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Monday, April 18, 2016

“Now or Never” Trip to Nepal for Local Couple

Jarod and Amy Kees experienced a trip of a lifetime. 
By Jennifer Heindl 

Fort Thomas residents, Jarod and Amy Kees, are no strangers to international travel. They’ve visited several parts of eastern and western Europe over the years, but until recently they had never visited Asia. After years of declining the invitation to visit Nepal with one of Amy’s coworkers, the Kees' decided it was “now or never.”

Amy’s coworker, Hemant Taparia, is a native of Nepal and returns for a month every spring to visit family before Monsoon season in June and July. “I sat next to him for six years at work and every year he would invite a bunch of people to visit him in Nepal,” said Amy.

After an April 2015 earthquake devastated the Kathmandu area and killed more than 8,000 thousand people, it seemed a 2016 trip to Nepal would be unlikely. As the months went by, Taparia began offering his annual invitations again.

“We really felt like it was now or never.” said Amy. “But right up until the night before we left, we were questioning whether or not we were crazy to be going on this trip.”

“We knew this was a trip we would never take on our own, but knowing we would have a local there with us to set everything up was great,” said Jarod.

After leaving their two children safely in the care of their grandparents, the Kees’ boarded a plane in mid-March and set off for their 10-day adventure. After 24 hours of travel they arrived in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and met up with Taparia and 5 of his other friends who had also decided to make the trip. The Kees’ spent 3 days exploring the city of Kathmandu and the neighborhood of Thamel which is in the central part of the city and caters to travelers.

“It’s sort-of the energy of the city,” said Jarod.

Crowded Kathmandu.

They used the first three days in Kathmandu as a buffer time in case they suffered from severe jet lag or altitude sickness. In spite of the ten hour and 45-minute time difference they didn’t have any trouble adjusting once they arrived. They spent their time in the city visiting temples (including the well-known ‘Monkey Temple’), doing some sight-seeing and shopping in the street markets while just observing the culture.

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“It’s sensory overload because there are people everywhere and you can smell food cooking everywhere and it’s just something everywhere you look,” said Amy.

Taparia’s family lives just outside Kathmandu and they hosted the Kees’ for lunch twice while they were there and also arranged for much of their in-country travel as well as their evening activities while in the city.

Monkey temple. 

Taparia had prepared the Kees’ for their trip by describing Nepal as a third world country. Residents live on mere dollars a day and offer their services for a fraction of the cost that would be found in the United States. The Kees’ said their plane tickets weren’t any more expensive than a ticket to a European destination and once they were in-country it was very affordable. They saw poverty in Nepal, but they were struck by how kind and generous everyone was in spite of their own need.

“The effects of the earthquake were still visible and it was obvious that our tourism was so valuable,” said Jarod.

Crowded Kathmandu. 
After their three days in crowded Kathmandu, the Kees' were ready to set off for the second part of their trip. A four day “Teahouse Trek.”

“We got on this tiny puddle-jumper type airplane and flew 25 minutes to Pokhara which was honestly the scariest part of the whole trip,” said Jarod. “If we hadn’t been there traveling with a group of other people, I would have given serious thought to getting off the plane.”

Plane ride to Pokhara. 
It would have been a hard decision because the alternative to the 25-minute plane ride was an 8-hour bus ride over hard terrain to the resort town of Pokhara in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain Range.

After arriving in Pokhara, they were picked up in a Jeep and rode for 2 hours in the dark before arriving at their first stop on the trek. When they woke up the next morning they were greeted with a beautiful clear view of the Annapurna mountains in the distance with traditional prayer flags strung around the teahouse where they had spent the night.

The view from their teahouse where they started their trek. The Annapurna Mountain Range in the distance.
“The prayer flags were everywhere,” said Jarod. “I would consider it a part of their culture like many people will use a cross as part of their décor here in the states to show a symbol of their faith. It’s the same with the prayer flags there.” 

Each of the next four days their group hiked four-six hours in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains accompanied by their local guide. After the day of hiking, the group arrived at a teahouse where they stayed for the night. When they got up the next day, their guide was prepared with accommodations at the next teahouse on their route. The Kees’ compared the lodging along their trekking trail to that of the European hostels they’ve stayed in – sparse but the necessities were covered.

“Basically, the tea houses are like a bed and breakfast,” said Jarod. “We paid something like $8 for a bed and a meal.”

“I was expecting something like mats on a hard floor, so it was an awesome surprise to find out that we had our own room - usually with our own bathroom,” said Amy. “Sometimes there was a hot shower sometimes there wasn’t but there was always a bed and plenty of food.”

As they hiked, the ever changing terrain emphasized the beauty of the region for the Kees’.

“I pictured Colorado or Canada, which is beautiful, too, but this was completely different,” said Amy. “It was a constantly changing landscape from rainforest to rice fields, and lots of personal gardens.”

The terrain was also rugged with a lot of up and down climbing over the hills. All of the stops along their trek were accessible only by foot or donkey which meant supplies needed in the villages had to be brought in either on the back of a human or the back of a donkey. Despite the remoteness of the villages every place they stopped had WiFi!

Delivering fresh fruit.
They encountered many children in the tea house villages and they wondered about how they attended school in such a remote area. The Kees’ were visiting during a large festival to honor the Hindu god Shiva so the children were out of school for the festival, but they were told that normally the children walk 2 hours to the closest school and stay there for a week at a time so that they can attend classes.
A child peeking out to see the trekkers passing by.
The months of February through May are prime hiking season in Nepal and, they met many other trekkers on the trail coming and going and there was no shortage of local guides available to take hikers into the mountains. The Kees’ particularly enjoyed their guide.

“He was this little guy probably in his 60s and he didn’t speak a lick of English,” said Jarod. “He carried all the water and beer for the day in this big pack on his back. It was crazy.” 

Jarod with their trekking guide. 
“Everyone was so warm and generous,” said Amy. “I felt guilty because they gave us so much food at the teahouses and after a long day of hiking I was starving but I still couldn’t eat it all and you feel like you should clean your plate and not waste any food. They just want to give you more and more to make sure you’re happy.” 

Amy (front red shirt) and Jarod (directly behind Amy) with their trekking group. Taparia is in the back row, third from the right.
To cap off their trip, when they returned to Pokhara, the Kees’ spent their final evening in Nepal at a celebration for Taparia’s birthday with his family and friends. After returning home from their 10 days of travel, the Kees’ said they would definitely return to Nepal again and do a longer trek next time to see another part of the mountain range.

“When we travel, I like to go places where I can experience different food, different languages, different culture, and he likes to go someplace where the scenery is different,” said Amy. “We both got what we wanted in this trip. It was, by far, the most culturally different place we’ve ever been.”

“We don’t usually go back to places that we visit, but this is definitely someplace we want to go back and experience again,” said Amy. “It’s so different from the world we experience here at home, that it almost feels like it was a dream.”

Read more from Jennifer Heindl at Heindl Haven here. 

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