Trek – Part Eight

Gillian Holdsworth’s Trans-Nepal Trek Diary

Part Eight: 19th – 28th October

Friday, 19th October

Today is “Nonami” and appears to be the day of the massacre of goats for the Dasain festival.

As we passed through the villages of the Melemchi valley there appeared to be a goat slaughtered at every household, with the remaining live goats looking on with horror and bleating feebly.

Melemchi river valley is the location of a new drinking water project for Kathmandu. As one looks north up hte valley one sees the stunning backdrop of the Langtang Himal range.

We took a bumpy bus ride down the valley arriving late afternnoon in Kathmandu. Sonam managed to sleep the whole way. The Nepalis’ ability to sleep in the most uncomfortable situations has never ceased to amaze me!

Saturday, 20th October

Seems the banks are closed today because of the Dasain holiday and the immigration office seems to open erratically during this period too. Bad timing!

So I joined Uttam Phuyel’s family for a late lunch. Uttam is the operations manager at the Kathmandu Guest house and has been a great friend for many years. He is married with a delightful daughter and son (who was suffering with measles at the time, so a bit grumpy!).

It was the first time I had met his parents. His father (recently retired) had been involved in road building in Nepal. His mother was so overcome by the fact I speak Nepali she proceeded to address all her questions about me and my trip to Uttam!!

Later I met up with Shyam Shresta (a friend from England) and his “mit jiu” (best friend/blood brother), Shyam Tapaliya. They were planning a “six Shyams party” which sounded rather confusing! He suggested I visited his family home in Sankhu tomorrow and I could continue my trek from there (visa and cash willing) as it is only two hours over the hill from where I had left off. A bit quicker than taking the bus… ?!

Sunday, 21st October

After a trip to the bank we headed to Lopsi Fedi to Shyam’s family home. Shyam grew up in a traditional Newar house on the banks of the Sali Nadi (Sali river). The Sali Nadi is the river which women come to bathe in at the Teej Festival (in September) to ensure they marry a good husband. I have obviously missed the opportunity this year!!

Shyam had been contemplating building a more modern house for his family but has been persuaded that restoration and renovation of the original building is probably more worthwhile thus preserving both his family’s and Newar heritage in the valley.

We watched a “lamo puchare” (long tail – a rather exotic sort of magpie) peck at persimmons on the tree behind the house while waiting for lunch.

Monday, 22nd October

Rosie arrived today and met Pasang. Pasang comes from the same village as Sonam and will porter for Rosie. Pasang is 53 years old and currently undergoing dental treatment in Kathmandu. At present he has only one front tooth (new!) which is frequently on display as a result of his ear splitting grin!

We had supper at the Dwarika hotel with a large group of Nepali friends. The Dwarika hotel features in an article I read recently as one of the world’s most interesting hotels.

It is a relatively new hotel built in the traditional Newari style, originally common in the Kathmandu valley, with traditional Newari doorframe and window carvings. These were all reclaimed by Mr Dwarika, before he died, from old Newar buildings being torn down in Kathmandu in the rush to replace with cement.

We dined in the Newari restaurant, Newari food is always very good, and had some particularly delicious plum chutney (lopsi ko achaar).

Tuesday, 23rd October

Had a rather protracted visit to the immigration office today to extend my visa. As it is still Dasain holiday government office hours tend to be more erratic than usual and there were no immigration officers there until 11.30 am.

Final preparations for our trip to Jiri included ensuring Pasang’s footwear was adequate. He is now the proud owner of a new pair of walking boots. It was quite challenging buying boots for him as his feet are almost as wide as they are long.

In the meantime, Sonam has refused new boots as he is determined to complete his trek in his multipally repaired boots. They now look like a patchwork quilt!

Wednesday, 24th October

Headed up to Jiri. Jiri is the district centre of Ramechap and about 8-10 hours drive from Kathmandu on a road originally constructed by the Swiss.

We passed through the village originally named “Quarry Stone” because much stone has been quarried from the surrounding hillside. Arrived in Jiri around 4pm and embarked on a city tour. We browsed through the goods in the bazaar and bought a large rainbow coloured umbrella for Rosie (the weather is still unsettled), some rope for Sonam, Pasang and Namadoj and a namlo.

Namadoj had cooked for the group on the Jumla/Dolpo stretch of the trek. He is Rai from Solu Khumbu district and knows a short cut from Salleri/Phaplu to the Salpa pass which will cut out days next week. He will also porter for Jacky Spiby, another participant due out on the 27th.

Thursday, 25th October

Left Jiri for Sahivalaya and Bander. Shortly above Jiri we came across a “ping”. Pings are erected across the hills around the Dasain and Tihar holidays. Constructed of four long bamboo poles with a swing below they are frequently located on a hilltop and command fantastic views of the surrounding countryside as one swings. We all had a go!

After lunch at Shivalaya we headed up the hill and over the ridge where we encountered a group of Maoists requesting “donations” of 1000 Rupees for their election campaign. The “donations” didn’t seem very optional but after explaining the philanthropic nature of my trek they let me pass without payment.

All the other tourists we met got through without paying the full rate. Tourists are obviously getting wise to this and as a method of fundraising it must be on the wane!

Friday, 26th October

Left Bander for Kinju, a rather attractive village on the banks of the Liku river. My first ever venture into the district of Saolu Khumbu, the home of Mt Everest.

We headed up a long “na mitho ukalo” (bad uphill). Four hours up and 1200 metres. The path is full of school children portering goods from Jiri and Shivalaya up to Lukla and Namche Bazaar. It is school holidays out here at the moment and we frequently met 13 year olds carrying up to 40kg (girls and boys) for the trip which can take up to ten days.

This would form and important contribution to the average annual income of the family. They are paid 50 Rupees per kilo for the whole trip. It is difficult to imagine children at home on such an endeavour!

Professional porters here will often carry up to 100kg – more than double their weight.

Saturday, 27th October

Left Goyam for Junbesi. Stopped at the Himalayan lodge en route; the pre-marital home of the women whose lodge we stayed in last night.

There was a darling two year old boy sitting by the kitchen fire eating tsampa (Sherpa porridge) called Nima Sherpa. In fact he isn’t a Sherpa at all. His parents are both Tamangs but his mother ran off with another man and he was disowned by his father at 8 months old. Since then he has been looked after by this Sherpa family. The family have adopted him, after a fashion, but he will grow up in a servant role as a product of his unfortunate parentage. An educational sponsor could change all that and offer a him proper education.

If his story touches you let me know as there is an excellent school a couple of hours walk away in Junbesi run by the Hillary Foundation which could be arranged for him. This would probably cost about 250 pounds annually and could change his life.

We slept the night in the Edmund Hillary Suite at the Ang Chokpa Lodge in Junbesi and dreamt of climbing the world’s highest mountain with the world’s most famous mountaineer! Apparently he slept in our room on his last visit here about ten years ago!

Sunday, 28th October

Left Junbesi for Phaphlu to meet Jacky Spiby who is due in this morning. Junbesi is a beautiful alpine style village on the Junbesi river in a rather prosperous valley in Solu Khumbu.

One hour walk above the village is the large Thupten Choling monastery. A Tibetan monastery which has been extensively developed over the last ten years and has many students, nuns and monks, of Tibetan Buddhism.

We had a beautiful walk down the Junbesi – Beni river valley to Phaplu, passing Pema Chiring Lama’s rather grand house en route. Pema Chiring was the government minister in Solu Khumbu some years ago and apparently had the airport moved from its original planned location to be closer to his home! Sounds a familiar tale.

Jacky arrived from Kathmandu by plane, after circling the airport in cloud for several minutes whilst the pilot tried to located the airstrip. Very scary!!