December 4-14, 2018
As I look at the volume of journal pages I devoured with my scribbling during these intense few days, I am again reminded that my readers have a life of their own and do not wish to use it up accompanying me through each day’s travails and successes, regardless of how much I want to bring them with me. Now that I am at a venerable age, and getting more venerable by the minute, I have to remind myself that procrastination is no longer a viable alternative and the ever-present tomorrow may be more elusive than I care to admit. So here is a brief outline of my recent ups and downs in the Himalayas with as many photos as time affords.
Click on photos to enlarge and to see slide show.
On December 4th, Cary and I and our guide Buddhi, flew from Kathmandu to Pokara on Nepali time, i.e. four hours late.
We were met by our two guides-in-training, who also doubled as porters, Suni (left) and Kandu (right), both in their 20’s. From there we drove to Kimche …three hours of the worst roads I have ever encountered, and that includes Mongolia! As in India, both men and women worked on road construction—widening, forming cement ditches, carrying crushed rock in large bowls on their head, and emptying the rock into the forms. An endless parade of tedious labor. At least that’s how it looked to me. Thank heaven we stopped in Birethanti for lunch, to rest our bones! It was rural Nepal, almost unchanged since my first trip in 1988. Once in Kimche we hiked 1 1/2 hours to Ghandruk. Never have I seen so many stone steps, except in Sikkum.
During our journey we thought it would be fun to catalog the Best and the Worst of our adventure. We only wrote what stood out for us at the end of the day. Coming up are some of the highlights. You can check them out as we go along, and maybe it will help you if you ever wander into the Annapurna Sanctuary.
The first night we stayed in the pinkest building, and met the friendliest Malaysian couple.
The next day, Dec. 5th, we left Heaven View Lodge to embark on a very strenuous, but beautiful day.
After lunch we stopped in several small villages and bought knitted woolen hats for Hector and Theo, my two great grandsons. I also found a pair of handknit socks to replace the down slippers I left in Boudha.
Something I noticed on this trip was how many South Koreans we met, first on the trail and then in the guest houses. Thus began the taking of numerous selfies by those who were enthralled with my advanced age. At first it was irritating, but soon I realized that such adulation was meant as a compliment, so I smiled and learned to roll with the punches.
Mountain views were interspersed with woodland trails covered in leaves, and majestic gnarled rhododendron trees, not the usual bushes. These peaceful interludes between steep grades helped me strengthen my legs and increase my confidence. Cary, the perfect companion, stayed with me, singing her soothing Tara mantra Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha as we trudged along.
Just before reaching the Panorama Lodge in Tadapani, we encountered (surprise!) our most challenging climb of the day, up more steep stone steps. What a great guest house this was, complete with a western toilet (my litmus test) and a dog that guarded our door and nearly tripped me up every time I went in or out. It had the worst door jam and lock, however, and I was tempted to leave the room unlocked.
After dinner at a dining room in a separate building up another long flight of stairs with a panoramic view of the mountains, we were serenaded by the Koreans singing Roman Catholic hymns. It was really lovely. Evidently the Catholic church has made big inroads in South Korea and this was a parish hiking club. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback when one of the men in the group took my hands in his and said, very seriously, “M’am, we are all praying for you.” Again, I had to hold my tongue and keep from laughing. They wanted to make sure I survived the trek.
As with everyone we met, he also wanted to talk about our present government. The questions always started with, ”What is going on in your country?” Needless to say, the discussions were long. We’ve also noticed whenever we meet Koreans, that they carry most of their food with them, as well as their cook, and much of their bedding. And, in this case, their priest. They were a happy, congenial group and I’m looking forward to visiting their country.
It was a very cold night and the Koreans were each given a hot water bottle. How about that? We just put on our down vests, snuggled under an extra comforter, and hoped for the best.
The next three days, before we reached our high point, Khopra Ridge, were the most challenging of the trip. Not just the uphills, but the downhills as well. In fact, I found them more dangerous with their many jagged rocks and gullys, and the knowledge that if I fell it could be catastrophic.
It took us almost four hours to our lunch stop but we were rewarded with the best garlic soup, dal bhat, and milk coffee (very similar to western latte if you look past it being made with nescafe instant coffee) we’d eaten so far. This was concocted by a 14-year-old boy in his simple kitchen at a guest house in Meshar Danda, a small village along the way. We have become experts in judging dal bhat. You may remember that our food of choice at altitude has been garlic soup ever since our trekking trip in Sikkim in 2010. His soup was incredible…nearly blew our heads off! We were also particularly intrigued by the log bee hive fastened on the side of the guest house.
It was then another strenuous stretch of hours of very steep climbing to arrive at Isharu, our destination for the night. Here we were promised amazing views, but all we got for our work was fog.
Still, it was beautiful and peaceful…and we could rest at last. The trail had been varied, starting in what seemed like a temperate rain forest, then moving into areas of long grasses and rolling hills, but always with those glorious mountains in the distance. We passed a few people on horseback, but were told that they had to walk downhill, since the horses were not surefooted enough to make the steep grade. I can relate to that!
We seemed to be the only customers at the Isharu Greenhill Guest House.
The weather had turned very cold, so you can imagine how glad I was to get to a warm dining room. But soon we had to leave, for somehow the pipe that came out of the large round metal stove had gotten clogged, and smoke filled the room. Thus, this became the smokiest guest house of the trek. However, the rooms were the brightest (more than one hanging bulb!), so we stayed there until the dining room aired out. The night was very cold, dipping below 37 degrees, only it seemed colder. For the first time, I used my sleeping bag liner.
The next day was beautiful, crisp, and sunny, but the largest mountains were still in the fog when we departed Isharu. I despaired of ever seeing Machapuchare, which I saw so frequently in 1999 on my Annapurna circuit trek. I also noticed for the first time that the menus at the guest houses were pretty standard…steamed veggies, veggie fried rice, veggie rolls, garlic soup, and dal bhat. Thank heaven there was plenty of hot water and lemon tea!
This was a day of walking through forests of bamboo and huge rhododendron trees.
In early afternoon we arrived in Dobato. While having a delicious lunch at Hotel Mt. Lucky, it started to snow. The flakes were more like tiny white beads, covering everything in a glistening film of white. We changed to our rain pants and loaded up on heavy clothes.
The going was slow and slippery, but thank goodness the snow abated and the trails dried out as we went up, up and up.
Many trekkers passed us that afternoon headed for the same guest house in Bayeli, the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Lodge. We met people from Holland, Germany, Belgium, and, of course, Nepal. One group of students from Kathmandu University, celebrating their graduation from engineering college, was especially cordial to me after finding out my age. It was a riot! Selfies everywhere. I was, frankly, embarrassed. Cary admonished me to enjoy it. “You’re a rock star in their eyes, Mom,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t brought my guitar.
Naturally, we were the last to reach Bayeli.
I hopped right into our cozy room and rested a bit before dinner!
The lodge was packed, and was the noisiest guest house so far, because of all the students. And it had the most door sills to trip me up. That is a story in itself. Nothing seems to be on one level in Nepali buildings. You never know…a step will appear when you least expect it. But what a great time we had! We participated in a gala birthday party and spent the evening with multiple groups of students, all of us gathered around the old metal stove to keep from freezing, and eager to talk about politics, travel, and what was going on in the United States. And they knew more about our government than many Americans. Believe me!
Some of the topics covered included: Arranged marriage as compared to love marriages, the complications of a joint family (multi-generational extended family), and how it differs from the nuclear family.
I asked a lot of questions about the caste system. We usually think of it as only operating in India, but it is also alive and well in Nepal and a few other Asian countries. There are four main castes as well as numerous other ethnic groups, such as Shresta, Gurung, and Sherpa. I have many friends with these surnames. There are rigid restrictions about intermarriage among these various groups, but a lot is now changing with modern times.
One student had just returned from a tour of the U.S., and he really liked it, especially New York City. Another student wanted to start a company and go to Silicon Valley, but was concerned about the treatment of people of color and the murdering of Blacks by the police. This was a common concern, along with gun violence, that I heard voiced many times during our trip. There was a universal disgust of Trump, but this is not a political blog so you will have to read it in the paper yourself. And, believe me, it’s there…in both India and Nepal.
It was approaching 11 by the time we said goodnight, hugged all around, and turned in. I hate to think of what the temperature was, but suffice it to say that we wore our down jackets to bed! Sleep was instantaneous. Tomorrow would be an early morning.
And in the morning, there was a view at last!