06.01.2011 - 08.01.2011 18 °C
6th - 8th – Trek in the Himalayas
I'M BACK IN KATHMANDU! AND ==ALIVE==! Added bonus.
What an experience. It wasn't Annapurna, but it was fantastic nonetheless.
I got up at 6am (which is not the coziest time of day here) and was taken to the end of the road up some little valley. There was a sort of hamlet there; a couple of houses and a place too buy chips and pepsi. What more do you need?
We started with a pretty steep ascent, basically a couple of kilometres of stairs, up, up, up into the forest. There were some gorgeous waterfalls. A Nepali family walked past us, obviously going for a hike, too. Before long, we reached the edge of Shivapuri National Park. Unlike Australia, people (and domestic animals galore) are allowed to live in national parks, the catch being that no new clearing can occur. There are actually pretty strict rules, which surprised me, and you have to pay an entry fee. After my entrance pass was checked (I waited on a seat while a bunch of chickens the size of eggs scurried around my feet), my guide and I headed into the park, the 'jungle' as he called it. I guess it was kind of jungle; there were vines and moss and all the rest of it, I'd just always thought of jungle as... warm.
4/5 of the day was spent climbing. Firstly, we passed through a whole heap of hamlets, scattered up the hillside. There was a school, and for an hour after the school, we saw kids running down the steep steps in uniform, obviously a tad late. Women washed clothes in the ruuning stream, goats nibbled at whatever was around, and buffalo sat in straw. Shyam, my guide, said that pretty much every house here had the same things: chickens, goats, buffalo and a corn crop. Most of the land had been cleared to make way for terraced fields, where corn was grown. Being winter, it was now all pretty bare, so goats were just cleaning up the scraps.
We stopped for lunch at a teahouse, where 5 of the most adorable children in the world were mucking around. They were toddlers up to 5 year olds. Shyam said Nepali children are natural-born mountaineers- obviously. Even the toddler was scrambling up and down the steep slopes that were his backyard. They have to be strong. We watched the spinach for our Dal Bhat lunch being harvested from the vege patch on top of the teahouse that was built into the hill, and were soon enjoying a supremely fresh, gazing down a hazy valley towards Kathmandu.
Up,up, up. I thought we were near the top, and the another horizon would present itself. Farmland became 'jungle' again, where little red and blue berries glinted in the sunlight. The grass was all dead, obviously frostbitten by the wintry cold nights, as were all the wildflowers- left brown and dry, standing tall like they were still stretching up towards the sun. A couple of local boys started following us, playing all the pop songs that I've grown so used to. I know more about Indian/Nepali pop culture in 2011 than I do about Australian music! They were carrying a single Made-in-Japan doona, still in its packet, which is apparently a two-boy job. One wasn't actually carrying it at all; his shirt was way too nice.
Finally, we reached the top. We had started at an altitude of 1300m that morning, and had climbed to 2500m. At the pass, Shyam showed me how you throw two rocks onto each pillar on the sides of the track- and make a wish of good fortune.
We had been in the blasting sun all morning, but now, we were on tracks that hadn't seen sun all day. They were really icy from last night's frost; within half an hour I had slid down the hill on my bum, hurting my hip, blood everywhere. But it was okay, because I was in the Himalayas.
We heard a woman down the hill shouting something. A rustle in the bushes beside us. She shouted again. And then, onto the track leapt a goat, and bleated back at her. She shouted. It shouted, and ran towards her. She shouted again, it replied. All the way down the hill, they shouted at each other, until goat and mother were together, a whole pack following out from the undergrowth.
We soon reached a little hamlet, basically a hotel plus a couple of shacks ans a garden. It isn't big enough to make it onto Google maps, but I know that the Nepali translation for the name of it is 'Cold place'. A well deserved name, I'll say: After a super-quick shower, I got into my sleeping back, and only regained consciousness two hours later when Shyam knocked on my door. SO COLD.
After watching a gorgeous sunset over the Langtang ranges and Ganesh mountians 1, 2, and 3, I leapt back into bed, ready for a pre-dawn getup.
Alarm. The power was out. By the light of my dying phone, I got dressed (5 layers all up) and headed down to watch the first glows of sunrise.
The whole valley, country, well, the whole of Asia, it seems, is just constantly covered in a layer of smog. Apart from mountaintops, everything is covered in a dirty layer of air, which, if nothing else, makes for some lovely rosy sunrises.
After a quick classic Nepali-version-of-Western-dishes breakfast, we were off, traversing the forested mountainsides, still covered in frost. Owy. Marvelling at the little miniature ice scenes beside the track, and the gorgeous tall grass heads glowing in the morning light, we headed up, along, down, along, up, and up, through some truly exquisite and foreign forest. Shyam showed me the paper bush- a little shrub that has really stringy bark- apparently most of the local paper is made from it. I don't know where they get enough shrubs to make any decent amount of paper from.
There is also the tree-tomato, which I don't think I've ever seen before. Weird. It has tomato-looking fruits... on a tree. Apparently it's a bit of a staple here.
We stopped for lunch in another little roadside village with even cuter kids than the previous day. One little toddler decided it was a good idea to throw the tennis ball from the second storey of their house- his older brother then spent a good ten minutes trying to throw it back up successfully. A grandmother lay in the sun with a baby, the mother came and changed its nappy, the grandmother carried it around, while the mother did the washing. Little kids bolted up and down the hill, screaming and making a whole heap of fun out of not much.
The sun was getting really strong by this stage. And we were in open farmland, and I had no sunscreen. Goose. The afternoon was more or less spent walking up, down, and then UP through terraced farmland, with some seriously gorgeous views, until we reached Nagarkot, our final destination. On the final ascent, we shared the path with local women carrying huge loads back down the hill from the forest (no, we weren't in the National Park anymore), of wood and leaves. Basically they were using every part of the tree they had cut down; the wood for fuel, and the leaves for goat fodder.
Our hotel was on the VERY top of the hill. As in, panoramic views. Again, I had a shower, collapsed into bed (we had walked solidly for over 8 hours) and didn't get up until about 4pm. The view from our hotel roof was incredible. 180 degrees of huge mountains: in the far east, Macchuppichu and Annapurna, then Ganesh 1,2,3, Langtang, and then on the left side, a whole series of peaks, among them, Mt Cho Oyu. I don't remember the others. Several of the ones we could see were over 8,000m tall.
Nagarkot is a pretty big tourist attraction, mainly for Nepali and Indians. Being a Friday night, the place was absolutely bombarded by couples and families of screaming babies and children, and parents shouting 'chii, chii!' when they misbehaved. It made for some pretty good night entertainment. Shyam and I sat there for a couple of hours, just watching the fairly interesting family interactions and so on.
6am. Hotel rooftop. A tiny slither of rosy glow, and a crowd of shivering tourists.
I was wearing my sandals. I didn't realise it was going to cause so much horror.
The glow grew, and grew, Ganesh 1,2,3 lighting up, and the little clouds hanging over Cho Oyu turned bright pink. And then, 'AAWOOOO!!!!' the sun poked a shoulder out from behind a mountain, and soon a whole red circle was rising up. So much excitement. A lot of noise for 6:45am.
The mountains started glowing brightly, happy snaps were taken, and everyone rushed down to breakfast. Silence.
We were picked up at 9am and taken back to Kathmandu. From lush green terraced fields, we plummeted down into Kathmandu valley, where it was impossible to see more than a hundred metres ahead. Through Thamel, and here I am. Back safe and sound.
I'm going to find the O'Malley family at some point today (the Philip, Susan, Bron and Joss part of the family), and after that I don't know what's going on!
Keep in touch!