Lamjura La II: The Return

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

 

 

27th January 2019

In some ways the challenge of Lamjura La made me feel nervous. Last time round, it was not easy (see 2017’s post entitled Toils and rewards). Departing Sete (2900m) with a belly full of breakfast we started the walk at 0640hrs. The murky morning unveiled valleys below us and a clear pathway upwards. Rays of sunshine shit out from dark clouds covering Pikey Peak mountain and snow lay on the higher grounds that we approached. The cardamom plantation and streams by Kinja were long behind us. Chimbu village’s primary school squatted in a small area above the pathway but squeezed so tightly to the mountainside that a playground seemed barely possible.

A steady rhythm of one foot after the other didn’t matter. The most appropriate adjective is relentless. It is a tough, tough day. Moss-lined forests broke away and eventually a small hamlet appeared. By 0840 we arrived in Dakchu and spent half an hour so eating omelette and enjoying the view. After leaving the Sonam Guest House’s quick servce and reasonable prices, we headed off. The steam on the roof of the guesthouse, made way for a few rooftops of snow, and many places coated in the cold white stuff. Here the road reappeared and swept over the pathway time and time again. The snow went from light, to knee-deep quickly. A sudden drop down for twenty or so metres revealed an icy lake. Soon, we were heading uphill again. The mani stones became caked in snow. With the brighter sunshine, it wasn’t too cold. We stopped for another brew and snuggled two cute puppies. Beyond that we had yet another rise to clamber up. The trees became taller, wider and sparse of green leaves. The ancient landscape could have filled a Tolkein-fantasy novel.

Passing a stack of flat-packed wood, it seemed the same browny-grey cat was there exactly two years ago. The dramatic landscape smoothed off and we were at the start of the pass. The first few huts and buildings were crumbling. Spirit levels not included. The new road swallowed the original pass. This was for once, a good thing. The old pathway was narrow. The new pathway didn’t feel like the earth would fall away, despite the near waist-deep snow. Here, I had to add my thick snow gloves. The shadow of the mountain added extra chill to the occasion.

It was 1600hrs and we were in deep snow – and hungry. One single lodge, on Lamjura La, was open, high up at 3530m. We ate fried macaroni with rice and drank piping hot black tea. It was needed. The giddy puppy darting back and forth made it more of a game than a meal. The dog’s owners, a young family with a very young baby in a box, affixed to the head by a rope headband. Soon after we started eating Ishwor, Srirang and Livia arrived. After they drank and we had finished our reunion, we set out into the deep snow. Alongside us was an 80-year old Sherpa woman and her granddaughter.

We trudged slowly through our newly cut snow pathways for an hour or so to the final edge of the pass (3530m). Here a closed house, that I had black tea and a chocolate bar last time round, stood closed. The drift of snow covered one side. We took the odd photo here and eventually began our descent. The warm fire of the last lodge was now a distant memory. Light ws fading fast. Snow and hail began to shower down on us. The moss-covered trees on a rapidly steep descent hid the pathways below. The furrows and tracks resembled that of a toboggan run. Forest firs and rhododendrons cast out little sound and the air felt still despite a roaring blizzard rolling over the treetops. After a lifetime of torch-waving and some twists and turns below forest canopy, the pathway emerged by a few small houses. Many more steps were needed before the glow of the village of Junbesi could be seen in the valley below. I was at the point of utter exhaustion. Thirsty and without a single drop of water from the two litres available.

After some painful final few kilometres in a timeframe that seemed not to end, we arrived at Junbesi (2700m). The Apple Lodge made us dal bhat (#5) immediately after we arrived close to 2100hrs. Food was in the belly and an aborted attempt at a hot shower was had. The water was 60°C or 0°C – and could not be set between. In bed we all went, shattered.


28th January 2019

The following morning, Linda reported her blisters and some minor foot injuries. Livia and Srirang were knackered. Ishwor joined them for a rest day and another British couple, who had attempted Pikey Peak strolled by and said hello. A light lunch and by 1400hrs, Maria and I carried on, but not too far. At the Everest View Hotel, there was a view of clouds and a warm ginger tea to be had. Still we gently walked on, until reaching the Sherpa village of Solung at 1730hrs. Here was stopped for a brew, to be told that the pathway ahead was firmly frozen and a nightmare to pass. We accepted an invitation to stay at a Sherpa family’s home. Nawang and his wife Pupa lived with one of their three daughters. The 31 years old daughter cooked for us. They had attended a Sherpa wedding with Pupa’s older sister. The wedding procession was going on as far as Kharikhola village. Nawang was a former guide and porter. He claimed to be 80 years old but seemed much younger. From their farm came fresh milk, great vegetables and yummy eggs. Dal bhat number 6 was delicious. The best, so far, and in hindsight, the best overall.

Stories of Nawang’s hiking days, Sherpa lifestyle and the village’s culture stretched to quite late. With a frehs glass of hot milk in our bellies, we retired to the bedroom. The house, from the outside looked like a British detached two-up, two down. Downstairs half of the building served as an agricultural place and the other hald as a washroom/tool shed. Upstars the kitchen area had beds for four and the main social area. A second room, without curtains over the window (there is no invasive streetlighting), and a huge poster to the Tibetan flag and Dalai Lama stood. Maria, from China slept under that. I had the cool air drifting on over me from the window frame. Still it was a pleasant enough place to sleep. Very homely.


29th January 2019

The morning light crept through the windows. A cracking chapati with egg breakfast and wonderful milk tea set the day up well. We bid our farewell to the lovely Sherpa family and began the trek down to the villages of Ringmu. The ankle high bench of the previous lodge’s stay was a pleasant memory by now, as aches returned to pleasantly conditioning legs. I didn’t miss the playful grey cat that scratched my left hand as I slid into my sleeping bag though.

On this day the snowy peaks started to appear far closer. Ice lined waterfalls and melted under glorious beams of brightness. Numerous abandoned building ruins stood side by side their replacement housing. The scars of the 2015 earthquakes visible all over. Into a valley we walked, with huge prayer paintings that Google probably took inspiration from for its logo choice. Over a bridge meant one clear thing. The downward trend of the morning’s walk was now going to be an uphill strain. No pain, no gain – as they say. Passing orange-bellied rustic bird foraging in the damp dry ground a plateau revealed a dramatic landscape with fields towered over by nearby Himalyan peaks.

On finishing a brew in Ringmu, we passed by a ruined ghompa and mani stones. It looked dramatic on my last visit – but this visit it was surrounded by patches of scattered snow. Here we began the ascent to Taksindu (3000m) and walked through a monastery gate atop the peak, before a reasonable incline towards Taksindu monastery. The monastery looks shiny, bright and new. It was mostly a building site two years ago. On passing here, after a Mountain Man nutrition bar, the snow set in. Fearing a blizzard we moved down the mountain side at a steady pace, struggling over icy lips and frozen mud. Flocks of birds swept close to the ground, foraging whilst they could. At 1500hrs we arrived in Nunthala (2330m). A lodge was selected, one of two open in the sleepy village. Almost as soon as we dropped our things in the third-floor room, the snow stopped. Soon after a snow-swept Linda joined us with a French guy resembling Floki from the TV series Vikings. Dal bhat number 7 was greatly appreciated. Here we met a Bulgarian man, heading back from Everest Base Camp, who warned of serious levels of snow and struggles ahead. Nothing a warm brew couldn’t fix.


30th January 2019

The day had been intended to be a long one, ending in Bupsa Danda, but why rush things? From Nunthala we left at 0900hrs. A late lunch around 2pm was had in Kharikhola (2040m). Scarcely an hour later and we set down for the night at the Tashi Delek lodge (meaning hello in the Sherpa language), in the same village. We’d spent just under an hour dropping books with the Classrooms in The Clouds-supported Kharikhola Secondary School (with an attached tiny primary school). We’d even ate lunch at the Headmaster’s family home and met his son, and engineer of the mechanical kind. His friend was also an engineer, set to travel to U.S.A. to further his studies. After being shown their school grounds, a library and their new primary school buildings, we took some photos together and bid farewell. We walked a whole 250 metres in the village before meeting Srirang and Livia with Ishwor. We bunkered down for the night.

Classrooms in The Clouds have a short but rich history in Nepal. They prove that donations can make a real difference. £8.00 makes a day’s salary for a teacher. £10.00 will find three Nepali books. £15 will find three reusable menstrual kits for young women in school. Aside from sounding like just a charity appeal, they deliver. Their mouths put money and resource into action. Their expertise works with Nepali parteners, on the ground, focusing on education support, great quality new classrooms, teacher sponsorship and community work. They support their partners and their teachers. They have linked to the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. If students can study and leave school with the School Leaving Certificate needed, then Nepal will reinforce from within. At places such as Lukla, Bakhapalam, Majhgaun and Kharikhola. My feeling is that, every kid needs to experience school. How can we inspire without a pathway? The early Everest expeditions gave us the gift of some of the finest Himalayan trail to tread upon. This gift needs repaying. Think global, act local? Ecotourism is more than not bringing food from home. Bring something rewarding and leave a place better. Just like picking litter up at the beach. There’s a classroom in the clouds just waiting to be imagined.

That day had been interspersed by numerous mule trains and lots of inhaled dust. The trail has been battered in the last two years. A quaint lodge at the foot of a hill from Nunthala had made way for a mud-spattered filthy mule resting point. Many plants including various fruits and vegetables could be seen today. The contrast between temperate, arid and mountaineous climates was very clear. The splashings of colour, the blue skies and the icy mountain peaks give a sensual overload to the eyes. Dreams could be seen here and there.

In the evening, we met Srirang, Ishwor and Livia. We ate Dal bhat number 8 and talked the evening away, occasionally pinching a look at the clear sky full if stars outside – and the Milky Way lines. Not a bad way to hit the icy cold pillow, as the walk up Bupsa Danda loomed overhead.

#3 SETE 0640 – JUNBESI 2100: ~ 15km.
#4 JUNBESI 1400 – SOLUNG 1740 / #5 SOLUNG 0830 – NUNTHALA 1500: ~ 17km.
#6 NUNTHALA 0900 – KHARIKHOLA 1500: ~8km 

 

To be continued…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

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16th February 2019

Boarding the Yeti Airlines flight, under the colours of Tara Airlines, I lifted my feet onto the steps. The DHC-6 Twin Otter at Tenzing–Hillary Airport stared vacantly and without emotion at the asphalt. The 11.7% gradient didn’t faze the lifeless tincan with wings. Nor did the altitude of 2,845m (9,334ft). Many surprised and excited voices could be heard. Some had landed here on the journey. None of my accompanying 11 passengers had made this take-off. The pilots, with their minimum of 100 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) had. Thankfully. The excitement of my first flight from here came back. I sat back, looked out the window and enjoyed the moment. In less than the full length of the 527m (1729ft) of runway, it was over too soon. It had begun what seemed like only yesterday.


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22nd January 2019

Returning to Kathmandu gave me an oddly warm feel. It was familiar territory and a place that has acted as a gate for many journeys. Early expeditions to map the region started in the 1850s and continued as such until 1953, when a beekeeper called Edmund Hilary arrived with Tenzing Norgay, and around 400 men – including porters, guides and mountaineers. Anyway, here I was, once again, at the brickwork of Tribhuvan International Airport (1,388m/4,390ft) and passing the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple. The holy (to Buddhists and Hindus) Bagmati river flowed under a severe-angled concrete bridge as the hotel pick-up car drifted over it. Many bodies have had a triple-dip into that river prior to cremation. The chief mourner also takes a quick dip before setting his or her lost relative on fire. Relatives also bathe. If the Bagmati river purifies them the source in the Letter Himalayas must be the reasoning. Somewhere downstream of the source, inside Kathmandu itself is the Tukucha Khola tributary. The sewage levels are unbelievable. The city’s eight rivers are sad sights in many places.

As the Hotel Horizon car rumbled into Thamel, over less-than-smooth tarmac, I noted that the central entertainment and shopping area was now closed to cars other than taxis or those with right of way. A wise move. The streetworks that had been taking place when I left in January 2017 had been completed and smoother tarmac took hold on two or three streets. The rest was a tad muddy. New Road (another shopping district) and a road approaching Thamel looked almost new or refurbished since my last visit. My initial thoughts were surprise and pleasure in seeing Kathmandu’s partial regeneration.

At Hotel Horizon, Deveraj, the manager, that I had met on my last trip and since kept in touch informed me of a possible jeep to Shivalaya village or even as far up the trek as Phaplu. I didn’t fancy going so far up the route. Villages such as Sete and Kinja, not to mention the challenge of Lamjura La (a pass at over 3500m high) were great memories. So, I agreed to a jeep to Shivalaya, missing Jiri out completely. The bus journey last time was uncomfortable and numerous accounts show that some dangerous rides have been had. Part of me didn’t want that. How bad could a jeep journey be?


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24th January 2019

Departing at 7am, following a day of last-minute provision buying, our car departed. The backseats of the jeep, covered in a carpet, had no seatbelts. The driver was jolly but not a huge conversationalist, however, the journey was pleasant enough. By pleasant, I mean, he steered away from sheer drops and perpendicular plunges. He gave us a break here and there, about 30 minutes in total throughout nine hours of driving. The intense and terrifying journey comes with 100-metre or so vertical gravity-testing points here and declines that I for one decline to experience. Burned out wreckages of buses, cars and flat-packed former vans can be seen like rare leaf-litter. Not rare enough to ignore. Frequent enough to add as landmarks. Without a crowd of people, animals and baggage, the jeep was mildly more comofortable than the bus journey.

At least we weren’t taking our morning exercise running along the dusty Kathmandu smog-filled roads, like many groups of school students and the ever-numerous morning traffic. Over time the Kathmandu valley fell-away and we went up and down the Lower Himalayas on the Tibet-bound highway. The double-laned road occasionally filtered into a narrow single-laned road. Often our pathways went above cloud levels and passed signs of roadway expansions with Nepal advancing new bridges between communities previously cut off. Wide gorges, huge valleys, glacial stonebeds, and tree-lined foothills baked in sunshine could be seenm throughout. Clouds broke away to reveal sunshine and the traffic lessened with every kilometre covered. Soon, the odd bike and very odd car was noticed. In the final few hours as we neared Jiri, new concreted roads, patched in places broke away into muddy tracks and back to smooth concrete lanes. At Jiri we stopped, to check the road to Shivalaya was open. It was – despite very heavy rain the day before.

On arriving at Shivalaya (1770m), sunset was fast approaching. Knuckling down at the Kala Patthar lodge, enjoying the second dal bhat of the journey, the excitement set in. I stood outside for a moment by that first blue bridge of my previous Nepal trek. It felt good to be back. Eating in the lounge, with doors wide open, and cool fresh air drifting in, Maria and I met Srirang and his porter-guide-friend Ishwor. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d share parts of the journey, but here we were, an Indian, a Nepali Sherpa, a Chinese and a Mancunian. Talking with the lodge proprietor Padam Jirel, we were introduced to his son and daughter, their local schoollife and the family home. A warm night’s sleep followed a few chapters of Jonny Marr’s Set the Boy Free.


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25th January 2019

In the morning breakfast consisted of chapati, eggs and porridge. Waking up to a misty valley around the quaint village of Shivalaya (27°36’25.7″N 86°17’53.4″E) added extra emotion to the air. The feelings in my mind weren’t far off those that swpt over me in January 2017. Registering for the Gaurishankar Conservation Area & National Park and handing over NPRs, the trek began in Dolakha District, Province Number 3. Longleaf Indian pine trees, rhododendrons, alien-looking Woolly-leaved oak trees and other temperate forest species lined the mountain climbs. Within only a few hundred metres of walking and an elevation gain of not much, a few breathers were needed. The respites were quite often. My knees ached. My feet strained. The pauses and rests weighed on my mind. Had two years aged me so much that I could no loger climb or walk in the Himalayas? I tried to focus on seeing Himalayan Thars, red pandas and part of me would have welcomed a Himalayn black bear. It could have made a comfortable seat with a cuddle.

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After a wee while, a brew was needed. At this point, we’d hooked up with Srirang and Ishwor, and as we went to stop, a striding brunette with large eyes strode up, sporting two natural trekking poles of bamboo. Introductions were had, and now Linda (U.S.A.) joined us for a brief while. Soon after meeting Linda, just before Deurali Bazar (2800m), we met Livia (carrying a house or two worth of weight on her back) and at this snow-threatened top we ate lunch. The snow-dusted rooftops of a dozen closed buildings faced a lovely modern and bright façade on the chosen lodge for lunch. The cat and dog in a state of stalemate over territory and positioning were both equally cute. Srirang gave both some noodles. The lunch hour was a more than welcome hiatus. That reduced the amount of meowing and sniffing for food greatly. On full bellies, we headed downwards towards the village of Bhandar (2100m) under the cover of thick heavy grey clouds.

#1: SHIVALAYA 0830 – BHANDAR 1730: ~12km.

In the evening, at my second stay in Shobha Lodge, the great owner and her family cooked us a delicious dal bhat (#3 of the journey) and Maria roasted some small potatoes on a fire outside. A jolly evening was had and lots of conversation with Linda, Livia and Srirang revealed their reasons for hiking this trail. I stood looking at the buildings around this lodge. Two years ago, most were serious ruins. Now many appeared rejuvenated. Against one such building a red rose stood in shadows against a dark wintry sky.


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26th January 2019

The next morning gave bright light and some showered upon footing, but the weather wasn’t bad all day. We set out as a band of six, downwards with the destination aim being Sete. After crossing a delightful vale with a wooden bridge, here the old pathway faded and became swept over or completely consumed by a new carved out road, unpaved and muddy as hell. Every now and then you’d resume the old pathways, but quite often the new road zigzagged the old meandering ways. Soon after passing a small waterfall, I slipped on loose earth where the old met the new path. The devris flung over rocks and coating the unclar pathway made me twist my left knee, striking it on a rock and bending my leg in a way that my right hamstring brought my other leg under my back and bag. I tentatively stood up. I suspected in that moment that the rambling was over. After the shock, I carried on, carefully and slowly. Warning taken. As the path neared Kinja, it broke into a fork. The right fork headed to the muddy and dusty new road. The left fork appeared a tad overgrown. Linda, Maria and I carried on left. After 400 metres, the path disappeared. A chasm with the new road was presented before us. In the end we doubled back and scrambled down the right fork onto the road but the latter section was pretty messy and difficult to get over.

 

The walk into Kinja, was terrible compared with the route two years ago. The road has dismembered too many houses, farms and forested areas. A new hydro-electric plant in a mine has added to the dichotomised region. Many of the crumbling earthquake buildings have vanished. The two new bridges are seldom used. The old wooden bridge is sealed off. The new road dam-cum-bridge allows easy footing into Kinja but feels like a building site. Work in progress may mean new logistical advantages and easier access but it will probably deter hikers. It was now 1300hrs, so at Kinja we stopped for lunch over an hour’s break. The Riverside guest house and restaurant had a sky blue and white sign. What’s not to like about Manchester City colours? Oh, and it had a western toilet, of sorts. It was a ceramic squat hole.

With lunch in our bellies, the climb up from Kinja (1630m) was long and hard but easier than the previous day. The aches of yesterday faded and early conditioning of muscles was felt. Rays of sunshine, refurbished ruins and new settlements lined the upward pathway. The rise steadied and fields of green, shaped like steps leapt out from the hillsides. If enough coins could be found, it’d resemble a penny-arcade machine of the greatest scale. As light faded, we arrived in Sete. Dal Bhat (#4) was served. The Sunrise Lodge was once again my place to stay, in the Sete (2900m).

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

In the village of Sete, I left my Johnny Marr autobiography copy. I Set the Boy Free. So, if you haead to the Sunrise lodge, expect to find the illuminous green cover. And like me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. The former Talking Heads, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Brian Ferry and Billy Bragg collaborator worked with Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Modest Mouse, andmovir composer Hans Zimmer. Not bad for a Mancunian born and raised in the supposed rougher parts of our fair city. Actually, the boy did good, working with Hulme-born Billy Duffy, having a great connection to Portland throughout his expansive and colourful music life – and being not far from where we both witnessed City’s 3-2 win over QPR on that day. Playland is one of my favourite albums ever. The marathon man was also in a lesser-known band called The Smiths. Anyway, just beyond the multi-layered poster on the wall, featuring Barmouth Bridge, that’s where Johnny’s book is.

 

To be continued…

 


 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā