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India

Delhi

Day 1: Saturday November 6th 2016 was the day I flew to India in anticipation of an Intrepid group tour of the Golden Triangle. I flew Etihad airways and have to say the A380 experience was one of the best flights I have been on. The 7 hour flight to Abu Dhabi was excellent as I was able to watch live Premier League football on the onboard entertainment system and enjoy a roast lamb dinner before a short connection en route to Delhi. It was Sunday, 0840am local time when I landed and although getting through passport was relatively easy (I had a pre-paid e-visa) I was keen to catch-up on some sleep in the hotel. However, driving through Delhi the thing that hits you instantly is the smog where straight away the hustle and bustle of the streets is classic India with tuk-tuks and people all over the place, even on the outskirts of the city in Karol Bagh which is where our hotel was based. If you haven’t been to a 3rd world country before India would certainly be an eye opener, and although I had not been to India before, I was used to the chaotic scenes in those types of places. I was though looking forward to starting the tour so after arriving at the Hotel Kyron I put my feet up ready for what would be a busy few days ahead!

Day 2: This was officially the day the tour started with a group meeting set for 6pm in the evening. I was anxious to see who would be on my tour as the previous evening I had met 2 people on a previous tour who were former Flight Centre employees, small world, but in the meantime it allowed me time to venture out onto the rugged streets of Delhi. Delhi was experiencing its worse smog for 20 years due to due celebrations from Divali meaning it was difficult to breathe when outside, even in short durations. The streets were busy still with market vendors, spices, an array of colours and shops, but with an overriding collection of dirt and rubbish. The area reminded me of a tamed down Khao San Road in Thailand but actually with less people trying to sell you anything. I had a wander around until it was time to get back and meet my group for the upcoming days.

The group was a mixture of old and young with 2 older, Australian couples then a collection of solo travellers from U.K, Ireland, and New Zealand along with 2 friends from USA. Intrepid cater to all ages but I was glad there were 6 or 7 who were my age and so as a group of 12 we all seemed to get along well. After meeting our rep who explained the itinerary, it was time for dinner and our first taste of real Indian cuisine. We headed out to a recommended spot around the corner from our hotel and I’d worked up a bit of an appetite from wandering around the streets all day and so opted for a relatively safe chicken jalfrezi. My biggest concern going to India was about potentially getting sick and having the infamous ‘Delhi belly’, but we were eating at slightly more expensive restaurants where the food had been tried and tested by the company. Although £10 for a meal was high for Indian costs I was happy to be paying slightly more to ensure my safety! After a decent first meal is was off to bed as we would be up at 0730am for the first excursion on the trip.

Day 3: Our first real day of activities got underway with a decent buffet breakfast (all for £2.50) before we ventured out towards the metro en route to Old Town Delhi. Well, if you thought the London underground was busy at rush hour then this was whole different kettle of fish. Luckily our guide dealt with the tickets but when we boarded the train it was packed like sardines where the rule in the U.K or USA ‘wait to board until people are off’ does not apply in India so you are forced in and on without a choice.

It was unpleasant to say the least but as we only had 2 stops we got on with it. It was certainly a locals experience but maybe not one I would recommend to people!

We got off and entered the old town Delhi where the streets where even dirtier and poorer than where the hotel was, with electricity cables in huge knots tied above looking not so dissimilar to the Brazilian favelas and painting a picture of what the notorious Delhi slums are like. It was filthy with stray dogs and goats wandering the street, tuk-tuks and bikes beeping the horn repeatedly and lastly cows and horses towing and carrying everything from heaps of rubbish to people.  It was in that moment that Delhi’s reputation as being the most polluted city in the world really showed and a place that was not showing its best side. However, after navigating through the dirt and congestion we stumbled upon our first major landmark.

The Jama Masjid of Delhi was an impressive red sandstone/marble built mosque which drew comparisons with the one I had visited in Abu Dhabi and it looked impressive from the outside. As with most religious sites they do ask you to remove your shoes when entering and woman are made to wear a gown to cover their whole body, where inside they only allow photos at a charge. It is certainly worth a visit and we even climbed the 120 steps up the tower to get a Birdseye view. Obviously India is a very religious country so the day’s activities would be centered on holy points and landmarks.

Our next stop was a short walk to the Red Fort which was again impressive although we were informed the Red Fort in Agra allows entrance inside whereas the one in Delhi is now only used for military purposes, so we just took a few pictures from the outside. Again it was largely red sandstone giving it a rustic look and our guide even arranged for us to take a rickshaw ride around the complex. We were then whisked off to a Sikh temple where we were given a brief introduction into the religion and also the art of making jipatis. Again we had to remove our shoes but this time cover our heads in the form of an orange bandana which didn’t quite look like a turban, but we just went with what the guide said. It was quite difficult to understand the Sikh/guru way of life and not being religious it was not that interesting to me personally, but walking through and seeing the locals making jipatis and food was. It was a conveyor belt of dough to bread to baking and then at the end of the room there was an enormous pot of stew/dhal which we took turns in stirring – probably the largest stir fry pan in the world! Overall it was an interesting morning but we were then offered the choice of an optional excursion which would take us to other sites in Delhi, at an extra cost. £30 seemed a bit steep but everyone had opted in so I felt obliged and so we met our new guide and we were then on the road to the India gate. 

The India Gate is a centre point of Delhi where they commemorate Indian/British troops that fought in the war and the road that leads through the white brick gate and to the ‘umbrella monument’ is very reminiscent of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin. It was busy and obviously a landmark that many people visit where fortunately the mist had almost cleared by then so we got a good view of most sites that day, including our next stop which was known as Mini Taj Mahal. 

Humayun’s tomb was essentially a tomb for past Islamic emperors and the reputation for looking like the Taj was quite obvious as it had all the same characteristics. We were allowed to walk around and into the building but the day was beginning to drag slightly as it had been a full on day. The Tomb was certainly worth a visit though and there was still time for 1 last site before the day’s activities were over. This was a 45min minibus journey to see the Qutub Minar. I may have fallen asleep en route as I was tired but once we arrived I was certainly surprised by what was there. Qutub Minar was a 5 story tower, not dissimilar to the leaning tower of Pisa, and the surrounding ruins reminded me of Italian/Greek architecture where it was probably the most aesthetically pleasing place we visited that day. It was a nice way to end the day but after almost 8 hours of sightseeing we were all ready to get back and rest/eat. Getting home however was an excursion in itself as Delhi rush hour, in a word, was carnage. Nobody obeys the road rules and everyone uses their horn as an indicator where we had a small run in after not allowing a car to pass which resulted in a confrontation between our driver and the other car in the middle of the packed street. Only in Delhi!

We eventually made it back though and after another Indian buffet it was time for bed as we were due to be up at 0500am to catch the 0600am train to Jaipur the next morning.

Day 4: Waking up at 0430am is never ideal but I was surprisingly awake and ready for the journey. We met downstairs with our bags packed ready to get the train to Jaipur, Rajasthan. After a short 15min taxi we arrived at Delhi train station where if it wasn’t for our guide none of us would have had a clue as it was hectic. It didn’t take long to get tickets and before long we were on board and on our way. It was very basic train but with more than enough legroom and porters constantly providing complimentary tea and food which was pleasantly surprising. What wasn’t as pleasant was the view outside from my window seat. As we left Delhi we passed through possibly the most deprived regions of the city and the notorious slums were in full view. It was like travelling through a bomb site as mile after mile poorly made tin huts surrounded by rubbish lined the railway line and woman and children were dotted around trying to pick out what they could find from the tip. I’ve been to some poor countries on my travels but that stretch of track was one of the most shocking sights I have seen where the closest comparison would be the townships in South Africa. Over 1.2 billion people live in India and at times over 40 million commute in and out of Delhi each day so it is no surprise that there is a large proportion of poor people, but seeing the vast quantities in full picture was quite shocking.

I was also actually quite glad we were leaving Delhi as the air for starters was beginning to affect a few people and we were all keen to see a different side to India where it would be less chaotic and city like. If you’re visiting India Delhi is worth a stop for a day or so but like many capital cities that is all you need as the more popular and attractive sites tend to be elsewhere. Anyway, after 5 hours or so we arrived in Jaipur, Rajasthan. 

After a short tuk tuk drive we arrived at our hotel where instantly the air was so much cleaner and consequently with clear blue skies above, the sun was out meaning it was hot, 30C during the day. It was also a lot less chaotic than Delhi and so myself and Hannah (a girl from U.K) decided to have a wander around town as the organized textiles tour didn’t particularly interest us. We were dropped off at the City Palace and walked around the pink city as it is known with the walls of the city having been painted pink by the British in former Commonwealth times. It didn’t take long for the real India to be shown where firstly walking down the road we saw a cow, then a camel, before the ultimate in animals; an elephant causally strolling down the street. Only in India could you see a full array of Safari animals amongst the busy streets! We then wandered towards to the museum where we could add a horse to our animal collection, before heading back to the hotel as we planned to eat before an organized trip to see a Bollywood film in the evening.

Most of the group had gone in the afternoon so it was only 4 of us who went after dinner and for R200 the preview for a Hindu Himalayan action film actually looked quite good. The theatre housed a massive screen and the locals were flooding in but the movie was not to my taste. It wasn’t the all singing and dancing Bollywood film that I expected, here the plot was similar to the film ‘Taken’ Some of the action scenes were quite good but the film being dragged out for 3 hours was a bit much. It was a cool experience but it’s certainly not a film that I would pay for again! 

Day 5: The next morning we were up early ready to see Jaipur where firstly we stopped off at the wind palace before setting off to see the Amer fort and palace. We were driven up in jeeps and through the archway to the inside of the fort where out of nowhere appeared a herd of elephants which are used to take people around. The landscape was very picturesque especially when we were taken higher up and into the palace where the architecture was very reminiscent of Roman times. It was an interesting insight into how royalty used to live in Rajasthan but that morning we only visited part of the fort so half of us after lunch decided to get a rickshaw to take us right up to the top. Well this was certainly worth the trip as the windy road trip to the top of the fort was pleasant and for 200R return for an hour round trip was good value. We had a local guy take us around and the views as the sun was setting were stunning. We got a great panoramic view of the city where you could see the wall in full picture and our guide was great at explaining the history (fortunately a guy in our group Elvin spoke Hindu and could translate). A day well spent!

We arrived back in time for dinner where I opted for the house special; a spicy lamb maans which was very hot but still enjoyable. What was more apparent were the 2 kingfisher strong beers that we ordered as at 8% and the equivalent 3 pints we were well on our way. It was nice to have a few beers and have a laugh with the younger people in our group, even if it meant spending a bit more cash. Money had now become a major issue as we were informed a few days previous that the government had imposed a ban on the distribution and use of 500/1000R notes due to counterfeit and fraud. Well, as a group we had all taken out large amounts and trying to change these notes into smaller denominations was a real problem with the banks overflowing and ATM’s not dispensing any new notes. We could only change 4000R max a day so luckily I managed to exchange mine but not being able to withdraw cash left me with no money once we left Jaipur. Anyway, we were on the move again this time en route to Agra where we would be staying at the royal family palace which was a 4 hour drive away. 

Day 6: The roads in India are truly awful where the bumps are relentless even on the main highways. On normal roads it would probably have only taken a few hours but after driving through some very poor towns we arrived at the royal palace and it was quite something. It was genuinely a palace with extravagant dining halls and paintings where our rooms were certainly fit for royalty. It was a far cry from the town we were in though as it was a local, rural village where we felt a little uncomfortable being stand out tourists. We were only there as a stop en route to Agra and though there wasn’t much to do, the buffet dinner at the palace was good and we did engage in the local prayer at a Hindu temple. This was all in anticipation of the highlight of the trip and as a group we were now looking forward to our last stop and the highly anticipated trip to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Day 7: Again the 4 hour journey was bumpy but travelling in a relatively decent coach and chatting with the group made the time go quicker where we stopped off at the Agra fort to break up the journey. This complex was similar to the one in Delhi that we visited but in Agra they allow access inside the terra-cotta walls which housed an almost Chinese style looking square inside. The inscriptions, artwork and detail on the walls are very impressive and it was interesting to learn about the emperors and rulers of past Indian history. We had an hour or so there before we were dropped off at our hotel allowing us time to get ready to see the Taj Mahal at 4pm. Visiting The Taj was the main reason I had wanted to go to India and after a short walk there from our hotel and getting through security, we caught a glimpse of it. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build and is essentially a tomb for the Mughal emperorShah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The complex is completely symmetrical but it is not until you get up close that you can really appreciate the detail.

As we got closer to the main gate the crowds were building and although it was mainly Indian tourists rather than foreigners, it was still very busy. We squeezed through the large archway and through the opening appeared the great Taj Mahal. It was absolutely stunning and even more impressive and larger than I was expecting. We wasted no time in getting pictures as it was rammed with people before walking towards it allowing even better pictures as the site became closer. The water and fountains leading up to the complex allow you to take some great pictures where the Taj reflects off the water. It was certainly busy with people but nothing less than I expected and we managed to get some fantastic shots. We then walked up to the entrance where there was an enormous queue to enter but that was apparently for locals who only purchase the site ticket meaning we could walk straight in as our tickets included entrance inside the tomb. The white marble inscribed with writing and patterns is even more impressive up close but what was not so impressive was the entrance and inside. We had to push and squeeze through a tiny entrance, where people exit the same way, only to find out it was so hot inside and difficult to breathe, not to mention it smelt bad! It was also very dark and the tombs are contained so you can’t see them that well and that is essentially all that is inside. It’s certainly a lot better to look at from the outside than inside!

We walked around the outside and took and few more shots before heading back to try and buy some gifts as we had seen a lot of ‘tat’ shops on the walk there. This meant haggling with the local vendors and although we knew prices would be higher directly outside India’s main tourist attraction; we got some good deals and the gifts we wanted. We headed back delighted with the day and it was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. What wasn’t ideal and was continuing to be a problem was the money as I had now not had any cash since Wednesday and the group were also unable to change their 500/1000R notes. It got to the point where we tried to pay for dinner on credit/debit card that evening only to find out the machines were not working and everyone was beginning to lose patience. I ended up borrowing more money but the whole situation did affect the trip. Putting that aside, after dinner we had a few beers before heading to bed ready for the long drive back to Delhi and our final day on tour.

Day 8: Our last excursion was to see the Agra fort where we were guided around the complex that used to house the king and queen. Some of the courtyard and marble interior were very fancy with the outside displaying another large red wall as was similar to most of the forts and complexes in northern India. Although it was again very foggy/smoggy you could catch a glimpse of the Taj in the distance and it was an interesting place to visit. In general there is a lot of history associated with these places and many different emperors, kings and Gods so the information given to us by all the guides was sometimes difficult to filter, but interesting nevertheless.  

We were soon back on the road again and with a short pit stop to get food (I opted for a western pasta as curry everyday had become a bit samey) where our tour had come full circle as we were now back in Delhi. The smog had cleared slightly but we still had 1 last thing to do, change/withdraw money. Well, it was Sunday for a starters so it was busy on the streets and only 1 exchange shop was open where they were trying to con us into a rate of 40r to $1 when it should have been 65r, then every ATM had an enormous queue with people trying to exchange 500/1000 notes. It was carnage and to top it all off every ATM in Delhi, and probably the country had now run out of money. What a nightmare and everyone including the tour guide were beginning to get pissed off. This meant everyone paying for everything by card and no possible way to tip our guide in cash. He wasn’t the best guide as he was often short tempered and changed the itinerary but I do understand how stressful it must have been for him with the money situation. The whole issue would never happen in 1st world countries and I’m thankful I was on a tour as had I been travelling by myself I would have been very stuck. Our group were very helpful in lending me money and I managed to transfer money to them online but overall that did put a small damper on the trip.

We had a good group of people though and we saw some great places along the way where the Taj Mahal was certainly the highlight. The country as a whole is desperately poor and although I had a great time, The Golden Triangle aspect of India is a route you visit once but not again. The culture and history are amazing and the food obviously good, where only 1 person in our group had a case of the ‘Delhi belly’ which was surprising as I had planned for the inevitable. We did eat at recommend restaurants throughout and avoided street food, but the only health issue we had was from the smog in Delhi. Anyway we had our last meal around the corner from the hotel and had a few farewell beers as our tour ended that evening. I would certainly recommend a tour of the Golden Triangle as it makes life a lot easier (especially when you have emergency situations like we had) and overall I had a great time. I was though ready for the second half of my trip; flying to Kathmandu, Nepal and off to trek part of the Everest base camp route.

 

Nepal

Day 1: I was glad to be leaving Delhi (even if the airport was amazing) and was looking forward to Nepal. It was only an hour’s flight where Indigo air ‘upgraded’ me and to be fair I had more legroom than on any premium airline, but what was even more impressive was the view as we flew beside the Himalayas. I have always been fascinated by geography and the vast mountain range that covers most of Nepal was always going to attract me. I only had a week’s holiday left so the option to do Everest base camp which takes 12 days was not viable, so I elected to do a 5 day Everest in full picture trek with Intrepid which follows the same route as base camp but does not go as far. After completing Kilimanjaro last summer I was interested in doing another trek and so was looking forward to this challenge. 

Collecting a visa on arrival was relatively straight forward as you manually scan your passport before paying in cash at the counter (which was difficult for people with no money in India) and it takes roughly around half hour. I was met by my transfer and taken to the Kathmandu Guesthouse which is well known to have housed many celebrities on their travels to Nepal; stars such as George Harrison and Ricky Martin have stayed there where they have a ‘walk of honour’ in the hotel grounds. The complex is quite stunning with a beautiful garden in the centre and again palace like lobbies with very modern rooms. I had one night there before the tour started and then again when the tour finished. I met down at the lobby that evening to meet my Intrepid guide and to my initial disappointment he said I was the only one on the tour! I was thinking that being by myself might be quite boring, but on the other hand so many people trek to base camp alone so I would be sure to meet people on the way and in the mountain town of Namache Bazaar on day 2.

My guide Tara went over the formalities of what I needed to take where he said I wouldn’t need trekking boots but just good, steady trainers and then the info about the plane to Lukla. I had read up on the journey and the infamously short runway but was looking forward to it, besides the 0445am start! That evening I finally managed to get some money in the form of Nepalese rupees and went for a wander around Kathmandu. First of all the streets are noticeably cleaner than in Delhi yet still busy, but there is a very touristy feel to it in the form of countless trekking shops, gift stores, restaurants and even an English pub. The streets are quite narrow and full of lights with the coloured prayer flags as bunting hanging above reminding me of the streets in Thailand. I was glad I had 2 days there after my trek as there were certainly a few good things on offer to purchase. The only downside was that evening being by myself I was forced to eat dinner alone which I’d hope wouldn’t be the case throughout my trip. I had a nice meal nevertheless and headed back to the guesthouse to repack what I needed in preparation for the 4 day trek ahead.

Day 2: After a pretty restless night I had my bags repacked to accommodate only 10kg in my backpack for the porter to carry and 5kg hand luggage for myself where I could leave any items I didn’t require at the hotel while I was away. 0500am on the dot myself and Tara jumped in a cab and headed to Kathmandu domestic airport where our plane was due to leave for Lukla at 0630am. There were loads of people there mainly ready for Everest base camp with copious amounts of luggage and equipment, where after a brief wait at a makeshift check in we had our tickets for the suitably named airline, Tara Air flight to Lukla. I was a little apprehensive after what I had heard but my guide advised me that I should grab a seat on the left-hand side of the plane as the views of the Himalayas were the best on that side. Our flight number was called and so 10 of us boarded a very basic bus where we were driven over to our plane. Well, it wasn’t the largest aircraft in the world and in fact the bus taking us was probably bigger than the plane, but I managed to clamber inside and take a seat to the rear left. The plane was a tiny propeller plane with 10 seats split down the middle meaning everyone had a window seat and to my surprise a cabin crew member who gave out cotton wool buds as the noise was supposedly deafening. It was cosy and you could quite easily see the pilots up front who were dressed so casually in leather jackets, BOSE headphones and aviator sunglasses with not a care in the world that they were flying into the world’s most dangerous airport. We buckled up and to be honest the take off was not too bad and the half hour flight was pleasant as we had been told November is the perfect time to visit Nepal due to the skies being clear, meaning turbulence was not an issue during that time. I had a great view looking out to the Himalayas on my left and half an hour later we were making our decent into Lukla airport.

Well, this bit was a little nerve-racking as the mountainside airport appeared through the valley and the shortest runway I have ever seen awaited us where I was sure there was nowhere near enough room to land. The sign saying ‘Welcome to Lukla’ was up against the mountain wall and as we landed with a rather hard impact we were easily slowed down by the 12 degrees uphill gradient that the runway was laid on meaning landing almost at a right angle! We had landed safely though and after disembarking we watched in amazement as other flights landed and took off at this extraordinary little airport.

We grabbed our bags and had some breakfast at Lukla (beans on toast for some energy) before our 3 hour trek to Phadking where we would be staying the night. Passing through the entrance gate was quite a sight in itself as a monastery temple and Nepalese prayer flags paved the way with a snow capped mountain in the background.  There were plenty of people about but for that day I was happy to walk with my guide as he spoke good English and pointed out the names and previous summit attempts of different peaks, along with the fact that he himself had done base camp over 50 times. The walk was stunning as we passed through the U shaped valleys that were created by former glaciers, before heading through greenery and shrub as we approached the river which meanders its way down from the source of the mountains. The water was almost ice blue and white at times and provided a beautiful focal point for pictures taken with the mountains in the background.

The path was relatively easy with a few up and downs passing many prayer flags and monasteries before our first sighting of any wildlife. Donkeys carrying food and water were on their way back from Namche Bazaar and they would be the first of many as en route we encountered cows, horses and yaks carrying goods aswell as Tibetan dogs roaming the paths. What was most impressive was the Sherpa’s who carry everything from Lukla to Namche and some of these locals carry up to 100kg of goods on their back which is quite staggering. We stopped for tea after an hour or so as we were making good time before we arrived at one of the many infamous swing bridges that connect the paths over the river. These bridges are not for the feint hearted as makeshift old metal suspend you several hundred metres from the freezing water below and when people are coming at you from the other direction the bridge begins to wobble! It’s a case of don’t look down and walk as quickly and in the centre of the bridge as possible.

We arrived at the guesthouse an hour earlier than expected which gave us time to eat and then relax in the sun as during the day the sun was hot, especially the higher you went, but mornings and evening the temperature was barely above freezing. The lodge was very basic with just a bed in the room so after dumping our bags we went for a wander uphill to get a better view of the valley. To be honest I realised once we arrived there would not be a lot to do and although I got chatting to other solo travellers that had arrived, I had a pasta dinner then called it a night around 730pm. It was however absolutely freezing in the huts so it was a case of going to bed in my thermals, sleeping bag and duvet over the top hoping for a good night’s sleep in preparation for a supposedly harder days trek the next day.

Day 3: I had a fairly decent night’s sleep and woke up at 0630am ready for breakfast and the day ahead. The walk to Namche Bazaar was expected to take 6 hours and was predominantly uphill so I prepared myself for a tough day. It was freezing in the morning so I was layered up in hat, gloves and down jacket but as soon as the sun came out I was stripping off because it is so hot, especially at the pace we were going. The terrain was good and after a while we gradually increased in gradient crossing the swing bridges 3 or 4 times before a stop for lunch halfway in Monju. The views were becoming even more spectacular as other mountain peaks appeared the higher we climbed until the most difficult part of the trek was upon us where the path had now become just a staircase as far as the eye could see. Personally I didn’t find it that tough where even my guides were way behind me, but I was happy going at my own pace. The path eventually tailed off and around the corner to my surprise was a very important stop as this is the first point on the route where you can catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. Peering through the trees we could quite clearly see the peak and it was impressive even that far away. I had no idea how well we would be able to see it the next day as that afternoon as we peered through the trees cloud cover then swept across the peak as Everest is well known for creating its own weather system meaning we only caught a quick glimpse of it then.

We were on the road again and as the path had now become easier a usual 6 hour trek had been completed in 5 as we marched on into Namche Bazaar. The town appeared on the side of a mountain and surrounding it was an amazing collection of mountains and valleys. This was essentially the gateway to Mount Everest and the capital of Sagamartha National Park.  The place was buzzing with locals, trekkers, bars and restaurants and the town was effectively a smaller version of Kathmandu where our guesthouse was an upgraded version of Phadking. I went for a wander and picked up some chocolates as the further you go the higher the prices become due to the difficulty in accessing those goods. I headed back for a hot shower and some wifi where they charge £3/4 for these services as electricity in particular is sparse and generated by solar meaning the morning and evenings are usually in the dark! There was only an expedition group staying at the lodge that evening so I was a little bored, where after a local Nepalese curry dinner I caught up on events and news from home before calling it a night in anticipation of hopefully seeing Everest from the viewpoint in the morning.

Day 4: I woke up excited and ready to see what I had come to Nepal for in the first place. We were up and ready by 0800am so we would have the best chance of seeing Everest as we had seen the day before that by the afternoon the cloud tends to drift in over the peak. I had a very doughy pancake for breakfast and then begun the 400m climb to the viewpoint which I have to admit was seriously hard work. The past few days had been fairly easy but this 1 and a half hour trek was one of the hardest I had encountered whilst trekking as the vertical ascent meant your legs were burning from lactic acid build up and the altitude meant being out of breathe easily. Fortunately the Birdseye view over Namche was breathtaking allowing me to take some fantastic panoramic shots of the town, whilst giving my legs a rest. The path then became even tougher with just an uphill mound to conquer leading all the way up to the viewpoint and beyond. The views were truly amazing though as peak after peak of snow capped mountains appeared before we reached the helipad and emergency airport strip of Namche. This site was used to air lift passengers in the case of emergency (at a cost of $2000) and it was great viewing to watch the helicopters take off and land up there. The paths eventually flattened out and lead the way past the helicopters and around the mountainside where it reminded me of the road to Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy! And so out of nowhere and at the peak of the hill we had made it where directly in front of us was the tallest point on Earth, Mount Everest. It was so much clearer and closer than I expected and it was truly awesome as there was not a cloud in sight. Of course I wasted no time in taking pictures as we were the first people up there but after a while, and an Everest beer, we just sat and took in the view. I would say that view is by far the most stunning I have seen and it was certainly worth the pain to get up there!

The views were honestly breathtaking but after one last picture it was time to come down (which was a lot easier than coming up) as we made our way back to Namche. If I had the time I would have liked to have done base camp as I felt physically able and my guide said I could have easily done it, but he also stated that the viewpoint is the most difficult part of the base camp route and it is also where you will get the best view of Everest so I was happy with what I had done. We made our way down where we would have lunch at the same guesthouse before a quicker, 3 hour, downhill walk to Monju which is where we stopped for lunch on day 2. Retracing our steps was not actually as tedious as imagined as the views were just as spectacular and the bridge crossings just as daunting. I have to say walking and trekking to the viewpoint was enjoyable with my guide, however for future reference I feel being a solo trekker it was quite lonesome in the evenings as most other people tend to be in larger groups and so I think tour companies should have a minimum of 2 or 3 people before departure. There were quite a few other solo travellers with guides but that would be my only negative point on the trip and against Intrepid.

We arrived into Monju an hour earlier than expected which seemed to b the norm and were met by a Gdaventures group who had just completed base camp. They were a nice group of roughly similar age to me but it was apparent that that biggest factor when trekking in Nepal, which I only experienced a little, was the coughing and illness that comes with the dust. I can imagine after 2 weeks you wouldn’t be feeling great so if I had one piece of advice even for a short trek it would be to wear a face mask aswell as sunglasses as I constantly had dust in my eyes and nose. The day was drawing to a close and so after another pasta dinner it was time for bed in readiness for our last day of trekking back to where we started.

Day 5: It was only 4 hours or so from Monju to Lukla and predominantly downhill so we had a lie in that morning and ordered eggs in for breakfast before setting off at 0900am. I was almost glad to be heading back as after seeing Everest unfortunately everything else didn’t quite compare against the sheer magnitude of Sagamartha, especially when you have seen the path on the way there already. As strange as it sounds on the walk back we were held up in ‘traffic’ as we were constantly stuck behind cattle in the form of donkey or cow as being Friday they were bringing goods in for the Saturday markets. I was in the zone though and eager to get back so I trotted off without my guide and porter as they were lagging behind. My legs were beginning to ache as it had been a long few days and the thought of a proper hotel, wifi and food in Kathmandu was starting to become a lot more appealing.

In good time we had made it back to the start where Lukla was a breath of fresh air in terms of being a fully functional town and the guesthouse being a lot warmer and modern than the previous ones. I spent that afternoon watching the helicopters and plane land and depart the extraordinary airport before saying goodbye to my porter who had carried my bag for 4 days. I tipped him $20, as per instructed by my guide, which seemed a bit low but he seemed pleased before sitting down with Tara and discussing the last days plans and the tip for himself. I wasn’t really sure what to give him as on the Intrepid trip notes it had no guide to what to give and after giving the porter the equivalent of $5 per day I went with the basis of $15 per day for my guide meaning $60. Again he seemed happy with that as he had been a very informative, rep but that evening I had decided to go out for dinner by myself in the form of a burger as I had been craving real western food for a while. I ordered an Everest burger and maybe because I hadn’t had any beef in the past 2 weeks, it was one of the best burgers I have had! Free wifi also allowed me connect with home and although I was by myself I could not have been happier with what I had accomplished, and with the feeling after eating some good food! It was the end of a spectacular, sometimes lonely, but ultimately rewarding few days and a trip I will look back on in years to come. It was time to call it a night as Tara had informed me when I got back from dinner that we had to be at the airport for 0700am the next morning and so I was ready for bed and to get back to Kathmandu.

Day 6: After a decent night’s sleep I was looking forward to getting back to Kathmandu. It was a 0600am start as we were hoping to catch the first flight out of Lukla, but it didn’t quite go to plan. Our tickets were in the second set of flights and because of fog in Kathmandu flights were being delayed, subsequently meaning waiting a while in Lukla airport for our plane to arrive. This did drag on for a few hours but it allowed me to get chatting to a Geckos tour group who had just done Everest base camp and I’d arranged to go for drinks with them that evening as we were all departing the following day. Eventually we boarded the same Tara Air plane where the ride was a little more turbulent than before, but after landing in Kathmandu I was glad to be back. Our transfer was there to pick us up and so my Nepal journey had turned full circle as I was back at the Kathmandu Guesthouse. It had only been a few days but I was craving a hot shower and clean clothes, not to mention cheap western food. We were back by 1100am so I had the full day plus the following morning before I went home and so took the recommendation of one of the girls in India to have a pizza at the Fire & Ice restaurant. It didn’t disappoint as for $10 the half and half pizza with garlic bread and a drink was certainly good value! It would also be the last time that I would see my guide Tara who had been very good and one I would recommend to people thinking of doing an Intrepid tour in Nepal. I thanked him for his time and then headed out to see the rest of Kathmandu.

I had the afternoon free so I decided to wander into town and visit Durbur square which as a world heritage site it was something to see and do. A lot of the area and Kathmandu in general, has been severely damaged by the earthquake in May 2015 where in that square you can clearly see old, historical buildings destroyed and damaged by the impact. It costs $10 to enter the square where that money is used to help rebuild the city and it was money I was happy to put aside for. It didn’t take long to walk around the site and after a while I was done and headed back to pick up a few small gifts for people back home.

I was looking forward to a few beers in the evening as it was my last night and the guys from the tour seemed keen to watch the football. I headed back for a shower and as is the norm when I go travelling I went out and decided on getting a tattoo.

I already had the Ohm symbol in Bali which represents Hinduism so I wanted something more personal to my trip and so opted for the word ‘Himalayas’ in Nepalese writing, in relation to the trek I had just done. $25 was very reasonable and I was pleased with how it looked, where after half hour under the needle I was ready for food and my last night out.

Kathmandu is famous for its steakhouses so I tried out the branch opposite the tattoo parlour and again the food was great where $12 for a huge rump steak and beer was amazing value for money. It paved the way for a night out where I met up with the guys from the Geckos tour and met in an Irish bar to watch the football. We spoke about all sorts of places that we had visited and it was nice to get an insight from people who had been to all sorts of places ranging from Bhutan to Fiji. In hindsight I do wish my trek was in a group like theirs with more people but looking back I will never forget those views when we made it to the Everest viewpoint and would highly recommend a trip there for anyone who is even only half remotely interested in geography or trekking. The night drew to a close at 11 ish as I was tired and actually ready to come home. It had been a long 2 weeks filled with an abundance of experiences and emotions where overall I did have a good time. It was time to call it a night as the next day I was due to fly home.

Day 7: Waking up at 0700am, as my body clock had become accustomed to, was accompanied by a small headache after 3 or 4 beers from the night before, but I had nothing planned for the morning and so grabbed a croissant from downstairs and watched the cricket in bed. It was nice not to feel rushed as my flight wasn’t until 5pm so it allowed me time to repack my case and sit and read my book in the sun for a few hours. The gardens in the Guesthouse were beautiful and lots of people were outside enjoying the good weather. I chilled out there before checking out at 1200pm which allowed me an hour to grab some food before my pre arranged transfer to the airport. I opted for a $10 burger and beer while watching the cricket which was the perfect send off to my trip.

It was time to leave and after lugging my case into the taxi I was on my way to the airport. The journey was fairly hectic but half an hour later and 3 hours before departure I arrived. The queue for baggage drop wasn’t too bad, nor was Kathmandu airport as the lounge before immigration had comfortable seating, charge points, wifi and shops. It did however signal the end of my trip. There were certainly some difficulties along the way, especially in India, and at times in Nepal I did sometimes feel lonesome but the overriding feelings of the Taj Mahal and Everest made the trip worthwhile. I would certainly recommend visiting the Taj and Jaipur in India but being so poor the country is not the most attractive where the south is supposedly meant to offer a different kind of vibe. Nepal on the other hand was beautiful and Kathmandu compared to India was so clean and friendly where I would recommend both the city and a trek for anyone looking to visit the country. I will look back on this trip and treasure those 2 wonders of the world for a long time to come.

My journey had ended as I boarded my slightly delayed Etihad flight to London, via Abu Dhabi. After a slightly drawn out layover I was back on U.K soil.

Day 8: I was home.

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