty and difficult to walk. To save us from such experience, we took one vehicle as well, followed by a steep walk from Kimche up to Ghandruk.

1. The sceneries of the first day went something like this: rice fields, locals, fresh, healthy greenery.

2. As you can see, your cultural life won't stagnate in the Himalayas...

3. Bright green tones of the rice fields

4. A glimpse of Nayapul's architecture.

Sketch 29: iPhones and Geese

Just outside Nayapul, I encountered this young teenager, being online on his iPhone as all teenagers are. Resting on a pile of mud with geese surrounding him from all sides, he has inspired this sketch full of contrasts. Being on a trek in Nepal, you often see the effort to make things modern and progressive. Still, luckily, the once raw and natural environment has not been yet entirely lost.

Date: 9th October 2019, afternoon

Location: Nayapul, Nepal

Unlike the rest of the Khopra trek, the first two days were part of a more mainstream path. The village of Ghandruk was full of accommodations of all types, luring its customers by advertising traditional Nepalese German bakeries and pizzas.

Day 4: Ghandruk (1940 m) - Meshar (2940 m)

The journey from Ghandruk to Meshar leads through a mystical jungle, with streams of sunshine shining through the leaves, with monkeys springing from branch to branch. The hills are steep, and despite the sweat, you walk in awe.

1-3: The mystical forest underneath the Himalayas

On the fourth day, an elevation difference of 1000 metres lied ahead of us. Surprisingly, our route was far from empty. But it was not full of tourists either, for it was full of the Nepalese! Since it was a national holiday in Nepal, our trek was full of locals. Most of such trekkers seemed like they were heading to a shopping centre, wearing jeans, high-ish heels, heavy make-up, with a speaker in their hands, listening to hip hop. Walking in jungle-like forests and villages with hotels like the one on the following picture, they seemed a bit out of place. Or was it us with our quality gear and expensive boots who looked odd to them?

Wealthier tourists can afford load bearers carrying all their belongings, who carried excessive amounts of things of heavy items on their backs, WEARING FLIP FLOPS. I captured this in a rapid sketch below:

Sketch 30: The Way We Carry Things Around Here

Date: 10th October 2019, morning

Location: Just outside Ghandruk, Nepal

Day 5: Meshar (2940 m) - Dobato (3420 m)

A day made pleasant by pleasant encounters. Another image from the 'Nepal and smartphones' series.

1) Us reaching Dobato. What we thought would be our lunch break turned into a sleepover as thick fog caught up with us in the early afternoon.

2) Most 'hotels' proudly advertise Wifi and hot showers, however, that's usually nothing more than wishful thinking. Would one even want a Wifi here in the mountains, since that is one of the things she is trying to escape?

3) Amazon in the Himalayas? A donkey with regular food deliveries forms an essential part of infrastructure up in the mountains.

Day 6: Dobato (3420 m) - Muldai viewpoint (3640 m) - Chistibung (2975 m)- Khopra (3660 m)

Waking up 4:30 to walk up to Muldai viewpoint. This was the first time we got to the 360° view on peaks. We got to the top minutes before the sun rose, and watched the colours and sceneries changing in front of our eyes. We were on top of the world.

Up there at Muldai, we met this little buddy and liked him so much that we were honestly tempted to take him with us back home. The Himalayas are quite full of devoted dogs that will occasionally decide to accompany you for a part of your trek.

Sketch 31: Us and the Yaks

On our way, we met a herd of yaks, being all terrifyingly large (especially their horns) and uninterested in our presence. For us, however, they were a source of great excitement, and for the locals, a valuable source of food.

Date: 12th October 2019, early afternoon

Location: Between Dobato and Chistibung, Nepal

Later in the day, on a roughly half a meter wide path, we met (and somehow had to make our way through) a herd of dozens of sheep, with a shepherd who accompanied them on their way through the mountains.

After a day of steep ascending to the viewpoint, descending to Chistibung and ascending to Khopra, we reached the highest sleeping point of our journey: the Khopra Community Lodge.

Day 7: Khopra community lodge (3660 m) - Khayar Lake (4665 m) - Khopra community lodge (3660 m)

1) Me, the highest I have ever been in life

2) Top of the world, sprinkled with snow

3) On a rocky road, surrounded by fog and alpine vegetation

4) Stairway to heaven?

1) 2) Yaks, posing

Day 8: Khopra (3660 m) - Chistibung (2975 m) - Swanta village (2200 m)

We have heard Swanta was supposed to be authentic, but we did not imagine for it to conceal such beauty. It is a place of almost no tourists, locals minding their business, kids running around, fruitful fields with fresh flowers and vegetables and huts of amazing shapes and colours. In no time, you feel like you belong, like you lived there for months.

1) Huts are all interconnected by a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, a layout promoting natural neighbourly interactions.

2) A hand-crafted wooden window

1) Us helping to pick herbs in the garden. After we ordered a pumpkin soup for dinner, our host simply went to the garden, picking a ripe squash, few carrots and potatoes, ready to start cooking the most organic dish I had in my life.

2) As we descended from the mountains to the valley, the scenery changed radically. As you can see, every day on the trek, our views and experiences were strikingly different from one another.

Day 9: Swanta village (2200 m) - Tatopani (1190 m)

From authentic Swanta with all its cottages, rice fields, organic gardens, and little pathways leading to cluttered backyards with cattle, we went on to join the crowds of the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) circuit on our last stretch to Tatopani. A flooded river (which took us the whole morning to cross) was now the only thing standing between us and the masses. After that, the journey to Tatopani became rather crowded, with people pouring in both directions of the ABC trek. Teahouses were less personal, and people just a bit less friendly.

1) A backyard with a cuddly surprise

2) Harvesting corn

Sketch 32: Play with whatever you have

The villages were starting to get bigger, with more locals living in them. This meant more kids playing in the streets and playing with whatever they had. This little group was engaged in a volleyball match, holding a string instead of a net.

Date: 15th October 2019, afternoon

Location: Near to Tatopani, Nepal

1) Lower below the mountains, farmers could even use tractors, making their lives significantly less harsh.

2) A boy playing in a pile of sand and garbage.

3) A DIY spring

After reaching the main road, we had to walk the last few kilometres in the middle of a cloud of dust and heavy traffic, which left us coughing and unhappy, only to find Tatopani, a place without much charm. Experiencing Nepalese roads made me think of probably the main reason why the Himalayas and most of its treks have not yet been attacked by mass tourism: Nepal's terrible lack of roads and infrastructure.

With our trekking adventure coming to an end, I was hesitant to return to Nepalese cities. I did not know what to expect from the upcoming weeks we were to spend in polluted, messy urban areas. However, I felt mysteriously attracted to the unknown, excited to find out how typical Nepalese live in ordinary settings...

If you want to browse the previously published sketches from Nepal, go and check them out here!

Thank you for travelling with me and The Sketching Project today,


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