Day 01. 12 Nov. Dhap to Jhapre. 11 Km. 3 hours. 390m up. 440m down. I arrived in Kathmandu and Bharat met me at the airport. We took his car into town and he showed me the current hotel he uses, called the Thamel Park. It was an incongruous edifice some 10 stories high and it stood out even with some of the more modern additions to Thamel. It was only for a night so I stayed. I then got a local sim card and arranged a jeep to take me on the road to Salleri tomorrow. The jeep was expensive at $200 dollars but it meant I could avoid the local bus which took an uncomfortable 12 -13 hours. Using the jeep We could leave at 0400 and get to Dhap at around midday which would give me enough time to do the first day’s walk. It all went according to plan and I was glad I avoided the local bus as the road was really very poor, even by Nepali standards.
It was dark until we reached Dhulikel a few hours from Kathmandu. The road then climbed and dropped over a couple of ridges before reaching the arterial valley with the huge Sun Kosi river flowing in it. We followed it downstream, passing many rapids until we got to Gurmi Bazaar. Many sections of the road here were rough and destroyed by floods and landslides. At Gurmi Bazaar there was a steel bridge over the river which we took and then climbed and followed the ridges on the foothills for 3 hours on a much better road. I slept for much of the last section with the jet lag and lack of sleep overwhelming me. We got to Dhap at 1300. Initially I had intended to stay here assuming the bus would pull in at 1900 in the evening dark to spill me out.
It was apparently just a few hours walk to a good teahouse at Jhapre. A sherpa beside the road in Dhap told me it was much nicer than the one we stood beside, called the Magar Hotel. On his recommendation I set off, still in shorts and shirt sleeves despite the altitude of 3000m. However there was a cold wind and I soon had to put a jacket on. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy with a thick haze lower down so the high snow capped mountains to the north only made brief appearances. It was an easy route to follow as it was the rough track which was formed by laying millions of stones on their sides to form a cobbled surface. There were the odd lorry or tractor and the track was strong enough for them. I saw all the familiar trees and shrubs again; the Chir pines, Himalayan Hemlock, the large holly trees and a mass of rhododendrons. After a good hour mostly following the crest of the ridge, a poor 1:125,000 map and my intuition I came to the tiny hamlet of Sigane. Here it seemed the entire male population of the hamlet, which was about 6, were hand loading timber logs, ready for the sawmill, into one of the lorries.
The second half of the walk was on a much more rustic road with no base except for some heavily eroded mud trenches which were dry. It was a further 6 km from Sigane to Jhapre and it took me nearly 2 hours. It should have been a lovely walk but the mist had thickened so I walked along the lonely road on top of the twisting rounded ridge called the Pokle Danda. The almost deserted road undulated at around 2800 metres as it threaded a path through the trees and shrubs. Occasionally I got hazy views down the sides of the ridge to villages scattered about on each side. Jhapre seemed to be a Sherpa village and there were many prayer flags and small chortens at the entrance to the village. There were about 5 teahouse lodges but I was advised to take the last, the Lama Himalayan Hotel. I passed more gompas and possibly even a gompa in the village before I reached the lodge.
The lodge was great with a big light dining room with a large stove in it. The rustic rooms were in an annex. There was even a shower, but no wifi. I changed my clothing as a guide and an Austrian girl arrived. By the time I went back to the lounge the fire was lit and it was getting warm. I struggled to stay awake long enough to write the blog and then snoozed in front of the fire until my Dhal-Baat arrived. The guide for the Austrian girl also said it was one of the best views in Nepal with seven 8000 mountains visible. After the large traditional supper I crashed without really chatting as I was nodding off. Unfortunately I did not sleep and woke up after a couple of hours. I think it was the altitude. My blood was full of haemoglobin after the summer where I spent a lot of time at 2000m but I had now squandered them after 6 weeks at sea level and would have to build them up again. My thoughts were also angst ridden which tends to happen to me if I am not acclimated properly.
Day 02. 13 Nov. Jhapre to Pikey Peak B.C. 15 Km. 5 hours. 950m up. 180m down. It was a beautiful morning when I got up at 0630. the sun was streaming into my east facing window having just risen. While I was disappointed to arrive in the mist last night and now see anything I was now overwhelmed with the view. From the bedroom and the dining hall I could see across the forested valleys to a jagged white horizon with some of the highest mountains in the world including Everest and Makalu. It was a stunning surprise. I thought I would have to wait until Pikey Peak in a few days to see it. I had breakfast with the Austrian girl and the Dutch/Uganda couple and then set off around 0800. It was still clear but there was some cloud building in the valley. I remembered it was par for the course that the best clearest views untainted by haze are earliest in the day.
I walked up through the forest to the north of the village, climbing through the magnificent firs.some of which were a good metre across at the bole. There was an understory of Rhododendron with some trees 15 metres high but still dwarfed by the firs which could reach 45 metres. The path followed a very rough track, unfortunately used for logging, and where it went up hairpins there was a path shortcutting them. After a short hour the path climbed out of the forest and went up an open ridge with absolutely magnificent views on each side. To the east was the aforementioned Everest Makalu complex towering above a nearer snow-clad ridge of about 6500 metres. While on the west there was a rampart of snow covered 7000 and 8000 metre mountains as far as the eye could see. I think I even spotted Annapurna and Dhaulagiri which was quite extraordinary as it was perhaps 300 kilometres away. The route went up to a small pass called Pokhare Danda where the valleys went down into the forests and rural villages far below. Not far from pass the ridge rose again up towards a small teahouse at Bhulbhule. There were masses of light blue gentians in the short cropped brown grass here. It was very rustic but I was already hungry so I stopped for an early lunch.
After lunch I continued north to the small rounded hillside which would have been a mountain anywhere else but here was just an insignificant foothill. About half an hour after Bhulbhule I came to another teahouse beside a gleaming white stupa at Lhamuje. I chatted with the owner and he pointed out where I might have been able to see Khanchenjunga were it not for the distant cloud. At this teahouse there were perhaps 20 Dhzo (A yak cow cross) grazing. I definitely felt I was in the Himalayas now. From the teahouse the path contoured round the south side of the brown foothill in a magnificent fir forest.There were some venerable old trees here which were perhaps 200 years old. After an hour this easy forest traverse came to two small very rustic and seasonal homesteads and a pass. There was a small stupa here, earthen and crumbling.
The views to the 8000 metre mountains were now obscured by the immediate foothills but the sharp spire of Gurishankar loomed to the north on the Tibetan border. The path now climbed the SW shoulder of Pikey Peak which I hoped to go up for sunrise tomorrow. Half way up at 3700m, and well above the treeline was a collection of 4 lodges in a cluster called Pikey Peak Base Camp, which sounded very grand for the foothill it served. It took about an hour to climb up to them and it was the main effort of the otherwise easy day. My chest was heaving with the lack of oxygen. I passed a large Swedish group coming down who had a long way still to go today just before the teahouses. I was told the first one on the right was the best so went to it and found the Dutch/Uganda couple already there tucking into a late lunch. It has a nice atmosphere and I got a room which was very warm with the afternoon sun. I spent much of the afternoon catching up with paperwork which was a bit tedious but accomplished it all before my Dhal-Bhat supper which filled me up with healthy calories. I arranged to get up at 0400 so I could make the hours hike up to Pikey Peak for the sunrise at about 0600. It had been a fantastic day and it was great to be back trekking here with the chaos of Kathmandu and the rigours of travel now distant memories.
Day 03. 14 Nov. Pikey Peak B.C. to Ringmu 27 Km. 10.5 hours. 1350m up. 2290m down. The alarm went at 0340 and I was packed and down for breakfast at 0400. The Dutch/Uganda couple joined me half an hour later and we all set off at about 0500 in the pitch dark. I went first and had difficulty finding the path so just trudged up the hillside. I could see their touches well below me. Eventually I came across thhe path and it was easy to follow. I was striding out up the steps hoping not to be late for the sunset and my lungs were heaving and my heart thumping in the cold morning. After half an hour there was enough light to turn the torch off without stumbling. The sky to the east was glowing a deep orange. Soon there was enough light to see down on the frosty patches on the ridges below. I reached the first peak, Pikey 2, 4065m, after an hour and the sunrise was nearing with the dark orange brightening into a light amber and the higher skies turning light blue. I could see all the mountain ridges except Kanchengunga to the east. It was blocked by the adjacent and marginally higher Pikey 1, 4068m. I decided to hike across the saddle to Pikey 1 and get the full view from there but I would miss the sunrise as it would come up while I was en route. When I got to Pikey 1 the view was quite unbeleivable. I could see everything from Kanchengunja some 200 km to the east to Dhaulagari some 300 km to the west. Between the two was a rampart of mountains all around 7000 to 8000 metres including Everest. Indeed there were seven 8000 metre mountains on display. It was the most impressive mountain vista I had ever seen. Nearer to Pikey peak were Gurishankar, Numbur Himal and the Barun range and they dominated the middle ground.
As I gazed at this vista I was suddenly joined by an Australian who had come up from Jase Bhanjyang, where there was a tea house. We chatted and admired the view but I was being battered by the very cold wind and got cold quickly as it was about minus 5 and with the wind chill perhaps minus 20. After 30 minutes we fled the top and walked down to the saddle where his teahouse and my route was. About half way down I had to stop as now it was roasting hot in the sun and out of the wind. Back in my shorts and shirt I felt much more comfortable. It had been a hich octane morning so far with the early start, the extraordinary views and the cold. At the pass I said goobye and carried on.
My route went to the north up the otherside of the pass on a newly and beautifully constructed path whiich must have been sponsered by the local governnment. It took me up a few hundred metres to a plateau called Pabu Danda at about 3800 metres. From here there were more magnificent views north. The new path continued across the plateau and then dropped down into the forest on the north side. It dropped some 1000 metres into a large bowl to the east of Lamjura La pass on the Jiri to Everest trail. The descent continued on the new path through a magnificent forest of fir. There were thriving on this north facing slope and there were some giants with boles of 1.5 metre diametre. I could see sunlight through the canopy high above but otherwise I was in a sheltered forest with 45 metre trees towering above. The trees were dripping in huge clumps of moss growing from their bark and the forest smelt of resin. I noticed how quiet it was there was no sound at all, not even birds.
After a good hour the path finally reached the valley floor where the infant Taktor Khola stream was forming. It passed through some grazing land and a few isolated homesteads before reaching the road which was never used as a road and there were no tire marks at all. I followed the road down past a few more homesteads to reach the large hamlet of Taktor. It was spread out across the terraced hillside and families were unloading baskets of manure onto these terraces. The manure was from the small cattle sheds beside each house and mixed with leaves. It was a very peaceful pastoral scene. I carried on through the hamlet on the road and then took the old path round a spur to reach the huge monastery above Jumbesi. The old path now descended to this large village where there were perhaps 15 lodges and tea houses here and also a number of shops. It was a very Bhuddist community and there were stupas and chortens everywhere. I stopped at a lodge just before the lower covered entrance and had a great meal and rest with a very friendly family. I had been going for 7 hours without a pause really so was quite glad of the meal.
I could easily have stayed here but thought it better to press on to Ringmu some 3-4 hours away as it was only 1330. The weather was getting hazy and the mist was descending down the mountains so photography was now limited. I went through the entrance gate, lined with prayer wheels on each side, skirted clockwise round the stupa and descended to the bridge over the clear Jumbesi Khola river. There was a new road on the otherside coming up from Salleri but I just crossed it and then entered the forest. For the next three hours the path climbed gently as it traversed up the hillside. I quickly walked into another magnificent forest. This time on the drier south faciing slope the trees were pine (I think Chir Pine). They were not as large as the mornings firs but some were 40 metres with a metre wide bole. The gently breeze swished through their needles rising and falling in crescendo.
The gentle path climbed some 400 metres over the course of 4 kilometres passing the occasional homestead and old trekking lodge, all of which looked borded up and in hibernation. As I climbed up this easy path the mist came down more and threatened to engulf the forest but it just stopped short. It took under two hours to finally reach the spur at the hamlet of Phurteng. There was supposedly a view to Everest from here and the names of the lodges all reflected that. It was probable the reason the 2-3 lodges existed. However they looked quiet and a bit scruffy now and had probably seen their hayday. The easy path was almost level and soft underfoot as it now descended gently to the NE into the Dudh Kunda Khola valley. I had been walking for many hours now but this path was exactly what I needed and was a delight. I passed the hamlet of Salung. It had some pretty houses surrounded by productive vegetable patches and a nice looking lodge adorned with marigolds growing in tins. Salung also had a view to Everest, but it was not evident on this very overcast afternoon. The entire descent took well over an hour but it was not taxing until the last kilometre when it dropped more steeply on the remnants of a tractor track to the Dudh Kunda river in the slot of the valley bottom.
I crossed the suspension foot bridge and then climbed up stone steps through the forest to reach a cluster of large lodges at the lower end of the Ringmu village. There were perhaps 5 lodges here and they all looked good. I was spoilt for choice. I settled for one and discovered there was a large school group camping beside it. Howver the guides seemed friendly. Inside I got a large thermos of tea and then settled in. One of the guides from the school group came in. He was a Nepal affectionado and a teacher from California called Vincent. We chatted for a good hour about hiking and Nepal and I learnt much from him. He was a kindered spirit. When my Dhal-Bhat came it was one of the best I have ever had. I continued to chat to Vincent who eventually had to go out to make sure the 15 odd pupils in a least 10 tents were OK. I then wrote the blog and eventaually went to bed at 2200 after a long but magnificent day.
Day 04. 15 Nov. Ringmu to Kharikhola. 16 Km. 7 hours. 870m up. 1570m down. I had an extraordinarily good 10 hour sleep. It was perhaps the lower altitude and the long day yesterday. Breakfast was very slow as the teahouse owner dithered but, when it came it was very good. Vincent came in to say goodbye before he led his group down to Phaplu. I did not get going until 0900, by which time half the morning was over. The day started with a short climb through the rest of the pretty village and then through the forest for an hour to the Taksindu La pass, 3070m, just a mere 300 above the guesthouse. At the pass there was a guesthouse with a very charming French couple who I chatted with for about 10 minutes before beginning the long descent to the Dudh Kosi river 1500 metres below.
Initially the path took me down to the Taksindu Monastery which looked a lot bigger than I remembered. I could see it below and there was quite a crowd gathered and much drum beating. When I got to it there were two large juniper bush fires by the stupas. I went into the compound and up to the monastery. The doors were open but the place was empty so I went to the entrance and took some photos. As I came out I noticed there was a commotion further down and a procession was just leaving. It was perhaps led by the Rinpoche but there were 40 monks in the large curved red hats playing their clarinet type instruments, and others banging drums. There was also a monk with a ghastly mask on of a large wizened man. At the back was a Westener and his two daughters. It was quite a privilege to witness this procession from close range. I think the westerner was a donor and they were holding a puja to honour him. There were plenty of locals also, all in their finest sherpa clothing. Once they had all gone into the gompa I carried on down, feeling my spirits lifted by the half hour I had spent here.
The path now went round the side of the big bowl to the east of the pass and descended through forest with many small clear streams cascading down mossy ravines. It took a good hour to reach the larger village of Nunthala. It was beautifully laid out on a shelf on the mountainside with a wide main street and some 10 three storey buildings on each side behind a marigold filled front garden. The whole town was very quaint and it would have been a great place to spend the night. I still had another 700 metres to descend through. It took me down through the occasional hamlet and terraced fields, many ripe with millet. The hamlets were adorned with marigolds and the large tree dahlias which somehow made it here from Central America. Between the hamlets and fields were forests of broadleaves. They were harvested for firewood and fodder for the tethered cows and buffalo in the hamlets. A Swiss couple arrived and I chatted briefly with them and then their guide said “are you James?” I said “Yes”. He replied that Ramesh was waiting for me at the bridge over the Dudh Kosi river half an hour below.
Ramesh had been the cook/porter on the Great Himalaya Trail I did 3 years ago. Together with the other porter, Santos, they were the engine of the whole trip and without them it would have failed. They were also really nice guys and I was looking forward to meeting him again after 3 years. He lived a two hour walk from the bridge and we had arranged to meet there. He had been there for a few hours already when I arrived. He was in good spirits, but had not had much trekking work and had resorted to cooking in a hotel. He was now setting himself up as a farmer and had built a house on his homestead. I am sure that whatever Ramesh turned his hand to he would excel at as he was the hardest working person I had ever come across. We walked up to a nearby teahouse and went in. Ramesh knew the owner and we had tea and chapatis while Ramesh produced some of his hard boiled hens eggs and a jar of buffalo butter he had hand made that morning from his buffalo using a hand driven paddle to beat it with. We had a great two hour chat before we had to part ways again. He went home to his family and farm and me up to Kharikhola. He surprised me to say he was a qualified guide now. This was music to my ears because if I ever go into restricted areas again I would need a guide to get a permit and there would be no one better than Ramesh.
We had perhaps left it a little late for me to get to Kharikhola before nightfall but I set off anyway. The day had completely clouded over how and the hazy mist was descending. I set off up the track and soon reached Jubhing which had a very nice looking guesthouse with a large rustic glass window dining room and surrounded by bright marigolds. A little further I passed a hamlet of homesteads with one family harvesting their millet on the terrace. I could see the slope I had to climb. It was perhaps 300 metres and it would take an hour. Kharikhola was perhaps half an hour beyond the top. I set off, powered by the spread of Ramesh’s homemade buffalo butter on the 2 chapatis I had. It was largely a climb in the forest which was constantly being harvested for firewood and fodder, so it was not old growth – but still pleasant. At the top of the climb there was a large stupa in a monastic compound. I could see Kharikhola now spread out beside the path which contoured across the hillside to the east, its lights already twinkling.
However there was also a very nice guesthouse beside the stupa and as dusk was well under way I went in to enquire. They were very friendly and had everything I needed so I took a room, as usual it was $4. I changed and went downstairs to meet a young Australian couple who were resting here. They sounded suspiciously like they had covid. I sat with them for a meal which was excellent Dhal-Bhat. After that they went to bed while I wrote until 2100. As this guesthouse is only about 2000 metres I know I will sleep without any acclimatisation issues.
Day 05. 16 Nov. Kharikhola to Chhaubas. 14 Km. 6.5 hours. 1210m up. 520m down. I had a very slow start indeed. I could not bring myself to hurry and left well after 0900. The Australians were spending another day here recovering before heading up. Initially I walked down the gentle path past homesteads towards the cluster of houses which made up the heart of Kharikhola. The homesteads were busy with the produce of late autumn and nearly all had their front yards full of harvested millet heads which were drying in the sun. The maize was already stacked on a trestle and covered in grass to shield the cobs from rain. Each district has its distinctive method of creating and stacking trestles and these ones were quite small and uncharacterful. There were beans drying on woven mats and cucumbers drying beside all homesteads. The chickens were kept under baskets to stop them marauding the produce and the buffalo and cows were tethered. It was a very calm rural scene.
The houses of Kharikhola were arranged in about 4 clusters along the path with the homesteads between. In the clusters were a few guesthouses. One was called the Namaste and I had eaten here before. It was run by a Shepa family in the mixed village where most people were in the Magar caste, or ethnic group. Both Sherpa and Magar are Bhuddist so there were stupas and prayer flags everywhere. It was a very enjoyable half hour saunter but before I knew it I was at the bridge and ready to climb 1000m.
The climb was long as it initially climbed through more homesteads where oxen were busy ploughing the small terraces fields. However I was soon into the scruffy forest and climbing steeply on a stepped path. There was a new dirt road which also climbed the hillside in zig-zags here and the steeper path cut across them. Someone had split a handful of maize beside the path and squirrels had come out of the surrounding forest to nibble on the kernels. After an hour of this climb the path reached the spur where there was a cosy cluster of trekkers teahouses, perhaps 6 in all, at a hamlet called Bupsa. Some looked very nice. However I had only been going for an hour and a half so passed through.
The next part of the climb was more relentless and without any charm. The path climbed from Bupsa to Thamdanda high on the spur. There were a few scruffy teahouses here but the main eyesore was the dirt road. It seemed the excavators had tried a few routes up and abandoned all but one as a result there were a few scars on the hillside. The successful track was often on the path of the old footpath. High up on the spur by Thamdanda the road came to a halt in a large scruffy parking place with a cluster of tin sheds and very rough and rustic porter lodges. It was here that occasional jeeps brought up goods and gas cylinders which were emptied into the tin sheds. From here these goods would continue their journey north on mules, yaks and porters. This is where the modern world met the traditional world.
There was an excavator extending the road and it was rolling rocks down onto the old footpath which was now rerouted above this scar and over the spur to reach the porters lodge at Thamdanda. The trail was now busy with mule trains coming to the roadhead. I could push past most mules, but there was the occasional yak train and I stood well to the side and away from their horns when they came past. From Thamdanda the path was now on the north side of the spur. It got little sunlight and was constantly being covered in mule and yak dung and urine so it was damp, greasy and slippery. To make it worse the strata of the rock meant the path was very rough and uneven. It took nearly two hours to get to the bridge over the tumbling Paiya Khola stream at the east end of Paiya village. There were a few exposed sections on the slippery part but the laden mules and yaks managed them without issue. About half way along there was a very rough path going up the forested hillside to Panggom which I should be taking in 2 weeks. The second half of the path from Thamdanda to Paiya was beautifully paved and was easy to follow through the large fir trees. There were a lot of porters here, slowly struggling under their enormous loads, well over 50 kg.
I thought about staying in Paiya but thought the village was a bit charmless and it was still just 1500 so pushed on to the next hamlet in an hour called Chhaubas, where I had a recommendation. It was an easy level path at around 2800 metres for nearly 3 kilometres as it contoured the hillside. Although the hillside was south facing there was little agriculture and it seemed most of the houses and shacks here catered for the passing mule and yak drivers and the porters, with a few lodges for trekkers. There were no trekkers about now. I had walked this way 15 years ago and can’t remember any houses here and it seems most have sprung up recently. Although the mules and porters always came this way even 50 years ago. When I reached Chhaubas I came across the Shrestha Guest House. It was run by a Newar man and Magar wife and they had two sons. It looked nice but I am sure I would be the only one here tonight. I got a room for $1.5 and had a bowl of noodles. They soon lit the fire and the dining room got very cosy. It soon filled up with some Nepali travellers who knew the owner. They were initially very loud but soon settled down. I had a Dhal Bhat which was great and put some of Ramesh’s buffalo butter on the rice. I had good reception so did well with the blog but am having trouble with the tracker which is barely sending any track point or messages at all. I don’t know if it is a malfunction or the deep valleys and lack of sight to satellites.
Day 6. 17 Nov. Chhaubas to Monjo. 21 Km. 7 hours. 1080m up. 940m down. I had an old photo of Chhaubas village from when I passed through in 2007 and I showed it to the host. He was surprised there were so many trees then, mostly broadleaved, which had all vanished now. He remembered the hamlet back then when there were vastly fewer houses than there were now. I think most of the developments were due to the trade getting goods up to the burgeoning tourism further up. I eventually left at about 0800.
Initially the level path went west round the edge of the spur which formed the north jaw of the Paiya valley. After rounding the spur I was back in the main Dudh Kosi Valley which I would now follow north for 2 days to Namche Bazaar. From the sput the path descended for a good hour down a shaded and dark path on rough rocks. It was not a pleasant journey and I had to push past many mules and a few yak caravans which were coming up, either empty or with empty gas bottles. The Dudh Kosi river was far below in a deep slot at the bottom of the steep slope. It was virtually a gorge. Surke was largely a porter or muleteer stop now with perhaps one tourist lodge. I am glad I stayed in Chhaubas rather than here.
I now had to climb back up the 400 metres which I had lost. However the path was much easier and was well constructed as it climbed through the forest. There were still many mule caravans coming down and quite a few porters going up. After an hour’s climb I started to reach the first homesteads of Chaurikharka. It was very rural except for the constant hum of planes coming and going from Lukla airport on the plateau just above me. There were also a few helicopters taking off from Lukla and heading up the valley to do Everest scenic flights, which should really never be allowed.
The walk through Chaurikharka was wonderful. It was abour 2 kilometres of tidy rural homesteads and Bhuddist stupas, mani walls and prayer wheels. For much of the walk it was level on wide path with large paving stones. It was still busy with mules and yaks but the path was so wide it was easy to avoid them. There were a lot of guesthouses here for trekkers which was surprising as it was not yet on the main route from Lukla airport to Everest Base camp. When Chaurikharka ended there was a small climb up some steps to reach the town of Chheplung. The path I was on went round a corner and met a much larger path. It was the main trekking path and it was suddenly like a promenade.
There were groups coming down, all clustered together, with their porters carrying their large waterproof holdalls, and the guides strolling along with their hands folded waiting patiently for there charges. There were porters slowly struggling with huge loads. There were yaks and muule caravans with their young, loud and aggressive muleteers and then there were a few solo hikers like me who were the only one greeting each other. I went through another trekkers villagge with German bakeries and trekking lodges covered in flowers. As I left it I bumped into two Irish trekkers, Brian and Claire. They were adventure racers and extremely fit. We chatted as I struuggle to keep up with them as they sauntered along despite just having got out of the plane. We chatted all the way to Phakding and then stopped there for a small snack. Brian was a keen sea kayaker and knew many of the people I had heard of. Like most Irish they were great conservationists. We continued to walk together for another half hour and it seemed there were doing the same route as me clockwise round the Three Passes. We parted at Toktok deep in the valley where there wasa permit check post. They already had theirs but I had to buy mine and have it processes and it took 15 minutes so they went on.
The last hour was quite easy along the floor of the valley past the hamlet of Bengkar where their were some scruffy teahouses but lots of small fields with rural interest. However it was only another hour to Monjo which was my original goal so i pushed on across across a bridge back to the east side of the Dudh Kosi river again. I caught up with a porter who I had spoken to a few times during the day. He was carrying a stove and 4 metres of stolp pipe. He reckoned it was 65 kilograms. I practiced my dire Nepali on him as we walked together for a few hundred metres. Despite his lot in life he was very cheerful and friendly.
At Monjo I was spoilt for choice for lodges. I was hoping I would bump into the Irish but instead I went into a lodge with 30 Australians who were going down. I made a comment and fled and found another just below it. There were two friendly Germans lads in one team and an English and Romanian team, both with friendly guides. The stove was already lit and the dining room was hot but the bedrooms were simple and freezing. I felt at home in it at once so spend the night. It was a chatty evening but I did not get the blog done until the others went to bed. Although I was in the cut and thrust now of the Everest Region tourist route it was a nice change from the rustic backpacker treeking of the last week, which was by no means uncomfortable.
Day 7. 18 Nov. Monjo to Thame. 16 Km. 6.5 hours. 1370m up. 390m down. I had a great sleep, the best yet and woke naturally at 0700. I had breakfast with the English/Romanian team and their guide. We pretty much all left at 0800 but by the time I got to the Conservation area ticket office at the northern end of the village to get my 3000 rupee entry permit they had gone on. The path descended steeply after Monjo and crossed the river at the hamlet of Jorsalle. Already I noticed how the forest looked healthier in the Conservation Area. Perhaps it was restrictions on harvesting the wood. Not long after there was a bridge back over to the east side of the Dudh Kosi river. There were streams of trekking groups and porters coming down with their guides and the occasional mule or yak train. Once back on the east side and in the pine forest the valley reached a confluence of the Dudh Kosi river and the Bhote Kosi which came down from the west. Here I caught the girls, Kelly and Liliana, up and we climbed slowly together, chatting, until we got to the third bridge over the river, this time from east to west.
This bridge was at the bottom of the 400 metre climb up to Namche Bazaar which was all in the pine forest. I left the girls here and latched onto an Australian couple who were trekking guides in Tasmania. Chatting with them eased the slog of the climb and before we knew it we had side stepped a couple of yak caravans and reached the lower part of Namche. It had changed since I was here 15 years ago and was more of a town now with a central promenade of steps beside 5 enormous water powered prayer wheels which were spinning quickly. At the top was the heart of the town with its ATM points, bakeries, coffees shops and dozens of shops selling everything Chinese made souvenirs to top of the range 8000 metre climbing boots. The town was full of people having an acclimatisation day before they continued up. I left the Australian couple at a cafe they went into and went to an ATM to stock up on cash for the Three Passes. I was keen to pass through Namche Bazaar without getting sucked into the fleshpots and bakeries. I had already acclimatised and during the last weeks trekking so was ready to push on to Thame at once. I wandered up round the south facing bowl Namche Bazaar was built around and got to the heli pad on the edge of the bowl.
As soon as I crossed the spur at the edge of the bowl I entered a different world. The path was a delight as it contoured across the warm south facing hillside. It was covered in fir and juniper. The fir was nearing the top of its range here at 3500 metres. The path was deserted and smelt of the fir resin and junipers. I passed a Swiss nun, head shaved and in purple robes, who was on the way down from a monastery where she was in residence and we chatted for 10 minutes. I continued though the delightful forest for a good hour and hardly passed anyone now I was off the thoroughfare. At last I could notice things like the birds and flora again. At one stage a stoat rushed across the path in front, quick as a flash. I could also take time to appreciate the mountains again. Behind me, dominating everything was the soaring peak of Thamserku, 6608m, its steep upper ramparts covered in fluted snow slopes which led up to razor sharp aretes and ridges. While in front of me was Kongde Ri. It was part of the Numbur Himal, which had dominated the first few days of the trek when I was on the south side of it, but now I was on the north.
After an hour of walking I got to Phurte and noticed I was hungry. I had been going for nearly 4 hours so stopped at a guesthouse called Green View just under a large gleaming white stupa. I was the only one there and the charming old host made me a great noodle lunch and taught me some Nepali. He said it was 2 hours to Thame but I knew this meant 3. After lunch I carried on west on the path high above the Bhote Kosi river. While the path was not flat iit was as good as it gets in Nepal and the locals would wryly call it “Nepali Flat”. The path went over frequent spurs and a string of hamlets and a village. They all had an entrance gate which was a stupa with a passageway through it. Inside the passage there would be prayer wheels, many paintings or thanka. Their entrance gates were called Kami. around all the villages were ploughed terraced fields, probably readied for potato planting in the next month. I went through the hamlets of Samsing and Therso and then the village of Thamo which had a monastery above it. The path then descended into the valley where there was an old bridge over the torrent in the bottom of a gorge where the Bhote Kosi crashed down in an eroded slot. They were building a new suspension bridge here spanning the gorge.
The final task of the day was perhaps a 200 metre ascent up the south side of the valley to Thame village. The path climbed gently on an easy step up to the kami gate. To the east the low sun was shining brightly on Thamserku mountain and a very sharp one behind it called Mallangphulang, 6573m, which looked impossibly steep to climb. After the Kami gate I reached the plateau where most of Thame was laid out. There were perhaps 20 lodges here and I was spoiled for choice. I eventually went for the Sunshine Lodge. It had a very friendly host family and they gave me a nice room facing Thamserku. Dinner was Dhal bhat as usual served in the warm dining room. There was a good stove which was necessary as it was cold outside now I was at 3800 metres. There was just a timid German here and he asked the host if he could meet a climbing Sherpa who lived in Thame and had summited Everest 18 times. He arrived later and chatted with the assembled crowd. He was incredibly modest. I showed him a picture of an acquaintance I knew in Rolwaling called Dawa Chiiri Sherpa and his face lit up. I wrote the blog in the evening and was surprised how well acclimated I was, probably due to Pikey Peak.
Day 8. 19 Nov. Thame to Lumde. 13 Km. 5.5 hours. 890m up. 320m down. I slept well again but it was cold in the room with frost on the inside of the windows. I had two quilts so it was very warm. I had an unhurried breakfast of chow mein and half a large thermos of tea. I would leave the other half after the visit to Thame Monastery. The monastery was perhaps half an hour up the hillside above Thame village. I knew the way so headed up a small slope to the north of the village to gain the top of a long sloping lateral moraine. There was a corresponding one on the south side of the valley and Thame sat on the flat plain in between. Once on the moraine I followed it SW along its apex. The views were stunning, especially up the valley to the east and across to the other side where Kongde Ri and Paniyo dominated. It was about a kilometre up the ridge past a series of chortens and a kami gate to reach the base of the monastery.
It was built on a shelf beneath a south facing cliff face and lapped up the sun. On this still winters day it was warm. There were a few buildings below the monastery which I weaved my way through to get to the main gompa, and the monks’ kitchen and dormitory beside it. These two buildings made up two sides of a courtyard with the entrance being on the third and and the fourth side was open to let the sun into the paved courtyard. It was a very serene place, not as impressive as the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, but much more accessible. The main gompa was locked and I dare say that for a donation I could have got a monk to unlock it and show me round. However, unless I wanted to make a detailed study of this particular Monastery, its Bhuddist tradition or school, and its practices, much of what the monk would have said would have been for laymen and I had heard much of it before. So I just enjoyed the ambience of the setting and the ancient buildings. I left the courtyard and wandered through a few more buildings and then entered the pine, juniper and berberis woods looking for a vantage point to get a photo. As I pushed through the scrub I flushed a covey of blood pheasants with their red tails. There was about 6 of them. I took my photos and then sauntered back down the ridge. Below me in the valley where Thame was were dozens and dozens of small fields which had been ploughed. I guess they were all for potatoes. I was back at the lodge in no time, finished the other half of my thermos of tea and set off at 1100.
It was a glorious day still as I set off up the moraine again to reach its crest. There was also a great view down the valley I came up yesterday all the way down to Namche Bazaar. I however was going north up the Bhote Kosi river valley. The floor of this valley was much more open and flat now than the gorge it went through yesterday. The river flowed in a wide trench of gravel, boulders and moraine debris, but on each side were alluvial terraces which the river had not eroded and these were cultivated with small potato fields and a couple of hamlets, one on each side of the torrent.
The path went up the west side and passed through the hamlet of Thametheng. There was an enormous stupa here on the dry brown earth of the valley floor and masses of mani stone prayer walls. Across the other side of the river, on the east side, was a flat plain and the small hamlet of Hilajun which was connected with a new suspension bridge. I sauntered up the easy flat path heading north passing more clusters of houses and apparently the Kyaro Monastery, which I did not see. There was a large team of yak, carrying white packages on each side, coming up and they were slowly catching me. Previously the yak caravans were not real yaks but a cow/yak cross called a dhzo. But now at these higher altitudes they were pure yaks and much bigger and fiercer looking.
I soon got to a suspension bridge over a large side stream coming down from the high snowy peaks to the west. There was a yak caravan coming down with 20 large yak with long pointed horns. I had to wait for them as there was no room for me on the narrow bridge. It looked like the yak were carrying bags of potatoes from higher up in the valley. There were a few more tiny hamlets all of which looked like they were just used seasonally to grow potatoes. The brown fields were all bare now and some had been ploughed while others were just full of dead stubble. All the fields had stone walls round them to both get rid of the stones and stop the marauding yaks. All the seasonal houses were boarded up save for one rustic lodge hoping for a passing tourist.
It was a delight to be walking here away from the promenade of trekkers on the Everest trail. It was perhaps one reason for doing the 3 passes clockwise otherwise I would have to endure it for another 3 days, while on the way down I could blast these 3 days in one. While Kungde Ri was diminishing behind me, more and more was unfolding in front and there were plenty of 6000-7000 metre peaks ahead on the border with Tibet, although culturally I felt I was already there. It was further up this valley across moraine and then a stone covered glacier for about another 25 kilometres to get to the high Nangpa La Pass, 5716m.
I soon reached the larger hamlet of Marulung at about 4125m. It was also a seasonal potato growing hamlet and looked shut up for the winter. Again there was a teahouse here but the custom must have been sparse now in this quiet season. There were a few trekkers coming towards me and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes each time. From Marulung and its dormant potato enclosures the path now climbed for another 250 metres over a couple of kilometres through areas where large yak were grazing. There were probably snow leopards or wolves in this area and the large yaks could fend for themselves while the calves were vulnerable and were kept near the houses and brought in at night. With a final push up the gentle slope I came to Lumde. It was just a collection of 6-8 lodges. It took the second called the Three Passes Lodge as it had a few Americans at it whom I could chat to once I had finished the blog. It was the starting point for the climb over the Renjo La Pass, which at 5360m was a full 1000 metre climb from Lumde at about 4360m. The climb usually involved an early start with head torches in the bitter cold to get a good view at the top. This view, if it is clear, is second to none. I had Dahl bhat again for supper with some of Ramesh’s buffalo butter on the rice. In all there were 9 tourists staying in this lodge. 5 backpacker types and 3 on a pampered tour with Adventure Consultants who even had a porter carrying an oxygen cylinder!
Day 9. 20 Nov. Lumde to Gokyo. 12 Km. 6 hours. 1160m up. 740m down. I did not sleep that well and was surprised by the alarm clock which went off at 0430. There was ice in the toilet when I went in there. I had chow mein for breakfast at 0445 and set off half an hour later as the backpacker Americans were coming in. It was completely dark with a very narrow crescent for the moon and I needed my torch. I got a little confused in the hamlet and ended up in a warren of potato fields surrounded by fragile stone walls I should not climb. I eventually found my way out and noticed other torches up the hillside. I trudged up for about 20 minutes in a small bubble of light until I noticed a green/purple glow down the valley. Soon the mountains appeared and took on the same hue in a type of alpenglow. Before long I had caught the others up just as we all switched off our torches around 0600. They were a Czech/Portuguese team with porter and guide. They were all as dressed as I was with duvets jackets, gloves, and hats on against the morning cold, which I reckoned was perhaps minus 10.
The climb was really in three parts. The first part from Lumde was up about 400 metres and while the first half was in the dark and dawn the latter half was in the early sun. The path was quite steep as it zig-zagged up gravel and earthy turf. A good hour after setting off I finally reached the lip of this slope. Across the valley with the Bhote Kosi river a ridge of very impressive peaks were basking in the early sun, their summits glowing white against the blue sky. I knew where I was going I would be in the shade for another few hours.
The next part of the climb was superb. It was the only nice section and although it just climbed a further 200 metres it did this over perhaps 3 kilometres of virtually level valley floor with a small stream, frozen white, meandering across it. There were two shallow lakes here in the sandy soil of the valley. I was completely on my own now as the others were plodding up slowly and out of sight, I revelled in the grandeur and remoteness of the surroundings. At one stage I came across a covey of 20 Tibetan snowcocks just 10 metres away. As I was about to press the shutter they flew off across the sandy valley. After going round the north side of the second lake I reached the end of this delightful valley and was now looking at an amphitheater of peaks where there was just one chink, the pass of Renjo La, 5360m.
The third part of the climb was another 400 metres up to this chink. The path veered to the right and passed another lake. It was much more alpine and looked deep and dark and its surface was frozen. The path went round the south side of it and then started to climb up steps. I remember the steps being very good but some rock fall and perhaps horses hooves had damaged the path and it was now quite rough, but still perfectly manageable. The path zig-zagged up going up across buttresses to then climb up diagonally above another slowly gaining height. I could see the bundles of prayer flags waving in the wind at the pass. Soon the wind hit me and it was bitter. I am glad I resisted the temptation to take my duvet jacket off on the flat sandy section. At last after nearly 4 hours I finally plodded up the last metres, stopping occasionally to gasp for breath in the thin air.
The last steps were full of trepidation, not for any danger, but as to whether there would be any cloud on the view I knew would burst upon me. I did not anticipate any as the sky was perfect. 30 seconds later I popped my head above the pass and although I knew what was coming it still took my breath away. There just across the valley was the truly massive hulk of Everest. Each side of it were other huge mountains like Lhotse and Pumori and then behind it was Makalu. There were dozens of high mountains all around, their sharp peaks and ridges covered in fluted snowfields which dropped down to the glaciers far below. I was lucky in that it was all clear with just some lenticular clouds above Everest and Lhotse. I took photos and lapped up the grandeur all on my own. There was no one coming up the path from either side. I must have lingered here for a good half hour before the cold wind drove me on. My next destination was the shockingly blue turquoise lake far below just under the bulk of Everest. It was Gokyo Lake, formed by the huge lateral moraine of the massive Ngozumba glacier. Just beyond the lake on the moraine was the village of Goyko with its 20 something lodges.
I set off down and as soon as I was off the pass and into the shelter of the east facing cirque the wind died and the sun warmed me. The more I descended the more my lungs filled with oxygen and I felt a surge of energy. So much so I almost jogged down the path. It took a while before I met the first groups coming up. There were a few small teams with a guide and 2 larger groups walking in file with a guide at each end, like a locomotive at each end of a freight train to keep it moving. I continued to jog down the path, euphoric of my fitness. As I reached the more level section I had to stop and strip off my layers of clothing until I was just in long trousers and shirt sleeves.
The descent then levelled off for an easy kilometre of sandy turf which was easy underfoot, before I reached the lip of a new steeper and somewhat unpleasant descent. It took me down a steep moraine ridge. There was a good path and it was loose and sandy so I made good time. To my south the small stream was frozen in bulbous chunks of ice. At the bottom of the moraine ridge I reached the hillside which descended into the lake. There was an easy path here which traversed the hillside slowly descending to the east end of the lake where a small stream entered. From both my previous visits here I remembered there were some Brahmin Duck at the inflow and to my delight they were two here.
Even in the last 3 years Gokyo had changed. The guesthouse I had stayed at previously had been flattened and it was replaced by the modern edifice of the Gokyo Resort. I tried a few teahouses and nearly went for the Namaste lodge which looked ramshackle and rustic and where the backpacker trekkers, with whom I had an affinity, would stay. But it was heaving with 3 or 4 large groups of Koreans so in the end went for the Gokyo resort which was the same price for much better facilities. The dining room was warm in the sun and it was full of more elderly, wealthier trekkers, all with guides, many of whom I noted were quite plump. I got a room here, met a crazy and hardcore French hiker who was walking across the eastern half of Nepal and camping en route in the bitter night cold. I wrote in the afternoon and was done by dinner when the early morning started to catch up with me.
Day 10. 21 Nov. Gokyo to Ngozumpa Tse return. 16 Km. 7 hours. 1050m up. 1050m down. After a slower start I did not get going until about 0900. The large team of 10 New Zealanders and their gentle but energetic guide, Dawa Lama Tamang, were all going the same way up the west side of the Ngozumpa glacier to a series of lakes which had been formed when the truly huge glacier shoved a wall of moraine across the mouths of all the side valleys which acted as a dam. There were 6 lakes in this series with Gokyo Lake, where we were all staying, being the third. Most people took a day off at the extraordinary Gokyo and went up to the Fifth lake, and some more intrepid trekkers went up to the Sixth lake. About a 7-8 hour round trip from Gokyo. I had intended to go to the Sixth. I had been before and still remember the grand view to Cho Oyu south face.
As I set of in the pastoral Shangri-La between the lateral moraine of the vast glacier and the mountainside I came across a herd of 15 yak. They were spreadeagled across the pasture in the sun like sleeping dogs sunbathing. Only one seemed to be sitting up. I skirted round them knowing how fast they could be if irritated and continued up. I caught up with the Kiwis and chatted a bit with Dawa. I told him I was going to the Sixth lake. He had been there before and told me I would be better off going up Ngozumpa Tse, which had a great viewpoint. He pointed it out to me but it looked quite ambitious with a steep south ridge and a craggy top covered in boulders. I initially dismissed it.
We soon passed the Fourth Lake which had a fringe of bare yellowish rocks around it. Obviously the rainfall of late had not been sufficient to maintain its fullest level. It was still large. The side valley it sat in disappeared to the west and went up to a difficult and seldom trekked pass called Sundar La, which would involve camping for at least one night. It took about an hour to get here. I soon left the Kiwis and carried on for another hour to the Fifth Lake. The weather was excellent but the strong wind was lifting clouds of dust from the glacial moraine and sent it 1000 metres into the air. I felt good and as I went I pondered more and more Dawa’s suggestion about going up the peak. It would involve a 500 metre climb but I thought I could manage it and could see a possible route. The Fifth Lake when I got to it was virtually frozen over but its strong turquoise shone through the ice. Around it was the same mantle of yellow exposed rocks. The side valley this lake was in was also quite gentle compared to the surrounding mountains.
As I reached the north end of the lake I thought I saw a rough path up the spur which I now intended to climb and there was a lone hiker just starting up it. This convinced me and I set off after him. He was only 5 minutes ahead. When I got to the base of the south spur I saw the path was actually very obvious and it climbed steeply in small zig-zags. As soon as I started my legs felt great but my chest was a size too small. I began gasping in the thin air. The trekker ahead was keeping a very steady pace and not stopping at all. He was very disciplined. After a good half hour where I had to stop to put on my jacket I finally caught him up. We greeted each other and he said he was Canadian.
For the next half hour I continued up the gravel and turf zig-gags, my lungs gasping for air but my heart rate a steady 110. The views were getting more and more spectacular especially down the valley which was a vast trench of moraine and ice. It was also very spectacular to the east where 3 Matterhorn type mountains sat in front of the 3 vast 8000m mountains of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. The Canadian continued to follow me with his disciplined pace and was never more than 100 metres behind.
As we approached the top the small path veered to the left and started up the boulders. The going went from hard to strenuous as I clambered over the boulders for a good half hour with gusts of wind buffeting me. Frequently I had to use my hands to clamber up the boulders. However they were very stable and very rough and my boots stuck to them superbly and I was confident in them. Still gasping and panting I reached a very small saddle and could see the peak beyond. I decided to wait for the Canadian here and we could do the last 2 minutes together. He reached me in no time and we clambered up the last section to the higher of two small peaks. There was another higher peak further on but it made no sense to go here and it would have been another half hour and the view would not have been as good.
The view where we were was absolutely unbelievable. I have never seen a view like it. There was a completely 360 panorama of huge mountains on every side with the vast glacier slicing a trench through it. It was absolutely sensational. From the north was the 8000 metre peak of Cho Oyu and then the vast wall of Gyachung Khang covered in flutes of snow. To the east were the giants of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. The whole vista to the south was a jumble of 6000 metre peaks as far as the eye could see with the glacier cleaving a trench through them. To the west were the ranges I had just trekked beside with the higher peaks like Gurishankar in the Rolwaling beyond, and then back to Cho Oyu. The wind up here was quite strong and cold and photography was hard and my hands cold. I revelled in the view and chatted with the Canadian hiker.
His name was Sorin and he was initially from Brasov in Romania but had emigrated to Canada with his family 30 years ago. He had never seen anything like this before either. We were both in awe of the mountainscape we were in. We stayed here for a good half hour lapping it up and taking multiple videos, photos and selfies of each other, which was necessary otherwise the wind would have blown the camera over or even away. I think sharing a view like this would almost bond us for life. I will never think of the view without thinking of Sorin. With our cameras full we headed down together. Sorin was nimble on the boulders and went ahead but met Dawa on the way up. He had sent his Kiwi charges back down with a porter and came up on his own. He went on to the highest peak of this mountain and said it involved some scrambling. After that Sorin and myself descended together not really chatting as the wind was strong on the spur we went down and ripped our words away. We stopped at the bottom to take jackets off and have some chapattis.
We still had a near 2 hour walk down past the Fourth Lake to reach Goyko. We told each other our life histories and his seemed like an extraordinary 35 year journey from Brasov in Romania to a key member of a software company in Toronto where he and his family were now well established. As we approached Gokyo dusk was still a while away but the sun of the glorious day was fading. I went to his simple lodge by the lake side and had a cup of tea with him and swapped social media contacts. I then went up to the large Goyko Resort where I was staying and chatted with the owner’s son and the Kiwis. I ordered Dahl-Bhhat and tried to write but was totally beaten. I went to bed just after my meal and fell asleep at once but woke up after a few hours and struggled to get back to sleep. I had intended to go to Dzongla the next day over the middle of the Three Passes, Cho La, but now decided to write the blog in the morning and then make the short trek to Thanak at the foot of this pass and do it the next day.
Day 11. 22 Nov. Gokyo to Thagnak. 4 Km. 1.5 hours. 250m up. 250m down. I was dog tired last night and went to bed early. Today I had intended to get up early and go all the way to Dzongla over the Cho La pass. But I did not have the energy so instead decided to write in the morning and then make the short hike to Thagnak in the afternoon which would put me in prime position to do the Cho La Pass the next day. Today would be as good as a rest day. I got up at 0730 and wrote until 1100 and then paid my bill and left about midday.
It had been very windy when I was writing but it seemed to have settled down now. A strong wind on the glacier would be unpleasant as there would be plenty of dust or even sand whirlwinds lashing me. I climbed up to the top of the moraine and then looked across the vast expanse of rubble which I would have to cross. On the other side of this rubble rose the magnificent mountain of Arakam Tse, 6423m, which its sharp arete covered in fluted snow fields plunging into the high turf covered plateau.
I don’t know how deep the glacier was but it was at least a kilometre wide. I guess it was 100-200 metres deep but it had been deeper and the static ice had melted by 50 metres leaving the rubble in a trench on each side of the 50 metre high moraine walls. The first hurdle was to get down this moraine wall onto the rubble-clad glacier. There was a steep and loose path otherwise it would have been very difficult and dangerous climbing down as the steep moraine face was loose. Once at the bottom of the wall of lateral moraine I could begin my journey across to the moraine wall on the east side which I would have to climb up.
It was a complete moonscape of rubble with funnels, small lakes, ice ridges and occasional cracks or crevasses which were full of stones. The path meandered through this marked by cairns. Occasionally the path just disappeared and where it was previously was 10 metre ice slope down to a frozen pond. The path was marked by cairns but as the glacier slowly heaved and settled over the years the cairns would topple and new ones would be built to reflect a new route.
The rubble on the glacier had all been carried down from the mountains where it had broken off and been carried down embedded in the ice. Now the surface was melting, these stones were coming to the surface. At one point I could see round the rim of an icy cone with a pond in the bottom of it the rubble was 2 metres thick. I guess that the ice underneath the rubble will continue to melt for the next 5-15 decades until it is all gone and the settlement will stop and the landscape become stable. In 200 years there might even be potato fields here.
I felt like an ant in a quarry as I shuffled along. In places where the path was 5 years old it was easy to see and quite sandy but in other places where it was only a year old it was covered in new gravel. As the surface of the ice melted some of the water found its way down through cracks and holes (called Moulins) to deeper subterranean parts of the glacier or even the bare bedrock on the valley floor. In other places though there was no crack or exit and the meltwater pooled on the surface in a pond. Most of the ponds were at the bottom of cones, like a volcano crater, surrounded by steep icy slopes. As the heat of the day melted the ice so stones and rubble would fall from the surface into ponds. If a human fell down into such a pond it would be virtually impossible to get out again unless there was a ramp of rubble in the cone. Most of the ponds were frozen over with a thick layer of ice. After an hour of wandering round the craters and the piles of rubble I eventually got to the east side.
There was an established path here up the side of the moraine to reach its crest. On the other side was a beautiful small valley a few hundred metres wide between this moraine and the mountainside. This small valley had a clear stream on its floor and its sides were covered in dwarf rhododendron, whose dried flowers still produced a scent. It was a very easy and pleasant walk down here in the afternoon sun. The slopes of the lower mountains blocked any view to the fluted snow slopes and sharp ridges of Arakam Tse and Cholatse but mountains appeared on the west side now.
At the bottom of a steep sided valley was the hamlet of Thagnak. It was made up of some 10 trekkers lodges and nothing else. IIt was quite bleak and inhospitable and I wondered if 50 years ago there was anything here at all, even a yak herder’s hut. I went to the upper lodge and had a flask of tea. I was the only one there for a while and thought about moving to another when a few people arrived from the Cho La Pass. There was a nice young Dutch couple and a talkative Swiss couple. They both told me there was a Scottish 78 years old coming down. He arrived just before dusk but went on down to the lowest lodge. I gave him time to change and went down to meet him but he was zonked out in his room. His name was John Porter. I met his tour leader though who was a lady called Kim Bannister. I knew friends who knew her and we chatted for an hour and a half. She lived in Kathmandu and ran her own tour company called Kamzang Journeys, specialising in Northern India and Nepal. She was a well known and respected figure in the Nepali trekking fraternity. It was a shame I had to return to my lodge for dinner at 1830 otherwise I could have chatted to Kiim for ages. After dinner I chatted with a few other guests and then went to bed at 2000 for an early start.
Day 12. 23 Nov. Thagnak to Lobouche. 15 Km. 7 hours. 1040m up. 790m down. I did not sleep well and when the alarm went off at 0445 I was drowsy. I could hear the cold wind howling outside but it seemed to be in gusts. I had the usual chow mein for breakfast and then a litre of tea and set off at 0545. By now the wind had gone and it did not take long before I could switch the torch off at about 0600. I plodded up a steep side valley with a stream covered in ice. Behind me the mountains were slowly illuminating in the dull light of dawn. I had walked for a good half hour when I heard some soft clucking noises. I knew it was Kongma or Tibetian Snowcock but could not see them. They are about the size of a football. Suddenly I was almost upon them but they continued to peck and forage. There were about 15 of them and they just shuffled out of the way to let me pass. I spent a good 15 minutes observing them and taking photos.
The Kongma were right on the edge of the plateau and I soon climbed onto it where I got a view to the Cho la Pass and also the magnificent Kangchung Peak to the north. It was the middle of the three Matterhorns I saw when I was up Ngozumba Tse two days ago. The south face looked magnificent with high ridges covered with flutes of snow. There were a couple of high passes between these peaks and even one over to Khumbu glacier which was slightly technical. It was called Changri La and was 5802m. I sauntered across this plateau descending slightly as I went towards the foot of Cho La Pass. It was a lovely stroll and I dare say in an hour when the sun was blessing it then it would have been perfect.
It was still cold in the shade and I had my duvet jacket on still as I started up the boulders at the foot of the pass. The path meandered a little as I climbed slowly gaining on a vast slab of rock. I remember it being much more rocky previously. As the path reached the foot of the slab I saw that there was a new cable here, and posts, some 5-10 metres apart almost like balustrades. Beside them was a rough step path which had been constructed and then fallen into disrepair. While I scoffed at the balustrades and the cable, and they were certainly superfluous in these conditions, they would have been useful a month ago when there was a unseasonal dump of snow here which would have then frozen into a hard slippery snow called neve. The climb up these rough steps was a bit of a slog and took the best part of an hour but I had been expecting it and that eased it slightly.
Like Renjo La a few days ago I poked my head above the pass and into the mass of prayer flags and the sunlight. There was a great view behind me to the west, with ridge upon ridge of ever increasing mountains until they reached the giants of nearly 7000 metres by the Rolwaling Glacier. To the east was the blindingly bright glacier which filled the entire cirque. however I remember being here in 2007 and I stepped from the pass directly onto the glacier. Now I had to climb down 20 vertical metres to reach its surface. I guess in another 30 years it will be gone and the rocks left will start to settle and accrue dust and soil and lichens and coloniser plants will spring forth. I took a lot of photos and enjoyed the view in the sun before I noticed the first of the people trudging up the glacier from Dzongla.
I skipped down the newly exposed path and got onto the glacier. Where people had been walking there was a slippery polished trench in the ice, but just to the side the snow was rough and abrasive. I could almost jog down the shallow incline. I passed two groups on the glacier all with guides and microspikes. I namasted each as I rushed past. It took about 20 minutes to saunter down the kilometre stretch of ice to the snout which was very steep. However, there was an exit to the north onto moraine which was easy and it took me down to the wet gravel plain just below the snout where the meltwater oozed out.
From here it was a lovely descent down to the lodges at Dzongla. The first half was a bit more involved as it went down steeper hillsides and rock slabs which the retreating glacier had exposed say 100 years ago. However the second half was an absolute joy as the flatter valley gently descended through meadows and dwarf rhododendron. There was a small climb at the end round a knoll to reach the lodges. I went to the Green Valley and showed him photos from 15 and 3 years ago when I stayed. The owner was fascinated and gave me a huge portion of chow mein and extra milk in the thermos of tea. It had taken me 4.5 hours to get here but I was thankful for the break.
I still had a while to go and set off down the valley. I now noticed some of the magnificent peaks around me. To the south was the vast north wall of Cholatse while to the north was the twin Lobuche peaks, However the valley I was in was soon coming to an end as it entered the vast Khumbu valley which drained the mountains in the Everest basin. Across the Khumbu valley was the huge pyramid of Ama Dablam, one of the most iconic mountains in the world. As the valleys merged I rounded the spur and then headed north up the Khumbu. The good path slowly dropped down to the floor of the Khumbu Valley which in turn came up to meet it. I could see the promenade path to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in the valley and it was teeming with yak caravans, trekkers, porters and guides. Soon my small quaint path had merged into it like a beck into a major river.
I followed the large path north for about a kilometre until the lateral moraine walls of the Khumbu glacier rose up into great ridges hemming the glacier in its trough. The path kept between the mountainside and lateral moraine for another kilometre until it came to Lobuche, a cluster of perhaps 20 lodges. I had stayed here twice before and always had sleepless nights due to the altitude. I was recommended a lodge called Oxygen and found it easily and checked in. It had great wifi but dull bedrooms and difficult toilets with Western WC’s replacing the traditional squat toilet. The room was sunny and I basked on the bed for an hour and then started to write. My usual supper of Dahl Bhat interrupted the blog but I sat at the same table as a cultured Australian and we chatted for an hour. I was tired but forced myself to finish the blog before going to bed. Tomorrow I will stay here again and make a day trip to the famous Everest viewpoint of Kala Pattar, 5550m.
Day 13. 24 Nov. Lobuche to Kala Pattar Return. 13 Km. 5.5 hours. 1080m up. 1080m down. I did not sleep well and woke up a few times gasping for air. I always remember this from Lobuche, As I laid awake at night my thoughts were never pleasant but always angst ridden. I put it down to the altitude of about 5000, I did eventually fall asleep again and woke at 0730. I had a lazy breakfast and did not get going until 0900. Outside there was quite a cold wind coming down from the high peaks to the north. It was strong enough to whip up dust.
I left the hamlet of lodges and headed north into the wind. There seemed to be 3-4 tour groups heading up and I soon caught and overtook them in the stony valley between the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier and the hillside. Everybody else was completely dressed up with only the tip of their noses showing. It took a good hour to plod up the valley climbing a couple of steep rises to reach a large side glacier coming in from the west called the Changri Glacier. The path went across its width just as it joined the vast Khumbu glacier. The wind was strong here and I could feel sand particles being blasted into my face. After a few tortuous up and downs across boulders the path finally climbed the moraine and descended to Gorak Shep, 5140m. it was a desolate hamlet of lodges in the sandy plain where the two glaciers met. a yak caravan full of empty gas bottles was just leaving when I arrived. It was the third time I had been here and I never felt tempted to stay.
I did not stop but carried on across the plain to where all the lodges collected their water from in large canisters. It was here the path started its 400 metre climb up to Kala Pattar, a promontory in the midst of the Khumbu basin and surrounded by mountains. I had been walking towards the tall dome of Pumori all morning with the steep sided Nuptse dominating the right. Its flanks were covered in fluted snow ridges. However now I could also see Everest and as I started the climb more and more of it unveiled itself. The climb was initially quite easy and I could plod up the sandy path for about 40 minutes. Pumori loomed large ahead of me and the twin mountains of Everest and Nuptse grew hugely in stature and started to separate from each other with a tumbling ice fall between them. The second half of the 400 metre climb also took about 40 minutes but it was much more laborious as it went up across boulders to the small summit on the ridge which was covered in prayer flags. mercifully the wind was not that severe up here.
The view from Kala Pattar was superb and it was completely clear without even the smallest cloud. There was only an Austrian man up here and he was getting ready to go so we did each other the favour of taking photos of each other. Each time I had been here I stood on the same rock and gazed at Everest and Nuptse, hand in pockets and I reenacted that pose again. I had about half an hour at the top. Half the time I was taking photos and panoramic videos and the other half I was sitting in a sheltered alcove with the sun blasting down and warming me as I gazed at Everest. It must be the natural throne with the best view in the world. Far below was the Khumbu Glacier and along its sides were spreads of moraine and debris which is where base camp was in the climbing season of spring and autumn. I did not get a good view of the Khumbu IceFall as the west ridge of Nuptse blocked it. I took a photo of Pumori from here for a friend who climbed it some 25 years ago and set off down.
It did not take long, perhaps a short hour to reach the sandy, windswept dust bowl of Gorak Shep again. I had not stopped all morning so went in for a thermos of milk tea. I saw a table of english and joined them. They were a very bright bunch and I ended up chatting to them for an hour and a half. They had also just come up from Lobuche but were staying here. I left at 1500 and skipped down the track back to Lobuche with the wind in my back and the sun in my face. It did not take long and I was soon back at the Oxygen lodge and well before dusk started. It had been a very good day apart from the wind but the views were the clearest of my three visits. At the lodge in Lobuche I learned that a friend from Scotland was working on a project at Dingboche and it was exactly where I aimed to be tomorrow. I had the usual supper of Dal-Bhat and then wrote the blog swaddled in quilts. The lodge was quieter tonight and it was much colder and the water in the toilet was already freezing over at 2000. I went to bed at 2100 ready for the last of the 5000+ metre passes tomorrow.
Day 14. 25 Nov. Lobuche to Dingboche. 13 Km. 6.5 hours. 750m up. 1370m down. I did not sleep that well again, but better than previously. It was very cold in the night and there was jack frost all over the window. I had arranged breakfast at 0600 but when I went through the watch was asleep behind the counter and no one else was about. I had to shout a few times to wake him up and then he got everybody else up and I had me breakfast 20 minutes later.The other guests, about 10 in all, had got up by now and they were saying their water bottles were almost frozen solid despite being in the room. I eventually left at 0700 but by that time there was already sun on the east side of the peaks.
Firstly I had to cross the vast Khumbu Glacier. It was perhaps not as big as the Ngozumba glacier by Gokyo but it seemed more active. The path changed more frequently depending on what was melting and what was stable. The stone cairns marked the route but they occasionally toppled as the glacier shifted. The first (west) half was quite straightforward but the east half had a number of new routes as old ones vanished. At one stage there were huge boulders across a stream which connected two lakes of silty brown meltwater. It was easy to hop over the boulders. The climb up the moraine on the other side was steep and the path quite loose, but it was well trodden. It took me to the top of the high moraine ridge and then into the calm valley. There was a side valley which came down here and it was up this side valley which the steep path went to the Kongma La Pass, 5535m
The climb up to the pass was about 600 metres in all. Initially it was in the shade and still quite cold. It climbed, not too steeply, up across turf and boulders. There were dwarf shrubs covering the hillside, mostly the small rhododendron bushes. Half an hour into the climb I caught up with the chatty guide and quiet German from Thagnak. A Dutchman and his guide caught me up. I did not feel as fit as I did on previous climbs. Soon the gradient increased and the terrain became more bouldery. I struggled to keep up with the Dutchman and was overheating in my jacket so stopped to strip down for the sun. The rough path now climbed steeply to the north (left) across boulders under the large cliffs. Once it gained the top of this bouldery mound it traversed up it under the cliffs above for 20 minutes or so to reach the prayer flags on the pass. To the south of the pass rose Pokalde, although it was very craggy with steep ridges it was not 6000m so was largely ignored by peak baggers who went for Island Peak further up the valley instead.
Kongma La Pass was 5535m and the highest of the three passes. The view to the west down the boulder strewn side valley with some large ice patches was relatively dull. This slope went down to the rubble covered Khumbu Glacier and on the other side of it I could see the green and blue corrugated roofs of the lodges at Lobuche. beyond this was the modest mountain of Lobuche. However the view to the east was stupendous and included the vast south face of Lhotse, 8516m, which plunged down steeply for a good 3000 metres and was a feared climbing route. Further to the east along a line of peaks was the high triangle of Makalu, 8463m, which rose above everything. Under it, and quite insignificant was Island Peak, 6189m. It sat in the middle of this vast amphitheatre and must have had a marvellous 360 degree view. To the south of it was Baruntse and the Amphu Labsta pass which I came over 3 years ago.
One of the nicest things with the view east from the pass was immediately below the pass where there was a large turfy plateau with a few shallow lakes dotted about it. All the lakes were completely frozen except the largest which had a patch of open water. Despite reaching the pass I felt quite tired. Perhaps my small breakfast had been spent already or the last days were catching up. I went with the Dutch down to the lake after we chatted and took photos at the top for a half an hour. At the lakes I let them carry on while I took more photos. At the edge of the plateau with the lakes I came across 10 Tibetan Snowcock foraging in the turf. They were unperturbed by me and I got some photos. In Nepali they are called Kongma, the same as this pass, and they are revered.
The path now descended quite steeply and I felt a bit wobbly going down the 300m to a lovely south facing sheltered cirque. At the bottom of it was a level pass which curved round the eastern side of the spur which formed the valley. Once I had gone round enough I could see the sea of moraine debris which the glaciers from this vast basin carried down. Amongst it was Imja Tsho, 5010m, it was a lake which had been formed when the glacier melted. The dam holding this lake in was essentially the terminal and lateral moraine and in places they were quite thin. It is thought that the lake might burst one day releasing a fatal flood down the valley below.
Below the lake and on the edge of the turf just below the moraine was the lodge hamlet of Chhukhung with its cluster of 10 lodges. I had intended to go there but got word a friend of mine was at Dingboche some 8 kilometres below Chhuckung. The path I was on went to Chhuckung so I followed it as it slowly descended across the hillside. However I wanted to go the other way so at the first opportunity when gentle pastures replaced the boulder strewn slopes I cut down the close cropped turf towards a yak herders hut in a large compound. The compound was now full of drying yak dung and would be used to heat the lodges. With tired legs I took small controlled steps down the smooth slope to the herder’s hut and then down onto the valley floor beneath the huge north face of the iconic Ama Dablam mountain, 6814m.
On the valley floor I now shuffled along dragging my legs for a few kilometres to reach the large village of Dingboche. It was on the main tourist trail to Everest Base Camp so had 15 odd lodges, but it also had potato fields and a yak herding culture so there was some culture in the town. I entered the east end and started to look for small cabins my friend Colin was building in a Scandinavian style. I eventually found them in the upper part of the village and went down to them. Colin had spent months here and had built two so far, They were quite small and very very cosy. They were undoubtedly the best insulated buildings in Nepal. Colin and his son Rory, downed tools for a cuppa when I arrived and we chatted for about an hour. However he wanted to press on with a larger, two storey cabin, also in a Scandinavian style. It was a very innovative and ambitious project and Colin seems to be succeeding against all the odds. Whether this style of building, complete with a turf roof will catch on here remains to be seen. It was right on the main trekking path so every porter and guide will see it in time.
I went up to the Paradise Lodge just above Colin’s two cabins while he finished off work and prepared for tomorrow with Matt, an Australian carpenter who joined the building project after seeing it on the way up and decided to stop and help on the way down from Everest Base Camp a month ago. My lodge was quite cosy with about 10 other backpacker type guests. I wrote for a couple of hours until Colin, Rory and Matt joined me for dinner at the Paradise Lodge. It was a great evening and we chatted for a few hours. I know I will sleep well now as Dingboche was some 600 metres below Lobuche so the air would be relatively enriched with oxygen and it would be warmer.
Day 15. 26 Nov. Dingboche to Namche Bazaar. 22 Km. 7 hours. 710m up. 1510m down. I did sleep well. I got up at 0700 and went down for breakfast and Colin joined me soon afterwards. He was staying in one of the two finished cabins; the one with the grass roof. After I had eaten and packed I went down to see more of Colins project. He was building a third slightly larger, and two storey, cabin now with huge insulation and lots of features to enhance the thermal gain from the sun through windows onto slate floors. He was doing it all in conjunction and partnership with a local Sherpa who he had known for years.
After viewing the project we walked down through the village to a cafe. En route we passed some shops and cafes in this quiet creative Sherpa community. People greeted Colin warmly as we went down and he bantered with them trying out his 500 words of Sherpa. It was nice to see he was held with some sort of regard by the locals. We got to the Cafe 4410 which seemed to be Colins local. All staff greeted him warmly and we had a couple of delicious lattes with Nepali coffee grown near Bung. It was now about 1030 and I had a long day ahead so reluctantly had to leave. It was a beautiful day as I set off down the large wide path ast some stupas and a field of yak.
I made quick time as it was slightly downhill and easy underfoot. I was in a buoyant mood. Whether it was the coffee, the oxygen, the warmth or meeting Colin I don’t know. It was perhaps a combination of all, but I was absolutely inspired by Colin and his project, which was completely outside the realms of ordinary mortals. Not only was he succeeding, against the odds, but he was doing it with such good grace and panache. It was nice to know there are people like Colin in the world and I felt privileged to have known him for nearly 40 years.
Before long I got to Orsho where there was a single, and closed guesthouse, built in the yak pastures overlooking the river below which was in a deep slot. The slot was lined with shrubs and the Himalayan Silver birch. It was the limit of the upper treeline and I knew the conifers would be just a little further. To the south across the river rose the very steep, dark and foreboding north side of Ama Dablam. The path continued down through the trekking lodge hamlet of Somare and then on down to Pengboche. It was still surprisingly busy with tour groups labouring up and I must have passed at least 10 today. All the guesthouses in these two settlements had put tables together outside in their courtyards to seat groups of 16 in the hope a lucrative, glutinous meat-eating tour group might stop and make their week.
Just below Pengboche was an army checkpoint and they aggressively stopped me and wanted to look at permits. I asked him where he was from and he said Surket. I told him in Nepali I had spent a few days in Surket and that it was a beautiful place. That pacified him and we joked thereafter, mostly in English, and then parted as friends. The very well constructed path now went down to the tumbling Imja Khola torrent and crossed it on a high suspension bridge. After that it entered dense rhododendron and fir forests. It was so nice to be back in their maternal protective forests again and to smell their resins which were being released in the sun. It was only when I was back in the comfort of the warm forest did I feel the hardships of the 5000 plus metre passes were over. It was a lovely walk through the trees, climbing gently to reach Tengboche. Here there was a well known monastery which was one of the most important in the whole Khumbu region. It was a well known landscape on the Everest Base Camp trail and I would think virtually every one who has made the walk remembers it with fondness. I had visited before in 2007 and stayed the night in one of the lodges so did not go in as I was also on a mission to get to Namche Bazaar.
One of the reasons many of the Everest Camp Trekkers remember it fondly is because it is at the top of a long climb for them which is arduous to those still acclimatising. As I started down this slope I passed many coming up, slowly plodding behind their guides who were patiently walking with arms folded, while the porter with the unnecessarily huge holdalls was miles ahead. Many tourists were really struggling up this slope and I did not fancy their chances above Dingboche. The descent seemed to go on for much longer than I remembered and I think I dropped some 600 metres in all to the bridge over the Imja Khola by Phunke Tenga. I had been going for about 5 hours now without a break and decided to stop here for a chow mein and a few cups of sweet milky tea beside the roar of the river below.
After my very late lunch I had to climb up the other side of the river gorge through fir forests. There were frequent yak caravans coming up and the docile dhzo would often be two or even three abreast and force me into the embankment. I knew never to go on the outside of them where they might inadvertently barge me off the path and down the hillside. I climbed for a good 500 metres until the firs gave way to juniper scrub at around 3800 metres. There were plenty of green jay type birds feeding on the yak, and especially mule, dung looking for undigested seeds or perhaps parasites. On one occasion I saw a female Daphne, Nepal’s national bird, but it flew off before I could photograph it. At Sanasa there was a collection of nicer lodges and I passed the Marine I met at Gorak She a few days ago and we chatted. I had the bit between my teeth now and marched on the Namche Bazaar just an hour away along a flat wide contouring path.
As I was nearing Namche Bazaar, Thamserku loomed above with the glow of the late afternoon sun on it. Below me I could look down the valley of the Dudh Kosi river, which formed at the confluence of the Imja Khola and Bhote Kosi below Namche Bazaar. It was starting to glow in the early dusk. I came round a corner and met three cheerful porters and we got chatting. One insisted I try his load. It was 70 kilos. I asked him what it was and he said “Glass” I said “For Dingboche” and he said “Yes” I had a look at the writing and saw it was for Colin who was waiting for some for the third house he was building. The porters were full of banter and it was a fun and joyous exchange in a day full of joy. Soon after I reached a small saddle and went through it to see Namche Bazaar curled around its south facing bowl with layers of hotels, cafes and shops descending on terraces. I made straight for the Khumbu Lodge, where Jimmy Carter once stayed and it was the only one I knew, and dusk was well under way.
I got a great room with mobile reception, a bathroom with hot water coming out of the taps and twin beds each with clean sheets and an electric blanket all for $25. To make things even better Brian and Sarah were also staying here. They were outdoor instructors from Ireland whom I had met some 10 days ago. They had been a day ahead of me ever since and by coincidence had bumped into Colin who exchanged our contacts. I showered and then went up to have dinner with them. For once I did not have Dal-Bhat, but fried momos. Like all Irish they were superb conversationalists but I was quite tired and struggled to hear the soft Irish accent. When I went to bed I was pleasantly surprised to find the electric blanket worked and the frozen memories of Lobuche were soon forgotten in a warm glow. It had been a great day and it marked the end of the high mountain section. To make matters even better I had a day off here tomorrow.
Day 16. 27 Nov. Namche Bazaar Rest Day. 0 Km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. I slept extraordinarily well in the comfortable warm bed and got up at 0700 for another shower and shave. I had a more traditional western breakfast, for which Brian and Sarah joined me. We chatted for a good hour afterwards before they realised they better make a move. They were so well informed and such easygoing company I could have travelled a few days with them. After they went I actually went back to bed for a few hours and got up again at midday.
I had a few things to buy like AAA batteries but they were easy to find in Namche Bazaar. You could buy everything here to climb a 8000 metre peak. With my shopping done I went for a veggie burger in one of the many places which claimed it was German Bakery. Most Teutons would be quite surprised at the wares on display in them though. In the afternoon my washing was dry and I was clean and organised again so I wrote the blog and caught up with everything I needed to do in the lodge’s bright, friendly dining room. I paused for supper and then finished at 2030. I had an early start but had another shower, my third since arriving, before the warm bed.
Day 17. 28 Nov. Namche Bazaar to Surke. 21 Km. 7 hours. 540m up. 1630m down. I had a superb sleep and when I woke at 0630 I had a shower. It would certainly be my last for a week as there are very few facilities on the route to Tumlingtar. I chatted with the dull Australian couple who were still trying to impress me with their helicopter journey to Kala Pattar, which I thought of with disdain. We all left about 0830 but I soon left them as they had not actually walked anywhere in Nepal yet. Initially my route was down the 400 metre descent to the confluence of the two large streams which met to form the Dudh Kosi.There was still a few groups coming up to do the Everest Base Camp trail and a hand full of independent trekkers, many of who might be doing the 3 passes. There were many dhzo and mule trains coming up and at least half the beasts of burden were carrying 2 small gas cylinders, each probably 30-40 kilos. There were the small green yellow jay-type birds all over the track ripping their piles of dung apart looking for food. Some were quite brazen and I could easily photograph them.
After the bridge at the confluence of the streams I left the world of high mountains and entered the pine forests and the string of lodges along the valley floor. There was little agriculture here as it was much easier to farm tourists rather than crops. The path crossed to the west side of the river and then back to the east to get to the first larger villages called Monjo. After climbing the steps to it I had to pass the police checkpoint and dig out my passport and National Park entry permit -even though I was leaving. I was felling quite heavy and sluggish and not at all the sprightly lamb I thought I might. I think much of it was due to the path which was hard and stony underfoot. I twisted my ankle once and fell heavily on rough cobbles. I passed a few other hamlets but decided to make for Phakding, where I had stopped before with Brian and Sarah on the way up. By the time I got there I was feeling quite weak. Perhaps it was dehydration as I did not have my usual thermos of tea in the morning, but just a diuretic coffee. I ordered chow mein and a flask of tea and felt much better.
As I ate my meal in a dining room beside the path I saw many familiar faces from the last fortnight go past. One really surprised me and that was a guide called Dinesh Sapkota. I had last met him in Sonnenblikk mountain refuge in Austria 6 months ago where he was working and I was on my Alpine Traverse walk. He was with two large Teutonic couples so I knew I would catch him after my meal. A tall Belgium man also walked past. Refreshed I set off again and soon caught up with the Belgium who was called Sten. He looked very athletic and was a climber. However he had eaten a dodgy egg, probably with Salmonella, and that had weakened him and allowed a chest infection to take hold and get established. He had to leave his friends, who were climbing Ama Dablam, and start an antibiotic course and rest up in Namche Bazaar for 5 days. This was his first venture out after recuperating. We were going the same speed so we walked together for nearly two hours chatting away. The trail passed quickly with someone interesting to talk to and we went past a few hamlets of tea houses and lodges, frequently standing aside for the mule trains to pass us. Eventually we got to Chheplung where I caught Dinesh and his 4 Germans up. He recognized me and we chatted for about 5 minutes, but his hungry clients wanted to order so we let him be, and carried on. Shortly afterwards in the middle of Chheplung Sten and I parted, with him taking the main route up to Lukla, and I the trail down to Surke.
Within 30 seconds I entered a different world. People were busy tending to their fields rather than looking at their phones hoping for a customer to stop. The houses were now agricultural rather than catering and the farmers were much more friendly. I walked on through the rest of Chheplung, chatting with a few people as I passed and then entered the farming community of Chaurikharka which had many stupas, mani walls and prayer wheels along the wide paved path which threaded the homesteads together. There were a couple of tourist lodges here and they looked like they would be nice to stay in. At the bottom of the village I merged with a middle aged Rai man from Bung. Rai are one of the 40 odd ethnic castes which make up Nepal. He was a chef in one of the lodges in Gokyo and was now going home as the season was over.
I chatted with him for the next hour and a half as we walked along a precipitous path high above the Dudh Kosi river, which was now in a deep gorge below us. On a few occasions we had to stop and let mules pass, as the path was too narrow. We had virtually finished all our conversation after half an hour and then struggled to find topics to talk about. His English was marginally better than my Nepali so he managed to find topics to keep the conversation going. The path was quite rocky and without an easy level section at all, but to my relief we at last reached Surke. I knew he was going on and I wanted to stop here so we parted with a hearty hand shake.
The lodge I chose was a Sherpa one and it was on the south side of the bridge beneath an enormous slope. I hoped nothing would roll down it in the night and obliterate the lodge. I was the only guest and I suspect that I would be the only guest for a week. It was only at 2400 metres so it would be warm and full of oxygen. The owner, called a sausi, showed me a simple clean wooden room with two beds covered in Chinese blankets. I would sleep on them under the two synthetic duvets he provided. It was about 1630 when I settled in and it would be dark in an hour so I would not have made the next stop anyway. I wrote the blog but there was no reception to publish it. After Dahl-bhat at 1900 I went to bed soon after, surprisingly tired for a relatively easy day. I think the candy houses and soft western food had in Namche pampered my system slightly and perhaps a simple Dahl-Bhat and tea diet might reset it.
Day 18. 29 Nov. Surke to Panggom. 18 Km. 8.5 hours. 1490m up. 870m down. Just as I went to bed 4 urban Nepali tourists and 2 Czech tourists arrived. They had already eaten so the innkeeper lost out on the evening meal for them. The evening meal and breakfast subsidise the very cheap room charge so when the Nepalis left without breakfast either he felt he had been taken for a fool. He complained to me about them. I left at 0800 before the Czechs were even up. Surke was still in the shade when I started up the hill for the rocky 400 metre climb to Chheubas. I was joined by a local dog, a bitch I think, who was very sweet and subordinate. We climbed together out of the stream bed Surke was in and then up the side of the valley. The path was steep and rocky and there were quite a few mule trains comming down. I had to stand aside frequently and let them past with the bitch at my heel. We passed a couple of local teahouses where porters might stay but they would be quite dirty and with blankets which were never washed. Behind me the deep gorge of the Dubh Kosi river was more and more pronounced, and at the end of it were a few 6000m mountains. It would really be my last view of them. After nearly 2 hours I got to the top of the climb and the shoulder where the main Dubh Kosi valley met the Paiya Khola side valley.
At the spur I met an elderly German and I asked him if he could take the bitch back to Surke. He had half a pancake in his rucksack as a bribe and the bitch diligently followed him back down the rocky path. At the spur there was a dhzo caravan and these animals were going down to collect wares across the side valley at the end of the road by tham Danda. It was possibily the lowest level they operate at. It would not be possible to bring a pure blooded yak so low as they dont tolerate low altitudes and would die. Just beyond the spur and into the Paiya Khola side valley was the hamlet of Chheubas where I spent the night. There was noone at the lodge so I walked on into the side valley. The path went up and down into all the ravines. When I came down here 15 years ago there was a make shift slaughter house here administered by a family of the Magar caste. However, it had gone now and the slaughter house was much further down. There were a few porters stuggling under heavy baskets with shoulders and other cuts in them. The meat was wrapped in plastic sacking and it smelt ripe even here, so when It got to Lobuche in 5 days it would be unpleasant at least. By the time I got to Paiya village I was starting to get hungry but my host suggested I ate at the Kari La Pass, 3045m, where there were two bhattis, or local cafes, and it made sense as it was half way. So I went on past two tourist lodges, one called the Beehive which looked nice.
I crossed the bridge at Paiya and then walked up a nice section of constructed track for about a kilometre. The track then reverted to a rocky, narrow, track which was frequently steep and slippery with the dung of hundreds of mules. It was slow going here and again I had to stand aside and let a few mule trains through. However less than an hour after leaving Paiya I finally reached the small turn off for Kari la Pass. It was up a very small path, initially in an eroded ravine, but soon on a new set of steps. I climbed steeply in shrubs and bamboos for a good half hour climbing 200 metres and then came to a track under construction. I think it was a section of the new road from Bokse to Paiya which is being constructed at the moment. Currently this section is abandoned but as other sections get linked up it will become live in a year or two. I walked up the road followed by a couple of large dhzo type yaks who were grazing in the forest. Soon I had to turn off the road and climb through more bamboo forest for 10 minutes to reach the pass. Unfortunately the teahouse here was closed. I had been going for nearly 5 hours but had to continue.
The south side of Kari La was different. The path was dry and easy undeerfoot and the forest was healthier with some large sal trees. It was a joy to walk along the path which descended slowly. I could see the jeep station at Tham Danda at the end of the current road and the entire path and road I walked up from Kharikhola some 2 weeks ago below me. I would walk above it all as I slowly traversed across the hillside over it. After half an hour I came to a small tidy house with a tin roof and stone walls. It was surrounded by terraces of rip oats which were being harvested by a middle aged man. I remembered him from 15 years ago when he was just settling here and lived in a bamboo shelter and was constructing the terraces. After his house I went back into the forest descending slightly as I went and going into all the stream beds which plunged down the mountainside. The trees here were driping with moss so I think it was often in the mist. It was like a cloud forest. I suddenly became fearful I would meet a bear on this small unused path where leaves covered the surface. Luckily I did not and after a good hour I came down to a most unexpected tea house. I stoppped here for some chow mein, which was just spagetti with some gloopy sauce. It was awful but I washed it down with tea and felt empowered.
I still had a good climb ahead of me and it was already 1500 so I set off at a brisk pace. The path dropped slightly into more stream beds hidden in the forested mountainside. The water in them was crystal clear. Eventually I started to climb up the hillside through the jungle. I got to one spot where there was a small hamlet of 5 homesteads and a rustic lodge. The hamlet was surrounded by steep terraces with ripe oats growing on them. It was a very peaceful rural scene high up on the mountainside. On some of the harvested terraces were bamboo shelters where the small cattle who had been grazing in the forest all day were returning to spend the night. There was a stillness in the air, and the mist was coming in along with the dusk. I think this hamlet was called Chalukhop.
After the hamlet it was back into the forest, which was largely rhododendron now, and on up the steeper path. I climbed in the mist now and lept up across the steps with the vigour that comes with the onset of dusk. After half an hour I started to reach the rows of mani stones, or prayer stones, which had been made into neat walls. This heralded the lower end of Panggom. I passed about 10 of them and then reached the lip of a plateau where the houses stood. There were about 6 lodges here, but only two had a light on. I went to one and they off course had a room. But the time I changed my shirt and came into the dinning room it was completely dark outside. I was the only guest in the whole hamlet I think. I wrote the blog and then had Dahl-Bhat. There was not enough mobile cover to upload any photos and I think this will be my last bit of mobile reception for a while as I head into a forest landscape with sporadic villages and hamlets for the next 6 days until I get to the town of Tumlingtar.
Day 19. 30 Nov. Panggom to Nagingdingma. 9 Km. 5.5 hours. 950m up. 1160m down. I made a mistake last night with the Panggom Inn guesthouse. As soon as I walked in there was a smell of raksi, a liquor which renders many Nepalis helpless. I should have gone to the Himalayan Lodge across the path where I usually stay, but it looked cold and quiet. The innkeeper at the Panggom Inn did not put the main light on in the dining room as it was too expensive and said there was not enough electricity to charge my phone but when his drinking colleagues left he came through to the dining room and started watching staged WWF wrestling, which was really quite laughable. Then in the morning he forgot what I ordered. Having said that, it was the best sleep I had in Nepal so far on this trip.
I eventually left at 0830 when Panggom had just been blessed with its first sunlight. The frost was being chased away from everywhere which was not in the shade. Because Panggom was in a west facing scoop high up on the mountainside it got its first morning sun late while across the valley, Taksindu and Nunthala were bathed in sun for a good hour and a half earlier. I left the Inn and headed up the path, keeping to the right of the mani stones. I passed a few more lodges, but they were quite rustic. High on the hillside to my left was the large and picturesque Panggom monastery, its red square block rising high above the rhododendrons. As I climbed more and more of the prayer flags appeared around it, and then it was silhouetted against the mountains on the west side of the Dudh Kosi valley. It commanded an idyllic spot. I could also see down to the Kari La pass I came over yesterday and down the valley to Kharikhola village and beyond.
There was the occasional bit of road to cross but the path crossed it twice and then disappeared into the forest to climb up some 200 metres to reach the Panggom La Pass, 3180, which had a squat chorten in the saddle and the whole area was adorned with colourful prayer flags. On the south-east side I could see ridge after ridge disappearing into the steel blue-grey haze as they diminished in size down to the Terai or low plains, out of sight towards the Indian Border. However, I was going east and I could see across the vast chasm, some 1000m deep, of the Inku Khola river to the opposite side where there was a clearing in the forest were the hamlet of Najingdingma lay on a shelf beneath the modest Surke La Pass, 3085m. Althouugh Najingdingma looked quite close I knew there was a lot of footwork to get there in descent and ascent.
So I set off down the path which was dry and dusty in this south facing bowl. I soon passed two homesteads high up on the mountainside. Each catered for tourists and porters but they also had their small terraced fields of oats and a few small cows which foraged in the forest during the day and returned to the simple bamboo shelter each night. I passed them and continued round the forested bowl until I got to a ridge. There was a village, called Sibuje, spread out down this ridge extending for 400 vertical metres. It was a Sherpa village. The homesteads were perched right on the steep ridge in a descending line and there were steep terraces on each side where they grew crops. On the north side of the ridge there was one place where there was a bit of a shelf and there were more houses, the village school and the Monastery. Near the top of the ridge was the Namaste Lodge. I stopped here for a tea once before and it had the largest collection of large copper cauldrons I had seen. I dropped in to see the host, who was also the big sister of the host I intended to stay with in Najingdingma tonight. She had extended her lodge and the pots were now in the puja room rather than the new dining room. However, she told me her sister and brother had left Najingdingma and were now living in Kathmandu. Their rustic guesthouse was leased out to a Rai family from Chheskam near Bung. It was a disappointment as I stayed with them both 15 and 10 years ago and remember them being fun with great English.
Sibuje especially, and to a lesser extent Najingdingma, were both on the trekking route to Mera Peak, 6476m, an non technical trekking peak which offered great views. It loomed above me now further up the Inku Khola valley which it dominated. Its lofty summits were covered in glaciers and it is certainly the last glaciated summit I will pass by. After my tea I continued down the spine of the village for nearly half an hour and then dropped down even more steeply into the jungle. From the last house in Sibuje I had to plunge down a further 500 metres in the jungle. The steep path descended in a huge series of zig-zags through the larger trees which were covered in moss and epiphytes. The moss was dripping from the branches but in this season it was all dry and light. Occasionally I caught glimpses down to the depths where I was going and where the river Inku Khola flowed in a deep gorge. Down and down the stony path went into the furnace at the bottom. Luckily there was a slight breeze to keep things cool. At the bottom there were a few shacks but I did not stop at them. Indeed one looked closed. Just below them was the suspension bridge spanning the gorge below with the river still carving deeper, perhaps 100 metres below me.
The climb up the otherside was quite steep and without letting up. I had hoped to see monkeys down in the gorge here at just 2000 metres altitude but didn’t on this occasion. The ascent was really in 3 parts. The first 200 metres ascent was largely in the shaded jungle and was relatively cool due to the shade of the trees. The next 200 metres ascent was through a hamlet which almost looked like it was abandoned. The terraces were overgrown and the houses were all shut up and locked. There was just a single house with anyone in and it was a shop with a solar radio blaring outside it. In my whole descent from Sibuje to the bridge and then the ascent to Najingdingma I passed no one, not even a local porter so I think the shop might close soon. The final 300 metres were through the forest again. The path was small and covered in leaves which were fluttering down from the scattered deciduous trees. It was shaded and quiet here, with a few small streams across the forest floor. At last with tired legs I burst out of the forest onto the cleared shelf where Najingdingma lay.
I went past the first lodge and the older Sherpa lady beckoned me in. It was relatively new and I don’t remember it. I then went past the Namaste where I stayed before and it was much larger and less of a bhatti, or local porter lodge, and had a large sunroom. I greeted the Rai lodge keeper and went on to a couple of scruffy lodges beyond in cold dark houses which I rejected out of hand. I returned to the Namaste run by the Rai and ordered a meal. It was good but there was a television blaring out children’s programs, which was on a par with the wrestling. It also looked like it could get noisy with locals and his children, so I declined the free bed, paid for the meal and went down to the lower lodge. It was run by the elderly Sherpa lady and her humble hard working son. The rooms were simple and linen not perfectly clean, but it was quiet and peaceful with a warm sun room so I took it. I wrote the blog and then had fried momos for dinner before an early bed.
Day 20. 01 Dec. Nagingdingma to Gudel. 15 Km. 7.5 hours. 1070m up. 1760m down. Despite going to bed early at about 2030 I managed to sleep right through to about 0600. The two quilts kept me very warm despite the single sheet of corrugated iron separating me from the frost. I asked for fried noodles for breakfast but it got lost in translation and I got an insipid bowl of soup with noodles in it. It had been lost in translation. When I came to pay my bill I realised that the humble host could neither read nor write and I had to write everything down and add it up. Although he was a simple hardworking man he had great devotion to his mother, who also stayed in the guesthouse and was perhaps 70. In the room beneath the dining room lived the schoolteacher for the government school in the hamlet.
I left at 0800 and walked through the rest of the hamlet where the frost was lying waiting for the sun in half an hour or so to clear it. After the hamlet the path descended ever so slightly to a stream and then started climbing steeply up the west wall of the bowl. It zig-zagged in small sections up through the bamboo and other small shrubs. It was all in the shade and where there was a bit of water on the path it was frozen solid. About half way up I could see the sun hitting Nagingdingma and turning it from a dull frosty grey to a glowing golden meadow. There was a great view west to Sibuje across the valley and the Panggom La pass beyond that. At the top of the pass I could even see snowy peaks well beyond Panggom.
When I reached the top of the Surke La Pass, 3085m after some 400m of climbing I burst into the sun and instantly had to stop to take off my duvet jacket and revert to my shirt sleeves. I could see ridges disappearing into the distance then a higher one to the east. It must be Salpa La Pass. In the haze of the morning I could just make out Bung and Gudel, two well known and large Rai villages. I hoped to spend the night in Bung.I descended quickly and reached a small hamlet of 5 houses which I cannot remember being there before. I am sure it was not and the houses looked quite new. It was called Chharakhar. There were a few terraces around the houses and two families had large plastic greenhouses up. I chatted with a lad here and he said there was just one small house here 10 years ago.
Below Chharakhar the path entered the rhododendron forest. The trees here had a reddish bark and grew quite densely reaching a height of 20 metres. The path went gently down through these and then crossed some parched meadows with bamboo huts on them. There was no one here now but in the monsoon herders would bring cattle up here for 4 to 5 months to graze the green grass. I passed about 5 such herding places before I got to a large chorten surrounded by prayer walls which I remember well. A scruffy non-Buddhist family had set up a dirty bhatti right under the chorten which I thought a bit sacrilegious as the place was covered in plastic wrappers. Below the large chorten the path descended more steeply across parched meadow to the Boskom Gompa surrounded by a ring of huge juniper trees. There was a tea house beside it where I twice stayed.
At the teahouse the Sherpa host explained that the monastery had been levelled and a new one was being built. It had nothing to do with earthquake damage. I went to have a look and it seemed the whole circular enclosure was going to be filled with a huge monastery compared to the simple, modest one which stood here earlier and was now demolished. There were some 20 large holes in the ground, dug by excavator, filled with heavily reinforced concrete blocks, with the rods for the eventual pillars in place. In a small shack beside this building site was a temporary gompa and accommodation. The large old prayer wheel was on its side under a tin roof in an open shed. It was a shame the old monastery had to go to give way to this new edifice. I had a fried noodle lunch at the tea house which the Sherpa owner overcharged me for. To add insult as I was leaving he showed me two pictures of his other teahouse at Columhkarka. The first was in 2019 and the other was in 2020 after it was burnt down. He claimed someone burnt it down and ruined him and he was looking for donations to start again. I gave him £1 and left. It was probably burnt by someone who he did not pay as I got the impression he was greedy.
I headed down from the lodge and monastery, down across terraced fields, across a bridge above a large stupa where there was more building going on, and past the Khiraule School, which I think is sponsored by a Scottish organisation. From here the original walking path seems to have been submerged under the new and barely used track. I followed the track for perhaps 2 kilometres past homesteads and terraces until it got to a hairpin bend. Here the path reemerged and headed down to Bung for another 2 kilometres. It threaded its way across terraces which were just getting ploughed by teams of oxen, and between homesteads which had tarpaulins of millet drying in the sun. Many of the homesteads also had distinctive racks of maize hanging from high trestles and covered by bamboo mats to keep the rain off. Each district in Nepal has its own unique way of storing maize.
After descending quickly the path finally reached the upper part of Bung village. Here there was a road which connected the very large village with the rest of the world. There were a few jeeps and even an ambulance at the road head. However it was an awful place and nothing like the homesteads and small shops which were here before. Now there was a corrugated iron cluster of some 30 merchants, garages, gas bottle storage and other ugly soulless enterprises. Just beside this corrugated horror was the long path which connected Bung like the trunk of a tree. At the top of this path were some local hotels but they all looked small and pokey. I decided to skip them all and go to the Sagamartha right at the bottom. I slowly descended the enormous set of rough steps passing terraced fields full of all manner of produce from watermelon to buffalo shelters. It was a fascinating 400 metre drop which took well over half an hour. However, the Sagamartha had ceased trading and the old hosts told me I would be best going on to Gudel. It was a blow because I like the local ambience of their hotel, which was in essence a local house, and because it was a 100 descent and then a 600 metre climb and I only had two hours before dusk. I had a biscuit at their shop and then set off
It was a quick descent down to the bridge through terraces and groves of huge bamboos, some 25 cm in circumference. The climb up the other side started at once. I felt a surge of energy and I powered my way up the 600 metres in about an hour climbing without respite except for a few photos of the extensive cardamom covered terraces. The whole climb was in the late afternoon sun but it was shaded by the trees which also had to provide shade to the cardamom bushes. There were some small homestead-like buildings around some of the terraces which would be where the valuable small pods which grow at ground level under the stalks with long leaves are processed and stored. There was a boom time for Cardamom in Eastern Nepal some 10 years ago but I think everybody is growing it now so the price must have dropped. About half was up a stream appeared beside the path and it continued all the way up to Gudel. Although I did not see much of Gudel it seemed less destroyed by a road. There was a road here too but perhaps it was not as much as a trading post as the roadhead at Bung. Some might lament the arrival of roads in these otherwise pristine villages and may consider that the road destroys the original wholesomeness and spirituality of the village, which undoubtedly it does. But then it also brings economic and health benefits and who are Westerners to complain who have covered their entire countries in tarmac.
I found a very simple guesthouse which was essentially a simple shop with a few very rustic bedrooms above. The rooms were small, pokey, dusty, well-used and seldom cleaned. However, I have slept in worse and it was getting dark. They were only £1 for a room. I had a meal in the dingy dining room which doubled as the sack store for the shop and wrote the blog here until 2000. I was half a day ahead now as I intended to stay at Bung, a good 2 hours back. Tomorrow I will try and do a big day over the Salpa La Pass as the original destination to Sanam is now too short.
Day 21. 02 Dec. Gudel to Salpa Pass. 15 Km. 7 hours. 1580m up. 210m down. I did not enjoy the Namaste guesthouse at all. The husband was a meek man but the lady was a battleaxe. In the morning after I left I walked down to check out the Sunrise Guesthouse just below the Namaste. It looked very nice with a garden of marigolds and a large balcony adorned with plants and wreaths of maize. The terrace around it looked full of interesting produce. On the way out of the large village I also passed another but although it was nicer than the Namaste it was still perfunctory. It didn’t take long to climb out of the last houses and find the path on the south hand side of the ridge which rose steeply to the east of Gudel.
The path sidled round the hillside contouring high above another village which I can’t remember from 10 years ago either, just the layer upon layer of terrace descending steeply down into the valley. There was a road above me but everybody said it was never used and did not go anywhere. As I walked up the path here above 10 forty year old Rai women came down carrying huge baskets of leaves. There would be put out as bedding for the buffalo and cows who at the moment were tethered on the terraces living under small woven bamboo mat shelters as there were still crops to be harvested. This leaf bedding was then put out onto the terraced fields as manure once it was soiled.
Pretty soon I went into the forest. This was also harvested as fodder for the tethered animal and the trees were in a perpetual state of coppice. As I gently climbed further east the forest became larger as human harvesting diminished until the trees began to get quite large. More and more moss was appearing as I walked into the valley where the rising air cooled into mist and formed a cloud forest in many of the seasons. At one corner in this forest I suddenly met Curtis, a young Canadian who had walked all the way from the Nepali border with Sikkim perhaps 20 days away. It was a similar trip to one I did 10 years ago from Taplejung to Jiri. I recognised myself in him and it was a shame we did end up in the same lodge or bhatti as I would have gravitated towards him rather than a guided punter. After a couple of hours I got to the first of three hamlets. I did not get the name of the first but the second was Share Tui and the third was Sonam. The first had a shop and a possible guest house and was very picturesque with a sunny aspect and a great view over the valley below. At Share Tui I mistakenly took a shortcut which went slightly above the hamlet and I missed it although I was told there was a guesthouse here and I should stop and eat at it. However I missed it. At Sonan there was a large house nearly finished and I guessed it would be a nice guesthouse. It was surrounded by a potato field. However the windows were still without glass and there was just one old lady outside weaving a basket on the ground. It went on to the two stupas where I had stayed before but there was just one old man about and he was struggling with life now. Everything else was closed or abandoned. I had been told earlier to east at Share Tui as there were just very old people left at Sonam. It was a great shame as it was once a vibrant place. I wonder if the unfinished guesthouse will restore its fortunes.
Unfed I had to carry on. The path dipped slightly and went into the forest. Here some of the trees were huge. I think they were largely oaks and their huge boughs were dripping in moss. It was dry now and wafting in the slight breeze but usually it would have been wet with rain or mist. The path contoured round the hillside descending slightly as the stream bed came up to meet it. The forest here was wonderful and I think quite pristine. It took a short hour to amble through it on the easy path until I saw some small shacks ahead where the path met the stream. It was a tiny hamlet called Whakkar. There was some smoke coming from a bhatti. I popped my head inside but there was no one so I went in and through to the back. There was a man chopping up a vegetable and a very bright young sherpa washing clothes who was his daughter. She said she could make me a noodle snack and a cup of black tea. I settled in the kitchen while she cooked and chatted with her in good English. She said Jau Bari where I was heading was too far and I should just go up to Salpa pass where her mother had a bhatti, or local teahouse. After a great meal and friendly chat I left and went up the small stream to the end of the clearing.
The path now crossed the stream and went into a magnificent forest of Himalayan cedar, or Deodar. Some of the trees were perhaps 40 to 4 50 metres high with boles of well over a metre. They thrived mainly on the valley side with just a few venerable individuals beside the stream. I suspect most of the one by the stream were cut down long ago to build the houses at Sonam or even Gudel. There looked like there was no recent logging. As I climbed the Deodar became mixed with the firs. The needles on some of these firs were two inches long. I think they were the Hiumalayan Silver fir. The path now seemed to get narrow and veer to the east and then it started to climb more steeply. I had some 400 metres to climb up this narrow valley which was not quite a ravine. Tere were the first purple primroses out already bursting through the frost covered forest floor. I think the sun never shone here in the winter months. It took a good hour to climb the 400 metres and at the top the firs were dominant with a thick rhododendron understory.
I reached the pass and came across a few bhattis. Only one was open. On the other side the valley I was to descend into was full of mist. The bhatti owner also said that it was 3 hours to Jau Bari, the next place which was open. Although it was all downhill I would not make it in daylight so decided to stay at this simple bhatti in this bleak cold spot. There was a very rustic room for me. I then went into the cold kitchen to write which the host wandered about outside. As darkness fell a porter dropped by and then carried on. A little later the host’s daughter and son came in. The daughter cooked for me down at Whakkar earlier. The brother opened a quarter bottle of khukuri rum and had half himself and poured the other half for his mum. I just finished the blog at that time while the daughter cooked again. I suspect after the meal I will go to bed as it was cold and the stink of rum permeated the air.
Day 22. 03 Dec. Salpa Pass to Gote Bazaar. 22 Km. 8.5 hours. 230m up. 2820m down. I did not sleep well. The bed was uncomfortable and my stomach was a bit unsettled. I woke at about 0400 and felt I needed a fart but something warned me not to try but make haste to the toilet ASAP. It was round the back. When I got to it I saw it was a square pit full of shit and water with just some planks and a hole above. I checked my pockets before squatting. It would not do to lose a phone or camera down there. As I thought, my stomach was upset. I got back to sleep and the alarm went off at 0615. I was up and packed 5 minutes later. There was a superb sunrise to the east with the sun rising about the low cloud. It illuminated the journey I would have to take down to Jau Bari. However to the west the sunrise was perhaps even better with I think some of the peaks of the Numbur Himal glowing red.
There was no sign of the hosts at all. The son was fast asleep in a bed outside my door and mother and daughter in another room. I had expected the very bright chirpy daughter to be up. She was completely wasted cooking for largely Nepali tourists in this bleak outpost. I gave it 10 minutes and then went into the kitchen with a small stone and left 1000 rupees on the table under the stone. It was probably less than a western tourist was due but a bit more than a local tourist. I had a long day and could not waste time on others not getting up. I would walk to Jau Bari and and get a snack there in 3 hours.
So at 0630 I set off down the path, still in my duvet jacket despite the infant sun. I soon plunged into the rhododendrons and in the glades amongst them there was a thick frost. I quickly dropped down and passed Gurase which was locked and almost abandoned. A bit later I came to what the map said was “Sherpa Lodge ”. It was completely abandoned and the rooms had been taken over by goats. Just beyond i came to a Kharka or summer grazing area with a few shacks and many bamboo shelters. They are used in the summer to make use of the lush grazing up here. There was no grazing now and the Kharkas were empty for the winter.
After the Kharka the path went along the spine of the ridge which was pronounced and sharp here. On one side it was very steep grazing suitable only for goats and on the other it was covered in huge holly oaks with enormous boles and dripping in moss. It was classic cloud forest conditions again. The path went along some precarious contours with the occasional exposed drop for a good half hour before it got to the east end and started the long long drop to Phedi. It was a relentless descent down steep and poorly constructed steps. There was no let up for about 1500 metres. Initially it was across alpine scrub but quickly signs of agriculture appeared. It seemed that most of the small fields here were essentially summer grazing with bamboo shelters, however as I descended further some cows and even buffalo appeared on the rough terrace. At last I could see the small monastery roof at Jau Bari (barely field)a few hundred metres below. I carefully picked my way down the steps feeling quite weak. The fields and houses were now much more established with tin roofs and the fields were already ploughed.
There were two tea houses at Jau Bari and I had twice stayed here before but it had changed slightly for the better. Not wanting to upset my fragile stomach I just had 2 packets of biscuits and 2 sweet cups of tea. It did indeed take 3 hours to get here as everybody said. With a bit of sugar in the blood I continued down for another hour and a half passing many more scruffy homesteads on the apex of the ridge. There seemed to be just one main water pipe the whole way down for 1500 metres and everybody tapped into it. The culture changed as I plummeted from Sherpa higher up. To mainly Sherpa with a few Rai at Jau Bari to pure Rai at Phedi, at the bottom of the ridge at about 1650m. The crops also changed from potatoes and barley to millet and maize at the bottom.
With tired legs after the 1500m descent I had intended to stop at Phedi to eat but I walked right through it before I realised I had passed everything and was below it. I was not going back up the 50 metres or so and headed for the bridge and the track. The track as far as I could gather was pretty much built on top of the path.The track was very quiet with no traffic and hardly any walkers, although the few walkers had obliterated most of the tire tracks. It made complete sense to walk down the road rather than try and find the sections of the old path. Very occasionally it was obvious to take the old path and this was largely where the track crossed the Irkhuwa Khola river over a ford and there was the old suspension footbridge nearby. I could make good pace on the track and strode out passing the hamlet of Tendo. I was getting weak again and needed to stop and eat but there was nothing in Tendo.
About an hour after Tendo, when I had been going for 6 hours with very little sustenance I went to a local trackside cafe. I thought I would risk some fried noodles again and asked for them to be mild and unspicy on account of my sunburnt lips. The Rai lady cooking them was on the ball but then a meddlesome helper came along and put some chilli sauce on them and they stung my lips like salt in a wound. I had to have some mango fruit juices to wash it down. However after the meal I felt empowered again. I walked quickly down the track which went through forest and cardamom plantations to the village Dobhane. I remember this place being quite vibrant with some shops with sewing machines whirling outside as tailors pumped their legs but now it seemed quite quiet and the shops were closed. Probably on account they were well below the road. At Dobhane there was another large stream to cross on a suspension bridge and this swelled the flow in the Irkhuwa Khola.
Just after the suspension bridge I saw my first vehicles on the road. There were 3 tractors pulling a trailer each piled high with 30cm bore pipes for a micro hydro electric system at Phedi which had no lights at all. All the tractors were flying union jack flags as a badge of pride. As I carried on down I soon came across rice paddies. The small terraces were dry now and the rice had just been harvested. For the last 5 kilometres there were young energetic men thrashing bound sheafs of rice against a board on a tarpaulin. Their mothers or wives sat nearby scooping up the rice and putting it in on bamboo trays to winnow out the impurities. The threshed sheafs were piled into large stacks and these would be used for fodder and occasionally roofing, although tin seems to have made this redundant.
It was fascinating to see this centuries old harvest and processing. Once the paddies were cleared, buffalo and the small cows were tethered onto them to eat the stuble and fodder brought to them. With tired legs I finally homed in Gote Bazaar. I was hoping for orange sellers who lined the path here selling the most delicious small oranges whose skin just fell off but there were none. Perhaps it was late in the day as I could see trees heavy with oranges. I did not recognize anything in Gote Bazaar when I arrived. The track seemed to have changed the houses and perhaps a few were even demolished. Certainly the guest house was and it was replaced by a new one just on the east side of the suspension bridge with the same owners. I was dog tired and got a room and changed into shorts and then went down for my meal. II decided I had been having too many noodles so went for Dhal Bhat Tarkari with an omelette. I needed the protein. It is always a sensible although sometimes boring choice. I am sure it will restore my strength. I had one day left but it was a big one all the way to Tumlingtar Airport. I wrote the blog while waiting for the meal to cook and Dhal Bhat always takes at least an hour. I was done by 2000 and went straight to bed. It had been a hard day and with nearly 3000 metres of descent.
Day 23. 04 Dec. Gote Bazaar to Tumlingtar. 25 Km. 8 hours. 600m up. 930m down. I slept very well in the small, dark , very simple room. Indeed the whole house was constructed with bamboo which had then been daubed with mud so the walls were just a couple of inches thick. Bits of the mud were crumbling onto the floor and two makeshift beds. However there was a charging point and a light in the room which was what I really needed.
After a good breakfast I questioned the host about someone I had seen here 15 and 10 years ago. She was a girl with paralysis and I stayed in the same house as the people who were caring for her 15 years ago. Then 10 years ago I walked through the village and stayed at the previous incarnation of this rustic lodge and as I went past the house I stayed before I noticed her outside in a basket under a net to keep the flies off. But this time I was not sure if her house was still there. I asked my host now, and 10 years ago, and they said she was still there but were very reticent with their answers. I suspected that was because they were now looking after her. I inadvertently went into a room downstairs off the dining verandah and there was a grunt from inside and a waft of urine flowed out as if it was from soiled bedding. The plight of that paralysed girl must have been quite awful but hopefully she is taken out in her basket daily to view the world beyond her prison.
I left at 0700 after a good breakfast of omelette and chapatis. And headed up from the bridge past simple pretty houses to the track just above. I followed it through the rest of the rural village but soon left it to go down to a bridge over the Irkhuwa Khola to the much more forested north facing slopes on the south side, which were covered in jungle. There was a tractor track here but it looked seldom used and it was too rough for anything else. I followed it downstream as it soon climbed away from the river up the steep jungle clad hillside. The cicadas were creating a din and there were curious bird sounds everywhere. I followed the track for a good hour as it climbed without passing any houses. The hillside here was damp with frequent small streams and this kept the road damp and impassable. As the track approached a ridge I saw a large Chautera tree with seating areas around it. These are typically resting places for travellers and it must have been on the old path beneath the track. On the other side of the Irkhuwa valley were some small hamlets surrounded by terraces.
After the Chautera tree, a species of fig, the track entered a cultivated bowl, with rice terraces dropping away down the valley. The terraces were recently harvested but stacks and heads were laid out to dry in the sun in neat patterns all over the terraces. They would dry out first before their rice heads were loosened slightly and detached themselves with vigorous hand threshing. The track curved round the top of the bowl and terraces and underneath the jungle to a settlement. I asked the name and was told it was Majhuwa. I also asked the caste as I suspected the people here were Bahaun, from their looks and confidence. They said they were Thapa Chhetri. I circled round the idyllic bowl and was moved by the beautiful pastoral nature of the place. Buffalo were sitting under bamboo shelters chewing large bundles of forest foliage which had been brought down for them. The terraces would soon be open for them to graze once the rice was dried and threshed. The homesteads were loosely huddled together where they would get maximum sun. The houses were all surrounded but compounds with fruit trees and cucumbers and lots of bright marigolds. Just after I passed the village at the apex of the ridge I got a great view down to the mighty Arun River in the valley below. It started its journey long to the north on the Tibetan plateau. If I looked upstream I could see snow-clad mountains of the ranges around Makalu.
At the lofty viewpoint beside Maduwa the road was much improved and passable to most vehicles. However it was now just used by the small scooters and motorbikes which proliferate lower Nepal. As I walked down this road high above the Arun River, but descending towards it and the hamlet of Baluwabesi, only one tractor and 3-4 motorbikes passed me all the way down. It was a lovely descent with great views down to the Arun as I passed through more scrubby drier jungle and more homesteads surrounded by taller trees for shade. After an hour of descent I reached Baluwabesi, but it had gone. Perhaps the road had made it redundant as it was now longer on the path. It was a shame as 10 years ago I met Jalanath Kanal in the simple bhatti or local cafe there and chatted to him for half an hour over tea and noodles. He went on to be prime minister of Nepal for a short period thereafter.
Just 2 kilometres down the road and now beside the Arun River it got to the village of Kattike. It was tidy and neat with a concrete road between two rows of houses, one on each side. However a madman accosted me and started asking for chocolate so I hurried on rather than shove him out of the way or throw him to the ground. At the east end of the village were more vibrant cafes but they were full of idle local youth mulling around. Apart from those two negatives Kittake looked nice with plenty of neat shops, tailors and bhattis. There was a bridge here across the Arun to the east side and I had to take it. It was quite a thrill to be above this huge river looking down on its unstoppable azure waters making their way down to the Ganges.
On the east side there was a very rough and little used track which went along the sandy banks of the river for about 2-3 kilometres to the hamlet of Chewabesi. It was a nice walk with a slight breeze coming up the valley to keep me cool. There was no traffic on this track at all as it only went as far as the footbridge I just crossed. Chewabesi was not glamorous at all and quite rough and ready but there was a friendly bhatti owner who offered to make me fried noodles and his kitchen stall did not look too dirty. So I stopped here for a good half hour, in the heat of the day and watched the world go by as he cooked.
This was essentially the end of the track which linked Chewabesi with Tumlingtar, notwithstanding the very rough section to Kittake Bridge. From here down there were a few motorbikes negotiating the rocky road, often with 3 people on board. The road was still very very rural and there were lots of rice paddies being harvested and millet which was above to be harvested on each side. Hens, ducks and children emerged from the homesteads and littered the track. After a couple of kilometres with this cultural landscape the road veered up the hill and I left it and followed a small path beside the river.
It was perhaps the highlight of the day. I walked down the sandy banks with the huge Arun pulsing slowly beside me. There were occasional fishermen with hand cast nets and some very nervous brahmin ducks but apart from that it was a wild and empty canyon the river surged down with forest on each bank. Frequently the river bank became rocky and the path had to divert into the jungle and this was slow going. As the river veered right round a long sweeping bend I could see habitation and a road appear. There was also a long suspension bridge over the Arun and I could see the odd motorbike on it. It was the start of the final section.
When I reached it I saw a large local resort on the west side and even a very dilapidated car ferry on cables crossing the river with 3 cars on it. I think this ferry will end up getting swept down the river sometime in the next decade. On the west side a family had just lit a large funeral pye with a huge stack of wood. The soul of the departed was wafting up back into the ether from whence it came. I had to climb some 100 metres up an embankment to reach the large plateau where Tumlingtar lay. In Nepali a “tar” is a flat area and Tumlingtar was an unusually large one and big enough for an airport with a large runway. From the top of the embankment it walked 2 kilometres down a hard road into the ever hectic town, which had no redeeming features and smelt of burning plastic. Dogs with huge swinging udders dogged the motorbikes and scooters. I walked to the airport area where there were some hotels and got some information on my flight tomorrow. It was 1030 and I could buy the ticket on the day as I was paying double the local price and paying in dollars. Not finishing a nice hotel I walked back 500 metres to the Makalu Resort. It was. Very tired and rundown place which still had delusions of grandeur. It had a peaceful courtyard and unlimited hot water though so I stayed. I had a beer in the courtyard which was a disappointment and left me a little dull. I then had a fantastic shower and a limited clothes wash so I had something for the plane. I thought I better eat something and went for the safe and healthy choice of a dhal-bhat, which although never exciting is the absolute staple of Nepal. I slept very well now in the warmth at just 400 metres.
05-09 Dec. Kathmandu. I slept very well in the tired Makalu Resort which once promised grandeur but was now becoming somewhat ramshackle. However it was quiet and peaceful. I did not have breakfast here as I thought it would just be too slow so packed and left. I wandered down to the airport and passed a few small kitchens. I stopped at one for some fried vegetables and noodles. Next door was the Buddha Air office so I went in to get a ticket for the 1030 flight in 2 hours. It was 160 US dollars which is the set price for tourists. It was double the local rate and had to be paid in dollars only, however it meant the seat could be bought at short notice and was guaranteed
After breakfast I went to the airport and heard that the flight had left Kathmandu and that there should be no problems. Half an hour later an old ATR aircraft arrived and we went through a needlessly strict security and boarded. Tumlingtar had a large runway and this ATR made light work of getting airborne with its 80 odd passengers. The flight afforded some great views over the mountains and I could see the Makalu and Everest Ranges where I walked dominating the horizon to the north. Below me in the Nepali foothills, also called the Pahar, I could see some small towns but many villages on the ridge tops and other safer areas while the hillsides were covered in terraces of small fields. There was also a lot of jungle. At one place the plane flew over Dhap where I started the hike and I could look down to see the first two days’ walk and the smaller mountain of Pikey Peak. It was quite dwarfed by the Numbur Himal just beyond. The flight took an hour before landing in Kathmandu.
I did not want to go to Thamel initially with its relatively shallow culture which was all based on tourism. So instead I decided to go to the historic old town of Bhaktapur which the urban sprawl of Kathmandu has now swallowed. However there was the old city and it was something of a sanctuary. It took half an hour in a small taxi to get there and then I paid my entrance fee of 1500 rupees and walked through the gate into the quiet grandeur of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. I sauntered through the town I knew quite well taking a circuitous route to a small quirky hotel, The Peacock Guesthouse, in a typical old Newari house. The guesthouse was on Dattatreya Square right beside some temples. The rooms were full of character but the building was quite small and a little claustrophobic, but that was normal in these buildings. The owner was a bright young avant garde Nepali and the food was excellent. I based myself her for a night and spent the next 24 hours exploring more of Bhaktapur. It was certainly my favourite place in the entire Kathmandu Valley. Previously there were no cars and very few scooters in Bhaktapur but I noticed they were becoming prolific even here now.
On my second day I packed my bags and went to Patan. It was another old Newari city and its Durbar Square was the seat of Malla kings for a couple of centuries. I found a 2 star hotel, The Pahan Chhen, just off the Durbar Square and used it as a base for the next 24 hours to explore Patan. That evening I spent a lot of the time around the main square. It was very busy with locals who just went there to pass the evening as one might on a promenade in the south of France.There were some traditional dance troupes who went there to perform on one of the temple platforms. MHowever much of the square was dug up as there was a new drainage and sewer system going in and what was once tranquil terracotta bricks to pace across was now a building site of rubble. After the night in the hotel I went for a walk to the west of the square in the morning. In particular I went to the beautiful Pimbahal Pokari pond with its pavilion, The Buddhist Hiranya Varna Mahavihar temple also known as the Golden Temple on account of the sumptuous roof and finally the Baglamukhi Temple with its 5 story pagoda style main building. At about midday I returned to the hotel and took a taxi to Boudhanath.
For my third day I spent much of the time at Boudhanath, the huge stupa which is the spiritual home for all Buddhists in Nepal and Pashupatinath, the large temple complex which is the spiritual home for all Hindus in Nepal. I checked into the Padma Hotel which is right beside the stupa and then went out into the bright sunlight to do a few koras or circumambulation of the stupa, all clockwise of course. It was busy with people from all over the Nepali Himalaya who were also doing koras. As the shadows lengthened I took the short taxi ride to Pashupatinath. It was a major Hindu temple complex and also was the site of the main cremation place in Kathmandu. When I arrived I had to buy a ticket and then I crossed the river to explore the shrines and temples on the east side of the river. They were swarming with monkeys which thrived in the nearby park and survived off food left at the temples and what the mainly Nepali tourists gave them.
There were about 6 cremations underway when I arrived and there were a few ambulances delivering more souls. A few of the deceased were laid out under saffron robes on the banks of the Bagmati waiting their turn. One must have been a wealthy man as his funeral pyre was being lavishly prepared and decorated with strings of cremations. On the side I was on there was an evening Aarti, or ceremony, where lights soaked in ghee are lit and offered to the deities accompanied by singing and classical instruments. The Aarti ceremony lasted an hour and it was very powerful with the loud rhythmic music and the dazzling display of the ghee lamps. There were perhaps 500 people watching it. Meanwhile across the river at the ghats the departing souls rose into the air with the wood smoke into the ether from whence they came. I was told that these ghats by the temple were expensive and of the two one was once reserved for the royal family. After the rousing Aarti ceremony I returned to Boudhanath and returned to my hotel which was called The Padma.
On my fourth day in Kathmandu I met a friend, Kim who runs a very highly thought of trekking agency called Kamzang Journeys and she also runs a very thoughtful cafe beside the Boudhanath stupa. We walked around the stupa about 20 times chatting about Nepal, which took about 2 hours. After that we went to her Cafe Caravan which was adorned with paintings from a Dolpo artist for a coffee. After that I left and went to Thamel, the main tourist area in Kathmandu. Thamel was once a gentle relaxed area but now all the 2 storey buildings are getting knocked down to be replaced with characterless edifices of up to 10 storeys. The stress and noise of Thamel now makes it quite an unpleasant place and I am sure the bubble will burst here leaving it devoid of anything worthwhile and just an empty shopping area. I knew of a quiet hotel in the Newari architectural style which had a nice garden. It was called the International Guesthouse and I checked in here for the night. I then spent the rest of the day and all of the next day meeting old friends and buying the odd map for future travels. The only place I had missed was Swayambhunath, also called the Monkey Temple, which I could have visited when in Thamel but could not find the time. After 24 hours in Thamel I had done everything I needed to and was ready to go to the airport. The whole trip had gone exactly as I hoped.