First steps from Jiri

On filling all seats and any aisle space, bus 5064 departed. Leaving behind Kathmandu shrouded in dust, a cold thick fog and a bustle akin to the busiest of busy Chinese cities, I relaxed, well, as much as the rock solid seat padding would allow. The nine hour journey allowed two toilet stops by the roadside, some amateur road-building as we tackled mudslide hit segments of road and a meal of Dal Bhat, a staple food of trekking in Nepal. Glimpses of snow-capped peaks, cloud filled valleys and village lifestyles passed by as Nepali Dohori (two-sided debate) and Aadhunik (modern) music styles blurted from a crackly speaker on the bus. My enquiries into the music, from a fellow passenger, of the Sherpa people, educated me that there are more than fifty different ethnicities in Nepal. He said I should expect to hear hundreds of types of different music. I welcomed this.

The bus slammed on the brakes, and slid forward in dirt. The driver, shouted in plain English, “Jiri, Hotel.” He gestured at me. I gathered my rucksack, stepped off the bus into ankle deep mud. The bus rolled away. I turned back. Hotel Everest, 1950m high, claimed the sign. Perched on stilts with magnificent valley views, I could not see Everest. Still, it was impressive. It was 100NPR for a night, with food and drink giving me a total of 1400NPR by the next morning. I ignored the ice cold shower, the next morning, fed on momo (a steamed dumpling), Tibetan bread and garlic soup. I repacked (my now 20kg backpack) and by 8.30am, I set out. The first real steps of my trek! My path through Ramate was steep, Chitre also, and by a place called Pass (maybe, they couldn’t think of a name) I was stood at 2334m. Ben Nevis, in the U.K., stands at 1,345m (4,411 ft.). It is the U.K.’s tallest mountain. I was now almost a kilometre higher. I enjoyed my first close-up views of the Himalayas, stood by a giant Ncell mobile phone mast. I marvelled how the beginning point of many Mount Everest climbs began at Jiri (fewer than 5% now walk from the once named Gateway to Mt. Everest). Now, you could get 3G reception and few people trekked from this quaint end-of-the-road village. I descended via Mali, crossing a rebuilt steel bridge into Shivalaya. Here I applied for entry into Gaurishankar Conservation Area and gazed longingly at signs advising Red Pandas lived in the area. Oh, to see one, in the wild would be amazing!

The wild glacial river of Khimti Khola pushed metres below the almost entirely rebuilt village of Shivalaya. Like much of Nepal, the earthquakes and aftershocks from April and May 2015 had affected huge swathes of the country, here this village shown evidence of missing homes, ruins, and cracks scattering a large area. The cost to community, lives and sociology appeared hidden in the local people’s eyes and actions as they soldiered on with a very positive outlook. I lodged at New Sherpa Guide. My first blister throbbed and shoulders ached. Satisfied with 14km on day one, I slid away into a calm dream. The cool air of the night soothed my aching shoulders.

Freshly ground coffee is a great morning smell. There was no such thing here today. Shivalaya’s next best thing was a Scottish-style porridge heaped with fresh banana slices and sharp Masala tea. The day would continue just as diversely. The trek went up, and up along a ridge and from sunshine into thick high cloud with snowflakes as big as dinner plates. At Deurali, 2705m, for ginger tea and a snack of momo, I met Australian father and son, John and Will. I would go on to meet them almost daily for my trek. Of the five hours of trekking, almost four hours was upwardly, the remainder down.

I arrived into Bhandar, 2190m, and bunked at Shona Lodge. A French man, Vincois, I met many times along the way and my two new Australian friends also lodged here. The owner had rebuilt the lodge, changing from stone to wood panels and timber. Throughout the journey I would learn few families favour stones or concrete above the first storey of buildings now. Traditional stone and wooden frames have been usurped by concrete foundations and wood thereafter. Corrugated tin rooftops have replaced slates and wood in many regions. 12km of walking that day, ended in a cold night’s sleep on a full belly of fuel-like Dal Bhat. I drifted off, giggling at the lady owner’s witty and pushy characteristics. She was certainly a livewire, and her daughter, a local teacher was the salt to her pepper, very kind and calm.

I tiptoed through the ruins of a hamlet located a little lower in the valley than Bhandar, through fields farmed with various leafed plants for eating and across a swamp onto more solid ground. The vast sweeping valley stretched with views of Pikey Peak to the south and south-east. To the immediate east, the pathway stretched firmly upwards. My research indicated several hours of trekking to Sete. It was all up. Passing a broken suspension bridge, I opted for the newly installed Gurkha-soldier built bridge, and crossed into a ghost-village of Kinja, 1630m. Empty shells of once life-filled buildings and carcasses of footpaths through now empty farmyards covered a headland between the two raging rivers of Likhu Khola and Kinja Khola. It felt both summery in temperature but empty in spirit. As I ascended, I ate in Chhmbu, another empty village. By 4 o’clock, my eight hour hike ended at Sete’s Sunrise Guest House. I treated myself to a warm shower (200NPR) and ate Dal Bhat with Will, Vincois and John. This followed the standard gazing at a sunset and observation of all around the valley. Oh, and a drunk Sherpa lady dancing the crests of a steep footpath having enjoyed an afternoon’s Raksi (rice wine), Tongba (millet brew) or Chhaang (fermented barley) alcoholic drinks. Her drunken laughter and songs could be heard long after she had walked many miles away.

Just before bed, Vincois, mentioned tomorrow’s walk is essentially 1000m up and 1000m down. That reminded me of the Band of Brothers line about Currahee Mountain (Georgia, U.S.A.), “3 Miles up, 3 Miles down.” I smiled wryly at the challenge. I departed Sete, 2575m, for Junbesi, 2700m. How hard could that be?

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