Trek – Part Six

Gillian Holdsworth’s Trans-Nepal Trek Diary

Part Six: 3rd – 14th October

Wednesday, 3rd October

Left Fedi (4200m) at 4am with Sonam (my porter of 10 years) to cross the Thorung La (5416m) before the wind got up. We crossed the pass at 8.30am after stopping for a ‘quick picnic’ of chapatis and boiled eggs at the snowline! There is a small tea shop on the pass where we had a much needed cup of hot chocolate!

We headed down through snow fields to the ‘High Camp” (4850m) for lunch – before pressing on to the village of Letter – below the snowline – where we stopped at 2.30pm. Sonam had forgotton to borrow some sun glasses from a friend in Mustang – so I was worried about snowblindness again.

We passed large numbers of Israelis and Russians along the path heading up – I explained to one group of Israelis that Nepali’s don’t like portering for them as they don’t tip! Hopefully their porter will get lucky. The whole way down – we were asked by the Nepali’s why we were trekking the ‘wrong way round’, was I sick?? or was there too much snow on the pass that we had to turn back – I certainly seem to be the only person going west to east!

Thursday, 4th October

Continued down the river valley – spectacular views of Tilicho Peak, Gangapurna and Annapurnas 2 and 3.

The news from Kathmandu is not good – – the strikes have started again in Kathmandu and the Terai. The Maoist party want the government to declare the country a republic before the elections in November.

People living in the Manang valley do not support the Maoist cause as it has disrupted tourism so much over the last few years which brings in much needed income locally. We calculated that each tourist passing through with a porter spends around 15 pounds per day.

Today we passed 167 tourists on the trail – ten times more than we saw in the first month!! It is a bit of a culture shock!!

Friday, 5th October

Left the village of Humde in the Manang valley heading for Chame. The Manang valley is a wide fertile valley dotted with Buddhist villages and enclosed by the peaks of Annapurna 1,2,3, Pisang Peak and Ganga and Julli. After passing through the village of Pisang,the valley narrows into a tight gorge.

In the last two years they have begun to build a road through the gorge causing huge landslides and making the path treacherous in places.

We arrived in Chame at 1.30pm in light rain and decided to stop and stay at the Sunrise Hotel. Chame is the district centre of Manang and quite a busy bazaar. Apparently they have internet here which I might try later.

There is a police checkpoint here too so no doubt I will have to explain again why I don’t have a trekking permit! They didn’t seem very bothered in Humde yesterday!!

Saturday, 6th October

Left Chame for the village of Tal. The density of tourists is increasing and we are seeing more of the two poles and lipstick brigade! Some of their day packs are a as big as my backpack. I wonder what they are carrying!

Tal was our first night below 2000m and it was warm and humid; seems strange no longer sleeping in all one’s clothes!

We met a couple of French climbers who are hoping to climb Ganga peak – but the weather is unsettled again. Three of their porters were complaining about their ’employment contract’ – most of the porters here get Rs400 per day (3 pounds per day) plus food and lodging. These guys were not getting food and lodging and since a basic daal bhat costs Rs270 up here – on two per day (Rs 540) they were obviously going to be out of pocket.

I spoke with their Nepali mountain guide about it and he did not seem overwhelmingly sympathetic – but we did finally manage to negotiate food/lodging and shoes for them!

Sunday, 7th October

Today was the day that my boot began to fall to pieces seriously – I know that I have covered quite a distance – but I would have expected it to last more than 36 days! Hopefully I can get it repaired in Besisahar – the next big town.

Continued down the Marsyangdi river valley. There are some spectacular waterfalls cascading into it and the path is very narrow in parts. It is hot and very humid. Stopped for lunch in Ghermu.

We were joined by a large group of Polish people who settled in to a liquid lunch of Tuborg lager. Not sure that tourists, porters and many mule trains – taking goods up the valley. The mules wear metal muzzles to stop them biting each others loads apparently! and some of the porters were carrying 100kg – (metal piping for a micro hydro project) – staggering!

We stopped for the night in Ngadi.

Monday, 8th October

Walked one hour down the valley to the village of Bhulebhule where we saw our first vehicle for 6 weeks (excluding the motorbike we saw at Tinje on Sep 24!). We were tempted – but resisted the ride and walked another two hours to Besisahar!

There are stunning views of Lamjung Himal behind you as you walk down the valley. Arrived in Besisahar at 11.30am and checked in to the Annapurna Hotel which has obviously seen better days.

After complaining about the general lack of cleanliness, we headed into the bazaar to find a Sarki (cobbler) who reattached the sole of my boot for Rs15 (10p)!

We arrived back at the hotel to find a concerted effort at cleaning going on – I wish my suggestions always precipitated such immediate action!! We are waiting for Gamba (our guide) to arrive from Kathmandu to take us cross country to Trisuli.

Tuesday, 9th October

Rest day in Besisahar. Began with a funeral – a 24 year old woman following a caesarean section for her first child last night. Her baby boy lived – not sure of the precise details – but they have a new Doctor here, who I guess must be feeling a bit nervous now. Just goes to show the dangers of child bearing here are still very real. I guess the outcome for her son is probably not that great either. Very sad.

This evening was ‘load shedding’ at the hotel – which means that there was no electricity for two hours at peak time between 6-8pm. Many towns have outgrown their electricity supply which means at peak time it is rationed (in sectors on a rotational basis).

A Spanish guest at the hotel who is responsible for the electricity supply in Alicante wondered what the residents there would make of such a practice! Tried the Sat phone here – which just when you don’t really need it has an excellent signal! Normally when I call in with my blog it takes about 15 calls as the signals have up till now always been very weak!

Wednesday, 10th October

The November elections have been suspended.

Gamba arrived from Kathmandu and we headed down the Marsyangdi river valley to Luitel Bhanjyang anf Gorkha. Luitel Bhanjyang is the home of BabuRam Bhattarai – the chairman of the Maoist party and one of the leaders of the ten year insurgency. Upendar Devkota – the country’s leading neurologist also comes from this area and both went to the local high school here. It was difficult to ascertain the views of the local people here on the politics of one of their local lads except that they are mainly Nepali Congress here – which may tell us alot!

We ate a delicious lunch at the home of Uma Shrestha. She told us about her sister in law, who got pregnant as an unmarried teenager (teenage pregnancy seems to follow you everywhere!) by one of the local high school teachers. He ran off and she was left with an illegitimate son, no chance of marriage, her life essentially finished.

Fortunately her family did not throw her out. Five years later her son had started school and a Belgian trekking group passed through the village (this is now 11 years ago). One young man – moved by the plight of the young boy’s situation – undertook to sponsor him. The boy has now finished school and is studying engineering at one of Kathmandu’s top colleges.

The Belgian sponsor returned for the first time last year to meet with the family and will come back next year with his wife and own son! So some tragedies here have a happy ending!

Thursday, 11th October

Visited the old fort and palace in Gorkha this morning. These were built at the beginning of the Shah dynasty in the early 1600’s by Ram Shah. His son, Prithi Naryan Shah, was responsible for the unification of Nepal.

The current royal family are direct descendants of this dynasty. The fort and palace (and the temple of Kali) command a spectacular hilltop position and are an extraordinary feat of engineering. One is supposed to have great views of the Manaslu Himalaya form here – but it was cloudy and we saw no mountains.

We walked on to Arughat – a riverside town on the banks of the Buddhi Gandaki where we overnighted. Nepal is building the Mahendra highway up this river valley as a second route to Tibet. Apparently Prachanda – the other leading intellectual in the Maoists party besides Baburam Bhattarai – used to teach at the school here and our hotel owner remembered being taught by him!

En route we passed a young cow on the path who had fallen off the hillside – and I suspect had received some fairly drastic bony injuries to his back legs. The owners were planning to carry it home and call the vet – I suspect the prospects are not very good – and of course they will not be able to put it out of its misery – because of their Hindu religion.

We also passed two trekking groups who had been camping at Khoanath and been ‘held up’ by bandits last night – and robbed of Rs70,000 each – I was rather glad we were staying in a lodge!

Friday, 12th October

Walked from Arughat to Tharpu Bhanjyang – beat the bus to Chissapani (which Gamba was on – returning to Kathmandu) – apparently it had got stuck in mud in Sallyantar! In fact it didn’t look as if it was going much further either as there was a long queue of trucks and buses parked on the road to Fhading unable to get past a broken down truck. Apparently they had been there since last night!

Sonam and I headed up the Ankhu river beofre cutting up and over the hill to Tharpu – a long hot haul up! Sonam spotted in a copy of ‘Tourism News’ an old photograph of Rosie Blandy (joining me in Jiri) and myself – illustrating an article titled ‘Tourism Keeps its Shine’! Not sure how appropriate that was!! There is also an article ‘British Doctor on transhimalaya trip’ – but no photo!

Saturday, 13th October

Today Supersonic Sonam (my porter) became Super Sodden Sonam – while trying to negotiate some particularly wobbly stones across a river – he slipped and was thigh deep in water! A bit unusual – as Nepalis are very sure footed! Fortunately no damage was done and after a lot of wringing out of trousers and emptying boots of water, we continued on our way to Trisuli – a large bazaar on the Trisuli river just north west of Kathmandu.

We had unseasonal rain today – which is fine for walking but not great for views/photography. After passing through Trisuli we headed north into the mountains again to try and avoid the heat and humidity of lower down and stopped for the night in Kalikasthan.

Today was the first day of Dasain – the big Hindu festival – it is only eight days now until Tikka day – when elders give tikka, flowers, food and money to the young.

Sunday, 14th October

Walked from Kalikasthan to Dhunche – the gateway to Gosainkund and Langtang. Very little traffic on the road. The weather had cleared and we had fantastic views of the Langtang range.

The road has taken a battering during the monsoon and there have been some big landslides which had been cleared after a fashion by the Japanese bulldozer!

As we got close to Dhunche, we were met by large flocks of pink sheep and goats. A bit surreal. They were all different shades of pink. Their owners way of distinguishing between flocks! They have been brought down from Tibet to sustain Kathmandu’s requirements for meat during the Dasain festival and will be trucked down over the coming days. A bit like Turkeys at Christmas!

We intend to take the route through Gosainkund, cutting through to the Helambu trail and then east to Chautara before heading up to Jiri.