On my very first trip to Nepal I arrived in Kathmandu without plans, or an itinerary. All I knew is I had a return flight 4-weeks later. I walked into the first travel agency I saw, said I wanted an authentic experience of Nepal, something off the beaten path, and to stay away from the tourist crowds. My chosen destination was the region of Kangchenjunga, in eastern Nepal, which also happens to be the 3rd highest mountain in the world. Bonus!
As a point of interest, the Everest region sees over 50,000 tourists annually, where as in Kangchenjunga that number rarely climbs above 5,000.
Off I went on my off the beaten path adventure!
The Bus Ride
To get there one must endure two full days of travel including what I consider to be a bus ride from hell.
Day one is 15-hours non-stop on the local bus. There’s a lunch stop and pee break along the way, but that’s it. The journey itself wouldn’t be so bad had it not been for the 12 straight hours of blasting Justin Bieber hits. They are true Beliebers!
Day two is an ordeal. It’s a slow and steady ride into the mountains with precipitous drop offs at every corner. I’m not a religious man but I did my fair share of praying that day. At 2 o’clock in the morning, the bus finally came to a stop. Excited, I jumped off only to find darkness and an empty road ahead. Apparently the bus could go no further – the roads further up were washed out. I walked the final 2 km into the town of Taplejung, where I collapsed of total exhaustion into bed.
From here it’s a 3-week trek that takes you on the Kanchenjunga circuit, to base-camp and back. This truly was an authentic and off the beaten path experience. In the 3-weeks of travel I saw no more than a dozen other tourists.
We didn’t stay in traditional tea-houses, but rather in strangers homes. Knocking on a strangers door asking if they had a room available for the night is as authentic as it gets. You become a part of their family, even if it for the one evening, eating dinner and sharing stories alike.
The meals were simple, consisting of traditional dal bhut (rice and dal) which grew tiresome eating the same meal night after night but it filled my belly with delight just the same.
These days, it’s so easy to plan out a trip itinerary and have everything ‘lined up’. All you have to do is show up and the rest takes care of itself. But what’s missing is that sense of the unknown and adventure. We’ve all heard the saying ‘it’s the journey not the destination’. Missing is that element of surprise, not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight. Every trip I take, I try and make sure that sense of adventure and the unknown is part of my journey. Some of my fondest memories are the result of these unknown and unplanned moments.
Image Location: Kangchenjunga, Nepal
This image was taken high in the mountains, above 5000 meters. The day had been a real grind. Hiking at altitude, your body is starved for oxygen, working overtime. You’re constantly catching your breath and feeling fatigued. I noticed two local women porters coming up behind me on the trail. They wore their traditional Sherpa outfits while carrying bamboo baskets. This visual is steeped in tradition that goes back hundreds of years and I really wanted to capture this moment. I had to think quick on my feet, I knew the moment was fleeting. In my mind I wanted to frame them both against the backdrop of the Himalayas. This to me told a nice visual story. They passed me and I tried to follow without success. I managed to squeeze off a few frames before they quickly disappeared ahead of me up the trail.