What a day! I’m exhausted after the hardest day trekking I’ve ever done in the most amazing terrain I’ve ever seen. We actually didn’t cover much distance as the crow or any other bird flys but with all the ups and downs – well – we went far and gained and lost a great number of metres of elevation. The day began with a long steep climb up the side of a cliff. The drop to one side of this trail was precipitous. I think there was a river at the bottom but as I kept my eyes firmly on the cliff wall to the other side I can’t say for sure. I’m not overly freaked out by heights but that trail came close to terrifying me! The adrenaline from fear plus the altitude plus the steepness of the ascent made that section of today’s trek an complete adventure in itself but we were only getting started.
We stopped for lunch at 10 in the morning because there would be no further opportunities for food until we arrived at our day’s destination. Setting off again we almost immediately began a very steep slippery descent. There was snow to the side of the path so we tossed a few snow balls at each other. Tendi has a very accurate throw! Once at the bottom of this descent we carried on up an even steeper slope on the other side…..this climb brought us higher than the village where we’d had our 10am lunch. And at the top, what did we see but a canyon which makes the Grand Canyon look not so very deep or steep. I’ll give the Grand Canyon points for being wider and longer. So after admiring the stunning views we descended into the canyon, right to the very bottom! Once down there we climbed up a more narrow tributary canyon to a cave inhabited by a god and a monk who pays homage to said god. The monk was a pretty cool guy and was quite happy to tell me mundane things such as what he ate while living in a cave down in a deep canyon. We then retraced our steps down and back to the main canyon and began climbing back up its top end. Thankfully, while this was a long climb taking well over an hour it was less steep and less exposed. At the top – joy of joys – stood our accommodation for the night. We are now at 3800 metres.
My room has an inside bath room, no hot water but I’m getting used to freezing water washes. There’s no power either but my flash light is sitting here beside me. I’m in the dinning room sitting on one of the ubiquitous hard benches with a slightly higher bench table affair in front. These tables have solid fronts so one can’t put knees beneath. It’s not overly comfortable but I’m getting used to that too. Everyone sits around the outer perimeter on the sitting benches that run along the walls. The tables are long and narrow and they make an inner perimeter circle. If light is desired for dinner, reading or whatever – well bring a flashlight. It gets dark at six so the evenings can be long unless one does as most of us tired trekkers do – eat and go to bed to keep warm. Oh yes these dinning rooms – these guest houses – have no heat. On the Everest trek there were comforting yak dung burning stoves but on this trek – nada so far. And the evening temps drop to very little above zero. or maybe a bit below zero come to think of it seeing as there’s ice on the water in the mornings. I’m currently wearing my wool hat, thick down jacket, and several layers of clothes.
Good night from dark and chilly Syanboche (3800 meters)
Finally after five days, two driving, two trekking and one waiting – we crossed into the fabled Upper Mustang this morning at 7:30! It’s been a beautiful warm sunny day – perfect trekking weather. Our immediate surroundings are quite barren reddish brown rock with a few squat spiny shrubs dotting the slopes. Above the near brown hills, snow caped peaks rise up against the high altitude blue sky. We’ve seen a few flocks of hardy long-haired goats grazing on the shrubs – proof that goats will eat anything. Then again they don’t have any choice!
How to adequately describe the scenery? I’ve never seen any place like this. The rock is mostly quite loose, some is solid bed rock, some striated sedimentary and much is conglomerate. Wind and water erosion have carved all sorts of crazy shapes into the steep cliffs that surround us. There are some natural caves and some human made ones as well. People haven’t inhabited the caves for many years but they used to be a common place to live in this area. Other than the red hills and grey, red or brown striated cliffs, the other major feature is the very wide flat river plain that we’ve been following for the past four days. For the most part we’ve walked along a sort of road. It is very rough and in many places impassible for vehicles due to landslides and washouts. We passed one precariously stuck truck. Up to its front axels in landslide debris from above with a washout threatening its back end. It’s doing a fine job of blocking the road even for foot traffic. We skirted along the cliff edge on the “top side” as the lower side was just too unstable to chance walking on. The villages are not cut off from needed supplies as we were passed by many mule trains going in both directions carrying goods. Clearly a more reliable method of transportation than trucks! In a few places we took short cuts on trails. These were without exception steep and much more challenging to walk up or down.
Now this brings me to the matter of time travel. I think we’ve done this thing. We are staying in the second village since the boarder. These are medieval villages. The buildings are made of mud and rough hewn wood and have flat roofs. They are built very close to each other and right next to the stone paths that run between them. There appears to be no planning so the building pattern is quite random. The connecting alleys are equally so. The building walls are high with small windows at odd intervals. Most buildings seem to be about two stories high but as some are built on steep slopes, two stories at one side might be street level on the other. My room is like this. I climb a ladder to the roof where my room is perched but the path runs right past my back window. Thankfully there’s an outhouse and outdoor tap on the roof as well.
The smells in the villages are pretty medieval as well. Horse, cow and goat dung litters the paths and there’s a good strong smell of – well maybe I don’t need to go into those details. Mules, horses, cows and goats as well as a few dogs wander within the villages and see to know which house to enter in the evening. And enter they do into the courtyards on the ground levels of these abodes.
Thankfully there is glass in the windows of this guest house. I noticed that not all windows have glass so it’s not a given! It’s all single pane so has no insulating properties but does stop the howling wind that comes up every afternoon. Ah the afternoon winds! They are epic. The mornings in this area are calm but about noon the breeze starts picking up and by two or three howling gales are screaming down from the mountains above. It’s great for drying clothes. I washed a shirt and it was completely dry within half an hour! The wind makes all sorts of peculiar sounds as it batters through and around buildings and rocky outcrops. It also picks up a fair amount of fine dust and whips that around into eyes and noses. It’s definitely a good idea to walk early and quit early to avoid being beat up by these afternoon gales. Which is just what we plan to do.
Of final note for today. I met my “travel mates.” They are a family from the UK on a short time line and are camping. We had a great chat over lunch, but likely won’t see each other for the rest of the trip. But it matters not – the bureaucracy is happy I am registered as a member of a group. And so am I happy as I sip a cold “Everest” beer while I await my dinner. I’ve just discovered that this place isn’t quite medieval. There’s a fellow trying to split a couple of wires together to see if he can get the dining-room’s light bulb to light up… Success. We have electric light. I think solar generated.
Good night from Chele at 3050 metres.
I awoke last night in pitch blackness and knew instantly something was different. There was no longer the lively rain Tattoo, now it was the sound of vigorously flapping clothes on the line outside my window. The rain had stopped! Wind had come up and hopefully was blowing away those clouds. Fumbling around for my head lamp I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and out from under the enormous duvet on top of that. I settled my hat more squarely on my head, grabbed my down jacket, stuffed socked feet into sandals and headed for the door. It banged open in a gust of wind and what to my wondering eye should I see but a million blinking twinkling stars! Most of the wet stuff had dried, I brought it in off the line and thus settled the noise problem. It was too cold to spend more than a moment star gazing. I scampered back into my still warm cozy nest of sleeping bag and duvet and fell back to sleep happy in the knowledge that if the road hadn’t already washed out the jeep and my required travel companions will likely arrive In the morning. Life is very good.
It is now dinner time and we’re still in Kagbeni. The group we’re waiting for arrived sometime just before 3pm. Too late for us to cross the boarder and make it to the first settlement. The day was spent in anticipation of their unknown arrival time. This couldn’t be confirmed as land and cell phone communications were out for most of the day due to yesterday’s storm. With return of power and land line late this afternoon, and with the arrival of trekkers, guides and porters from Muktinath just above us, has come sad news. Nine Nepali and seven foreigners died yesterday on Thorung La trying to cross in the storm. Additionally there are 19 injured people who are currently being rescued and airlifted to medical aid. A Scottish couple who crossed successfully said there were people up there who were very under equipped for the severe conditions. They told me there were people who didn’t even have gloves and that the snow was deep, the path through it narrow and slippery. They met a young Dutch couple who reported having never seen snow of that magnitude. I feel sad for those who’ve died but wonder what possesses people to go out in a blizzard in this type of terrain without at least proper clothing. There seems to be some question as to how many other people may be missing.
(As I have recently discovered, the loss of life was far greater
than we thought. I’ll leave this post as I wrote it as it is the info
we had at the time.)
For those of you who may have forgotten From my previous Nepal blogs – Thorung La is the high pass on the Annapurna Circuit that I crossed last year in extreme cold, and a skiff of snow but in a small weather window of semi clear sky. It is the longest widest pass in the world. It is definitely somewhere not to be in a blizzard.
While I was out stretching my legs a little this afternoon I saw two soldiers coming down the street with a pole on their shoulders and a long heavy looking tarp wrapped package stung from the pool. It was only as they passed that I realized the bundle was a body. I felt a bit shocked. What kind of way was this to transport a dead person? I suppose under the circumstances it was the only way. Still it was a sobering sight. I stepped back into the comforting compound walls of our guest house and returned to my book.
And so this day of doing nothing but sit in the very warm sun and read draws to a close. Tomorrow we cross into the Upper Mustang….. I hope!
Sometime early last night it began raining. Really deluging. I woke several times to hear it hammering down and was very glad my jaunt to the toilet was under cover. It would not have been fun having to get dressed into rain gear in order to make that nightly visit. Daylight brought no relief. I did have to get fully suited up to go brush my teeth as the sink was outside. Besides the sound of pounding rain, there was also a roar of water from somewhere outside the courtyard wall. We made the “go” decision at 8am – there really wasn’t much of a choice. We’re supposed to be meeting the people with whom I have to cross the boarder to the Upper Mustang in Kagbeni this evening. They were to have flown into Jomsom today but the airport is weather closed so they are taking a jeep all the way in from Pokhara.
I put on my Mountain Hardware rain jacket and pants, then my wide brim sun hat and pulled the hood up over that. The brim would help keep rain out of my eyes. Then just to be on the safe side I added my five dollar Nepal rain poncho on top of that. This turned out to be the saving grace for the day. The poncho came down to my knees. Everything within the poncho stayed dry. Everything below it got soaked through. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
When we exited the guest house I couldn’t believe what I saw. The sections of the stone paved street were awash. There was water rushing into it from between the buildings on the high side of the street. The water was swirling around then rushing off between buildings on the lower side. There was a drainage ditch under the flag stones paving half the width of the street and sound of the water rumbling beneath our feet was astonishingly loud. This mayhem of rushing ground water is what I’d been hearing from inside the guest house in addition to the racket the actual rain was making. This water was making its way via whatever path possible to the river below. Yesterday this was a milky grey colour and running quite calmly. Today is is brown and raging along and about twice its previous width. It also had sprouted numerous equally angry brown tributaries.
We made good time walking to Jomsom and once there stopped for tea which turned into Apple pie which turned into lunch. Meantime the storm raged on outside. Finally just after noon we headed out again. Three hours to Kagbeni. How bad could it be? It was pretty bad. While Feeling chilly to start with, I warmed up and from that point of view the walk was comfortable. But the dust of yesterday had turned into a slippery soup so footing was precarious. The smooth areas of the path or road tended to be the ruts so were full of running water. In order to keep out of the water we walked in the rougher ground to either side and this was trickier footing as well. There were numerous areas where the entire road or path were completely flooded so we had to pick our way around, scrambling up then back down steep stony banks.
In other areas where the rock wall was steep above us, small and not so small stones were constantly being dislodged by the rushing water, the danger of rock fall or land slide was considerable so we had to be vigilant. At times the drop below the road was precipitous and small wash outs were happening as water rushed over the edge dislodging road fill and carrying it into the tumultuous river far below. Tendi commented that perhaps the jeep wouldn’t make it due to significant landslides onto the road from above or a portion of the road washing out into the river below. Whichever way one looked at the situation it was anything but good. At one point we made a detour to avoid walking below a particularly steep and unstable looking cliff.
Despite the extreme wetness of our world we arrived safe although damp at our guest house in Kagbeni. Soon our gear was dripping from clothes lines and we were cozy in the dinning room having tea with the few other guests. Tomorrow will either bring the arrival of the people with whom I need to cross the border or not….. It’s all dependant on the jeep being able to negotiate the road and the road remaining open.
I’ve mentioned these people a couple of times now without explanation of why I need to meet up with them. The Upper Mustang is a restricted area, although part of Nepal, it retains its own King and its own set of rules for who may enter the kingdom. Until fairly recently (since 1992) the boarder remained firmly closed to foreigners and when it did open there was a hefty tax imposed on any who entered. For several years the number of foreigner allowed entry was limited as well. It started at 300 per year I believe and was recently increased to 1000 per year. The money grab seems too good to resist though and last year 3000 or more of us entered. This tax has recently been reduced to US$500.00 And this has brought more curiosity seekers and travellers such as myself. The kingdom has retained many of its ancient practices and ways of life and is something of a living museum. There are however still certain rules for entry besides paying the tax. One of these is the requirement that no foreign person enter other than in the company of at least one other foreigner. And so I’m reliant on this group of fellow travellers in order to cross into the Upper Mustang.
Good night from a rainy dark (there is of course no power) Kagbeni.
I’m back from the Upper Mustang safe and sound. I’ve received many emails asking if Im OK and yes I am. While we got rained on during the 14 October storm we were not involved in the general mayhem that took place higher up. Thank you all for your concern. The next time I go away I’ll post a map of where I’ll be so that there’s less conternation when natural disasters strike.
Barry and Diane – thank you for going the extra length to contact Binod! You guys are the best kind of freinds!
The internet here is really slow. I’m going to send this now so you all know I’m alive and well then I’ll start trying to send the pieces I wrote while in the Upper Mustang.
I may be out of contact again until 10 November when I return to Kathmandu. My next trek takes me to Annapurna Base Camp.
I’ve dated the entries so it should be fairly easy to figure out which comes first.
11 October. For reasons that remain a mystery to me we took a private vehicle from Kathmandu to Pokhara instead of the bus. Much more comfortable and quicker. Despite having made this trip several times now, the experience remains exiting. The roads are so dreadful and there are so many vehicles and the general driving habits are so peculiar from my western point of view. Drivers pass slower vehicles on blind corners simply sounding the horn to warn oncoming traffic that there is a vehicle in the “wrong” lane. On coming traffic in its correct lane just swerves or slows and everyone passes each other with bare inches to spare. its a mystery to me how it all works but it seems to. The level of driving skill is phenominal. Once safely in Pokhara, we stayed the night at Lake Side Resort which is quite a bit more up scale than my usual Nepal lodgings and the price turned out to be rather more upscale as well. Having a hot water bath was pretty nice and I’m really looking forward to a repeat performance after this trek. I did get good value for my room I must admit as I fell asleep at about 6:30 and slept 12 hours!! Jet lag finally caught up with me. I was probably sleeping off the long days of strenuous touristing in New York and Washington DC as well!!
12 October. We headed off in our jeep just after 8am and at 4pm we arrived in Kalopani. While the first several kilometres were reasonably paved – then less than reasonably paved but relatively even – although increasingly narrow – things soon deteriorated. The road became more of a deeply rutted track. To my complete amazement busses were driving on this horrendously narrow, steep, windy, bumpy, at times washed-out thoroughfare. This was driving suitable only for jeeps and high clearance four wheel drive vehicles surely? But this is Nepal so just about any vehicle is expected to go just about anywhere.
We got stuck once. A stream had washed road-fill away from very rough uneven bed rock. The bed rock had no intention of being remotely road like. There were several people about, so pretty soon boulders and smaller rocks were being placed into the three foot deep ravine transecting the road and we were soon on our way again. No one seemed slightly concerned – all just a normal day’s drive. We were
Sunset on Annapurna I -it’s for moments like this that I come here.
all happy to finally arrive in Kalopani! Dinner and a good night’s sleep are in order. The trekking begins in the morning.
13 October. The first day of trekking is over. We’re in Marpha staying at the same guest house we stopped at last year while completing the Annapurna Circuit. Walking the route backwards provides such different views there were some bits I didn’t even recognize, so for the most part it felt new and wonderful. We had to follow the road for some stretches but there really isn’t that much traffic. What does go by kicks up a massive amount of dust which isn’t that pleasant but there’s enough path-way off the road to keep the walk enjoyable. Today’s walk was about five hours plus a long lazy lunch stop. Tendi’s breaking me in to the ordeal ahead gradually. We were in and washed by just after 2pm, so I’m now enjoying an afternoon of reading, blogging and tea sipping.
The coutryside is so pretty. Today’s walk followed this river and we continue along it all day tomorrow, and I think the next day as well.
This is what I mean about the trafic kicking up dust! As you can see these trucks are quite small and have good road clearance!
My arrival yesterday evening in Nepal was full of warm fuzzy feeling. Both Tendi and Binod met me at the airport. Despite hugs not being culturally normal here they were exchanged before the traditional greeting katas placed around my neck. At the hotel the welcome was equally warm. My room on the top floor was very inviting after 23 hours of travel and no sleep. The bed has a new mattress! But first a beer or three to be shared. My Seacliff road neighbour’s (Theresa and Brian) niece Sarah is here too. Theresa introduced Sarah and me a couple of months ago so I could talk with her about things to do in Nepal. She’s been here for a few days but we spent today shopping and having a generally good time. Tendi took us dress shopping with his daughter Phulu this morning. He takes the job of guide to a whole new level of service I must say. Sarah and I visited Budnath and while there had two funny monk encounters when we were in one of the temples. First a monk who was praying called us over for a chat. I recognized him as the monk who fixed Jackie’s singing bowl last year. He turned out to not be praying but playing with his I phone! As we were leaving from our little chat with him, another monk asked us up to see the upper level temple. So up we went and the guy was too slick for words! Quick as a wink we were having ourselves blessed with little braclets being tied around our wrists and our foreheads being tapped with beads and various chants being mumbled. Of course there’s a small donation for this service. We happily obliged. The guy sure was a good operavtor! As we both leave on our respective treks in the morning I guess the blessing was timely! We stopped in to visit some of my shop friends and were welcomed with smiles and tea. Then dinner at my favourite restaurant. Again enthusiastic greetings and the general feeling of a home coming was complete. So now I’m off to bed after a wonderful first day back in kathmandu. Tomorrow I leave on my trek. We’re taking a private car instead of the bus due to ….. I’m not sure exactly…… Various friends of Tendi’s going trek guiding so it is more economical to take a car and driver than ride the bus. No arguments from me that’s for sure.
Not sure when or where the next wifi will be that will enable a blog – you’ll know almost as soon as I do. I’ll try to keep you posted on what promises to be a unique and no doubt memorable adventure.
Fact – there are more spys in Washington DC than in any other city in the world. Now how would someone actually know this? Aren’t spys supposed to be secretive and unknown? Well whatever – Washington claims to have numerous spys and today we went to the international spy museum. It covered the history of spy craft right back to ancient times. It was a fun museum with lots of interactive stuff to do. We even crawled through vents a
bove some of the exhibit rooms! That was pretty fun but odd! We had cover names assigned upon entry and were to remember our cover stories throughout our time there. There was a lot of interesting history intermingled with fun activities such as defusing bombs – not real ones thank goodness. It took me three trys to diffuse my bomb without blowing up myself and who knows what else! We broke codes and our observations skills were tested. All in all it was quite entertaining!
The rest of the day was spent on our hop on and off trolly and we’ve now seen just about every site there is to be seen in Washington. It’s been a very busy couple of days!
This is my cover – don’t tell anyone please