30 March – The End Game

We’ve done it! We arrived walking tall and strong  – but dirty and weary –  into Tumlingtar (400 metres) just a shade before noon today. And suddenly our trek is done. Tendi, Dendi and Puri were just as happy as we!
It always comes as a bit of a shock. Here that shock is accentuated by the vehicle traffic and a small airport. The airport is immediately across the road from our hotel. Several planes have come and gone while we’ve devoured lunch and two really large beers! 

I said hotel – did I you notice? We are staying in what will likely be a proper hotel but at the moment it is only partly completed. There is however an en-suite bathroom with a western style toilet and a sink with a tap, and cold running water. There is also a shower with minimal cold water pressure and no hot water. Considering  the heat that isn’t really a hardship. The staircase is rough unfinished concrete, no railings of course. The dining room leaves much to be desired, but as you will have gathered by the influx of blogs, there is internet. Slow poor connection though so pictures are still awaiting! I promise some will come eventually! 

Out last morning continued along the gently undulating road and for some time along the rocky shore of the Arun Nadi. It was muggy and sweaty so we stopped twice for “Dew” breaks. What? Instead of tea we each had cold Mountain Dews. Much needed refreshment.

For the most part, our walk took us through farm land. Rice paddies with a generous component of chickens (ubiquitous) goats, cattle, water buffalo, and pigs. There was also a large troupe of monkeys. Handsome with their white ruffs around their black faces, they were scrambling around in some trees at the edge of the jungle, no doubt awaiting the opportunity to raid some of those nice young rice seedlings.

Unfortunately this part of Nepal is quite squalid. Seems to go hand in hand with the proximity to India. (Probably not a politically correct comment but it is what we see.)

So here we are in dirty (but not disgustingly so) Tumlingtar.

Our trail trials are behind us. 

This was an epic journey. 

We’ve decided to call it “Kim and Marianne’s Four Pass Trek.” The reality is that it will take us some time and reflection to really progress what we’ve just accomplished. We feel the pride. We feel exhausted. We are pleased to have been off the tourist highways, but realize that freedom came with a pretty steep price in terms of comfort. Now we’ve done it neither of us would try it again. It was simply too damn hard. It was also incredible.

I’m glad we had the naivety to attempt this route because had we known what it would encompass I think neither of us would have had the courage to take it on.

29 March – A road by any other name is still a road

Hallelujah! Today we needed to get some distance covered as we need to be in Tumlingtar by mid day on the 31st. We were set for a long hard day. It was a longish, hard day but it would have been less enjoyable had it not been for a road. We climbed down steep stone steps out of Dhobane and what to our wondering eye should appear but the end (or beginning) of a rough road. By Canadian standards this mud track might not deserve that nomenclature but by Nepali standards if any track is negotiable by wheeled vehicle it is a road. This was barely negotiable but we were passed by two land rovers and two tractors during the course of our seven hour walk. The joyous thing about a road is that the grade is less steep than the trails. So while it was in places very muddy due to the heavy rain last night, it made for easy walking. Quite soft underfoot too. There were a few places were we had to pick our way on stones across fords. There were several places where we went off road to climb up or down short cuts between hair pin bends or to access pedestrian only suspension bridges. As a result of the easier walking we covered good distance and are now finally on the shore of the Arun Nadi (nadi means big river). We saw the river for the first time today from high up on a headland. We aren’t sure why this trek is referred to as the Arun Valley Trek as we will now only follow this river for the next day and a half into Tumlingtar. We think we will rename it something more appropriate but have yet to come up with a name that might encompass all that this route entails!As we walked along today we met quite a few locals out and about. Of note were a pair of old ladies (probably our age!) they were sitting by the path having a rest. Many of the women in this area wear large ornate gold rings in their noses. These hang down to about lip level. They seem to be important status symbols. Indications of wealth perhaps. These two were no exception. One of these women had a folded black umbrella, the other a broken walking stick. As we came by the walking stick lady proudly showed us that she too had a stick for walking. It was a brief moment of connection that makes a journey like this have more meaning than just tramping along.

Another time there was a veritable traffic jam. A train of about 10 mules going down met up with a train of mules going up. The mules negotiated this with calm aplomb. There was also a large tractor pulling a cart and a Land Rover coming up. This is Nepal so both vehicles had young horn blasting boys at the wheel. They caused some havoc amongst both sets of mules. The tractor ended up pulling over to let the impatient Land Rover lurch on by. We just stood at the side of the road and watched all this unfold from a reasonably safe distance.

Besides the road, the other point of significance about today was the muggy heat. We are now at 320 metres above sea level (a 610 metre drop in elevation from last night) and are in steaming jungle. Banana trees and rice paddies. Mango and Papaya trees, cardamom plants, fire ants and presumably evening or night time mosquitoes as we have bug nets strung over our beds. Because it’s so muggy everything feels slightly damp.

Our room is quite interesting. While last night our walls were a combination of corrugated metal and bamboo lattice, tonight one “wall” is chicken wire. Good for ventilation, a bit lacking in privacy. While last night we needed to be careful not to drop small things on the floor due to the large gaps between the floor boards, tonight there is linoleum on the cement floor. We will be able to drop stuff without fear of hitting anyone below! Tonight’s bed has a mattress as well which is the first in a couple of nights. Additionally the toilet is just a few steps away. We won’t even need to put rain gear on if it’s raining to get to it! Very posh!

28 March into the jungle, the hot steamy jungle, we walked today

Today we lost another 755 metres of elevation on our route to Dhobhani.We only walked for four hours but it seemed longer. Some of the route was rock strewn and muddy and footing was often challenging. We followed the Irkhuwa Khola for most of the day. It rushes along tumbling over massive boulders roaring sometimes right beside us and at other times way below when the trail takes us up and around cliffs along its turbulent course. 

For the first time on this trek I dressed in western clothing. My long woollen Sherpa dress is now stowed in the bottom of the pack Puri is carrying. It is too warm to wear that much wool! We have entered a new climate zone and are currently walking through jungle and rice farms. It seems such a sudden change from just two days ago when we walked through snow and climbed over a pass above the tree line! In the sun this morning it was hot! About 30 degrees. Hard to get used to so quickly.

Our accommodation this evening is a woven bamboo sided room above a small shop. Ventilation is excellent! Privacy perhaps a bit on the sketchy side. Note to selves – get undressed in the dark! The building is perched on a steep slope above the river. We shall be lulled to sleep by its incessant roar no doubt. The outhouse is down a precariously steep path, lined with upside down beer bottles three quarters buried in the ground to mark the way. I’m not sure how either of us will negotiate getting there in the dark when we do our midnight run….. but we have our methods to circumvent needless slipping and sliding in the dark!

Now that we are in jungle country there are numerous new bird songs and insects. Very large tunnel spiders, butterflies of all manner of colours, annoying flies, caterpillars and the like. In wet places there are also the dreaded enormous blood hungry Nepali leaches. We walked through several wet places but took care to step with leach avoiding care!

27 March -Viking invasion in Phedi

A very short walk today, if one can call climbing down such a steep trail a walk! We left Jaubari at 7:30 and arrived at our destination in Phedi (1685 metres) by 9:40! And here is where we are staying for the rest of today and tonight. We could go further but having already walked a hard couple of knee crushing hours it is now too far to get to the next decent place to spend a night. One place that we could get to has a reputation as a noisy locals hangout and Tendi is pretty sure it would not be to our liking. I’ve no doubt he’s got that right! After yesterday’s trials it is good to have some pleasant down time. 
We each had a basin bath. The joy of a hot water wash in a warm room has no compare! At the time there was no running water in the village so our water was carried up from the river below to be heated over the kitchen fire and then served to our room in large basins. Had we known the water situation we’d not have asked for this bath water. It is amazing how a country as rich in water resources as Nepal is can have such tenuous supplies of the stuff. We did less laundry less thoroughly than we’d hoped in the remanence of our wash water. Our hair – well – let’s just say it remains unwashed. There are two communal taps in this village but the line has been disconnected or broken some where above. We presume someone is trying to find and fix the break, but meantime water is being laboriously lugged up a steep bank from the river in large heavy milk jugs.

Our room here is quite palatial compared to some on this trek! As we oohed and awed over it’s amazing attributes we couldn’t help but laugh. 

Let me describe “palatial.” The ladder to the rooms has no broken steps and they are all on an even keel. Additionally there is a secure railing! Our room a door, albeit one that is very difficult to open and close. It is a sliding door that doesn’t actually slide.

There is about four feet between our beds. Now the beds are just wood boards with a grass mat and thin filthy sheet on top but we’ve scored a couple of lumpy cotton filled sort of duvets to pad under our sleeping bags. There is a light bulb but no switch that we can find. The best part is a second door that opens onto our own private balcony! Wow. It’s covered and has a chunk of sagging rope strung between two posts. A conveniently located in-place undercover clothesline – now that is luxury! On this line now hangs our sort of washed “smalls.” 

Across the mud area in front of this building is a small coved gazebo. Here is where we have ensconced ourselves to journal and blog and read. The roar of the river just below us is a pleasant back-drop to the roasters crowing, baby chicks peeping, swallows swooping, and children playing around. Some mules have walked by, bells all a-ringing. Quite a few children have passed by on their way to or home from school. We haven’t figured out the school hours yet. Seems they may actually be in school for an hour or so and spend the rest of the day going to and from. It would appear some of these kids have never seen a foreigner before for all the staring they do. I feel tolerant of the little kids but the older ones I find rather intrusive and annoying. Might adjourn to our second floor balcony in a while to achieve a bit of privacy.

Today as we walked down the formidably steep trail we went past a small farm garden brimming with ripe peas ready for picking. I was almost drooling! We decided to not add “Pea Raiding” to our trip resume which you may remember already includes B&E. It was tempting though. Our down hill order-of-march is Dendi followed by Marianne followed by me then Tendi and Puri bringing up the rear. I was concentrating on picking my steps through the vertical stone field that constitutes the trail, so for some time was unaware that Tendi and Puri had dropped behind. They caught up within a few minutes of my noticing their absence and I forgot all about their mysterious disappearance until lunch. We had Dhal Bhat (again) and frankly Marianne and I are quite tired of the stuff. But wonder or wonders, there was also a huge dish of fresh picked raw peas! We were quite overjoyed and devoured them in very short order. What a delicious treat. Of course Tendi received a heartfelt danyabhad (thank you).

It occurred to me as we picked our way along the trail that Hilary came this way on his quest for Everest. I asked Tendi if this was so and he confirmed that Hilary had come this way – once – but after that one time he chose the Jiri route instead. I could only laugh – why indeed would a sane explorer use this route when there is another much easier one.
That said five tired Danes staggered into the village just before dinner time. They’re coming up to our down and were pretty exhausted. Marianne and I bravely protected Tendi, Dendi and Puri’s room from these invaders but once those three returned from where ever they had been they gave their room to the Danes with good grace. In the end Tendi and Dendi slept on grass mats on the kitchen floor. Puri was stationed on a cot right outside our door for security. Presumably to protect us two old ladies from the potential Viking menace. 
The Dane’s were actually a very pleasant group. One of them had been here during the earthquakes in 2015. Being a fit strong man, rather than run for home, he stayed for a week and helped dig bodies from the rubble of Durbar Square in Kathmandu. He told us of the compassion and good humour the terrified inhabitants showed to each other during the quake and throughout the tremors that followed. Yet another reminder of the resilience of this nation.

25 and 26 March Up and Up over Salpa Pokhari La

There is not too much to say about yesterday’s trek other than to mention that we climbed 940 metres and it was brilliantly sunny all day. We arrived at our very pretty destination – Sanam – just after noon, in time for lunch. Marianne and I spent the entire afternoon lazing in the sun and reading. It was extremely pleasant after a couple of hard days. The guys enjoyed the afternoon of leisure as well and got up to all sorts of antics on the lawn. Odd feats of prowess and co-ordination. Our hostess was a charming Sherpa woman who seemed to be the sole occupant of this delightful farm. While our bedroom door did not close, there was a toilet just across the hall. This was something to be joyful about!

Today however has been a slightly different matter. As I write this it is absolutely pelting rain! We arrived just before this deluge started, after a remarkably hard seven and a half hour trek. The entire day was either up or down and many of the downs were quite precipitous. Today’s trek was made harder than normal because the place where we were supposed to be able to get lunch and stay the night was closed. Additionally Marianne is feeling a bit under the weather. Combination of crossing the 3565 metre Salpa Pokhari La, the general weariness of life on a trail with few creature comforts, and the monotonous food choices. Good thing we’ve staggered our “off” days or Tendi would really have his hands full!

Today began – as do most of our days – at 5:40am. We pack up and have breakfast at 6:30 and set off at 7. The idea is to make the most of the clear weather which is usually before noon. Most days, the afternoons bring ominous clouds over the peaks and down into the valleys.  

After descending to a small stream at the base of the valley we climbed for about three and a half hours to the pass. An elevation gain of 715 metres. Most of the time we were in a “Tolkienesque” forest. Oak trees festooned with moss, the stream burbling over water rounded boulders, mist swirling amongst the trees, a monochrome landscape of muted greens and greys. As we achieved higher elevation the trees gave way to scrubby rhododendrons, then they gave way to a rocky barren landscape that reached up to a moody grey stone chorten marking the pass. 

We took a few pictures then headed down the other side. This is our fourth pass on this trek and it will be our last. From here on we generally descend south towards the lowlands just north of the Indian border. As mentioned our proposed stop for the day was closed so we had to continue. Thank goodness for Marianne’s granola bars!

Of most interesting note was this crazy high narrow ridge we had to follow down into the valley. First we had to do one more steep climb. Thankfully it was of fairly short duration. We met three Germans coming down. They were as surprised to see other foreign trekkers as we were to see them. The ridge was spectacular. By far my favourite part of the past two days slog! Along its top it is about eight metres wide. On either side cliffs drop away about one to two kilometres into valleys below. Anyone with vertigo would have been in a sorry way! Despite thick cloud below we were able to take a few pictures before descending again – down and down and down on slippery rock steps to this place – Jaubari (2040metres) if you do the math you will note that is 1525 meters lower than the pass! We figure we’ve actually descended a total of two kilometres today! No wonder my knees feel a tad the worse for wear.

The only draw back to where we are now bedded down is that the outhouse is a bit of a distance across a slick muddy yard and it’s pissing rain! Blah! Marianne and I are both curled up on our beds in our sleeping bags. It’s the only way to be remotely warm. The guys brought us soup to eat in bed! Seriously decadent don’t you think? At least we are dry! Until we need to use that out house anyway! I sure hope the tin roof above our heads doesn’t leak! 

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.

Happiness is fair weather and a high mountain trail 

19 March

This is why I come to Nepal!Today is one of those perfect days. We leave Junbesi at 6:55am, bellies filled with oat porridge. There is high thin cloud thus it is slightly warmer. Emphasis on slightly. Soon we are climbing through pine forest, and then….my bliss….out onto a high open traverse. The views extend up towards the white clad Himal and steeply down to the valley below. Small terraced farm houses scatter throughout the spring green of young barley crops rising from the winter brown earth. Across the valley a Gompa (monastery) sits bright painted and snuggled under fluttering prayer flags. A distant barking of a dog, a jingle of a bell around a cow’s neck, a bird’s song rising in the crisp morning air. My soul replenished. The trail for much of the morning undulates gently up and down flowing along the contour of the slope. We stop for tea at my favourite cheese chop and buy 500 grams of the best yak cheese on the planet. Actually it’s not yak cheese because yaks are males. It is nac cheese. But you get my drift. And to clarify the actual weight a bit…. the cheese we buy balances the scales at two 200 gram weights and three snickers bars. I guess the cheese selling woman has lost her 10 gram weight. As good as the cheese, is a clear view of the dark triangle peak of Chomolungma – Everest. She doesn’t show herself for long as the afternoon clouds begin to gather

The afternoon’s walk is a bit more challenging as we climb up to Taksindu La then head down and down into Nunthala. The trail is a mud bath. Steep, and slippery with mule dung and mule pee. Mule pee really is very foul smelling. Mule dung/pee mud is vile. As we walk slipping and sliding that final long hard hour light snow begins to fall. 

We are tired but buoyant as we arrive at our guest house. Within minutes the heavens open and a deluge of rain pours down! Obviously things are warming up. Marianne and I celebrate this day’s end with a shared beer. The dining room here has a functional stove and it is wonderfully cozy.

First day of Spring brings us to Panggom

21 March

It’s the first day of spring! Today was warm until about 2pm when the afternoon clouds gathered and slithered down from the high peaks – cold, grey and slightly damp. We ate breakfast this morning outside in the sun. Sooo nice. Today’s walk was something of a Nepali shortcut from Kharikhola to Panggom. Up hill all the way for an elevation gain of 810 metres. It was nice to just climb and not have any deep river valleys to descend into. No mules, no mule pee or dung, no other trekkers. The trail was narrow and we mostly had it to ourselves as not too many locals take this route either. In the four hours we walked, we only passed a very few isolated farms until we arrived to this tiny but charming village. The most exciting thing about today besides the warmth and sun, (and that was exciting) was the five large zopkio that passed us by. I have no idea how to spell that word but it is the nomenclature for a cow/yak hybrid. They were coming down a steep narrow bit while we were going up so we beat a hasty retreat into a small alcove by the trail. These creatures are quite large. While not as shaggy as a yak they have impressive curved yak horns and are known to sometimes be a bit testy. 

Grand vistas, blooming rhododendron forests, open meadows, burbling streams and a narrow litter free trail made today special. The beauty is quite astonishing really. As we walked we could hear monks chanting in a distant Gompa, birds singing, goats bleating, a pig grunting, the odd dog barking, our breath panting, our footsteps rustling in the leaf covered path, water rushing over rocks. There is the intimacy of ones own legs pumping slowly upwards, feet seeking secure footing on the rugged ground. The enormous distant scenery captivates from the peaks above and valleys below. The spring budding trees, unfurling new ferns, tiny gentian blossoms, and bouquets of primula add to the cornucopia of sights.

We arrived at our very cute guest house in time for lunch which we enjoyed outside basking in the sun while gulping back a delicious cold beer. I have to say though that the first order of business (yes before the beer) was to hand wash some laundry.

Let me describe what that entails. Into a large shallow metal bowl one collects water from an endlessly running outdoor tap. Needless to say the water is glacial. Scrubbing and rinsing ensues while ones hands become increasingly numb and blue tinged with the cold. Wringing out then hanging in the sun. Here is very upscale – there is a sagging clothes line on which to hang the clothes. Marianne and I use safety pins to secure our garments so they don’t take off on a mountain breeze to parts unknown. A fair bit of wind and sun assisted drying takes place before the clouds begin their insidious descent. We will end up draping still damp items over our packs tonight. In the morning they will be pined artfully around our packs to continue the drying process as we walk along. 

Makes one really appreciate a washing machine! 

Up to this point we’ve been mostly headed in a northern direction. Tomorrow we begin a more southern trajectory. We will also begin to loose altitude except for one 3565 metre pass a few days from now. Oh my!

I think it’s time for a hot rum. Marianne and I have been spicing up our hot water with Nepali rum – takes the edge off!!

Down and down and up and up to Kharikhola 

20 March

A huge improvement in the weather today. This morning it became quite warm in the sun. My leggings came off for the first time in a few days. Perhaps that’s too much info. Fact is they are cozy under my dress during the day and cozy in my sleeping bag at night…so they just stay on. There has been no place for any showers since we left Kathmandu. When it’s warm enough we have wee sponge baths in our room. This is generally a cold uncomfortable and largely inadequate process. Today however we were confronted with an oddity. There is a sink with running water outside the toilet. Seriously a novel and wonderful luxury. So I washed my hair! Marianne and I also acquired two small bowls of warm water which we took to our room. Warm water to wash in! Joy! Judging by the filth of that water when we were done it wasn’t a moment too soon.The trek from Junbesi to our current location – Kharikhola – was fairly arduous. The trail in this area is still very badly damaged from overuse during the monsoon season after the 2015 earthquake. Usually during the wet season there is little mule traffic on the trail but that year there was a great deal due to re building requirements.

The sodden ground under the trail’s paving stones was soft so the heavy mules caused the pavers to sink into the mud at odd and random angles. The result is a trail which is very difficult to navigate. Large pavers that should be horizontal rise up at odd angles. Add to this that mule mud I told you about and one faces challenging walking conditions. 

Although today the trail was less muddy and slimy than yesterday, it was all steep down hill for the first half of the walk. We crossed a suspension bridge then it was all steep uphill for the second half. Five and a half hours of either up or down. Tiring. But the short day brought us to our guest house while the weather was still pleasant. Within moments of our arrival the afternoon deluge began amid some crashing and rumbling nearby thunder. The storm is now passed. 

We’ve walked up a set of steep steps (and back down again) to a monastery where we had sweet tea. The head Llama gave Tendi and me an explanatory tour of the fierce frescos of various gods painted on the walls. Pink and purple and red gods with multiple heads and limbs holding dead human bodies and wearing scull necklaces around their necks. These gods, with wicked grimaces and snarls, surrounded by flames, perch on lotus flower cushions. Seems a tad incongruous to me but what do I know of these things? As the deciphering was in Nepali I remain as mystified as before the tour. 

We saw the funniest thing yesterday which I forgot to tell you about. There are many mule trains plying this trail. One particular train announced its arrival behind us with the happy jingle of the many bells the mules wear around their necks. We had just crossed a suspension bridge so stood aside to let them pass. Only one of the mules turned onto the bridge. The rest carried on to a ford a little further on. Now these mules were all carrying massive bundles of tall dried grasses in baskets on either side of their backs. As the mules trotted along the grasses swayed in concert with the hoof beats. The lone mule who crossed the bridge was busy reaching his head up and around to reach the grass bundles he was carrying. He achieved his goal and began to munch away on his load. He looked so pleased with himself as he passed us by. Puri helped him out a bit by pulling a bit more grass forward from the bundle. Eventually all the other mules caught up and passed us by with a merry ringing of hundreds of bells and the joyous swaying of their loads. I imagined them showing off to the other mules.

“Look at you poor suckers with your heavy loads of propane tanks and cement bags. And see us with our delicious grasses!”

Tomorrow we head off towards the Arun Valley. For both Marianne and I this will be new territory. A careful examination of the map promises an interesting trail. For now good night from Hill Top Lodge in Kharikhola.

Let the games and challenges begin

13 March

It is 6:30 am and we are loading into a jeep to take us to Tendi’s home village of Khamding. The journey goes well and after 11 hours we have covered about 300 Kms of mostly windy, generally narrow, frequently potholed, and often quite bumpy road to arrive in this small Sherpa village. This is my third visit here and it feels like coming home. Marianne and I have tea at Puri’s home. Puri was my porter last year, he is also a monk and the father of a cute new baby. We admire the baby, say hello to his wife and parents then take our packs down to Tendi and Lhamu’s home. To get there we skirt the village school yard then follow the edges of various terraced fields. Our greeting there is warm and soon we are enjoying dinner with Tendi, Lhamu and our two porters for our upcoming trek, Puri and Dendi. Bed and sleep follow swiftly.

14 March. 

Today we leave Khamding headed out on our trek but first we have some formal duties to attend to. Up at the medical clinic we hand over a number of reading glasses donated to Marianne by Mosaic Vision in Courtenay. (Thank you Mosaic)

We added to that a financial donation from each of us to be used for what ever is required.

Our next stop is the school Karin, Marianne and I are making further donations to the school teachers assistance fund that Karin and I started in 2014. This involved the now usual performance of sitting on a bench while every child in the school – about 100 of them – draped garlands of red rhododendron blossoms and khatas around our necks. 

We returned to Tendi and Lhamu’s for lunch then set off at about 1:30 for what was supposed to be a four hour trek up to Bhulbhule (3300 metres) Khamding for the record is at 2400 metres. This is our first day of trekking after four days of arduous travelling and one recovery day in Kathmandu. Just setting you up for things to come!

Our progress was quite slow and the weather turned cold. Then it began to gropple.

For those of you who don’t know what that is – Gropple is a very tiny hale type of precipitation – more like snow than rain. When it falls driven by strong wind it makes a pattering sound. In addition to this we were hiking through snow that had fallen a couple of days previously. In places it was over a foot deep. In other areas it had melted, the trail a wet muddy slippery mess. When we arrived in Bhulbhule at about 5:30 it was bitterly cold and here was no one there. 

Tendi had been on the phone for the past hour to try to get someone to open up. He’d not been successful. Marianne and I were ushered in to a dreadful filthy room with three beds – the idea of laying out our sleeping bags was grim but we had no choice. Meanwhile there was a tremendous banging and crashing from above. The guys broke into a guest “room.” We moved to these cleaner albeit very crafty quarters. They took over the filthy den beneath. The walls of this place are loosely fitting planks through which the wind howled all night long. The plastic lining the shake roof rattled and banged. It was a very long night. Are you wondering what we ate? Ah yes dinner? We had protein bars, washed down with ice cold water.

15 March
We did sleep. We woke stiff and cold. Breakfast – granola bars and more ice cold water. I found I could not eat. Felt quite off my game in fact. We set off, up into the cold but clear sky. About an hour out, I leaned over and vomited again and again!

We tried to continue a little more while I tried to assess my inner workings. Altitude sickness? No head ache. Bone cold? No proper food for 20 hours? Exhaustion? I was exhausted when I left home – life had been hectic. I needed to stop and lie down. I felt pretty lousy. Marianne and Tendi discussed the situation over me. The obvious decision was made. We turned around. As it happened Marianne was also happy to do so. Our destination- Pikey Peak was unseasonably snow covered.

The return walk was difficult for me. But about 2:30 I staggered into The sanctuary of Tendi and Lhamu’s farm house and collapsed into bed. A blanket was dumped on top of me and I remained virtually inert until the next morning.

16 March
The weather continues cold but the morning is clear and beautiful. We’ve changed the plan. There is snow up high. We will head to Junbesi by a low route. I’m back to myself. Stomach feeling only slightly worse for wear. The walk is lovely. Lots of steep downs through rhododendron and pine forests. The temperature warms. We begin shedding layer upon layer of clothing. We stop for the day in a very humble little place called Bitakharka. It seems the entire village is in the process of stripping dried corn kernels from their husks. The pathway is covered with corn on tarps. Our guest house seems to be the major storage depot. The room Marianne and I eventually get has to have bags of corn removed first. There is a corn hopper to which a lid is added so we can use it as a table. While we unpack a couple of little girls stare in the window in total amazement at all our stuff. We eventually have to close the curtains for some privacy when we change.

17 March
We’re on the trail by 7 am as we have a long way to go to reach Junbesi. The day begins with warm promise but right after lunch when we still have four hours of trekking ahead of us it gets bitterly cold again and begins sleeting. We take cover for the worst of it then geared up with pack covers and rain gear and as much warm clothing as possible we continue. The sky is black and thunder rumbles around us. The temperatures drop further and snow falls driven by the wind. We arrive in Junbesi at 4pm having been on the trail for nine hours.

Soon we have settled into a fridge of a room and even do some laundry in freezing cold water. There is no hot water for a shower so we sponge bath with wet wipes and cold water. It is not much fun. Dinner in a dinning room with ineffective stove is consumed as fast as possible as the food gets cold within moments of leaving the kitchen. We take our water bottles filled with hot water into our sleeping bags. 

18 March
A rest day in Junbesi. We woke to find a significant coating of snow outside and significant frost on the windows inside. But the sun is shining and in the sun it is quite warm. We walk up to a nearby monastery and listen to the monks for a while. By the time we leave snow is threatening again. puri and I practically run all the way back to rescue the laundry Marianne and I had hung in the sun earlier. We arrive in time to get it in – almost dry – before flurries begin in earnest.

Now here we are in a cold dining room that is slightly warmer – thanks to the stove – than our room.

So far this has been hard work. The incredible beauty of the scenery and simple moments petting calves or cuddling cute week old puppies are keeping our spirits up. Marianne is a stalwart trekking companion. But this is not easy. We are hoping for a change in the weather as we head east. But we aren’t counting on it.

Please excuse typing mistakes etc. My fingers are cold and Internet is limited.