Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day 4 - First Big Test, Monjo to Namche Bazaar

Sunday 12 October

Today was our first test, climbing for about 5 hours and going up around 700 metres. The first part of the trip we made our way along the Dudh Kosi to its junction with the Bhote Kosi (Rivers). There were lots of milky green boiling rapids and we crossed another couple of quite long suspension bridges. The last three and half hours was a slow trudge up and up. However, I found if you just took it slowly, and got into a rhythm it wasn't too bad.

The trail was very busy with trekkers and villagers bring goods back from Namche Bazaar. There were many groups of villagers herding jokpu (cattle) heavily laden with market goods. When we arrived at the village of Namche, we climbed up through the village to the Hotel Sherwi Khangba. This delightful hotel and restaurant was established by Lhakpa Sonam Sherpa. His amazing wife manages to cook hearty meals for trekkers, clean rooms, wash and dry trekker's clothes, assist with charging batteries and phones, accessing Internet, providing hot showers and towels. On top of this she provides tours and information sessions on the Museum that she and her husband have set up in honour of the Sherpa's that have lost their lives in the Himalayas. She was like a traffic policeman directing peak hour traffic, always with a smile on her face.

The bonus of staying here was the short requite from sleeping on the ground, a wonderful cosy dining room. Then came the exciting bit!! hot showers!! for only 200 rupees (money well spent!! it was divine to feel nice and clean).

We spend the afternoon in the library, some of us played a rather rowdy game of cards while others caught up on emails etc. After a hearty meal of mushroom soup, Buffalo stew, veggies and rice we all stumbled up to our rooms to recover from our big day. The zzz's were pumping out very quickly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 3 Ghat to Monjo

Saturday 11 October

As I sit in my little orange home, I am surrounded by mountains that go up for ever. Just next to our camping ground there are veg fields with stone fences and then the small village of Monjo. In the distance you can hear the soft roar of the river as it boils its way through the valley. (how poetic is that!!!). This has to be the prettiest of camping spots!!!

Today we walked for about 5 hours, with a few more ups and downs that yesterday, crossed another three suspension bridges, passed through pine forests and lots of small rural villages. In many of the villages we saw the Mani walls. Stone structures made up of many stone tablets with the inscription "Om Mani Padme Hum" a Buddhist mantra.

We arrived at our camping ground in time for a late lunch. After lunch we went for a climb up through the village to the local school, and monastery. It is amazing how quickly you run out of breath when climbing up hill. All good training for what is to come.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 2 - We're on the Trail

Friday 10 October

Here I sit in my orange tent (my home for the next 22 days) and I have already had to give myself the silly award for the day. The Sherpa's came around with our bowl of hot water (for our evening wash) and I succeeded in knocking the bowl over!! I couldn't believe it. A mad panic, luckily we pulled everything outside, the corner of my mattress being the only casualty.

This morning was a very early start, up at 3.30am, dressed, bags down to reception, quick breakfast and onto the bus to the airport. Now this was and experience. Hopeful trekkers lined up from the airport out into the car park, lots of pushing and shoving. We got our first taste of some of the bad manners that some groups of trekkers can display!! We eventually got through the pretend bag checking station. (Our bags are loaded onto the conveyor belt and slide through the Xray machine, funny bit is the two men who are watching the baggage are in deep conversation with one of their mates and not even looking at the luggage!) Finally after more pushing and shoving and a body frisk we were into the terminal. We were advised, because of the backlog of trekkers wanting to fly through to Lukla World Expeditions had made special arrangements for us, and that we would definitely be getting a flight out that morning.

Next surprise! we were loaded onto a small bus with another group, and whisked across the tarmac to a small hanger with army planes in the front. Yes, our special flight was an army parachute plane complete with a very attractive, smiling soldier in battle fatigues as our hostess. We sat on bench seats, with our luggage piled up in the middle. What a buzz!!!

After a 30 minute flight and the "have to see to believe" landing in the little airport of Lukla, we met out head Sherpa for the trip Mani, and made our way through the crowds of villagers watching the planes land around to our starting point where all the Sherpas, cooks and porters were preparing for our trek. Soon it was on with our backpacks, and off we go. Ringi was the leading sherpa today, keeping a steady pace with a few stops, to help us acclimatise.(2,800m).

Today's was an easy 4 hour trek, through beautiful, lush farmland, crossing a couple of quite large suspension bridges and following the boiling milky blue-green waters of the Dudh Kose (Milk) River. When we arrived at our camping ground our bright orange tents were already set up, and afternoon tea of hot tea and biscuits followed quickly.

There were a couple of other groups camped in the same ground. One group was returning from the same trek that we are doing. Dinner was served in our Mess tent, three courses of pretty delicious camp food. Good thing I am doing a lot of walking, to burn all those carbs off!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 1 - Sites of Kathmandu

Thursday 9th October

After breakfast we all assembled in the foyer, met our guide for the day, and climbed into the small bus. The first place we visited was the Hindu temple of Pashupathinath which sits on the banks of the holy Bagmati River.

This is the site of a large number of Hindu temples and the banks of the Bagmati River is the site for many Hindu cremations. Many Royal cremations take place at this site. At first I was a bit dubious about visiting this site, however I found it was very natural and peaceful. There were 6 sites along the river that were for the cremation and in other areas along the river families were preparing the bodies for cremation. I was pleased to say that tourists were polite and respectful.
It was interesting to see the mix of people visiting the various temples, holy men, mourners and of course the odd cow. There were a number of groups of Holy men who I found a little amusing. One couple were standing chatting and when they saw a group of tourists coming the jumped up and sat cross legged in one of the arches ready for photos. Another group were sitting and grooming themselves, taking great care in painting their skin and eyes. One of the younger holy men was the most amusing, looking a mirror and adjusting his face makeup. There were many long looks at his reflection in the mirror as he made minor adjustments to his make up and hair.

The next stop off was the Buddhist site- Bodhnath Stupa. As we had visited this site a couple of days previously, I took the time to wander around by myself and take pictures. I was fascinated by the colours of Nepal. They are so vibrant!

The afternoon tour was going to take us to Durbar Square in Kathmandu, as I had already visited this area I opted to stay at the hotel and start the task of packing my gear for the trek. The challenge of fitting all I needed for 22 days into that red bag and keeping the weight below 15 kgs was a little daunting.

A Reality Check and Team Talk

Today was meant to be a day of rest and purchasing of final necessities for our trek. However, after breakfast when we met in the foyer there was a strange and tense feeling around. World Expeditions staff were very quite and serious and a group that was to leave that morning, came back from the airport. As the day unfolded we found out that there had been a plane crash at Lukla (the town that we were to fly into on Friday to start out trek). A group of German trekkers, two Australians and the Nepalese flight staff were killed in the crash. This was quite a shock to us all, and certainly made us stop and think about what we were doing. All credit must go to World Expeditions as they had contacted all our home contact numbers and advised family that we were all okay before it hit the news.

Through the day we met the other members of the group we were going to be trekking with as they arrived at the hotel. That evening we all met at the pool bar/restaurant for our first official meeting and information session. The Head Sherpa who was to lead our group was not able to get back from Lukla because of the crash so one of the local leaders took us through all the details, advised on equipment we may need and answered our many questions. We were given out red bags (which were to hold all our gear for the trek) and down sleeping bags and jackets.

Tomorrow was to be our first official day of the trek, and this would be a guided tour of some of the sites around Kathmandu followed by a group dinner at a local restaurant in the evening.

Krishnarpan Restaurant

What a special treat! We all met in the foyer, all dolled up in our trekking best. After a short cab ride through the back streets we again arrived at Dwarika's Hotel, where we sat in the gardens and watched the slow rhythmical dancing of a local Nepalese girl and enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. Then it was time for a gastronomical treat. We strolled past the statues and fountains to Krishnarpan Restaurant, nestled within the gardens of Dwarika's Hotel.

As we entered we were greeted at the door by a number of hostess and after removing our shoes they washed our hands, by pouring water over our hands, as we held them over a brass bowl, then handed us individual fluffy white towels to wipe them. We were then lead to our table at the rear of the restaurant and introduced to the two ladies who were going to look after us for the evening.

One of our hostesses was deaf and dumb, however this wasn't a handicap as she was most attentive to all our needs. We were amazed at her skill at pouring the rice wine. (shown in picture) She held the jug high above her head and poured the wine into tiny little clay cups
(without spilling a single drop). As soon as your cup was empty she was there filling it up again.

We all sat on cushions around out table and were treated to six courses of fragrant spicy food. It was a night of lots of laughs and excitement as we anticipated the adventure that we were about to embark on. A long way from the blue mess tent that would host most of our meals for the next 23 days.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Visit to the Tailor's, Jeweller's and The Garden of Dreams (7th October)

Today, was very relaxed. Kristy and I ventured back in to the Thamel area, for a little shopping therapy and to visit the tailor that I had found a couple of days previously. He was busy with some Irish customers when we arrived. A Mum, daughter and niece were all having outfits made for a wedding back in Ireland. One of our favorite expressions for our trip came from this encounter. I commented on how nice the mother's dress was and asked her what she was going to wear with it. She informed us in her lilting accent that she would wear one of the lovely "Pasmini's" that she had bought here in Nepal. From then on pashmina shawls all became pasmini's to us!

The tailor's little shop was dark and dingy. However he was very professional and the actual experience of chatting, looking through old vogue books and at the bolts fabric that lined one wall of his shop was enough to satisfy us. The fact that we were going to get some new clothes and very good prices was a bonus. He informed us that he had trained in London and that he did quite a bit of work for people at Consulates and Embassies. I would say he was in his mid 30's. We paid our deposits and he promised to have the garments ready when we arrived back from our trek.

Our next discovery was just a couple of blocks away from the tailors. This was a small Tibetan jewellers. There are many jewellers in the Thamel area, for some reason we were attracted to this shop. As we looked at the display in the shop we got chatting to the jeweller, he started to tell us his story of escaping from Tibet to Darjeeling in the late 1950's. This became the first of a number of visits that I made to this jewellers, to buy a couple pieces of jewellery, introduce others from our group to him and to listen to his stories. He had such a gentle yet very interesting and intelligent demeanour, and it was great to hear his stories and opinion on the present day situation in Nepal and Tibet and their relationships with China.

After this "intense" morning of shopping it was time to discover another gem close to the Thamil area, The Garden of Dreams. Over the past seven years a government project has seen the renovation of these gardens from a state of serious neglect and disrepair. It was a lovely sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of Kathmandu. As we sat amongst the pools and fountains eating a delicious chicken sandwich, the only reminder of the chaos outside was the sound of the car horns at a nearby intersection.
It was then time to head back to our hotel where we would meet the other people going on our trek and to get ready for our big night at Krishnarpan. (story for another blog!!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bhaktapur - India Jones eat your heart out!!! (7th October)

After our lunch at Dwarika's and a game of Bagha-Chall (traditional Nepalese board game, with tigers and goats) our driver took us to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is a heritage list town about 20km east of Kathmandu on the old trade route to Tibet. The ancient city is filled with Hindu and Buddhist religious sites and art.

It was like walking onto the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Temples and palaces of all shapes and sizes dating as far back as 15th century are crammed within the city walls.

We wandered around the narrow streets and amongst the temples for a couple of hours. The whole town was awash with vibrant colours, as the people celebrated the local festival. Our driver, who also became our guide (as he thought the local guides would have all been celebrating and under the weather with too much rice wine) informed us that this was the day of the festival when the men buy a new outfit and jewellery for their wives. (again he lamented at the cost!!). We were convinced the reason he was happy to drive us around on a public holiday was so that he could escape away from the stresses of family life. Quite a character!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Exploring Kathmandu Valley (6th October)

After a hearty breakfast, we met our cheery driver who we had hired for the day to take us to some of the places of interest on the outskirts of Kathmandu. This time of the year the Nepalese are celebrating the Dashain Festival.

There was an hum throughout the city. All the women were dressed in new sari's. All the families were preparing for celebrations and sacrifice of animals. There were lots of goats, being sold, and being dragged along on ropes back to the family homes. It was obvious they knew what was happening as they were putting up considerable resistance.

Our first stop was Kopan Monastery high on hilltop on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We were lucky enough to be allowed into the main temple (after taking our shoes off) and one of the monks gave us a detailed tour which also included visiting their library where there many old Tibetan books (wrapped in cloth) were stored.

While we were there was a break in class and all the young monks (some looked as young as 8-9 years old, very cute and cheeky!) all came out of class and were running around playing in the area outside the library.

On our way to our next stop, our driver entertained us with a detailed description of the seven day ritual that he went through when he was married. He was also lamenting his teenage daughter, telling us that children of today had changed and wanted all the new and up to date equipment. The next stop was the impressive and very famous Bodhnath Stupa.

Amazing place, the structure is huge, surrounded by a circle of buildings that house monasteries and tourist shops selling, paintings, artifacts, jewelery. We spend considerable time wandering around, taking in the sights and sounds.

It was now time for lunch. Pam had a great treat organised for us, not far from the Stupa is the famous Dwarika's Hotel.

The story of Dwarika's is facinating (the link above gives details). The beautiful old hotel is the dream of Dwarika Das Shrestha who could see many of the old unique nepalese buildings were being knocked down and the art of carved windows etc was being lost. So when ever an old building was knocked down he would buy all the old pieces and saved them. Eventually he purchased the sight of the present Dwarika's hotel and started the restoration and revival of the traditional Nepalese building.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm Back

My how time has flown. I arrived back from Nepal this week, and am please to report had a great time. Internet access was very limited while I was away and the couple of times I attempted to add to my blog the line dropped out. I hope over the next couple of weeks to transfer my adventures from my diary along with some of the Pics (over 1,000 of them). Watch this space.