Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

ONWARD THROUGH THE ROLLING STEPPE OF CENTRAL MONGOLIA

For the next week we traveled to higher altitudes and began to see yaks and rock-covered mountains with patches of poplar and larch trees. As we made our way to Tserleg, the provincial capital of Archangai province, where Bogie’s mother lives, we went through Kharkorin, the center of Ovorkhangai Province at the lower end of the Orkhon River. This is at the easternmost foothills of the Khangai Mountains, where they meet the rolling steppe of central Mongolia. The most famous landmark near the ruins of the ancient town of Kharakorin is Erdene Zuu monastery, the Temple of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and its famous phallic rock.

The history of this oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia dates back at least to 1585 and some say to the 8th century. It has survived centuries of invasion, political shifts, religious purges, and outright murder. The outer wall contains one hundred and eight white stupas, which managed to survive all the purges. The number 108 is very significant to Buddhists. For more information about this beleaguered monastery, now an historical museum, click HERE.

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Near the temple compound, there was a tourist area and everyone wanted to be The Eagle Huntress (see the movie if you haven’t already.)

We stayed for one night at the home of Bogie’s mother. It was here that we were treated to our first traditional lamb barbecue, a very elaborate feast served with a variety of salads, vegetables, and sweets. It was also our first real taste of Mongolia’s legendary hospitality. I’ve never seen anything like it, but was to enjoy the same warm and welcoming atmosphere throughout my journey. As we left we could see Ankush and his cousins enthusiastically playing with the plastic bat and ball that Tamara so thoughtfully carried as gifts for our host families.

Bogie with his wife and family

The day was glorious, with views of mountains, meadows, and animals.

In the late afternoon we set up camp near a clump of woods shielding a pristine, meandering stream. Well, not so pristine. Bogie was furious when he spied debris, especially plastic wrap in the water. He wasted no time cleaning things up and sharing his strong opinions about pollution.

The evening was peaceful…hiking in the mountains, exploring a nomad winter camp, and watching horses as they passed by.

The quiet of dusk. 

 

 

“LOOKING FOR A ROAD, WE’RE LOOKING FOR A ROAD!

“WHAT A WONDERFUL FEELING, WE’RE LOOKING FOR A ROAD.” (sung to the tune of Singin’ In The Rain). Yes, a good part of my journey through the heart of Mongolia last July was spent in a Russian van bumping over open countryside, maneuvering between giant rocks, down gullies, and through rivers, in search of the semblance of a road that would take us to sparkling lakes, undulating mountains, exquisite rock formations, and wilderness campsites. Sometimes I felt the van tilt so far that I was sure we would overturn, but our driver, Algaa, whom I nicknamed George, because I could never say his name with the correct inflection, was better than any race driver I had ever seen gracing the tracks of the Nurburgring or Indianapolis. It defined adventure and made me realize how often I employed my New Yorkese as I hung on and yelled, “Oiy Vay! I can’t believe this!” It was truly a thrill a minute.

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In all fairness, there is a super highway, but all the scenic places are off road…and it’s more fun, anyway!

Last July 3rd, just before I flew to Ulaanbaator, I wrote a bit about the history of modern Mongolia and about our outstanding guide, Bolormunkh Erdenekhuu (Bogie). Click HERE to read it. Bogie is an ornithologist, geologist, and engineer all wrapped into one, with an extensive knowledge of the wild life and history of his country. Like about 98% of the populace, he is well educated and aware of the problems facing the world today. He berated the West for its complacency about and complicity in global warming and for its lack of awareness of climate change. And he despaired of what it was doing to the culture and economy of his country. Animals are dying, grasslands are drying up, and nomads are moving to Ulaanbaatar, the capitol, in an attempt to make a living…stretching its facilities to the breaking point. I totally agreed with him, and shared my despair about how the current administration was pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, and also allowing for more emissions from coal plants. I was helpless to explain this craziness and lack of foresight and was heartsick when I saw the condition of the formerly fertile hills and valleys of this nomad culture. Later on in my story I will show you how we got stuck in a sandstorm in the Great Mongolian sand dunes (or upper Gobi) and had to shovel our way out. And we weren’t the only ones!

Our story starts from the picturesque and bustling capital, Ulaanbaatar, on July 4th. Bogie arrived at our rented room on his bike and he, Tamara, and I headed for the main market located in the huge government department store to buy supplies for our trip. Tamara, you may remember, is my friend from Maine, whom I call a “traveling librarian.” At the store we met Tulle, Bogie’s charming wife, who was going to accompany us on the trip along with their adorable four-year old son, Ankush, a live wire, indeed, who was with us the first two days.

On July 8th we started on an adventure that would take us 4,750 kilometers overland through the Noyon Khangai and Altai mountains, Olgii, the Altai Bogd National Park and its lakes, the Kharkhiraa and Turgen mountain area, Achit, Unreg, and Hyargas Lakes, and the Great Mongolian sand dunes. Most of our first day was spent on a paved road, so we had no idea what lay in store for us! After we went off road, we passed numerous small lakes and marshes. The animals that stood in them and the low-lying white puffy clouds were perfectly reflected, doubling our visual pleasure. We were on the steppes with all kinds of grasses—from flowering forbs to feather grass, from spiny clusters to drought-resistant varieties with long Latin names. But there was still a great deal of sand with ripples, not from water, but from the wind.

It was a picture book scene: craggy outcroppings, black rocks, rolling hills, and an occasional cluster of two or three gers surrounded by roaming sheep, goats, and cows. A ger is a form of yurt. The roof is made of straight poles attached to the circular crown.

We camped not far from a nomad family, and it was quite the process each evening to set up.

As we were setting up, two children came by on a camel, offering rides. If I had known that this was my best chance, I’d have hopped aboard. Instead I decided to explore the sand dunes and swamps, which were rife with baby frogs and other tiny aquatic creatures.

We camped in part of the Khugnu-Tarna National Park. All around were small sand dunes and high grasses. In the distance were brown hills and lakes.

After dinner we walked to a sandy ledge where Bogie and his family had a grand time sliding down and trudging back up in bare feet.

As we stood there the moon came up and was in its full glory by the time we returned to camp. Sheep and goats roamed just outside our tents, as on most nights. It was cold and there were beads of frost on the grassy steppes at 5:30 in the morning when I peeked out at the sunrise. A clear white light silhouetted the hills.  Reflections highlighted the marsh. Total silence.

OUR FINAL PUSH ALL THE WAY TO SHIVALAYA

The last day of our trek in the Solukhumbu…

December 17, 2016

We headed out of Bhandar, climbing to the top of this ridge before then descending down to Shivalaya. It was straight up for three hours, past terraced farms and fruit trees all cultivated by farmers whose homes lay destroyed or were in the process of being rebuilt.

We saw different kinds of technology in action… from a parabolic mirror that heats water in a tea kettle, to save on burning wood… to a massive bulldozer creating a road that will forever alter the village as buses and trucks will now have access.

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The children have simple games. These two children had so much fun sliding down a steep meadow on pieces of cardboard.

As we went through a family courtyard of packed dirt, we stopped to watch two boys playing marbles, expertly flipping the marble off the thumb and index finger. They scrambled about in the dirt like old pros, and gathered others to watch the impromptu match.

The Nepali children are full of energy, and we have observed them playing various games with old balls or rocks, including imaginative forms of cricket or baseball. Kids are ingenious and “make do” with what is at hand. Bless them!

It was a long way up, and we were happy when Jean Jacques, who had left the guest house later, caught up to us. We passed many mani walls, crossed the road several times, and continued up the rocky steps of the trail, with a beautiful vista behind us.

At noon we finally reached the delightful town at the top of the ridge, and had lunch next to some mani walls. The town had sustained damage as we had seen with farms all along the way, but was rebuilding. No one talked in a depressing way. They just kept working and accepting what had happened as part of life. I found it quite distressing to see the big houses in ruins and whole families relegated to squalid shacks on the hillside. I stopped taking pictures after awhile.

After lunch it was up and down and then began a relentless, five-hour downhill. The trail went from flat rocks, often jagged, to big boulders, to smooth clay potholes and water-damaged slides, to walkways next to a precipice.

Jean Jacques overtook us again with his 120 lb. pack and pointed out several large abandoned bees nests that were swinging from a sheer cliff way up high.

They reminded me of the active ones we had seen on the Melamchi trek last year. I loved this part of the trail, enjoying going in and out of the forest with its blanket of pine needles covering the rocky trail.

At last we reached the final grinding switchbacks high above the river. I really was amazed that I didn’t take a header, for we leapt from one boulder to another, wary of every twist and turn that greeted us.

What is a bit disconcerting is that you can see where you’re headed way down below, but it never seems to materialize.

At last—ending on a veritable landslide—we dropped into town. Dusk was fast approaching. Telltale remnants of the earthquake damage were visible in the many tin roofs of the small village.

What a greeting we received when we arrived at the Riverview Lodge! There was Jean Jacques, who had already showered and was waiting to celebrate our achievement with rakshi and dinner. And who could ask for a more beautiful waitress to serve us?

I can’t resist a comment about the challenges of some of our guesthouses. Like this one and the Riverside near Melamchi, the second floor rooms are reached by an outside open flight of stairs. Railings are non-existent, which, for me, is just a continuation of the open trail. This particular place was quite fancy in that it had a western toilet off the courtyard and a shower next to it with water constantly running from an open spigot into a bucket. With the river flowing by, apparently no need for water conservation here.

It was a long and jolly last evening in the mountains! Who cared about the arduous trip home? We’d face that tomorrow….

TAKE HEART! IT’S ONLY FIVE HOURS “UP” TO BHANDAR

Continuing with the final days of the trek in the lower Solukhumbu last December…

Dec. 16, 2016

Before leaving Kinja, we discovered that parts of the Shree Buda Kinja Basic School had been destroyed and the library, especially, was in need of books and supplies. The school was in the forest not far from the guesthouse, so we walked there and were able to give money from my friends, Lynn and Robert Rubright. The librarian was overjoyed!

Here is a slideshow of the school:

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After visiting the school, we headed out of town, crossing a long bridge over the river, and then following it up the valley.

It was nice to give our “downhill” muscles a rest for a day as we wound our way uphill through small mountain villages and lush forests. We passed many farms, and one in particular with delicious freshly picked oranges.

Big orange tree

We enjoyed a wonderful rest stop of eating those fresh oranges, learning about cardamom, and relaxing in the sun.

The trail turned steeply up high above the river.

Cittra with his beard shaved

Coming to the top of a steep incline we were greeted by Chittra, whom we hardly recognized, since he had shaved his dark beard. He was a friend of the owner of a destroyed guesthouse complex in the process of being rebuilt by Nepali friends and an Australian volunteer. It was wonderful to see these people all working together.

It was a beautiful place with terraces and forest all around the cluster of destroyed buildings.

When I asked Buddhi to ask the owner if he ever was discouraged, Buddhi indicated that this was not something a Nepal thought about. He said, in effect, that they just picked up the pieces and went on. Quite a telling attitude, I thought. He lives with his family in Bhandar and comes every day to work on rebuilding his property. That’s quite a daily trek!

It was wonderful the way the men cleaned up the half-built dining room, set up chairs and a table, and served us the best dal bhat ever. (I know, I’ve said it before, but since it’s always different, I will say it, again).

Added to the dal we had superb buffalo milk yogurt. I was so full I’m surprised I lasted four more hours up to the lodge. But I was mightily contented.

It’s hard to believe how many steps we climbed. It went on and on ever higher. The views from every angle were glorious and it was fun to watch as we rose above the turbulent river on endless switchbacks.

We had a few downhills before reaching a huge meadow—an amazing expanse of farmland dotted with the remains of large stone houses. In some of the abandoned shells we found tomatoes or rosemary or turmeric flourishing. Obviously, there were absentee farmers tending their crops. There were also orchards and terraced fields of wheat and barley. And interspersed with all this were the ubiquitous mani walls. I still had pangs of sadness when I saw the tin shells and makeshift dwellings where families were living while rebuilding.

At last we were approaching our destination! We had entered the district of Ramechhap, and were warmly greeted at the door by the owner of The Shobha Lodge and Restaurant.  It had been refurbished and was partly rebuilt of wood and aluminum siding. The beautiful young cook, Sujata Pradhan, who is part of the family enterprise, is also a teacher of Nepali at the secondary school for 600 students, located thirty minutes farther up the mountain. We ended up spending time with her and making a donation along with our friends, Stephanie and Jesse King. It will be used to buy books, pens, and other necessary school supplies. She was overjoyed by our gift.

The only other guest that evening was a charming Frenchman, Jean Jacques Quinquis, a retired negotiator for Air France. We would spend quite a bit of time with him over the next couple of days and even meet him for lunch in Boudhanath before returning home. He was one of the nine men we met on this trek, who were traveling alone and had returned to Nepal many times.

Need I say that we slept well?

BUCKLE UP! IT’S A KILLER RIDE TO KINJA

December 15, 2016

The night was a down vest, down jacket, long underwear, and extra sleeping bag lining night…bitter cold. We headed down the trail following close to a roaring river, and as we continued our descent the sun became downright hot. By noon we were in T-shirts.

Some climbers say that the stretch between Lamjura Pass and Kinja is the most challenging downhill of the entire trek between Jiri and Lukla, the original route to Everest Base Camp before planes started flying into Lukla. I believe them!

We went down down down!

As we began we met a tiny caravan of sherpas carrying impossibly heavy loads as they did years ago before the Lukla airport. There used to be thousands of porters like this making the trek to Everest, now just a handful still do.

We also encountered more donkeys, or mules, this time laden with hay and straw, probably for farm animals in the higher altitudes. At times the trail was like a deep carved passageway lined with rock walls and at other times it fanned out like a trampled thruway for animals.

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I was amazed at the number of houses and guesthouses we passed, that had been destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. So many more than at lower altitudes. And it was sad to see the shacks where the displaced families still lived, usually on a piece of land above the ruined house. After awhile I just stopped taking pictures. It felt like an invasion of privacy. I had not known that over 1,000 dwellings had been destroyed in the Solukhumba, alone, very similar to the Helambu/Yolmo region we visited last year.

The trail was complicated and varied, and I was fascinated by the change in landscape and terrain from the day before. I stumbled upon a small pond hidden beside an old mani wall, the ferns and trees draped in white katas. And there were vast fields of native plants, like the highly-lucrative cardamon, a plant with large green leaves and flowers sprouting from its base. Cary went crazy taking pictures of the huge variety of vegetation spread out before us—bananas, barley, bamboo, fig trees, oranges, lemons, and ground apples. It was amazing to me that they thrived in this climate.

After beginning our day at 8:35 am, we arrived at the Sherpa Guesthouse in Kinja at 6:30 pm, just as dusk was settling in. We were sure neither Buddhi nor Chittra thought we’d make the entire 6,000 ft. straight down in one day. We sure fooled them! But just in the nick of time…it wasn’t long before the sun began to set.

We were so happy to see the guest house! The evening was spent in front of the fire talking with Philip, a handsome silver-haired Canadian from Calgary, who travels alone with one small pack and a change of clothes. He is an air quality engineer, has two major projects a year, and combines his love of the wilderness with his desire to improve the environment and find ways to promote clean energy. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about fossil fuels.

What a great night!

HEADING TO OUR FIRST MOUNTAIN PASS…LAMJURA

Note from Cary: I’m continuing to publish posts written by Meg about our trip in Nepal last December. She is currently in Mongolia and all is going really well. Look forward to her sharing that trip, but in the meantime, here is more about our trip in the lower Solukhumbu.

December 14, 2016

I know I sound like a broken record, but these next two days were killers, especially the 6,000 ft. downhill into Kinja. Pretty soon you’ll be admonishing me to stay home and do stairs if it’s climbing I want! But think how this is exercising the old brain. I have to concentrate big time as I carefully negotiate every jagged rock if I want to keep from falling on my face. So far so good.

We stepped out of the Sherpa Guide Lodge early the next morning and after a quick farewell to Marcus, we started up the steep and rocky trail. What a view greeted us! It wasn’t long before the monastery we had visited yesterday, and Junbesi, faded into the distance, making us realize how far we’d come.

The trail was pretty much out in the open until lunchtime, which was the usual garlic soup and dal baht. In the afternoon we passed quite a few Nepalis and foreigners (Australians, British, Canadian…no Americans), which gave us a good excuse to stop, swap stories, and take a breath. I was struck by two different local baby carriers. One father carried his toddler in a fancy western backpack, and one mother carried her baby in a much larger type of “boodle buggy” or bassinet, holding it safe by a thick strap around her forehead. It reminded me of the way Chittra carried our bags.

 

It seemed that I would never get away from stairs! The last time I’d seen so many was on the Inca Trail in Peru. But they are truly beautiful, as are the fences and rock walls. And I never tire of them.

Before ducking into the forest, we passed a large field where monkeys scampered, stealing grain and causing great consternation among the farmers. They were cute little buggers and seemed to be daring you to catch them.

Another lunch of dal bhat sustained us as we made our way up to the Lamjura Pass.

The trail up to the pass was amazingly varied—rolling hills, mountains, vast forests, and rhododendron, as well as areas where the trees had been cut down.

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On the other side of the 10,000 ft pass, we passed through high rhododendron forests and the trail became littered with large, dark stones—a geologic phenomenon similar to the vast cliffs and overhanging rocks dotting the valley.

The only guest house was a rather forlorn place nestled near a damaged stupa. We were totally isolated. No town around. Just two solitary houses and a stone courtyard, with two outhouses, both long walks from the house. A black dog slept outside, curled against a blanket.

But what a warm environment inside! The fire in the large clay stove was blazing as we stepped into the primitive cabin, lit only by one hanging bulb. The beautiful young woman in charge seemed quite modern, and was an excellent cook, managing to multitask in what seemed to me like semi-darkness. A stooped old man with gnarled hands wandered in and sat by the fire. He was no relation, but evidently came to eat and sleep. People cared for one another in the mountains.

We took turns sitting on long benches with lacquered tables in front of them, and enjoyed good conversation, Buddhi’s dancing, and an excellent Sherpa stew…accompanied by homemade mo mo’s compliments of Buddhi. We were offered rakshi, a millet liquor made in the mountains by our hostess, and sure enjoyed it! On top of running the kitchen and rakshi businesses, she also tended a garden in a small greenhouse, where she grew the veggies used in the stew.

There is nothing like a sunset in the mountains!

Now the Day is Over,
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

MONGOLIA!

I interrupt my recounting of our trek in Nepal last December with breaking news….I’m headed for Mongolia on July 3rd! People keep asking me, “Why are you going to Mongolia?” Just open a history book and start reading the fascinating rise of Chingghis Khaan (or as we say, Genghis Khan), the 12th century founder of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history. Some call him the most brutal ruler in history and others call him The Lawgiver. Certainly he was a man of action, uniting numerous tribes and conquering everyone in sight. Then move on to the exploits of his grandson, Kublai Khan, the Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. You won’t know where to stop!

I have been fascinated with the recent history of this faraway country, which has evolved into a present-day democracy sandwiched between China, Russia, and Kazakhstan. It has been said that over the past 2000 years, there is possibly no other place on the planet that has exported as much history as Mongolia. And now, at hardly more than three million people it has retained its peaceful nomadic culture twenty years after the Russian occupation, juxtaposed with a new technological insurgence in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. And it is determined to take charge of the development of its own rich resources. All this helped along with a 98% literacy rate and a reputation for unsurpassed hospitality. Pretty amazing.

Four years ago I heard about Bolormunkh Erdenekhuu from my friend, Terri Pedone. They had met while birding at Hawk Mt., PA., on the Kittatinny Ridge, a great migratory path for the raptor birds. She raved about this young man, a superb ornithologist, and put me in touch with him. After several efforts at planning a trip to  the mountains, lakes, and wide-open spaces of this beautiful country, we finally put a trip together. Joining us is another dear friend, Tamara Blesh, whom I met at the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Dharamsala, India, in March, 2007. She’s a librarian from Maine and introduced me to teachers in Ladakh at the various schools to whom she delivers books every year.

I look forward to relating a most unusual trip, spent camping or living in Gers along the way as we explore Mongolia by jeep, camel, and horse…with a little swimming and hiking for good measure. And don’t forget the eagle hunts and racing during the Naadam Festival. We will be starting in Ulaan Baatar and traveling west to the Altai Mountains and Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. We are forgoing the Gobi Desert (too hot!) but instead will be going to the Great Mongolian sand dunes. Stay tuned….

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A HIKE TO THUPTEN CHOLING MONASTERY

December 13, 2016

It was a strenuous slog to the monastery which, though there were a few monks,  was primarily a nunnery for Anis (nuns) in retreat. We traversed a dusty, circuitous road that was both rutted and wet, rocky and steep. The landscape was filled with fields of barley, metal poles where kiwi fruit is grown, and dry winter wetlands  with watercress still growing.

Looking back on Junbesi, our guesthouse is the building with the red roof in the center left, and the house that Jwalant helped build is above the town in the upper left with the green roof.

Along the way:

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We arrived at the monastery at noon and went into the large temple where low chanting was taking place.

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It was a perfect time to arrive, since lunch was about to be served. We were led to some cushions lining one wall of the elaborate main temple roof and offered lunch as well. What an unexpected treat! After the chanting , the Anis (all with shaved heads and beautiful, sunny faces), took out plastic bags and various-sized bowls. They were served by nuns going up and down the aisles with enormous containers of food.

Before serving the rice, a large panful was put on the altar. Then the Anis ladled the rice into their plastic bags and the dal, veggies, and yogurt into their bowls. Each Ani had one small spoon for eating. Our food, however, was served on metal plates. Everyone ate in silence, making small balls of rice and dipping them into the other food. And all the while the Anis were smiling and gesturing at us in welcoming fashion. It was a lovely experience.

After we had finished eating, cleaners came by, sweeping and mopping the floor between the rows of mats. Then the Anis arose, quietly, filed out, and went about their various activities while we went to the altar to receive strings and necklaces that had been blessed by the Anis.

We made our way around the monastery and down the stone steps. I climbed more steps on this day than in my entire lifetime…or so it seemed. Until I had reached the bottom of the many-tiered monastery I had not realized how steep the climb up had been! I got a kick out of the animals, especially a couple of massive cows, trying to negotiate the steps, as they worked their way to the small patches of grass and garden tucked away on each terrace.

Halfway down we came upon an open field and stopped for tea at what looked like a greenhouse. There were colorful tables filling the room, and benches covered with rugs. The floor was packed dirt, which the owner sprinkled with water to eliminate any dust….an interesting touch. A woman was sitting outside in the sunshine, weaving bamboo baskets. It was a quiet, reflective time.

I was glad when we branched out onto a short cut, which I wish we’d used on the way up. It was a winding, rocky trail and went over a roiling creek by way of several wooden bridges.

The woodland trail ended at the longest mani wall I’d ever seen, not far from the house Jwalant, our trek director, and his friends built for a family whose previous home had been destroyed in the earthquake.

New home for a family

Continuing on to Junbesi, we passed monasteries with brightly painted windows, in various states of repair and disrepair after the earthquake.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we decided to hike up the steep hill above the guesthouse to see the other house that Jwalant had helped build for a family who had lost their home in the earthquake. We had a lovely cup of tea with the Mom and her daughter, and Buddhi and Cittra before heading back home.

That night after dinner we talked with another new friend—an Englishman, Maurice Possner. We covered Brexit and Trump, as well as the financial problems in India. Then we started relating our extensive Nepali adventures. Like him, one of our favorite places was Langtang, so we compared notes and realized that we had both been through the charming little town shortly before it was obliterated in the 2015 earthquake. It’s still hard to believe that 600 villagers and 250 trekkers perished in a matter of minutes. Maurice has been back and told us that those who were away at the time of the disaster have returned and are looking to the future and rebuilding higher up. My, I do love this country and its people. They have such courage.

I lay in my bed, a colorful Tibetan curtain behind me, and looked at the same full moon as last night. The events of the day played in my mind. I cannot do justice to the feelings I have as I struggle up the trail each day. I feel so alive and so aware of the natural beauty all around me. And so at peace….

HANG ON, IT’S A ROUGH SCRAMBLE FROM RIGMU TO JUNBESI

December 12, 2016

The next morning we said farewell to our beautiful hostess and started an intense seven-hour trek to Junbesi. Well, for me it was seven hours… the guidebook time is 3-4 hours, but remember you need to add an hour per decade above 50 years.

Not too long after we left, we crossed a high bridge over a river with spectacularly painted enormous mani stones below, which Lhakpa had told us her family had painted.

We climbed for several hours over trails with scary exposure, deep valleys, icy patches, and steep inclines, where you had to be vigilant every moment.

By midday we had reached a great restaurant recommended by a German couple we had met in Ringmu, The Everest View Lodge at Beni 7, Phurtvang.

There we enjoyed an exquisite curry made from fresh orange squash that looked like pumpkin, and had been picked right out of the garden. It was served by a peripatetic cook, who seemed to be on roller skates as he flew form one task to the next, with three pots going on the open stove.

We chatted with a father and son from Huntington, Long Island. They, like us, were trying to stay off the subject of our recent election, but that wasn’t to be. We would meet them several times down the trail as they forged ahead.

A range of snow-capped mountains followed us all day. Over on the left was Everest, but, as usual, it was so far away that it looked smaller than the rest.

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We knew we were getting close to Junbesi when the road reappeared, and we saw construction work. Chutes for the river water were being built to generate hydroelectricity, and it was definitely tearing up the river and its banks.

Junbesi had been hit hard by the earthquake, which had mostly spared the areas we had been in the previous days. The stupa in the center of town was destroyed, as well as the school. Both were being rebuilt.

It was dinnertime by the time we reached our guesthouse in Jumbesi and I was all excited about writing up my feelings and observations after what, to me, was the best hiking day ever…when in walked Victor, a charming Norwegian gentleman. Two hours later we were still talking. I was struck by something he said that has been true of my travels for the last thirty years. It’s the people you meet along the way that add meaning and depth to the trekking experience. I always had this feeling during my earlier days when I was traveling alone with no contact with the outside world, whatsoever, and had the choice to write about the day’s excursion or interact with those with whom I came in contact. I usually chose the latter.

Something else also struck me during the next six days. This was the first time in all my trekking that I had encountered so many men traveling alone, most of them coming from Lukla and heading for Jiri. They were middle-aged, fit, and many returned every year to be alone in nature, get off the hamster wheel of their busy lives, and recharge their batteries to go back to “the world of restless men.” We met at last eight such men, some in the guesthouses and others on the trail. One fellow said he always starts around ten in the morning, after everyone else has left, and walks until dusk. If he can’t find a place to stay, he simply pitches his small tent in the woods for the night. These are men who love solitude and love being immersed in the wild.

Just before bedtime we were treated to a full moon over the mountains. No wonder we’re all a bit hyper. And I thought it was the clear mountain air!

 

A GLORIOUS DAY HIKE TO TAKSHINDU… WITH ITS DONKEYS AND VIEWS

                                                                                                    December 11, 2016

Although we were headed to Junbesi, we decided to take a day hike in the other direction towards Lukla and go up the mountain to Takshindu with its beautiful views.

By the time we arose the next morning, the temperature in our room had dropped to 41 degrees. We had a delicious breakfast–a veggie/cheese omelet made with the family’s nak cheese–and Lhakpa explained that she used the term nak cheese, since nak is the female yak responsible for the milk. Her family cheese factory, for which the guesthouse is named, is a six-hour trek from Ringmu, because that is the altitude suitable for the naks. Can you imagine such a commute? But there were several family members in the area, who all worked together in the cheese business, as well as providing wood and bricks for the new houses in the Khumbu, so the burden was shared. A very enterprising, closely-knit family.

By the time we started on our day trip it was warm and sunny once more, but our initial uphill climb was treacherous due to lingering ice covering the rocks and cracks in the trail. We noticed a number of roofs being reconstructed, using tin to replace the cedar shingles. The metal roofs are more expensive, but last a lot longer and do not necessitate the cutting down of so many trees. The blue tin roofs were a lovely accent to the white houses with their windows of bright blue trim. Farther up, Sherpa Buddhist monks were replacing an old prayer pole with a new, taller one.

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After a long and peaceful climb up the mountain, we approached the top and crossed the road used by the noisy, heavy tractors to pull supplies to Takshindu, a major transportation hub. There the road ends and donkeys are used to transport the supplies, such as rice and sugar, on to Lukla.

When we arrived at lunchtime there were dozens of donkeys and mules milling around and waiting to be outfitted for the climb to the higher elevations. Buddhi told us that two thousand of these animals are used every year to pack in supplies.

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After a lunch of garlic soup and egg veggie-fried rice, we wandered over to the magnificent view point.

We said goodbye to the donkeys about to head off with heavy loads to Lukla, and headed back down to Ringmu.

On the trail back, carved out between high embankments made by the monsoons and winding its way through a forest of cedar, rhododendron, and deciduous trees, we met a doctor and his family. They were headed for Lukla to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the hospital established by Sir Edmund Hillary. The family included six and eight-year old grandchildren. How well I remember visiting that hospital in 1987.

In the late afternoon we arrived in Ringmu to be greeted by Lhakpa and treated to a sumptuous dinner of Sherpa stew and an evening of jollity in front of the blazing stove.

An uncle came to visit

As the evening went on we all took turns sitting on the bench by the fire, telling stories, and savoring the sunset as it slowly set behind the watchful Himalayas.

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