Trek – Part One

Gillian Holdsworth’s Trans-Nepal Trek Diary

For those of you who don’t know me, I first came to Nepal in 1986 to work as a field doctor for the Britain Nepal Medical Trust (BNMT).

I left in 1989 and have since then maintained close contact with many of my old colleagues. In 1997 I returned to Nepal for six months and spent much of my time in Humla in West Nepal on the route to Mount Kailas.

West Nepal is very different from the East, it is higher, drier, more remote and also less developed. There I undertook a Child Health and Nutrition survey in the villages of Sunny Valley, assisted by two local women, Maya and Nakuli.

I have remained in close contact with both. Consequently, my annual trips to Nepal have always involved trips to the East or the West where I had most my friends and there were vast areas in between which I risked never seeing.

In 2007 I planned a route with my trekking guide Gamba Rai which would cover all the places I had heard about and wanted to visit. It would start in Humla and finish in Taplejung. This is my journal. 

28th August – 2nd September

I arrived in Nepal via Bangkok on 27th August. The Kathmandu Guest House was heaving with a group of seventy Americans who were off to Mount Kailas. It seems rather a large group to be travelling with and I felt pleased that I didn’t have such large numbers joining my “Noble Trek”. “Noble” is not a name I gave to my endeavour, it was given by Gamba Rai, my trekking guide and who is the managing director of Edelweiss Treks. I was met at the Kathmandu Guest House by Anil Subedi, the BNMT chief executive, Vivek Singh, BNMT’s Publicity and Communications Manager and Gamba with his daughter Pappu. After my media briefing and diary for the week was agreed, I had an early night.

Tuesday, 28th August

Today is Junai Purne, the annual festival for blessing Brahmin strings. One is also given a dora on the same day. This is a piece of thread, tied round the wrist, left side for women, right side for men. It is to be worn until Laxmi Puja when it is removed from the wrist and tied round the tail of a cow. This enables the spirits of the dead to swim across the Ocean of Tears, clinging to the dora tied to the cow’s tail. Thus they reach Heaven! I dutifully accepted one and hope that I am not in yak country on the relevant day! I was told by Gamba that a tiger would also do but of course Gamba is not a Brahmin and would not know!

Wednesday, 29th August

A fellow trekker arrived – Oli Fryatt – the son of Bob and Siobhan who were doctors in Bhohpur and Diktel in 1989 – 91. Oli is on his gap year and plans to walk to Taplejung with me.

BNMT hosted a lunch at the Ambassador Hotel for staff and friends of BNMT where I bumped into Bindu Sakya who used to run the Kathmandu Guest House and I hadn’t seen for years. Bindu recommended a guest house at Jomson which looked very luxurious. I think I might try and stay there on my birthday on 1st October! The other highlight of today was that Sonam arrived. Sonam lives in Khadbari and has been an indefatigable part of my trekking life for ten years.

Thursday, 30th August

BNMT and the Nepal Tourist Board have called a press conference to announce the BNMT trek. There was a good turnout by journalists and it was conducted both in Nepali and English. The Nepal Tourist Board helpfully gave me a copy of their pamphlet about Crisis Management in the Mountains called “Just in Case!” which includes all sorts of immediately important information such as the structure of their tourist crisis co-ordination committee and response action unit!.

So Gamba, Sonam, Oli and I, plus another friend Amala, left for the airport for our flight to Nepalgung. On arrival at Nepalgung we picked up a jeep for the three hour drive to Surkhet. The road has taken a bit of a hammering this monsoon and there were many landslides. We were stopped by two motorcyclists en route who had been told that there were four elephants on the road ahead! They had been advised to wait for a convoy through. We then drove in convoy and the only elephantine things we saw were large black rocks!

Friday, 31st August

We arrived in Surket to low cloud and drizzle. A flight to Jamla looked pretty hopeless. Gamba took us on a tour of Surket to show us the fine example of town planning with its wide boulevards, apparently reminiscent of Paris! I was not quite convinced by the comparison. There were no flights to Humla that day.

Saturday, 1st September

Supposed to be starting our Nepal trek today.

Awoke again to low cloud and rain. We went to the airport to check in and wait for that window when the cloud cover lifted above 5000 metres which would allow Yeti Airlines to fly to Simikot. It was looking increasingly hopeless by 1 pm. Some tourists have waited for flights here for many days.

We chartered a helicopter (well a quarter of one!) which only requires 1500 metres visibility and off we went. It was a Russian Sikorski helicopter with two Russian pilots and was very noisy and a little bit scary but it delivered us safely to Simikot.

In Simikot we met the other two members of our party – Kathy Holloway and Bharat Gautem. Kath worked with BNMT from 1991-98, initially in Bhojpur/Diktel as a field doctor and then later as the Drug Scheme Co-ordinator. Bharat had worked for BNMT for eighteen years until 2002, most recently as Drug Scheme Manager. The last time I saw Bharat was about five years ago when he was doing a one month puja which involved not speaking – so it was quite nice to be able to have a chat!

Sunday, 2nd September

We had a typically protracted departure and finally left Simikot at 11 o’clock. We headed through the bazaar in light rain, purchasing umbrellas en route. We are a total of fourteen, four guests, two cooks, six porters and Sonam and Gamba. We dropped 600 meters down to the Humla Kanali and then walked along the river through forests of ganga which seriously impressed the youngest member of our group! All the bridges over the river have been destroyed during the recent troubles but the locals have opportunistically installed a cable system supporting a wire cage which, for twenty rupees, allows people to cross. We crossed the river using this system and it took our party about forty minutes to complete! That night we camped by the river at Bokche Gaura which means “the place of goats” at 2,139 metres. I am praying there are no bousna! (a nasty biting insect).