23 and 24 March down and up over Surke La

We continue to cross mountain ranges!
Over passes and down to rivers at the bases of steep sided deep valleys and up again!

It’s challenging hiking. This is definitely the hardest trek either Marianne or I have done in Nepal! We might not be covering huge distances but we sure are experiencing significant changes in elevation every day.

We left Najingdingma to climb 324 metres up to Surke La (3085 metres) The final approach to this pass is quite dramatic as the trail climbs nearly vertically through a chasm between two towering cliffs. One moment we were struggling out of the Inkhu Khola Valley and the next we were looking way down into the Honggu Khola Valley.
The hike down into this new valley is absolutely stunning. There is quite low cloud so we have only glimpses of the higher snow capped peaks but the terrain in which we trek is completely unique from every other place we’ve seen here. We walked through a tall trunked rhododendron forest. The red studded canopy providing dappled shade in which various types of new green ferns unfurl towards the sun and purple primulas bloom. Birds are singing. We recognize a wood pecker but there are numerous other feathered voices calling to one another. 
Speaking of birds, on the way up to the pass we saw two birds which looked rather like grey squirrels as they had really long tails and they hopped along in a squirrel like manner. 

This walk down is largely traversing the slope so it is a pleasant undulating change from the steep steps and clambering we had been doing. We exit the enchanted forest onto large sloping pastures. The vistas open to reveal tiny farmsteads on the distant slopes of the opposite side of the valley. Mani walls stretch in a seemingly endless procession along our route. They attest to the old ways, their Sanskrit prayer “Om ma ne ped me hum” repeated thousands of times, carved in stone now ancient, etched and lichen stained with the wear of passing years. There are also a few weather worn chortens and a couple of grey stone stupas marking our gentle progress across this thoughtful landscape. I say “thoughtful” because the place begs reflection. The pasture land is bordered by more rhododendron forests alight with red and pink blooms. When the sun catches the blooms they seem translucent, glowing as if lit from within.

Our final descent into Bung at 1620m is the culmination of a 1465 metre descent since the pass! It is once again down a steep set of randomly sized steps, on a trail cut deep into a damp slippery gully. The going becomes difficult. We focus on each step, a fall would be easy and disastrous. Bung straggles over the slope. It has a central core around a dirty cross roads consisting of about ten haphazard buildings. The first place we check out for accommodation has a broken set of sloping steps up to a wobbly slanted balcony – we’re not thrilled so Tendi finds another place. This one is marginally better. The running water is on the main path, the outhouse is perched on a pile of rubble, the ladder to the rooms is missing a few steps, to get to our room we need to pass through the main room where porters and guides sleep. Our room has about 18 inches between two very narrow beds which take up the rest of the space. We’re the only people staying so it all works. Despite the humble surroundings the bliss is that it is warm! For the first time this trip we eat dinner without needing to wear a warm jacket and hat.

Today has been pretty cloudy all day and rain threatens. Our walk has been a hard one. First we continued a precipitous descent of 300 more metres to the river to cross a sketchy suspension bridge at 1320 metres. Then the 590 metre climb begins. The trail is steep steps the entire way to Gudel at 1910 metres

In the words of 1949 explorer H.W. Tilman (the first foreign trekker to enter this region)

“For dreadfulness not can excel

The prospect of Bung from Gudel:

And words die away on the tongue

 When we look back on Gudel from Bung.”

There is nothing I can add to that except a little anecdote. We stopped for some tea on the way up at a very humble little homestead. Marianne and I think there were about five kids, their parents and a set of grandparents. Of note was that one of the kids has a set of homemade stilts. These were two thick bamboo stalks each with a side shoot cut off about six inches from the stalk. He was shy at first but soon was giving us quite a skilled display of stilt walking. Of course Puri and Dendi tried too but they couldn’t stand up for more than a second or two. This kid could run and hop on the stilts over quite rough terrain.

We are now comfortable in Gudel. We arrived just before lunch time so have hand washed some laundry, had a warm water sponge bath in our room, and washed our hair! It is doubtful that the laundry will dry as once again it is cloudy and the air is a bit damp. Now I have previously described the joy of hand washing laundry. Today I’d like to go over the finer points of sponge bathing.

First one is brought a salad bowl size of warm water by ones porter. In this case each of us receives a bowl from each of our porters. The bowls are placed on the floor in the eighteen inch narrow space between our beds. The porters retire, we close the door.
Now we each have about six square feet of floor space. Dirty clothes are removed and a pile of items in urgent need of washing is created. We each have a small pre soaped disposable cloth and set about scrubbing ourselves from top to bottom while trying not to splash too much water around. This is no easy feat! Drying ensues. The blissful donning of clean underwear! You’ve no idea how nice that feels!
The filthy bath water is dumped down the toilet which is on the same floor as the room (more bliss). Next we head down stairs and out to the communal tap (cold water) and wash our hair. The entire process is of course only complete after we’ve washed that offending pile of clothing.

All that completed we had lunch and then we went back up to our room to lay out our sleeping bags and enjoy some privacy. Sitting out side we are the subject of considerable curiosity as not too many foreigners come this way. Low and behold I look out the window by my bed and there’s a pig outside. He has a lovely stone sided pen deeply bedded with straw. He’s a very frisky playful animal, running around and snuffling about. I brought some protein bars with me. They taste a bit like sawdust. I wonder if the pig might like a bit, so I open the window and toss him a piece. The pig is keen on protein bars it would seem. Much hilarity and laughter from Marianne and I brings Tendi and Dendi in to see what’s going on. The pig eventually gets the entire bar. He seems oblivious as to where these treats are coming from.

I’m not sure what all this says about our current state of mind…… but hours later we are still watching the antics of the pig.

At dinner a French woman and two New Zealanders arrived. They have trekked a huge number of hours today – going the opposite direction from us. These are the first other foreigners we’ve seen since leaving Kharikhola four days ago. This is not yet a popular route but there are obviously hopes that it will become so as trekkers seek areas less trampled and less developed with encroaching roads.

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