Tangboche to Dangboche
Kanccha had dragged us from our beds at 6 in the morning with a gleam in his eye that we hadn’t seen before. With little or no explanation he hurried us to get changed, dress warm and bring our cameras. Up until this stage he always seemed rather disappointed in the mornings because he knew just how much we wanted to see the beauty of the Himalaya and almost took it personally when the low hanging clouds robbed us of the view he knew was there. Today however he walked with the languid gait of someone who knew he was about to deliver and his banter had an unusually excited air about it.
Struggling over rock and building material piled high behind the guest house we made our way to a raised area flattened with crushed rock about 5 metres across. “ helicopter landing pad” Kanccha said with a smile. Thank god we had walked here because landing on this little patch of rock would have been scarier than Lukla by a mile and not a proposition I would ever want to contemplate.
Straight out of bed it can be a little difficult to catch your breath at these altitudes and it wasn’t till we got to the landing that we were able to look up and start to take in the view. With all the skill of a circus showman he first pointed us down the valley and named and numbered the peaks that we had been walking between with a pride only an ageing local can carry off. After a minute or two and with other excited trekkers coming into view he casually said “ Look over your shoulder.” We both turned around expecting more of the same or more likely incoming clouds. What we saw instead was truly breathtaking. Before us was a narrow valley, walled by impossibly high mountains. Framing the view at the end was a sheer wall of snowed clad mountains, tiny in the distance and yet gigantic. Perched above it all was the unmistakable peak of Everest, unencumbered by clouds or fog. The dull white of snow slowly turning a deep gold as the sun rose slowly to the east. Even more so than yesterday, this was an incredible moment when you tried to comprehend that we were mere kilometres away from the base yet due to its immense height the peak seemed so far away.
It was a humbling to think that people at that very moment were trying to scale her and yet the mountain seemed strangely indifferent to them, the whole world, and us. As infantile as it is to suggest that this monolith of snow and rock could appear to be affecting such human emotions, for the first time in my life I truly began to understand why peoples all over the world have always seen god like qualities in natures form. I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling.
We stayed up there, oohhing and ahhring for another few minutes until surrounded by other trekkers and the moment was lost. Strangely the scene reverted to just a glorious landscape, ripe for the photographic picking of western tourists in a place where we were strangers and in many ways didn’t belong.
With breakfast finished, more photos taken and bags packed we set off up the valley for our final day below the tree line. It was a fairly uneventful day, strolling up the valley across roaring rivers, through picturesque villages and our now ever present friends the Tibetan Yak.
Above the tree line.
As we gradually climbed higher our surroundings began to change. Not long after lunch we at last broke through the tree line and stood on the border between the world below and a new and foreign place. A place so sparse, so rugged and so quiet we felt like intruders in a fantasy land that was to big for the mere likes of human beings.
It was cold when we awoke the next morning and the lack of oxygen, meant that our movements were slow and conversation limited until after breakfast.
Despite the frigid air the sky was clear and our walking quite easy through the stone walled fields being tended by the local Sherpas. This was the last point of what we might call agriculture. From here on in we would only see wild grasses, shrubs and yaks. The sheer emptiness of the place an ever-present reminder of the harshness of life up here for man and beast.
By mid afternoon we had reached our next lodge at Dingpache nestled at the junction of the paths for Everest base camp and the Imja Glacier. We were now so close to Everest yet oddly we couldn’t see her. Between us the massive wall of Lohtse, the 4th highest mountain in the world and one of the most challenging climbs known to man. It was sobering to walk along the path and see so many stone memorials to those who had left their dreams and lives on its sheers cliffs.
Another good nights sleep followed only interrupted by dreams filled with anticipation for tomorrow’s final push to Chukhung and our chance to stand on the great Himalayan glaciers that we were here to see.
The final walk and our first glacier.
It was cold when we awoke the next morning and the lack of oxygen, meant that our movements were slow and conversation limited until after breakfast.
Despite the frigid air, the sky was clear and our walking quite easy through the stone walled fields being tended by the local Sherpas. This was the last point of what we might call agriculture. From here on in we would only see wild grasses, waist high shrubs and yaks, the sheer emptiness of the place an ever-present reminder of the harshness of life up here for man and beast.
Our pace was slow, due mainly to the fact that we were continually stopping for photos, brief rests and a chance just to ogle at the beauty of the mountains around us.
We reached Chunkhung in the late morning just as the clouds started to role up the valley. We thought that might be the end of our day but by 2 o’clock the sky had cleared and Kanccha suggested we go on up to our first glacier. We couldn’t wait and we were about to see firsthand the real effects of a warming climate on this beautiful land.
Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Waking up the next morning to grey clouds and drizel, our high spirits were definitely lower than the night before. But with the infectious enthusiasm of Kamccha our Sherpa guide, a beautiful breakfast and a brisk 2 hour walk early in the morning by the time we got to the Sagarmartha Park gate even the prospect of a 800 metre climb in the afternoon seemed like the most logical, pleasant thing we could possibly think of doing.
The climb passed without much incident save for a constant drizel, ever decreasing oxygen and tiring legs, but that is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. Just the sheer majesty of the surrounding mountains when glimpsed through the clouds, the might of the rivers, and challenge of the rough tracks made the walk fantasic and it was almost with a little sadness that we got into Namche bazaar, our overnight stop, a few hours ahead of time. A quick trip to the local boot maker to mend a troublesome boot and back to the guesthouse just in time to miss a huge downpour and our afternoon was complete and early night at 3800 metres and our first reacquaintance with real altitide. Tomorrow was to be an aclimatisation day with a quick 400 metre climb and the remainder of the day devoted to rest. And how we would appreciate it later on.
Even though the next morning was supposed to be a restful, we were woken early by Kamccha , with the refain of “the skies are clear”, get up we don’t have much time. So at 6.00 am. groggy from an altitude sleep, cold and slightly disoriented we scrambled( probably and exagerartion) out of bread and started our climb to the local viewing spot. Now at sea level this would literally be a ten minute walk up a short hill to get the blood flowing. Up here the first 100 metres until the blood really did get flowing and get some oxygenwas agaony. The lungs were screaming, the legs were like lead and the mind was wondering what the hell I was doing out of bed. As with all things in the mountains though, if you take time they usally come good and after about 10 minutes the body had adapted and life seemed great again. Particularly with the view we were confronted with when we got to the top. Namche Bazaar is really the first place you can get decent view of Everest from the Nepali side. There a few places lower but you are peering through trees and hoping for no clouds.
When a life long dream is about to be filled, sleep the night before can be more than a little problematic. Add to that the hideously early departure and by the time we got to the airport we were dazed and confused but desperatley excited about going to the Khumbu region to see Everest and the Imja Glacier.
Getting on the plane -Harder than you might think.
Our first challenge though was not altitude or cold or isolation. It was getting Eri onto the tiny aircraft that was going to take us to Lukla. As we rode in the bus across the tarmac, we went past progressively smaller Yeti Airline( I lovethat name) planes and with each passing machine Eri’s excitement turned more and more to fear. When the bus finallypulled up next to the little 16 seater it took more than a little convincing that getting out of the safe bus and into the not so safe plane was actually a great idea.
Bless her she overcame her fears and finally got in, fear painted all over her face. we were lucky enough to secure a left hand seat which afforded us the most magnificant views of the snow capped Himalaya once we got airborne. With Eri sat behind me ( with the most sweat soaked palms i have ever seen) we weavedour way through the ever increasing peaks, skimming over small settlements and almost glancing sheer cliff faces.
Here is an interesting article from the BBC. British PM Gordon Brown seems to the first world leader to really come out and say that Copenhagen is the last real chance to make a difference regards Climate Change.
Personally, I wonder if the politicians will be able to overcome the self interest that global politics inherently entails. Unfortunately, common sense is usually not the first human quality used in diplomacy. However if we are going to have any chance of getting a positive result maybe it’s time to put aside pessism and doubt and hope they can finally use their brains for the benefit of us all.
After a long lazy lunch and a few furtive looks at a dark monsoon sky, we jumped in the truck again and made our way to the elephant ride.
Life from the elephants back.
Again my conscience was itching, riding these graceful beasts just so we can have look around the jungle in many ways grates. That said, like we were told at the elephant sanctuary, if we don’t somehow monetize the elephants this way, poachers and criminals will do it in far more damaging ways. Mankind’s abilityto bring the beauty of nature down to solely a financial value really is a scourge on our species.
Anyway when we arrived we were immediately directed to the largest beast in the field. The girls were quick to note, that the fact that I was the fattest man in the room allowed us to get this graceful giant to carry us around the jungle. The cheeky buggers should really have been grateful, because the lofty heights of the back of this animal gave us an unforgetable afternoon.
Setting off, the loping gait of the elephant took a little bit ot get used to. That said, we were soon taking no notice of the rocking and rolling and were peering keenly into the jungle trying to make up for the mornings disappointment. Jumping at every movement real or percieved, saddled with the hope that we would see a great rhino, we were instead soon lolled into a comfortable daze that seemed almost impossible to break until we brushed through a particularly tight break in the trees and were rewarded with the most magnificent veiw. Wallowing by a water hole were two beatiful but sadly endangered Asian Rhino. Calm, graceful, and unfazed by our presence, these ancient looking animals reminded me of a time when humans were part of nature and not dominating it. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have dangerously overstepped the mark and should really revert back to a more sustainable place in nature for the benefit of ourselves and everything else that eeks out a living on this planet. The fact that we could endanger the very existence of such fantastic beasts just for short term financial gain really seems all the more ridiculous when you see these magnificant animals up close.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of more sightings, river crossings, beautiful jungle vistas and a wonderful feeling of being at least for a short time we were a part of nature rather than dominating and being disconnected from it.
Back to Kathmandu
The next day it was with a certain sense of disappointment that we raced back to Kathmandu to fulfull a few mediaobligations for WWF and more importantly wish Amand a fond farewell.
A big THANK YOU to my little sis.
After six weeks together at the start of September it was time for Amanda to head back to the real world. Job, boyfriend and house moving duties all calling her back. I just want to thank her for being such great company, imparting her extensive knowledge in film making and being a huge support to Eri and I, not only while on the road but before and after in a way that has been above and beyond the call of duty. I really appreciate it and am super proud of her riding success with us. Considering she really had no idea what she was getting herslf into and what her dodgy brother was going to ask of her. Thanks kiddo, you were great.
After a fairly non eventful time in Manali and Chandigar, we returned to Nepal. After a brief stop in Lumbini ( the birth place of buddha) we spent a few days riding through the Terai region towards the world heritage listed Chitwan National park.
The ride itself was nice enough, with a backdrop of lush green rice paddies and the low Himalayas. The real joy began when finally arrived at the sleepy little town of Sauraha at the gateway to the park.
Exhausted, hot , smelling in dire need of a shower we spent our first night resting before an early start the next day.
A surprisingly good canoe trip.
I will be honest, I wasn’t acutally that thrilled about the tours we had to join to get into the park. So it was with a small amount of trepidation that we jumped into the back of our lodge’s van to be driven to the river side for an early morning river cruise.
We duly piled into a dug out canoe and it wasn’t until we cast off that I got over my reservations and realised just how our location was. The fast flowing river quickly forced us around the first bend and almost immediately we were confronted with beautiful Kingfisher birds, Water Buffalo, colourfully dressed locals, and within ten minutes our first crocadile. Our guide of course managed to spot animals ages before us, but on the whole it was one of the most relaxing 45 mins I have spent in a long, long time.
After reaching the end of our short river sojourn, we jumped out and started out on a little trek in search of rhino, tigers, deer and elephant. After an hour of poor David Attenborough impersonations and false sightings we had to accept the fact that only animal material we were going to find was steaming piles of fresh evidence but no live beasts.
That said we had a fantastic picnic breakfast and managed to get an interesting insight into the effects climate change during an great little interview with our guide, Sanjib. ( You will be able to see it along with all our other interviews when we return to Tokyo and get them all edited. )
A surprisingly uncomfortable elephant farm.
We ended up at the Elephant Breeding site, which although mildly interesting, cute and probably necessary to maintain the Asian elephants population of Chitwan park, was a slightly uncomfortable place to be. Particularly after the freedom of walking through the jungle unfenced and unchained.
On the whole it was a great little morning cruisingon the river, traipsing through the jungle and getting up face to face with some amazing creatures. It was the afternoon to come that was really wonderful.
More about that in the next post.