Video: Nepal’s Extreme Zip Line

When High Ground Adventures in Nepal decided they wanted to build a zip line, they knew they wanted it to be long, tall and fast. Their Zipflyer meets that description and then some. Riders reach speeds in excess of 85 miles per hour while dangling high above the desert floor. The two-minute ride covers nearly 6000 feet while dropping almost 2000 feet in the process.

For those of us who won’t be making the journey to the town of Pokhara any time soon, which is where the Zipflyer is located, we’ll just have to settle for the video below. It looks like a fun ride, although that first step is kind of scary.

Pokhara & the Himalayan hippie trail

Kathmandu may be the first city that comes to mind when you mention Nepal. But when it comes to retracing the infamous ‘Hippie Trail’ of the 1960s, there is no better place than Pokhara. Little known outside the hard-core travel circuit, Pokhara is Nepal’s 3rd largest city, and – more importantly – lies in the shadow of three of the ten tallest mountains in the world.

On Friday, Gadling presented 48 hours in Kathmandu as a brief introduction to the mountain kingdom. But to truly come face-to-face with the majesty and grandeur of Nepal, you have to climb up into the Himalayas.

Prior to the construction of a major highway in 1968, the only way to access Pokhara was to hike in. Difficult access meant that travelers were in no rush to go anywhere else. The stories of bygone sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in Pokhara are absolutely legendary.

With jet-setting flashpackers becoming more of the norm rather than the exception, things are certainly more PG-13 these days. But that doesn’t mean that Pokhara is any less magical. Have we peaked your interest yet? Read on to find out more about the last vestiges of the Himalayan Hippie Trail.Everest is the unquestionable rooftop of the world, but the Annapurna circuit has no less than three mountains that break the 8,000 meter (26,246 feet) mark. Considering that Pokhara and the surrounding valley bottom out at 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), the contrast scale is epic.

And then there’s the vegetation. Lying in sub-tropical climes, Pokhara is flush with flowering plants, leafy vines and towering trees. Outside the city limits, the jungle quickly takes root. Not long ago, tiger sightings were quite common, though sadly their numbers are on the decline.

With so much stunning nature, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that hiking and trekking are the two main activities on hand. In town, every other shop will sell you North Face-branded gear (most of dubious origins), and offer guiding services, chartered expeditions or simply friendly advice.

If you’re inexperienced with high-altitude alpine conditions, consider an overnight hike to the hill station at Sarangkot. Although you’re just a smidgen above 2,000 meters (6,561 feet), you’re still high enough to escape from the urban confines.

You’re also in the shadow of the Annapurna range, and well-positioned for one of the most spectacular sunrises of your life. In the wee hours of the morning, the sun crosses the horizon on the opposite end of the valley, slowly enveloping the Himalayas in a blanket of soft orange light.

Got weak knees? Apprehensive about the down-climb to Pokhara? There happens to be a well-respected paragliding school at Sarangkot, which means that tandem jumps are safe and relatively affordable (around US$100).

Up for a more serious challenge? Consider the 14-day roundtrip trek from Pokhara to Annapurna Base Camp (4131 m; 13,553 ft). You will need to be properly outfitted for this trek, and altitude sickness is a minor risk worth mentioning.

With that said, the relaxed pace gives you plenty of time to acclimatize, and there is no technical climbing required to reach the top. Along the way, you can also keep your energy levels high by stopping at remote tea shacks staffed by local villagers.

At such great heights, never underestimate the rejuvenative power of a good cuppa’ tea!

For technical climbers in search of death-defying challenges, tackling the peaks of the so-called ‘eight-thousanders’ is unmatched. Rising more than 8,000 meters (26,246 feet), Annapurna I, II and III are amongst the deadliest mountains in the world. It’s estimated that 40% of expeditions result in fatalities. In comparison, Everest claims the lives of less than 5% of climbers.

Not in a rush to meet your maker?

One of the most enchanting aspects of Pokhara is that the city wraps around the edges of a tranquil lake. Rowboats can be rented for a few dollars, and you can paddle out to an island shrine. Overhead, flocks of hungry swallows do an admirable job of insect control.

Much like Kathmandu,Pokhara is also home to a very large Tibetan refugee population. Momo (Tibetan-style dumplings) are great for a quick fix, especially when washed down with Nepali millet beer and rice brandy. If you like your alcohol in bottles, the commercially brewed Everest lager also hits the spot.

Believe it or not, Pokhara also has something of a thriving Italian food sector. Wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas are ubiquitous – it’s not Sicily, but the quality is much better than you’d think. Carbo-loading is also the order of the day if you’re planning on heading up into the mountains.

And now, for a bit of the nitty-gritty details…

The best time to visit Pokhara is during the dry season (October to May) when the skies are clear and sunny. In the wet season (June to September), Asia gets pounded by monsoon rains. During this time, you will not be able to see the mountains through the grey gloom, and transportation will grind to a halt.

Speaking of transportation, the modern era has opened up Pokhara to the world. Rather than hiking into Pokhara like the hippies of yore, you can take the bus from Kathmandu. Advertised time is seven hours, but the reality is often closer to ten. Accidents are sadly all too commonplace, so be advised that personal safety is no guarantee.

Those wary of long bus rides can fly on one of Nepal’s domestic airlines: Yeti Air, Buddha Air or Agri Air. Flight time is less than one hour, and the views below are nothing less than stunning. As a disclaimer however, all three airlines have less than stellar crash records. Getting to Pokhara may be an adventure in itself, but trust us – the journey is entirely worth the risks.

The 1960s are long gone, but there are still vestiges of the hippie dream flourishing in the Himalayas.

Namaste. Pokhara awaits.

** All images are original photographs produced by this blogger **

A New Annapurna Circuit?

We mentioned the Annapurna Circuit a few weeks back, calling it one of the world’s classic treks, but also lamenting the fact that a new road, built in the name of progress, was altering the experience forever. What once took the better part of three weeks to traverse, can now be driven in just two days, and the solitude of the Himalayan hike is now gone.

While the traditional Annapurna Circuit may never be the same, according to this story from the Times Online, a new one may be emerging to take its place. An adventure travel tour operator based in the U.K. called Mountain Kingdoms, foresaw the impact of the new road, and hired three Sherpa Sirdars to create a new route. The result? An eight day trek around the Annapurna Massif, home of the 10th highest mountain in the world, that begins in Muktinath and runs back to Naya Phu, a village not far from Pokhara, the hub of that part of Nepal.

This new trekking circuit offers much the same experience as the old one. The clearly defined and easy to follow trail passes through a remote village every few hours, and those villages have the traditional teahouses that are popular along most trekking routes in the Himalaya. Teahouses offer inexpensive food and places to sleep, allowing hikers to travel much more lightly than on similar treks in other parts of the world.

The article indicates that the new route is breathtakingly beautiful, and a throwback to the quiet solitude of the old Annapurna circuit. For now, it remains a bit of a secret, but that is likely to change soon. Go now for a really unique trekking experience.

The great American road trip: Montana here we come

With gas prices fluctuating between $3.95 and $4.09 in Columbus, Ohio, we’ve embarked on a road trip to Montana, cruise control set at 65 mph.

Right now we’re driving into the sunset on I-80 near Fremont, Ohio, home of Rutherford B. Hayes. My laptop is resting across my lap. We’re passing yet another white farmhouse with a barn silo. Our goal is to make it to La Quinta Inn in Madison, Wisconsin. It has a pool, WiFi and free breakfast. Wheee!

If we don’t make it, we’re out $100. It’s 8:52 p.m. If you do the math, you’ll notice that we won’t roll into the parking lot until at least 2:00.

The relatives we just left in Brunswick at a high school graduation party for one of our ten nephews gave us hugs and waved us off. “Of course, you’re driving to Madison tonight,” was the general response.

The graduation party stop, two hours after I shoved our last belonging in the car in Columbus, was a quick one-just enough time to say our congrats, have a swim in a backyard pool, eat our fill and head out.

The stop was a chance to regroup. Leaving Columbus was not the smoothest. We left pillows and umbrellas behind. By the time we made it to the entrance ramp of I-71 north, I was ready to call it quits. This was not even a mile from our house.

My mom just called to tell me the things she did that we forgot to do. Things like emptying the coffee grounds, turning on an inside light, changing the bulb of our porch light and turning that on, and watering our flowers. The neighbor kids will be by in a couple of days, but the flowers looked limp as we pulled away.

But, we are off in our Ford Taurus station wagon with a new set of rear brakes and an oil change. This car has made the trip two other times, the first time all the way to California and onto New York when our son was a year and a half and our daughter was ten.

This time we have broken our no DVD player stance. Our son is watching Chicken Little, but he had to wait to be plugged in until we left Brunswick and turned onto the highway. The idea is to parcel it out so he’ll notice the scenery and we can visit which is part of the purpose of a road trip.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in Minneapolis, the city filled with outdoor art, visiting two sets of friends. One set who used to live on our street before we moved to Taiwan. Their son was our daughter’s best friend when they were five.

The other set was friends of ours in Singapore. Back when we hung out together, they were kid-less and so were we. We spent one Christmas together hiking between Jomsom and Pokhara, Nepal.

Catching up with friends we haven’t seen for awhile is another road trip purpose. As a person who has had a life of travel and moving, these visits offer me some sense of continuity.

But, for now we’re floating on the highway, the sun is gone and the moon is up, a crescent in front of us—good company for a night of driving. [The photo is what Chicago looks like at 1:00 a.m. I would have taken the photo myself but I was in a road-hashed stupor. This shot is of evanembee’s view from his condo.]

Hulk Hogan, Osama Bin Laden and a pair of Red Wings

I heard part of an interview with Morgan Spurlock, the creator of the documentary, “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden” yesterday. The film, which opens today, sounds as if it might be more travelogue with a twist of the Middle East. Spurlock visits places as varied as Morocco, Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and chats with a variety of those countries’ citizens along the way in order to sort of find Osama bin Laden and take a look-see in the countries where he has been.

Spurlock’s interview comments about wresting reminded me of one of my husband’s encounters with Tibetan monks in Nepal. The interviewer and Spurlock talked about how people everywhere, no matter which country, know that championship wrestling is serious business. My husband, who wrestled in high school, attracts wrestling type fans wherever he travels.

As a rather large man with huge feet–size 14, he is unable to escape notice. People, particularly in countries like Vietnam, like to poke and prod him. Because he wears Red Wing work boots, his shoes gain notice. Fill one with cement and you’d have quite the doorstop. Even without the cement, it’s a doorstop. Anyway, when we were in Nepal and stopped by a Tibetan monastery outside of Pokhara, like always, my husband left his shoes outside the door while we went inside. When he came out, he saw a group of monks gathered around his boots.

One of the monks reached down to pick one up and seemed to be testing its weight, marveling. Another, who knew English, said, “Can we ask you a question?”

My husband leaned in thinking he might learn a bit about enlightenment,”Yes?” He waited for the pearl.

“Hulk Hogan? Is he real?”

“Sure,” said my husband, which produced a round of beaming smiles, nods and back slapping, as if my husband and Hulk are best buds. As for the pearl of wisdom? Here’s what I think. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to please.