NITK to Nepal: Go international while you're in college (cont'd)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Rahul Das 2 Comments




The trek


View of the Annapurna Range
View of the Annapurna Range

We began the Poon Hill trek at Nayapul (1,065 m) on Day 10 and trekked up to Ghandruk (1,940 m) on the same day, till Ghorepani (2,874 m) on Day 11 and witnessed the sun rise on the peak, Poon Hill (3,210 m) on Day 12, after which we used the Thikedunga route to descend back to Nayapul. We then returned to Pokhara and boarded the bus back to the border town Sonauli.

The ideal way to do this trek would be to wake up early every morning, trek till dusk and halt for the night at one of the mountain lodges. We had, on the contrary, started at noon and continued even after sundown with our flashlights in the dark.


Breakfast at Shikhar Guest House, Ghorepani
Breakfast at Shikhar Guest House, Ghorepani

Unsurprisingly, prices here rose gradually as we climbed higher and the food at the peak cost us more than triple of what we were accustomed to pay at the plains. Rooms, on the other hand were unbelievably cheap. The cosy place we stayed at Ghorepani only cost us NPR 200 (around INR 20 each!).


View of the Annapurna Range from Ghandruk
View of the Annapurna Range from Ghandruk

Stunning views of the ice-capped Annapurna range followed us throughout the trek all the way up to Poon Hill and there were places where we would just munch on our food gazing soundlessly at the mountains. A few stretches on the trail were extremely tiresome and we did lose our way in the dark on three separate occasions. However, what the ICSE syllabus had taught us about analysing topographical maps ensured that we got out of those sticky situations without much ado!

Access to the internet isn't an issue since most mountain lodges provide you with WiFi at nominal rates. Do carry the topographical map and a compass when you set out on the trek. You wouldn't have to carry much water since you’d be able to refill your bottles at the falls situated at regular intervals. Pack smartly.


Lumbini


After arriving at Sonauli early on Day 13, the 6 of us freshened up and took a bus to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Saw the exact spot where he was born centuries ago.


Lumbini
Lumbini


Gorakhpur again


As luck would have it, the cab we had hired to cross the border and take us back to Gorakhpur had a flat tyre and we arrived at the railway station half an hour after our train’s departure. What we saw the moment we stepped out of the car made us freeze in shock and disgust.

Three goons stood next to a stall screaming at people, summoning them to rush to the shop and steal whatever they wanted from it. The next few minutes were a blind as a great number of passers-by (including our driver!) rushed to the stall and returned seconds later, having stolen as much as they could have. The railway police arrived a few minutes later.  It was only then that we grasped what exactly had happened.

The owner of the stall had been murdered at a distant location prior to our arrival. What we saw was an attempt by the goons to humiliate him after his death. Stranded at one of India’s most dangerous and hostile towns, our brains were clouded with paranoia.

With our friends helping us from NITK, we managed to book tickets on a train that was to depart 3 hours from then. Those were unsettling moments but I’m thankful that things didn't get any worse thereafter.


Gorakhpur Railway Station
Gorakhpur Railway Station


Delhi


Crowded trains, but a well-organized system: The Delhi metro seemed to me a cross between Singapore’s efficient MRT service and Mumbai’s packed suburban trains.

We spent our evening in Delhi visiting Rajghat and its surrounding locations including India Gate, Rashtrapathi Bhawan, the Parliament and even BJP’s national headquarters. For a politics enthusiast like me, visiting India’s power centre was yet another fascinating experience.


Road leading to India Gate
Road leading to India Gate


Back to NITK


After 2 weeks of travel hacking, the flight to Mangalore really did seem like a godsend. Well, I guess that’s what they mean about travel helping you stay grounded.

We arrived at NITK 2 hours before the start of our last Diwali celebrations at college and despite our exhaustion, made the best of it.




Expenses incurred


• The currencies between India and Nepal are pegged at 1 INR = 1.6 NPR.
• Commuting, decent meals and modest lodging cost us each only around NPR 800 (INR 500) every day.
• You'd have to pay a total of NPR 800 (INR 500) to obtain permits for the Poon Hill trek (if you're a citizen of India).
• The bungee jump package that included the onward and return trips from Kathmandu, a lunch buffet, a souvenir t-shirt and a video of the jump had cost us NPR 9,100 (INR 5,700).
• Long distance commuting in both Nepal and India tend to cost the same. Intra-city commuting however, is more expensive primarily due to the fact that unlike India, the country uses no auto rickshaws. 
• Packed food costs more in Nepal. Fresh food, less.
• Our Delhi - Mangalore flight had cost us INR 3,600.
• Summing up all our expenses excluding the bungee jump, each of us ended up spending a total of around INR 15,000 for the 15 day trip.

For additional details regarding our expenses, I'd suggest you have a look at my friend Nikhil Thakkar's blog post about how we travel hacked across Nepal.


Points to note


• Irrespective of your budget, I’d suggest you travel at least the onward journey by train and more specifically, in sleeper class. The fun that you will have on the train while it passes through India’s varied landscapes is in itself an unparalleled experience.
• The authorities aren't too particular about security checks at the border. In the rare chance that you’ll be asked to produce your documents, you’ll need to have your Indian Government IDs and your student ID.
• To avoid transaction charges that would be levied per ATM withdrawal, use the yellow SBI Maestro ATM-cum-Debit Card while you’re in Nepal. You’ll find a number of SBI ATMs in Sonauli, Pokhara and Kathmandu.
• Permits for the trek can be obtained at the Tourism Board’s office near Damside in Pokhara. You’d have to produce your Passport / Voter ID / Aadhar card for the same. Driving Licenses or PAN cards will not be accepted.


Permits for the trek
Permits for the trek


• We met two contrasting types of people in Nepal. The ones who lived on the mountains were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The ones on the plains however, were despicably shrewd and did try to take advantage of us countless number of times. Be on your guard.
• Although October is generally the best time to visit Nepal, it does get a bit cold on the mountains and temperatures can go as low as ten degrees. Prepare yourself accordingly.
• We had to change our plans midway owing to the cyclone. In case you decide to follow our itinerary, do the trek while you’re in Pokhara before you visit Kathmandu.
• When you’re on a tight 15 day schedule like this, always set aside a spare day. Be flexible when it comes to the itinerary. Anticipate the unexpected.


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It’s only normal for the average Indian parent to be sceptical about his/her child venturing out into the unknown like what we did. That’s exactly why I’d like to thank my mother - not just for permitting me to go on a trip like this, but also for inspiring me to live my life to the fullest.
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The owner of the lodge we stayed at in Ghorepani had lamented the fact that despite Nepal having some of the most popular hiking trails in the world, there hardly are any Indians who make it a point to explore them. And isn’t that the fundamental flaw in our way of living? We, in India, are so focussed on our education and careers that we fail to travel and recognize the pleasures that it gives us.

If you blame it on the money, sure. 15,000 isn’t what a student would term a small amount, but when you think of it, isn't it lesser than what you, as a student would earn from one of your internships?

When you’re still in college, you have the time, the money and most importantly, your closest friends with whom you can have some of these life-defining adventures. And how better to start them than by travelling abroad and returning with all those memories?

So what’s stopping you from doing it?


[This post originally appeared on the 2015 edition of Shoreline, NITK's annual magazine.]

2 comments:

  1. Nice Blog!!
    And thanks for putting my blog link there :p

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    Replies
    1. Haha.. Anytime, Nikhil. You had written about the expenses in detail after all.

      And thanks :)

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