Himalayan Photography Trip – Kathmandu to Pokhara

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke at around 4:30am and then again around 5:30am. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I just laid there and waited until an appropriate breakfast time. It was probably around 7am when I roused and headed downstairs for breakfast with Damion. Most of the group showed up within 30 minutes or so except for a couple that had come down with some illness.

After breakfast we had a lot of time to kill before we had to go to the airport for our flight to Pokhara. I guess I should explain that. When the plans changed from Tibet to Annapurna it was decided that based on our schedules that we would fly to Pokhara. Then we would spend one night there and the next morning we would take a bus to the trailhead for the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek. The flight on this day was going to be around 2-2:30pm and we were going to leave for the airport around 1pm. So like I said we had some time to kill.

At some point Ben mentioned that he had to go to Thamel to get some extra trekking pants due to the fact that we were going to be spending more time trekking than originally planned. Also Jon had asked him to purchase one of the cheap knock off duffels that all of the gear dealers sold. Since I also had so business to attend to in Thamel I asked if I could join him. We grabbed a taxi and headed to Thamel.

The streets of Thamel

Once we arrived in that district we walked by a few shops but finally stopped at a little corner shop that had “North Face” gear. Although it should have really been called “North Farce”. Anyway, Ben tried on and bought some pants as well as a small duffel for Jon. I also bought a duffel as I knew my purple bag was just too difficult to pack with everything in it. So for 300 rupees (about $4.50) I had another bag to throw stuff in to. So mission one was accomplished.

My second mission was to find the Thamel TB Hotel geocache. I enjoy geocaching and I absolutely had to log at least one in Nepal. I had planned ahead and grabbed four Travel Bugs (TBs) from a geocache in Orlando. A travel bug is a special kind of item that has a unique code associated to it and it can be placed inside a geocache with the express purpose of moving from geocache to geocache and being tracked along its journey.

So I dragged Ben with me as we went on a search for a very specific trekking company that was the keeper of this special geocache. I recalled from the description that we would have to go down a dark hallway and then up some narrow, dark steps to a second floor. The description was spot on and we made it to the office of the trekking company. There were four men in the office having a discussion so I quietly made my presence known and when they acknowledged me I then asked for the geocache which they handed over to me with a smile and then continued their discussion. I quickly signed the log and traded the TBs that I had for a fresh set of TBs to take home with me. Ben dropped in a business card. I then sealed the geocache, handed it back to the men in the office and thanked them. Ben and I then exited the building and continued to walk around Thamel.

Small Hindu shrine

As we walked around I tried to find interesting things to take pictures of. The following building is an example of the architecture in Kathmandu. Basically wherever there is a space in between two buildings a third building will be built. You can see that in the building sandwich below. You can also see a rather mild example of the way they handle the power grid a.k.a. wires everywhere. I should have taken a picture of where all of the wires in one area connect. It’s such a rat’s nest that I don’t know how it would ever work.

Building sandwiched between two others

Ben mentioned that he wanted to get one last good cup of coffee before starting our trek so he suggested that we do this at the New Orleans Cafe. I guess we were becoming regulars.

New Orleans Cafe

It was starting to sprinkle when we arrived at the restaurant so we choose one of the covered booths. Ben had a coffee and a chocolate brownie. I had a banana lassi and a chocolate brownie. The lassi and brownie were ok but not great. The rain came down a bit harder but we were safe under the eaves. Our short snack lasted just long enough for the rain to come and go. We finished, paid, and re-entered Thamel in order to grab a taxi back to the hotel.

Upon returning to the hotel I packed my bags and prepared myself for the upcoming travel. By preparing myself I mean that I sat around and waited and killed time the best that I could. I recall that I was having significant trouble gaining use of the hotel’s wifi. Anyway, the time passed and the group started to congregate in the lobby. Our bags congregated too…

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Our bus finally arrived with Sonam Sherpa and we piled ourselves and our gear in for the trip to the airport. The ride was as uneventful as all other rides around Kathmandu. In other words you are scared to the point of being numb every time there is a need to merge or cross traffic. We survived this trip and arrived at the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport.

As we walked through the parking lot to the entrance of the domestic terminal I noticed that there was a tribe of monkeys sitting or running along one of the walls and the trees that crossed the wall. This was just interesting although it was probably really a nuisance but it made me smile.

The security at the airport was interesting. Only passengers were allowed to enter the terminal so Sonam had provided each of us with a printed out “ticket” with our names but the security guard didn’t even look at them. To pass from the ticketing area to the departure lounge required us to go through a screening area where the security guards basically asked us if we had any knives or sharp objects, any flammable liquids or lighters, or any weapons. I had two “hand luggages” and they only asked me to open one of them and they looked inside without much care.

Before we went through security Sonam had collected our paper “tickets” and talked with the ticket agent and returned with boarding passes for Agni Air [“Fly the Friendly Sky”]. He had also collected our large duffels that would be checked through to Pokhara. After we passed through security we found out that our flight was delayed and so we had more time that needed to be wasted. As with many locations, that is pretty much all locations, in the area there was no air conditioning so the room was quite warm and stifling. I proceeded over to an area where there were working overhead fans as I assumed that moving air would help the a little. A few others of the group joined me and we either talked or sat in silence while waiting for the flight. Some sat a little more silently than others.

Ben dozing

Poor Ben was starting to get sick around this time.

I was a bit bored so I attempted to take some pictures around the departure lounge with my point-and-shoot but almost nothing came out. Here are the Himalayas in the distant.

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[and this was one of my better pictures :-( ]

Jon came around at one point and handed out snickers bars as a preflight snack. I decided to save mine for a later time and I ended up carrying that candy bar with me on the whole trek and then tossing it out when we returned to civilization. I was never in a snickers mood I guess.

Eventually someone called for the Agni Air flight to Pokhara and the group collected our bags and assembled at the “gate”. After we handed our boarding pass to the gate agent we went through another security check. This time they asked the exact same questions about our carry-ons but then proceeded to give everyone a quick pat down. We walked on the tarmac to our plane and boarded. The seating was basically a free-for-all but it seemed to work. I ended up in an aisle seat next to an American who I believe was doing missionary work. He was helping to build a school in the area around Pokhara.

As soon as we were seated the flight attendant came through the plane with candies and cotton balls. The latter was useful because we were on a turbo prop plane. Even before she was finished with this pre-flight distribution we were taxiing in preparation for take-off. As we were taking off the flight attendant came over the speaker system to tell us that we should have our seat belts buckled. After we were in the air for about five minutes the flight attendant passed through the plane with a plastic bottle of Pepsi and small cups, about the volume of two shot glasses. Her second pass was with a bottle of Coke. Her final pass was with a bottle of water. And that was about the time we started to descend into Pokhara. It was a very short flight.

The plane quickly taxied to the arrival terminal and we deplaned and headed to baggage claim area. It was a little chaotic but Sonam helped us grab our bags and we lugged them outside to the awaiting van. We got onto the bus and we had a relatively quick drive to our hotel just off the lakeside tourist area. Although this area had the same sort of touristy feel as Thamel it was a lot cleaner and seemed more laid back. Our hotel was the Candle Inn, “The hotel with a heart”.

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It was attractive from the outside with a nice garden area. The stairs inside were kind of neat.

Stairs at Candle Inn

But the best were the views but the clouds did not want to cooperate on this day. I did see a cute little owl land into a tree on the backside of the hotel but he didn’t want to cooperate either and let me take a picture of his face. See if you can find him in this photo…

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[Not exactly my finest photography attempt]

We all just relaxed around the hotel for the rest of the day. Except for Ben who progressively got worse as the hours passed. A small group of us went down the street to the lakeside strip where there were places like

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And various interesting scenes such as a snake charmer with a cobra. Of course he wanted us to take a picture of him so that he could get a donation to feed his cobra. I passed on that opportunity and instead took a picture of a dog sleeping on a bed…

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Shortly after Damion and I returned to our room Ben came in to our room sweating profusely and looking weak and asked us to track down Jon. I snapped up out of bed and scurried along the hall until I came to Jon’s room and I let him know how bad Ben looked. Jon immediately walked to Ben and Thilo’s room and started to take care of Ben. There was nothing else I could do so I got out of the way. It’s always bad to see someone who is not feeling well.

Not long after this the group (minus Ben, Sonam, and Jon) convened in the hotel restaurant for dinner. I believe we had Dal Bhat which is affectionately referred to as Sherpa Fuel. I could be mistaken on what we ate that evening because I wasn’t really interested in food. I guess I wasn’t feeling 100% either. Anyway, Dal Bhat consists of a large portion of rice (bhat) with lentil soup (dal) poured over the rice. It is usually accompanied by some curried vegetables (mostly cauliflower from my experiences) and sometimes with meat such as chicken. The reason it is called Sherpa Fuel is because it is basically the main dish that is eaten by the Sherpas and porters while trekking and I assume while not trekking as well. During dinner Jon and Sonam would be in and out as they were returning to help Ben out.

The mood was somber during dinner and afterwards we all just retired to our rooms. The bathroom that Damion and I shared was relatively disgusting. Well that’s probably too strong of a word but I did not want to spend any time in there. There seemed to be a leak in the toilet tank somewhere and the water was all over the floor and was slowly dripping down a drain hole. Drip…drip…drip…The shower curtain was rolled up and the bathtub/shower did not look inviting at all. There were no towels or even working lights in the bathroom.

I did not sleep well through the night. At some point I realized that the dripping had stopped. But that is a story for the next day.

People: Chris Marquardt

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Chris is the second trip leader as well as the primary instructor. He is a professional photographer and photography instructor. He also has a couple of podcasts, including Tips from the Top Floor, and this is where I found out about him and about the Himalayan Workshops. Chris and I seemed to gel quite quickly on the trip. I’m not certain if it was our similar sense of humor or the fact that many times we were stuck at the back of the pack because we were “taking our time”. I learned a lot about photography from Chris in both the formal workshop sessions and random questions as we trekked. Chris’s personality and charisma really helped the journey go smoothly and added a lot of laughs. Even goats liked him…

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[ok, maybe not enough to eat from his hand as Chris is trying to force here]
Chris’s twitter and flickr accounts.

Gear: The North Face Base Camp Duffel – large & “Power Purple”

This bag served me very well. I was able to transport everything on my gear list except for my travel pillow, my camera and my laptop which I carried in my backpack. I was able to pack about 45lbs worth of densely packed clothing and gear. Even my trekking poles fit which I was extremely happy about. The zipper was pretty difficult to shut once I was getting the duffel to capacity but I was able to force it without the zipper breaking. This bag held up to all of the abuse from the airlines and the porters. There was only one wear mark on the bag and that was due to the trekking poles pushing on the side of the bag and then the bag being dragged on that pressure point. That was definitely my fault and I made sure it didn’t happen after I noticed it. That wear mark never spread or opened up a real hole during the rest of the trek so the material can really hold up to abuse.

After seeing the size of the over trekkers’ duffels I kind of wished I had gotten one size larger (XL) just to have a little breathing room inside the bag. I ended up having to buy a really cheap canvas duffel because trying to stuff everything back into the Purple Monster everyday would have been a pain. Having the second bag worked out nicely but would have been unnecessary if my original duffel was slightly larger.

My conclusion is that this is an awesome duffel.

 

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