Featured Writer: Jana Phung
Photo credits: Michelle Green
I stood on top of a grassy hill, armed with my walking stick and an unyielding quest for adventure – and perhaps a need for more sleep. I had been climbing uphill for nearly an hour since 4:30 in the morning; at times feeling like I just wanted to be carried up on a stretcher! But I made it and there I was on Poon Hill at sunrise, surrounded by a panorama etched with snow capped Himalayan mountains as high as I could see, watching the first sign of daylight appear across the indigo sky.
Poon Hill was around day four of our ten day Jomsom trek with the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company in Nepal. The day before we began our trek, my friend Michelle and I had left behind the hectic roar of Kathmandu to meet our group in Pokhara. This is a town where the frenzied bustling of city streets gave way to a chilled out, laid back vibe that was much more my speed. This is the town where I fell in love with Nepal.
3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company: Empowering Women of Nepal
We chose to go with the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Group in Pokhara because it is the first agency in Nepal to offer female guides and porters for female trekkers. We also liked the fact that the agency provided one porter per trekker. It made us cringe whenever we saw single porters from other agencies trudging uphill, while transporting heavy loads for at least three or four people.
The 3 Sisters agency in Nepal was initiated by three sisters named Lucky, Dicky and Nicky (yes, they really are as cute as they sound) as a means to empower women in Nepal through the provision of training and employment in the country’s growing tourism industry. Their mission is to help Nepalese women break away from societal norms, which hold them in a much more disadvantaged position than men. Especially in rural areas, women are often marginalized and limited in their ability to make independent decisions. The 3 Sisters Trekking Company gives these women a voice, choices and opportunities. Many of the porters on our trek were young women from rural villages who were eager to work and learn English.
Trekking in Paradise
Our group of trekkers consisted of seven women, plus one male (Ian and Sabina were a married couple). The travelers were mostly from Australia, with Michelle and I being the two token Canadians. We were provided with nine porters, two of whom were also our guides. We did have two male porters in our group to provide Ian with some male bonding and disperse some of the female energy!
Each night we stayed in beautiful, quaint guest houses with warm showers and comfortable beds. We met for supper around large tables to rest our aching feet and savor in the delights of Nepalese cuisine such as dhal baat (a dish consisting of steamed rice, curry, lentils and pickled vegetables), Tibetan bread, apple fritters and masala tea. Then it was usually bed time shortly after because we would convene again at 7:00 in the morning for breakfast before another day of trekking.
The Jomsom Trek that we completed is part Nepal’s famous Annapurna Circuit (the last third of that route, done in reverse). We hiked for four to six hours a day along wide open landscapes, lined with dessert-like valleys and surrounded by enormous mountain peaks that reached the clouds. Our highest point on the trek was at a height of 3800 meters in the temple town of Muktinath. Thank goodness for altitude sickness medication!
For ten days, we weaved through small villages to see families working on their land or relaxing in front of their homes, bundled up in colorful yak wool shawls. We saw children in school uniforms and men and women carrying live chickens, or other large cargo, on their backs in straw baskets strapped to their foreheads. They all bounded effortlessly up the graveled mountain roads in little more than flip flop sandals, while we struggled up the hill beside them in full on mountain gear and hiking boots. Every day I looked forward to seeing the Nepalese children, with their wool hats and rosy cheeks, run up to greet us with their hands clasped in prayer to say “Namaste”.
Our Amazing 3 Sisters Guides and Porters
Throughout our ten days together, the porters became our family. They guided and supported us as we explored the majestic country side. They took care of all our needs and went the extra mile to make sure we were comfortable and safe. They were extremely patient with my slow-poke pace after I had developed a nasty blister on my ankle on only day three of the trek!
Although a number of the porters spoke very limited English, we found a way to communicate through hand gestures, our own unique form of charades and through single English and Nepalese words strung together in creative ways. When there were no words left, we had music. They taught us to sing a popular Himalayan trekking song called “Resamm Phiriry” (“The flying silk scarf”) and I taught them the lyrics to ‘Down in the Valley to Pray”. Some nights before bed, I could hear them practicing this song, their sweet voices singing me to sleep.
It’s been two years since my adventures on the Jomsom trail but I can still recall every word of “Resamm Phiriry”. And I won’t soon forget Bimala, who was my porter for the majority of the trek. At the end of our time together, Bimala told me that she didn’t have a sister, so she’d like me to be her Didi (“big sister”). I said I’d be happy to call her my Bahini (“little sister”).
For this and many other reasons, a piece of my heart will always remain in Nepal. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit this captivating country, it’s hard to ignore the call to go back again and again. I hope to make my second visit to the great Himalayas someday soon.
My List of Top 10 Memorable Moments in Nepal:
1. Seeing a rhinoceros up close in the Chitwan Jungle
2. Falling off an elephant in Chitwan National Park (I didn’t actually fall off the top the elephant! I fell as the elephant was lifting me up with his trunk to sit on his back. At the halfway point, I panicked and fell backwards. No injuries though!)
3. Watching the sunrise at Poon Hill
3. Tasting Tibetan bread for the first time and getting hooked on the fried, doughy goodness
4. Seeing the faces of adorable village children
5. Travelling in a tiny plane from Pokhara to Jomsom that flew right in between the mountains – I felt as if I was close enough to reach out and touch the snow capped peaks
6. Taking a peaceful canoe trip across the clear blue waters of Fewa Lake in Pokhara, seeing fisherman in action along the way
7. Looking down at the vibrant night life in Kathmandu from a roof top restaurant
8. Visiting the monkey temple in Kathmandu (The Buddhist Swayambhunath temple gets its nickname from the families of spirited little monkeys that have made the temple their home)
9. Relaxing in the natural hot springs in Tatopani (a stop on our trail) after a long day of trekking
10. Getting the best massage of my life at the Seeing Hands clinic in Pokhara – a massage clinic that employs qualified blind massage therapists
Namaste, Nepal! This is one place that I’m not ready to completely cross off my Bucket List yet!
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