Travel story: Yoga Trekking Nepal 2019

Each year, I am organizing a yoga trekking with a befriended guide, Sahadev, in Nepal. It is something I could never have dreamed of, with new experiences every time! The yoga trekking  in 2019 was full of surprises, adventures and challenges. We did the Pike Peak trail, which is less known than other trekkings in Nepal and more off the beaten track. Therefore, we were allowed to stay at local people’s homes and monasteries in the villages we crossed. It was very simple, but at the same time a very rich experience. A true immersion into mountain life! Combined with yoga, we all felt more connected to nature, to ourselves and the world around us. I am grateful for all of this and for everyone who was there with us! Here’s a peek into my travel diary to give you an impression of what the yoga trekking was like.

Day 1 & 2: Discovering the Nepalese culture in Kathmandu

It’s Saturday 28th of September. Everyone has finally arrived in Nepal! After a few months of planning and preparation, here we are for the yoga trekking in the Himalayas. We were warmly welcomed by Sahadev, our Nepalese guide, and got to the hotel in Thamel. Those who arrived earlier on the day have had the opportunity to explore the vivid life in Kathmandu already, with its colourful shops, bustling streets and temples scattered through the city. Once the group is complete in the evening, we get a first taste of Nepalese culture in a restaurant with traditional dishes and dance performances. With our stomachs filled and full of all these impressions, we go to bed early to restore from the long flight and get ready for the journey.

The next day, most of us wake up early, as the sounds of ringing bells, honking motorbikes and chattering people reach our rooms even on the fifth floor. Time for a first morning yoga class at the balcony!

Somewhat refreshed, although maybe still a little jetlagged as well, we get ready for a tour to the most important heritage sites of the Kathmandu valley. These are the iconic stupas of Boudhanath and Swayambunath, each located at the far East respectively West side of the city. For me, it’s the third time visiting these places, but it’s a delight to be here every time again. And as Sahadev is super passionate about the culture and history of his own country, he can tell us all about it. Time flies by quickly and we don’t even have the time to see everything we had planned. Lesson number one: taking your time is more important than rushing through your schedule. ‘Bistari, bistari’, the Nepalese people like to say; ‘slowly, slowly’. We’ll have to take that to heart during the trekking as well.

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Day 3: Bumpy ride to Dhadey

Today we are driving to Dhadey, the starting point of the yoga trekking. Although a full day of sitting in a car sounds boring, everything in Nepal is food for adventure. As the festival season is starting, many people are travelling to their villages to celebrate the most important time of the year with their families. So it’s very busy on the roads – motorbikes, cars and buses packed with people, bags and animals pass by. And as the rainy season has decided to stay longer than usual, the roads in the hills are slippery and full of mud, causing extra delay. At some point, we find ourselves waiting for three buses in front of us that are stuck in the mud. It seems impossible that they will move. As the road is narrow and next to a steep hillside, we cannot pass. Are we going to get to Dhadey today, we wonder? Well, after a few unfruitful attemps to put newspapers and twigs under the wheels of the bus, all passangers are summoned to get out. From somewhere out of the blue, the drivers get some ropes and everyone starts pushing and pulling. Yelling and whistling, they actually get the buses moving uphill! Lesson number two: nothing is impossible. Everyone can get to their village and our drive continues as well, albeit over a very bumpy road for three more hours. Yoga in the evening helps us to feel more balanced again. Tomorrow we will get our own bodies moving!

Day 4: First day of trekking

Finally, into the mountains! Or should I say hills? The Nepali definition of ‘mountain’ is above an altitude of 5000m, whereas we started at 1700m. To be honest, this first day of hiking was quite easy compared to other trekkings I’ve done. The trail started gradually climbing through the rice fields and bamboo forests, and in between the path was ‘Nepali flat’ (that means going up and down just a little, but not too much). The most challenging part was probably crossing the river beneath the waterfall (which is the second largest in Nepal, and really beautiful). We had to walk through the water, which got as high as our knees. Quite refreshing, as the sun and our effects had warmed up our bodies considerably (read: we were totally sweating). The downside was that we all got leeches, which we discovered when we stopped for lunch. Nasty, but on the other hand, there’s worse things in the world.

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A better experience was our yoga class. In the village where we had lunch, there was a small school, now closed for the festival holiday. So we could use one of the classrooms as a yoga hall. It was a bit dusty, but with a few sweeps of the broom it was all good!

In the evening, finding a suitable place for yoga was a bit more challenging. The homestay where we spent the night was a farm of the Tamang people who live in this area. For our standards, it was quite primitive; the house was made of wood and clay, the cooking was done on woodfire, and the rooms where we slept had newspapers on the wall as a kind of decoration. One common room had a wooden floor, so here we did some stretching and relaxation. Again, simple, but all good! You do not need a lot more to be content. Another important lesson, something that most of us might know, but only when you go back to basics for a while, you truly understand.

Day 5: Staying at a Buddhist monastery

Most of us slept surprisingly well on the thin mattresses, in the cold, and with the knowledge of huge spiders inhabiting the corners of the room. It’s probably the rhythm of nature that is strongly present here which helps us to get better sleep. With hardly any electricity, it is completely dark once the sun is down and when the sun comes up you wake up naturally. That’s the good life!

The people at the farm also woke up early and were already working, with the women doing the laundries and cooking and the kids peeling corn they had harvested. They were at least as curious about us as we were about them – big eyes stared at me while I did a few sun salutations to start the day. When they proceeded with their tasks, we sat down with them and started peeling the corn as well, resulting in shy giggling. No words needed, just sharing a moment in each other’s life.

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After breakfast our trail continued. The landscape slowly changed from rice to corn fields – each altitude has its own microclimate, suiting different crops – and from bamboo to pine tree forest. The climbing was still gentle, but as the weather remained cloudy with rain showers every now and then, we had to walk carefully to prevent sliding and falling. As the guides kept telling us: bistari, bistari.

When we arrived at the next small village, a beautifully painted stupa appeared as the fog was blown away by the wind. We found our yoga spot for the day! It was a surprise every day, but we always ran into the most wonderful places.

The evening had another surprise for us: sleeping at a monastery! When we arrived at our destination for today, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Is this where we will stay? A wide green field, prayer flags all around the building, we could sense the serenity. The lama came to welcome us and the young boys, living there to learn about Buddhism, looked at us with curiosity again. As the Pike Peak is a lesser known trek, and we are even doing an alternative trail within the area, they only see a handful of trekkers each year. So it’s a unique experience for all of us! The lama showed us where we could sleep: in the school building where three huge buddha statues reassuringly looked down at us. You won’t find that on Airbnb!

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Day 6: Learning how to make momos

The next morning, we woke up early again, as the monks were doing their morning prayers at 6.30 in the room where we slept. No problem – the daylight got us out of bed before our alarm. And that gave us our first views on the mountains! In the mornings, the chances are best to see them, as the skies are most likely to be clear then. Later on the day, the clouds come in, and that happened quite early most of the days. But that makes you appreciate the moments on which you can see them even more.

As we woke up early, we started the day with yoga at the field, out in the open. Best thing ever! The guides and porters were interested as well and I invited them to join. So there we were, a diverse group of yogis and crew members doing warriors and balancing poses. Not sure what they thought about it, I asked Sahadev about their experiences. He said they liked it, ‘because the back goes like crack-crack-crack’! That’s what we do it for!

Today, our hike was relatively short; otherwise, we would ascend to higher altitudes too quickly. So to prevent altitude sickness, we paused earlier. This opened new doors: learning how to make momos! Momos are steamed bites made of rice flour and filled with spiced vegetables or meat, a Nepali specialty. One of our guides turned out to be a professional cook and showed us the process step by step – from perfectly cutting the onions to different techniques of making the characteristic momo shapes. And of course we had these self-made momos for lunch! Made with fun and love, they were delicious.

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They gave us plenty of energy for 2 more hours of hiking to the next village where we would stay. A different type of accommodation again: no homestay this time, but a small lodge, with mattresses on our beds at least 5 cm high! Luxury. You see, your standards change really quickly. But honestly, doing a trekking like this really feels like a luxury. What in the world offers so many new experiences and insights as this?

Day 7: Orange is a lucky colour

After a relatively easy day, today would be more challenging, ascending to an altitude above 3000m. The landscape transitioned into more rocky paths alongside small streams of water. And yet, it was not as hard as we expected. How come? Well, the guides explained: ‘Dal bhat power, 24 hour!

Dal bhat is the standard meal for most people in Nepal, consisting of rice and lentil curry and sometimes other vegetables. Simple, but very nutritious, the ideal food for trekking if you ask me. And yet we were spoiled with a variety of dishes the guides cooked for us every day – from noodles with vegetables to spring rolls. We actually got three-course meals, starting with soup and having cut fruits or coconut cookies for dessert. Not exactly what I expected on a basic trekking like this, but I won’t complain either!

Our destination for today was originally another monastery, but since it had been destroyed by the earthquake 4 years ago and was still in reconstruction, we could stay at a friend’s of Sahadev’s father in a nearby village. He came to pick us up at the monastery and showed us the way through the thick forest, sometimes saying ‘wait everyone!’, to quickly build a stepping stone bridge over streams of water we had to cross. An energetic man, who instantly made you feel happy with an everlasting smile on his face.

And he had more surprises in mind. Welcoming us in the village, he had invited all its inhabitants to do their traditional Sherpa dance with us. They performed a ritual, giving all of us an orange scarf (a holy colour for the Nepalese) and singing a blessing. It made me feel a little overwhelmed, all the special attention, but I also realized how happy they were to have foreign visitors in their village. Some areas, such as Annapurna, thrive with increasing tourism, but other regions have to depend mainly on agriculture. As education is still limited and hardly regulated, many people do not have a lot of different opportunities to find another job in the cities or abroad. Sahadev says it is slowly changing – I hope for the sweet little kids who were also joining the dance that they will have more possibilities in their future. And I hope that our visit helped a little bit on the way.

Day 8: The mountain dog that followed us

With our new orange scarves added to our trekking gear – according to our happy host, these would bring luck (‘tomorrow good weather if you wear them, and day after tomorrow too!’) – we continued on our trail. As the village was a few 100 meters lower than the monastery we passed the day before, we had to go back, climbing uphill. Once there, we were lucky indeed as the man had predicted: mountain views from the monastery! A very impressive place to do some yoga. I felt the surroundings really complemented the themes we practiced: going back to basics, self-exploration, finding balance. And it inspired me to do something spontaneous at times as well, because of the needs of the group or changes of plans. That’s at the core of both trekking and yoga: listening to the signals of your inner world and connecting to your surroundings, thereby tuning into the moment, that changes all the time. Moving at the pace of nature, just as it presents itself.

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Our easy pace brought us even higher in the mountains by the end of the day, through more forest and later in a landscape resembling the dunes in the Netherlands, but with a more rocky ground and yaks instead of deer. And dogs. We passed a small settlement where we took a break. The biggest animal lover of the group started playing with the dog that was roaming around in the garden – and he followed us the rest of the day! A new group member had joined.

We spent the night in the most primitive place until now, a shepherd family’s farm. Our bedroom was a small hut with wooden planks to ‘close’ the door and window. We snuggled up in the living room/kitchen where the family was cooking at the fire for some warmth. Cosy after all! Although the night was cold, it was clear and I saw the stars when I woke up for a midnight toilet break. Every moment has something beautiful to offer, all you have to do is looking for it. In this case, up in the sky.

Day 9: made it to base camp!

The next morning started off cloudy. Only a few times, the sun came through – was it coincidence that it happened exactly during our breaks? Due to the weather we didn’t see any mountain views today. It made me think of a Chinese poem:

“The bird gives a cry – the mountains quiet all the more”

Similar to this idea, I appreciate the mountains so much more when the sky is clear. Nevertheless, fingers crossed for tomorrow because.. we are now in Pike Peak base camp! That means we will do the summit to the peak early in the morning to see the sunrise (hopefully).

Being in base camp already makes us happy. There’s a few other groups of trekkers, who came here through different routes. It is nice to exchange some experiences and share the excitement. The owner of the guesthouse seems to like it too, he just played some songs on a kind of Nepali guitar and got the whole group clapping and singing. Good vibes!

Day 9: Summit, stars and sunrise: euphoria!

Today, we got up very early in the morning for the summit to Pike Peak, the highest point of our trekking. I couldn’t sleep all night of excitement – the moment you see the stars and then the mountains at sunrise is something that nothing in the world can beat! But as the days before had been very cloudy, we weren’t sure if we would get to see the long awaited peaks of the Himalayas.

When I woke up two minutes before my alarm at 4 o’clock, I jumped out of my sleeping bag and quickly had a look outside. YES! A clear sky full of stars! A good sign, but still no guarantee that after 1,5 hour of hiking up the peak the views would remain. We had to get dressed though, got some ginger tea to warm up and then slowly started the climb. Although I still felt so excited that I could run up the mountain, slowing down also gave me the time to enjoy the hike under the stars, which was wonderful in itself.

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One of the people in our group got some extra challenge, as symptoms of altitude sickness suddenly kicked in. Nevertheless, step by step, and with careful guidance, she was determined to continue, proceeding to the top.

The morning gradually presented itself as well, revealing the snowy peaks of the Himalayas one by one. A breathtaking experience, as if time went slower and faster at the same time. And the feeling when we reached the top of Pike Peak, with the sun rising, is impossible to describe in words. The euphoria peaked when everyone set their foot at the top, being there together is even better than just by yourself!

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Time for a group hug, endlessly looking at the powerful landscape all around us, and of course some pictures. If it was for the feeling and the views, we would probably want to stay there forever. However, at an altitude over 4000m early in the morning in the crisp air, we got very cold. So after enjoying the moment in its fullest, we started descending again, looking forward to another cup of tea and freshly baked apple pancakes to warm up.

As we started early, we had the whole day ahead of us to get to the one before last destination of the trekking. It’s a strange idea that the trekking is almost over, although it’s also nice to think of warm showers and a comfortable bed again. And surprise surprise, the lodge where we spent the night actually had hot water available! More euphoria on this day. Things that you normally take for granted are much more appreciated when you go back to basics, even for just a week.

To celebrate our achievements, we did some partner yoga, with the guides joining again. We had a lot of fun – nothing could break our mood anymore!

Day 10-14: Back to the civilised world

One more day of trekking took us to the last village of our route on the Pike Peak trail. As a new road has been constructed, it was a lot easier than the other days, with hardly any steps or small paths in the forest. The landscape around us was therefore not as interesting as the others, but our bodies could also use a break. And although we might have counted on more natural surroundings, it also taught us to embrace the ‘imperfections’ during our time here. We arrived early in the afternoon, leaving us with some time to relax by the fire and hug the puppy that the hosts just got that day.

The next day was dedicated to a long bus drive back to the civilised world again. It is always overwhelming to get back from the peace and quiet of nature to the busy roads and cities in the Kathmandu valley, especially in the festival season. On the other hand, the festive atmosphere creates an extra special feeling when you get back from a challenging trek.

We ended our journey in the beautiful city of Bhaktapur, where we could not only see another face of the culture of Nepal – it’s like a living museum – but also indulge in some coffee and cakes. On the last day, back in Kathmandu, we all enjoyed some Nepali massage and a last dinner together. Closing our journey, we reminded each other of all the songs in our head during the trekking, the small precious moments and the wise lessons we learned. It’s great to see every year how everyone has their own insights and memories from two weeks of trekking and yoga. New perspectives, gratitude and maybe most importantly, more connection to ourselves, are among the things that most people take home.

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I am grateful every time to share this experience with other people, who inspire me as well, just like life in Nepal always does. Thank you all, dhanyabad!

Are you interested in joining us next year? We are excited to announce that we have planned THREE different yoga trekkings in 2020. Please do contact us if you would like to receive more information or subscribe for updates on the yoga trekking. Also feel free to ask any questions, we always love to get in touch.

Do you want to see more pictures? Follow us on Instagram of Facebook. You can also have a look at Himalaya Travel Adventures, Sahadev’s travel organisation, for more travel and trekking in Nepal.