Irishman Niall Doherty has traveled the world since 2010 without flying while working as a freelance web designer from his laptop. At the time of this writing, he was trying to figure out how to get from Nepal to Thailand without setting foot on an airplane. Please join me for a week-in-the-life of Niall Doherty trekking, paragliding, and working in Nepal!
This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links.
Day 1: Monday
I’m out of bed at 6:30 a.m., which would be early most other places, but not in Nepal. My first week here I decided to go watch the sunrise from a famous town square, only to find a festival in full swing when I got there.
I run through my usual morning routine — stretch, touch typing practice, free write a thousand words — and then leave the Double Tree Hotel in search of better digs.
I’d arrived in Pokhara by motorcycle two days earlier, and no sooner had I parked the bike down by the lake than I’d been approached by the owner of the Double Tree. I’d taken a chance and agreed to stay at his place, but after 48 hours of terrible wifi, it was time to leave. As a freelance web designer, a reliable Internet connection is always a must if I’m going to get any work done while traveling.
By noon I’ve moved to a new hotel, the third one I found. Their wifi proves pretty zippy (at least by Nepali standards), so I knuckle down for a lengthy work session, the hotel balcony serving as my office. With a glance up from my screen I can see paragliders over the lake and snow-capped peaks beyond.
In the evening I decide I’ll head off trekking Annapurna the next day, and so spend a little time making arrangements and picking up several items I’ll need. After dinner at a fantastic little restaurant called the Sun Welcome, I jump on Skype for a Mastermind call, then call it a night.
Day 2: Tuesday
I’m up at 6:30 a.m. once again, but with a bunch of emails, comments and client projects to juggle, it’s almost noon before I hit the road. I’m bringing with me one of those USB Internet dongle thingys, hoping it will keep me online while trekking so I can stay connected with clients and handle any emergencies.
The scenery on the way to Birethanti is breathtaking. Just outside of Pokhara I ride along the floor of a lush valley before the road rises into the Himalayan foothills and I find myself weaving through endless hairpin bends, each one opening into a view more spectacular than the last.
It’s only my sixth day on a motorcycle — I had two days of lessons in Kathmandu the previous week before riding the five hours to Pokhara — and I’m still experiencing the newbie rush. I’m riding a 180cc Bajaj Pulsar, and feel like a badass every time I upshift and accelerate to overtake an old bus or truck sputtering up the mountainside.
I feel much less like a badass though when I turn off the main road and find myself struggling to keep the bike upright on the dirt track that leads to Birethanti. The track eventually gets swallowed up by a wide stream and I think better of trying to cross it on my rented machine. I turn around and ride carefully back to a small town called Naya Pul, where I find a hotelier willing to store the bike for a few days.
Then I’m off on foot.
Being the low season, I meet very few people on the trail. I see waterfalls cascading quietly from vertical hillsides and transforming into mist. Terraced rice fields surround humble dwellings dotted throughout the landscape. I pass through a friendly village every couple of hours, where they advertise apple pie, hot showers, and Western toilets. There are no roads to these places, only the steep trails. Every now and then I come across men with loaded-down donkeys, lugging supplies to the restaurants and guest houses.
After checking my map, I decide to try to make it to a village called Ulleri before nightfall. It proves a tough task, as Ulleri sits atop 3,200 rugged stone steps. About halfway up I’m drenched in sweat and decide it’s getting too dark to dodge the donkey shit, so I pull into a guest house run by someone’s sweet and diminutive great-grandmother. She cooks me up a feast of egg-fried rice and potato momos while I try in vain to get online via my USB dongle thingy.
After dinner I squeeze in some typing practice and get some writing done. Yes, that’s me, the arsehole tapping away on his Macbook Pro halfway up a mountain.
Before hitting the hay I go out on the roof for a few deep breaths of fresh air. The moon is almost full and shining bright. I see the outlines of the hills all around me, their darkness dotted with little specks of electricity. I remind myself where I am and feel the goosebumps rising.
Day 3: Wednesday
I’m back climbing steps by 7 a.m. Once I reach Ulleri the trail levels out and the next couple of hours are pretty easy to Ghorepani. I stop several times along the way to take photos of myself with random animals and in ridiculous ninja poses, much to my own amusement.
Upon reaching Ghorepani I check into a guest house and get chatting to trekkers from Australia and Europe over lunch. Cool people.
I spend the rest of the afternoon piecing together a blog post about learning and teaching, then head out to explore the village. I’m pleased to discover an Internet cafe wedged between a restaurant and a book shop, and I jump quickly online to check emails. Fifteen minutes later I’m halfway through replying to a client when the power goes out, and I’m subsequently told it won’t come back on for five hours.
I end up calling it an early night, but lie restless in bed for a few hours before finally drifting off.
Day 4: Thursday
My alarm wakes me at 4 a.m. to the backing track of a downpour. The plan was to trek the 45 minutes up to Poon Hill this morning to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna range, but the view will be non-existent with the rain.
I lie awake for a half hour hoping for the rain tapping on my window to thin out. Eventually the rain dies to a drizzle and I decide to chance it. I get dressed, grab a mini torch and a shoddy umbrella, then venture out into the predawn.
There are no signposts pointing the way to Poon Hill, so I spend fifteen minutes stumbling along wrong trails out of the dimly lit village. Eventually I hit upon the right path and begin racing the sunrise upwards.
I’m rewarded for my efforts. The rain soon stops and the clouds part as the morning brightens. I don’t get a postcard-quality view from the watch tower, but it’s good enough to put grateful breaths in my chest. I’m joined by trekkers from Australia and Japan, all of us catching long glimpses of the world’s highest peaks in the distance.
Back at the guest house I devour a three-course breakfast. Afterwards I pack up and wave goodbye to the young Nepali innkeeper and her two adorable toddlers.
Having decided I can’t get away with being offline much longer, I get busy trekking back the way I came. It takes me almost five hours to reach Naya Pul, where I’d stashed my motorcycle two days earlier.
By 4 p.m. I’m back at my hotel in Pokhara, enjoying a warm shower, nursing my tired feet, and booking myself in for paragliding the next day. Then I grab dinner at the Sun Welcome and end up chatting with a middle-aged Dutch guy who tells me about the time someone used black magic on him in India.
Back at the hotel before bed, I finally get to checking emails and realize I have a ton of work to catch up on.
Day 5: Friday
I’m up at 5 a.m. and straight into full-on work mode, knocking items off my to-do list like a madman.
A jeep picks me up for paragliding after breakfast and I’m driven up a huge hill overlooking the lake with five other thrill-seekers. I’m paired with a likeable local chap named Sachin, who within twenty minutes has me strapped to his front and running off the hillside into thin air.
We float in circles above Nepal for almost half an hour, the stupid smile on my face interrupted only occasionally by bouts of wooziness.
I spend the rest of the day glued to my laptop back at the hotel. It turns out to be much like a regular work day, except for that break in the middle to go paragliding.
Day 6: Saturday
Another 5 a.m. start, more work to be done. I realize I haven’t had much social interaction this week, and I’m beginning to miss it.
I check out of the hotel at nine and begin the long ride back to Kathmandu, hoping I stay lucky with the weather. Two notable incidents which happen along the way…
One: I get stopped at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Pokhara. One cop asks to see my license, but his superior takes one look at my white skin and waves me through. Which is a relief, since I don’t have a motorcycle license.
Two: About ninety minutes from Kathmandu, I almost collide head-on with another motorcyclist as he tries to overtake several vehicles on a blind turn. I swerve onto the dirt shoulder and miss him by about three inches.
The last hour of road leading into the Kathmandu valley might as well be a mine field. I’m in first gear most of the way, dodging potholes and choking on the relentless fumes of heavier vehicles up ahead. I arrive back in Thamel with a face covered in black grime.
I head out a few hours later to get my social fix. I meet up with my buddy Joe and we do our usual thing of striking up conversations with strangers, especially those of the attractive female variety. Fun times as always.
Day 7: Sunday
I go meet with my local travel agent mid-morning and he’s got bad news: The Chinese have closed the Tibetan border until the 20th and so my trip North is a no-go. I’d been hoping to travel to Thailand that way, keeping alive my dream of circumnavigating the globe without flying. Plan B is to head South through India to Sri Lanka and catch a freighter from there to Malaysia.
I hit up a coffee shop in the afternoon and end up staying there for eight hours, putting good dents in various work projects, publishing my latest finance report online, and finally getting my inbox under control.
Niall Doherty just arrived in Thailand (on a free cruise from India!), and he expects to be in SE Asia for the next year or so. He writes regularly about free-thinking, fear-facing, and dream-chasing over at Disrupting the Rabblement. He’s always kept busy with his web design services and is also launching a travel book about his overland adventures.