30 March – The cardinal rule of trekking in Nepal

In Nepal, what goes up, must first go down and what goes down, must first go up. Simple. Exhausting. We are up on a high narrow ridge, having done a fair bit of climbing to get here, yet we are 150 meters lower than were we last night, having also done much descending. It was a long challenging 7.5 hour day. We are now in Thulo Sayphru. This village looks much different from when I was last here. It too was badly damaged during the earthquake but thankfully not many people were killed. We’re staying at the same guesthouse as last time but it is completely rebuilt. I recognized the woman (owner) who Dawa, Tendi and I had enjoyed a beer with during my last visit and enthusiastic hugging ensued. She and her family have rebuilt their guesthouse into very upscale accommodation.

While we had lunch in Bamboo, a small white dog rushed about organizing everything. He kept some yaks on the path past his patio. He kept monkeys off his patio. He greeted all trekking new comers onto his patio and still had time to play with an empty plastic pop bottle.

We had a long and high suspension bridge to cross today. One of many on this trek. This one was different in that monkeys had thrown large rocks down from the cliffs above and the rocks had made holes in the bridge deck. Additionally some of the rivets on the deck were coming out, and to add another element of fear factor, some of the mesh siding was broken.

Scary bridge crossing. On the other side a young man we’d met previously had his camera out and he asked if he could take my picture because – wait for it – I looked just like his grandmother. Yes indeed. The man was in his mid twenties. What does that make me!

Past time for bed it’s nearly 7:30.

So goodnight from two tired trekkers.

29 March When a trek becomes a pilgrimage

We began retracing our steps, starting, as usual at 7:30 after breakfast in a busy dining room. We hadn’t gone far when Tendi and I got up to some shenanigans on a snow covered slope above the trail. I took my pack cover and he his pack. We climbed to the top and took turns sliding down. We got a fair bit of speed and as there was a large granite rock at the bottom of our slide path had to put on the breaks. As we left, a fellow from another group climbed up to to the same thing. A trend has been started.

We continued our journey through the wide valley, the sun thankfully at our backs, so it was easier to see where we were going than on our way up when it had shone relentlessly into our eyes.

Eventually we passed through new Lang Tang village and on to the rubble field of the old. From above we could better see and appreciate the scope of the carnage. I stopped to take a picture and Tendi stood beside me. “Terrible,” he says. We continue together through the rubble. As he walks, he tells me how it was.

First a shock wave blasted down, throwing people into the air. When they fell to the ground they either died from impact or were seriously injured. The shock wave was so powerful it spread up and down the slope rising on the other side of the valley and knocked down the trees for about half a kilometre in either direction. Now the trees lie row on row, one next to the other all pointed in the same direction. The order of the decimation seems incongruous. The shock wave was rapidly followed by megatons of rock that buried everyone and every thing. There were approximately 160 people at home that day. Cocking meals, washing clothes, feeding animals, nursing infants – then they died. Horribly. I spoke to a young man from another village who told me a couple of his friends lost their entire families in that moment. They also lost their homes. They lost everything.

And here we were, walking across the burial grounds of an entire village. I had wanted to see the area again, but in this moment I realized I needed to pay my respects.

I asked Tendi about the woman whose guest house we’d stayed in before the earthquake. I have a picture of her as she stood smiling by her wood stove making me my dinner. She died that day with all the others. Being here again has taken on a different meaning. It is no longer about seeing a place again. It is about honouring an unimaginable loss.

We continued down and down, taking a few pauses for tea and lunch and walking more and more. Finally, after 7.5 hours on the trail we stumbled into Lama Hotel. We’d descended in one day what had taken us two to ascend. Dinner was delicious. We were ravenous as well as tired.

Michel was sawing logs by 7 pm and I was only a few minutes behind him. (Not that I snore of course.)

28 March – Yaks, ponies, Gompas and glaciers

A very chilly dawn. We set off as usual at 7:30, still wearing down vests. However, here the valley is wide and we are high so we didn’t have to wait very long for a burning sun to heat the day. We are well protected by sunscreen, and wearing brimmed hats and sun glasses as at this elevation the sun is fierce.

We enjoyed a tea break at a little farm where the farmer was busy bringing basins of warm mash to his ponies and a yak. He offered us pony rides. How tempting. Several stops to catch our breath and take pictures because the scenery is wild high alpine – stunning.

We are surrounded by rugged, towering, snow-covered peaks. Glaciers spill across cols, spawn waterfalls and release rubble as they retreat. The land scape in the wide valley where we are walking is liberally scattered with massive rounded boulders left behind from ice sheets of long ago. Yaks graze on the space vegetation, their bells ringing as they forage. The sky is a deep indigo. Sharp contrast to the peaks that reach up to pierce it.

We pass by a new chorten, its gold spire mirroring the surrounding mountains. We also walk past many mani walls, filled with the sacred script Om mani pedme hum. Sad to say, several trekkers who haven’t bothered to read about the country in which they are travelling and who don’t have a guide, blissfully, in ignorance, show immense disrespect by passing these on the wrong side. Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a tourist. (My daily rant.)

Speaking of disrespect, there’s a young Irish man on a similar schedule to ours, so we see him regularly, who is determined to go topless. He has way too much saggy belly for this to be remotely attractive, but worse – topless men, women in shorts and sleeveless tops are taboo here. Unfortunate when people like him embarrass themselves, their county men and women and give offence to their hosts. (I guess that’s two rants for today.)

I’ve mentioned that we are above the tree line. We’re also above the snow line so there are numerous patches of snow along the trail and here in the village of Kynjin Gompa at 3860 metres. We arrived here at 11 this morning and since then have done some laundry, enjoyed lunch, had freezing cold washes and are now sitting in a sheltered sunny spot on the roof of a very pleasant guest house. There was a plan to go on an afternoon hike but Michel and I decided that hanging out here eating yak cheese and watching laundry dry suites our current state of high altitude lack of energy much better.

27 March – elevation gain, now above the tree line

Yesterday’s rain had the desired effect. We woke to a cold clear morning. Away from our guest house by 7:30 as planned. Gained 950 metres today. Now at 3430 metres and above the tree line. We’re in Langtang village – the new one. The previous village was completely destroyed by a massive landslide triggered by the 2015 earthquakes. Where the village was, is now a rubble field, the grey scar on the mountain above is about half a kilometre wide and runs to the top of the high ridge. Of the village there is no sign. The trail snakes across the desolation while the odd falling rock echoes across the valley. The new village is springing up further along the valley, the steep slope raising at its perifery, seems solid and is scrub covered.

Today’s trek started in deep shade, it remained chilly until the sun finally climbed above the high ridge towering over us. A river, milky green with glacial silt, tumbled over boulders the size of buses. The water’s roar, bird song and the ring of mule bells provided lovely music, except when the odd trekker coming the other way had their tunes blaring. Weird.

The trail either climbed in breath taking series of steep steps, or across alarming scree fields, or wandered through forest, then open scrub land. We saw several yaks and naks (female yaks) and babies…. oh so cute! We also saw two enormous wild boar. Thankfully at a distance.

Michel dug deep to deal with the altitude but is enjoying the experience. Our wash basins have come in handy. An inch of hot water goes a long way to refresh weary bodies. We have laundry drying in the wind and sun on the guest house washing line. We’re sitting in a sunny warm window enjoying tea.

Life is good. I’m where I love to be – high and surrounded by white snowy peaks. There’s actually a bit of snow right outside the door.

Good night from new Lang Tang village.

26 March – a good hard start to our trek

Trekked from Syaphrubesi to Lama Hotel – an over all elevation gain of 977 metres. Seven and a half hot sweaty hours. We are now at 2480 metres.

Last night we heard thunder and pounding rain and the sky lit up with lightning but our walk was under dry skies. We were in our room less than five minutes before the heavens opened and another deluge began. Lucky us.

Our trek today took us over a few suspension bridges. One of them was quite badly damaged by a recent land slide. It was a sketchy crossing. Much of the trail was steep, many steps to climb. We crossed several scree slopes. There were a few stretches along the tops of steep cliffs with the river raging below.

We passed a small memorial in honour of seven Israeli trekkers who died during the 2015 earth quake. Also by the sad broken remains of a couple of homes destroyed by the earth quake.

Michel and I took several pictures of marijuana growing in wild profusion along the path. It had self seeded everywhere.

It was a good hard walk to start our trek. Michel found the elevation gain hard on his body as he’s not been higher than 400 metres for several years. Good thing he’s fit – that compensates.

We are gaining elevation pretty fast on this trek. I’m tired. We’re looking forward to dinner then an early night.

25 March – Nepali Short cut on a new road

What a bouncy day.

We are now in Syaphrubesi after eight and a half hours. The distance travelled was 148 kms. I know, hard to believe but it’s true. We had a traffic jam to contend with on the way down from Kathmandu on the main (only) westward road. Then we turned north onto a new road – the main link with China. So in Canada when we think of a new road, most of us think of a newly paved, wide, smooth, well engineered road. In Nepal, a new road also means a road under construction while traffic meanders between workers with shovels and machinery. It’s all random, chaotic, bouncy, jerky, dusty…. Our driver leapt the 4×4 from sand pile, to pot hole to rocky outcrop…

Exhausting.

When we entered the Langtang park boundary we went through three check points. One was the park, one was the army the other was the police. At one we had to unload the vehicle and bring our packs in for inspection. They were opened and searched for illegal drones. Yup drones. Not allowed.

The huge rodeo trees are blooming, sprinkling the hillsides with red. Cherry tress are all in blossom. Banana trees are laden with fruit. Goats frolicking all over the road add to the driving challenges.

Michel likens the driving habits here to a well choreographed ballet. I agree. The drivers are extremely skilled and there appear to be no normal rules.

Our Sunrise Guesthouse is new and very nice. Our room has an ensuite with flushing toilet and water coming from the taps, there are electrical outlets, overheard lights. It’s clean and quite spacious. There is Wifi…. so here comes the blog.

Cheers, Michel and I are enjoying a beer while we await dinner.

Kathmandu 23/24 Mar

We arrived in Kathmandu last night on a slightly late, half empty, flight from Hong Kong. Usual random acts of confusion at the airport. At immigration, there were no landing forms. I finally found two that had been partially completed and discarded by other people. We filled those in. Then at the desk, the immigration official wanted me to show him my boarding pass to prove I had arrived on the flight I said I had arrived on. So how else would I have found myself in the immigration line at the airport I wonder? I told him that I’d left it on the plane and gave him my very best 😃. Then he decided our visas should have been stamped before we left Canada. None of my previous visas have been stamped, but this guy seemed to think a stamp would be a nice idea. He even went to far as to suggest the design. Eventually he let us through after he got tired of us just smiling at him.

Due to less people on the flight, it was not as chaotic as usual in the baggage hall. Our checked bag arrived quite quickly – always a relief. Binod and Tendi were outside to meet us. Always wonderful to see my Nepali brother. With Khatas draped around our necks we wandered around in the dark for some time looking for our vehicle, then away to the hotel. Soon Michel and I were enjoying a cold beer then into bed shortly after midnight.

This morning we visited Arun, my money exchange friend. A cup of masala tea before the business transaction. We of course received 2 cents per dollar better than the posted rate. Michel did his down gear shopping – for an outstanding bargain. I’m now equipped with another yak blanket with which to line my sleeping bag on cold nights to come. We’re told there’s still snow in the mountains.

We bought plastic wash basins for laundry and baths while trekking. At $1.40 each I could not resist the extravagance. I’m now kibitzing with Michel as he wraps his mind around personal pack and porter pack and what goes in which. This is always a challenge for people who’ve not done porter assisted treks before.

After lunch – very spicy momos and cold beer – We went with Tendi to Boudhanath Stupa – my favourite spot in Kathmandu. We walked around the stupa, Michel found a really nice bronze Buddha statue, we met up with two of Tendi’s children – Nima and Phulu – they’re so grown up now. We went for banana lassis – delicious. Then to the temple to get ourselves and the Buddha statue blessed. Corinne, Michel has a story for you about Buddha underpinnings. It’s been a warm start to our visit to Nepal.

Will have an early night -to chase away lingering jet lag. Tomorrow breakfast will be at 6:30. We aim to be away by 7. We face a seven to eight hour drive. Jim and Claire you’ll be pleased to know, we’ll be in a brand new 4×4 with functional seatbelts.

Good night from dusty, noisy, hazy Kathmandu. (I know Trevor – that was three adjectives.)

Midnight at YVR

Greetings dear blog followers.

Another journey begins. Today I drove my car down to Sidney, took the ferry, a bus and the sky train – and here we sit at gate D65. Boarding will commence in a little less than two hours. This part of traveling is the hardest.

For those of you who don’t know – I’m off to Nepal. No surprise really. This trip will be mostly spent trekking in the Langtang region. The area was very badly damaged during the earthquakes. I was last there in 2013 so am expecting to see significant changes.

Stay tuned.

Good night from YVR.