Nepal & Tibet - October 11 - December 8, 2005
Oct 13: Aaron wrote: It is incredible that we can do this (referring to the web site) from this distance and with what I am seeing here in Kathmandu. Nice temps here in the middle 70s as a guess and sitting outside for dinner in shorts and short sleeve shirt. Not what I expected. That will sure change as we get iinto altitude. I will be sending an update next. I don't know why but I am not able to send some of our first two days pictures on one chip but am able to download pictures from the other chip. Therefore right now I can only send 4 pictures. I'll try again to send more when I get a chance. In the meantime you can put some of the early pictures on the Kathmandu page.
To learn more about Kathmandu click here.
Nov 1: From Namche Bazaar: This will be brief as internet access is very expensive here. What can you expect at 3450 meters 8 days hiking in from the nearest road. We are also about 4 days from Everest Base Camp. All is well and we are acclimating to the altitude in good fashion. It will get even more interesting from here on out. Many stories to relay but they will have to wait until our return to Kathmandu. Thanks to everyone who sent B-day wishes to Janet as we celebrated her turning 44 here yesterday with cake and local gifts. It was very special. OK, our best to everyone. We will write more in abut 2+ weeks when we return to Kathmandu.
Nov 15: Tashi Dhele£ Good Fortune£©
Our initial plan after we got to Kathmandu was to trek the Annapurna Circuit (21 days), then do a week long tour of Tibet , and finally do a 25 day trek to Everest Base Camp. However, about 2 weeks before our arrival we got an email from the owner of the trekking agency telling us that the Chinese government had decided to stop flights from Lhasa , Tibet to Kathmandu as of the beginning of November. Consequently we needed to adjust our itinerary and do the Tibet trip first. While we were initially disappointed as we felt it would be good to have a break between the two treks, we also felt that going to Tibet first might help us acclimatize more easily. Adjusting to the altitude was a particular concern given that over the past 4 months we have been traveling much closer to sea level than we have to our elevation at home in Colorado Springs which is about 2000 meters.
We are fortunate to have our good friend Janet Rose join us for these two months on the Tibet tour and Nepal treks. Prior to arriving in Nepal she had spent the previous weeks climbing 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado . There was little doubt that she would be better acclimated than us, and this proved to be the case.
An intense 5 hour bus ride took us from Kathmandu to the Tibet border at Zhangmu. Given that the distance was only 123km (76 miles), it provides insight into the challenges the road entailed. The last 40k or so was more like a 4wd road: dirt, rocky, windy, narrow, and very slow. The valleys were incredibly steep and the hillsides beautifully lush. At the border we disembarked from Nepal and went through the bureaucracy of China without too much fanfare other than waiting. Interestingly, there was a sign at the border that said that “people with AIDS, STD's, other infectious diseases and mental health disorders are not allowed in China ”. It appeared that one of the clients in our vehicle passed through the cracks! Throughout the week he spoke constantly to himself, flailed his arms all around, and sometimes walked like a duck when we were out of the vehicle. The rest of us in the Land Cruiser seemed to appreciate the entertainment value that he provided.
We were literally handed off from our Nepali guide who did no guiding on the bus other than sitting there, to our Tibetan guide. Our organizing agency had told us that once in Tibet we would have a guide and a driver and 4-6 clients in each 4wd vehicle. The reality was one guide for 43 clients and 10 4wd vehicles. Somehow we got incredibly lucky as the guide, Lobsang, chose to be in our Land Cruiser, and our driver, Dawa, was a really good driver with a fun sense of humor. Lobsang's English was very good as he had grown up in India from age 6-19 before returning to Tibet . Both his exit and re-entry were illegal. Throughout the week we peppered him with questions and he was very open and forthright with his answers. He did say, however, that he would not respond as openly when outside of the truck. Still, when he led tours of the monasteries and other holy sites throughout the week it did not appear that he held back that much as he talked about the destruction that took place during the Cultural Revolution (1959-65). Unfortunately, for those clients who did not have him in their care he lacked the organizational skills to appropriately manage a group this large. When we heard the frustrations of other clients it made us feel even more fortunate that he was in our vehicle.
Our final destination the first night was Nyalamu at 3700 meters (12,136), a 2400 meter net elevation gain over Kathmandu 's 1300 meters (4264 ft). Unfortunately, this proved to be too much too fast for Janet as later that night she experienced typical symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness, the technical term for altitude sickness, including headaches, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and nausea. The next day she continued to have headaches and loss of appetite while we continued to climb over two high passes: La Lunga (5050m, 16,564 ft) and Gyatsola (5220m 17,121ft) The latter pass provided the highest land based elevation any of us had ever experienced while the former provided our first magnificent views of an 8,000 meter peak: Shisha Pangma 8032 meters. Hundreds of Buddhist prayer flags were strewn across the summit as was a fair amount of trash. That was sad to see. Shortly, thereafter we had our first views of Mt. Everest (8050m, 29,028 ft), Cho Oyu (8153m, 26742 ft) and Makalu (8475m, 27798 ft). FANTASTIC!! We were blessed with a crystal clear day as we viewed these peaks from an estimated distance of 120 to 150km (70-90 miles). As we crested Gyatsola Pass I too got a mild headache. Janet hung in there and things got better for both of us as we descended from the summit on the 4wd Friendship Highway . The highway is scheduled to be paved in its entirety by spring 2006, but given what we saw it will still be a while longer. The vast majority of construction was via manual labor with very basic tools. Almost no earth moving equipment was noted. Work camps were set up for the laborers who resided in large group tents where they no doubt did their own cooking, cleaning etc. when they weren't working on the road.
In contrast to the landscape of Nepal , this area of Tibet along the high plateau is exceptionally barren. Despite this, families farm this seemingly infertile land with the help of yaks, and dry the yak dung to burn for heat: a more efficient source of fuel than many softer woods. As we continued upon the unpaved portion of the Friendship Highway , with dust billowing whenever vehicles rode over it, it struck us as a very unfriendly road to bicycle. In addition, cyclists receive absolutely no respect from Tibetan drivers who use their horns constantly whenever they want to pass. Despite this we did see some organized cycling groups and one lone touring cyclist. These conditions alone would make cycling tough going, but add the fact that the road ranges from 10,000 to over 17,000 feet and you increase the cycling difficulty several fold. Our friends Scott and Isabelle cycled this in 2000. Very impressive indeed.
Much of the rest of the week as we headed toward Lhasa included tours of several monasteries, stupas, and temples. The Buddhist philosophy is very fascinating and complex. There are many components, particularly those revolving around compassion and the goal to rid oneself of anger/hatred, jealousy, and ignorance that would make this world a better place to live if we incorporated these core principles. Touring these holy sights, it was incredible to see profoundly impoverished people leave money in front of the Buddhist statues and other important sights. This money is left there and ripe for the taking, but that seemingly does not happen. Could anyone reading this envision dollar bills of all denominations laying openly throughout any church in America with absolutely no security and think that no theft would occur?? I don't think so.
The day we drove into Lhasa we drove over a “very small pass” according to our guide. It struck us as ironic that this “very small pass” was higher in elevation than Pikes Peak . The Lonely Planet book on Tibet says that Lhasa has probably changed more in the last 20 years than the hundreds of years that preceded it. It was impossible not to agree with this. More remarkable was the “Chinafication” of Tibet that is so prominent in Lhasa . While one can wish for a free Tibet , the clear reality is that it is only a matter of time before cultural genocide is completed. Chinese flags are mandated to be raised above nearly every home. Raising the Tibetan flag is grounds for a life sentence or death. Most notable in the city is the Potala. The amazing 13 story residence of the Dali Llama constructed between 1645 and 1649. Immediately across the street is a pretty park with a large monument dedicated to the Chinese army and the Cultural Revolution. In essence, a slap in the face to all the Potala represents. Significant western influence is also noted as we saw Buick and Chevy dealerships along with an Amway building, and lots of signs for Bud and Coors Light.
Our tour of the Potala was one of the week's highlights and in a sense one of the week's lowlights as well. While the history and symbolism are incredible, the sense of emptiness permeates the tour. The Dali Llama fled from here in 1959 after 1.2 million Tibetans (approximately one-fifth of the population) had been massacred. To me the most striking room was where His Holiness's throne was housed. Adorned on the fabric at the base of the throne were swastikas. This longstanding symbol in Buddhism represents “Eternity”. No doubt this was a reason the Nazis used this same symbol. For me, it is hard to see this symbol without a sense of revulsion. I found that I had to work very hard to look at it in this environment (as well as in other monasteries and temples we'd toured) and reframe this symbol to have a positive context.
In closing, here are a few more unique experiences we had:
- A monk being fascinated by the blond hair on my arms and initiating touching them.
- Women from eastern Tibet who travel to Lhasa to pray turning around and staring at Janet because of her blond hair.
- Getting a massage by young blind massage therapists. This was a program developed by a blind German woman who has education vision impaired Tibetans in Lhasa and has taught them a viable skill.
- Seeing people of all ages prostrating in front of, in, and around holy sights. 100,000 prostrations is one of the significant practices a Buddhist can do in their lifetime.
- Enjoying a variety of excellent foods that were new to us including momo, yak, and pig ears (well, the latter may not have been “excellent”!!)
- A lecture on traditional Tibetan medicine.
- Finally, the next time you have a bad day at work, think about the young waitress we met who works 8 am to 11pm seven days per week. She practices her primarily self taught English by talking with the restaurant patrons and studying when she isn't serving food.
We continue to experience immense amounts of gratitude for all we have in our lives as this journey provides ongoing opportunities to learn about the world's people and cultures.
Nov 16: Everest Base Camp Trek Report - Namaste (I salute the God in you)! Hello from Nepal, where this small country boasts the largest discrepancy in elevation of any country in the world. A low point of 60 meters in the far south to the top of the world, Mt. Everest at 8050m/29,028ft.
A 9 hour uncomfortable bus ride took us from Kathmandu to Jiri, the starting point for the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. During the ride we had our backpacks at our feet with nary enough room for our legs. Along the way we took on more people than would be legally allowed on any bus in the states, both inside as well as on the roof. I'm not sure how, but the goat ranked high enough to have an inside berth. The last six hours and 110k/68 miles were on a narrow twisty road that would give Lombard Street in San Francisco a run for its money as the crookedest street in the world. The road seemed barely wide enough for our old bus, so when another bus or truck approached from the opposite direction it proved entertaining to see how they would get passed each other. Needless to say we were quite happy once we finally arrived in Jiri and got our hotel room. In addition to our friend Janet Rose, we also now had a guide, Robi, and a porter Yam, to complete our group of five.
The route from Jiri to Namche Bazaar is no longer done by very many trekkers. Most people fly into Lukla where it is a one and a half day trek to Namche instead of the 8 days of trekking it takes from Jiri. However, the longer trek provides for excellent conditioning as well as helping somewhat with acclimatization. The first 5 days of the trek head due east, while all of the rivers in this part of Nepal flow southward from Himalayan glaciers.
Consequently, everyday incorporated steep ascents to a ridge, followed by steep descents to a river, and then again climbing out of the river valley. The total climbing for the 8 days to Namche alone is almost the same as it is from sea level to the top of Mount Everest. In addition to getting in trekking shape and acclimatization, there were several other reasons to start the trek from Jiri: experiencing the culture of the people from this region of Nepal, seeing the exceptional scenery, and enjoying the ideal weather conditions to name but a few. Only one major negative confronted us on this section of the trek, and it is significant enough to force people to skip this section in favor of flying into Lukla. Namely confrontation with the Maoist rebels.
Over the past 10 years the rebels have waged war against the government and people of Nepal in an effort to replace the constitutional Hindu monarchy with a communist republic. During that time over 10,000 people have been killed. While many areas of the country are labeled as "affected" by the insurgency, the Maoists have focused primarily on remote regions and the federal government has responded poorly to this national crisis. If there is "good news" for tourists like us it is that the Maoists, like the government, see value to tourism as the Maoists extort money from the tourists to fund their insurgency. On our 3rd day of trekking we went through the Maoist checkpoint. Given some of what we had read and heard we expected to be confronted by armed rebels. In fact we were stopped by a group of "kids" who looked no older than 14 and had no weapons on their person. A negotiation period occurred with them starting at 5000 rupees (about $70), and us ultimately agreeing on 3000 rupees. We have asked ourselves many times before coming here if our tourism dollars are part of the solution or part of the problem. While we detested giving money to the Maoists, the vast share of our tourism dollars are going directly into the hands of the Nepali people who are caught between the Maoists and the corrupt government.
The first night of our trek we met another group of 3 an Austrian, German, and Frenchman. The latter, Luc, is planning to join us for at least part of our trek in the Annapurna range. We essentially trekked together the first week and stayed at the same tea houses. It was quite notable, and no doubt a reflection of the Maoists, that we saw virtually no other westerners until our trail merged with the trail from the Lukla airstrip on day 7. Whatever teahouse in the village where we had lunch or spent the night seemed to have virtually the only business for that day. How these people make it financially is a total mystery, and the reality is they aren't. The per capita income is about $240 per year. Most kids in America working at McDonalds part time will earn that or more in a month. Staying at a teahouse lodge costs about a buck, and meals, very large meals, run about the same. After Lukla and heading north towards EBC prices double and triple.
One of the most fascinating things to observe during our first week of trekking was the almost constant stream of porters carrying almost all things imaginable. From multiple 30kg packages of rice, to snicker bars, cases of beer and soda (in glass), kerosene, roofing material, etc. Most of the porters are no more than five and a half feet tall hauling up to 100kg (220 lbs) up and down these incredibly steep and rocky trails. Unfortunately we also saw young kids, some appearing as young as 8, straining to carry very heavy loads. Almost all do so with either cheap sneakers or flip flops that are typically falling apart. We even saw one porter hauling 16 liters of kerosene, two cases of beer, and countless other thing's barefoot. And how do they haul all of these goods? They have baskets called "dokos" made out of bamboo strips with a 3 inch wide nylon strap that is placed on top of their head. No doubt this is a reason their height is stunted. There is no way hauling these kinds of loads with the brunt of the weight being on ones head can be good for ones health. All of us agree, and Janet Rose had done more extensive travel than any of us, that the Nepali people are by far the hardest working people we have ever seen.
When our trail merged with the trail from the Lukla airfield it felt like we were thrown into mass humanity. Hundreds of trekkers are flown in daily along with their guides. Up until that point we'd felt bad for our porter who was hauling two backpacks for the 3 of us weighing about 30kg (66 lbs). However, when we saw other porters carrying substantially more our guilt subsided somewhat. Our guidebook was accurate when it said that the trekkers fresh off the plane are easy to spot as they wore clean clothes and didn't smell.
We arrived in Namche Bazaar on October 31st, Halloween, on Janet's 44th birthday. Probably her only birthday celebration with no orange and black in sight. Aaron was able to make special arrangements for a chocolate cake. We shared this with our trekking group from Jiri as well as an Outward Bound colleague of Janet's and his climbing friend that we met at the lodge. The smallness of the world never ceases to amaze.
On our acclimatization day in Namche we hiked up higher and had our first views of Everest, Lhotse (8501m/27,883ft) Lhotse Shar 8393m/27,529ft, and some shorter yet more beautiful and dramatic peaks including Ama Dablam (6856m/22,788ft). It took us 3 days to get from Namche to Gokyo. The days were relatively easy but because we were now at high elevations we could only gain about 300 meters/day (1,000 ft) without increasing our risk of Acute Mountain Sickness. When we arrived at Gokyo at 4800m (15,744ft) we climbed up Gokyo Ri at 5360m (17,581ft), and view of the above listed 8000+ meter peaks as well as Makalu (8463m/27,757ft) and Cho Oyu (8153m/26,742ft). We were so fortunate to have beautifully clear skies. Two days after leaving Gokyo we attempted crossing Cho La Pass at 5420m (17,778ft). As we climbed toward the pass our guide Robi came down with symptoms of altitude sickness. We went down to the previous night's teahouse and developed a plan. Robi and our porter Yam would continue to descend and take the long route around to Lobuche. We would take the additional gear we needed and go over Cho La Pass and meet them in Lobuche 3 days later. The plan worked out well for all of us as Robi had a companion to make sure he was ok, and we got to achieve one of our goals which was to cross the pass. It turned out to be a wonderful yet challenging hike to the summit, followed by a cautious crossing of a glacier prior to descending to the valley below.
The next day we trekked to Gorak Shep (5125m/16,810ft) the last lodges before Everest Base Camp and the highest lodges in Sagarmatha (the Nepali name for Everest) National Park. Despite this 25 day trek being called "The Everest Base Camp" trek, many hikers including ourselves choose not to go there. While there would no doubt be interesting things to see in the 5 to 6 hour return trek from Gorak Shep (crashed helicopters), the primary reason for not going to EBC is that you cannot see Everest from there. In addition, EBC isn't a specific place, but rather an area adjacent to the Khumbu Ice Fall where the major climbing expeditions set up camp. This time of year there are no expedition campsites as virtually all expeditions occur in the spring.
Our focus was to go from Gorak Shep up Kala Pathar (5540m/18,171ft), the highest point any of the three of us had ever been. From the summit of this vantage point the views of Everest's southwest face were incredible. As the crow flies we were only about 16km (10 miles) from the Everest massif. What seemed much more remarkable than that however, is that from the top of Kala Pathar it is still more than two vertical miles to reach the height of Everest. Given our awareness of the lack of oxygen as we climbed up Kala Pathar, it is hard to imagine how people can climb Everest, especially without the assistance of supplemental oxygen. At 5000 meters, only half of the oxygen is available as at sea level, and at Everest's summit it is only about 30%.
We celebrated out climb up Kala Pathar and our personal elevation records over a nice dinner at the lodge. As we chatted with group of climbers/trekkers from Boulder CO, a Korean man collapsed on the floor. People rushed to his side and CPR ensued. It was a surreal environment as this man was dying before our eyes, yet food continued to be served from the kitchen (we were glad we'd finished eating). People ate and some conversations continued. Fifteen minutes later all efforts at resuscitation stopped. We were to find out the next day that this 68 year old man did virtually everything wrong. He had been feeling bad and was told to go down several times while at lower elevations by both his guide and medical students working in the region. Instead he continued going up. He took 6 hours to do a section of trail that typically takes no more than 3 (we did it in one hour 45 minutes). He was vomiting and showed other signs of Acute Mountain Sickness. In all likelihood he died of HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema. In short, it was high altitude suicide, (he had made comments to others that his goal was to see Everest and he didn't mind dying in this pursuit) and obviously drove home how serious things can be at these more extreme elevations. It was also very affirming as to how we handled the situation with our guide.
Throughout our trek we stayed in teahouses and with the exception of one night we had our own room. That was an unexpected treat as we had expected to have numerous nights in dormitory style accommodation. As we climbed to higher elevations the nights were exceptionally cold. There is no insulation in the teahouses so we awoke to frozen water bottles on occasion. The main dining area has a wood burning stove, but above timberline they burn pungent smelling yak dung. Deforestation is a huge problem as it can take half a century for trees to mature at these elevations. The days warmed up nicely once the sun rose. Sometimes it was hard to believe we were trekking at elevations near and well above the highest elevations in Colorado with no snow on the ground and temperatures around 16c/60f during the day. We were thankful that most teahouses had blankets as our lightweight sleeping bags that we brought for bike touring were only rated to 0c/32f. On the coldest nights we slept in layers of clothes including hats and gloves.
We were also very impressed with the selection of food. Dal Bhat, lentil soup with rice and vegetables, is the staple meal for many Nepali people. We enjoyed this dish often and were surprised at the differences in flavor from one teahouse to another. Due to the proliferation of trekking tourism over the past decade plus, the number of teahouses has increased significantly in the primary trekking villages. The accommodation and food options cater directly to the western tourists. In Namche Bazaar we were able to stay in the "Jimmy Carter Suite" at the Khumbu Lodge both on our way out and back. The ex-president stayed there in 1985 on his way to Kala Pathar. A fun quick read that chronicles this and other adventures Mr. Carter has undertaken is "Good Times", published within the last year or two.
We took 7 days to trek from Gorak Shep at the base of Kala Pathar to Lukla, at a leisurely pace with side trips. Going over Cho La Pass afforded us the opportunity to do a circular route from near Namche, rather than a route that would have forced us to retrace our steps. The significant amount of descending over the last week seemed to take a toll on our knees. We chose to fly from Lukla to Kathmandu a day early. The flight was not only beautiful as we flew past some of the trek from Jiri to Lukla, but it started on a very short runway that had a slope of about 8-10 degrees. A hard bank to the left following take off was necessary so as not to crash into the hillside across the valley from the runway. This early flight allowed us to have an addition day of rest between the EBC and Annapurna Circuit treks, do laundry, take care of visa issues, etc. After 22 straight days of challenging trekking an extra day off is well warranted.
Dec 8, 2005 - Annapurna Circuit Trek
The Annapurna Circuit trek covers approximately 300 km (180+ miles) walking around the Annapurna massif. The trek starts and finishes at an elevation near 1000 meters with the highest point being Thorung La Pass at 5416m/17,768'. After nearly 2 full days in Kathmandu following the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek we were ready to begin this next adventure. We chose to continue to use our guide Robi, and our porter Yam, from the previous trek. In addition our friend Luc who we met on the EBC trek and hails from France but lives in Germany joined us along with his guide/porter Bachhu. Janet Rose, our friend from Colorado Springs rounded out our group of seven.
Robi arrived at our hotel 15 minutes late. His excuse was palatable: his wife went into labor during the previous evening and gave birth to their second child and second son around 2:00 that morning. By the time Robi had left the hospital to meet us at our hotel he still had yet to see his newborn son or talk to his wife following delivery. What from a western perspective seems nearly inconceivable (i.e., to depart for a 3 week trek and leave your newborn child and wife behind) was presented by Robi as culturally appropriate. Relatives and friends had been contacted and will support his wife and children during his absence. The fall and spring seasons are the only times guides can earn their living so even a major family event like this will not deter from the opportunity to provide financially for one's family. His son was named 10 days after his birth by a pundit during a traditional Hindu ceremony.
Another long bus ride, this time 7 hours, took us from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar. From there it was another 45 minutes on a different bus to take us a handful of kilometers further on a 4 wheel drive road to our starting point at Khundi. We continue to maintain that the most dangerous aspects of our journey are not associated with bicycle touring or trekking, but rather the other forms of transportation, taxis, buses, and sometimes just trying to cross the street safely in a large city. On the ride to Besi Sahar we passed a bus with a broken front axle, a few others with blown tires, and one with engine parts strewn across the road. The location of these mechanical mishaps can be the difference between major inconvenience and tragedy. By the time we started walking that afternoon after we exited the second bus, it felt blissful to be putting one foot in front of the other.
The first 10 days of the trek are designed to gradually take trekkers from low to high elevation and over Thorung La Pass. While we no doubt still had some acclimatization benefits from the EBC trek, this gradual ascent also proved beneficial as none of us experienced any symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. Each day seemed to get more and more scenic as more mountains came into view. Mt. Manaslu 8156m/26,752', Annapurna 1 8091m/26,538', and Dhaulagiri 8167m/26,788' are the 8,000 meter peaks visible on this trek, but numerous other peaks exceeding 6,000 and 7,000 meters are seen. Four days in to the trek we came across workers building a road through the mountains. While some explosives are being used and are creating incredible rock slides, all other construction is done by manual labor. Every tree that needs to be removed is done so by ax. We saw workers atop huge boulders. One held a spike while the other used a sledge hammer to pound the spike into the rock. It made us wonder how long it would take to break that one boulder into acceptable sized smaller parts and how long it would take to fell a huge tree one chop at a time. Needless to say, completion of this road is many years in the future. There is no doubt, however, that once this road is completed along with a comparable road on the east side of the pass that the flavor of this trek will change dramatically. We feel fortunate we are doing this now.
In Manang, 6 days into the trek, we spent 2 nights as this is recommended for acclimatization. This quaint village has an almost ¡°old west¡± feel to it. It also had some marvelous bakeries and, to our surprise, 3 movie theaters. This proved to be a nice recreational outlet for our two nights here. We watched Kundun, a good movie about how the present 14th Dalai Lama was found, his ascendancy to the thrown, and his struggles as Tibet 's political and spiritual leader to the point of his exile to India in 1959. Luc had also gone to Tibet doing the reverse of the weeklong tour that we had done and viewing this movie felt very poignant for all of us. The other film was Into Thin Air, a dramatization of the 1996 Everest climbing disaster based on the best selling book of the same name. Unfortunately it was chock full of poor acting and technical inaccuracies. Still, it was fun to do something different with our time. It was the first movie theater that we've been to heated by wood burning stove and restoked during the film. Some of the infrastructure that the Nepali people have in place in these incredibly remote villages just boggles the mind.
The weather during the trek was absolutely ideal. We were able to wear shorts and short sleeve shirts at lower elevations, but as we ascended in altitude the days and evenings required more clothes. Virtually every day was exceptionally clear and the daytime temperatures were very comfortable for trekking. This is why October and November are considered prime trekking months in Nepal . Given our time in these Buddhist dominated cultures maybe karma has played a role. We were initially scheduled to start this trek in the middle of October, but as stated in a previous report our plans changed due to flights to and from Tibet ceasing as of November 1st. On October 20th a huge snowstorm (atypical for that time of year, but not unheard of) descended upon the Annapurna region. A mountaineering group of 8 French and 11 Nepali were killed in an avalanche. If our schedule had kept to the initial plan we would have been caught in that same storm and in all likelihood it would have forced us to turn around. As we passed sections where snow was still present from that storm, now more than a month previous, we couldn't help but feel very lucky to have the conditions we've had.
We celebrated Thanksgiving in Yak Kharka, and no we didn't have yak in lieu of turkey. We did however have a piece of not too bad apple pie, but it didn't hold a candle to Janet's mom's version of the same. While the food was good, we did long for a traditional Thanksgiving meal on that night.
The day we trekked over Thorung La Pass we awoke at 4:30 and left an hour later. Up the steep trail we went with our headlamps illuminating the path until daybreak 30 minutes later. The 1000 meter climb was easy in comparison to the 1600 meter descent. Not only was the former easier on the knees, but the trek down was snow packed and icy for the first 1000 meters of elevation drop. We all slipped and fell numerous times, but luckily no one got hurt. It was the closest to skiing we will come for this year!
The first 5 days on the east side of the pass was spent paralleling the Kali Gendaki River with copious amounts of downhill trail. We went from barren alpine landscapes to lush tropical vegetation that supported numerous varieties of fruits (huge lemons, apples, bananas, oranges, etc.) and vegetables. Many of the teahouse's menus expanded as well to include Mexican, Greek and other ethnic foods. No longer being at the higher elevations meant improved sleeping patterns and warmer days; both very welcome amongst our entire group. It was during this stretch that we had beautifully clear views of our last two 8,000 meter peaks: Dhaulagiri and Annapurna 1. (Note: on June 3, 1950 a French team's ascent of Annapurna 1 was the first successful ascent of any 8,000 meter peak). The Kali Gandaki valley is considered the deepest in the world as the distance between the aforementioned peaks is only 38 km/24 miles while the river dips below 2200m/7200'. Our sightings of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna 1 meant that we had now seen all 8 of Nepal 's 8,000 meter peaks, in addition to Shisha Pangma when we visited Tibet . Sightings of the world's 5 remaining 8,000 meter peaks will have to wait for future travels to Pakistan where they all reside.
In Tatopani we soaked in a hot springs pool. The entrance fee was a bit exhorbinent (28 cents), but we forked over the 20 rupees and ha and incredibly relaxing soak in preparation for our final 5 days of trekking.
The day we left the Kali Gandaki valley we had the largest elevation gain of any single day on either trek: 1835m/6,019'. This was the only day of our 3 week trek that had any significant cloud cover. It was ironic that it was this day to be partly cloudy as cover from the sun was welcome on this energy depleting climb. The next morning we left in the dark to climb up nearly 500 meters to Poon Hill. The sunrise was spectacular as it lit up the panoramic view of mountains surrounding us.
For the next two days we had some of the best sections of trail to date. Significant amounts of gradual descending through magnificent rhododendron forests along single track trail with intermittent views of the mountains through the trees. The rhododendrons are covered with moss and have a fantastic asymmetry to their trunks and branches. They curve in all directions and even their roots sometimes grow vertically up the trunk. It felt like a setting from The Lord of the Rings movies. These trees also prove to be ideal habitat for the Langur monkey who, when we came upon a large group of them, significantly increased their activity levels. IT was fun to watch them climb up the trees and swing freely among the branches. Their agility was impressive to say the least.
The last few days were also the time we expected to have another encounter with the Maoists. Fortunately this never materialized. Being extorted once from them on the EBC trek was plenty. We've heard that they have extended their 3 month cease fire by a month. That certainly is welcome news.
Upon exiting the trek we had nearly a full day in Pokhara , Nepal 's second largest city. While many of the shops look the same, it has a totally different feel than Kathmandu . Pokhara is much more relaxed, no incessant horn honking or people approaching us to sell their cheap wares. The following day a 7 and a half hour bus ride took us back to the capital city. We all felt fortunate to arrive back safely.
Our final two full days in Kathmandu have been spent taking care of organizational details (including writing this report), in preparation for our departure on December 9th. After two full months in this land of the Himalayas ( Tibet and Nepal ) we feel ready to leave. We read in a recent edition of The Economist that the Kathmandu Valley has, on average, a major earthquake every 70 years. The last one was 1934! When that calamity occurs the devastation will be immense as the building infrastructure, like in Pakistan , is not designed to withstand such tremors. Such are the realities of third world countries.
On a final note, a correction to our last entry. We stated that Nepal has the greatest discrepancy of any country between its low and high elevation points. This is true if you consider Tibet separate from China . If not then China holds this distinction as Mt. Everest is on the border between Nepal/China-Tibet, and China also has land at sea level. The difference being that the distance between Everest's summit and China 's closest point at sea level is huge while Nepal 's high and low elevation points are less than 180k/120 miles apart.