Gillian Holdsworth’s Trans-Nepal Trek Diary
Part Ten: 6th November – 15th November
Tuesday, 6th November
Woke to more rain. Pasang’s (Rosie’s porter) wife turned up with a bottle of raksi (local spirit) for our early morning drinking!
Morning drinking is quite common in Nepal and not always very beneficial to either the individual or their family.
We remonstrated with Pasdang’s wife – to no effect – she obviously thought that raksi was just the ticket before our 500 metre drop down to the river on a slippery muddy path! However, we managed to secrete our spirit away without having to consume it!
We left for Chainpur on the Ling Ling path and passed two British Gurkhas and their porter en route to Khadbari. Twenty years ago it was common to meet British Gurkhas escorting the delivery of the Gurkha pensions, in cash to the district centre bank. It appears that this is now done electronically.
These two were on a trip to review some of the projects supported by Gurkha Welfare. These would include such capital projects as bridge building and drinking water supply.
Wednesday, 7th November
Rosie’s tendon is still giving her jip but we managed to buy some codeine/paracetamol mix which seems to have done the trick, otherwise we may not all make Olangchung Gola!
After lunch in Nundhaki we climbed steeply for three hours to Gufa Pokhari at 2,900m. Gufa Pokhari is a small Sherpa settlement on the Milke Darra ridge with stunning views of the Himalaya on both sides.
The Kanchenjunga and Jannu Himal massif to the east and Makalu and Everest to the west – when it is clear! There had been a three day festival in the village culminating this afternoon with a football match between Basantapur and Gufa Pokhari. Basantapur apparently won 12-1, so there was much celebrating among the Basantapur team and their supporters.
Suresh Lama, who had worked with me as a health post visitor in Phidim and later gone on to become the Clinic-in-charge in Taplejung, had come to meet us in Gufa with his friend, Dipok Subbha.
Dipok’s father was in the British Army and now lives and works in Hong Kong and is home on holiday.
It was Suresh’s birthday so with lots of things to celebrate (birthday, arrival in Taplejung district and of course the Basantapur football team’s result) we had an evening of tongba (local millet beer) and singing and dancing.
We sang “God save the Queen” for them – on request!!!
Thursday, 8th November
Woke to a complete whiteout – no mountains to be seen at all. I think Jacky is beginning to wonder if there really are mountains here at all! After a knee jarring 1,500m descent, during which we gleaned fleeting glimpses of Kanchenjunga (the World’s third highest mountain) like a shy bride behind her diaphanous veil, we arrived at Dobhan on the banks of the Tamur River.
I had to call my credit card company as apparently there were some problems with my account. I had been given a “call collect” number to dial and embarked on the process of making an international call on a CDM phone (which I think is a wireless network in the hills here) which requires strategic placement of the phone and its aerial in what appears to be the one place where they receive a signal in the village.
This happened to be in the middle of the main street, about 8 feet up and required the shop owner to stand on a chair holding the telephone in the air, while I talked to a very patient woman on an incredibly broken line about my account.
This spectacle immediately attracted a large crowd, all discussing loudly and animatedly about what I was doing, what I was saying and what country I was from! Having ascertained that the problem was the credit card company’s mistake, she wanted to call me back, “in a couple of days time” to confirm they had sorted it??!!
I suggested that this communication may have to wait until I had access to a better network! I then embarked on the process of explaining the concept of “collect calls” to the shopkeeper but she was not having any of it and so I got stung for 1,800 Rupees!
We stayed overnight at the “Hideaway” resort in a safari tent with a river thundering past on both sides.
Friday, 9th November
Today is Laxmi Puja, the third day of the Tihar holiday and for those of you who have followed my blog, the day when I have to tie my “dora” (see August 28) around the tail of a cow! Luckily there were three cows tethered as we left the Hideaway resort in the morning and their owner was happy for me to divest myself of my “dora” on one of his animals, although he recommended a “malla” (necklace) rather than the tail!
We took the main trekking route from Dobhan towards Kanchenjunga which proved to be a jungle obstacle course of Himalayan proportions. We were all rather relieved when we arrived in Mitlung for lunch, knowing that the path ahead was much more manageable!
We over-nighted in Sirwa where we participated in “Dosi”. During the Tihar festival groups of local children visit all the houses in the village in the evening and provide a display of singing and dancing for which they are rewarded with food and money. This is known as “Dosi kelnu”. Tonight, as part of the celebrations for “Laxmi puja” (Laxmi is the goddess of wealth) all the houses have lighted candles and oil lamps outside and the main street looked quite magical.
Saturday, 10th November
We stopped for lunch in Chiriwa. The last time we came through here Rosie and I met an old Gurkha who had fought at Gallipoli and who regaled us with stories of his European journey post war. This time we met another Maoist. Unfortunately for him we are quite well practiced now in dealing with their requests and he went away empty handed!
We continued along the Tamur river valley, through groves of cardamom plants. Black cardamom is an important cash crop in eastern Nepal and it is exported in large quantities to India where it is used in Ayurvedic medicine. In eastern Nepal they also grow a lot of tea and coffee and overall the east is much more prosperous than the far west, where I started my trek.
We arrived in Lungthung and stayed at the Yangla hotel, in the smallest double bedroom ever. Rosie and I wondered if the room had been built around the bed! There was a guide from another trekking group already there when we arrived but he had lost his group which seemed a rather extraordinary (and possibly unprofessional) feat! So we sent him off to find them.
We spent the evening playing Dosi again. We had three groups of singing and dancing tonight, raising money for local community projects.
Our rather drunk host, Rinjin Dorje, remonstrated with us over our apparent “lack of generosity” and the evening proved rather expensive!
Sunday, 11th November
We continued up the Tamur river valley. We are now much higher and the river drops steeply in places with spectacular waterfalls.
KCAP (Kanchenjung Conservation Area Project) had embarked on a programme of bridge building in this valley since we were last here, so we walked up the eastern bank of the river (instead of the western, as we did before).
This is the route along which the Nepal government of the time sent a wedding present of two elephants to King Songsten Gyampo of Tibet on his marriage to Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal – it is unlikely that they survived!
We stopped at the top of the valley where some people from Olangchung Gola were pasturing their Yaks. We sat with them and drank warm Yak’s milk which was incredibly creamy and a bit sweet – some additional energy before our last haul up to Olangchung Gola.
On arrival at Olangchung Gola we checked in at Jumba did’s. Jumba didi is the grandmother of Pema Donga, who I sponsor at school in Taplejung. Pema Donga is home for the Dasain and Tihar holiday with her grandmother.
Another riotous evening of tongba and singing and dancing, (including the famous foot stamping Sherpa dance) before we bedded down in the family ‘larder’– currently home to a couple of dead Yaks hanging and a copious supply of Churpi (the locally made cheese guaranteed to break your teeth) …… another ‘des res’!
Monday, 12th November
Olangchung Gola is a substantial village of wooden houses located in a bowl at 3,200m. There is a large monastery, the Diki Choling monastery, reputed to be the oldest Tibetan monastery in Nepal.
Originally it was located a day’s walk up the valley. It was rebuilt in the village in 1860 and currently hosts seven Lamas, most of who appear to be quite elderly. They are the Nyingmapa sect which allows them to be married as well as exercising their religious duties.
Olangchung Gola had been a prosperous village in the past, strategically located on one of the important trading routes between Tibet and Nepal. This economy was pretty much shattered by the Chinese occupation of Tibet and although trading still continues to a much lesser extent, many of the Olangchung Gola families have moved away to sustain themselves and there is a not insignificant number of them in New York!
Tuesday, 13th November
Having arrived in Olangchung Gola as a group of nine we left as a group of eleven, plus three dogs!! Michael (one year old) and Tilly and Lassie (three month old pups) are all Tibetan mastiffs.
Tibetan mastiffs are big fierce dogs used in the high mountains to protect the livestock from predators. Tilly and Lassie, understandably reluctant to leave their mother, had to be carried until lunchtime which significantly slowed our progress!
Every village we passed through created howls of consternation from the local hounds but Michael saw off the lowland dogs briskly!! At lunch, in Hiladarra, Michael, anxious to “have a go” at the house dog, jumped over the balcony on his chain and had to be hauled back up by the boys!
We finally arrived in Lelep – another balcony for the dogs – where Michael was positioned so he could not jump over the balcony and the balcony barricaded so that Lassie and Tilly couldn’t wander. This made night time toilet trips even more hazardous!!
Wednesday, 14th November
We started the day with tea and Chinese army biscuits – a leaving present from Jumba didi in Olangchung Gola! Chinese army biscuits look a bit like MDF board (and probably taste a bit like it too!) and one biscuit is supposed to fill you for the day.
The dogs meanwhile breakfasted on tsampa (barley flour) which is the dog food of choice for that particular breed …. A bit different from Purina! Michael took a bite out of Tilly’s ear which resulted in much squealing, before we hit the road again heading for Tapethok for an early lunch. Tapethok was considered a ‘dog free zone’ which was considered preferable for our entourage!
We continued on to Mitlung where we availed ourselves of their bathroom for a much needed shower, interestingly constructed without a door!! The owner kindly provided us with a ‘modesty curtain’! We then embarked on ‘end of trek’ celebrations which included the massacre of another chicken and more singing and dancing.
Thursday, 15th November
We left Mitlung for Taplejung – a three hour uphill climb which we do in the cool and shade of the early morning. Stopped for a snack below the high school. Michael, Tilly and Lassie still causing huge local canine excitement and a pile up of school children below – afraid of passing them in case they got bitten!!
During our snack stop one enlightened gentleman, who had consumed a not insignificant amount of jaard (millet beer) asked if we were from Korea! He was sure that Rosie looked just like a Korean as he had worked there and apparently knew what Koreans look like! Amazing the power of alcohol to distort!!
We arrived in Taplejung at 11am – the end of the “Noble Trek” and I have made it!
At the start I sometimes wondered if I could actually complete it – but I have!! For those of you have become blog addicts and want to ask – the best bit …..there were many!! And the worst bit – I am almost certain will be the bus ride south from Taplejung to Biratnagar in the coming days!
So – in the words of Suresh Lama ….”now I am going to stop my pen!” but not before thanking you all for your texts (sorry I couldn’t reply!), support and sponsorship. And a special thank you to Sonam Sherpa (my porter) without whom I most certainly would not have made it. It was an amazing experience.
“Days and months are the travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by… I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander … I walked through mists and clouds, breathing the thin air of high altitudes and stepping on slippery ice and snow, till at last through a gateway of clouds, as it seemed, to the very paths of the sun and the moon, I reached the summit, completely out of breath and nearly frozen to death. Presently the sun went down and the moon rose glistening in the sky.”
The Narrow Road to the Deep North