Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek in Himalayas

It’s been so long since I came back from Nepal that the whole journey now almost feels surreal, but a little scar on my wrist will always remind me that the trip really happened.

Trekking was not on my to do list before I left for Nepal. I didn’t have too much time and the monsoon season helped me to make up my mind. However, I was sitting in a cafe, listening to one of the volunteers talking about their trekking experience and I realised I can’t miss it while I’m in Nepal.

My boyfriend at a time, had a professor who was always going to Nepal for trekking holidays so he was able to recommend a guide. I wouldn’t worry about arranging the guide before coming to Nepal – there are always plenty who are eager to get out to the mountains and it’s cheaper to arrange something from Pokhara (if you’re doing a trek in Annapurna Himalaya range). The trek I did was called Ghorepani Poon Hill trek and it normally takes 5 days to complete. You can easily do it without a guide and it will save you a bit of money, but being alone and not having a chance to do a proper research,  I decided to go with a guide.

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I met my guide Palu in Pokhara a day before the hike for some tea. Palu was over 40 and didn’t look like a super fit guy from the first sight, but he seemed like a nice person so I thought let’s do this. It did later turn out that I was much fitter than him (something to consider if you’re impatient like me), but he had a big heart and kept repeating that he was the luckiest man in the world to be able to do the job he loves.

We started from the village called Nayapul early next day. The path was passing through beautiful forests and some tiny colourful villages. There were plenty of tea houses to stop at, rest and have some food. The whole trek that day lasted about 5 hours after which we stopped in one of the villages along the road.

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The second day was pretty much the same, but the path got steeper. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t find it too challenging. We settled in Ghorephani for the night, hoping to get to the Poon Hill in the morning. Unfortunately, the clouds were rolling low and when I woke up the next morning it was raining. There was no point in going to the Poon hill viewpoint. We continued towards Gandruk, even though the weather wasn’t great. Oh well, it was a gamble to go trekking in a rainy season.

We didn’t reach Gandruk that day (just weren’t rushing anywhere and the weather wasn’t great) and decided to stay in a place with the total of three houses. There were only two people in the village, a couple who got married when the guy was 13 and a lady who was then 20. We were chatting about life in the mountains and emigration, since the man spent a few years working abroad (very common story for loads of Nepalese families). The also showed and explained to me how they make their local alcohol Raksi, which I even got to try.

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When trekking you get used to getting up early and sometimes it really pays off. Happened to me on the 4th day of the trek when I got to see bits of the snowy peaks hanging between the clouds. I could only see small patches but got really excited since it was the first day I could actually see something. Other days were just all about walking through the beautiful forests and villages. That’s when I slipped, fell and got injured my wrist badly enough for it to scar. No regrets, life felt pretty amazing that morning.

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We got to Gandruk and spent a bit of time exploring this beautiful village. There were some really steep sections down and up that day and got caught in a strong rain, but I was quite happy to be out in the mountains and got to eat probably the nicest dhal bhat in Nepal, so the challenges didn’t matter too much. We stopped in a random village along the way for the night. There were loads of tiny clouds hanging around the mountains and I was excited to be going to bed after seeing that view.

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I woke up early again (4.30am or so) the next morning and realised that the clouds lifted! They were moving away and finally the first time in five days I could see one of the peaks! It was magical. I was extremely happy and struggled to walk away from that view. Later in the morning the clouds took away the beauty again.

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So five days later, the trek was over and I said bye to Palu. I think I got lucky, because during the rainy season it’s really hard to see anything, so I expected nothing at all, but got rewarded with some stunning views. It was amazing to be out walking for five days, walk past these beautiful villages, eat really tasty dhal bhat and try out my poor Nepalese with the locals. It was good to go with a guide, because he arranged all the accommodation and permits etc. and I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. It wasn’t a popular time of the year to go trekking so the mountains were quiet and I absolutely loved the time I could spend with my thoughts or listening to Palu’s stories. The only major downside were the leeches – they were bad, hanging on the grass, jumping on you as soon as you stopped and sucking the blood like there was no tomorrow. Not going into details on that, but having a guide who is slower than you plus the leeches who can’t wait to get on you, is a bad combo.

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I just want to finish with something positive – if you get a chance to go trekking in Himalayas, then go! No matter what time of the year it is, you will find beauty, freedom and loads of smiles along the way and it will be an experience of a lifetime 🙂

NANJING

The opportunity of doing four weeks exchange programme at the Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics sounds quite fascinating doesn’t it? The university, the subject and the city. City that I never even heard of. Two weeks of Chinese language and culture lectures followed by two weeks of design and manufacturing courses. Everything completely out of my comfort zone, but that is exactly what I need. Some uncertainty that help me to get distracted from other things. Something exciting, new and challenging.

That were my thoughts in spring 2014. I made a decision to go before I even got accepted and a few months later I went on a trip that is still in my heart. The trip that put me into this mindset of constantly thinking about travelling. The trip that ruined me for life.

Maybe I should have started with this post before publishing three other ones on China. But then I think those three weekends somewhere else also contributed to my experience at Nanjing and it’s easier to think about Nanjing when I have those weekends in mind. To be honest, four weeks in Nanjing were filled with absolutely everything. From loads of excitement to the days when I absolutely hated everything and I just wanted to go home. But the last bit of sentence is usually not mentioned when I’m telling  people about China. You know, it’s a bit embarrassing to tell someone that you went on the trip and wanted to go home after two weeks. However, there were many more good days in Nanjing rather than the bad ones and the bad ones actually helped me to learn a lot about myself.

Anyway, this post is about Nanjing. To visit this city is definitely not in everyone’s “to do” list and I did not see that many foreigners while there. China is huge and there are so many more things to see. However, if you have time it’s totally worth a visit. I absolutely loved the city even though not a single time I saw the blue sky there. Nanjing has it’s own charm and it is hard to talk about it. It’s better to show you that in photos, but even then you feel like something is missing. I will try anyway, enjoy!

Let’s start with the few moments from the streets. A lot is going on: traffic, little busy local businesses, ladies enjoying their square dances.

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Nanjing is a good mixture of old and new, which I really enjoyed in the city.

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CSC_0298 Nanjing city wall (21km out of 35km is still standing)

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Xuanwu lake, it is totally worth renting a boat and spending a few of hours there as well as in the park around the lake.

Another place that deserves a visit is Confucius Temple and it’s surroundings. Even though I had quite a limited amount of time for sightseeing in Nanjing, I came back here twice.

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A few more moments of everyday life. Beautiful little streets not that far away from the Confucius temple. Football players on the wall for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

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Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics (NUAA) had a great campus a bit further away from the city center.

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And it had a great aviation museum on the main campus

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Nanjing Museum was one of my favorites in China. Maybe because it was the first one I visited.

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Purple mountain is the perfect place to run away from the noisy city. That does not exactly apply for Sun Yatsen Mausoleum (the first photo), which is definitely worth a visit.

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There is another place in the city where you can find a complete silence. I didn’t take any photos there, but once you see it you can never forget. Some place that is a must although really sad to visit is the Memorial of Nanjing Massacre.

And finally, for a person who has a degree in civil engineering, these photos cannot be ignored.

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I was lucky enough to live in front of construction site and had a lot of moments when I was just waiting for something to happen. However, nothing happened and nobody died (as far as I’m aware), so maybe Chinese health and safety is not that bad (my previous lecturer would give me an F for this statement haha).

Anyway, that was my Nanjing in photos. Even after four weeks there I felt like I didn’t have enough time to see everything. A lot of time I had to sit in the classroom and often after classes it would soon get dark (silly time zone…). I might come back 🙂

Third Weekend – Huang Shan

When I was researching things to do in China, Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) was one of the first things that I came across. It is a mountain range with over 1,000 peaks in Anhui province. For a person who grew up in a country where the highest point above the sea level is 294 m, mountains have always seemed to be really exotic. No wonder Huang Shan became one of my top priorities to visit in China.

It was the end of the third week of my exchange programme in China. For the first two weeks we were studying Chinese language and culture, but a few days ago we started design and manufacturing course, which wasn’t that much fun. A lot of classes were entirely in Chinese and the translation was poor, so we’d sit in the classroom for an hour listening to the subject in Chinese just to get a quick 5 minute summary afterwards on what was said. Yes, we were excited about the weekend!

Five of us decided to miss a class on Friday afternoon and instead jumped into the bus going to Tangkou. Six hour journey to Huang Shan was waiting for us! I got to sit next to a middle age man who could actually speak good enough English and we were chatting the entire time. He was going to his son’s wedding and of course he was really excited. He told me a lot about Chinese wedding traditions and his worries about the rhythm of life nowadays. Everything is too fast, too stressful.

It was already dark when we got to Tangkou. A random man got into a bus as soon as it stopped and started asking where we’re staying. We replied saying that we were going to Mr Hu’s hotel. He made a few phone calls and after a few minutes a big black car came to pick us up. It was Mr Hu himself! We said bye to the first three guys, thinking that we might not see them ever again. We were wrong. Mr Hu was a great guy and the stay with him was an absolute pleasure. Not only he picked us up from the bus station, but also the hotel was lovely and he helped us to get to and from the bus stop for Huang Shan.

On Saturday we woke up early in the morning, got into the bus, which took us to the starting point and started climbing. Huangshan is said to have over 60,000 steps and even though we definitely did not climb every single one, it did feel like a lot.

At the beginning we were just wondering in a very thick mist (or clouds, hard to say) and could not see much. I think some kids got bored of staring at the grey wall and formed a local basketball team. Of course we joined them as well.

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After a bit more time of wandering in grey we got to see the real monkeys! It was my first time seeing monkeys outside the zoo and I was more excited about them than Huang Shan.

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For a quick moment clouds cleared out and I was lucky enough to manage to take a photo quickly.

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However, after a while it turned out that that quick moment of beauty was not just a random one. The sky cleared out completely and the views were absolutely breathtaking.

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We spend a while wandering around. It was an absolutely great day and everyone was in a good mood. It was time to find the way out and catch the bus back to the hotel. And then it started raining! It was pouring so badly that within the seconds everyone was wet from head to toes. There was no point in trying to get a cable car down, as the queue was ginormous. We weren’t sure how to get down and we spent quite a while running around looking for the right path. It was getting dark and we were at risk of missing the last bus. For people like us who were absolutely soaked and with no food supplies, it was not the best option. We started panicking.

It took as a while to find the right path down. Remember those over 60,000 steps that I have mentioned before? Yes, the legs were refusing to bend and everyone was extremely tired. Going back to Mr Hu’s and having a hot shower was all we needed for the perfect end of the day.

First Weekend – Suzhou

In summer 2014, a bunch of us from the University of Edinburgh took part in a four week exchange programme in Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics. It was the first weekend of the programme and we were excited to do some travelling. We spent the entire week learning about Chinese language and culture so it was about the time to do some practice. After unsuccessful attempt to get train tickets to Beijing, some of us decided to visit Suzhou which was a city not that far away (~200km) from Nanjing. Suzhou is often called Venice of the East due to a number of canals that there are in the city, so it was an exciting option. It was our first proper time out somewhere alone without any guides and we were excited to see the real China.

Well I can tell you now, that Suzhou is nothing like Venice. Even though I have never been to Venice, I can guarantee that you won’t find many similarities. Wanna bet?

I think I had a wee cultural shock in Suzhou. Nanjing was absolutely “normal” (at least the bits we saw) very peaceful city, while Suzhou was full of people who were following us and screaming to our faces to book their boat tours. People would not stop asking to take photos with them and you could not just quietly walk down the street. At some point I stopped to look at the turtles that a man was selling in the street and then he smashed one of their heads with the rock just in front of me. I’m not even talking about some public toilets I saw there. The city was polluted, loud and weird. I think it was more real than I could expect. I never thought I was so squeamish about things and this trip was a good preparation for surviving another six weeks in China.

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We stayed in the weirdest place ever. We didn’t book anything before we left and then we stumbled across the place called OK Motel. It looked like a garage. You get one of those “rooms”, park your car inside and then go through the doors into your room (the one we saw was completely pink). It’s a shame I don’t have any photos of the actual rooms, but you can probably imagine the situation.

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We weren’t so adventurous and got a ridiculously cheap room with two bunk beds and armchairs, which was big enough to accommodate all of us (10 or so if I remember it right).

Our research before coming to the city said that there are number of things to see and do in the city: loads of beautiful gardens, the most popular being Humble Administrator’s Garden , a number of pagodas and of course the famous boat tours of the canals. Maybe because it was a weekend, a lot of places we visited were crowded, but the gardens were absolutely gorgeous. I also really liked the little streets of the town, full of colourful shops and people.

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Even with all the things that freaked me out, I still have nice memories from Suzhou.I think the boat trip with the old man singing an old Chinese song absolutely destroyed all the negative feelings I had. I realised that I should appreciate every minute I had and enjoy every random thing that happened…

And there were a lot of random things that happened during the entire trip. But I’ll tell you about them later.

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