They met on Valentine’s Day while hiking in the Himalayas


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They met on Valentine's Day while hiking in the Himalayas

They met on Valentine’s Day while hiking in the Himalayas 💕

(CNN) — It was Valentine’s Day 1996 when Lee Green walked into a mountain lodge in Nepal, surrounded by the snowcapped Himalayas, and encountered Mandy Halse for the first time.

Green and Halse were thousands of miles from their respective homes in England and New Zealand. Both were backpackers in their twenties determined to see as much of the world as they could. They’d found themselves in Nepal by a series of coincidences.

When Green entered the Nepalese teahouse, the stage was set for a memorable meet-cute.

Except on February 14, there were no sparks between the two travelers.

Two weeks later it was a different story, one that’s still ongoing 26 years later.

A meeting in Ghorepani

Here's Mandy Halse in Nepal on the morning of  February 14, 1996.

Here’s Mandy Halse in Nepal on the morning of February 14, 1996.

Kirsty Bloom

For Halse, Nepal was a spontaneous layover en route from Auckland to the UK, where she was set to visit an old friend. She’d been exploring Thailand and Malaysia, and a travel agent had recommended breaking up the journey with a stint in Nepal.

After learning of Nepal’s trekking routes, she met a British woman, Kirsty, while in line for a permit to hike the Annapurna Circuit. The two decided to join forces to tackle the trail, which winds through Nepal’s central mountains, taking in picturesque villages and incredible views along the way.

Halse, who’d had no idea what to expect, was awestruck by the spectacular landscape, particularly when she and fellow hikers arrived in the village of Ghorepani, where they set up camp in a “teahouse” mountain lodge.

“It was the most beautiful setting,” Halse tells CNN Travel today.

She was sitting in the lodge’s common area with her new friend Kirsty and other backpackers when Lee Green walked in.

Green, a mailman from the English town of Coventry, was traveling Nepal on a career break with colleague and good friend Murray. The two men had originally intended to use their sabbatical to embark on a cycle ride from the UK to India, but had abandoned the plan after just 200 miles, realizing navigating northern Europe in winter on bike was going to take too long.

Instead, they’d ended up flying to India, trekking through the northern part of the country, before making their way to Nepal.

The two friends arrived at the city of Pokhara, and set off on the Annapurna trek. Like Halse, they’d befriended other travelers en route.

Green (second from left) and Halse (third from right) embarked on Nepal's Annapurna circuit with a group of other backpackers they'd met along the way.

Green (second from left) and Halse (third from right) embarked on Nepal’s Annapurna circuit with a group of other backpackers they’d met along the way.

Kirsty Bloom

“There’s one path that links village to village to village, so most people that go trekking tend to overlap each other, meet up with each other at the tea houses, along the path,” Green tells CNN Travel today.

When Green’s group entered the teahouse, they were warmly greeted by Halse and the other travelers. The backpackers ended up chatting through the night, playing cards by candlelight.

“It was really nice, it was really chilled,” says Halse. “The teahouse was gorgeous.”

The travelers spent a couple of days there, before continuing as a group onto the next leg of the trek.

Halse and Green were friendly to one another on their first few days hiking, but they didn’t have much opportunity to chat one on one.

“We didn’t talk much in the beginning as we were both very quiet, and we walked in different parts of the group: me in the middle with Murray, and Lee at the back with Kirsty,” says Halse.

A growing connection

The backpackers were trekking through spectacular landscapes. Here's the group near Muktinath Valley in February 1996.

The backpackers were trekking through spectacular landscapes. Here’s the group near Muktinath Valley in February 1996.

Kirsty Bloom

When the travelers reached the Annapurna circuit’s 5,400-meter-high Thorung La mountain pass, they found their way blocked by heavy snow, forcing them to turn back.

Some of the group decided to give up at that point, making their way back, via plane, to the trail’s gateway town of Pokhara. Halse and Green, along with their friends Murray and Kirsty, decided to make the full return trek by foot, just the four of them.

So began another two weeks of walking — and it was in this period that Halse and Green started to grow closer.

“We’d become quite good friends, and as we’re walking along I started feeling the vibe, the tingles,” says Halse.

When the group arrived in Tatopani, just up the trail from their original meeting place in Ghorepani, the town’s balmier climate and beautiful hot springs were a welcome change to the snows they’d just emerged from.

“There’s oranges and lemons growing everywhere, citrus fruits growing, it’s like a little Garden of Eden. It’s a great place to relax and chill after the hard trekking,” says Green.

Halse and Green grew closer as the trek continued.

Halse and Green grew closer as the trek continued.

Kirsty Bloom

Lounging at the hot springs over the next few days, Green and Halse grew closer still. They recall braiding one another’s long hair and talking about previous adventures, their lives back home and travel goals.

“We soon realized we were very similar,” says Halse.

“We both wanted to travel, we were prepared to work hard and save money, and to achieve our travel goals, which is what we both wanted to do,” adds Green. “We realized it would be quite nice to do it together.”

They shared their first kiss on February 29, 1996, a leap year. From that day onwards, they were inseparable.

But while they were swept up in their new romance, the two remained keenly aware that travel flings don’t always last, so Green and Halse focused on enjoying the moment. They decided, along with Kirsty and Murray, to extend their time in Nepal and embark on a trek to Everest.

The only issue was Halse had somehow lost her passport. Before continuing any further, she had to head to Kathmandu to get new papers.

So the pair said goodbye to one another, hoping it would just be a short separation, as Green and Murray went on ahead.

A couple of days in, it looked like Halse’s passport would be arriving sooner rather than later. With no internet or cellphones to convey the news, Halse scribbled a hand-written note updating Green, letting him know she’d be hot on his heels before long.

Note in hand, Halse hopped onto the bus that was heading to the Everest trail, and asked if anyone heading that way would look out for the two men and pass on the message. She included a description of Green and Murray on the back of the note.

Here's one of the notes Halse passed along the trail for Green.

Here’s one of the notes Halse passed along the trail for Green.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

She did the same thing the following day, and the day after that — and then before long, Halse had her new passport and she and Kirsty were en route to Namche Bazaar, the gateway to Everest, hoping to catch up with the two mailmen.

The notes successfully made their way up the trail to Green and Murray.

“As we got closer and closer to Namche Bazaar, all of a sudden people started walking up to us on the trail with these notes, and they were like, “Oh we’ve got a note for you guys,” — you know, in the middle of the mountains in Nepal,” recalls Green. “We open the note and it’s from Mandy.”

The two men couldn’t believe it.

“More and more people started giving us these notes,” says Green. “So we wrote some notes back.”

They passed these replies to trekkers walking the opposite way, describing Halse and Kirsty, and hoping the notes would make it to the two women successfully.

Here's Halse and Green on the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Here’s Halse and Green on the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

Meanwhile, Halse and Kirsty were walking as fast as they could to catch up — so much so, they ended up overtaking Green and Murray.

Eventually, the group were reunited in the small village of Jorsale, between the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park and Namche Bazaar.

From there, they headed to the 5,357-meter Gokyo Ri peak, because Kirsty had read that the view of Everest was more impressive and that the trail didn’t have as many trekkers. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip.

“We were walking on a frozen lake, which if I’d thought about it, I think I would have been scared, but the snow was up to our thighs,” says Green.

Six weeks in India

Halse and Green went on together from Nepal to India, here they are at the Taj Mahal.

Halse and Green went on together from Nepal to India, here they are at the Taj Mahal.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

By the time they returned to Kathmandu at the end of April, Halse and Green were certain their connection was more than a fleeting holiday romance.

“We realized that we wanted to be together,” says Green.

After Murray decided to fly back home to the UK and Kirsty went off on her next adventure, Green and Halse were suddenly alone for the first time.

They both had six weeks before they were due to fly on to the UK — Halse to visit her friend on a pre-arranged trip, and Green to return to work — so the two decided to fill the time with a trip around India.

They traveled largely by rail, whiling away the long journeys staring out the window and chatting to one another and fellow travelers.

They reunited with Kirsty in the southern India state of Kerala, and again at Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. The trio traveled together to New Delhi, before Kirsty parted ways again.

It was an amazing six weeks for Halse and Green, but they also navigated some trickier moments together — such as when, towards the end of their trip, they fell ill. But they supported one another through these ups and downs, and ended the journey stronger than they’d started.

“You can tell whether you’re compatible with someone if you have to go through tough times together, and we went through some challenging traveling experiences in India, and we came out of it really well,” says Green.

By coincidence, the friend Halse was set to visit in the UK lived in Birmingham, which was only 30 minutes away from where Green was based in Coventry.

“This was the amazing thing — two people from the other side of the world met halfway, and were going in the same direction and heading to the same place,” says Green.

When Green got home, he dumped his backpack, went to see his parents and told them he’d be heading to Birmingham the following day to see Halse.

“I met this Kiwi girl. I quite like her and she’s just down the road,” he recalls saying.

Green had sent his family postcards from his travels, but hadn’t mentioned that he’d met a girl. Halse, meanwhile, had written long letters home to her sister describing her chance meeting with Green.

“I told my sister everything,” Halse recalls.

Her sister still has the 11-page letter Halse wrote her from Nepal, describing in detail how she felt about Green.

“Lee and I slowly developed a wonderful relationship,” Halse wrote on March 16, 1996. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

Long-distance romance

Halse stayed in the UK for the next few months. Green went back to work, but they continued to see one another whenever they could.

It was Halse’s first time in the UK, and she wanted to see the sights. The two recall walking part of England’s South West Coast Path from Newquay to Penzance. They also visited cities including York, Oxford, Blackpool and London.

Then Halse had to return down under — her brother was getting married in Australia, and her grandparents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in New Zealand.

Halse arranged to meet up with Green again in New Zealand in six months time. Green had negotiated another sabbatical with his employers, so the couple planned a second stint traveling together.

Meantime, they navigated a long distance relationship.

“I think we racked up $1,000 worth of phone calls,” says Halse of this period. “We wrote to each other, we wrote aerograms.”

Back in Auckland, Halse busied herself working. She missed Green, but she worried that he was finding the separation even harder going.

“Lee was pining, he was working crazy hours at the Post Office,” says Halse. “He was sounding more and more depressed as the time went on.”

“I decided ‘screw it.’ We discussed things and I decided to fly back to the UK to spend the four months with Lee and then start traveling together from there.”

Halse arrived back in the UK on Christmas Day 1996. Green was waiting for her at the airport.

“I’d just come from New…

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