Meg Noble Peterson

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

Category: Nepal (Page 1 of 4)

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.

SLOW, BUT STEADY… FROM PHAPLU TO RINGMU

                                                                                             December 10, 2016

That was my motto for the next week as we trekked in the wilderness that is the Solukhumbu, one of the Eastern-most districts of Nepal. Yes, it was great to be in the Everest region and away from so much of the recent tourism flooding into the Himalayas. I had not pictured it as so pastoral and quiet, but we were at the end of the trekking season and going in the opposite direction, away from Lukla and the Everest trek, and toward Jiri.

Cittra all loaded up and ready to go!

We headed out from Phaplu accompanied by the occasional sounds of planes flying from Phaplu to Everest. You can see the airport in the distance beyond the prayer flags. This has completely changed the transportation in the region.

Where thousands of porters used to make the trek to Lukla, these days only a few do. The trail from Phaplu to Ringmu is now mostly a road, and seemed to be either dusty or muddy, with the occasional tractor creating more dust or mud.

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We were so delighted when we went off the road onto a trail in the countryside!

Here is a video Cary took on her iPhone… the music was playing in the fields!

During that first day I was amazed at how many new, and large, houses there were, with lush farms nearby, mostly terraced.

I was also surprised at the amount of tree-cutting, which Buddhi, our guide, said was on the rise due to the lucrative business of selling boards to the Everest region, where hotels and guesthouses are proliferating. The boards were airlifted there by helicopter! What a difference from my base camp experience in 1987, when there were only a handful of primitive lodges at the base of Kala Pattar. Not the luxury hotels of recent years. Mine was a real wilderness experience.

The milled wood was stacked in big piles that were then airlifted by helicopter to Lukla… a hazardous journey! In the distance in the mountain view is the helicopter on with its load – impossible to see!

 

Helicopter with load of lumber swaying below.

 

Here are some scenes along the way

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After ten kilometers of a steady uphill, we reached the Numbur View Cheese Factory Lodge and Restaurant in Ringmu. Embarrassing as it was, Chittra beat us by two hours! When we arrived, we were treated, immediately, to our favorite garlic soup. Buddhi always spearheaded the making of the soup for he is convinced that it staves off altitude sickness. And so are we!

For two days we stayed in this delightful lodge, run by Lhakpa Sherpa, a beautiful young woman and a fabulous cook. Her husband is a trekking guide on Everest, so she holds down the fort during his absence and cares for their adorable four-month old baby, Kunsang…fat-cheeked, sunny, responsive, and good-natured. What a great time I had “talking,” singing, and playing with him.

Our simple sleeping room was quite chilly, but, fortunately, we all ate together (dal bhat, what else?) in the kitchen kept warm by the earthen stoves fed by shoving sticks of wood into a floor-level opening in the front. We all took turns keeping it “fed.”

Getting ready for bed in the mountains is often quite challenging! First you visit a separate toilet, then move to the adjoining shower to wash your face. Then you can choose any number of places to brush teeth, including the outdoors, if you want to brave the freezing temperatures. But I loved the silence and the peace that surrounded us, and I slept long and well.

SCROLL BACK TO LAST DECEMBER AS WE MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH DELHI TO KATHMANDU….WE’LL GET THERE YET!

On December 5th we headed for the small airport in Kangra, two hours from Suja, where we boarded a plane instead of taking our usual long taxi ride back to Delhi. I have to admit that it was a lot more comfortable and afforded us quality time to chat with a new-found friend, an anthropologist and her extended family, as we waited four hours for the plane to arrive. Patience is a virtue I am finding indispensable when traveling in Asia. “On time” is not finite. It can mean most anything!

I never tire of the classy new Delhi airport and its elephants who greet us:

Our adventure in Delhi with a prepay taxi driver from the airport was classic. Not only did he not know the destination—a very popular hotel close by—but he refused our meager tip, throwing a fit when we wouldn’t reward him half of the entire fare. We should pay for his mistakes? To our surprise he followed us into the hotel lobby, where nobody had any small change due to the monetary crisis. Even fellow Indians seemed appalled by his aggressive behavior. Fortunately, Cary unearthed a fifty rupee note and thrust it into his outstretched palm. With an ‘haruumph’ he stomped away.

At dinner we met a charming gentleman living with his wife in Shanghai. Their plan is to adopt Chinese children and move to Australia. He then told us about the more than fourteen million “ghost children” living in China…second or third children, mostly girls, who were born after the one-child policy was instituted in 1980. These children are not recognized by the government, have no official identity, cannot get an education, cannot legally marry, and cannot get medical services. They live outside the institutions of a regulated society. It is an horrendous problem known to very few people outside the country, but there is extensive information about it on the internet. Yet, until government policy changes, these children will continue to live in the shadows.

The next day we flew out of Delhi, and it turned out to be a sad one for voters, especially women, in the southernmost state of Tamil Nader, whose capital is Chennai. The much-beloved chief minister, Jayalalithaa, died, triggering mass grief and leaving a political power vacuum in southern India. As I’ve written before, there is much interest in politics and political personalities in India. It’s a young democracy full of problems, but it citizens are intensely vocal and active!

Before boarding Jet Airways for Kathmandu, we met the head steward and one of the stewardesses, both from Sikkim, and started chatting. They showed a great deal of interest in the post-earthquake situation in Nepal and our desire to make a contribution, however small. In a gesture of compassion they gave money for one of the schools in Solukhumbu and asked Cary to light butter lamps at the Boudhanath stupa for those who were still suffering. It’s gratifying to see such generosity from total strangers. These new friends also arranged for us to sit on the side of the plane with the best view of the Himalayan range. Is it any wonder that Jet Airways is our favorite airline?

Here are a few shots of the vast display of natural wonder we observed from 30,000 ft.

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How great it was to get back to Kathmandu and be met by Buddhi, our guide, and Ram Hari, both from Crystal Mountain treks. The director, Jwalant, had returned to  the mountains to help deliver supplies for his ongoing school rebuilding projects. The Kathmandu Valley as we evidenced on our drive to Boudha, was in a constant state of repair, from road widening and resurfacing, to shoring up a crumbling infrastructure, to house building. And traffic had resumed its chaotic spider web after the gas shortage of last year had subsided.

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The Shechen Guest House staff greeted us with open arms and we spent the rest of the day and the next checking out the continued construction around the temple, the refurbished stupa, and our favorite shopkeepers. The stupa had just been consecrated after a year and a half of restoration, and it was magnificent.

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At dusk we walked kora and delighted in the variety of faces and native dress of the people walking alongside us, fingering their malas and murmering their chants. Cary lit butter lamps for the Jet Airways flight attendents, and for many friends who requested prayers from the Boudha stupa.

As we left, the colored lights, strung all around the stupa, had come on and a half-moon hung in the night sky.

I’m glad to relate that, finally, I’m getting used to the roaring motorcycles outside the stupa grounds. I just keep walking slowly and let them dodge me. I’ve been lucky so far! It’s hard, at time, to keep your cool, but easier than trying to second-guess the drivers.

Early the next morning, December 8th, we headed for Phaplu, a ten-hour jeep ride over roads ranging from marvelous (built by the Japanese, and similar to the fly-overs outside Delhi, built by the Chinese)…

…to horrendous (result of monsoons, landslides, and the 2015 earthquake), with a superb driver who seemed clairvoyant as he wound around the narrow mountain roads, unable to see who was coming, but squeaking by buses and maneuvering sans guardrails to keep us from diving over a cliff. I tend to be dramatic, but so would you…had you been sitting in the front seat!

There were times when the road was washed out and we simply went through streams onto higher ground. There were also those drivers not so skilled, who found themselves stuck in the river. Here are some photos of our journey as it unfolded.

 

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As we made our way into the hills we beheld a panorama of the world’s most famous Himalayan peaks. This is the first time since my Everest Base Camp trek in 1987 that I saw Everest, Lhotse, and the Nuptse Ridge all lined up. It was thrilling! White, crisp, clear with piercing blue skies.

Nearing our destination, we were treated to another array of stunning mountains, Numbur Mt. being the most outstanding. It seemed to follow us for the next few days.

At 6 PM we arrived in Phaplu in the Solukhumbu region, and stayed at The Everest Hotel.

Our traveling companion was a young woman, Passang, who had come to fill out the necessary documents for a student visa to study in the U.S. She was hoping to receive a scholarship to Knox college in Illinois. Passang spoke excellent English and had a knowledge of government and history not unlike so many other young people we’d met in Nepal and India. She also knew a lot about our election and was concerned about our new president and his impact on the world stage. She wondered, also, how she would be accepted in the United States, as a foreigner.

Tomorrow our trek would begin. But tonight it’s a hearty meal and a very comfortable bed!

ASIANA, HERE WE COME! FROM BUCKETS OF RAIN TO BASKETS OF SUNSHINE….

A good reason to go to India and Nepal in late November. We also needed to get away from the chaos of the recent election and concentrate on the chaos of Asia. But, alas, that was not to be. We were bombarded on every side by, “What happened to your country? What is going on? Why did you do it? (Who… Me?) Not even in the high ridges of the Himalayas did we escape questions about our election results. I couldn’t help noticing that many of our Nepalese and Indian friends knew more about our government and its legendary philosophy than a good portion of voting Americans. They were used to feeling helpless in the face of quixotic leaders and national disruption. But they thought we were different. Amazing how we are beginning to adopt Third World strategies and rhetoric as the weeks unfold. Meanwhile, moving right along….

This was our first foray onto Asiana Airlines through Seoul to Delhi. I kept thinking, “I must have forgotten something, because my bags are so much lighter.” Yes, they were. At last I had put into practice what I had learned thirty years ago on my first backpacking trip around the world. What you take you carry. There ain’t nobody else gonna’ do it!

Never before had I flown over Russia, and it was exciting to look down at the pristine wilderness—mountains glistening with ice and the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the North Pacific Ocean rolling out before us in rapid succession.

Luxuriating in our business class seats, thanks to Cary’s skillful maneuvering of our frequent flyer miles (they’re all gone, now, folks), we slept our way to Delhi, so were wide awake at 1:15 AM when Ashwani, our Indian friend from Bir, picked us up and drove us to Dharamsala.

Many of the roads and “fly-overs” leading out of Delhi are new, having been built by the Chinese. Still, we had the predictable wild ride when we reached the outlying areas, racing around the hills and taking chances by passing trucks on curves with the usual Indian aplomb. But I always enjoy the drive up the steep hill (seven kilometers) from Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj, past numerous tall buildings hanging onto every cliffside, and ending as we come upon the Namgyal Monastery where the Dalai Lama lives. It was like returning home when we moved into the Pema Thang Hotel, high on a hill overlooking town. It was already Sunday, November 27th. We had skipped a whole day!

A lot had changed since last year. A new parking garage had been built on the cliff opposite the Ten Yang Café, our favorite coffee shop, and the road to town had been freshly cobbled. Businesses seemed to be flourishing with new ones springing up along the way. But it was still perilous to walk on the sidewalk-less roads, dodging cars and trucks and wishing horns had never been invented.

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Excitement prevailed on our first morning. The Dalai Lama was returning from Mongolia and within the hour would arrive by motorcade at his temple gates. Huge crowds lined the streets, many of them Tibetans, dressed in their native garb. The Chinese had forbidden them to stay in India and go to the Kalachakra empowerment at Bodhgaya, but the Dalai Lama had promised them a special spontaneous lecture that afternoon, and they were thrilled. We were also privileged to attend the lecture.

After the excitement of seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama, we headed up the street to see if we could change some money. Little did we know what was in store for us! We had heard about the demonitization of the Indian rupee before we arrived (stripping a particular unit of currency of its status as legal tender), but had no idea of its impact on foreigners and Indians alike. Fortunately, Ashwani, our taxi driver, who runs a small convenience store in Bir, had put aside 10,000 rupees in 100 rupee bills for us, knowing we would be unable to get small denominations when changing money upon arrival. What a favor that was!

All 500 and 1,000 rupee notes had been taken out of circulation and the government planned to replace them with new ones. This was Prime Minister Modi’s surprise move in the hopes of eliminating black money—illegal, untaxed money that is earned on the black market—and moving the country to a digital economy.

Unfortunately, it was ill-planned, according to many people, and sorely affected the poorer segments of the society and those who needed small bills to do business. Lines at the bank wound through the street and down the hill, reminding me of our gas crisis in the ‘70s. And by the time people had waited for eight or ten hours, there was no more money left. Chaos was the operative word.

We headed for our usual money-changer. Forget it. He was closed. No money. Eventually, and luckily, we were able to find a shopkeeper that had a side business in exchanging US $ cash for rupees. Where they found all those 100 Rs notes we will never know, when the banks and regular money changers had run out.

We used some of our precious rupees at a lovely handicraft store owned by a charming Indian/Kashmiri woman, Sunanda. As with so many of the businesswomen we met, she was well-informed, highly intelligent, and had a wide circle of friends around the world. Her handicrafts were lovely and one of her handwoven runners is now gracing the dining room table in Cary’s new home at Upper Langley.

You may remember my writing about another friend I’ve known since 2011, Bilal Ahmed Gunna, who runs the Paradise Arts shop, with beautiful Kashmiri tapestries and rugs, and says that I’m the toughest bargainer he’s ever met. High praise, eh!? Here is a photo taken in 2014.

We stopped by his shop, eager to see him again, but he was in Srinigar getting married, and his friend, Jacob, was holding down the fort. We talked for a long time with this charming gentleman, getting an overview of Indian-Kashmiri problems and the custom of arranged marriage and family life from his perspective. We live in a varied world, indeed.

As we always do on our first day in Dharamsala, we walked kora around the temple at dusk, and headed up the hill, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun.

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CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR’S GREETINGS FROM NEPAL….

Here we are at the Shechen Guest House near the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. Cary and I have just returned from a strenuous trek from Phaplu to Shivalaya in the Solukhumbu district of the Himalayas. Hooray…we survived! Hot sunny weather at midday, and freezing temperatures at night were the order of the day. You can’t beat that!

This is the view from Takshindu above Ringmu on our second day of trekking. Stay tuned for more news of this trek and our other adventures in Nepal and India once I return in late December.

Do you remember my photos of the earthquake destruction last year? We returned this year to find the Boudha stupa beautifully restored. It was completed just a couple weeks before we arrived and is magnificent.

This evening we walked the kora (circumambulation) at night. The stupa is decorated with thousands of lights in celebration of a week-long puja of prayers for world peace.

Yes, let’s hope for a glorious and peaceful 2017. I don’t think I could live through another 2016. Could you?

LEAVING UPPER MELAMCHI AND HEADING BACK TO KATHMANDU

As we made our way back from Upper Melamchi, on the trail to Thimbu, we never knew when we’d come around the corner and be faced with a cliff caused by a recent landslide. Several of the old bridges were patched, but still passable, and we even saw a very old stupa that had survived.

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On the way down to the river we stopped again at the little farm with the straw-roofed gazebo, a lovely place for a cup of tea looking out over the Melamchi valley. It was hard to believe that all seven members of the family had lived in that small gazebo until they could put up a tin shack. All around was terracing for growing sugar cane and barley. We enjoyed the tea, which had sweet buffalo milk in it and, once again, saw the brightly-feathered rooster we had seen on the way up.

Later we had lunch at another rebuilt part-tin and part-wooden house that sat alone in a field. You could see by the doors and windows that the original house had been salvaged. The distinctive thing about this house was that it was located feet away from a huge landslide. Seemed like a miracle that it had not been swept away. We all marveled at the location!

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Several people joined us for noodles, spinach soup, and great buffalo milk yogurt served by a lovely young woman. As we were leaving, she proudly showed us her pet baby buffalo, hugged it, and urged it—like a proud mama—to get to its feet.

Our porters had arrived at the lunch spot earlier and washed all the pots and pans they’d used for cooking at the camping spot below Ama Yangri’s summit. The secret to keeping them from burning was to cake them with mud before each use. There they were, laid out on the shingled roof of the buffalo pen, sparkling like new!

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Farther down the mountain, as we were wandering around the destroyed Milarepa’s cave and nun’s hostel, and wondering where we’d stay overnight, a local villager arrived. She was wearing a headscarf, lots of prayer beads around her neck, bloomery pants, and a filmy blouse. To feed her animals, she was cutting leaves which she carried on her back, held on with a strap across her head.

She graciously led us to a small community, where we found a room. Just getting there was a mad scramble over rocks and debris, and when we arrived we remembered that this was a once prosperous community we had passed through last year. We had lunched at a guest house here, next to a magnificent stupa… both now rubble.

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There were no guest houses in the village anymore, but fortunately a family let us weary trekkers use two beds in the back of a tiny store front overlooking the valley.

This was the most barebones of any place we’d been, but the people were a treasure. I noted that all men and women dye their hair black, and when I noticed a man with gray hair, I got so excited that I tried to photograph him…but he demurred. Drat!

A three-year-old girl took to us immediately and introduced us to her two sisters, who were lying on their stomachs on a large pad right in the middle of the path that ran through town, studying their lessons. All the rebuilt houses (mostly corrugated tin) were in a line on this ridge.

p1090202Close by was the town spigot and washing station—a communal area where all the action was taking place. I was fascinated! It was like an open-air bathhouse with people washing feet, clothes, hair, potatoes, and pots and pans…all in cold, cold water. How I shivered when I saw naked children being bathed, but they just squealed and took it in their stride. I was loathe to photograph the bathing, due to respect for the mothers and children.p1090227

I loved taking part in the hustle and bustle and relating to the girls as they read to me from their English books.

As usual, everyone wants to get into the act. We had a lot of fun comparing feet and hands. I’m sure you can spot mine!

I especially enjoyed the leisurely and elaborate dinner, which was cooked on a wood stove by both the mother and father. The meal included buffalo meat and various spices, which were pounded and ground. Fourteen members of the community sat around in the semi-darkness, socializing and drinking mild rakshi seasoned with buffalo butter, while Grandpa and Grandma sat in one corner repeating Tibetan mantras with beads in their hands.

During the evening, children were put to bed or wrapped in blankets to rest near the parents, and older children studied or played games on various electronic gadgets. This seemed so incongruous to me. Again, we were told that Caritas had promised to rebuild the old school, which housed forty-five students from the small community. It was a lovely evening. I felt so privileged to have been part of the gathering.

At nine the next morning we ate eggs while Dawa and Brebin feasted on tsampa. We needed all the energy we could muster, for the day turned out to be strenuous. Shortly after we left we came upon several groups of children headed for school.

p1090234Then we started down the hill, expecting an easy three hours to Thimbu, but, unfortunately, had to take a new trail. The usual one on the other side of the river had been badly damaged by avalanches and there was a great deal of exposure. Believe me, there was a great deal on this side, too.

Check out the terrain we faced before finally reaching the Riverside Guest House where we had stayed last year.

About three hours into the descent we came upon an area where the Chinese had started to build a tunnel to bring water from water-rich Melamchi to water-deprived Kathmandu. All we saw was a lot of abandoned equipment, plus a bridge where one section had been hastily repaired with large logs (a dicey way to get across, to say the least). High on a cliff was an interesting colony of bees. Look for the honeycomb bags dangling off the rock. Don’t ask me how anyone gets the honey!

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An Italian company had taken over when the Chinese were fired from the project, but the earthquake put an end to their plans.  Damage to houses and equipment was everywhere.

At last we arrived at the Riverside Guest House, where we had stayed last year. Miraculously, the main building was standing, because it was made of cement. All the stone houses were in rubble…the large dining area, kitchen, and beautiful outbuildings. For several months the owners lived elsewhere, fearing that the steep cliff just across the road might collapse. Fortunately, it did not.

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The hostess was glad to see us and shared with us tales of the catastrophe. The day of the quake they were serving a party for sixty-five people. When it started, the guests ran everywhere…into the river and away from the buildings. Great fissures appeared in the ground and a large one opened up in the courtyard, right under the feet of the old grandmother. She fell into it and was pulled out just before it closed. How about that for a close call? Pretty horrific.

I honestly don’t know how people live with such disruption…their home in shambles, their business gone, wood from the destruction piled haphazardly, the detritus of possessions everywhere, shoes on the windowsill, blankets and clothes inside a thatched-roofed gazebo, bricks and stone piled where buildings had once been. And, yet, they soldier on.

So I guess I shouldn’t complain about mounting that awful metal stairway to the third floor, once again, for the bougainvillia was still blooming, the room had been freshly painted pink, and a rug and new tarps were on the floor. Yes, and the view of the turbulent Melamchi River still delighted me. We never had felt more welcome anywhere! She gave us a pile of blankets from another room where they were being stored. Said the mice were getting to them. We didn’t see any mice, but enjoyed the high ceilings, ample space, good beds, and small sink for washing and brushing teeth. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the toilet paper. Talk about luxury! I have say, however, that we missed the huge spider that had kept us company last year….

That evening we gathered in the small makeshift kitchen and were treated to home-made mo-mos, a Tibetan delicacy. It was dark, but I managed to get a few shots of the small stuffed noodles as they were being prepared.

The next morning, after saying our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, we took off over the rugged roads back to Kathmandu.

I’m going to end my story here. I’ve tried to take you with me to several small villages in the Helambu/Yolmo and tell the story in pictures of the average Nepali during the horrendous days after the earthquake. But all of us can only absorb so much and I fear that I have pushed the limit while at the same time only scratching the surface. That is the conundrum and the drawback of blogs. No matter how hard we try, brevity goes out the window. Sobeit.

Cary and I spent another week in Nepal and revisited a number of famous landmarks such as Patan and Bhaktapur to see first hand what had happened after the earthquake. And we spent time with several old friends I’ve introduced to you over the years. I filled up another forty pages of my journal with observations about the conditions in the country after the earthquake, but this is what happens when you feel passionate about a place and its people. There’s so much to say and so much you want to share. And so little time. Nepal and its people are in my heart and in my soul.

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Back at the Shechen Guest House at the end of the trek

Cary and I leave, once again, for India and Nepal on Nov. 25th. I look forward to sharing it with you in 2017. Happy New Year!

RETURNING TO UPPER MELAMCHI

The morning climb to Upper Melamchi was steep and difficult. Huge landslides had severely damaged the road, which was no longer accessible to vehicles, and had also taken out the foot trail. The people of Melamchi depended on the trails to get basic supplies and any food that they couldn’t grow themselves. This prompted a radical rebuilding of the trail by the U.N. organization for which the two Sherpas we met at dinner in Gangyul worked. Food for labor. And what an excellent job they had done! Sadly, the ancient chortens that marked the trail had become piles of stones. And the guest house where we stopped for tea was now a tin shack. You can see the photos from our 2015 trek to Upper Melamchi before the earthquake HERE .

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What a terrible sight greeted us when we arrived in Upper Melamchi! The destruction was even worse than we had imagined. The guest houses and chortens at the top of the trail and the beginning of the village were completely in ruins.

Everywhere people were rebuilding, many using salvaged wood from destroyed houses to make new homes, since money from the government and new supplies were almost non-existent. The hammering went on day in and day out.

We had hoped to stay at the Himalayan Lama Lodge, where we had stayed last year. The once two-story lodge was now a one-room tin and wood shack, and the damaged and unsafe dorms were replaced by a tin structure. Alas, when we arrived we couldn’t find the owners to inquire about staying there, so needed to look elsewhere.

The lodge was next to the once magnificent temple that shattered to the ground in minutes during the earthquake.  Now it was a stunning backdrop to the local soccer games in the field behind.

Fortunately, we found Yangrima Lodge farther up the trail and settled into our room. This guest house was now just a simple structure of salvaged wood and tin, with a common room with a wood stove for warmth.

After our usual garlic soup for lunch, we sought out Kami Lama and his wife Jamayang, the owners of the destroyed Himalayan Lama Lodge and were delighted to see them again. It turned out that Kami is the brother of the Melamchi School’s principal and was happy to introduce us to the administrators and give us a tour.

We arrived just as a relay race was being completed, and preparations were in progress for the final ceremony before dismissal.

 

With Kami as our guide, we spent time visiting the classrooms and talking with the teachers and students. The school had been totally destroyed.

Two hundred children from several districts were being taught in temporary buildings. Each wooden/tin structure housed a grade and you could hear them reciting their lessons as you walked by. Here is a video that Cary took of our walk around the classrooms.

Shree Melamchi Ghyang Secondary School is a government school of very high standards and, with the dormitories destroyed, boarding students who lived far away now had to be housed in tents.

Meals served in the dining tent were cooked in a simple kitchen. Winter was coming and comforts were few. Sometimes it was so cold that the children were allowed to study in their tents wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags.

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img_1181-copy-caritasCaritas is rebuilding the school and the director proudly showed us the plans posted on the wall of the administrative building. We met with several teachers and, again, shared Lynn Rubright’s gifts as well as money offerings from the South Whidbey Academy middle school children that we hoped would go to providing mats for the children. It was a very emotional moment, symbolized for me by the stark remains of a once-proud stupa.

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Adam Frost, an American from Boise, Idaho, was teaching English in one of the classrooms. We had met him earlier when he and a Nepali friend were on their way to school. He has collected money to help in the rebuilding and also plans to form a trekking company when he returns home. His goal is to get young and old people more active in the outdoors.

We walked back through town surveying the damage and stopping to talk with residents who were working their small farms and building temporary homes for the winter. A plethora of gardens were growing among the ruins.

The devastation was everywhere but we were glad to see that some of the beautiful old stone walls were intact, or perhaps they had been rebuilt.

Our days in Upper Melamchi were packed with visits to various caves in the area. On the way to one of the Guru Rinpoche sites, we passed by a crack in the earth.

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We spent four days in Melamchi and had time to get to know the gracious family who ran the guest house. My special friend was a twelve-year old boy, Chhewang Tamang, who helped with household duties and the care of his siblings when he wasn’t studying. As with most of the young people I talked with, he studied a wide variety of subjects and spoke several languages, including English.

Dinners took place in a warm dining room and were lively occasions. Buddhi, our guide, did his usual dancing, singing, and clowning, and the conversation was lively among various visitors and staff. Our main meal was, of course, dal bhat and garlic soup, sometimes supplemented with Tibetan mo-mos, a real treat. A bit of rakshi added to the hilarity!

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During one meal we discussed the needs of the schools in the Langtang area where Brebin and Dawa, our porters, lived. You may remember that we visited this area four years ago. There are 500 people in the village and the school has been destroyed. These people are in the Tamang caste. The word “caste” is used in Nepal to denote one’s ethnic group, as we discussed at length over dinner. Many of you have probably heard of these groups: the Rai, Gurung, Bhotia, Thakali, Sherpa, Magar, Lama, Shresta, Tamang, Limbu, and Brahman (most of the government officials are in this caste). Often members of the groups can be identified by using these delineations as surnames.

Saying goodbye has always been hard for me, and this time it was especially poignant. Just before we left Upper Melamchi we spent more time with Kami Lama and his wife, Jamayang. This first photo below is our goodbye last year, in front of their lovely guesthouse. The next photo is our farewell in front of what they have managed to rebuild from its destruction.

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img_1567img_1571They honored me with the usual white kata, which I wore most of the way down on what became one of the most hazardous trails I’ve ever experienced.

We now headed back to Thimbu, on our return to Kathmandu.

FROM MOUNTAINTOP TO VALLEY…OUR FINAL DAYS IN THE YOLMO

You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you? Oh, ye, of little faith! Now you can follow the final days of our Nepal trip of last December, just in time for us to leave for our next trip this coming November. I left you as we came down from Ami Yangri on December 3, 2015 and headed down the mountain to Tarkyegang on our way to the Melamchi River. You may remember that we spent the night halfway down the mountain on a lovely plateau with views of the summit and surrounding peaks.

Morning always started with milk tea or coffee at 6 AM. On this day we scrambled out of our tents in a hurry and left as fog swirled around us, obliterating our view.

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By noon we were in Tarkyegang, once again. It’s so much easier going down than up! (Click on any photo to enlarge or start a slide show.)

As we approached town, people were hard at work repairing their homes, but sights like these are disheartening, nonetheless. I never got used to it.

We met up briefly with the staff of our former guesthouse before heading down the hill to the Melamchi River.

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I continually wrestled with my own thoughts as I observed the attitude of the Nepalis in the face of their great losses. I doubt that I would be smiling, even a year later.

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VOLUNTEERS HELP NEPALESE FAMILIES REBUILD THEIR HOMES

Just over a year has passed since the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and though the world has moved on to other tragedies, there are still thousands of Nepalis who are without homes and working tirelessly to put their lives back together.

I just talked with Pam Perry, who is the director of operations for Grand Asian Journeys, the sister company of Crystal Mountain Treks, managed by Jwalant Gurung in Nepal. I’ve written about the many projects Jwalant has been involved in and the fund raising he is doing in Nepal through Three Summits. Here is a brief report of the work Pam has spearheaded, recently, in Junbesi. This beautiful Sherpa village is on the classic Everest Base Camp Trek route. All Everest treks passed through it until the airport in Lukla was built.

Pam and a team of nine people, made up of Bainbridge Island Rotarians and representatives of the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild, helped rebuild a home for a family, Sheba and Vishnu, and their three young children. The family was not considered a landowner, so would not have qualified for government assistance (which is not going well for anyone, yet).

Mom (Sheba) and Dad (Vishnu) with Bridget Young of Poulsbo Rotary (in orange) and Pam Perry of Bainbridge Island Rotary (in purple)

Mom (Sheba) and Dad (Vishnu) with Bridget Young of Poulsbo Rotary (in orange) and Pam Perry of Bainbridge Island Rotary (in purple)

The home was built with rocks that were quarried about 1/4 mile away from the site and had to be carried to the site by hand! When the team arrived, the rocks had been brought to within 100 feet of the site and it was their job to make a human chain to transfer the rocks to the site for stacking. They also did some rock breaking, getting them to appropriate sizes…even gravel…and helped the family with some other tasks on the site as well. It was a wonderful task! You can see from the photo that there was a great amount of camaraderie and fun as everyone worked together on a challenging and very satisfying project.

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junbesi house framing

Kudos to you, Pam, and all our fellow Northwesterners, for a great job!

This home is one of 15 that Jwalant and his crew have built so far, and there are more rebuilding trips planned through next spring. Click HERE for more information about the Rebuilding Nepal trips that Grand Asian Journeys is organizing. It’s important to note that these houses have all been built to government approved earthquake-resistant standards.

I have been rather lazy since I returned from my 70 th class reunion (ouch!) at Emma Willard School in Troy, NY, two weeks ago. It’s so heavenly to have warm sunshine here on Whidbey that a bit of basking is excusable. I also had another fabulous (forgive me, I’m an honorary New Yorker) birthday party at Talking Circle and am so grateful for the many friends who celebrated without once mentioning my astronomical age. This is one caring, accepting community. I love it!

Nepal will be back on my blog, as I attempt to finish the story of my trek, after I return from my annual East Coast binge of theater, family, friends, Autoharp Festival in Pennsylvania, and sojourn with my sisters to our cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

There will be more surprises, but if I tell you, they won’t be surprises. Have a great summer and watch out for the whales!

THE MAJESTY OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN

Early in the morning we repacked for a two-night stay on the plateau below the summit of Ama Yangri, and headed up several banks of stairs leading to the trail.

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P1080863Melamchi plateau in the distance
We continued up the steep trail, through rhododendron forests and out onto rocky cliffs, for about three hours. Views of Upper Melamchi above the valley gave us an idea of what was ahead. One peak, Dorje Lakpa, reminded me of Ama Dablam, my favorite peak on my first trip to Everest Base Camp so long ago. P1080869What a wonderful sight to greet us as we arrived in camp!

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By the time we arrived, our porters had already fashioned a stone fireplace for cooking, and within an hour served us a huge lunch…dal bhat and rice, of course, after the altitude-soothing garlic noodle/mustard green soup. Buddhi fashioned a wooden stirrer for the lentils and gathered wood from a large open area.  After all the guests were fed, the porters finally ate. This is a tradition in climbing circles, but not one we wanted to follow.

mom resting1_0599Post lunch I lay on a pad under the bright sun. What better reward for my efforts?

Entering camp after a late afternoon wander, we heard chopping in the direction of Buddhi’s tent. The men were making themselves mattresses of dried stalks of weeds. Hey, almost like the good ole’ days! This is what our counselors did with pine boughs in the White Mountains when I camped as a child…in the days before therma-rest mattresses and fancy sleeping bags.

P1080895Onto the boughs they placed a thin foam pad and their blankets. Regardless of the disparity in age, they had a camaraderie with one another that is a pleasure to watch. And they dance and sing, especially Buddhi, who is a natural clown! At night we can hear them talking a blue streak, animatedly, laughing and, occasionally, breaking into song. I asked Buddhi why all the hilarity. He said it is to keep us safe. If they make a lot of noise, nobody will bother us. I had to laugh. In this wilderness? It’s not as if we’ll have a yak attack as we did in the Kangchenjunga, or have to ward off marauding treasure hunters. But they must have known something that we didn’t.

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While Cary and I had been exploring, our tent and toilet had been set up. And get a load of the special trash can, the first I’d ever seen in the mountains of Nepal.

P1080907a fire photoA monk had dropped by and left some small carrots and cabbage as a thank you for tea that Buddhi had offered him. So there was fresh variety for dinner, along with the spinach/garlic soup.

What better way to end the day than sitting by the fire and watching the stars appear.

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In the morning there was frost on the tent and a clear blue sky.

We said goodbye to our campsite and headed toward the summit.IMG_0606

As we climbed, we came upon whole sections of the trail that had been washed out by the earthquake, making it slow going. A huge white boulder had been displaced and crashed down the hillside causing devastation in its wake. And there were many wide “stairs” of wooden or stone interspersed with sections of boulder and rock, with more exposure than I like! The forest was beautiful and deep, moving from gnarled, moss-enveloped trees to dense rhododendron woods with their pink roots. And all along the trail tiny daisies and delicate wildflowers greeted us.

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Geronimo! We made it. Sadly, directly in front of us was a huge destroyed stupa. Buddhi (Bon), Brabin (Buddhist), and Cary immediately walked around it through the rubble. Together they lit juniper as an offering. What a glorious smell.

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Large slanting rocks were on the ample summit and I lay down, immediately, vowing that this was my fitting swan song. I would walk around the stupa later. Right now I just wanted to lie on a smooth rock and search the sky. Fog came and went, allowing spectacular glimpses of the mountains that surrounded Ama Yangri. Tiny patches of snow were visible, but when the sun came out we felt warm and very content.

After an hour it was time to leave.

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P1080938 P1080941  We fairly flew down the mountain in less than two hours. What a feeling of accomplishment!

As dusk settled upon us, three men came through our campsite with thirteen yaks. After the obligatory tea, they headed into the dark with no flashlights. Good grief! It yaks at Ama Yangri2was all I could do stay upright on the rocky trail in broad daylight, and for them, even in the pitch black, it seemed like a walk in the park. The next day we sighted the animals grazing on a high pasture above Tarkyegang.

More fire-watching brought the day to a close. I doubt that I will ever experience a more peaceful, totally quiet place in my lifetime….

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