Shake rattle and roll

Here’s a moment to record. The earth is moving. My room is on the top floor of my hotel and I feel like I’m on a rocking boat. The curtains are swaying quite dramatically. There’s an odd rumbling noise which I don’t think is trucks roaring down a highway. Presumably the entire building is doing a little jig. Power is still on. 

Have stuffed camera, money and pass port into a bag……..just in case things get a bit more exciting but all is stilling now. Much less movement. Nothing like writing a wee blog while deciding if something is worth getting worried about or not. Or will get more intense or not. Much easier than trotting down five flights of stairs and then having to trot back up again. This is the second time Kathmandu has had a “significant” shake in less than a week. I’m not actually sure that people here would even consider this as significant. I think if no buildings fall down it’s in the realm of hardly noticeable. Frequent shakes have been situation normal for Kathmandu this past year. Judging from the sound of traffic and general city noise, no one has bated an eye. So I’ll be calm and go to bed. 

So just found out that the epicentre was far away in Burma (Myramar) and was either a 6.9 or a 7. So nothing to loose a night’s sleep over…. But just in case this little wobble makes the news at home…… All is well. Hotel Florid stands firm and the curtains are still once again. Didi is going to bed, with my shoes right beside it.

Good night from Kathmandu.

A few pictures in random order

   Puri and Lhamu making memos in Lhamu’s kitchen

 Phulu trying on her new fleece hoody which she loves cause it’s white and girly and totally impractical.
   One of the Canadain earth quake relief tents still being inhabited on the road between Khamding and Kathmandu

Big brother Tsheri with Nima on the back of the motorbike   Tendi mashing potatoes.

Back in Kathmandu

Well happy new year every one. It is officially 2073 here in Nepal. Last night was New Year’s Eve. Quite a party it was too! 

We spent yesterday on the road from Khamding to here. A long, bumping, dusty, hot, – did I say hot and dusty and bumping – day. But we made it here safely which is more than can be said for the 30 passenger bus carrying around 70 passengers which went off the road a short distance behind us. Dropped its outside wheels into the soft shoulder and rolled some 200 meters to the bottom of a cliff. 24 people dead, others airlifted to hospital here in Kathmandu. A sadly typical accident resulting from reckless driving on narrow twisting poor roads. This is one reason why I’m more than happy to pay the extra money these days and travel by privately hired jeep. Some of the roads here are appalling, but the real problem is the lack of common sense displayed by many drivers. They pass on blind corners, they drive too fast for the conditions, they seem to feel that as long as they have honked longer and louder than on coming traffic they will get the right of way – whether or not they are on their own side of the road…..and the over loading! The current excuse is that due to fuel shortages because of the embargo there are less vehicles in the road therefore more people must pile into limited public transport. Well maybe that is partly the case – but I’ve seen overloaded local busses here since I first came here. Overloading equates to three people to a two person seat, sitting in the isles, and clinging to roof tops and bus sides. I hope someone is held accountable for this latest entirely preventable loss of life and injury….but would be most surprised if anything changes.

By the way we didn’t see this tragedy but word spread very quickly driver to driver via cell phone – dialled and answered while driving of course. A sad New Year’s Eve for many.

My New Year’s Eve was blissfull. First I had the first hot shower and hair wash in three weeks. It was a proper shower and properly hot. My white bubblely body wash turned brown. I needed to scrub down twice to achieve clean-ness! Next was the donning of really clean clothes – my loose fitting khurta – perfect! Then dinner which wasn’t potatoes. Then – still feeling the motion of the jeep – I staggered off to bed drunk on fatigue.

Despite the general racket of a city’s inhabitants celebrating, and the dogs raising their eager voices in excited agreement with the festivities, I slept well between short bursts of wakefulness caused by the numerous New Year’s related noises.

This morning Tendi, and the three kids came over. I gave the assorted gifts, we had cold delicious mango lassies then set off to shop. First a baby gift for Puri’s future baby which Tendi will give them in due course. Then a silk flag like ones I saw hanging on several houses during our trek. Tendi was able to track down a shop that sold them – in of those out of the way places I’d never have located on my own. Then somehow into the Sherpa dress store to look at some pretty summer fabrics I might like to take home – and before I know what’s happening I’m being measured for a summer weight Sherpa dress. Better for trekking on hot days….. This it seems is going to be a gift from Tendi – I’ve been well and truly outwitted on this one.mit all happened with the smooth swiftness of a very well planned operation…..

Tendi – his diabolically sneaky move complete – is very pleased with himself and takes off to do numerous pre trek errands while I take the three kids back to the hotel for finger chips and Sprite – their chioce of a perfect snack. Tsheri now has a motorcycle – yes he’s old enough and most likely sensible enough to have one. He first drives Nima home then comes back for Phulu. What a good big brother.

I now have a couple of days in Kathmandu. I hope to visit with a few people I know from previous trips and continue picking up a few things requested by friends. The weather is hot and muggy so I think I’ll spend some time reading in the Garden of Dreams. I’ll try to post a few more pictures but expect the internet here will be too slow. I don’t imagine there will be much else happening that will be note worthy enough to write about. So expect this to be the last dispatch from this latest adventure in Nepal. 

Thanks for reading. To those of you in the Comox Valley – See you soon.

The last trekking day and a rest day in Khamding

One thing I’ve learned when travelling in Nepal is to always expect the unexpected.Today’s surprise was truly one of those moments.

But first – Yesterday. (10 April)

We arrived home in Khamding after a really long hard day hiking from Salleri. 

The day was very hot. Height 20s or more. I was back to wearing my Sherpa dress. You know – the full length wrap around twice wool dress with heavy apron, plus hiking boots and a pack….. Talk about over dressed! 

We descended out of filthy Salleri past the town’s southern garbage dump, along its sewer choked river, across a larger river, then began climbing along an eastern exposed ridge. This was in the full sun and the ascent was fairly steady with some steep bits to ensure ample sweating and huffing and puffing. Even Puri and Tendi were sweating. Before long I was way over heated. Tendi and Puri both realized this so set about showing me how to hook the hem of my dress up into my waste band. I was wearing no leggings under the dress so was franticly pointing this out to them – so they aren’t horrified by bare leg. It was not a problem they assure me as this is how it is done by the village women when the weather is warm or when they are planting or in mud. So with dress appropriately hitched up we set off again and it was much cooler having air circulating and less fabric around my lower legs. My apron provided a degree of modesty in the front. The back of my dress still dangled below my knees so that side was well covered. If it wasn’t so damn hot it would have been amusing – in fact looking back on this after a good night’s sleep – it was in the realm of hilarious. 

This is not a tourist trekking trail so amenities are rustic and scarce. Our lunch stop was alarmingly humble and filthy but I’m still alive. We three all had soup to keep things easy for the young woman who cooked for us. You should have seen where she picked the veggies (well maybe not) and they were not washed before they were chopped by a crusty knife on a really dirty board. I guess the boiling of the soup water killed any potential nasty bugs that simply must have been lurking. The interior of this hovel was chokingly smoke filled but there was no shady place to sit outside that wasn’t quite cow or goat dung covered so I sat inside with Tendi and Puri in the semi dark (the only light provided by the open door way). The tea tasted smoked, the soup tasted smoked. I’m sure when we left we smelled smoked.

Gulping fresh air, we continued descending to about 2160 m, then walked along a very pretty river which chattered pleasantly as it flowed along its rocky course. Fresh spring green ferns lined its banks. Yellow mustard flowers and white and purple radish flowers were growing in a stone-walled field beside the path. Nearby very young lambs were frolicking around and bleating for their mums who were busy munching lush grass. Blooming Rhododendron and scented pine trees provided shade. New potato plants were pushing up through rich soft brown earth in another field. Nearly ripe barley was bending with the breeze in golden waves in yet another tiny field. That was the nicest part of the day. The joy of walking by the river was soon dispelled when we started the climb up to Khamding (2444m) – it was steep and hot! Took about an hour through quite dense forest. At one point Puri had to get a very large bull to move off the path. These can be dangerous creatures and this one did not go that quietly. Puri had to bounce a well placed rock off its nose to get the beast to let us by. There were some cows in the vicinity which may have accounted for its aggression. Finally we popped out on the windy and cooler hill top near a village close to Khamding. It was just before 4 in the afternoon. An almost eight hour day so far and we still had about half an hour left to walk. I was feeling a little foot sore and knee weary.

That final walk ended just in time. My much loved hiking boots were taking their last steps. They got me to Tendi and Lhamu’s home but only just. No wonder my feet were getting a little sore – both soles are loose, near falling off, and the boot seam just above one of those soles has opened into a gapping hole. They would not have lasted another day maybe not another hour without some kind of significant emergency care!

Now to the “unexpected.” No, the demise of my boots, while somewhat unexpected, is not the subject of this revelation. 

Today (11 April) is a rest day before we return to Kathmandu tomorrow. It is also the day Tendi has a number of monks here doing a day long chant and blessing. I remain a bit mystified as to the exact reason for this except that it is necessary to have one’s home blessed every so often.

So by 6:50 this morning I’ve already packed up my bed and paraphernalia as it is all in the dining room where the monks will be doing their chanting. I’ve also washed my hair under the kitchen tap in ice cream headache cold water, washed my laundry outside in a basin with the hose of hand numbing cold water running into it, hung wet clothes on the line in the sun and wind, had two cups of tea and two hard boiled eggs. I’m then sitting outside in the sun reading, when along comes Puri – my porter of the last three weeks – thing is Puri has transformed from porter to monk….. Full red robes – I’m somewhat flabbergasted. He smiles is usual bright smile, bids me good morning and goes inside…. I follow him in. His English isn’t great but I try a complicated question anyway.

“Puri, are you a monk?”

“Yes mum, I monk.”

The follow up to this revelation is going to need too much English to continue with any line of query. So I just smile an acknowledgment to this obvious new fact, sit down with him and have cup of tea number three.

Tendi is down visiting mama and papa, I can’t wait til he gets back to explain how this works. When he returns I’m about bursting with curiosity.

“Tendi” I say, “Is Puri a monk?”

“Yes didi.”

This is not really helpful so I persist. “I thought he was a porter.”

“No didi, Puri is monk. You didn’t know this?”

How, I wonder, was I supposed to know this – it’s not like he was wearing his monk robes while carrying my stuff around.

“But he’s been my porter for three weeks.” I’m trying to join the dots as it were.

“Yes didi.”

I’m still confused. So I continue my line of enquiry with the eternal hope that I’ll eventually ask the correct question or make the right comment to illicit a response that makes sense out of this mystery. Asking the key question is sometimes the tricky bit in this part of the world. “How can a person be a monk and a porter?” I try.

Eureka!

“Two kinds of monks didi. Holly monks can not be married or do other work. Other monks can be married and do work. No way to earn money if you are a monk.”

So there you have it. Puri is a monk, and in order to support his family (he’s married and they are pregnant) he’s allowed to do work for pay. 

Now he and his fellow chanters will receive a donation for today’s blessing work. This is how monks support themselves – when they aren’t farming or portering or doing whatever other work they find to make ends meet. Monks are often hired in these parts to perform spiritual services, marriages, flag pole raisings, births, deaths, new homes, and a myriad of general random blessings. The payment for these services is by donation in accordance with what can be afforded.

Tendi’s son, who is a monk, is a holly monk but he can change his mind on that at any time he wishes. 

So there you have today’s issue of “Mysteries of Nepal unravelled.” And it’s just 8:30 – in the morning! I wonder what other surprises the day holds? 

As I write this, I’m sitting in the kitchen. Tendi is smashing a huge mound of freshly steamed potatoes in a big wooden bowl at his feet with a massive rounded piece of well worn wood. Obviously a smashing stick. Lhamu is busy pouring mysterious things into her big black pot on the kitchen fire. The sound of drums, bells and chanting is coming from behind the curtained door to the dinning room. The chanting and music has been going on without stop for about an hour and will continue for the rest of the day. There is an elderly rather toothless woman with a large decorated gold ring in her nose sitting beside me. She’s drinking a tea cup full of Lhamu’s homemade apple roxy (a very potent distilled beverage). I’m drinking my fourth cup of tea for the morning. The third pot of Sherpa tea (yak butter, salt, milk and tea) is brewing – Tendi, Lhamu and the monks are consuming this as fast as it can be made. One of the monks brought a large beer bottle filled with milk over when he arrived to augment the jug of milk already here – from the next door cow as far as I can tell. And it’s now 9:45 am! 

Oh – the old woman has now departed and a young man has taken her place he’s drinking Sherpa tea. He will be coming with us to Kathmandu as he has a portering job staring in a couple of days.

And it continues. It’s now noon and I’ve just had lunch – in the dining room with the monks. Why not in the kitchen with mama and Lhamu and the young man who has come to help with the serving and washing masses of dishes I do not know. Papa arrived some time ago and is in his monks garb too so there are a total of six. Three older fellows and three younger ones. I was sat beside Puri, one of the younger, and he took over deciding the volumes of food I’d have. He knows me well enough that he was able to ensure the portions were served within tolerable size levels. 

I’ve now escaped from the red robed room and am back in the kitchen. Lhamu has just sat down for the first time today I think! Preparing a meal for 10 plus people on her fire has been quite a production. Tendi who was busy with meal preparations has recently disappeared to get cell phone reception so he can sort out our jeep arrival and departure times, confirm my hotel reservation in Kathmandu, and organize porters for his next trek with three clients in a few days. These guys just never have time to sit around – especially when they have a house full of chanting monks. Not to mention a didi from Canada.

It is now 6 in the evening. The day has continued with a constant stream of visitors and constant pots of tea being prepared and served. As the day progressed the tea was accompanied by increasingly numerous dishes of roxy. I slipped outside to read in the sun at the front of the house for a while. Tendi also snuck off and had a snooze behind the house. He said later he was being pressured by too many people for too many things. This seems to happen regularly when he comes home. 

Mama came outside for a while too and we sat together. She brought me a very ripe banana. I went and got my hand cream and we rubbed cream on our hands. She seemed entranced by the softness and the scent. We “discussed” I’m not sure what – with my very limited Nepali vocabulary but it was a pleasant interlude to the busy goings on inside!

Lhamu is now serving everyone copious quantities of her roxy and beer (in separate glasses) whether they want it or not. One poor old lady has had her untouched bowl of roxy filled so many times it’s over flowing. I have an untouched bowl in front of me too but have firmly put my hand over it every time the refill jug comes near. I’m beginning to appreciate how extremely difficult it is to have a “no” respected as it flys in the face of intended “hospitality.” It feels quite rude to refuse, so I accept more and more cups of tea instead. 

As the chanting came to an end about half an hour ago I was asked to join Lhamu, Tendi and mama in being blessed. This was a complicated procedure. First I was to bow my head down to a holly book in front of papa while receiving his blessing. Next I moved to the monk holding an ornamental bronze jug of water and a feather. Here I put out my hands palms up and he sprinkled a generous amount of water on them which I then rubbed onto my head. This was repeated three times so I had quite a drippy head by the end. He waved the feather around over my hands and head as it did this. Next I went to the monk with some powder in a small china dish which he put into my right palm. This I was to eat. I did so. I think it may have been a crushed cookie. Then a clear fluid was poured into my palm. I though it would be water but it was roxy. As instructed, I drank that. My expression enlisted a good chuckle from the six monks. All this bowing, head wetting and ceremonial eating and drinking was accompanied by chanting. Each of us went to the three monks in turn. The third monk told me in very careful English that now I would be lucky. This is good to know.

Three of the monks have now left, but Lhamu is insisting that one older fellow stay and drink. A younger one who seems to be his assistant is therefore also staying. Mama and papa are still here as well. Lhamu has now finally removed my untouched roxy and poured me a beer, despite repeated assurances I don’t want it. Karin and I experienced a similar situation when we visited. At that time Tendi was very much part of the drinking experience but he’s not drinking these days. He is being left alone as is papa who is a non drinker. It would be so much easier to to accept a drink. I’ve already had a peculiar concoction of warmed roxy, served with melted butter and pan fried dry rice. Not too unpleasant – the rice tasted a bit like pop corn but more crunchy. The drink had a powerful enough kick that I’m calling it quits while I’m still sensible enough to do so. Trouble is that in accepting one drink I’ve left the door open to be harangued to have another…..and another…. It seems the trick is to declare complete abstinence. Too late for that now.

7pm. Between all the drinks serving Lhamu is now also preparing the fifth meal of the day. At least now there are only six of us remaining. I really don’t know where she gets the stamina – she’s been in this kitchen for over 14 hours now! I’m exhausted and I’ve done nothing all day except bring in a couple of loads of wood. I’m well qualified for that task and have actually been permitted to do this one small thing. 

Around 9pm Lhamu and I enjoy a quiet dinner together in the kitchen. She drinks my untouched beer and offers me more roxy, but finally accepts that I’ll have tea instead. Tendi has gone up in the village to meet with our jeep driver who has finally arrived from Kathmandu. He also ends up mediating a peaceful conclusion to a fight between two young men. Just before his return Lhamu ushers the last dining room guests into the kitchen to join the group there, and sets up my bed for me. (She’s had a phone call from Tendi asking her to do this.) Besides the toilet room, the washing up room, and Lhamu and Tendi closet size bed room there are only two other rooms in this house. I’m relieved because I was wondering if I’d ever get to bed as the numbers of people visiting are swelling again. I gratefully climb into bed and shortly after hear Tendi do the same in the little room he and Lhamu share. Meantime however Lhamu has a full on party going on in the kitchen. Just before I left the scene she was opening a second four litre jug of roxy…..

What a “rest” day!

(I’m lucky I sleep easily and deeply. The party went on to the not so wee hours of the morning.)

9 April РIn Salleri 

We’ve had a couple of fairly long hard days of trekking since leaving Namche four days ago. It’s amazing what a difference the lower altitudes – mostly under 3000m – makes. We’re back in farm country. Terraced fields, wheat growing green, millet and mustard being harvested. Cabbages and cauliflower, onions and garlic. Roses and rhododendrons. We hike all the way into Chheplung the first day. It’s a pretty place and I wanted to stay somewhere with a bit of character. This was achieved. The place had a hose out back for laundry doing with I’d did while Puri washed his hair and Tendi supplied rince water for both of us. A convenient  sink in the front  however perfect height for hair washing without getting a good soaking in the process. It was very odd to be standing by the equivalent of the main road (flag stone hiking trail through the heart of down town Chheplung –  washing one’s hair in an out door sink – but that hair wash was sooooo nice. And the water was sooooo cold! The next day we all used that sink to brush our teeth, while saying good morning at some Trekkers we’d met further up the trail…. Things are just different here.

Next day we continued on to Bupsa. An endless day of either steep up or steep down all the way on those horrendous trails I described to you in a previous blog. We had a good time though. Tendi and Puri have a ridiculous video they made on Tendi’s cell phone of some great Sherpa dance music – so they played it whenever the trail was smooth enough to dance along. The three of us just laughed and danced our way up and down and and did our best to avoid getting trampled by errant mules thundering by with leaking 30kg tanks of propane tied on their backs. 

Yesterday we had an even longer day – but got about three hours further than we’d intended which made today a treat! We upped and downed into Nunthala and were there so soon after lunch time that we decided we could continue. Tendi did say it was up. He sort of neglected to mention that it was two hours of up to get to the next village. But by the time we got there Tendi and Puri had a bet going that I could or couldn’t make it to the next place is however many minutes…. Sneaky pair. Of course I fell for it and we climbed for another hour.  We started our day at 2360m and ended it at 3071m up in a pass. Seriously a tough day. But somehow – in a really sick way I guess – a lot of fun. 

Today was an easy one. We left at 7:30 after being woken up at five by the noisiest pair of Aussies who were still goofing around when we left. Why they had to get up so early and why they had to make so much nice about it is beyond us. At about 5:30, Tendi actually went and told them to not be so noisy but by then the entire place was awake! Anyway today’s walk was partly on trail, then partly on dirt road – fit for tractors only – then on paved road. Seriously. Paved road walking. Not really our cup of tea.The paved road started just before our destination of Salleri. This is the regional capital and is – as is usual with end of road places in Nepal – a shit hole. Sorry I just can’t  think of a better or nicer way of describing it. The entry into town is marked by a massive garbage dump into a river. There is garbage and random heaps of junk and general run down dirty disorganized “everything” everywhere. After three weeks in lovely country side and grand mountains this town simply sucks! When I said to Tendi that I didn’t like it very much he explained it as being this way because it’s a government centre. To him this is a rational explanation for the decrepit state of the place. However where we are staying is up a tiny alley, has a small dirt courtyard with a cleanish outhouse in the corner, and a cozy really cute room up an impossibility steep set of rickety stairs. The food is great and there is wifi. I was wondering what I’d do with myself all afternoon and I’ve filled the time very nicely. I could go exploring but the street is so filthy I’d have to put on my hiking boots again and I’d prefer they had a bit of dry out time as today was a pretty hot one. For those of you who don’t hike – that tends to equate to sweaty feet.

Tomorrow we have a harder trek – but thankfully back on trails – into Khamding. The next day we’ll be staying there. Tendi has some monks coming to do some day long chanting blessing. I’m not sure what it’s all about but it is New Year’s Eve here on the day after tomorrow so perhaps that is the reason. Anyway it should be interesting. On the 12th (New Years day) we drive back to Kathmandu. I should have internet again then.

Internet seems fairly consistent here so I’ll try to post a few pictures in a bit.

Thoughts on “Conquering” Everest


Me and my porter Puri. Just north of Namche.

 

It’s peek climbing season here in the Khumbu region and the focus is largely on Everest. Along with the hordes of trekkers, (and there are hundreds of us plying the route – a crowded walking highway – between Lukla and Base Camp) are also many of the ever-so-serious mountaineers. No flabby porches lapping over pack belly bands on these guys. Certainly no soft thighs causing shorts to do that weird bunching between the legs thing! More on that subject until later. OK maybe not, it’s just too gross to discuss in public. For now let’s just focus on the taunt lean bodies of the climbers. They are largely a breed apart and are fairly easily identify-able by the large packs they seem to carry and the easy confident way they slide along. Not too much panting from the climbers. They are a pretty fit bunch!

The Oxford dictionary defines conquest as the subjugation and assumption of control or a place or people by military force.

When people refer to successful summits of Everest as conquering the mountain, I find it odd. Alexander the Great was a conqueror. He set about overwhelming vast regions and subjecting the people of those areas to his governance. The Romans were effective conquerors as well. They too subjected numerous other nations to their rule and ideologies. Then there was the English conquest of vast expanses of this world. The creation of the Canada we know is but one example of their subjugation of a vast territory and many nations.

So why, pray tell, does the concept of conquering enter the realm of climbing a mountain?

We don’t know if Mallory managed to summit or not as he died either on the way up or down. Only Everest herself has the answer to that mystery. It is widely accepted that Hillary and Tensing were the first humans to successfully summit. They did this in 1953. Since then numerous men and women from nations around the world have paid significant sums of money to outfit their expeditions and to the Nepali government and given much of themselves to climb this highest of high mountains. Many have succeeded, more have not, some have died in their quest. Successful summits are often regarded as conquests.

I argue that Everest has been subjugated by no one. No one has control of this mountain. She creates her own weather patterns which can either enable a successful climb or spell disappointment or disaster. She produces avalanches which may or may not kill anyone in their path. She has a capricious nature, and she either permits or denies a summit. She ladles out death at a whim.

Those who climb her might consider thanking Everest for her grace should they be successful in reaching her summit, rather than boasting of their conquest. Perhaps the concept of conquest is more suitably applied to individual climbers conquering their human frailty in that they have perhaps subjugated the real possibility of their own death in search of that glorious moment on the highest place on earth.

Everest’s real name in the Sherpa language is Chomolungma. In their culture she is “Goddess Mother of the Universe.” There are many people who live here who would not be upset should Chomolungma be closed for climbing. Of course she’s too great a cash cow for the government to likely consider that option.

This mountain has taken many lives. Probably most of us can name one or two foreign climbers who died while trying to summit or during their return. How many of us can name any of the Sherpas who have died there while setting ladders and routes, portering masses of support gear, setting up camps, or otherwise helping their clients climb this mountain. An even more tricky question is – What compensation do injured or killed Nepali support staff and their families receive? I’ve listened to enough conversations about this to realize it is a double edged sword. There is glory in being a climbing guide and the pay is really good by Nepali standards. Being a high altitude porter is also well paid work. There are more people lining up to do these jobs than there are positions to be filled. What is the ethical, and moral responsibility of the international climbing community? If the international climbers are driving this economy, should a decision to no longer attempt to “conquer” Everest come from the foreign climbers themselves?

One thing I know for sure is that I don’t have the skill or stamina to consider climbing this or likely any other mountain in this part of the world. Being immersed in this Sherpa culture for the past few weeks has simply given me food for much thought. One gets lots of thinking time when trudging the trails for hours at a time. It’s been cathartic sharing these puzzlements with you. Thanks for reading.

Back in Namche and some yak chatter

I have just carefully followed Judith and Philip’s instructions for cutting and pasting off line blogging – and it worked. Thanks for a great tutorial!

Today we had another fabulous trek all the way from Lungdhen to Namche. We did two days trekking in one! Amazing. We needed to pick up an other day somewhere and I’m glad we’ve now done it as I know the trek back to Khamding is going to get more difficult after tomorrow as we’ll be back on the damaged trail again. Can’t say as I’m too excited about that.

Today dawned really cold -15 according to the German man’s thermometer. We were ready to go by 7 and as the guest house was even colder this morning than yesterday (being no warmer inside than out.) There was no point hanging around. When we set off the sun hadn’t cleared the high ridge to the east of us so we were walking on hard frosted ground. Any still water was frozen, icicles hung around streem banks, shrubs – there were starting to be a few at this lower elevation – were white rimed  and looked as chilled as I felt. My fingers were freezing despite gloves. At 8am there was a sudden rush of the shadow across the ground – up and away – the sun had climbed over the ridge and instantly there was warmth. White leaves turned green, icicles began dripping. I took off my gloves, then hat, then down jacket and soon after my sweater joined the rest in my pack. It is extraordinary how fast that sun warms things up at this altitude.

We enjoyed yet another magnificent day. We’ve dropped almost 1 km in elevation but none of that was on any knee jarring steep trail. It was generally a gradual descent through the beautiful Thame Valley. This is the valley Tibetan traders used to ply in the days before China closed the border. Don’t get me going on that subject! Derelict buildings give testimony to the economic down turn as a result of that loss of trade. 

At one point we saw four “Tares” (sp?) a Nepali mountain goat. Huge creatures. Of course there are yaks around every corner. Many are free ranging and enjoying spring foliage. Others are barrelling along the trails in groups of three to 10. Quite a few of the yak drivers are women. The yak bells give fair warning of their approach so it is usually easy to clamber out of the way onto the inside side of the trail. It’s a really bad idea to get on the out side side of the trail and the drops should one of the beasts push one off are usually very significant. For the most part they pass by with plenty of room – sometimes their massive horns just skim by as their heads swing to and fro. Sometimes their packages are quite wide and need to be given a hard shove as the yak goes by. Many wear all sorts of colourful decorative tassels on their ears or around their necks. Some have just one massive bell, others have rows of jingle bells. They come in several colour combinations. Black, black with white faces, light brown, light brown with white faces, darker brown, darker brown with white faces and gray. I’ve not yet seen gray yaks with white faces. They are very shaggy beasts, so their legs look quite short. Their “skirts” swing as they walk along. They have an odd voice – a sort of grunt growl. They wear blankets and tarps under their wooden saddles and habitually carry about 70 to 80 kilos when fully loaded. They don’t have halters, but are controlled by the voice commands of their driver, they also seem quite happy to follow the lead yak. Today there was a scary moment when on a steep hair pin turn in the trail above a precipitous drop, three up going yaks got confused with seven down going yaks in a very narrow point. The two drivers were scampering all over the place to sort the mess out. Thankfully a couple of yaks backed up to a wider section of trail and other yaks could then pass safely. We watched all this from a safe distance I’m glad to say.

We’re back into the land of rhododendrons and greens again. Also into farm land and are passing through villages with their chortens and mani walls. It’s quite amazing how suddenly the scenery has changed. Mind you, we walked hard for seven hours! 

And that seven hours of walking has left me tired so I’m going to close here. I’ll probably not have internet again until I’m back in Kathmandu in about a week. So until then, good night from Namche.

Crossing 5360m Renjo La 

Renjo La 5360mToday was the high point of this trek. I guess I can say that on two counts. I did achieve the highest elevation that I’ll see this time in Nepal. And today, like the previous three, was outstanding! I spent much of my time while in Gokyo looking up at the pass we would be crossing. It was high and seemed sort of inaccessible by mere mortals. “Where could there be a path in all that rock?” I kept wondering. My sense of serious adventure was pretty high! There seemed to be a lot of scree slopes, hanging glaciers, snow and general steepness to contend with. But I trust Tendi absolutely not to get me in over my head as it were.

We were packed up, breakfasted and ready to go by 7. An early start for a long hard day. My pack had hardly anything in it. Puri even had my sleeping bag today as there was going to be steep down after the difficult steeper up. There was some high haze but the sun still shone bright enough for the temperature to be pleasant. At first the path was pretty gentle but fairy soon things changed and it became progressively steeper and more incredible. The scree slopes were a bit unnerving but proved to be quite stable. Some of the exposed bits were – well exposed. The was a bit of scrambling to be done but mostly it was just breathless challenging uphill leg work. But the surroundings were so glorious I really didn’t notice. We climbed up to and past an ice fall. We climbed passed a glacier. We climbed and climbed. We stopped at one point for water and a protein bar and carried on. The peaks we were climbing towards were extraordinary. Very sharp and craggy. They aren’t very high by Nepal standards but are impressive anyway. Behind us though – now that was the treat. We were getting increasingly fabulous unobstructed views of Everest. From this vantage point it is possible to see much more of the mountain than from closer to it! Pretty awesome. We could make out detailed features such as Hillary’s step and the route from there to the summit. 

We finally reached the Renjo La (La means pass). It’s festooned with prayer flags and is quite narrow. About 10 feet maybe and then the trail heads off down the other side into the Thame Valley. We spent a while admiring the views and having a snack then started down the other side. Now this was cooler and quite windy. Now on the west side of the range we’d just crossed, we no longer had the sun at our backs. The shade and the fact that we weren’t working as hard going down as up brought sweaters and hats out of packs. As we descended – and it was steep but not as steep as our ascent – we noticed clouded starting to build in the valley below. Sure enough about an hour from our destination we entered the fog. It became instantly pretty cold and of course visibility became very limited. We arrived at 1:30 into our guest house in Lungdhen having made very good time! 

It’s been a very cold afternoon but the owner has finally lit the fire so we are now all huddled around it warming up. A quiet fellow from Germany, a very nice couple of women from Australia and several guides and porters. It’s getting cozy. While it’s only five, I’m looking forward to dinner and my sleeping bag. 

Tomorrow is expected to be sunny again in the morning, I hope it is – but really – I’m not fussed either way. We’re on our way home now and it’s been an outstanding adventure. All goals have been met and exceeded!

I hope to post a couple of blogs from Namche if we get that far tomorrow.