We were delighted to find a Bhutanese company with an office in the States that could help us plan trips to both Nepal and Bhutan. The fact that Ugen , a partner in the business and our stateside contact made the trip to both countries himself a month before our trip, gave us current updates and information relevant to our itinerary.
My husband and I are both seniors (he is 65 and I am 72) . I had some concerns about the Nepal leg of this trip; concern about my physical fitness to take it on after some serious spinal surgeries and knee replacement in my 60’s, US State Department warnings regarding an Indian oil embargo , border closures, and Maoist activity, as well as the effects to Nepal’s infrastructure as a result of the disastrous earthquake just one year ago. Added to this, and most scary of all to me. was the fatal plane crash of a Tara Airlines flight between Kathmandu and Johmson- a route we were scheduled to fly. The crash happened about a week before we were to fly through the same narrow Himalayan pass. When I checked the safety record of the smaller Nepalese airlines, they had the lowest of safety records-on par with Air Congo and Air Kazakhstan! Yikes!
Wind Horse and Sixth Sense, it’s Nepalese affiliate worked with us at every turn. Our Indigo flight from New Delhi was met by one of the owners of Sixth Sense, Mahendra. Our 4th floor corner room in the Shambala Hotel couldn’t have been nicer. We found the air quality Kathmandu to be nearly as polluted as we remember Beijing. As a person who suffers from asthma, it felt a bit alarming to me. We stopped immediately and brought face masks to help filter out particulate. We did some light sightseeing, had a welcome dinner in a restaurant featuring folkloric dancing and looked forward to getting back to the hotel to downsize our packing to trekking only gear. Sixth Sense provided us with duffels, trekking poles, and -10 degree North Face (or knockoff) down sleeping bags. They were happy to store things from the Indian leg of our trip until our return. While guide, driver and accommodations were all excellent, we were happy to leave Kathmandu and hopefully find the clean, fresh air of the mountains!
We changed our trekking itinerary to a route , still part of the Annapurna Circuit that did not require the risky flight. Air Buddha, which flies larger planes on safer routes took us to Pokhara where we started our trek. Here where the magic began. Our new guide, Hem Raj Bastola, and, porter, Rajendra Bahadur Singh met us, ready to head to the mountains. I was immediately comforted when Hem told me he had recommended we alter our trekking route to a safer alternative, even before David and I came to that decision. The roads to our ‘put in’ spot were primitive at best, often narrow with huge rocks and potholes. Our vehicle felt sturdy and our driver, careful. We carried our day packs, while Rajendra carried our combined gear (which we think came to about 40 lbs or less.) A few pace out of the car and we were met with our first ‘up’- 3600 stairs !
The magic I referred to earlier was really a lovely marriage between exquisite scenery, well paced physical exertion , deep gratitude on our part and the lovely old souls , Hem and Rajendra who would be our guides, hosts, teachers, coaches, historians, and friends for the next seven days and whom we will hold in our hearts forever! Their mutual respect toward one another, toward us (always Sir and Madam), love of their country and tight choreography was no less than inspirational! Both are culturally Hindu, our discussions were deep, interesting and stimulating. Hem, a passionate , published poet, quoted from the giants of Western literature when it was appropriate on the trail. He read his original poetry to us at breakfast and dinner. He wrote poetry in our honour about our specific journey.
Both men are conversationally fluent in English. I could write volumes on each of them! At the end of our trip, Hem scaled a 40 foot rhododendron tree to pluck a blossom to congratulate me on our successful trek!
We were met at the first vehicle accessible road by our car and driver, delivered to the airport and whisked back to Kathmandu. Here, we were met by a new face, Kumar. I was not excited to breathe the polluted air and ready to excuse myself from our scheduled outing. I was so glad that I changed my mind. Kumar took us to the UNESCOWorld Heritage Site at Dunbar Square. While damage from the 2015 Earthquake was evident, the intact buildings are magnificent. Later we climbed more stairs to the Buddhist Stupa and saw hordes of monkeys, people and magnificent views!
From planning to execution, Wind Horse and Sixth Sense were collaborative and cooperative They personalised our trip and made it comfortable at every turn. To the very end, the guides actually waited at the airport until our planes took off to make sure we were safely in route to our next adventure. We feel we chose well and enthusiastically recommend Wind Horse and Sixth Sense to our friends and fellow adventure travellers!