Car horns are blaring, the smell of exhaust is choking me, and I taste dirt. I’m not sure if we overpaid the taxi driver – we didn’t negotiate but just agreed to hand over $8 USD between the two of us for a ride to our hostel. “Walk up that way,” the driver says and points past the “No Taxi” sign. Ride to near our hostel, it seems.
We lose ourselves in Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu. The shops are either selling knock of North Face trekking gear or fake pashminas. The streets aren’t paved, just dry dusty dirt roads, unless the shopkeeper has sprinkled it with water, and deep ruts. Even though the taxi wasn’t allowed, we are still dodging cars, motorbikes, and tricycle rickshaws.
The hostel is off the main road, up a steep narrow street and around the corner. We are warmly welcomed to the hostel, where the rooms are clean, the tap water is brown, and the restaurant is a buzz. The vibe is different than most hostels I’ve stayed at. Instead of young people on a beach holiday looking for cheap thrills and cheap booze, these are adventurers. Many are on months-long world trips and have stopped in Nepal to trek – 5 days, 2-weeks, even a month.
We gather around a communal dinner table, order some steamed momos (a close cousin to Chinese dumplings), and share stories. We listen to tales about treks, local guides and food and soak up advice on gear, weather and altitude sickness. My friend has come to do EBC – a two-week trek to Everest Base Camp. Me? No thank you. I have opted for the 5-day trip to Poon Hill. The “easiest” but not-actually-easy trek in Nepal. But more on that later.
The next day I tag along as my friend and his gang prep for their expedition. Tomorrow they fly to Lukla, known as the most deadly airport in the world. Only because there is a single runway for both take-off and landing, which is a steep path that leads directly into a mountain, and flights are routinely delayed if the weather isn’t perfect. They have to be careful of altitude sickness and limit their ascension to 500 meters per day, and need iodine tablets to ensure that the drinking water is safe. The trek is said to be clearly marked, so they forgo the guide at $25 USD/day.
Now for the fun part. Gear. We negotiate as best as a bunch of westerners can, and they get everything we need. 100 NPR (Napalese Rupee) = $1 USD
- down sleeping bag, rental – 60 rupees/day
- puffy winter coat, rental – 60 rupees/day
- new hiking boots – 5400 rupees
- knit hat – 150 rupees
- convertible trekking pants – 1700 rupees
- fleece jacket – 690 rupees
- trekking poles – 800 rupees/pair
With some toilet paper and granola bars, they are all set to go. So I bid them farewell, and look forward to their Instagram updates.