The Annapurna Circuit is a “tea house” to “tea house” trek. Originally, people camped along the trail and visited the small tea houses like the ones in the first few photos. Many of the trekkers started to sleep on the floors and benches (photo 3) in the common area. As the tea house owners made money, they were able to build guesthouses. It can be single storied or multiple stories. Many have squat and seated toilets. The showers are either gas or solar heated. The bedrooms have 2 or 3 beds, usually 2 singles or possibly a double and a single bed. There is usually a shelf and perhaps a few nails in the wall to hang items. The curtains were more for decoration than for warmth or privacy. Since there were few trekkers while I was there, there were blankets available to all of us. The rooms were always well kept. It always felt safe to sleep.
Bathroom, restroom, toilet, los servicios, the loo, outhouse, the lavatory, or the washroom usually not a topic covered in blogs or even in many travel books. Since some of my friends have not yet traveled outside the US, I thought I would share some knowledge about bathrooms in other countries. And then during the Olympics, some of the photos and comments by the reporters made me wonder if some of them had ever traveled outside the US.
In most Asian countries, squat toilets are standard and not the seated toilets like we have in the US. Also, the shower may be in the same room as the toilet and is not encased in a curtain or glass. It may also be in a separate location or in some villages, some people wash at the village water spout.
Squat Toilet vs Seated Toilet.
On the trail we talked a bit about the advantages and disadvantage of squat toilets. In many of the larger guesthouses, seated toilets have been installed to accommodate the habits of many of the trekkers. There appears to be a new market for “squat” toilets based on research into the advantages. Both NPR and Slate magazine wrote articles about this.
Here are some general tips based on my experience in South America, Europe and now Nepal.
- Know the local word for toilet and bathroom. In the US we use the term “bathroom” to describe several different options that can include a mix of toilet, sink(s), shower and bathtub. In most other countries, there are different words for “toilet” and “bathroom”. The first being the “toilet’ and the second is used for baths and showers.
- Bring your own toilet paper. Many places will not supply toilet paper or you may be charged for it. You may also find that you have a preference for type of paper. One of the rolls that I bought in Nepal was more like streamer paper than toilet paper.
- Don’t throw toilet paper in toilet, place it in trashcan. In many countries, the plumbing systems are not in place to handle toilet paper. There is usually a bin near the toilet for throwing away used toilet paper.
- Burn paper or pack it out. While on the trail, if there is no danger of forest fire, you may burn the toilet paper. Or even better, bring a small ziploc and store it until you get somewhere you can throw away. Just don’t leave it on the ground.
- If there is no running water, “flush” with a bucket of water. The toilet may be a seated toilet but the water is actually not turned on or a squat toilet. If there is bucket, fill it with water and dump it in the toilet. This will “flush” the toilet.
- Bring shoes that can handle water or mud. In many of the toilets, the water splashed around or even froze and put that with the dirt or misdirects, and the floor can be wet and messy. My Tom’s didn’t handle this so well. I wish I had brought my crocs or slide flip flops.
- Bring lots of hand sanitizer or small hand soap. There may be a bucket, a tap or maybe a sink for you to wash your hands and then again there may not be. Non-alcohol hand sanitizer is a great option as it doesn’t dry your hands out.
- Practice squatting before you travel. Build up your leg muscles and open your hips before you go so that you can squat easily.
I probably missed a few good ideas, so please share any tips that you have.
Most of the people who live in Nepal live very simple lives and do not have the over abundance of stuff that most Americans do. Therefore, the need for reuse and repurposing is at the heart of all that the do and is based more on utilitarian need and not on decorating.
At almost every guesthouse, the empty beer bottles were stacked up to be reused and used as edging for plant beds. I also saw plastic bottles being used as horns on rickshaws but didn’t get a photo.
The plastic mat was at one of our guest houses, the owner’s wife made them. It and the coaster are made from rolled up plastic food wrappings.
Only the grocery stores/convenience stores provided plastic bags. Most stores had reusable bags and a few had beautiful decorative bags that made perfect wrapping for the gifts that I brought back.
Large metal cans are turned into prayer wheels and and flower pots.
Games, toys, children and other things that made me smile.
We learned to play carrom at one of the guest houses and saw many groups of boys playing it on the streets as we drove back into Kathmandu.
I saw lots of children hoop rolling in the streets; I had only read about this and never saw it in action. The hoops and sticks were usually hand made.
The children were adorable and even though the guide books indicated that we would be constantly hit up for stuff, most of the children asked for “sweets” or “chocolate” but didn’t pester us after we said no.
I was not able to find out what the pom-pom trees were; something to investigate when I go back one day.
I saw a few horseshoes above doors and the one below on the stairs, I believe that horseshoes are also good luck in Nepal. In the Manang district, there are horse races each year (Yartong). Here are two short videos I found of some of the ridders. video 1 video 2 . I’d like to go see this someday and/or the Shey Dragon Festival in 2024. I believe Yartong is the correct name for the festival; we saw a presentation on it but I didn’t write any notes.
My guesthouse in Kathmandu was so kind to decorate for Christmas. There were several Christmas trees inside and decorations on a few trees outside. It was a nice gift to put me in the Christmas mood as I traveled back to the US for Christmas.
While in Nepal I encountered lots of different music. There was traditional folks songs, Buddhists chants, Bollywood music, music at bars/dance clubs and the music that my co-trekkers brought with them.
We had several dance parties when trekking, went to a village celebration and danced at a few night clubs/bars in Pokhara and Kathmandu. There are many other Nepali traditional music and dances that I didn’t get to experience; something on my list for when I go back.
We experienced Nepali folk songs on several occasions. Our porters sang and played drums for us and all of us danced. One of the most popular Nepali folk songs is Resham Firiri. To English speaking people, some of the lyrics sound like “I am donkey, you are a monkey” , We would belt this out as loud as we could, having no idea that this is not what it was saying. The actual lyrics are “Udayra Jauki Dadama Vanjyang Resham Firiri”. I found a site that has attempted to translate the song and this line says “Like a silk ribbon/scarf flying freely in air, I wish to fly over the hills.”
Even though this is blurry, this is the best photo that I had of the porters playing the drums and singing.
In Sikha, one of the small villages, there was a celebration going on for a new set of stairs that had been completed. To put this in context, it would be like a new major highway being completed near your city. There was a group of men playing instruments and other men and women danced. The women would sing looking at the men playing instruments, then the women and other men would start the dance and the men with the instruments would play and sing. We would dance in a circle, making twirly arm and hand moves like dancing at a Grateful Deal show. Then the music would speed up and we would dance a move that was basically squats and leg kicks. This move is very much like the Russian kazatskis. Thanks to Jamie for the photos as I didn’t have my camera with me.
In my final days in Kathmandu, there was a holiday and a parade. I am still not sure what it was for. At the beginning of the parade, there were people with traditional masks and costumes; unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough with the camera. I was able to catch a few of the performers. Each group seemed to have 1-2 people that would twirl a pole with flags on top and everyone else seemed to have some sort of musical instrument and sang. It was pretty amazing to watch the pole twirler as he had to manage to not get the pole tangled up in the street flags and electrical wires.
Om Mani Padme Hum was heard continually near any music shop. It will always remind me of walking the streets of Kathmandu.
We also heard monks chanting during prayer session at Upper Pisang. I love the horns that the monks play. To hear the horns unique sound, watch this video of the long horns used in Dhankar Gompa.
We encountered Bollywood music and other popular music from India when we ate in restaurants, watched dance shows on the tvs in the guest houses and while we rode on a bus from Jomsom to Ghasa. We had great fun on our bus ride as we danced in our seats and clapped our hands to the music. We were never able to find out what the cd playing was ;however, it seemed to be a mix of songs that are on these two cds: Putomayo India and Bollywood Favorites. Particularly 3. Jhumka Gira Re and 8. Roop Tera Mastana.
Music clubs for foreigners
I am not sure if it was just the clubs that we picked but Rock cover bands seemed to be the main music. It was great fun to hear some of my favorite rock songs and dance with my new friends. The first photo is from Pokhara. One my co-trekker Scott got them to sing a few of his favorite songs and of course I went a little crazy when they sang a Lynyrd Skynrd song. The other two photos are from a club in Thamel, Kathmandu.
Biking and Music
While on my bike ride, I found out that one of our guides sang in a band. During our lunch break while we waited for our food, I convinced Dave to sing some Guns and Roses songs to make the day a perfect day for me. While he didn’t want to sing Sweet Child o’mine (my favorite), he beautifully sang Patience and because I inadvertently didn’t save the video, I was able to convince him to sing a second song. He choose Don’t Cry. Not to be out done, Shyam then picked up the guitar and sang Jason Mraz’s song “I’m yours”. I love it when live music is just part of an everyday moment. So grateful to both of them for this.
I always like to buy music when I travel to support local music shops. I made a mistake on this trip when I went into a shop and quickly bought a cd, only to find out it had no music on it. I am not sure if it was on purpose or not but in a country that does not have very good copyright laws, I think is was. I found an amazing shop in Thamel, Kathmandu called Sur Sudha. My friend (sati), Asbin, was very helpful. He would play the cds for me to make sure that I liked the selection and to make sure that it had no scratches. If you visit Kathmandu, make sure to stop in and say hi. He loves NYC so share any New York stories that you have.
Rock on! and always Dance!
Unlike many other countries, the Nepali people continue to carry goods on their backs using baskets (doko) and a head strap (tumpline/namlo). As I passed people or as they passed me more likely, I wondered how much the load weighed as I was only carrying between 15-20 lbs and anything more would have slowed me down tremendously.
While there are porters for merchants carrying goods to villages in higher altitudes and there are porters that carry bags for trekkers, I mostly saw Nepali people doing their everyday chores of carrying wood, water or gas tanks and was amazed at the amount that each person was able to carry.
One website indicated that “typically men carry 50 kg/110lbs loads and the women carry 40 kg/88 lbs loads, or 80 kg/176 lbs and 60 kg/133 lbs loads respectively for short distances.” Another website reported a sampling test that was done on the trail to Everest base camp and most of the porters were carrying more than 50% of their body weight.
Based on article written in 1995: “The heaviest load encountered was 108 kg (238 lbs), carried by a 44-year-old Rai trader, Bhim Bahadur Sunwar, who stood 146 cm tall (4´9″) and weighed a mere 47 kg (104 lbs). Bhim Bahadur was carrying 228 percent of his own body mass.” Porters for merchants are paid by the kg; therefore, it is more common for the loads to be up around 100kgs/220 lbs .
Our porters carried 2 trekker bags at 16 lbs each and then a bag of his belongings; the “guidelines” state that a porter for trekking companies shouldn’t carry more than 66lbs. A few of my fellow trekkers took the porter challenge and carried the bags for about 30 minutes from our guest house to bus station.
About once a day, we saw donkeys and yaks on the trail carrying goods up to the higher altitude villages. The packs were usually full on the way up and empty on the way back.
There are definitely lots of challenging questions around this practice. For instance, how do you balance fair labor practices and not eliminate jobs with the use of animals or trucks. How do you encourage porters to take care of their bodies when pay is dependent on the carrying amount? Since most porters work individually, how do the porters communicate amongst themselves to discuss these issues?
Birethanti to Pokhara first post about Annapurna Circuit Trek
This was our last day on the trek and consisted of a 30 minute walk to the bus station. Several of my co-trekkers carried the porters bags from our guesthouse to the bus. This included going down sets of stairs and crossing a bridge. We then hoped a bus to Pokhara. I don’t have many photos of Pokhara as I shopped for gifts and got some new tattoos. I would like to make it back there as there is so much to do. Others paraglided and rowed boats on the lake.
We found a great tattoo shop in Pokhara, HImalayn Ink and several of us got new tattoos. Actually several of us got a few as we liked the place so much. I plan to go back to finish the one on my left arm. The first two are mine and then photos of others.