Nepal Postscript

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Annapurna South

As you can probably tell, I love to travel, and part of what make travel so enjoyable is coming home. I am now home at last, with a head full of incredible memories of awe-inspiring mountains, the lakeside, tourist town of Pukhara, the humid, elephant-filled jungle lowlands of Chitwan National Park and the teeming city of Kathmandu.

Kunmig airport

The Modern Kunming Airport

I don’t know if I believe the slogan, “Getting there is half the fun”, but I can tell you this, getting home is a pain in the ass . . . literally! For us, it clearly won the battle of ‘the one bad day’ . . . or two. We were picked up at our hotel in Kathmandu at 1:30 on Friday afternoon (That’s around midnight on Thursday back on the left coast) for a 4:30 flight from Kathmandu to Kunming, China. We arrived there around 7:30 p.m. and had to pick up our checked baggage, as it could not be sent directly from Kathmandu to Los Angeles. Unfortunately our connecting flight to Shanghai, China wasn’t until 8:00 the next morning, so we had ‘a few’ hours to kill at the airport – like all night! We thought about going to a nearby hotel, but then decided we’d just tough it out and hang at the airport. After we wandered through all the shops, eateries and restrooms, we cozied up to an airport bench with our backpacks and luggage and tried, in vain, to get some sleep. The next morning we departed at 8:00 and arrived in a very smoggy Shanghai around 11:00 a.m. We then had about two hours to kill before departing for Los Angeles at 1:00 p.m. After an 11 hour flight, we arrived in LA at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I don’t think Patrick is going to let me book anymore of his flights.

For those keeping score at home, that’s crossing through 11 time zone and the International Date Line for a total of 36 hours from start to finish! Now that I’m in the comforts of my own home, I like to say that it wasn’t that bad – but it actually was.

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Those Damn Stone Steps

I think the message was clear from the blogs posted over the last two weeks that our favorite part of the trip was our time spent in the Himalayas – the scenery, the people, our time with Dom and Kirin and that feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day that was only relieved by a hot shower and a cold beer.

Each time I posted over the last two weeks, a Jimmy Buffett lyric echoed in my head and helped me realize why I love to travel and write:

“If you ever wonder why you ride this carrousel,

You do it for the stories you can tell”

So thank you Jimmy and thank you to all who followed us on our adventure and particularly those who took the time to comment on the blog – it’s always good to hear from home. I did try to respond to them all, but our schedule and connectivity issues wouldn’t allow, but I did read, and sincerely appreciated every one.

Thanks to sister Suzanne, who I’m sure edited and cleaned up my posts and kept me abreast of what was going on back home.

Thank you to Patrick, for taking two weeks off work to join me – I couldn’t have had a better trekking and travel companion. We spent 24/7 x 2 together and we’re still friends . . . I think.


Inspired by Jimmy Buffett

My biggest THANK YOU goes to my wonderful wife, Linda, who surprised me with this amazing trip for my 70th birthday. I have to admit that Kathmandu was not on my rather extensive ‘Bucket List’, but it turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime. I love you Linda and you cannot know how much this trip meant to me.



Day 9 – Nepal Diary: All Days Are Not Created Equal



Patrick and I talked about this when we were planning the trip – we figured that with a two-week adventure, we’re probably going to have at least one bad day. Today wasn’t really that bad, it just wasn’t that good. To start with, our driver picked us up in Pokhara at 7:30 and took us to the drop off point for the river rafting. We’re OK so far.  Fortunately he hung around to see us off, but soon we discovered that the rafting trip was poorly organized, over-crowded and an over an hour late of the estimated time of departure . We decided that this raft ‘float’ in 90-degree temperature, with humidity to match, was not going to be that fun, so we hopped in the car and continued on to Chitwan – which, on these narrow mountain roads, was a white-knuckle adventure in itself.

About 10 miles out of Chitwan the topography changes dramatically. The majestic mountains disappeared and we found ourselves in a flat, jungle environment. Chitwan is in south Nepal, very close to the India border, and we could see a difference in the look of the people as well as a more definite Indian/Hindu influence in the culture versus the China/Tibet, Buddha influence we found in northern Nepal.


What, me worry?

Our accommodations in Chitwan, the Parkland Hotel, were excellent; nice room, three good meals a day and beautiful grounds. The only problem was their wifi was not working and I had a deadline to meet to get this blog published. I told a hotel employee that I really needed to get on my computer and he said he would take me to a cyber-café in a neighboring village. I followed him out to the parking lot and watched as he fired up his motorcycle and motioned for me to get on the back. I checked to see if he was wearing a shirt that read on the back, “If You Can Read This, The Idiot Fell Off.” He was not, so I hopped on. It was a short ride to the cyber-café where I was able to post yesterday’s blog. I assume I’ll have to do the same for this one. What I won’t do for you guys!!!


How they keep elephants still at night

Before dinner a guide took us on a nature walk to view some elephants, which was fairly interesting. What I’ve noticed from trips to both Africa and here is that guides go to great lengths to tell you the difference between an African elephant and an Indian/Asian elephant, like we were going to be quizzed on it later. After hearing all the differences I broke it down to its simplest terms: if you’re in the India/Asia area you’re going to see an India/Asia elephant and if you’re in Africa you’re going to see an African elephant.   Class dismissed. If the guide hadn’t taken so long to explain the differences we might have not got caught in a torrential downpour at the end of our walk. Everyone came back to the hotel soaked. After changing into some dry cloths and having dinner, we were driven to a neighboring village to watch a cultural dance exhibit put on by local artists. It was actually fairly good, but it made me wonder what America would do for a cultural dance – probably some mix of Gangnam style and a Moon Walk.

I sort of feel like a sloth today, no 7 mile trek before lunch.

On a personal note I must admit that my full attention was not in Nepal today, but rather thousands of miles away at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angles, where daughter, Darlin’ Dana is going in for heart surgery at 4:30 Tuesday morning. It’s not as major as her surgery last year; it’s the insertion of a stint, but no heart surgery is minor. So my thoughts, prayers and focus are there until I hear she is in post-op and doing well.



Day 8 – Nepal Diary: Descent into Pokhara



We depart Sarangkot around 7:30 a.m. and head down the mountain – more stone steps (Don’t get me started!) It is only about a two-hour trek until we reach the lake on the outskirts of Pokhara. We walk along the lakefront where there are many restaurants and bars – it’s the off-season, so things are fairly quiet. We walk to our hotel. It has been overcast all morning, which is great for trekking, but not so good for picture-taking.

I amused myself on the way down the mountain by listening to ‘The Question Man’ – Patrick. He is a very bright guy and I’m guessing part of the reason he’s so bright is that he asks a lot of questions. Over the course of the week I’m sure he asked Dom 500 questions. I can’t remember them all, but some of the more interesting ones were:

Does Nepal have earthquakes? When was the last one? What magnitude was it?

What’s the average age of people in Nepal? Tibet?

When were all these rice patties built?

Any idea what the tensile strength is of these suspension bridges?

Is this hydro plant water pipe a class 150 flange with grade 3 bolts? (Seriously?!)

Who carries those refrigerators up to those teahouses?

How come you and Kirin don’t sweat?

He would constantly ask Dom how far to the next village; the conversation would go something like this:

Patrick: How long will it take us to get to the next village?

Dom: Maybe 2 hours and 15 minutes or 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Patrick: (always the engineer) Which is it, 15 or 30?

If you need to know the answers to any of the above questions, Patrick has them.

We checked into our hotel in Pokhara; yes an actual hotel, two nice beds, carpet on the floor, enclosed shower, tv and air conditioning, which was needed as it was very humid. Aside from the clouds covering most of our views, we have been fairly lucky with the weather, never been rained on while we were trekking, but it always rained after we arrived at our destination. Today was no exception, as soon as we checked in, the monsoons started.

We rested a few hours and decided we’d try to find the ‘airplane restaurant’. We did and had a rather surreal dinner there. A two-engine prop 2014-06-07 07.14.26airplane that could carry about 8 passengers in its day, was sitting on top of the restaurant roof where you could actually sit in it and eat – because food on an airplane is always so good! So that’s what we did. There were three other people having dinner in there and while it was a little claustrophobic it was a meal I won’t soon forget.

Pokhara is the largest tourist city in Nepal due to its proximity to Himalayan trekking trails; it has a population of about 300,000 and the main street, which is filled with trekking equipment stores, looks like any other tourist town with restaurants, bars and tee shirt shops. I found it interesting to watch the traffic patterns (actually there were no patterns) There is not one stop light or stop sign in town, there are no lines on the road and there is a constant stream of cars and motor bikes looking like they are driving headlong into each other, but somehow it works.


Hillary & Norgay

The highlight of our time in Pokhara was a visit to the International Mountain Museum. It is the Cooperstown of Nepal. Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are the Babe Ruth and Willie Mays of this place – they are deities. The museum is filled with great photos, old trekking gear and biographies of some of the greatest mountain climbers of all time. One Sherpa had ascended Everest 12 times, another had remained on top of Everest for a record 21 hours! The country with the most impressive climbers was South Korea; many climbers had multiple ascents of Everest as well as all the other 8,000-meter mountains in the world. One Korean lady had summited the tallest mountains (including Everest) on all seven continents without the aid of supplemental oxygen! The place was really awe-inspiring . . . oh to be young.

The museum also featured an exhibit on the Yeti, the mystical ‘Big Foot’ of the Himalayas. Shown here is a picture of Patrick standing next to the Yeti, can you tell which one is which?

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Which one’s the Yeti?

We have dinner (our first meal without Dom) at a Thai restaurant and get ready to start the ‘tourist’ part of our trip as we sweep out our shorts and head to the jungle region of Chitwan.

I miss the mountains already.



Day 7 – Nepal Diary: In Search of that Religious Experience


Annapurna I

As we left Tolka, the innkeeper told us that she had a brother who owned an ‘airplane restaurant’ in Pokhara, that we should stop in and see him and have dinner. We said we’d try and headed off to the next village, but not before I got this great photo of the sunrise on Annapurna I. We trekked about 6 miles, on mostly what they refer to in Nepal as flat, a little up and a little down (the little ‘up’ was 1200 feet and the little ‘down’ was 1700 feet). The great views that we thought we were going to get by going this route were obscured by a heavy cloud cover.  We thought we’d stay in the village of Dhampus, but when we got there we were told there was no power and no wifi, so after having lunch, we continued down the mountain for another 3 miles and thousands more of those stone steps. There just seems to be no redeeming quality to those stone steps, they exhaust you if you’re going up, and pound your knees if your going down and they keep you from seeing anything else around you as your total focus must be on you next step or you’ll be doing a face plant in one of them. When I get home, I’m taking out the stone steps I have in the back yard – they’re flat, but I just don’t want the reminder!  We reached the village of Phedi at the bottom of the mountain and there was actually a road and we see moving vehicles for the first time in 6 days. At the bottom we have a decision to make; our goal is to get to the village of Sarangkot at the top of the next mountain. People from all over the world come to Sarangkot to view the spectacular sunrise over the Himalayas. They say it is like a religious experience.

Village view


It would indeed be a religious experience for me, because if I attempted to go that extra 8 miles, straight up, I would be meeting my maker. Dom looks at Sarangkot then looks at me and says, “Are you ready?” Then breaks out laughing and says, “We’re taking a cab to Sarangkot”. Who knew that a cab could be part of the whole trekking experience? Where were the cabs on Days 1-2?

The cab ride was an experience in itself. Four of us, plus the driver and all our gear crammed into a car the size of a refrigerator. I got to sit, knees in my face, up front with the driver, whom, I’m guessing hadn’t showered since February . . . 2013. Of course after trekking for the last 7 hours I wasn’t exactly a bouquet of roses myself. The fact that they drive on the ‘other’ side of the road didn’t help the white-knuckle experience of going up the mountain. The cabbie ultimately let us off about a half mile from the village as the road was too rutted and muddy for him to go any further. We happily walked the rest of the way in the fresh air.


Sunrise from Sarankot

Sarankot offers a great view of the city of Pokhara and Lake Phewa Tal, it was a little hazy, but still a great view and a great resting place. After a cold beer and dinner we watched a movie on my computer, Into Thin Air – the story of death on Everest. Not exactly a musical-comedy, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. We settle in early and set our alarms for 5:00 a.m. so we could wake up then walk up to the observation point and watch the spectacular sunrise over the Himalayas. The alarm went off and I looked outside and I could barely see the dog that was right outside our window barking all night – everything was socked in. No spectacular sunrise today. No religious experience. I rolled over and went back to sleep.







Day 1 – Nepal Diary: The Ass-Kicking

By Bob Sparrow

Nepal: Monday, June 2, 2014

NOT the Four Seasons

NOT the Four Seasons

It was a long day yesterday, I guess it was two days, but we arrived on time and in one piece. The Kathmandu airport was strangely bustling at 10:00 last night. After clearing customs we looked for ‘our ride’ outside – it’s strange to see your name on a sign half way around the world, but there it was. It was not raining, but it had been most of the day, so the streets were muddy and filled with potholes. Our hotel, The Shakti Plus would not be mistaken for the Four Seasons. We climbed to the fourth floor (no elevator) and settled in to our small room. The bed had all the comfort of a pool table, which one might have slept on during college when over-served, not that I could relate to that. Given the cacophony of noise coming up from the street outside and the squadron of dive-bombing mosquitoes on the inside, sleep didn’t come. But reclining and closing my eyes was a relief from those cushy airline seats. After a hot, invigorating shower, OK cold showers are also very invigorating; we’re back to the airport for more flying. Oh boy!

We board a twin-engine prop Shirik Airline plane – I think Shirik is Nepalese for Rickshaw. The flight is actually quite smooth as we pass the Himalayan Mountains on our right. This is the first that we’ve seen them and they are magnificent! We land in Pokhara and are met by our Sherpa guide (Dom) and our porter (Kirin). We are then driven through the lakeside village of Pokhara and head up into the foothills. The scenery changes from bustling ‘city-life’ to one of spreading farms. We see cows, horses, goats, chicken, corn and lots of dry rice fields waiting for the monsoons to fill the patties terraced on the hillside. In about an hour and a half we reach our trailhead town of Nayapul.

We ‘saddle up’ our packs and the ass-kicking begins. The first part of this hike is basically straight up for about 7 miles using rock steps. Did I mention that it was ass-kicking? Six hours later we wearily stumble into the village of Ghrandruk with a spectacular view of the Annapurna mountains. Patrick and I agreed that we had never been on a more exhausting hike, not Half Dome, not Whitney – this was serious!

We get nice accommodations, for the area, take a shower and our plan was to get something to eat, but we both laid down and didn’t get up until morning to the crowing of a rooster at 3:30 – I resolved to have chicken for dinner that night.


Going to Kathmandu

by Bob Sparrow

“If I ever get out of here, I think I’m going to Katmandu”                                                                                                

                        Katmandu, Bob Seger



If Saturday’s Air Canada Flight 55 out of Los Angels to Vancouver was on time, I will indeed be ‘out of here’ and in Kathmandu by the time you’re reading this. No, LA to Vancouver didn’t seem like the most direct way to me either, but it actually was the first leg of the shortest (time-wise) that I could find . . . and afford – 26 hrs 33 mins (My back hurt just writing that). From Vancouver to Guangzhou, China (which is about 95 miles northwest of Hong Kong) and from there into Kathmandu, Nepal. Why Kathmandu, you ask? It was a 70th birthday gift from my wife. No, it was not a one-way ticket! Like most things she buys, she got a ‘deal’ on Groupon – a 12-day trip for two to Nepal, which included a 5-day trek into the Himalayas. Not being a hiker herself, she is not part of the ‘for two’. So I’m with my hiking buddy, who I’ve done lots of hikes with, including Mt. Whitney and Half Dome, Patrick “Trail Boss” Michael. He’s a good friend & neighbor, a good hiker with a quick smile and an engineer by trade, so we have checklists for our checklists. We had both been looking forward to this trip for several months, when after we told a 70+ lady our itinerary, she said that she and several of her friends did that same trip last year. We thought, ‘This may not be quite the adventure we were looking for’, so I contacted our travel agent and asked if there was a little more challenging trek we could take. She answered in spades. We’re now spending 8 days trekking in the Himalayas, with a Sherpa guide and a porter (we’re not sure if that’s a person or an oxen) and reaching altitudes of just under 14,000 feet.Pokhara We should have arrived in Kathmandu around 10:30 Sunday night and be flying out of Kathmandu early Monday morning (because we needed some more flight time!) into the city of Pokhara (photo at right) where our trekking will begin that afternoon. Over the next several days we will be working our way up to Annapurna Base Camp at an elevation of 13,500 feet. Annapurna, at 26,545 feet is the 10th highest mountain in the world, but ranks #1 as the most dangerous to climb – it has a summit-to-fatality ratio of 38% (By contrast, Mt. Everest has a 9% ratio). That’s only one of the reasons we’re only going to Base Camp, no fatalities there unless it’s from the dal-bhat-tarkari soup. We’ll also be visiting the beautiful Chitwan National Park, doing some river rafting, taking an elephant ride safari, where we hope to see the elusive Bengal Tiger as well as traveling by ox cart through an elephant breeding camp to our hotel. I’ll be used to the oxen’s pace having driven in LA commute traffic.


Bengal Tiger

Nepal is 12 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Pacific Daylight Time (Yes, 45 minutes, just another oddity of this part of the world), so I’ll try to sum up my activities at the end of my day and post so you’ll get it that morning. I’ve read that wifi can be very dodgy over there, so if you don’t hear from me I probably just can’t connect . . . or had a very boring day. We’re crossing our fingers that the monsoons don’t come earlier than expected . . . oops, wait a minute, I just checked the 10 day forecast for Nepal: Rain and thunderstorms everyday for the first week.

It’ll be an adventure!