.. continued from Part 4
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Our last full day in Kathmandu was originally planned as free time on our own, but better things were in store...
We had booked the trek through REI Adventures, their Everest Lodge-to-Lodge Trek. The REI people were great, including their travel agent Dan Marks who did all of the flight booking for Lee, Jill, and I on some complicated itineraries. But as you might expect (at least if you're a veteran world traveler), REI does not actually run the tour. In this case, the local tour operator is a company called Last Frontiers Trekking. Last Frontiers has been the REI partner in Nepal for many years. The company was founded by, and is owned by, Mingma Dorje Sherpa. We spent several hours chatting with him over coffee on the previous day, while we were waiting for our hotel rooms to become available. He has an impressive range of business interests in Nepal, even more impressive having started out simply as the son of a well-known Everest porter. I enjoyed talking with him...
One of his businesses is a small elegant lodge in the hills above Kathmandu, called Chhahari Lodge. (They don't have a web site, but they do have a Facebook page). Mingma invited our group up to the lodge for lunch and an afternoon respite. We all said yes, of course!
So we spent our final afternoon in Kathmandu enjoying the views and serenity in a quiet lodge up in the hills -- what a lovely place! I would definitely recommend it as an escape from the noise and crowds of Kathmandu proper.
That evening our group got together for drinks on the rooftop terrace at the hotel, and then said our goodbyes over dinner in the Indian restaurant at the hotel. Most of our group would be heading back to the US the next day; Scott was headed for another part of Nepal for a few days, Terrie was going to India to meet a friend for a couple weeks, Lee and I were off to Hanoi where Jill would meet us for the next adventure.
Some random thoughts about Nepal, Kathmandu, and trekking in the Khumbu region
- I was very impressed with how well the trek was managed. The best way I can describe it is "carefully planned and meticulously executed". I never saw so much as a hiccup regarding meals (including four birthday/anniversary cakes), and daily tea, and baggage, and leadership on the trail, and ... I was quite satisfied with Team Kilimanjaro on our Kili trip last year, but this trip was a noticeably crisper operation. Big props to Last Frontiers Trekking and our lead guide Nima Tenzing Sherpa.
- Would I go back? Yes, absolutely! ... though maybe not to the Khumbu unless it was for a more remote trek. The sheer number of people on the trail got to be tiring after a while, it was like hiking the Hidden Falls trail in Grand Teton Park in mid-summer, or the Bright Angel trail from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Getting off the main corridor trail was much more enjoyable.
- Would I do it on my own, without a tour operator? Yes, having been there I can see where it would be easy to hire a porter or two and do a totally on-your-own trek, no problem. But one thing I really liked about the REI/Last Frontiers arrangement was that we had our own kitchen crew. The guide was emphatic about us "only eating food that we prepare for you" in order to minimize the risk of getting some food- or water-borne bugs. A few people in our group did have some GI issues (I didn't), but I thought this approach was a big plus compared to randomly picking guest houses and cafes along the way.
- Kathmandu wasn't as bad as I expected. One acquaintance of mine has been to Nepal a dozen times, she warned "Kathmandu is a sh**hole". Well, it wasn't clean, or quiet, and in the tourist areas the shop clerks were not easily discouraged. But it was much cleaner and quieter than Arusha in Tanzania, which was my previous experience with Third-World-get-me-outta-here-now noise and air pollution and aggressive touts. After a total of four nights in Kathmandu, I felt like I was done with the place; but it wasn't like Arusha where I hated to even go outside the hotel room. Walking the streets in Kathmandu outside of the tourist area, in the local market areas, was quite a lot of fun; we were the only non-Nepalese around, nobody hassled us or tried to sell us something, or tried to convince us to hire them as local guides.
- The scale of the landscape here is staggering. When I go from Jackson to, say, the Selkirk backcountry in British Columbia, I am blown away by the scale of the scenery there compared to what I see at home (which is gorgeous in its own right). The Khumbu region of Nepal is that much more again.... wow, this place is ...