Tag Archives: himalayas

My Critique of Friendship Nepal Tour Company

2Amanda, Kenny, John, and I elected to use Friendship for their 15-day “Best of Nepal” tour. Here is their itinerary and my thoughts on each day.

Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu

We will arrive at Tribhuwan International Airport, Kathmandu. You will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay.

After spending the past two days in sunny Dubai, landing in dark, foggy Kathmandu was a shock. Our friendly tour guide Ramish was there to meet us, thank God. My first impressions… I wasn’t ready for 15 days in Nepal.

The drive to the hotel in the nice, “touristy” Thamel part of town did little to ease the nervousness. We decided to roam the streets and grab a drink and found Jatra. After a kick ass meal and beers for $5, we felt a little better, even though Jatra was ranked 205 out of 209 things to do in Kathmandu by Trip Advisor. The hotel was meager accommodation to say the least. Eddie Murphy would have loved it in Coming to America when finding a Queen. We questioned the tour company and what we were in for but later we realized that our place was actually on the higher end of places to stay. The options were just that terrible. It was like Locked Up Abroad Caracas style. We wouldn’t see clean sheets until we got back to New York.

Day 2: Kathmandu – Nagarkot

 After a welcome breakfast we will take you on a half-day sightseeing tour in Kathmandu Valley. Here we will visit Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal. We will keep walking to see the magnificent Buddha (also known as Boudhanath), the largest Stupa in Nepal. Afterwards we take a ride on to Bhaktapur, a truly fascinating town. We will visit Bhaktapur’s Dubar Square, which features a unique Victorian illustration style within the temples. We will take a route connecting to Nagarkot, and once here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

4Pashupatinath was one of the highlights of the trip and the very first thing we did. We experienced the entire spectrum of human emotions in a matter of seconds. First we got to watch monkeys frolic but then a funeral procession passed and we watch many bodies prepped and cremated along the riverside. Frail toothless homeless women begged for pennies while joyous children played with whatever they could find, mostly rocks and trash.

The little hotel near Nagarkot was up in the mountains, though they call them “hills.” We were above the clouds in any case. It was gorgeous. You’d pay around $1500 a night for the same set up and view in Hawaii. Our hotel was about $40. Nepal was growing on us. We agreed Heisenberg should have hid out here.

Day 3: Nagarkot – Kathmandu

 After breakfast we will return to Kathmandu to enjoy a full day sightseeing at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Whilst here we will visit the place of the Malla, and the Shah Kings of Nepal. We also visit Kumari Temple – house of the virgin goddess – and the Swoyambhunath, a stupa on the top of hill. From here you can overlook unforgettable scenery of Kathmandu. For the perfect end to the day we will visit Patan city, the second largest town in the valley. Whilst here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

20This is was probably my least favorite day. The dust, pollution, and insanity of Kathmandu was grating. The temples and stupas were all starting to blend into one and I felt a little over it. Being in the house of the living Goddess was cool but we didn’t get to see the little virgin, she was hiding I guess. The monkey temple was fun but I preferred the monkeys from the day before better. Amanda got screamed out by her second and third monkeys today.

36Patan was like walking back into another era. It was flooded by Chinese tourists but still an amazing place. Being on the rooftops of the buildings where all the local kids were flying homemade kites was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Then we went back to Kathmandu and went to the very highly rated Fire and Ice pizzeria(#16 in Trip Advisor for Kathmandu.) Some people on the review page even said it was the best pizza in the world outside of Italy. They specifically called out NYC pizza and trashed it. We had to see for ourselves after that. Result… it was mediocre and NYC pizza has nothing to worry about in the pecking order for best pizza in the world outside of Italy.

Day 4: Kathmandu – Chitwan

 After breakfast we will travel over beautiful land from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park. Whilst here you will enjoy truly remarkable scenery and you will get the chance to embrace the unique wildlife of the area. We will stay overnight at a hotel in Chitwan.

16The drive was long and annoying. Yeah, it was beautiful driving along the river but the highway system leaves alot to be desired. You can’t lose focus for a single second if you’re driving in Nepal. Everyone is trying to pass each other, no one stays on the correct side of the road, people are in the road, cows are in the road, sleeping dogs are in the middle of the road. Shockingly we only saw three accidents and one dead dog. We thanked God that Friendship tour provided us with a comfy van with a very skilled driver. We traveled in relative comfort.

We got to Chitwan national park and then to our hotel, which was heavenly. It felt like we were an a tropical island with all the greenery, butterflies, and palm trees. Of course monkey fights on our roof kept us up at night. Within an hour of getting to the hotel we were on our arranged evening walk which included visiting elephants and watching crocodiles. We had a great meal on the beach as the sun set.

Day 5: Chitwan

 After breakfast in the Hotel we will enjoy a full day of safari activities in Royal Chitwan national Park. Here guests can embrace nature and catch glimpses of rare creatures, such as rhinoceroses, Chitwan’s royal Bengal tigers, leopards and monkeys. We strongly recommend you bring a camera, preferably with a telephoto lens. We will retire to the hotel at the end of our day.

120Pick up was very early. We had an iffy canoe ride in an infested river and then a hot humid walk through the jungle, trying our best to avoid the leeches. We were on the look out for tigers and rhinos. We got to see a lazy male rhino chilling in a pond. That was amazing. There was an optional elephant bath for 300 rupees ($3.) I declined but took pics of Amanda and Kenny doing it.

112Later in the day we had an elephant ride deeper into the park in hopes of seeing more animals. We found a baby rhino with her mom and some boars. No tigers. The elephant ride was very uncomfortable and none of us were impressed with the way the elephants were treated. The hour on the elephant was the only hour of the trip I wanted to have back and erase from my memory. Seeing the rhinos was the silver lining. Back at the hotel that night it felt like a hostel. We had a group of European friends we drank and swapped stories with. We all have new Facebook friends.

Day 6: Chitwan – Lumbini

After breakfast we travel overland to the Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and a place of holy pilgrimage. Lumbini has been included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Upon arrival at Lumbini we transfer you to the hotel, check-in and then we go walking through the Sacred Lumbini Garden. This remarkable place is the Buddha’s birthplace and converges on the Ashoka pillar. Here we will visit the Maya Devi Temple with its bas-relief sculpture. We will stay here overnight at a Hotel.

134Lumbini is a pretty boring place. It was very cool to see the birthplace of Buddha, but I’m not sure if it warrants a huge diversion to the Indian border just to make it happen. They really need to think about moving the site to somewhere more accessible for all us non Buddhists. I was happy to have a slow day because it made me realize just how jam-packed every other day had been. We had seen alot of good stuff and we’d only been in the country less than a week. Lumbini put it all in perspective.

Day 7: Lumbini – Pokhara 

After breakfast we drive to Pokhara. Here we will enjoy a half-day sightseeing in Pokhara city, the most popular destination in Nepal after Kathmandu. We spend the morning enjoying a trip along the bank of Phewa Lake, where you can admire a stunning view of the Fish Tail’s Peak reflected in the silver surface of the water. You can also see the wonderful Annapurna panorama, which forms a superb backdrop to Pokhara from the lake. Aside from Phewa Lake, we will visit the Seti River gorge. Here we will see Mahendra Gufa, one of the highlights of the trip and a place that used to be well known for its stalactites. We will stay overnight at a hotel here, and enjoy an evening walk around Lakeside Market.

144This was the drive from hell. I was three breaths away from getting car sick going on and down and back and forth. We didn’t travel that far in terms of kilometers but we drove for six hours with only one short break. We were also without our faithful leader Ramish for the Chitwan part of the trip. We missed him terribly. The driver was still with us, obviously, but his English wasn’t nearly as good as Ramish’s. We were to meet back up with him in Pokhara and that moment couldn’t come soon enough.

At the foothills of the Himalayas is Pokhara. It’s a major city but feels much kinder than Kathmandu. It’s a travelers’ mecca. People about to enter the mountains are there to get one last good sleep and supplies, those coming out of their treks are indulging in massages and “fancy” toilets.

130We stayed in the same gorgeous hotel before and after our 5-day trek into the mountains. I felt like our first night there we were kids and the second night we were hardened adults. We took advantage of Pokhara and got everything we could possibly need for 5 days in the mountains. I got a new backpack, a camping towel, a sleeping bag, and a flashlight that could also be strapped to my head. I would need that later. The guide books said you can get all the supplies you need for very cheap in Pokhara but that you should get your hiking boots in the States. That was the only thing you couldn’t get on the cheap. We also loaded up on toilet paper, most certainly the smartest purchase we made all week/year/ever.

Our search for the famed “special” lassis ended in Pokhara. Not that we found one, we just gave up the search at that point because we didn’t think the drug would be out of our system by the time we got back to work. Fail.

Day 8: Pokhara – Birethanti – Ulleri

 We will begin the day with a drive from Pokhara to Nayapoll. Here we will enjoy beautiful and unique sights during a 5-hour trek to Ulleri. Once here you can take in the scenery and enjoy a fantastic overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

174Things got real when the van dropped us off at the base of the mountain with hundreds of other trekkers. Some would be gone for just three days, some for months. We felt like novices only doing five days but we were certainly more hard-core than some of the people we saw. For every two people in our group, we had one porter. We were a group of four so we had two porters along with Ramish to navigate the Himalayas. The porters were his cousin and a friend. They were 200 pounds soaking wet and put together, but they had two massive back packs strapped to their backs and heads. They did it all with a  smile and many hugs. I had my electronics bag on my back which incidentally was heavier than my big backpack.

Day 1 of the trek was supposed to get us acclimated to the work and altitude. It was alot of walking but on pretty level ground. Of course we thought it was hard, but it was nothing compared to what we were in for.

180Our first dealings with the teahouses was a good one. In these tiny Tibetan villages they have bunkhouses with the most meager of accommodations. Our room had a single light bulb and two ratty twin beds. That was it. We were instructed to buy sleeping bags in Pokhara and we all did it. It made the beds a little more comfortable. Dinner at the teahouses was the same menu we saw for every meal in the mountains. I cycled thru spring rolls, lo mein, dal baht, and cheese pizza. I noticed on the menu that you could get a room at the teahouse for $2.50. With the fixed Nepali meal going for $4 and a room being $2.50, you could live in the Himalayas for months on what we spent at the 360 bar in Dubai the night before we got to Nepal. And these were tourists prices!

Day 9: Ulleri – Ghorepani

We will trek from Ulleri to Ghorepani to reach a height of 2850m. Upon reaching Ghorepani we will enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

259It stopped feeling like a holiday on Day 2 of the trek. It was an arduous climb, mostly up, and often through mud. The hiking boots I bought at the outlet mall were amazing and totally necessary.

The scenery was gorgeous but you had to remind yourself to enjoy it because it was very easy to get in a trance and just stare down at the ground, trying to find a safe next step. I wasn’t the fastest one and I wasn’t the slowest one so I was in a good position. I made many stops to take pictures and never let anyone rush me. I had been making fun of the wusses with walking sticks but by the end of the day I found a suitable stick which would be my best friend for the rest of the trip. I named him Stick and he was a lifesaver. By the end we all had sticks.

224The novelty of the teahouses was starting to wear thin. Power outages were frequent and it was a miracle if we stayed awake past 9pm. We hadn’t seen a non-squatting toilet in a long time. It was also getting very cold at night at this elevation. The sleeping bag was a necessity, but for warmth rather than comfort now.

Day 10: Ghorepani- Poon Hill excursion early in the morning – Tadapani

We will travel from Ghorepani to Poon Hill and on to Tadapani. Guests can enjoy spectacular views of the area early in the morning. We will reach 2670m and enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

200In order to get up to Poon Hill for the sunrise, that meant waking up at 4:45am and going up steps for an hour, all in the dark. That’s where my headlight came into play. Kenny and John decided to pass on the pre-dawn excursion and rightly so. It was brutal. We had spectacular views of the mountains as the sun came up and then walked straight back down to the teahouse for breakfast.

By the time Kenny and John woke up, I was already in a world of pain. My legs were on fire. I woke up sore and it just got a million times worse. We trekked for six more hours and even though Ramish swore day 2 would be the hardest, day 3 wasn’t a walk in the park. The aches produced by the hellish day 2 were felt for the rest of the holiday.

269The weather continued to be perfect which was much appreciated. We randomly ended up in the same hotel in Lumbini as Kenny’s friends from Chicago and they told us that their trek was cancelled due to bad weather. We didn’t have that problem. The Gods were smiling on us. On day 3 we got to see some monkeys playing around and some yaks.

I was taking an average of 100 photos a day, and that was after deleting the bad ones. I bought the largest memory card at Best Buy and it was quickly becoming full. The views were just insane. The views are what kept us from killing ourselves. I knew I was going to be in over my head as far as the physical challenge but I wasn’t expecting the mental challenges. It was hard and humbling. Most of the time it wasn’t even fun but I knew a month later I would appreciate what we did and years later I would think it was one of the greatest two weeks of my life. I kept focusing on that. I leaned on Stick for most of the day.

Day 11: Tadapani – Ghandrung

We trek for approximately 3-hours from Tadapani to Ghandrung to reach 1950m. Here, we will stop overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

253Three hours was a lie. It was six hours. We all started to get sick around this point. John was first to go. The night before he didn’t even make it to dinner. He struggled through yesterday but somehow made it through. The rest of us got sick after that, but mainly just digestive problems. You can avoid drinking the water, eating ice and produce, but after awhile the bad stuff is going to get into you. You just can’t avoid it. It got us all and it was very comforting knowing that we had multiple rolls of toilet paper. Even our trusty Ramish got “avalanche stomach” as he called it.

The trek turned into a feat of endurance. Later we all admitted that the Tibetan chants we heard from every music store in Pokhara kept us going through the darker days of pain and illness. I’m glad I took so many pictures. Even now I can’t remember what it was like hiking around, I was in a trance, constantly thinking of nothing but the next step and appreciating every “shitty” hotel I’ve ever stayed at in the States.

Our last night in a teahouse was quiet. We had been seeing the same trekkers every day, several times a day but I guess we took a different route back down. Day 4 was almost in solitude except for the goats and donkeys that would force us off the path every few minutes. We saw plenty of locals but not the strangers that seemed like friends we’d been seeing all week. The last night was silent. I could barely walk and none of us trusted a fart.

Day 12: Ghandrung – Birethanti – Pokhara

We will trek for approximately 4 hours trek then drive for 2-hours to reach 960m. We will stay overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

178Day 5 felt like the last day of the Tour de France when even though you’re technically still racing, it’s all for show. The race is over and you just enjoy the view as you coast into Paris. That was our last walk back to the drop off point. The trek was only 50 kilometers but 97% of it was up or down at an incredibly slow pace. I wish I would’ve done the stairs on my layovers the weeks before this trip. That would’ve been the best training I could’ve done.

It was a little startling to see cars and people but it we were ready for it. I’m shocked we didn’t break down in tears when we saw the driver waiting for us. It was the hardest five days of my life but I was beginning to appreciate it, sort of. At least it was over.

We got back to our wonderful hotel in Pokhara and spent the rest of the day at a local cave and then trolling the streets for last second souvenirs. I found 42 Hitchcock movies as well as both seasons of AH Presents for a low price of $28. I snatched it up. The also had all 20+ seasons of the Simpsons for $10 but I simply had no room. I purposely brought clothes in my closet that I didn’t want anymore and every day of the trip I left behind something, but that didn’t free up as much space as I thought it would.

For our welcome back meal we checked out the highest rated Italian restaurant according to Trip Advisor, the Caffe Concerto. It was amazing and this time we accepted the reviews’ use of hyperbole. It was the perfect meal to come back to civilization to. We certainly deserved it.

Day 13: Pokhara – Kathmandu (6 hours drive or 25 minutes flight)

After breakfast we will drive or fly to Kathmandu. Once here we will stay overnight at a Hotel.

80We were up bright and early and exhausted. Every muscle ached and sitting in a car for over six hours didn’t seem like a bad thing. We were pretty quiet the entire way home, all in our own worlds. Our stomachs were still in knots but nothing embarrassing happened. We talked Ramish into stopping by one of the massive foot bridges over the river we’d seen a week ago. Walking over a “shaky bridge” was high on our list of things to do. Ramish obliged. God bless that man.

We returned to the hotel we started our adventure at, the good ol’ Nirvana. As we prepared to leave the country the next day, inbound travelers were arriving. We heard them excitedly chatting about what they thought lay before them. We could have imparted some wisdom but we were way too tired and over it. They’ll find out soon enough. Out last meal was at Trip Advisors’s #7 of 317, Phat Kath. My stomach allowed me to have veggie soup, that was it. It was great soup.

I didn’t tell Amanda about the mouse/rat I found in our room until the next morning. Cheeky bastard.

Day 14: Departure

Departure transfer to the airport to connect to an onward flight.

290Our flight to Dubai wasn’t until 7pm so we had most of the day to kill. There was talk of taking a flight to Everest but we decided against it. Amanda and I checked out the lovely urban park, Garden of Dreams. Walking still hurts and I’m always within a thirteen-second sprint to a bathroom but other than that, I’m pretty happy. While we’re waiting for our driver to come and retrieve us for the airport run, I overhear a tour guide giving his group a briefing in the lobby of the hotel. We were already singing Ramish praises but after hearing this joker, we were worshipping him like a God.

I can’t say enough about how great he was and how seamless the entire trip was. I don’t think we even know how much he did for us because we didn’t have to deal with a single problem. I’m not a big fan for organized tours but as far as Nepal goes, you’re much better off doing it that way, and Friendship was amazing. We tipped them all generously but we still felt like we owed them more. It was embarrassing how much they did for us and how nice they were.

I’m not sure how we decided to go to Nepal but I’m so glad we did. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back but it was one of the best two-weeks I’ve ever had. If anything, I appreciate everything about my life and the conveniences I have in America. It’s also pretty frustrating when you hear the gripes some very privileged people are making about their lives. They have no idea how great they have it.

Book  your Nepali adventure with these guys at Friendship Nepal Tours. It’s cheap and AMAZING. I can’t recommend them enough. Ask for Ramish, but don’t ask him how embarrassing we were.

See more photos here and check out my book!