Swiss style scenery in magical Nepal

Posted on 22 Jul 2019

Day 121 (June 25): Enjoying a rest day with clear and sunny skies. A few high fluffy clouds in sight and slight wind. I met a portly, confident and talkative guy, James Baxter. Turns out he’s quite the adventurer. Google “James Baxter Norway” and you’ll find a Scotsman of self-made independent means with a lifestyle of hiking, much like the late Wilfred Thesinger.

Starting ten days later than us, he too is doing the GHT, but with a small private party. He had even deeper (thigh deep) snow on Stage 1 and had lost gear to a crevasse on the West Col descent. He is now on a more northerly route through Shey Gompa and Limi Valley. You do not meet characters like that in your local pub!

Day 122: The next set of mules for Stage 7 did not show up on time, so we used the old set to take everything down to Sundawa at about 2900 metres (just before the bridge of the parting of the ways) in less than three hours.

The new mule team did show up carrying small bags of commodities, but both mules and muleteer were tired. A frustrating day.

We encountered some more Nepalese trekkers. Yes, they trek in their own country. Smartly dressed in Western clothes, they would not look out of place in an Australian major capital city, apart from their slimness.

Day 123: It’s time to say goodbye to Sue, who heads to Juphal airport with the original mules.

Bikash and I take the new set of mules up towards Kangmara La. An easy climb to a no-name encampment at about 4400 metres, about 2 hours short of the scheduled high camp.

We passed hundreds of yaks going the other way, some loaded, all wary of us, as we were of them. The encampment has over 50 tents with at least another 20 tents across the way. It must be caterpillar hunting.

As the only trekker for this final stage, I again must thank Dennis for partly paying for this. I still have a table and chair, but the green mess tent is now shared with the kitchen crew.

Day 124: Other campers were noisy until 10pm, then it started up again at 4am. When I looked out, they were all packing up to leave. A whole village had been caterpillar hunting.

It was an easy climb to Kangmara La at 5100 metres, my last 5000 metres pass with misty, snow patches and mud from the top. The steep descents were overtaken by some of the villagers and going the other way, a hundred or so yaks, many carrying loads, busied the trail.

It looks like some seasonal migration, from where to where I do not know. Certainly, after crossing Kangmara La west to east, they must turn north to Ringmo.

In crossing a stream, just after I stepped off a snow ledge, it collapsed into the stream in three pieces. The time lapse camera was running at a one second interval. I do not know if it captured the event or be believable.

It was a seven-hour walk before we made camp on a grass knoll beside river flats, back down to where vegetation is notable.

Day 125: Down, up, and down for eight hours before we reached the quaint Kaigaon village at 2600 metre, experiencing some slight haze.

Kaigaon looks a bit like a Swiss village. A strong, straight stream past neat little houses set in small green fields. The grass slopes are surrounded by extensive pine forests above. Very suitable for Bollywood filming of Switzerland.

Incidentally, Sue saw Bollywood filming in the fields above Kagbeni, close to where a bus had left the road on a zig, rolling down to land on a lower zag. On the topic of Sue, I miss her. Her politically incorrect views matched mine. So rare, and a joy. As the late great Lee Kuan Yew once said, “We may not be politically correct, but we are correct.”

My English companion is now China Radio International, which has some interesting conversations. There was a particularly amusing line I heard from a group of single women: “One of the problems of getting married is that you have to live with the guy.”

We camped in a back garden under an apple tree with a sleeping dog and a few hens pecking around. The white one was selected for my dinner. I did not look closely at the details between.

Day 126: With continual clear skies and sunshine at the beginning of this stage, it took a turn. We had some rain before dawn and low monsoonal clouds masking the very green hills and lingering at the hill tops. The now damp air obscured the long view and we had a bit of a delayed start because the mules would not come. A long seven-hour road plod up to Nauli Ghot at 3600 metres. I saw about 20 vehicles, mostly Indian motor bikes.

As everyone told me, the flies are a problem. Not just around human habitation, but everywhere, rising in swarms from animal droppings on the road. They hitch a ride on your hands, walking around on the back of your hands, feeling like an under-dose of Diamox, and making you aware of their presence.

But no-one warned me of the midges. They make my wrists and the back of my hands constantly itchy.

Day 127: Light rain at night and dawn, but just as we set off the mist and rain lifted. Again, another clear day with high fluffy clouds, and another road plod. Slightly less traffic up to a low pass, Maure Lagna at 3800 metres. Only in the Himalayas is 3800 metre a “low pass”.

We headed down to Swiss style countryside. Pine forests, clear streams, green fields and grass where we camped at Manigaon at 2800 metres, before the scheduled stop. I had been walking for seven hours and I was relatively fine. The mules were tired.

I finished reading a New Zealand tramping book that Sue gave to Bikash, who passed it on to me. It was an interesting read; I like the sentiment, but NZ tramping is too masochistic for me. I like good weather.

On the topic of books, here are some I’d recommend:

  - “The Ascent of Rum Doodle” (the author used to live at 153, re Bill Bryson)

  -  Eric Newby, particularly “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”

  -  Peter Hopkirk, particularly “Trespassers on the Roof of the World”

Day 128: Clear, high fluffy clouds. Yet another 7-hour road plod over a low 3000-metre pass just after a sheep/goat research station with plots of different grasses.

Our camp was in the front grounds of a hotel in Jumla at 2500 metres. Oppressive heat broken by a mild thunderstorm cleared the air. There was only moderate reverberation of the thunder because the hills are gentler here.

Day 129: We walked through Jumla, the city is defined with scruffy, narrow, windy (twisting) streets with messy little shops. I notice the new road with a dog asleep in the middle. Reminiscent of Kathmandu circa 1980s. It’s a very spread out town, buildings and fields interspersed.

We climbed slowly out to the north and Jumla looks better from a distance. We cross the pass of Daphe Lagna at 3700 metres and camp shortly after in an alpine meadow with a mix of cows, horses, goats and dogs. Thunderstorm again.

Day 130: There was a bit of ascent and descent to Chautha at 2800 metres. It gifted us with another Swiss style scenery. We had camp at Bulbule 3100 metres, a lovely alpine meadow with an army check point. So, no photos. I’m glad that there are less flies today, although there are at least 20 in my tent as I type this, and no midges.

Day 131: There was light rain before dawn. We climbed up the path to the pass of Ghurchi Lagma at 3500 metres, then there was much descent.

Scenes of monsoonal clouds remained off the pine covered hills and the road became quieter now. It would make a great bus ride. We had lunch beside the road and there was a clear stream that ran slowly across the road about 10cm deep. We crossed by way of a rough rickety plank. A small herd of goats came along the road who all insisted on using that plank.

Soon we climbed up to Rara Lake at 3000 metres, the largest lake in Nepal. Rara Lake is like a Lake District lake in England. Pine forested hills down to the waters, but no crags and very quiet, much as Enid Blyton would have intended.

The camp site was pointed out to me to be on the opposite shore. We arrived at camp by 4pm and rain followed suit. It was too noisy to listen to the radio.

Day 132: I am now on the last map, but I suddenly came down with a slight sickness at this stage of the trek. But at least there’s less flies.

It was five hours of walking down in a bit of light rain to a riverside camp about 200 metres below Gamgadhi, which is at 2000 metres. An arc of a rainbow appeared with the sun nearly overhead. It was beautiful and I took a photo.

Gamgadhi was an interesting town with a steep, narrow, twisting concreted lane lined with neat, tiny, higgledy-piggledy shops. Electric cables were just above head height and bundles of water pipes to one side.

There are steep access steps to upper floors directly from the lane. How they get stuff in and out I do not know. Downpours must be a nightmare.

In Gamgadhi I held a can of Baygon in my hand, with the full instructions only in Hindi. On Bikash’s advice I put it back. I would have to carry it in my day pack, and it would probably leak, causing more trouble than it was worth. Even my roll-on sunscreen now leaks, from the repetitive pressure changes of up and down.

There is a big, milky river and lots of mule trains coming and going. There must be a road head. A Dornier light aircraft appears to be making shuttle flights nearby.

Day 133: Misty hills and a cloudy overcast cleared to reveal a hot day. Judging by the passing mule traffic, Gamgadhi must handle hundreds of mules every day.

Up and down for about 100 metres, then up again to Bam at 2700 metres. A strange place. A big building on the col, with commanding views and another large area levelled, yet the local populace live in rough wooden hovels. I have been told that this area of Nepal operates a feudal system.

I washed some clothes to take advantage of the sun, but terrible flies. It felt like there were at least a thousand around the green tent.

Day 134: Up to pass at Chankheli Lagna at 3600 metres, then down to riverside camp at Jogimara at 3000 metres. A six-hour walk, but ten minutes before camp we had a sudden downpour and were damp on arrival. What caught me by surprise was the dirt splashes on my pack as I put my rain gear on.

Day 135: Bikash says that this campsite is the campsite trekkers evacuated to in 2016 when the river flooded at midnight, as Jasmine experienced. He also says that it always rains here. This time it rained heavily at night, and the river was brown in the morning.

So it was a damp start in light rain, climbing up, then a very muddy slippery descent on a short cut of a new road, too muddy for traffic.

My boots became a mess. Lunch was in a house and the cookers were in the corridor, just a hole in the earth roof gave access to it.

I sat in a bedroom where a sleeping platform was made of split wood planks. No mattress. A rough, woollen blanket made from those strips of simple waist loom cloth that you sometimes see, were roughly sewn together. Walls of spilt wood, a small rough wooden door and a narrow access beside the bed. No furniture. No possessions. None. The only luxury: an electric light bulb shared between two rooms. Flies were everywhere and I had to put my sun hat over my drink and dessert. As Bikash said, these people have nothing.

The slowness of the long slippery section had delayed us, and the walk did not finish at Piplan at 1700 metres until 6pm. Longer than Lhonak to Gunsa, but not so exhausting. I had to wash my boots immediately on arrival.

There were many locals peering into the mess tent, but Bikash kept them amused.

Day 136: Clammy, monsoonal clouds, but no actual rain. Climbing all day, with a 100-metre descent to Apsia Lek at 3200 metres, arriving at 4pm, but I ran out of water an hour before. It was such a relief to hear one of our mule’s bell clonking at a rate suggestive of grazing. The landscape remains green, the flies numerous. Roads are scarce.

Day 137: Heavy monsoonal clouds drew close, forecasting mist and light rain. Down and up to Punkha Khola at 1pm at 3000 metres, by NZ standards it was good weather.

Bikash is counting down the days more than I am.

Stuff is getting wet that should not be, like my sodden high-altitude gloves. The soap disappeared from the washstand. This time we blamed the mules.

Day 138: It was a seven-hour 1000-metre climb to a pass of Margor Lek Bhanjyang at 4000 metres. We had a 1000-metre slippery descent to a river camp. Curiously, in crossing a stream below a snow bridge, there was a definite cold, clammy downdraft down the gully.

Day 139: Similar weather to the previous days, mostly mist and rain during a seven-hour descent to 2100 metres and then a climb back up to Simikot at 3000 metres. During the walk, I saw a herd of 50 goats each carrying a small load in rough cloth bags. I was told the load is rice or lentils.

Simikot, like Juphal, is an airport well up the side of a valley, but steeper, greener and wetter than Juphal, and considerably busier. In my hotel room, typing this (there’s Wi-Fi here) I can hear, but not see, considerable air traffic. I assume it’s from rich Indians transferring from plane to helicopter on their pilgrimage to Mount Kailas and back.

It’s the third consecutive day of rain. It is draining my enthusiasm. The main street has a little muddy stream running down it, carrying an empty packet of corn chips.

- Brian

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