Tout le Gang
|November 21, 1999 Kathmandu
Well, here goes the first episode of our trip. This note will be rather long as a lot has happened in the last nearly 3 weeks. It has been a great visit to Nepal and we are both well.
The trip was long but uneventful. We spent 27 hours travelling to Bangkok, then stayed overnight at the Bangkok airport. Met up with Derek Anderson & Josie Hales, Mike & Karyn Rochford, in the airport & flew to Kathmandu. We had great views of the Himalayas, including Everest, poking up through the clouds, then flew through the green hills surrounding the Kathmandu valley. We were met by Gord Konantz from Everest Trekking at the airport & transferred to the Kathmandu Guest House. Gord had returned from a trek to Bhutan that had started out in pouring rain and then had to turn around because of snow covered mountain passes. Nevertheless, everyone had a great time & returned safely. He told us the monsoons had lasted longer than usual, causing his problems but that the weather has been great ever since & we were coming at just the right time. In the afternoon we got re-acquainted with Kathmandu, dodging many vehicles, none of which use pollution control devices, people & cows. Even so, the city is relatively easy to get around & is not, according to Josie, half as bad as Bangkok.
The 2 other couples, Pam Bendall & Brian Haley from Vancouver & Ian MacLean & Pat Smith from Saint John arrived that night from Hong Kong. We were all up bright & early the next day to board mini vans for an overnight in the mountain resort of Nagarkot. We stopped en route for a visit to the ancient town of Baktapur. The town is mostly Hindu & still observes the caste system. The highest castes live in the center of town & progresses from there. Each caste specializes in a trade, & they are known for intricate wood carving of windows & doorways, copper pots and wool dying. We hired a young local guide for the sum of 150 Rupeas (3 CAD) & he stayed with us for 2 hours. Got back in the minibuses, stopping at a small restaurant on a hilltop at Nagarkot for a Nepali lunch, then walked a short distance uphill to the Fort hotel. We all followed Ray over mountain cow paths in the afternoon to explore the area & enjoy the clean air after the noise & pollution of Kathmandu. The next morning we all got an early wakeup call to get up at dawn to view the sun come over the mountains from the roof of the Hotel. This is a deservedly popular event as the Annapurna, Langtang, Manaslu & Everest ranges can be seen bathed in a golden, pink light. Even sitting & standing on an unprotected narrow rooftop was worthwhile. Came own for breakfast & a walk over to another ridge. Visited another hotel, the Farmhouse, which has new luxury units, a small chorten (a Buddhist prayer site) & a meditation room overlooking the valley. Derek immediately made plans to stay there & get over jet lag instead of Bangkok, where he & Josie spent a few nights this trip. \par \par Returned to Kathmandu after lunch, packed our green bags & had our weigh in in the hotel garden. We are allowed 15 K or 35 lbs, including our sleeping bags, thermarest mattresses & school supplies we all brought to give out on the trail. We all passed. Met up with 3 other groups returning from their treks. Another Bhutan group also had problems with snow & the trek to Gokyo Ri, which we did 4 years ago, made it, but climbed the Ri in snow. Once again, all trips were highly successful & everyone was full of talk about their experiences.
We left the next morning Nov 5 in minivans for our 9 day trek. Took the main highway to India, a 2 lane road that twists & turns over a mountain pass. The trucks & busses are all gaily painted & decorated by their owners & look to be at least 20 years old. Several had the slogan 'Blow horn please' on the rear, with good reason, as that is the only way you know another vehicle is approaching around some of the curves. Along with the motorized traffic, there are still bicycles, cattle, goat herds & people sharing the roadway. All of this overlooking a river far below us. We made it to our lunch stop in a market town. We were all glad a box lunch had been provided, as the local sanitation was more than suspect. We shared the garden patio lunch spot with locals, dogs and a small buddhist monastery complete with monks observing noontime prayers. After lunch, we turned off the main road and started climbing to the town of Gorkha, another colourful market town built on the side of a mountain. Finally we all piled out & met our guides & porters, put on our hiking boots & climber stairs for about an hour to visit the fortress palace protecting the valley. This was the home of a Shah hundreds of years ago who at one time ruled most of Nepal & is an ancestor of the current King. The palace covered in wood carvings on the roof trusses, many of which depicted pornograhic scenes. The palace temple courtyard had been the site of goat sacrifices just the previous week for one of the many Hindu festivals.
Our camp site that night was only 10 minutes away and the porters had already set up the tents & the cook staff had warm orange juice ready for us. We were glad of the juice as the temperature was summer warm & we were hot from the climb. This was the kind of daytime weather we ended up experiencing the rest of the trip, so everyone wore sun hats, shorts & t-shirts during the day & applied lots of sun block. Each of our camp sites had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The Anapurna, Langtang and Manaslu ranges were always clearly visible in the morning and then gradually covered up in clouds in the afternoon, although the area we hiked in remained clear. We started a ritual of watching the sun go down in the late afternoon, but wearing our warm clothing, as the temperature dropped quickly without the sun's warmth. After our supper at 6 PM, we managed to stay awake long enough to play some cribbage & bugger bridge (some people call it 'O Shit'). A late night for us was 9 PM. Thank goodness the sleeping bags and tents always kept us toasty warm so we all slept comfortably. We were wakened at 6 AM in the morning by the staff bringing tea. Then we packed our bags, and when the washing water was delivered, had a sponge bath in the tent. This works surprisingly well. Breakfast was porridge, eggs, toast or pancakes, tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Enough to sustain us for our morning walk that started before 8 AM. We hiked every day up and down beautiful hills covered with terraced farms with crops of rice or millet. There was lots of activity as the rice harvest was going on using only hand labour & ancient methods. Every small hamlet we passed through brought out the children to wish us 'Namaste' which we answer with our hands held together in a good luck prayer. We never saw any other trekkers the whole time as this is not a popular route. This was great for us as the villages were all friendly without being pesky, begging for pens or bonbons. Usually we hiked 3 hours or more in the morning, stopping for 1.5 hours for a hot lunch cooked by the kitchen staff. We had a tarpaulin spread on the grass and started with hot orange or lemon. We always had a good lunch of pita type bread, sometimes canned tuna or pilchers or salami, vegetables & fruit for dessert. It was amazing how hungry we all were. After lunch we walked for 2 more hours on average, often stopping to take pictures and let the porters or cook staff pass us. These small men carry an amazing load. The porters carrying our green bags each had 2, plus our tent and there own pack or bedroll, approx (50 K) 100 - 110 lbs all tied together and supported by a headband. This only wearing flip flops on their feet.
Our gang soon discovered that beer could be purchased in the small towns, so pre-dinner cocktails were held in Haley's bar, to honour the instigator, Brian Haley, with our chairs set up in a semi circle positioned to watch the sunset. A typical dinner was either a traditional Nepali Dhal Bhat (rice & lentils), cooked vegetables, flat breads & dessert, or a tuna pizza, or a great spaghetti dinner. We even had pie a few nights, once apple & once banana. We called the cook in several times to congratulate him on our meals. We camped the 2nd night next to the Durandi Khola (river) which was warm enough the wash our clothes and ourselves as long as you made sure you did not get into the very strong current. Unfortunately, I got sick overnight. Must have caught a bug despite careful washing of hands before each meal and drinking only specially boiled water & food from our staff. Not fun while camping to have diahhrea & throw up your dinner, but I was recovered sufficiently to continue the trek in the morning. Because the trail was uphill from the river, one of our Sherpa guides carried my day pack along with his own pack. They were always willing to provide that service & several of us took advantage of it when knees or joints were sore. We all agreed that the staff took excellent care of us, enabling us to thoroughly enjoy the trek, despite some minor colds.
At our lunch stop at a local school, there was an old man smoking hashish. Ian wanted a walking stick & the man carved him one from a tree branch & presented it to him. This became Ian's favourite souvenir. On the way up the mountain we passed the first of a few local stills making Rakshi, a local drink made from millet & corn that must be pure alcohol. Did not look tempting.
That night we camped in a school yard. It was the start of the Diwali festival, a major Hindu festival when everyone returns to their home & the schools are closed for a week. There are 5 nights of ceremonies & dancing as well. Many of the villagers appeared to watch us set up our tents & several come to practice their english. We visited with a young man who was a teacher in a neighbouring school. He offered to provide us with traditional musical entertainment after supper so we agreed. We also gave him a lot of our school supplies to be divided between the schools. We also signed their guest book, the first group to do so in 1999, and made a small donation to their community. This was repeated in a few other villages, There is no social security system in Nepal & the sanitation is very primitive. Some of the communities are attempting to improve & we acknowledge this by making small donations to their cause. That night was the first of about 4 dances we watched. This group was quite amateurish, but had a drum, bell cymbals & a flute. The group was only boys & men, no women & some of them were quite talented. Each group is given a donation of some money (max 500 R) which is presented on a platter with a candle & flowers. Some of the groups, including the first, presented us with garlands of marigolds for good luck.
We stayed 2 nights at one spot near a medium sized village, arriving at lunch time. Some of us took the afternnon off, while others went for a walk down to another town. They visited another Rakshi still & Ray brought some back in his small water bottle. He tried a sip & so did some others, but no one could stand it, so Ray gave it to Rinji, our Sirdar (head guide) to give to whomever wanted it. We discovered their local washing spot, which was located in a wooded grotto with a pipe bringing water into a concrete U shaped wash area. We all brought our clothes & washed them & ourselves, sharing the facilities with local women gathering water in jugs & washing clothes. The locals also danced for us after supper. This group was mostly young girls, who were all shy but quite graceful. They had no instruments, but all sang along. I am told these folk dances are very popular with the young people. The second night we were there, we could hear the sound of the villagers singing & dancing all night long. It turns out this was the height of the festival & a few of our porters joined them. In fact 2 partied so long they could not work in the morning, so they were sent home & the other porters had to carry even greater loads.
Our next campsite was in a valley where the sun disappeared even earlier than usual & the temperature was the coldest yet. Once again we were entertained by the locals, so we kept warm by using our water bottles, which are filled with boiled water after each supper, as hot water bottles, both while watching the dancing & later in our sleeping bags. This group got us all up dancing which was a good laugh, both for them & us. They also gave us marigold garlands, which we attached to our day packs.
On the trail that day we passed a giant wooden ferris wheel, that some of the local children were playing on. All of us & some of our guides took turns as well. There were 4 seats and was turned by 2 boys standing on wooden side supports pushing the wheel around. It was lots of fun, even if it was somewhat rickety. That night we camped in another school yard. This time all the children in the area were there playing with a soccer ball and having a spirited & noisy card game. These kids were just like their parents, as they were playing for money. Gambling is a national sport. The kids were finally shooed away, which was good as Pat came down with a severe case of indigestion, resulting in her vomiting most of the night. Ian, her parter was extremely solicitous and the guides were there to help all night. Thank goodness, after loading up on immodium & rehydration medications, Pat was recovered enough to trek out the next morning & did not have another recurrence.
The next morning we passed a giant swing which is built for the Diwali festival. It is constructed of 4 20 ft long bamboo poles tied to gether at the top and is usually situated right over the main path. The swing is a rope of home made of twisted vines, sort of like sisal, with a twig seat. I tried it out & broke the seat but got a small ride. The sherpa guides all decided to take a break & go for a ride, going high upinto the air. I guess we are all kids at heart.
The last walk was 3 hours down the hills & through a valley where we watched entire families out harvesting their crops. We stopped to take a photo of one group using a team of 6 cows tied together in a line around a pole, like the ice capades crack the whip. The cows circled the pole beating down the rice stalks the eventually become a circular hay stack used for cattle feed. Others were beating the rice stalks manually to remove the grain. The head of the family came over to us as we rested and introduced himself & asked if we could send him a copy. We had him write his name & address & will try to do so.
It was warmer than ever when we reached our final campsite on a cliff over looking a river so we all put on bathing suits, with shorts over, and went down to the river to bathe & wash more clothes. The water was very cold & the current was swift, but we managed to get everything more or less clean. That afternoon we had the presentation ceremony for our staff. We gave each person a tip roughly equivalent to their entire wages as well as some used clothing, pens & a Canada pin. The clothes are divided into roughly equal piles, each numbered with chalk & then numbers are drawn by each person. Of course, there is furious trading of the clothes afterwards. The next morning we crossed a suspension bridge to the town & the main road on the other side where a bus was waiting to take us to our next stop, the Chitwan jungle.
Next to Episode2: Chitwan Jungle and Back to Kathmandu
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