A Travellerspoint blog

Uphill takes longer

Last few hours in Chitwan and the journey to Kathmandu

sunny 30 °C

It was our last morning in Chitwan, we were due to leave for Kathmandu at 10 am. This allowed us a couple of hours to wander into the local village and take a few pictures. The houses were ramshackle affairs most made of mud, rushes and bamboo but the people were incredibly friendly coming out to wish us a smiling ‘Namaste’ as we passed. The children were especially inquisitive, asking us “what your name” and “where from?” Some walked up the road with us and at one point we had quite a posse.

Ten o’clock came to soon and we piled into the car to bring us back to Kathmandu, at first our progress was good but then we ground to a halt. The problem going back to Kathmandu is that it is over 1000m higher than Chitwan this means a lot of slow moving heavy laden lorries that are liable to breakdown with the strain. We probably only saw a dozen broken down lorries but this was enough to cause several standstills as we inched our way toward the city. We also had our own mini emergency when one of our tyres developed a puncture, but witnessing the speed with which our driver changed it, he obviously had had a lot of experience on these uneven roads. We finally made it back (six and a half hours after setting off) tired, weary and a bit dry in the mouth from all the fumes.

An early evening light meal at the Himalayan Java Coffee House and we were ready for bed, we’ve got an even early start than normal, we are coming home.

Posted by DJBen 10.04.2012 08:39 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Shake rattle and roll

Chitwan – Day 2

sunny 30 °C

A misty humid early morning saw us on the banks of the local river overlooking a rather narrow dugout canoe. With some encouragement from our guide we gingerly stepped onto the craft and sat down on the removable wooden stools provided. There was no time to change our minds as we were quickly cast off and out into the rapid current (the waters having been boosted by the previous evening’s torrential rain). At first there wasn’t much to see, it was more a question of getting used to the craft. Our steersman at the back obviously knew the river well as he guided us through the faster glides quite effortlessly. After a while the banks had more vegetation and we started to see birds of all shapes and sizes. Kingfishers, bee catchers, herons, egrets, storks and even a noisy peacock poked his head up to watch us drift by. My favourite however had to be the osprey sitting calmly on a branch over the river flow surveying his domain.
Time past extremely quickly and the next thing we knew we were tying up on the jungle bank where a path came down to meet the water. It had seemed like 20 minutes in the boat but in reality it was more like an hour and a half. The birdlife was fantastic but I was still a little disappointed we hadn’t seen any crocodiles.

OK on to the next activity, the jungle walk. We started slowly along the river bank following our guide and not really knowing what to expect. Chitwan is a mix of environments, some quite dense jungle with a lot of open scrubland and even open plains. Our guide told us to freeze and pointed at an area of vegetation in the river where a ‘mugger’ crocodile was lying in wait for its next victim. We saw several more crocodiles in the next hour including the weird looking ‘Gharial’ which only eats fish.
We were hoping to see the endangered one horned rhino which are native to the park but despite our best efforts for the next couple of hours we only saw a few dear, lots of weird looking insects and a lot of rhino droppings!

Maybe on the Elephant safari?

The omens didn’t look good, we hopped on a mini bus that took us to Elephant Safari ‘grand central’. There were elephants and tourists everywhere, hardly what you would call an intimate experience. It was like a ride at Disneyland with an elephant coming along 4 people going up some steps, getting in the square box on top and starting off, then the next, then the next and so on. We dutifully got on to our elephant (we didn’t find out his name) and followed on the procession. If you haven’t been on an elephant before it’s a bit of an experience. When the front leg comes up you are thrown backwards and then when it comes down you are thrown forwards, so for the first ten minutes it was a case of holding on for grim life until we got used to the motion. We crossed a river, went through a wooded area on a well-worn track and then crossed the river again, all in line astern of the elephant in front. Eventually we came a wide clearing where there was a troop of monkeys sitting on the grass watching the elephants parade past as though the experience was exclusively for them and not us. At the other side of the clearing the trees were thicker and one by one the elephants disappeared into different parts of the undergrowth. From an elephant processions it suddenly changed, we could see glimpses of other elephants but now the movement was much more individual as the ‘Mahouts’ tried to seek out any wildlife in the area. Communication was by mobile telephone and it was clear when there was something close by as the Mahouts shouted to each other to relay any messages on. We were initially rewarded with a whole series of deer which seemed totally unafraid of these masses of elephants converging on them. The shouts between Mahoots got more and more urgent and we emerged by a water hole with two rhinos seemingly oblivious to the commotion having a peaceful bath in the midst of the turmoil.

This is what we had hoped to see and we were amazed how the rhinos could be so unfazed when surrounded by elephants with noisy humans on their backs. Further on we saw a mother and calf grazing contently while we took picture after picture. Another half an hour a few more deer and we were back to where we started. All in all what started out as a Disney ride did live up to its safari billing.

In the evening we witnessed another storm this time with thunder and lightning as I have never seen it before. It continued into the night but I was so tired that even the claps of thunder overheard didn’t prevent me from falling into a deep deep sleep.

Posted by DJBen 10.04.2012 08:20 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Fireflies and Crocodiles

Chitwan National Park – Day 1

storm 30 °C

I’ve previously commented on the driving in Nepal, mostly that there seems to be few rules of the road, or at least few that are observed. The only approach that counts is honk your horn and move into a gap before anyone else does, irrespective of whose right of way it is, or even if the gap is big enough to get into. In theory you should drive on the left as in the UK, but again if the gap is on the right hand side then that is a perfectly acceptable alternative. The next problem is the roads, some are extremely uneven with potholes you could hide an elephant in, and unfortunately these are in the majority.

It was with these facts very much in mind that we set off for our five hour drive to Chitwan National Park close to the border with India. A small ‘tourist’ car picked us up from the hotel and we were on our way. The first half hour was the usual Kathmandu chaos as we tried to escape the city’s roads. Gradually the scenery changed to steep sided gorges as we made our way down and out of the Kathmandu valley. The type of traffic changed as well with a dominance of Indian build Tata lorries bringing load on load of produce up to Kathmandu. Somewhat surprisingly we hadn’t seen any accidents in the time we had been in Kathmandu. We quickly put the record straight however and saw three in the first hour, including a bus that had rolled down a bank. The road surface was just as we had feared, it went from smooth to a farmers ploughed field and back again at regular intervals. We began to wonder whether the small tourist car was really up to the job, maybe we should have been given a 4x4 or even a tank!

Slowly the journey continued, sometimes we actually got up to 40 kmph and the time ticked on. After 4 hours and two toilet stops the steep sided river valleys gave way to a much flatter world showing that we were getting closer. Again the style of transport changed with mopeds and pedal cycles appearing from all sides. Boys on bikes, girls on bikes, whole families on bikes, even man with goats on bike. The landscape was continuing to become more rural and exactly five hours from when we set off we arrived at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge our home for the next two days.
After a quick welcome black tea we were given lunch and our itinerary for the afternoon; an ox cart ride to the local village and back. I must admit it wasn’t exactly an ultimate wild experience (apart from the heavens opening and unleashing a torrential downpour) and we were left a bit disappointed asking ourselves whether this was the standard of trips we would get. Before dinner however we were given our programme for the following day; a canoe ride, followed by a trek through the jungle, and finally an elephant safari. We decided to reserve judgement until the morrow.

After dinner we took a night walk around the pond at the back of the lodges which the guide book stated as a good place to see fireflies. We weren’t disappointed this time as we switched our head torches off and watched the dancing lights lighten up the sky. On the way back my head torch picked up a small pinpoint of reflection in the pond and we went closer to investigate thinking it was a frog of something small. On reaching the point, our torches revealed a small crocodile hiding in the shallows waiting for a tasty fish or frog to happen by. It was a good end to a slightly disappointing day, hopefully boding well for tomorrow.

Posted by DJBen 10.04.2012 04:28 Archived in Nepal Tagged chitwan Comments (0)

Hustle, Bustle and the Garden of Dreams

A shopping day in Kathmandu and a moment of peace

sunny 26 °C

After the rigours of the mountains an easier day in Kathmandu was a welcome change. Some last minute gift shopping was in order in the tourist district of Thamel a short walk from where we were staying. Saturday is a holy/rest day in Nepal so the streets were slightly quieter than we had seen before when we left the hotel on foot. Approaching Thamel we started to get various souvenir sellers approaching us good naturedly offering beads, chess sets and a variety of Buddha statues all of which we politely declined.

We had been advised that a slight detour to the ‘Garden of Dreams’ was worthwhile so we dutifully paid our 120 rupees and went inside. The Garden was created in 1920 by Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher Rana and is meant to represent the six seasons of Nepal with six pavilions, one representing each of the seasons. The gardens fell into disrepair for decades but recent work has brought half of the original area back more in keeping with its original design. The first thing you notice is the peace and quiet, one minute you are walking along a busy main road, the next you are walking in a cool quiet oasis. Fountains, ponds and quiet shaded areas are carefully laid out so you feel you have space and quiet even though there are a lot of people about. We stayed about an hour enjoying a coffee at the café, soaking up the warm sun and preparing ourselves for the shopping onslaught to come.

Thamel is a series of narrow streets where most of the shops are aimed at tourists. Tee shirts, woollen hats, caps, carved wood, jewellery and trekking gear (some of it genuine) are the order of the day. There are also some good cafes and restaurants although you have to be careful and it is worth getting a recommendation from a local guide or guidebook. Lunch was at the Himalayan Java Café for a Panini and coffee, which was a luxurious contrast from our mountain lodge diet.

Shopping is cheap and bartering is part of the fun, I think I’ve got all the gifts I need though I do worry about sizing when it’s a bit too far to take back and change. Laid down with bags we decided to get a bicycle rickshaw back to the hotel, which was great fun even though there were moments of blind panic. The rickshaw rider truly do earn their money not just in the effort they have to put in but also the risks to life and limb darting through the maddening traffic.

Posted by DJBen 07.04.2012 05:27 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Lucky in Lukla?

Would the airport be open?

sunny 28 °C

I woke this morning at 6 am to the sound of an aeroplane in the distance. The rain had stopped and as I peeked out of the window I could see it make its final approach and land safely on the sloping runway of Lukla. We had three hours until our scheduled departure, but at least the first flights of the day were being completed successfully. Over the next half an hour a steady stream of light aircraft landed, reloaded and departed again in rapid speed. Slightly worrying however where the clouds that were appearing over the tops of the mountains and moving down into the valley. This had been a pattern over recent days making it impossible to land by sight. Two hours to go and the clouds were getting thicker, as we were eating our breakfast everyone kept glancing over their shoulder to imagining that the visibility was getting that little bit less. Comfortingly the planes kept coming in and out and eventually when we got the call to go it looked like we were going to be OK.

In ten minutes we were at the airport through security and waiting in the departure lounge (small room). A plane came in and we were ushered onto the tarmac even before the inbound passengers had stared disembarking. A quick sweet for take-off and we were on our way hurtling down the sloping runway and off to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. We had forgotten what heat was like as we were still wearing our mountain gear with fleeces and down jackets, which were quickly discarded. Transfer was nearly as quick as Lukla and in no time at all we were on our mini bus to the Royal Singhi Hotel.

After the compulsory form filling everyone rushed to their rooms for the first real hot shower in three weeks. A change into clean clothes and a chicken salad sandwich later and we were ready to brave a bit more of what Kathmandu had to offer. The afternoon destination was Durbar Square, a complex of temples and shrines in the centre of the city. Until the early 20th Century the palace in the centre of the square was the King’s residence and we visited a museum displaying aspects and artefacts of the royal household.

In the evening we descended on ‘Rumdoodles’ a famous restaurant noted for the Yeti feet festooned around the walls and ceiling. Each table is provided with a cardboard Yeti foot to decorate and once completed they are displayed (if a space can be found) for future diners. Smaller individual Yeti feet are provided to each diner at the end of the meal. We designed our own High Passes of Everest foot which now hangs proudly near the entrance door. The artwork is possibly as good as one or two of the others but at least we have made our mark and one or two may take an interest.

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 09:28 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Nepali Flat

Monjo to Lukla and worrying omens

all seasons in one day 15 °C

I’m still feeling tired from my ‘tummy’ problems, so wasn’t looking forward to the 6 hour walk to Lukla today. On paper it was a fairly flat walk but having already done it in reverse we had learnt that Nepali ‘flat’ is anything but. Anyway the sun shone and we had loads of time so a gentle amble following the valley of the Dudh Koshi river wasn’t too taxing. Magnolia and Rhododendron were starting to blossom making the scenery quite different to that we saw only three weeks before when we started our trek. What was even in more marked contrast was the amount of trekkers coming the other way. At first we thought that many were taking advantage of the Easter holidays to come trekking and whilst this was the case to some extent the main reason was more worrying.

Lukla airstrip had been closed for two days and had only just reopened meaning a large backlog of trekkers was now rushing up the valley trying to make up for lost time. Furthermore the forecast for the next few days wasn’t great so there was a danger we may be stuck in Lukla. Just to more of a negative omen the sky let rip after lunch with a prolonged downpour which occasional turned to hail. We could hear thunder in the distance as we gloomily trudged along.

By the time we got to the North Face Lodge in Lukla we were soaking so we quickly changed into dry clothes and sought solace in the highest Starbucks in the world. If you are imagining Venti Caramel Latte think again. All the milk was powdered so it wasn’t exactly the same taste you would expect from your local coffee should. But it was warm and the chairs were comfortable so we settled in for a few hours.

After dinner we said goodbye to our porters and mountain guides, donating old clothes and equipment that we weren’t going to take home with us. They had been so much support over the last three weeks that it was sad it see them go, we were told they had a couple more nights in Lukla before their services would be required by another party this time doing the Everest Base Camp Trek.

During the night the rain seemed to get heavier and the thunder louder, would Lukla Airport be open in the morning?

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 08:50 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Tummy Troubles

Lungden to Monjo and a dodgy cup of black tea

all seasons in one day 14 °C

Today was our first day which was supposedly all down hill, (1000m in all) it would be a very long walk but the object was to get back to Namche Bazaar and do a bit of souvenir shopping. After weeks in the mountains Namche represented bustling civilisation and we were all looking forward to a hot shower and a bit more comfort.

The path was good and we made progress quickly arriving at Thame within a couple of hours. We stopped for hot drinks and I chose a black tea which in a few hours I would be regretting. There has been a lot of erosion in the Thame Valley in recent years and the path has had to adapt to the new landscape. This resulted in detours up sand banks and paths close to the edge of precipitous landslides until we gradually made our way down to the bridge that would carry us across to the other side of the valley. A stiff climb brought us to the village of Thamo for lunch and then it started raining. The rain persisted all afternoon as we trudged wearily to Namche arriving relieved but cold and wet at the Khumbu lodge. By that time I started feeling unwell and I couldn’t face the evening meal. I suppose I had done well to avoid any illness until now but an early night with liberal doses of Imodium and Deorylite was in order.

The following day I didn’t feel a great deal better but luckily we only had an afternoon three hour walk from Namche to Monjo. The morning was spent dozing trying to get my strength back up whilst the rest of the group went shopping. After lunch we started off Sallis heroically carried my pack as well as his own to make the trip as easy as possible for me. It was a bit of a struggle but we made it to Monjo and I retired to bed as soon as possible. By the evening I was feeling delicate but slightly better and managed to keep down a bowl of soup. A good night’s sleep aided the recovery and by the following morning I was more ready to face another long trekking day. Out of the seven people in our party four have so far had some sort of illness so I guess with the law of averages it was due to be my time.

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 04:50 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Snow Leopard Country

The Third Pass - Renjo La from Gokyo to Lungden

overcast 8 °C

I can honestly say I’m not sorry to leave Gokyo, the lodge wasn’t the best by any measure and the prospect of lower altitudes and slightly warmer nights is very attractive. Our destination today is the small summer settlement of Lungden which until recently had just been used for Yak farming.

In our way stands the third and last of our ‘High Passes’ – Renjo La. It will be good to get this last hurdle out of the way and then everything will in theory be downhill, although that is never exactly the case in Nepal.

Another early start sees us climbing past the frozen Gokyo Lake with a gradual gradient that was welcome given the exertions of previous days. This brief rest bite was not to last however as a rock face loomed ahead of us and Sallis pointed out our way ahead which seemed a long long way up. Snow had fallen in the preceding days and much of the path was covered. Only a few tracks were visible demonstrating how quiet this area is in comparison with some of the more well-worn Everest trails. Two hours of climbing brought us to the last few switchbacks and the final steps to the top.

The other side of the pass is famous for being Snow Leopard country and with great anticipation we peered down to the rocky landscape below. In reality Snow Leopards are about as rare as Yetis, even Sallis has only seen one in all the trips he has completed. Even though we kept our eyes peeled all the way down we didn’t see anything that remotely looked like a cat of any proportion.
The change in landscape however was quite dramatic, from a rocky and barren Gokyo, this side was more grassy but with occasional flat expanses of sand. We were joking that all we needed was a deckchair and we could imagine we were on Blackpool beach. It was a very long walk down but with a gentle gradient that was more kind to the ankles than some of the bone crunching descents of recent days.

Lungden appeared in the distance three lodges and a handful of Yak farmer’s homesteads, although it appeared extremely remote it represented our first step back to civilisation. The lodge was basic but comfortable with a Gok Wan lookalike running the establishment. No one else had come over Renjo pass that day although there was a few in Lungden who were going to attempt early the following morning. They were full of questions and like seasoned veterans we gave them our cumulative knowledge of the last three weeks and emphasising the tough bits.

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 04:48 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

The best high?

Climbing Gokyo Ri

sunny 16 °C

Gokyo settlement sits in the shadow of a small mountain called Gokyo Ri standing at 5357m above sea level. Out target today would be to climb it for what we were told would be stunning views of Everest and the surrounding mountains. By this time however you become a bit blasé about mountain views with even one or two of a group suggesting the couldn’t be bothered. However we all got up dutifully at 6 am had a quick breakfast and were out on our way up the 567m climb to the top.

The clouds of the previous day had departed and the sun shone on us as we gradually made height. It was a tough tough climb as we toiled up the rocky slopes. After two hours the summit cairns and prayer flags came into site and we had made it. And what of the view? It was stunning; we stayed up there for about an hour, resting in the sun, taking pictures and just enjoying experiencing this glory of creation. Everyone felt brighter, not just because we had made it, but because it was such a privilege to experience the wonder of the scenery. The return journey only took about 45 minutes and we still had a couple of hours before lunch.

After the walk of the previous day four of us decided to explore the lower lakes of the Gokyo valley. Lake two was still frozen but lake one was now clear of ice and the clear waters snowmelt waters were glistening in the sunshine. It was a time to relax and explore the many cairns built by pilgrims and trekkers to this lonely valley.

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 04:47 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Sacred Lakes

On to the beautiful but basic Gokyo

all seasons in one day 12 °C

Today was a relatively easy day, a quick three hour walk across the Ngozumba Galcier and on to the lakeside settlement of Gokyo. Gokyo sits on the third of a series of lakes sacred to Hindus. The Lake itself was still frozen after the winter but migrating ducks were already arriving for when the waters would start to thaw. Our lodge was probably the most basic we have had to date and the sanitation was not for the faint hearted.

Lodges do vary quite considerably, some are stone built others two skins of plywood with a bit of insulation in between. There is a main room which is used for dining, reading, playing cards etc. In the centre of the room is a stove which is usually lighted at dusk. Many porters heard around the stove to get as much of the heat as possible. The bedrooms are plywood boxes, most commonly with twin beds. You can hear virtually everything from the next room and from any corridor. This is especially annoying if you have an easy day i.e. a lie in and another group is getting up early to do one of the more arduous treks. Toilets can be inside, outside, western or squat and there is a bucket of water for flushing after use. The biggest challenge is getting in to bed or getting dressed in the morning in as little time as possible so you don’t freeze to death.

Gokyo lodge scored low on several factors, the sanitation as mentioned earlier, the rooms were probably the coldest of the whole trek, and the common room wasn’t particularly warm even in the middle of the day.

Some of us decided to go for a walk up to the fourth Gokyo lake to warm up a bit. It only took an hour or so but the landscape in that time changed quite dramatically. Clouds were moving in and snow was in the air making the jagged peaks look like something from Lord of the Rings. We wouldn’t have been surprised if a couple of Dwarfs or Goblins had walked past us in this fantasy landscape.

After returning it was a case of putting as many layers as possible on to prepare for a cold night. A quick supper, a quick game of cards and we were all tucked up in our sleeping bags by 9 pm.

Posted by DJBen 06.04.2012 04:45 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Glaciers and Glens

Cho La Pass from Dzonglha to Dragnag

all seasons in one day 10 °C

The weather so far has been reasonably consistent. Overnight it goes down to as low as -20 degrees making transfer in and out of warm sleeping bags a task that needs to be carried out with the utmost speed and efficiency. The mornings always start with bright sun, which quickly chases away the sub-zero temperatures of the night. Above 4800m we have all been wearing two layers, below this altitude it is possible to get away with a tee shirt in the bright sunlight. The afternoons are more of a mixed bag, on most days clouds come up the valleys obscuring the highest peaks, on a couple of occasions this has brought light snow showers, but this is usually after we are safely ensconced in our lodge for the night.
The day for our second pass started out in the normal pattern as above. The sun rose above the mountains quickly chasing away the cold of the night. We started out from Dzonglha and headed up the valley climbing steadily but with a gentle gradient. Just before the pass a rock wall confronted us and it was time to get some hands on rock. It was hot and slow work, the path (if you can call it that) was narrow so there was a lot of waiting while other groups and porters came down from the pass above. Finally after a last steep section we got to the top of the climb and a stunning glacier stretched out in front of us. Time to put on our ‘Yak Tracks’ and then we started out across the icy wastes. You could feel the heat reflecting of the ice and those who hadn’t put on enough sun protection where to suffer for it later. At the end of the glacier there was a short sharp rock climb and we reached the top of the pass.

The descent from the pass was a knee and ankle crunching rock scramble until we reached what we thought was the main valley floor, as usual we were mistaken. The weather by now had done its afternoon change and the clouds were gathering overhead. We crested a slight rise and then a steep sided valley with a gurgling stream dropped away into the distance. At the bottom of that valley was our destination, Dragnag. As we got lower the clouds got greyer and started depositing a dusting of snow, if you didn’t know you were in Nepal you would think you were in a Scottish Glen. The only difference was the occasional Yak appearing out of the gloom but even these could have been mistaken for a highland cow. After an hour our lodge came into site and the second pass had been accomplished.

Posted by DJBen 03.04.2012 05:10 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Walking amongst Giants.

An easy walk to Dzonglha and the Highest International Football Match of all Time?

sunny 25 °C

I’ve probably enjoyed today as much as any on the trip, we had a relative lie in (7am) and a short’ish 3 hrs walk to our next destination Dzonglha. The scenery as always was spectacular but because we had so much time we could just soak it in so much more. We stopped frequently, sitting on grassy slopes in the sunlight with snow clad mountains towering over our heads. I could have stopped there all day taking in the wonder of it all. We arrived at Dzonglha about noon and after a relaxing lunch someone spotted a football and then there was no going back.

Six a side, Europe against Nepal in a stone walled uneven paddock. I can’t say it was the most skilled match I have ever played in but there was no doubting the commitment by both sides. For the record Europe won 4 – 1 but the group shot at the end showed the real result, big smiles on every face. Football - the international language that brings people together.

Posted by DJBen 30.03.2012 02:19 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Take me Higher

Kala Patthar

sunny 25 °C

Virtually everyone who goes to Everest Base Camp attempts to climb Kala Patthar. You can’t actually see Everest from the Base Camp as it is shielded by Nuptse and Lho La. Kala Patthar gives the closest view from the Nepal side. 6 am saw us climbing steadily up a scree covered slope. As the light increased we saw the true awesomeness of God’s creation around us. As the sun rose we were entertained with different highlights as the scene continually changes as the minutes passed. We knew it would be a slog but 2 hours should see us to summit, in the end that was just about right. I kept my head down humming tunes and reminding myself ‘Bistarai Bistarai’; I knew I would get there eventually. The last 100 metres was extremely difficult involving a tough scramble across large boulders and there was the summit cairn. We had done it, Kala Patthar the highest point of our trip at 5545m.
The walk back down was relatively easy aiming for a 10 am breakfast and a final goodbye to Gorak Shep. We almost raced down the valley to Lobouche because we knew we would have a chance for a free afternoon and a rest. The elation of getting the toughest three days of our trip out of the way banished the ghosts of yesterday. We still have challenging days to come, but we know if we take it Bistarai Bistarai we can make it through.

Posted by DJBen 30.03.2012 02:17 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Top of the World – Well almost

Lobouche to Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp

We got an hour’s lie in and set off up the Khumbu valley at the relatively civilised time of 7 am. We awoke to a light covering of snow changing the dusty world into a carpet of white. Our first destination was Gorak Shep the highest settlement in the Himalayas. It’s also advertised as having the highest internet café in the world but the signal was so intermittent that had to give up doing a blog entry from there. We had chance for lunch at Gorak and then we set out for Everest Base Camp (EBC). The exact spot for EBC has changed over the years because it subject to the varying moods and movements of the Khumbu Glacier on which it sits. Gorak is 5140m while EBC is at 5364 so we had a modest 200m climb. Again nothing is simple in the Himilayas, up and down we went on quite a tough two hours of scrambling up and down rocky paths until we viewed the bright tents erected as the climbing season started to get into gear. We shared the path with hundreds of Yaks and porters carrying supplies up for the teams who will attempt to summit within the next few months. Tables, chairs, climbing ladders, cooking utensils, tons of food, we even saw a television on the way up and every Yak coming back was unladen.
Two hours into the trek with EBC a stone’s throw away we had the most difficult and dangerous section of the path to overcome. The last 400m down to the glacier surface is across a steep scree slope were rock falls are a daily occurrence. Sallis told us to move quickly, not to stop for anything and look above us being prepared to move at the slightest movement of rocks however small initially. We didn’t in fact see anything on the way down but coming back as the snow was melting we did see some rocks falling in front of us, but far enough away to be of no danger.
You are not permitted to go across to the climber’s tents, I must admit if I was a potential Everest Summiteer I wouldn’t want trekkers pestering me every minute of the day. The focus for trekkers is an area where a large rock states that you have reached Everest Base Camp and once again is covered with prayer flags and international graffiti. We spent half an hour taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere and thinking about all those who had lost their lives trying to get to the top of the world. Pouba came armed with a felt tip to record our accomplishment, as you will see from the Photo his spelling is not quite right, but it’s far far superior to my command of anything I could accomplish in Nepali.
Coming back we had to wait for half an hour as the longest train of Yaks we have yet encountered trudged past carrying more and more kit. You have to wonder how much is spent on Everest attempts and whether it is really worth the money and risk. It does clearly help to improve the economy of the local area which can be no bad thing in very poor country.
It was probably following on from the previous day but we arrived at our lodge in Gorak Shep quite wasted both physically and mentally. The freezing temperatures at night and a toilet with the most horrendous smell added to the feeling, we also knew we had a climb to our highest point of the trip on the following day – Kala Patthar. I must admit I felt quite homesick.

Posted by DJBen 30.03.2012 02:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Bistarai Bistarai Badar Samatne

The longest day – Chhukhung to Lobouche over the Kongma La Pass

sunny 18 °C

We’ve been picking up a few words of Nepali but the one that had been used as a mantra time and time again is ‘Bistarai Bistarai Badar Samatne’ which simply translated means ‘Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey’. You can’t hurry anywhere in the high mountains, it’s not possible you just get short of breath turning over in bed, or tying your shoes.
So it was with some trepidation that we faced our toughest day of the whole trek, the Kongma La Pass. Sallis reckoned it would take up to 11 hours to complete and we needed to carry plenty of water as well as a packed lunch. From Chhunkhung at 4730m we set of at 6 am in the early morning light climbing steadily, Bistarai, Bistarai. The first part of the climb had a reasonable gradient and although we were breathless we could still walk at a reasonable pace. After about 2 hours we hit the first steep section we had already been warned about. 300 m of zig zags up a rock face slowed our progress considerably by half way up we could just about manage 5 steps and then a rest. It was impossible to drink while you were walking, trying to gulp water down and walk at the same time was too much effort. With some great relief we hit the top of the slope and followed on for another mile or so of gentle gradient.
I have to put some balance on this after complaining about the effort required, the scenery was just stunning. We were the only people in this world of ice, rock and mountain it was truly sensational.
We walked on for another hour and then the top of the pass at 5535m came into site over a great ice lake. After circumnavigating the lake the path grew steep once more with some scrambley sections that required hand on rock before the top of the pass festooned in prayer flags was attained. We had the customary group photos with the group and sherpas and then looked down to see our destination for the night far below in the distance.
Lobouche didn’t seem that far away initially but distances can be really deceptive up here. We set off at a pace down the rock strewn mountain side without the small lodges seemingly getting any closer. The uneven surface started to take a toll on our feet and it was a massive relief when we eventually got to the bottom of the valley. However there was one obstacle left that we hadn’t really appreciated – The Khumbu Glacier.
The Khumbu Glacier stretches down the valley from Everest Base Camp and climbers attempting Everest from the Nepal side will almost certainly have to tackle the infamous Khumbu Icefall. Further down the glacier is not as extreme as that but if you imagine an exaggerated top of a lemon meringue pie with rocks all over it; that is what the Khumbu Glacier is like. It moves about 10 cm every day so paths across can disappear in a blink of an eye and crevasses can suddenly open up beneath your feet. Sallis went cautiously before us marking out a route, sometimes obvious, sometimes not, past ice cliffs and holes that just disappeared into unfathomable darkness. Finally after an additional agonising hour when our destination had seemed so close but unobtainable we cleared the glacier and a short 15 minute walk took us to Lobouche.
It took 8 and a half hours which was a good time and I don’t think I have been so physically exhausted before in my whole life. Everybody went to their rooms and collapsed many only appearing like grey shadows for our evening meal and then quickly retreating back to their bedrooms to get as much rest as possible for the following day which for many would be the highlight of the trek – Everest Base Camp.

Posted by DJBen 30.03.2012 01:45 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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