Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, California

The idea of protecting lands by the government for the preservation of wildlife, educational opportunities and enjoyment of general public and future generation is probably the best idea ever hatched in the history of human kind. Although the very first national park of the US was established back in the late 1800s. The National Park Service wasn’t set up until early 1900s, that serves all national parks, national monuments, public parks and national memorials of the US.

This year the National Park Service of America celebrated its 100th year. One very effective way of understaning this vast country is through its national parks. There’s definitely more to America than the most popular rhetoric that tends to revolve around its politics. But real America is rarely portrayed in media. So, I hope you ignore the bullshit that spreads the inaccurate depiction of this nation and instead focus on a myriad of treasures that this country has to offer, national parks being one of them.

Yosemite
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

My father paid us a visit close to Thanksgiving this year, he had never been to the west coast of USA. So, we thought it would be a good idea to show him the great state of California. I have been to all major cities of this amazing state, and thought I knew enough. Turns out that wasn’t the case, this road trip from southern to northern California opened my eyes to the California, I had never known before.

Ladies and gentlemen, below I give you a few glimpses of one of the most amazing national parks of the United States of America:

Yosemite National Park
Camping area, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii is the 50th state of the US composed mainly of volcanic islands. Also the very last state declared as the US territory in late 1950’s. We were on the island called Maui. Many travel magazines have described Maui as the paradise on Earth. Precisely the reason I wanted to explore this region. Like many places I have visited, Hawaii had been on my list for the longest time. The state of Hawaii has multiple islands, we chose Maui – because of its natural beauty. If you are looking for adventure, Maui is just the island for you; to hike, zip-line, do many other adventure sports along with some awesome water activities.

75% of Maui island is covered by the dormant volcanic mountain called Haleakala. It’s believed, Haleakala is in fact a mix of two volcanic mountains. This mountain is on the east side of Maui. All the touristic activities take place on the west and south side.  Eastern part of Maui, is usually cloudy, rainy but the west and south side is almost always sunny and the eastern mountains also block the wind so tourists can have the most ideal weather experience on Maui.

Maui, Hawa...Hawaii
Clean streets of Maui, Hawaii

One of the first things we did as soon as we arrived was attended Luau. It was a buffet at a resort in South Maui, Wailea – an event full of music, dance and orchids showcasing Polynesian culture. This is a must do to experience Hawaiian-Polynesian culture.

WEATHER
It was on average 82 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 28 degrees Celsius) on the island in February 2016. Everyone here surfs. When it’s a day off or a weekend, all they do is surf. Locals’ main activities are all water activities, everyone here has a perfectly toned body.

I recommend at least a week-long stay. Rent a car. It’s relatively easy to drive around.

PLACES

West Maui:  Lahaina
West Maui’s Lahaina area has a few awesome museums where you can learn about the history of Hawaii and its people. Interesting thing I found out about this state; after becoming a part of the US in late 50s – Hawaii’s own Polynesian culture started deteriorating. Future generations would only speak English, their native tongue was slowly disappearing. It wasn’t until early 2000, that Hawaiians deliberately made an attempt to revive their culture. For a state that seemed to start late, I was very impressed by their heritage preservation efforts. People here are multi-lingual, they have very well adapted to the American setting, keeping their culture in tact – also very cleverly integrating it with tourism.

Lahaina, yellow bus
Lahaina

PARKING (West Maui)
Parking can be a big issue in Lahaina.
Parking tip:> There are plenty of free public parking lots in Lahaina. But if you can’t find one. Right between the intersection of Dickenson St/Luakinu St and Dickenson St/Waine’e St you can find ‘Republic parking’; for 3 – 8 hrs it costs $5. If you park just a block ahead (closer to the main Lahaina market) It costs $5 for 1-2 hrs [2016 rate].

Lahaina is a great area to walk around, it is one of the main tourist areas on Maui. Awesome places to dine, one of which is, Cool Cat Cafe: – I recommend: Blue suede shoes cheese burgers – for the lovers of blue cheese burgers.
Best beach is in the Kaanapali area. About a few minutes (drive) north of Lahaina (although technically the same area). Kaanapali has a big mall (Whalers village) where you can park your car but it’s expensive. We were lucky enough to find a public parking spot, which is right next to the mall. If you get confused, ask the vehicle ticket person at the mall to point you to the public parking space.

South Maui: Kihei
Our hotel was on the south side of Maui. Tourist mainly flock western side – but we chose South side – as we had read in the reviews that the south side would be less crowded. Our hotel was just across an awesome beach from where you could get the best sunset view on Maui. All beaches are public on the island of Maui.

Kihei, Beach area
Sunset – Kihei, Beach area

Food (South Maui , Kihei)
Closer to the hotel we stayed at there was>
Cafe O’Lei: This was about 6-min walk from our hotel.
Recommend: Li Hing Mui Margarita

Coconut’s Fish cafe: A few minutes drive from our hotel (30-35 minutes if you walk fast). According to CNN Coconut’s Fish cafe is one of the best top 10 food joints in the US. I would say, it does live up to the hype.

Both affordable.

East Maui
East Maui is all Haleakala –  also the no. 1 biggest attraction of Maui. Haleakala mountain offers hiking experience, watching sunrise 10,000 feet above sea level, wildlife spotting, walk through a mystical bamboo forest. It’s a natural beauty jackpot.
Activities:

Haleakala

Haleakala Summit
Haleakala Summit

Haleakala is humongous – considering 75% of Maui is all Haleakala – there is so much to do here in each side of Haleakala.

  1. Road to Hana (all day trip)
  2. Watch sunrise: Make sure to wake up early for this. To get there on time, you have to leave your hotel room by 2:45 a.m. if you are on the South side. For those living on the west side, will have to leave even earlier.
  3. Explore the Haleakala mountain. Go for hiking. We tried, Halemau’u trail and Hosmer’s Grove trail
  4. Part of the Haleakala National park> Pipiwai Trial: This trail was something out of a dream. Nothing like I had seen before, forest full of bamboo, gave me goosebumps – very mystical and spiritual.
Haleakala Summit
Haleakala Summit

North Maui
We were on the island for 8 days – so after we were done with all touristic activities – we had enough time to also check out the Nakalele Blowhole. If you do not have enough time – you can skip this. But if you do, do not miss out. It isn’t a protected area, hence you will see plenty of sign boards saying something like, ‘..explore at your own risk’. Please do not go so close to the blow hole, it is in fact very dangerous. Blowhole area looks a bit like alien planet. It took about 2 hours drive to get to this place from Kihei (south Maui).

Nakalele Blowhole
Nakalele Blowhole, North Maui

Overall Must dos:

  1. Attend Luau
  2. Explore all the best beaches of west (Kaanapali) and south Maui (Kihei).
  3. Go snorkeling: We went snorkling at Molokini crater. Water was absolutely divine. I have never seen water so clean. You can see all kinds of aquatic creatures from the boat, you don’t even have to jump in the sea. It was that clean!  Molokini is a protected area, you are not allowed climb the rocks of Molokini. Snorkling will be limited within a certain area only. But highly recommend it for sure. Besides Molokini, this package also included watching sea turtle on south Maui.  As a bonus, we also got to see humpback whales. Turns out it was a whale mating season, so there were multiple male humpback whales trying to impress one single female whale and ended up very close to our boat. Boats are not allowed within 100 yards of whales, but if whales decide to come close to the boat, there’s nothing the captain can do but stay put. It was an awesome sight!
  4. Explore Haleakala: Watch sunrise, hike Pipiwai trail, and other trails of the mountain.
  5. Zip-line
Snorkling at Molokini crater
Snorkling at Molokini crater

All in all, I found Maui very similar to Nepal. Hawaii is literally at the top most level in the landscape of international tourism. When I say, Maui is very similar to Nepal – I am not even kidding. Except for the ocean, everything else in Maui reminded me of Nepal. From long and winding road to Hana, to summiting Mt Haleakala, seeing the sunrise above the clouds, to beautiful weather – it felt very much like going back home. If such a small island can offer so much, Nepal being a bigger country would naturally have much more to offer, if only managed well. Still, having said that, Maui of course has its own charm that cannot be compared to any other place; especially its people and culture – very unique and one of a kind. If Maui is on your bucket list – I hope you wait no more to book a trip.

Watch a snippet of our trip:

Maui, Hawaii from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

Watch this on Youtube

Here’s to Patan

My 2014 narrative was dominated by upper Mustang. I must have had thought there couldn’t be a bigger high than upper mustang experience, that place – so barren and yet so beautiful.  I was a rare few amongst my peers who’d made it to the Tibetan border; that subsequently turned me into a complete travel snob. But as I recall 2014, Mustang was not the only place I had discovered. Neighboring city next to Kathmandu – Patan, was in fact my very first discovery of the year 2014.

Growing up in Kathmandu, Kathmandu Durbar Square had been an integral part of my childhood days. It was just a few minutes walk from my home in Ason chowk. One of my aunts lived in the Durbar square area and I would go there every possible weekend to hang out with my cousins. I grew up playing hide and seek in Kathmandu Durbar Square, I learnt to ride a bicycle in Kathmandu Durbar Square. My childhood memories are made up of Kathmandu Durbar square. Whereas, Patan, not so much. It barely even crossed my mind.

Fast forward to 2014, when I was home – my parents had moved to a different neighborhood, except this time it was closer to Patan. When I needed to hang out with my friends, Thamel seemed too far. Lo and behold – it was the right time to discover Jhamsikhel – or more popularly known as ‘Jhamel’. A combination of ‘Thamel’ and ‘Jhamsikhel’, mockingly coined as new Thamel. It was up and coming, hip neighborhood of Patan where all the cool kids hung out. I presumed I was one of those cool kids. My quest to discover Patan, began by exploring Jhamsikhel. The clean and cool neighborhood, decent eateries and the hypnotic musical ambience attracted me all the more toward this quaint community.

Food

Jhamsikhel has many options, you can pick and choose from. Some of my favorite places to go eat are:

LeTrio

This is the spot for hot and spicy mouth watering Jhol momo. That’s it. I go there just for Jhol momo, best in town. If you are adventurous, try chicken wings. It was great the last time I tried. Their veg menu is good too.

A photo posted by Shailiza Manandhar (@shailza) on

Tamarind

The first time I was here on a Friday night, had tried Salmon Medallion, I loved it. I thought this place could fulfill my craving for American food. As the clock was about to strike 7 p.m., I heard this guy sing, his music, loved it even more than the food. Music seems to be the only reason I keep going back to this place. I must admit though, every time I went in; the quality of food seems to deteriorate a notch. Nonetheless, still not too bad to try at least once. But MUSIC! music is always 100%. This musician, Dharmendra Sewan has a great personality. I believe he performs every Friday night in Tamarind. That man nails every song he sings – be it Nepali folks, contemporary English or my most favorite hindi movie songs.  He is genuinely a good singer and a great entertainer. Check out this place every Friday nights. You won’t be disappointed, thanks to Dharmendra Sewan.

  A video posted by Shailiza Manandhar (@shailza) on

Thakkhola

Thakkhola is a hidden gem. My dad introduced me to this place. It’s a great spot to have authentic Thakali food. Most importantly, you get great food, that is within your budget, in squeaky clean cozy atmosphere. The reason it costs less as compared to the others in Jhamsikhel is because; restaurants offering 100% traditional Nepali food do not need to pay value added tax (VAT). Therefore, it gets a lot cheaper for the owners to run the restaurant and subsequently gets lighter on our pocket too. If you are more into Nepali food, I highly recommend this spot than any other places in Jhamel.

Thakkhola, Veg Thali
Thakkhola, Veg Thali

Patan Durbar Square

From the narrow streets of Jhamsikhel to the main attraction of Patan, one of the world heritage sites of Kathmandu valley; Patan Durbar Square. In order to understand this place you have to immerse yourself in its surrounding. You have to get it from every angle. Spend time and learn about this piece of history through the most well preserved museum in Nepal, inside the durbar square. Also get a good bird’s eye view, from any one of the tall restaurants of the neighborhood. Gaze at Patan in all its glory. Go with friends that you can have a conversation with just about anything and everything, and don’t forget a chilled glass of beer – I recommend, Gorkha or Tuborg.

A 1000-year-old heritage mixed with hustle and bustle of everyday people – that’s Patan for you. I’ve seen Patan Durbar Square in all its shape and form. In the most bright sunny day, to monsoon weather, I’ve seen it drenched in rain and form a mini river. I’ve seen that place illuminating underneath a starry night and street lights. I truly feel like I have seen it all, all of Patan, inside and out.

Patan Durbar Square in all its glory
Patan Durbar Square in all its glory

Patan Heritage

My admiration for this city didn’t just end with gazing at everyday Patan. I was lucky enough to take a heritage walk with Anil Chitrakar in and around various tiers of Patan. The science behind the architecture of the main Patan square and its periphery is simply mind blowing. What you see today is just a glimpse of what’s to come in next few years. In next 5 years or so, Patan will get a complete facelift. Wait and watch. I highly recommend you to sign up for the Patan Heritage Walk with Anil Chitrakar, and allow him to blow your mind.

A photo posted by Shailiza Manandhar (@shailza) on

Almost all through 2014, I also took a dance class in the heart of Pulchok, again that was in Patan. I have ventured all the way to Patan Durbar Square from my parents’ house and located all possible nooks and crannies and short cuts to Patan. May be I haven’t yet fully uncovered Patan’s gallies as Ason chowk but I know – one day I will get there. Through this post I want to acknowledge the greatness that is Patan. The place that remained unexplored for so long. When finally the moment arrived, I discovered it in such a way that I felt like I was a part of Patan all long. Here’s to the city that helped expand my horizon, to the city I fell in love, to the city that will forever remain etched in my heart.

Revisiting Chitwan

I am a typical urban Kathmandutie; but unlike majority of my peers, I can proudly say I haven’t just visited places beyond Kathmandu but even lived there. Chitwan being one of them – however, the very famous national park of this district had been left undiscovered for quite sometime – until very recently.

In the midst of Monsoon (August 2015) I made it to Meghauli, Chitwan – about 178 KM from Kathmandu. Flew from Kathmandu to Bharatpur. Took a cab from Bharatpur to Meghauli (32 km) where Barahi Jungle Lodge is located. It takes about 1.5 hrs to get there from Bharatpur airport. This was part of a package tour.

Bharatpur Airport
Bharatpur Airport

Interesting things to witness on the way to Meghauli (as is with every other flat land of Nepal):
1) Greenery
2) Vast farm lands
3) People commuting in bicycles: Again another typical terai feature. Like people in Paris or Amsterdam, except – here in Nepal, it is the cheapest way to commute – not that we care about the environment; unless they really do care about the environment.

While reading the reviews, I noticed people complaining about this long ride to Meghauli. On the contrary, I actually loved it. The downside is the bad road condition – otherwise it is a great way to watch the local world go by.

Highlighted districts: Chitwan and Kathmandu
Highlighted districts: Chitwan and Kathmandu

I felt very awkward by the fact that my brother and I were the only guests on the day of the arrival. All attention on us, just not used to so much luxury. Barahi Jungle lodge is located in a Tharu village, hence the reason they have mainly employed all Tharu locals. We were assigned Subash Gurung as our naturalist, he was an encyclopedia of Chitwan National Park and Chitwan itself. If you ever go there, hunt down this guy and learn everything you wanted to know about Nepal and its wildlife,  and don’t forget to give me a credit – i.e if you are interested in one.

Things we did:

  1. Elephant safari: Monsoon is an off season. Since it rains so much, jeep safari is not allowed in the park. Plus elephant safari is permitted only in the community forest area, which I must say was still very impressive. You can also notice the extent of the thickness of this forest while you’re on board approaching to land in Bharatpur.
  2. Elephant Bathing: I technically didn’t do this because it involved taking a dip in the river and the heavily influenced American side of me got scared by the brown colored river. I know, I totally chickened out 🙁 Actually I suffer from aquaphobia.
  3. Boat ride: This was the best part of the package for me. I think Gorkha beer had something to do with it (or had everything to do with it). There were four of us (my brother, I and two other guests). This was supposedly only a boat ride. Those guys surprised us by stopping somewhere in the jungle – with beverages all lined up. I was like – heck, I’m drinking beer! But didn’t think I could take the whole bottle since my brother didn’t want to accompany me. Then this another guest and I made a deal – to share a bottle… and another one. It was drizzling in the middle of this green community forest. Very romantic. Then the two elephants were brought in to pick us up! another round of elephant safari.
  4. Visit to Tharu museum: Learned that tharu and Newars have in fact a very similar culture. I highly recommend this to those who are curious to learn about ethnic community of this district.
    Tharu museum snapshot
  5. Bullock cart ride: It was a fun ride
Barahi Jungle Lodge
Barahi Jungle Lodge

About Chitwan National Park: I was thoroughly impressed by the park. Out of 3500 national parks in the world, this one is the 19th best! The main park is spread across 900 sq meters plus the community forest separated by the river. Although, technically I didn’t get to visit the main part of the park, the community forest alone was very impressive entirely owned and managed by the local community. We could have had done, jungle walk in the main park – but it was way too hot to try that. So, I bailed out. The park is safe guarded my Nepal army, one of the reasons why poaching is under control. Considering nothing in Nepal seems to be working, turns out that’s not the case with our national parks. Nepal is in fact pioneering the wildlife conservation. Yeah, try beating that America!

Coincidentally, the last day when we had to leave – it was supposedly Tharu community who’d called for Chitwan bandh. But the Tharus of this village didn’t seem to have a clue. One has no idea what’s happening in Nepal, can’t trust the media either. Everything is happening in Nepal; yet nothing is happening in Nepal, if you know what I mean. All I can suggests is – do not trust the media. Talk to the locals instead. There are definitely no security issues, but that doesn’t mean you venture out in unknown areas without your guide either.

Evening
Evening

I’m definitely visiting this place at least one more time.

Chitwan, Nepal from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

Watch this video on YouTube:

Kanyam, Ilam

Ilam and Jhapa - Map of Nepal
Map of Nepal with Ilam and Jhapa districts highlighted

I discovered Kanyam by accident. I had heard of Ilam’s beauty. However, I had zero knowledge of this district and the places I must visit. I was supposed to catch a flight to Kathmandu the next day from Bhadrapur, Jhapa. So, the plan was to stay somewhere in Ilam where I could do some exploring. Journey to Kanyam started from Pashupatinagar, Ilam (bordered to Darjeeling, India). From there you can take a local bus all the way to Fikkal (another famous town of Ilam). There was nothing much there, took another local bus from Fikkal towards Jhapa. On the way I witnessed a long stretch of tea estate, and was absolutely awestruck. That’s when I decided this is where I’ll stay. The place was called Kanyam.

Later found out, Kanyam is a very popular tourist destination in Ilam. Tourists on their way to Kanchanjanga base camp also have a night-stay in this beautiful town. I haven’t captured much of this place. I just went down to this tea farm, it was so romantic just couldn’t leave that place and captured whatever I saw in that moment. There’s more to Kanyam than what you see in the video given below. If you ever visit Ilam – do make it a point to visit Kanyam. This place is not at all crowded, the very fact that it is such an underrated tourist destination. For someone who just came from Darjeeling to Ilam, this place is impeccably clean with zero pollution and lush green tea garden stretched as far as you can see.  As cliche as it may sound, this place is nothing less than a heaven on earth. If there ever was one, it would be Kanyam.

P.S: Story behind the music I used in this video:
For a long time I had been wanting to use hindi film song as a background music to my video, primarily cause I’m a total sucker for hindi movie songs. Also, this particular one that I came across is a love song that you would sing to the one you love. It’s titled “Pakeezah” released this week I think (2nd week of Nov 2014). It just so happened that I wanted to sort of write a love letter to Kanyam. It was a place I had never heard of, it was neither in my plan nor my head space. But it was such a wonderful discovery. This is my way of thanking this place for somehow being there on my way and allowing me to explore. It seemed to fit perfectly as my ode to Kanyam.

Find my video on YouTube:

Find my video on Vimeo:

Kanyam, Ilam from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

My Life Changing Journey to Upper Mustang

I’ve traveled to many parts of the world, but nothing quite like what I experienced in upper Mustang. As I progressed towards Lo-manthang from day one – leaving behind lower Mustang, my journey transformed into all the more emotional and spiritual joyride. I still cannot fully fathom how these landscapes changed me. All I know is; it affected me, to the point I would almost burst into tears. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced in my life.

My stops and their elevation
My Stops

Planning to visit upper Mustang? my friends have built this awesome map, please do check it out! 

As I left for Chele from Kagbeni, that’s when it slowly began to dawn on me, this journey was going to be one of a kind. Just a few minutes walk towards Chele in the break of dawn – I find myself all alone. If an alien abducted me, or if I fell off the cliff and died, my body would remain untraceable. Nobody would know where I took my last breath. The isolated nature of this place was terrifying, at the same time deeply moving. Turns out, it was just a beginning, the best and the most thrilling part had yet to come.

I took the last flight to Pokhara from Kathmandu on May 16, 2014. Stayed overnight and flew to Jomsom the next day. I cannot talk about this trip without mentioning the Jomsom flight, cause it was mind-blowing. The airplane literally flies in between the hills. You can see the trees so up close, it is ridiculous!. It was the very first flight to Jomsom and I started trekking pretty much right after I landed.

Jomsom Flight
Jomsom Flight
Jomsom Airport
Jomsom Airport

 

At Jomsom Airport Runway
At Jomsom Airport Runway

 

Outside the Airport - Jomsom
Outside the Airport – Jomsom

Given below is a synopsis of all my stops:

The hours mentioned is the time it took me to get to the destination. Depending on your pace, it may take you shorter or longer. On top of that, I also got lost on the way so, if you know where you are going, it shouldn’t take you that long.

Jomsom – Kagbeni:  3 hours
This was the shortest walk and still one of the most tiring ones for me. I got the taste of what the trek would be like on the way to Kagbeni. This was still a busy route with a lot of people going back and forth. So, it felt pretty normal. The first hotel I went asking for room said they were full. I freaked out and I immediately agreed to stay at the second hotel I checked; with a fear that I may not get a place to stay. There was an old lady – when I asked about the wifi, she showed me the router. So, I thought it would be cool. But nobody knew the password. In the entire trip it was the worst hotel I stayed at. Clogged toilet/bathroom. Didn’t get to shower. They were having some puja. I was so hungry – but didn’t get to eat until the Lamas did. Still having said that, it was relatively cheaper.

Kagbeni
Kagbeni
Kagbeni
Kagbeni

Kagbeni – Chele: 6 hours
The moment I left Kagbeni – that’s when I started getting lost. I got lost almost everyday, then on. But Chele wasn’t too bad, considering there were other people near by as well. After walking for hours I was glad I was very close to Chele. But then, I realized it was on a top of a hill. I took the longer route that jeep takes cause I did not think I could conquer the hill. I asked this guy about the path to follow, who was washing his jeep. He said- I was taking a longer route obviously (pointing at the sheeps grazing) he continued, “just follow the sheeps.” Those sheeps were walking uphill almost on a 90 degree angle. I was like, are you serious? After a lot of fuss, I managed to conquer my fear and got all the way to the hotel called Bishal Guest House. By then I was so hungry, I ate a plateful of rice. And it was the best food I had tasted in the entire journey.

chele
Chele

Chele – Syanboche: 6 hours Syanboche – Ghilling: 2 hours
Chele to Syanboche is an absolute thrill, this is where you get the most awe inspiring views but not so easily, you’ll have to first cross a few hills to get the best views. This was the hardest one for me. As I had to climb up and get down multiple hills, it seemed like an unending journey. But the views were just amazing! Syanboche has just about 10 houses. Only stopped there for lunch, then trekked another 2 hrs or so to Ghilling.
Spent a night at New Kunga hotel.

Way to Syanboche leaving behind Bhena
Way to Syanboche leaving behind Bhena

Ghilling – Ghami: 4 hours
I was extremely tired by the time I got to Ghami and the fact that I got lost (again!) and had to climb one extra hill, wasn’t very happy about it. It was from here that my back started bothering me quite significantly. But all that changed when I got to Royal Mustang Hotel. The weather was perfect. If I could show the world what happiness means, it was that moment. When I was sitting on the chair, with the sunlight on my face. Feeling relieved that there was no more walking to do, no more back pain, soaking in the beautiful scenery, accompanied with great food, a total bliss!

Ghami
Ghami

Ghami – Tsarang: 5 hours
The way I got lost on the way to Tsarang; it was truly into-the-wild kind. I was supposed to get to Tsarang in three hours. But I had already crossed 4-hr timeframe and I wasn’t seeing a single settlement. Then it hit me, I am royally lost.
Funny thing is, at a time like this your brain works both ways. It tells you, now you will die. Also, it triggers survival instinct- gives you all kinds of ideas to find a way to survive. Thankfully my survival instinct overcame my fear and of course, like every day with a little sobbing and still with a lingering thought of death – I kept walking and walking and walking and saw a few houses miles away. Turns out it was another small village called Tarang, I kept walking straight up the cliff – then I spotted a bigger village on the right. That was Tsarang. Saw an old man listening to a radio. He confirmed, the one on the right is Tsarang. Now, all that I had to do was keep walking. Here I stayed at Maya’s Inn.

On the way to Tsarang
On the way to Tsarang

Tsarang – Lo-Manthang: 4 hours
Finally after walking for hours I got the glimpse of Lo-Manthang. Picture below shows the very last leg of the journey. In Lo-Manthang I stayed for two days at Himalayan Guest House, before heading back to Kagbeni-Muktinath.

Overlooking Lo-Manthang
Overlooking Lo-Manthang

This was technically a solo journey; hence I cannot emphasize enough how safe this place is, considering I came back alive and well. I didn’t have a guide. If you are going on your own I would recommend you to hire a guide. It’s only been a few months that road was introduced to upper Mustang. It is still at an early stage. Only jeep runs on the traditional trekking route. The bus or trucks take the path of Kali Gandaki, away from the trekking route. If you want to enjoy the view, trekking is still the best way to get to Lo-Manthang. I took the jeep on my way back to Chuksang/Kagbeni/Jomsom, cost me Rs 1200. What took me days, took only 5 hours on jeep. From Chuksang, you have to walk about half-an-hour, take either private jeep or public bus to Kagbeni/Jomsom (If you are traveling close to Monsoon season, as you have to cross Kali Gandaki). Public bus leaves two times a day at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Chuksang. Transportation would not be an issue on your way back.

Mustang is a kind of place that can either change you or not. Its landscape can fill you with awe or leave you feeling empty. No matter where you go in Nepal, each place has the potential to change you internally. But I’m pretty sure, Mustang experience is one of a kind. If you open yourself up to this place, it will embrace you. It will take you inside-out and leave you so bare, exposed – with just you, allowing the truest part of you to experience the magnificent beauty of this barren landscape. Its vast dessert mountain, sparse vegetation, its wild animals, birds, everything I saw affected me. It was a kind of place where I just wanted to quietly sit and be awed by the surroundings; as barren as it was, it was equally breathtaking. If you plan to visit a part of the world next year, make it upper Mustang. You will not be disappointed.

Get a glimpse of my trip:

Upper Mustang Trek from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

Having issues with Vimeo? The same video is also available on Youtube.

Top 10 Things to Pack for Upper Mustang Trek: http://wp.me/p2ImKX-hB

What You Need for Upper Mustang Trekking?

Month of the year (I went trekking): Mid May of 2014
Starting point
: Jomsom
Destination: Lo-Manthang
Elevation range: Approx. 3000 – 4000 meters

My stops and their elevation

Planning to visit upper Mustang? my friends have built this awesome map, please do check it out! 

Top 10 things to pack:

  1. Stick
  2. Windproof Jacket and Sweater/Fleece
  3. Walking/Running Shoes
  4. Scarf/Shawl
  5. Sunscreen Lotion
  6. Water Bottle
  7. Energy Bars/Snickers
  8. Sunglass
  9. Mini First Aid Kit [Basic medicines (such as: Cetamol, Tylenol), Handiplast etc.]
  10. Camera

On May 17, 2014, I flew to Jomsom from Pokhara. Jomsom was the starting point of the trek. Considering I had never in my life done anything like this – I had no idea what to expect. Given below were the only two trekking gears I had bought. Windproof jacket (cost me about Rs 2000 – North Face knock off) and an adjustable stick (Rs 500) – both I got from Thamel.

gears

Rest were what I already had, didn’t get a trekking boot either. I utilized my old Under Armour walking shoes that worked out just fine. If I were to recommend you the most essential gear, a stick is a must. Especially, if you have a back problem like I do and also scared of height. Doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a simple wooden stick would work too. Will come in handy for steep uphills and downhills.

I would also recommend a rucksack – that helps equally distribute the weight all over the body. I didn’t get one. I just had a simple backpack. Because my back almost gave up on me, I really wished I had gotten one. My goal was to carry only the essentials, to keep my backpack as light as possible. But no matter how light my bag was, the weight did bother me a bit throughout the trek.

By mid-May, Kathmandu and Pokhara was extremely hot. But Jomsom was quite chilly.
That very day I made it to Kagbeni. The greater the elevation, colder it will get. So make sure to pack a sweater or a fleece if it’s not too heavy and a trouser as well. I didn’t carry my sweater, I found the weather noticeably cold as I moved upward from Ghami to Tsarang, eventually Lo-Manthang. Also, every morning I would begin trekking at 4:45 a.m. Even though it was cold in the morning – when the sun was up it would burn my skin like crazy. Make sure to pack sunscreen lotion.

Another thing, don’t forget to grab some snickers or energy bars to get you going. Also, water bottle to keep you hydrated. It gets windy as the day progresses, a scarf would come handy, including a sunglass that will protect your eyes.

When you are taking the trouble to go all the way to upper Mustang; it would be foolish to not capture the moments. Another vital gear: camera!

Things to keep in mind while trekking:

  • Be present, be in the moment
  • Enjoy the breathtaking sceneries
  • Rest
  • Capture the surrounding in your camera. I guarantee you, it’s nothing like you have ever seen anywhere in this world.

My future posts will contain additional details about this trek. Until then, I want you to bask in the beauty of the picture below. It was the last leg of the journey, very close to Lo-Manthang.

More about this trip: http://wp.me/p2ImKX-ik

Last leg of the journey. On the way to Lo-Manthang
Last leg of the journey. On the way to Lo-Manthang

Get a glimpse of my trip:

Upper Mustang Trek from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

Having issues with Vimeo? The same video is also available on Youtube.

Hiking in Style

Of all the explorations that I have been doing lately; from hiking to traveling to recording people, places, and moments. I thought I must dedicate a post on this blog as well as on my tumblr exclusively about hiking in style.

Then, I created one!

Hiking in Style
Hiking in Style

Visit my style for more.

Tatopani Trip

Some important things to keep in mind prior to traveling to Tatopani:

  • If you plan to take a public bus [Kathmandu – Tatopani]
    1. Buy the ticket in advance.
  • If you plan to visit Khasa, China
    1. Make sure you go all the way to Liping (about 5-km further away from Tatopani main bazaar. Liping is also the last stop of the public bus.
    2. You must have Nepali citizenship card to enter China.
    3. Before you enter the border, get the 1-day pass from Nepali border office. Will cost you a few bucks.
    4. Border closes at 3 p.m. NST [There is no time limitation for your return provided you get back within 24 hours.]
    5. Nepali Rupees is accepted in Khasa, China.

When my friend suggested that I should go to Tatopani which is only about 3 hours away from Kathmandu, he completely forgot to mention that he had gone on a motorcycle. Cause 3-hour seemed way too tempting to try it out on a single day. And so we went – my brother and I early in the morning straight to Puraano Bus park (Ratna Park) – just to find out that the bus that goes all the way to Tatopani was already full. Then we took the one that went up to Barhabise. From there it was supposed to be 1 and a half-hour to about 2 hours to get to Tatopani. But eventually the entire journey took almost 8 hours [Lesson learnt: buy the ticket in advance].

Kids from Barhabise, Sindhupalchok
Kids from Barhabise, Sindhupalchok

With public bus, I’m not going to sugarcoat- it is kind of a nightmare. As very few buses run to and from Tatopani; people don’t mind cramming into whatever little space they can find because that is the only choice they have. In terms of simply the bus ride, it was a great adventure. Barhabise onwards I stood all the way to our final destination cause there was no seat available. The upside however, I got to talk to the locals. Sometime traveling with locals add a whole new flavor to your travel experience that you cannot get when you are simply driving on your own on a private car.

Our mission that day was to get to Khasa, China. The bus had left from Puraano Bus park at around 7 a.m. towards Tinkune, Bhaktapur, Banepa. After crossing Dolal Ghat, Khadichaur, finally made it to Barhabise by 11 a.m. then had our lunch and the bus to Tatopani finally left at 12 noon. By the time we got to Liping the border town, it was already 2:30 p.m. Nepal – China border closes at 3 p.m. Reached the border just in time to fill up the paper and cross to the other side. You have to have Nepali citizenship card to enter the Chinese territory. Need to display the card multiple times, get your bags scanned. And don’t be surprised if Chinese officials speak to you in Nepali. To get to main Khasa bazaar- it costs us Rs 300 from the check post. On our way back to border Rs 800. [Good luck bargaining]

I really wished I knew a little bit of Mandarin or Tibetan language when I reached Khasa. Because – they don’t speak English or Nepali and I don’t speak their language. May be because we got there kind of late – Khasa looked very desolated. We were so hungry – after taking few clips we returned right away to Nepal for some food.

I have to admit, I didn’t find much to do in Khasa, whtaever fun I had was in Liping. I was so worried about not getting a seat on the bus the next day, we stayed overnight in Liping. Didn’t bother eploring the main Tatopani area as it was quite far away, additionally there was no way to easily commute and it was already too late. I wanted to make sure that I could sit for another 7-hour travel back to Kathmandu.

Kids from Liping, Sindhupalchok
My brother and kids from Liping, Sindhupalchok

I don’t know how much Liping is talked about in the landscape of Nepali tourism, I loved the place. It was probably the best border town I had ever been to. It might have to do with roaring Bhotekoshi that added to our adventure. The room we got was just by the shore. From the inside of the room it felt or sounded like torrential downpour of rain, that’s how loud Bhotekoshi was. I have never seen a river run so fast, so dangerously, in such a hypnotic manner. Weirdly enough, I found serenity in that river rush. Just that site alone made my trip worthwhile. Also, some local kids who insisted on singing and made sure that I captured them on my camera. Like any other obedient and curious traveler, I thought it would be wise to listen to the [junior] locals. Below is the result of that recording along with a few glimpses of the trip:

Nepal – China border [Liping – Khasa] from Shailiza Manandhar on Vimeo.

Why I love traveling in Nepal

Let me tell you what I like about traveling in Nepal. It is not always the overtly romanticized natural beauty of this country. Not because it is comparatively cheaper than traveling to other parts of the world. Not because majority of Nepal is still untouched by the world outside. Well, yes, all that plus – what I like the most is the warmth of the people.
It helps me connect with the place much faster and makes my travel a more meaningful experience. This is something I really miss when I go outside of Nepal especially in the western region. They have a great tourism industry, very well developed infrastructure. They have everything you need to make your travel a luxurious experience. But they lack the intimate connection I seek when I’m traveling, which has nothing to do with money. It is something I feel from inside that I cannot explain.

Chisapani, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park
Chisapani, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park