In the first week of the Dashain (pronouced like dess-eye) break, which was the last week of September, I was lucky enough to spend a week trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas. I realise this is super late, as it was over a month ago now, but I’ve got pictures now and it seemed silly to post without them.
We were a large group, fourteen of us comprising of two families, me and a lady, called Jenny, who works out in Nepalgunj, a town on the southwest, right on the border. Other groups we met were rather surprised by how many of us there were, and that we ranged in age from two six year olds to a grandmother. It was a lovely group to trek with. Including me, there were eight of us eighteen or under.
We were walking a circular route that forms part of the Tamang Heritage trek, which is just west of the Langtang peaks – we could see them most days. I’d see them and think, oh, that’s near and doesn’t look too high. In reality, they were more than 6,000m and over 15km away. The sun reflected off the snow drenched peaks, occasionally bare grey rock peaking through. It was impossible to look and them and not think how beautiful God had made Creation. If something as simple as towering rock and frozen water could be that breath-taking, then how much care had God taken with creating the Earth?
How beautiful are the works of your hand, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the Earth is full of your creatures.
The next thought was invariably how carelessly we were destroying it. The trail was littered with rubbish, old crisp/noodle/chewing tobacco packets made of foil and plastic – which will never decompose so will lie around spoiling the natural beauty and posing a risk to wildlife for years to come.
The first stage (and last) of the trek was the drive to get to there. I’m pretty sure the experience comes under the list of activities I am not to tell mum about until afterwards. We crammed into two jeeps, along with our guide and porters, strapped our luggage to the roof, and settled in for an eight hour drive. As with most vehicles here, there were no seat belts, and we sat more people per row than intended.
The first challenge was to get out of Kathmandu. Cars, lorry and buses backed up along the winding road that climbed up out of the city and into the hills surrounding it. Unfortunately, due to the monsoon, which had just finished, the route we wanted to take was in ‘poor’ condition – I dread to think how terrible the actual condition was as my version a road in good condition does not match Nepal’s. This meant we had to take the road to Pokhara, which was jammed with traffic. At one point, the traffic was stationary, so our guide just drove up the wrong side of the road, dodging the oncoming traffic by darting through narrow spaces until we reached our turning. If you’ve ever driven on roads in India, it’s like that – just with more of a drop if you fall off the road.
The road continued onwards and we cut back and forth up the sides of the hills, steadily climbing upwards. We were not in the mountains yet, and yet the only time I’d ever been higher was in a plane. We arrived at the buffer zone of the national park we would be trekking in, where there was a checkpoint to ensure we weren’t taking in equipment to poach animals. They glanced at our bags and waved us on. We passed through the checkpoint and promptly arrived at another. This continued until we arrived at the checkpoint into the park – Langtang National Park. We had to show out TIMS permits, and then remove out bags from the top. We opened then, but didn’t move any items about so could have hidden stuff below, before being waved on.
The road condition deteriorated to a mud road that was the opposite of level – in ‘good’ condition. The drop deepened, the ‘road’ narrow, and we were in the mountains properly now. The ‘road’ was only just wide enough for two jeeps to pass, though it meant getting perilously close to the edge. I was torn between looking out of the window at the beautiful scenery – waterfalls tumbling down the opposite mountain side like silver tears – and keeping my eyes shut to keep from seeing how often we were centimeters from the edge.
We bounced about, giving up saying sorry every time we hit into the person next to us – if we had, we’d be saying it constantly. Instead, we clung on to what we could – the back of the chair in front of us, the handles that are pointless in UK cars but necessary here or simply braced against the roof. My chair flapped down to allow those in the back to get out, but the locking mechanism was broken so anytime we went over a particularly large bump (a lot!), my chair folded in on itself and I had to right my seat just in time for the next one.
Cars, vans, buses, lorries and coaches were all travelling along this road. Our jeep had enough trouble climbing up and down the bigger holes, and I can’t believe the coaches managed it. Certainly, they were rocking worryingly.
As that didn’t seem dangerous enough, fog then descended as we drove through the clouds. The monsoon had washed parts of the mountainside away, and the road was obscured by mud, but we just went over that. Waterfalls flooded across the road, in one place it was washing the road away as we went and a lorry almost tipped ahead of us. I shut my eyes.
Finally we arrived at our destination and prepared to start hiking the next day. We did at least 600m in ascent and/or descent each day – on one day with 600m of both before lunch. We ate a lot for lunch that day! On the third day we climbed up to 3200m! To put this in perspective, Scafell Pike in the Lake District is a miserly 978m and Ben Nevis is 1345m. The views over the surrounding valleys were amazing, and we could see where we’d been on both of the previous days.
Us at 3200m, I’m the one at the back with the big hat!
A panorama from 3200m
At the bottom of valleys, rivers rushed over boulders. It was too cluttered and fast for white water rafting. The only way over was steel-rope bridges. The first was fine. The last was not. The monsoon had triggered a landslide in the hill one side was anchored at and knocked away half the support ropes and the walkway. The locals had repaired it was stones, dirt, wood and corrugated metal. The sides weren’t anchored, so there was nothing to hold on to and you had to be very careful where you put your feet as the stone rocked and the packed dirt disguised the lack of support below. It was a relief to get off it.
There were plenty of leeches that tried to wiggle through our shoes. The tweezers were routinely employed to remove the unwanted burdens. Sam Drew went a step further and whitteled a stick to make his ‘de-leech-enator’, complete with one sharp end for popping fat leeches and a wide end for crushing them. Each leech killed by the de-leech-enator was recorded with a notch on the handle.
As we walked, we memorised Psalm 121, chosen because we were indeed looking at mountains. Considering the ease with which the sun could burn us or the danger if our feet did slip, it was a reassuring passage.
I lift my eyes to the mountains-
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of Heaven and Earth.
He will not let your foot slip-
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you-
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm-
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and goings
both now and forever more.
Evenings consisted of endless games of Catan, the Bean Game/Bohnanza, cards and rumikub, all of which had been brought with us packed in bags or travel cases. These games are not designed for eight, so we played in teams and my unofficial role was mediator so that the older ones did not take too much advantage of the younger ones. We played until dinner came, and then ate before playing some more. The food was not bad, but on one memorable day, they’d misread the two tally marks meaning ‘two’ for eleven, and eleven plates of momos arrived! All the other instances of two tallies were read as two, however. That day, when we had lost our guide and the porters in the morning, became known as the Day of the Eleven Momos in commemoration.
We returned to our start point after five days of trekking, tired but it was a wonderful experience. The only problem was we had to drive back to Kathmandu along the same roads. I’d learnt from the outbound journey and kept my eyes shut until we passed out of the high roads.