Wow it’s been a while! We have a huge backlog of travel I have yet to post about (most notably, our month-long Europe trip back in May), but I’m going to skip all that and post about Nepal while it’s fresh on the mind! Hopefully I’ll edit the pictures quickly, since that’s usually the main bottleneck for me in updating this blog…
A bunch of friends and I all have company shut downs at the same time around Christmas, and this year we decided to go to Nepal! I actually had no idea where Nepal even was, until we made the decision to go (I know, how American of me…). This is basically how my mental process went:
I was pretty hands off on planning this trip, since one of my friends is a super meticulous planner. Here’s the itinerary he sketched out:
Day 1: Land in Kathmandu
Day 2: Flight to Pokhara, check in at yoga retreat
Day 3: Yoga retreat
Day 4-7: Ghorepani Poon Hill trek
Day 8-9: Pokhara
Day 10: Transit to Chitwan
Day 11: Chitwan (Jungle trek)
Day 12-13: Kathmandu
So it’s easier to follow along, here are the cast of characters. To preserve anonymity, I’ll use their initials:
J and AT, who are engaged. F, M, and A, who are basically the three musketeers. Lastly, S and myself, who are the two solo girls (with beaus back home).
I’ll be breaking my trip into chunks, so each post can be more self contained. I’ll update this section with links as I post them :3 the plan is to have 5 parts, followed by a final post with our Nepal travel tips!
Part 1: Prelude, Shopping in Kathmandu
Part 2: Yoga Retreat
Part 3: Ghorepani-Poon Hill trek
Part 4: Chitwan National Park
Part 5: Back in Kathmandu
Part 6: Wrap Up, and Travel Tips
For each chunk, I’ll try to provide a rough cost breakdown, and I’ll sum it all up in the final post.
Without further ado, here’s the beginning of our trip!
Day 0: Flight to Nepal
The process of getting to Nepal was a bit of a disaster. Despite booking tickets almost 6 months in advance, the only reasonably priced tickets were SFO-LAX via Virgin America, and LAX – Guangzhou and Guangzhou – Kathmandu via China Southern.
Our SFO-LAX leg ended up delayed by THREE HOURS, which caused us to sprint through LAX (and for some reason you’re forced to go out through security, as well as to get your boarding passes reissued by China Southern) and to be denied entry onto the flight to Guangzhou at the check in counter.
Long story short, there was about 20 minutes of angry yelling, mostly by the other ~15 or so passengers who were in the same situation, before the agents at the counter decided to just let those of us with already-issued boarding passes to get on the plane. Why they didn’t just let us get on in the first place is beyond me…
Although we reached Kathmandu, our luggage did not. Apparently, despite the plane being grounded for ~45 minutes while people were yelling and we were rushed through security, there was just not enough time for the luggage to be transported onto the plane. We spent the first hour after arriving in Kathmandu at the lost baggage counter filing a lost luggage report, and then at the local China Southern office, frantically enquiring after our lost luggage to no avail. Calling Virgin was pointless as well – customer service directed us to the airport baggage centers, but no one picked up at ether the LAX nor SFO baggage counters. In fact, I wasn’t able to get ahold of a person until 2 days later, after an angry twitter storm, and even then, they just directed me towards filling out Virgin’s lost and found form.
2 of my friends and I each lost at least $2000 of gear and supplies, which meant that we would have to rebuy and rent equipment to go on our Ghorepani Poon Hill trek. I feel really grateful that my friends all took this setback in stride, and stayed positive throughout the whole ordeal.
IF THIS EVER HAPPENS TO YOU:
- Link to virgin America’s Lost and Found form: Form!
- Link to the third party site that apparently tracks Virgin’s (and many other airlines’) lost luggage : Where’s My Suitcase
- The help page that Virgin’s customer service directed me to: Lost or Damaged Baggage
- List of Phone Numbers for Virgin’s Baggage Counters / Lost and Found: NO ONE PICKS UP D:
On the bright side, we did get some bomb-diggity food at the Guangzhou Airport lounge, courtesy of our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.
Day 1: Shopping in Kathmandu
The first day in Kathmandu was mostly spent at the airport asking whether anyone had information about our luggage, and at our Airbnb, calling Virgin’s various help numbers to no avail.
The rest of the time we spent wandering the streets and haggling with street vendors for Northface jackets to replace some of our missing gear.
Here are a couple tips I’ve gathered from our shopping experiences in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
- Although all the merchandise is branded (Northface and Arcteryx seem the most common brands) everything is fake.
- Although all stores seem to sell the same styles and brands of clothing, the build quality of the merchandise differs pretty significantly. Shop around, and use the prices quoted at stores with lower quality goods to bargain at other stores.
- Always haggle with the shop owner. We were able to get around 10% off already discounted prices, which dropped a synthetic puffy jacket down from 2800 rupees to ~2300 rupees. A good strategy is to start at twice the discount you’d be happy with. For example, if you’d be ok paying 2600 for a 3000 rupee jacket, start by asking for 2200.
- You’ll be able to negotiate a better discount if you’re buying in bulk, so when possible, buy everything you want in one place.
- The prices we were able to negotiate- fur lined windbreakers : 2900 rupees (we bought 4 total). Puffy jackets: ~2300 rupees for women’s, ~2900 rupees for men’s. Hiking pants: ~1500 rupees. Hiking shoes: ~4500 rupees.
- M had recently read a book on better negotiation, which taught a strategy called “the nibble”. Essentially, it says to always ask for a little something on top. For example, we bought 3 jackets and 4 pairs of pants, so M asked for the hat and one pair of socks (which we wanted to buy anyways) to be thrown in for free (on top of the 10% discount he already negotiated)
- Before taking your haul from the store, double check that all the pockets are intact and all the zippers are functional. The first pair of pants I bought, one of the pockets was sewn into the seams, so I had to go back to the store and exchange.
At the end of the day though, these stores are the livelihoods of many of the local people, so if you have the means to, it may be worth a slightly higher price to support the local economy 🙂
Day 2 – Heading to Pokhara
We had an early afternoon flight out of Kathmandu to Pokhara, so we got up bright and early. A and F had found a restaurant in Thamel that they really liked (called Blueberry Cafe), so we headed back there for brunch.
Afterwards, we took a super bumpy cab ride to the airport. The domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport is super tiny, and the security seemed pretty lax. After we picked up our tickets from the airline counters outside, it was just one quick luggage scan followed by a metal detector, before we were in! Then, we checked into our flight at the check in counters, and we were ushered into the terminal itself.
The terminal consisted of a concession stand, a small bookshop, and rows of metal seats where passengers waited for their flights to board. A flickering TV in the corner displayed flight statuses. While we huddled, waiting for our delayed flight to arrive, the electricity went out briefly, causing the lights to flicker ominously.
Finally, our flight was called, and we were ushered into a bus that drove us onto the tarmac. The plane was the smallest plane I’ve ever seen! It was 4 seats across in each row with a narrow aisle in between. The overhead compartment barely fit my 15L pack. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that a plane like this was allowed to carry commercial passengers.
But carry us, it did! Over the Himalayas, and across snow-crested peaks that punctured the dense layers of clouds. We scooted by colorful mountain temples and vast stretches of farmland. Then, we were in Pokhara.
Big D, the guide that the Pavilions Himalayas secured for us, was waiting for us in the airport parking lot. He would escort us to our next stop, Sadhana Yoga Retreat, nestled in the hills above Pokhara.
Which I’ll write about next time! :3
Flight to Kathmandu: $1,775
Meals in Kathmandu: $6.25 + $7.15
Shopping in Kathmandu: $40
Flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara: $124
Part 1 Total: $1952