Section 06. Gaurishankar

May 05. Thame to Parchemuche. 9 km. 5 hours. 1190m up. 150m down. After a great nights sleep in the oxygen rich air of Thame I opened the curtain to see the mist gone and clear skies. It was around 0600 and the sun was not up yet, but today showed great promise, and it was nice to see Thame at last. I got up had breakfast, packed and set off just as the others were arriving to pack the baggage which was all stored at the hotel.

I climbed up the old moraine ridge to the west of the village and gained height over the rooftops quickly. Thame was soon spread out below me and it looked the nicest village I had seen so far. The lodges and teahouses were spread out below me and they mingled with the village houses. Around all the houses and guest houses were well ordered fields with neat stone walls. The fields were all potato fields and the walls kept the yak out. The higher I climbed the more orderly and neat Thame appeared. Across the valley I could see the small dam and the take off for the hydro power which snaked off in a channel across the fields to a large pond from where it descended down the hill in a pipe.

The real beauty of Thame was not its orderly layout, its spectacular setting, or today the bright warm sunshine, but it was the monastery on the hillside above Thame which stole the show. It was a large monastery which must have catered for the schooling of monks from both yesterday’s valley and also Thame itself. As I climbed up the hill towards it I came across numerous chortens and mani walls (prayer walls). The small scrub rhododendrons were in flower with delicate white flowers and they grew among the bright white chortens. Soon I got to the Kami, or gate, shaped like a hollow chorten, and passed under its brightly decorated roof. I went into the grounds of the monastery but did not go into the buildings. I noticed it had a lodge for tourists and this would be a marvellous place to stay, with a fantastic view over Thame and the mountains.

153. Looking down on Thame from near the monastery.

154. The Kami, or entrance gate, to the monastery complex

155. Thame Monastery is tucked into the cliff facing south above the orderly town of Thame

I carried on up the valley, through the juniper trees, and noticed some blue dwarf irises. I had not seen them before so doubted they were indigenous. As the path slowly climbed into the gentle valley the juniper became less scarce but the rhododendron scrub proliferated and much of it was either in white flower or heavy with bud. Huge mountains rose up each side of the valley, their tops lost in the clouds which occasionally parted to reveal snowy fluted ridges. The scrub got less and less and there was more and more grassland appearing especially on the valley floor. On a few occasions I passed pastoral sheds where families would come and tend their yak. Around each shed was a network of small walled fields, or pens, where yaks, especially calves could be kept secure.

156. The small fields in the hamlet of Thyangbo were used for potatoes and hay. The walls were designed to keep the yak out.

The valley opened out and saw the tiny herding hamlet of Thyangbo at the end of a large pasture. Thyangbo was supposed to have a rustic teahouse which I was hoping to get the guys dalbhat in, but it was closed. However among the small fields and herding houses there were a few people wondering about doing subsistence herding work and there were many many yak on the pasture, some looking quite ferocious. One of the people was an old lady. I asked her about dalbhat, and she said she could cook some for 7. Her simple home was right beside the closed lodge so it was convenient.

157. The small simple herders’ cottage belonging to the elderly siblings who cooked us Dalbhat.

I went into her house which she immediately apologised about and started cleaning up the sacks of potatoes on the floor. It was a very simple house with the rustic kitchen, by Sherpa standards, at one end, storage in the middle, and a big pile of grass at the far end for fodder. I noticed through cracks in the floor there was an underfloor where small yaks could shelter. It was a simple, rustic but orderly set up. The lady must have been 75-80, but soon her sister showed up who must have been 80-90. She was dressed in a woven yak hair skirt, large trainers, thick woolly socks, and numerous jumpers. She had lost her teeth and her lips were barely controllable and were shiny with saliva. For nearly a century she had tended her yak in these pastures and now in her twilight years her younger sister looked after her as she sat on a sack and sipped tea. She was adorable but I felt sorry for her.  I learnt the pair of them had never been married and had lived here and in Thame their whole lives tending their yak. They eventually put the rice on a yak dung fire as the others appeared on the pasture below. It took about half and hour for them to eventually arrive.

158. The two elderly Sherpa sisters. One brother who was monk at Thame monastery also visited to bring salt for the yak.

Dawa arrived first with Ramesh and Santos in tow. He could speak the Sherpa dialect the ladies spoke. He soon switched on the charm and respect, which the two ladies deserved, calling them Ani. They were enchanted. It turned out they had cooked too little rice for seven and it was not long before Ramesh brought in the kerosene stove and started to cook more while Santos made potato curry. Soon her kitchen was a hive of activity and laughter. Bharat arrived soon after with a monk from the monastery. He was the ladies brother and had arrived with salt for the yaks. Apparently there were four brothers and three sisters and they all remained single or were monks. Certainly in the house there were many prayer wheels and frequent mumblings of scared verses. It took a good two hours for the meal to be ready but it was worth the wait to soak up the culture.

I was sad to leave the ladies but we still had about three hours to go until we reached a porter shelter at Parchemuche. The valley up to it was initially pasture land but soon degenerated into boulders. I could see a network of moraines ahead which the glaciers now clinging to the mountainsides had left before they retreated. As I approached them the weather became overcast and there was the odd flutter of snow. I could see difficult terrain ahead up by the pass with glaciers covered in rubble and steep ice. I approached the moraines and climbed the first, passing a lake. At the top of the first moraine was a corrie with a small stone hut in it. This was the porter shelter for which we were heading. The last 10 minutes to the stone hut were in a heavy snow shower but I got there just in time. From a distance it looked cute like a Scottish bothy and I was excited. There was great disappointment when I arrived however.

The door had blown in and snow had come through here and through the eaves. It had melted on the floor which was covered in 5cm of ice with rubbish embedded in it. The troops arrived after half an hour, and within another half hour all the ice and rubbish had been broken up and ejected. A bit later plastic was on the floor, foam mattresses were on that and the cards were out. Ramesh in the meantime set up the kitchen and was busy for hours cooking outr supper and teas. There was also of singing and morale was high but I doubt the very draughty place will ever get cosy or the floor dry out, and if the snow returns it will pour through the cracks onto us.

159. The porters shelter at Parchemuche. My heart sank when I went inside as I had built my hopes up and did not expect it have the broken door left open and it full of ice.

160. When the others arrived we quickly smashed all the ice and the rubbish embedded in it and scooped it out of the door.

161. An hour later in the shelter the floor was clean and drying out and we were getting settled in.

May 06. Parchemuche Shelter to Drolambau Glacier (Jabou). 7 km. 8 hours. 1190m up. 740m down. The shelter kept the wind off us during the night, and we were all thankful for it when the icy downdrafts from the lofty peaks which surrounded us unleashed their cold air. By the morning the floor had also pretty much dried out. I got up at 0430 and Ramesh immediately sprung into life and lit the stove. It was easy to pack in the shelter and we were ready to go by 0600.

It was bitterly cold up here at around 4900 when we set off up one of the moraines which surrounded us. We followed a course of moraine which had not been disturbed as it had good lichen growth on the stones and tufts of grass between the stones. We climbed about 200m and got some great views to the lakes below, which were trapped by the moraines, and the fantastic ridges each side of the valley. At the top of this moraine we crossed over to a much newer moraine with fresh stones which were not embedded and liable to topple. It was much slower on this and I in the lead sought out patches of bare rock or sandy areas to climb as it was easier.

162. Our first view of the pass at the top of the first moraine of the day. We all thought the route went up the rock slabs to the right of glacier on the centre left of the photo It actually went up the snow gully in the centre of the photo and then veered left on a shelf system to gain the glacier.

On the newer moraine we could see the glacier below the pass we were heading. On the left of the glacier there was a bare rocky section and it looked like we would have to climb up the slabs of this tricky section. The only problem was the massive mountain above, with steep rocky sides which glaciers and huge icicles were clinging to. It rose a good 1000m above the area we had to traverse to get to bare rocky section. It was renowned as a dangerous section due to rockfall and today icefall too. The only way to mitigate the danger was to go as early as possible, and certainly well before midday – hence the 0600 start.

163. Heading up the moraine and rock slabs to the boulder fields which led up to the pass

Myself and Dawa picked our way through the moraine to the bottom of the dangerous traverse and surveyed the route. It looked quite straightforward to get to the tricky rocky section but that looked the crux. Dawa suggested he and Pinzo would go and have a look, and if necessary fix a rope for the other five of us to use. We rested here out of the rockfall area for a good half hour while the slower porters caught up. Dawa and Pinzo had just gone five minutes when they shouted for us to follow as it was a lot better than they anticipated and there was a rudimentary path.

164. Pinzo heading up the boulder fields to the bottom of the trickier sections of the Tashi Labsta pass. Down the valley is Thyangbo and eventually Thame.

However the tricky looking rock section to the north of the glacier proved to be a false lead – it was the old route which was now defunct. We were caught like rabbits in the headlights in a rockfall area. We retraced our steps for 200m to an overhang where it looked like the new route went. We all sheltered under the overhang while Dawa and Pinzo explored the new route. Dawa set off with his technical ice tools, crampons and a rope up the edge of a steepish snow gully. He was gone for about half an hour. During the interlude we stayed under the overhang while shards of icicles cascaded past, they having broken off in the strong sun.

When Dawa returned he had the glint of victory in his eye. This was the new route and he had fixed a rope up the gully for us to use. I set off first with crampons on, but no harness. I just gripped the rope to aid me ascend the 50-60 vertical metres of 35-40 degree snow. It was hot exhausting work. At the top the rope ended in two snow anchors beside a shelf. This shelf was actually the top of the buttress we had been sheltering under. The new route followed the shelf and then a couple of other shelves, some with considerable exposure, until it traversed across the mountainside above the previously mentioned tricky rocky section to reach the glacier. If this shelf had been in the Dolomites it would probably have been protected by cables, certainly in a few sections.

165. Dawa heading off up to the trickier section of the pass and the rockfall area. We still thought the route was on the left hand side rather than up the gully on the right and then across shelves.

166. After Dawa set up the fixed rope in the snow gully Chering, Dawas 16 year old brother, and myself were the first up. The photo looks across the shelves to the glacier and eventually the Tashi Labsta Pass.

I went on along the shelf first, and when I reached the glacier only Santos was nearby. I decided to continue up the 35 degree ice of the glacier, traversing above the tricky rocky section, and make for the smooth clean glacier further up. The end of the shelf system was not a place to linger, with large icicles above me and potential rockfall. It took me 20 minutes to clear any danger and I looked back to see the other starting to follow my footsteps. However they then stopped for lunch in an area I sped through.

167. Ramesh at the top of the fixed rope in the snow gully. You can just see the snow stake anchors. From here Ramesh had to climb up the rock to me to gain the shelf system.

I decided I would continue up the glacier to Trashi Labsta Pass itself before the midday mist descended, as it was threatening. The ascent up the glacier was easy and I was at the pass in another 20 minutes. I could now see the descent route before the mist obscured it and it looked OK. It was a long winding route down a glacier with few crevasses. There was a bitter wind up here at 5755m but there were a few sheltered spots in the sun. I sat in one and lapped up the view in both directions. The guys were slowly coming up the glacier, taking long stops to rest on their feet and catch their breath. Santos and Ramesh had huge loads. I estimated Santos’s to be 32-33 kg. They had already had a mighty hard day and this was really testing them. They were phenomenal porters and if they were resting they really needed it. Below them I could see the shelves we had negotiated, and well below them the tops of icefalls and glaciers we had climbed past. Above them were the impossibly high peaks flirting with the clouds.

168. Looking back to the partially hidden snow gully (centre right) we went up to gain the shelf system heading left, which looks like it was largely covered in snow fields but was mostly stoney ground.

169. At the end of the shelf system it was a short climb up onto the glacier proper above the trickier rock section mentioned in the blog text.

170. The rest of the team leaving the shelf system and climbing up the snowfield to gain the stone covered area of the glacier.

Dawa arrived first and he suggested the route I also thought good. We also thought we saw old footsteps on it. It involved climbing up for two to three minutes on blueish ice to go round some crevasses, and then just following the natural valley of the glacier down to the valley below. We could not see the whole route but hoped it would be straightforward down to the Drolambau Glacier. We waited for everyone and took in the view ahead of us which was as spectacular as the one we were leaving. The Drolambau Glacier seemed to drain a huge very remote basin surrounded by near 7000m peaks, nearly all of which were clear and bright in the sun. The glacier was still active, unlike the two dormant glaciers of the Khumbu we crossed last week.

171. Heading up the glacier towards the Tashi Labsta Pass at about 5755m.

172. Ramesh about to arrive at the pass after a very hard day for the porters.

173. Dawa and Pinzo considering using the rope for the descent of this section of the glacier. In the end we did not set it up here. Down the slope to the right is the large Drolambau Glacier where we spent the night.

174. The Tashi Labsta pass was in the deep saddle between the glaciated Parchomo and the craggy spires of Angole, the near 7000m peak seen in this picture.

When the others arrived I set off down the glacier into Rowaling, an area of Nepal I had not visited before. The glacier was easy to descend, and within half an hour I had lost a few hundred metres. I managed to follow the old footprints, which brought some comfort as I neared some mildly crevassed areas. As I descended in the sun more and more rocks started to appear on the surface until it was difficult to find snow. Eventually the rocks covered the entire glacier but there was ice underneath them. It was awkward to walk with crampons. I could see the slope was convex and expected some problem and it came soon enough. The glacier I had been following ended with a 40 degree slope for 100 metres. This slope was ice covered in gravel. I could have front-pointed down in my crampons but the porters would need the rope. So I found a rock and waited for Dawa and the team.

175. The team coming down the small glacier from Tashi Labsta pass on the west side of the pass.

They arrived quite soon but the porters looked shattered. I even saw Ramesh slip and he is a sure footed as a mountain goat. Dawa set up the rope and went down himself first. We all followed just twisting the rope round our shoulders rather than put on harnesses as it was not too steep. From the bottom the terrain was just scree slopes covered in deep firm snow and we quickly blasted down to the lateral moraine of the Drolambau Glacier. We had already decided to call it a day at the first campsite on the descent and we found a sunny flat patch of snow on top of the moraine, which was safe from any rock and icefall. It was called Jabou on the map.

176. At the bottom of the glacier on the west side of Tashi Labsta there was a steep section to abseil down before we could get to the main valley where the enormous Drolambau Glacier lay.

177. The enormous Drolambau glacier drained a remote basin surrounded by near 7000m peaks. We slept on it lateral moraine. The next day we followed it down until it ended in under the clouds in a line of 200m high crags across the valley.

The tents were up quickly and with the afternoon sun they got quite warm. Damp clothes were soon crispy dry. Ramesh recovered to make us all tea and soon we were relaxing in the sun. It was a glorious afternoon at around 5400m and we rejoiced that we had done our last difficult high pass. There are still a few banana skins over the next couple of days as we follow the glacier down to Na but the main crest of the pass has been crossed and the dangerous rockfall area navigated without incident. In the evening the temperature plummeted and I fully expect it to be -20 tonight.

178. The campsite on the Drolambau Glacier at sunset before a very cold night.

179. Santos firing up the kerosene stove to cook the nights meal on.

May 07.  Drolambau Glacier (Jabou) to Kabug. 12 km. 9 hours. 450m up. 1090m down. It only got down to about half the minus centigrade I expected in the night, but it was bitterly cold in the morning as if all the cold air from further up the valley was flowing down to us. I was slow in the morning as all my tent pegs were buried in ice and had to be dug out with the ice axe. Eventually we set off about 0730 and headed down the frozen valley between the glacier and the mountains to the east. It was mostly frozen snow but occasionally we had to hop across moraine boulders. After some three or four km the valley, and indeed the Drolambau Glacier beside it, came to an abrupt end with a steep 200m drop across the whole width of the valley between the mountains of Parchomo and Noisy Knob.

The route down this steep drop was on the east side, which thankfully now was in the sun and warming rapidly. Initially we dropped down slabs for 20 metres which took us to the top of a sloping gully. The gully descended west for 40 metres and it usually would have been very easy to follow the well contained bottom which had a high lip protecting one from the high exposure drop on the north side. However the bottom of the gully was full of weaker ice and virtually impossible to follow, so we had to descend down the crest of the lip on the outside of the gully above the terrific exposure. The others sauntered down with their loads with ease stepping from ledge to ledge. However I was overly cautious and cumbersome and faced the rock and down climbed. I was so slow Dawa felt the need to come up and monitor me as I shuffled down like a frightened old lady. The others watched, probably amazed at the turn of fortune from the bravado shown yesterday. Eventually I got to them and we then followed a ledge which sloped down westwards for a good 50-60 metres to a knoll which had numerous gravel campsites on its small flat surface. It would have been a terrific place to camp perched on the knoll with an accessible stream emerging from the end of the glacier nearby. We had to push on and followed the path down the southside of the knoll until it got quite steep. An Italian team however had put in the most superb cable with great anchors down this section of the knoll, and we could hang onto the cables to descend the last 40 metres to reach the moraine covered Trakarding Glacier.

180. Having walked down some 3-4 km of the Drolambau Glacier we find the whole body of ice ended on top of a line of crags which stretched across the whole valley. At the bottom of the crags was a huge trench occupied by another glacier, the Trakarding Glacier, which was covered in moraine and ended by calving into Tsho Rolpo lake.

181. The descent down the crags from the end of the Drolambau Glacierto the side of the Trakarding glacier involved some 200m of descent, often steep and some even protected with cables.

Just as the first of us went down a large serac, a tower of ice, broke off the mountain on the other side of the glacier across the valley. It immediately broke into small chunks as it crashed into the mountainside and these chunks pulverized as they crashed down so the whole thing became a cloud of ice dust which grew to be half a km wide. We all watched in awe as this cloud charged down the mountain hoping it would dissipate rather than cross the valley and engulf us. It did but about two or three minutes later the air was full of ice crystals which settled on everything.

182. As we were about to start descend the cables a huge serac broke off on the mountainside across the valley and cascaded down the mountainside pulverizing into ice powder.

Once down on the Trakarding Glacier we spotted a campsite far down the valley, about 4-5 km away, high up on the moraine on the southside. It looked like a sandy platform in a hanging valley to the side. We assumed it would take a couple of hours to get there and then we could spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun after the last two hard days. However, we totally misjudged both the distance, it was about 8km, and the ease of the terrain we had to cover. We set off down the glacier and soon discovered at the most we could do about a km an hour across the rubble. I should imagine it is like trying to walk across a huge pile of bricks in stiletto heels.

We made very slow progress, and the sandy platform hardly seemed any closer three hours later when we paused for lunch. In the meantime I had managed to lose the barely visible track marked by a twisted series of small cairns. I am sure many of the cairns toppled over as the ice under the moraine shifted. I eventually caught the others up as they waited but my route took me into very rough terrain of boulders and ice cliffs which took a while to navigate.

Half way down we got to a muddy stream coming down from the south side under towering pillars of moraine which the wind was whistling through, peeling off clouds of sand and dust. Beneath this was a brown lake into which the stream flowed. There was no easy safe way round the lake. On the north side were ramparts of ice cliffs which would have been very laborious to navigate, and on the south side we had to run the gauntlet under the moraine pillars where the wind eroded sand and  dust was loosening cobbles and small boulders which were rolling down the slope producing puffs of dust when they struck the slope. It seemed they were all landing on a ledge above which gave us some comfort unless a big boulder loosened. The gauntlet down the side of the lake was about half a km. Ramesh went first, then Santos and so on, each 20 metres apart and each keeping an eye of for stones for the one in front. Only once did I hear the cry “dunga” (stones). At the far end of the lake the path became more distinct as it followed small moraine ridges.

At last, only after some four hours on the moraine covered glacier, did the path leave it and start up an old lateral moraine which was decades old – dust and soil had settled between the stones and vegetation had taken hold. It was a delight to walk on without worrying whether the boulder you were about to step on would topple or not. It seemed the path would gradually climb up to the sandy platform we had seen hours ago and looked so close then. It was tangible now at last, but there was still a good hour to go.

183. Once we reached the Trakarding Glacier we had the daunting prospect of walking down its difficult surface for the rest of the morning and all the afternoon. We were aiming for the small flat light patch centre left and misjudged the time it would take.

184. After hours on the surface of the glacier the route we were following at last veered to the south side of the glacier where there was a rustic path on older established moraines held in place by soil and vegetation.

We traversed slowly up the moraine with the glacial lake of Tsho Rolpo unfolding beneath us. After half an hour we were well above it and could see the steep moraine each side of it – and that it would be impossible to follow its shoreline. We could also see up the glacier to the paltry distance we had covered since descending from one glacier to the other. About half an hour before the sandy area we reached a flatter area on the moraine where people had previously camped. The sites were both small and rocky and there was no water nearby. The others wanted to camp here but I was fearful for the tent groundsheets on the sharp gravel. After a small discussion, well short of a stand off, I managed to convince the tired ensemble to continue for another half hour to the promised land of the sandy shelf.

It did in fact take another half hour until we crested a lip and were on the most extraordinary place. The winds had deposited huge amounts of sand and dust in this hanging side valley. Where the valley was above the side moraine above the Tsho Rolpo lake they frequently collapsed forming a sandy cliff, but deeper in the side valley they formed a nice level grassy area about the size of two or three football pitches. The sides of this valley were also old grassy and scrub vegetation. There were old stone walls here forming the base of small huts which would have been covered in seasonal tarpaulins until about ten years ago when the place was used as a summer pasture for sheep, goats and yak. Furthermore there was a small stream under some boulders and it was easy to get water. I felt vindicated. It seemed we had reached a place on the map called Kabug.

185. In the late afternoon we eventually reached the promised land of the flat sandy plateau in a hanging valley above the Tsho Rolpo lake. This sandy area was called Kabug.

The tents were up quickly, Ramesh made a kitchen in the pile of stones of an old shelter and we could look up the valley in the evening sun to where we had come from. If we went towards the edge of the sandy cliffs you could look down on the glacial lake far below and the massive south face of Chobuja on the other side, whose grassy ledges looked perfect for blue sheep. We had hopefully completed all the obstacles of the Trashi Labsta Pass, but we were still in a very convoluted and loose moraine landscape so who knows what tomorrow might bring. I put it to the guys that if we made Bedding tomorrow we could have a chicken and raksi party, and then a day off, to celebrate the last of the four difficult passes.

186. Looking back at our sandy campsite from the top of the moraine to the west of it. The Trakarding Glacier occupies the trench on the left and calves into the Tsho Rolpo lake on the far left.

May 08. Kabug to Bedding. 21km. 7 hours. 270m up. 1270m down. The tent pegs came out easily in the sandy soil and we were off by 0700. The porters stormed up the hill, eager to reach Bedding. We had to climb some 100 vertical metres up the easy vegetated side of the hanging valley which had a good path. Half way up we reached the sun and paused to take out jackets off. At the top of the valley side was the remnants of a moraine we had to cross to a ridge on the far side. It was just 3-400m and took just ten minutes. From recent experience it could have been so much worse.

Once on the west ridge of the moraine I could see out troubles were over. All we had to do was descend the stable vegetated ridge on a good path for perhaps half an hour to reach the pastoral valley between the mountainside, and the lateral moraine of what was once the Trakarding Glacier but now was the dam of the Tsho Rolpo Lake. Even from this viewpoint I could see that this small valley was green and pleasant with a clear stream meandering through it.  The banana skins of Trashi Lapsta were over.

187. Having descended from Kabug to just above the lateral moraine hemming the waters of Tsho Rolpo lake in one can see how catastropic a breach of this moraine would be.

What I could also see was the unique Tsho Rolpo lake. Where a glacier exists it deposits stones carried on it and embedded in the ice along its sides (lateral moraine) and at its end (terminal moraine). When the glacier becomes dormant and then retreats these ridges remain and the vanished ice leaves a hollow. In most cases the stream which forms erodes a gap in the terminal moraine and flows through it, leaving the moraines like a giant curled up tongue. However in this case the stream failed to do that and the moraines hemmed the water in. As the glacier continued to retreat a pond formed, which became a tarn, which became a small lake and is now a large four km lake growing at 20 metres a year. From this viewpoint you could see just how fragile the moraine dams of Tsho Rolpo are. If one of them is breached it will unleash a catastrophic disaster of Biblical proportions.

188. Walking down the peaceful areas between the mountainside and the lateral moraine beside the clear stream. I always find this landscape feature an easy, warm, still and enchanting area.

189. Looking up Tsho Rolpo lake from the terminal moraine where the natural dam was at its lowest and the water flowed out. On each side of the lake the lateral moraines hem in the water until the mountainsides take over half way up the lake.

I walked with Bharat and Dawa down the grass and dwarf rhododendron covered moraine to the secluded valley below. Dawa picked the dwarf rhododendron to take home for incense. Once in the valley I fell behind and sauntered down, enjoying the lush pasture and clear stream for a couple of km. I kept looking at the lateral moraine on my right hand side, and it was hard to imagine that there was a lake on the other side and the surface of that lake was well above me. The valley soon dropped off at the end of the moraine which the path climbed to reach what would have been the snout of the glacier just 60-70 years ago but was now the end of the lake.

190. Looking down the upper Rolwaling valley from the bottom of the moraines hemming in Tsho Rolpo lake. The village of Na is where the valley opens out some 3 km downstream from here.

It was an awesome sight looking up the brown silty waters of the lake which almost lapped at the top of the moraines which were effectively a dam. The lake stretched away to the SE until it was no longer hemmed in by the lateral moraines by huge towering mountains. Some organisation had made some effort to reduce the potential catastrophe by strengthening the outflow of the lake by lining the stream bed with gabions (wire baskets full of stones). However it just needed a landslide or avalanche from one of the towering mountains to produce a wave which would easily top or breach the moraines and then the vast lake would empty. Everyone living down this watershed for  hundreds of miles essentially had the Sword of Damocles hanging over them.

191. The village of Na is essentially the summer residence for the herders of Bedding who move up here to take advantage of the summer pastures. It has a couple of teahouses and monastery and a very old small monastery hidden on the hillside above.

I could easily see Na from the end of the lake. It was some 4 km away down the moraine and then across wide open pastures on the floor of the valley. It seems the Swiss government had provided money for a fantastic path which made light work of the distance. Before long I was on the valley floor which was remarkably green and full of grazing yak. Na was much bigger than I had expected with some 30 houses and a few teahouses. I later found out Na was essentially the summer residence for the people of Bedding who used to come up here with their yaks and then retreat down again in the winter. Ramesh was already cooking a meal for the others in the kitchen of a teahouse, while I was ushered into the dining room and given a menu.

192. Looking back up the upper Rolwaling valley from just below Na. There were many Buddhist icons, flags and rock paintings here among the yak pastures.

Some 18 years ago, when I was climbing all the 2000 metre mountains in Scandinavia I was staying at Trutagro Hotel in West Norway. There I met a Nepali who was a guest of the owner, Ola. He was guiding up one mountain, Store Ringstind. I had already climbed it but needed to climb the adjacent one – Midtre Ringstind. The trouble was there was a crevassed glacier to cross to get to the base of it. Ola told me to ask the Nepali if I could join his roped up group across this glacier as he was going that way. I could then climb the peak, descend and he could then pick me up again on the way down from Store Ringstind in a couple of hours. It worked out perfectly. I remembered the charismatic Nepali’s name as he was a renowned climber with many 8000m peaks under his belt. His name was Dawa Chirri Sherpa and he was from Rolwaling.

I mentioned this to the host at Na. He said Dawa Chirri was his father and he was in Bedding at his lodge. What a happy coincidence. After my meal I carried on down through Na. It seemed a very devout place with flags around many of the rocks which had Buddhist inscriptions on them. Above a huge colour mural of Guru Rinpoche on one rock was a small monastery perched on a rock like a smaller version of the Tigers Nest in Bhutan. Apparently Guru Rinpoche was one of many notable historical Buddhist figures associated with the rich religious history of Rowaling.

As I carried on down the valley the path went through the Kami (entrance chorten) to Na and then the valley narrowed, but the path remained fantastic. It was easy and fast, going through yak pastures and around buttresses. Many women were coming up the path carrying huge heavy bundles of firewood. The juniper and larger rhododendrons became more frequent but what really stole the show were the huge number of purple Himalayan primroses which were everywhere. Sometimes they formed carpets of mauve and purple beside the path. Waterfalls tumbled down from each side, with many on the south side still frozen.  This was apparently the training ground of the aspirant climbing Sherpas of the Rolwaling, whose tiny population of 359-400 men, women and children boasts some 13 international climbing guides.

193. The Himalayan Primroses were prolific in the pastures and under the scrub on the way down from Na to Bedding.

Eventually, just as the firs started to appear on the south side at around 3900m I rounded a corner and saw the blue and red roofs of Bedding down the valley. It was much smaller than I thought. I passed a lot of porters taking wood up to Na monastery which was being restored, and there were many workers building gabions in the river to divert water away from the north side of the valley where the village was. These defences were just for regular rain and would do nothing if the Tsho Rolpo lake moraines broke. I found the Tseringma Guesthouse at the upstream end of the village and found Dawa Chirri Sherpa holding court round a table.

I recognized him only because I knew it was him. 18 years ago he had moved with the grace of a lean leopard with a concave stomach, and now he had filled out into a solid middle age. He was now very confident, with a constant smile. He enthralled the other six when they arrived. He spread out a tarpaulin in the sun for them, covered it in matrasses, and told them all to relax while he continued to hold court with humour and authority. I asked him if we could have a chicken and raksi party tonight. He was enthusiastic but said that there would be no chicken as the people of Bedding had, in line with Buddhist practice, decided there would be no killing in the valley. However he had some dried buffalo sakuti from Kathmandu.

We all chilled out in the sun for a couple of hours while another two tourists arrived – two girls from Netherlands and Romania. I got a room, unpacked, wrote a bit and then went into the kitchen. The others got a big room with a sleeping platform and started to cook their meal. When it got dark we all collected in the kitchen and I got them a litre of raksi and many small bottles of local rum. Santos and Pinzo became the DJ’s and connected their phone to the speaker and started an endless stream of Nepali songs. Dawa and Ramesh were dancing from the off, even singing songs while the DJ’s faffed on their phones for the next one. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the momentum was building with every sip. Soon Bharat was up and then I was hauled up. Compared to the very fluid and almost professional Dawa and Ramesh I must have looked like Dad dancing. After an hour everybody was up including Dawa Chirri Sherpa and the cook and also the Romanian and Dutch  girls. It was a very, easy, happy joyful evening. Bharat and the others thanked me for all and got me a couple of beers, while I thanked them for all and got them more rum. Dawa Chirri Sherpa clapped and danced, the girls were great dancers but none could match Ramesh and Dawa for their free spirited moves, or indeed Dawas voice, except maybe for Santos who shy at first rivalled Dawa in the end. I went to bed about 2200 and the others apparently stayed up until about 2300. It was a great evening and a fitting end to the four difficult passes – and a goodbye to Dawa, Pinzo and Cherring in a couple of days when we cross a road to Kathmandu.

194. After four hard passes around 6000m, with considerable hardship and a bit of danger it was time to party as the hardest sections of the GHT were over. In two days we would lose the Sherpa team of Dawa, Pinzo and Chering. Here Ramesh, Santos and Dawa dance to Nepali folk songs.

May 09. Bedding Rest Day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. Everyone was a little slow in the morning. There was no need to hurry as it was a day off and everyone just enjoyed lolling around in their sleeping bags, chatting until about 0800. No one seemed to have a hangover and everyone was quite chirpy. Moral was high. After breakfast the others took their matrasses outside and lay down on the tarpaulin Dawa provided to enjoy the sun.

195. 18 years after helping me climb a mountain in Norway I finally meet Dawa Cherri Sherpa at his home in Rolwaling. Dawa was one of the best climbers from this renowned valley and has most 8000m mountains under his belt. We stayed at his lodge.

I went with the girls to look at the monastery which was open for half an hour. It was a classic small monastery. Sleeping quarters for the 20 or so monks was in a room which looked like the dining room of a teahouse. Beside it was the kitchen with an enormous wood burning cooking stove which looked like it could boil vats of food. The gomba itself was beside the living quarters and was recently restored. Every surface was painted with Buddhist murals including the roof. There were many puja drums and a wall of pigeon holes where the manuscripts were kept. The bench was arranged in a U shape and there were some 20 purple robes, which looked thick and warm, arranged on the benches ready for the monks to wrap up in for their pujs. Unfortunately I could not take photos.

On the way back to Dawa’s I had a good look at something he had pointed out yesterday. High above the village on a barely accessible cliff some 2-300 metres above the river was a small house built in a cleft in the rockface. It was surrounded by prayer flags attached to points on the cliff around it. Dawa said it was a meditation place. I can imagine Taoist or Zen Masters meditating in such locations in the so called Celestial Mountains in a mythical time centuries ago. I wanted to go up and have a look but the path was very steep in places and it took an hour to get up. I did not go and I regret it.

Instead I did some blog work by selecting photos and putting captions to them. A poor alternative to visiting the most magical meditation cave perched high on a cliff in the Rolwaling valley. Occasionally I looked outside at the others who were either playing cards in the sun and chatting and laughing or when Dawa Chirri was there listening to his tales from a wide spectrum of experience. Bharat and Dawa seemed enthralled.

Eventually Dawa Chirri had to leave to go up to Na. I went out to say goodbye. It seemed he `had really enjoyed our stay and the party the previous night. He said we were a fun group and he liked our style. We gave each other a hug and I promised to look in on him in Norway if I was there from June to September as he works the summer at Juvvasshytta in the Jotunheimen guiding people.

Once Dawa Chirri had gone I returned inside to carry on with the blog which took me til after nightfall. It was a tedious task but it had to be done. As the sun went down Dawa Chirri’s son arrived from Na, they having swapped places. He also worked at Juvvasshytta and spoke great English so when my mind wandered from the blog and picture captions which I was doing in the kitchen I could chat to him about Norway.

May 10. Bedding to Simigoan. 22 km. 7 hours. 500m up. 2120m down. After relaxing day in Bedding I was ready to move on again. I was quite excited about the chance today would bring. We would be going down to 2000m and staying low for a while. Having not seen a tree since Dawa joined us three weeks ago I was looking forward to smell and hear the forest after three weeks of rock ice and the odd tuft of grass. The path dropped quickly from Bedding and past a small school which looked like it was Buddhist.

196. Heading down the forested Rolwaling valley with the silt laden turquoise stream cutting a path initially through the conifers and rhododendron forest and then through the decidious forest.

After that the path dived into the forest which was mostly Silver Fir and with the scrubby rhododendron as an understory. These rhododendron were in flower and produced great pompoms of white flower with various shades of pink through them. Occasionally there were copses of the bushes in flower and it was a magnificent sight. As the valley descended it became steeper and narrower. The roar of the stream was constant as the milky blue waters wriggled between large boulders and plunged over submerged rocks. White throated dippers were constantly working the torrent, usually in pairs. They seldom sat still for long, hopping from rock to rock or plunging into the current looking for larvae.

As the valley floor reached about 3200m the Silver Firs gave way to the wispy hemlocks, none of which had been allowed to grow big. The rhododendrons continued with larger trees now producing pink varieties and occasionally the classic red one. The red ones were usually over, with spent withered flowers, often wilting on the forest floor. Eventually after a couple of hours the path crossed the river and then arrived at the riverside meadow at Dokhang where there was a well appointed teahouse. We all stopped here for lunch which took about two hours in all. As we were eating the midday temperature was slowly rising outside as we were now at 2800m.

I set off before the others after lunch for the longish stretch to Simigoan which would take about four hours. To my surprise the path climbed almost at once as it had to go over a steep buttress. It then undulated across the hillside, keeping so high above the river I could not hear it far below in a deep slot. I noticed now that the conifers had now all but disappeared, save for the most inhospitable places like the ridges and on top of rocky knolls. Instead leafy trees had taken over and the path was a carpet of dry leaves which felt dry and crispy. In glades the forest floor was covered in white anemones. Through all this the excellent path continued like a yellow brick road on the south side of the valley. The steep hillsides were silent except for birdsong however when I dropped to about 2300m the sound of crickets started and they overpowered the birds.

Eventually the path dropped quite steeply down to the river and there was a bridge over the torrent to the hamlet of Riku perched on a shelf on the north side. The main trail did not cross here but continued on the south side climbing over another spur for a testing 100m. It was hot now as I climbed the well constructed steps but half an hour later I burst through the woods at the top of the crest and there was the village of Simigoan just 15 minutes away. Beyond it the path dropped quickly to the main Tama Koshi Nadi River into which the Rowaling Khola flowed as a tributary. Simigoan was essentially the end of the Rolwaling valley.

I descended slightly as I contoured around the terraced fields, all full of ripening corn, and made for the collection of houses on a slight saddle. One was a teahouse and due to the slightly cool wind and the view, allbeit a bit hazy, it looked perfect. It had a nice kitchen for the porters and a nice cool room for me. I settled in and an hour later the others arrived. Apparently the kitchen was superfluous as Dalbhat was much cheaper now. I heard the frantic clucking of a cockerel and saw Ramesh and Santos disappear with one in their hands. I suppose I still owed them one, as the Buddhist regulations of Rolwaling had prevented the killing of a chicken at the promised Chicken and Raksi party  in Bedding. As night fell I sat on a balcony barefoot and just in a shirt and wrote the blog as a cacophony of insects in the surrounding trees burst into life. The lights of Simigoan, with its 100 or so houses, flickered across the hillside. It seemed to be a mixed village of Sherpa and Tamang, and even the teahouse seemed mixed. As I settled in for the night after my nettle soup and chowmien I thought life at 2000m was remarkably easy after weeks of living at 4500-6000m.

May 11. Simigoan to Kurtang. 20 km. 7.5 hours. 1390m up. 1390m down. It was a great sleep in the oxygen rich air of Simigoan. We had a slow start and lolled about drinking tea until 0830. Dawa said he had low altitude sickness! Our first mission was to descend some 700m to Chhetchhet on the side of the Tama Koshi Nadi deep in a gorge. The relentless descent was broken by the charm of the rural life in the village of Simigoan which extended some 300 metres down the mountain. As we descended the crops changed from wheat to barley but generally the lower barley had already been harvested and was now replaced by maize with an understorey of potatoes, whose shoots already had some flowers. I got the impression that the upper half of Simigoan was Sherpa and the lower half Tamang. Both were Buddhist so the prayer flags and post were no indication. Bharat expalained the chortens were different with the Sherpa having a lotus flower shape.

After the bottom of the village the path crashed down through the steep leafy forest on an endless procession of steps. It was exceptionally steep but the constructed path made light of the terrain. I wondered how on earth the old path managed before this Swiss sponsored path which must have kept an army busy for a year constructing it. At last the steps reached the river where there were some rough camping opportunities, crossed a bridge and them climbed slightly to the charmless hamlet of Chhetchhet, where there looked to be one or two rough hotels or bhattis. It was the end of the road and the beginning of the path to Rolwaling so it was a dusty commercial hamlet. We were told Gonggar and hour down the track was much nicer.

An hour down the industrial track, lined with construction depots and huge depots for hydroelectric pipes for a Chinese led consortium to build a hydropower project on the Tama Koshi Nadi river, we arrived at Gonggar. It was a hideous place with an industrial quarry, tin shacks and the dirty squalor of a low quality gold-rush. We found the only acceptable hotel and even then felt quite guilty leaving Dawa, Pinzo and Chering there in a dark room. We spent about two hours sorting all the kit out and packed everything we did not need, or could do without, into bags and holdalls so the three Sherpas could take it on the bus to Kathmandu tomorrow. This left me and Bharat with about 10 kg and Ramesh and Santos with about 18kg, a reduction of about 30-40% each. We just had my small three man tent for the four of us and my lightweight multi fuel stove.

After a meal and tips we said goodbye to Dawa, Pinzo and Chering who had been our companions for the last three weeks. They were a great bunch and the two teams had formed some great friendships. I will certainly miss Dawa’s wit, charm and his very hard work ethic. After a group photo we were off down the dusty industrial road to Jagat with the soon to be imprisoned river tumbling over boulders beside us. It took an hour to reach the equally charmless village of Jagat where the road crossed to the east side of the river and we could at last leave it and climb a path up the west side of the gorge. We braced ourselves for the near 1000m climb in the heat of the day.

197. The High Passes team at Gonggar where we said goodbye to the 3 Sherpas. From the left; Chiring Sherpa, Santos, James, Bharat, Ramesh, Dawa Sherpa and Pinzo Sherpa.

The climb was initially a tedious slog for an hour until we climbed out of the gorge. The river and the last four hours of dusty, industrial squalor faded fast, especially when a cool breeze blew. Out of the gorge and onto the hillside, we soon came across the first of the terraces. For the next two hours we slowly climbed through a rural idyll. Terraced fields rose one above the other, each one belonging to a small simple homestead, usually comprising of the mainhouse and a storage house. Beside them somewhere in the compound was a shelter for a couple of tethered oxen and perhaps six goats who were generally brought fodder to save them wandering across the terraces destroying crops. The barely and the wheat were being harvested by plucking the heads from the stalks which were left in the fields. The heads were taken by basket to the homestead where they were dried in the sun and then dehusked and winnowed. Virtually every homestead was involved in one part of the process.

We stopped at the occasional water tap to drink and chat. Lower down the villagers and farmers seemed to be Chetri but as we climbed there were more and more Buddhist flags which I assumed belonged to Tamang. Occasionally we left the terraces where there was a ravine or forest to cross and then young boys looked after goats and older ladies looked after small cows and oxen as they foraged in the understory. The path climbed relentlessly but the slog was greatly alleviated but the rural activity and character of the villages we passed which virtually merged into each other.

198. A Tamang lady plucking the ears off her corn in the evening en route between Jagat and Orangdanda.

Some three or four hours after leaving the horrors of the valley at Jagat the path crossed to deeper larger ravines and then reached a track which contoured round the hillside to Orangdnada. From a distance it looked like any of the other charming rural hamlets we passed through, but as we arrived at the ridgetop hamlet with all the herders who were driving their cows and goats along the road to their homesteads for the night, its charm vanished. It was the end of the road and busy with petty commerce and it had no older houses, just modern ones and a bhatti which was full of men drinking rtaksi. The whole place looked most uninviting. We found out there was a rustic hotel just 15 minutes down the road and I insisted on heading for that. It was in fact just 10 minutes, in the village of Kurtang in a roadside location. It had a few rooms upstairs and a simple kitchen and sitting area downstairs. It was purely designed for Nepalis and was very rustic but it served our purposes well. It was getting dark as we settled in. Bharat and Ramesh made themselves at home in the kitchen with the hosts while I wrote. It turned out to be much better than out first impressions. Later that evening it rained a little which will hopefully keep the dust down tomorrow as we follow the track.

12 May. Kurtang to Loting. 18 km. 7.5 hours. 1170m up. 1330m down. We left Kurtang quite late. We had been promised an easy six hour day on the level. As always we listened to what we wanted to hear and we in for a surprise. The track was easy to walk on and undulated across the ridge from village to village. It was mostly a Tamang area and it was easy to see how hard working people were here. There were many new houses nearing completion after the earthquake some five years ago. They were well constructed using steel rods and concrete but remained in the traditional style with their large eaves. It seemed one village merged into another and most of the housing was near the road. The road was very recent addition and was constructed near the houses, usually cutting a swathe across two terraces and throwing debris onto many more.

After the larger village of Khadkatol the path left the road and cut over a spur by the school for half an hour to rejoin the road again. From here it was very quiet all the way to Laduk. During this spell it travelled through pine forest with a mixture of the three needled Chir Pine, and the five needled Bhutan Pine. It was cool in the pine forest but outside it the heat of the day was starting to build. When we arrived in Laduk on the spur of the ridge leading down to Singati Bajar we were ready for a break. Unfortunately we did not find anywhere until the end of the village and it was not nice, so we decided to continue for the 45 minutes to the next paasal, or local shop.

It took us two hours to get to it, much of it on the shadeless, dusty road. At least the road was level and fast to walk on, but it was energy sapping in the sun. Occasionally a path joined two segments of road and led us through some shady glades above and below hamlets. There was rural activity everywhere in the hamlets mostly due to the gathering in of the corn and the barley. We did eventually see the hamlet of Chilingkha but it was almost an hour away, albeit along a road. It seemed to be marked in the wrong place on the map. When we reached the Tamang hamlet the shop was tiny but it did have noodles and she cooked us a huge lunch with Ramesh’s help.

199. Ramesh cooking lunch in the ladies kitchen where we stopped for lunch a couple of hours before Loting.

After lunch I set off on a mission for Loting. I peered over the edge of the road occasionally to see where I had walked along three valley bottom some six or seven years ago when I did the Lower GHT. I remember it being like a furnace down there and that was in December. It would be horrendous now. The road skirted over some large cliffs and steep slopes. The excavator operators carving these roads must have had nerves of steel and I am sure a few were pushed off by landslide or the road they were carving collapsing under them. Many might say the roads are spoiling the Himalayas and they should be kept pristine. This is not a local opinion, and the roads greatly ease and enhance otherwise very difficult lives.  They allow the villagers access to markets, hospitals, schools and everything we in the West take for granted with our motorways. The roads in the Himalayas are built in stages. First an excavator carves the track and then over the course of the next decade the problem areas, like landslides and river crossings are fixed with gabions (wire baskets filed with stones) until the road functions for tough Tata buses and jeeps.

I pushed on to Loting which was on a shelf. The hotel was apparently beside the school. My Nepali was good enough to ask for simple directions and I used the school in the question. At last I was pushing myself up the last slope into Loting. I remember looking up at it six or seven years ago thinking that it was a nice location and how I had made a mistake by going on the west side of the Singati Khola and spending the night at Sarwa in a local house. The hotel at Loting was a disappointment as it was a corrugated walled two storey shed. I waited for the others and we established it was the only option. Once we had settled in the wind suddenly increased tremendously and blew dust all over the shed. It even blew a tree over. The rain then started to lash down which settled the dust. The small storm lasted for about two hours and then suddenly abated around nightfall.

May 13. Loting to Bigu Gompa. 8 km. 3.5 hours. 1000m up. 290m down. It turned out the family we stayed with were extremely nice and helpful. They were Newari, a caste I always associated with the Kathmandu valley rather than in a predominantly Tamang village miles away. We had an early breakfast cooked by Ramesh on the families gas stove, consisting of noodles and dried peas, and left just after 0730 as I was keen to do the climb before the heat of the day built.

I set off with Santos up the track but was worried it was climbing too much, until one local lady shouted from her house as we passed a footpath and told us to take it. It contoured through the village passing terraced fields ripe with corn. The corn was densely planted and it looked a good harvest. Women were plucking it with two batons held together which removed about 10 ears at a time and then emptied these into the basket. I should think it would take a good hour to fill a basket. The baskets would then be taken to the homestead where they were dried before being winnowed and stored ready for milling. The stalks were left in the field either to be harvested with a sickle for thatching or used for fodder. Occasionally I saw goats or cattle staked out in the fields eating the stalks.

200. Leaving Loting and following the path through the terraces of corn on the way to Bigu Gompa, which is located under the saddle of the hill in the distance.

As I we got to the edge of the village the corn looked terrible. It was small, full of weeds and uncared for. The animals staked out here on small terraces also looked thin and shamefully neglected. It was as if there owners only collected the bare minimum of fodder to give them. I mentioned the contrast it to Bharat and he said these fields were probably farmed by the Dalit families of the community. Although caste is officially dissolved in Nepal, the assumptions live on.

The path now contoured across the steep hillside and I looked down to see if I could see the house in the tiny hamlet of Sangba, where I stayed seven years ago while doing the Lower GHT. The earthquake had changed the layout of the villages with many nice old houses falling down and new ones replacing them, so I could not spot it. The path now started to descend to a series of small hamlets until it reached the confluence of the two streams under the village of Alampu. We walked up the east fork for about a km until there was an old suspension bridge over the torrent. We took in and then started the long climb. Initially we went through terraces climbing slightly. As we climber more and more villages in this heavily populated area came into view.

After 20 minutes the path suddenly disgorged me into the centre of a busy village. There were a cluster of small shops and a road. It was Alampu village. The path now went straight up the village for a good hour passing a good hundred houses. Some were Tamang, some were Brahmin, and I am sure a few other castes like Chettri and Magar were here too. While the track zig-zagged up through across the ridge the path went straight up. Nepali villages are often built on ridge tops in the hill district and on the spurs of ridges in steeper areas to minimize the risk of landslide. There were a lot of building and rebuilding works going on in Alampu due to the recent earthquake. At last I made it to the two stupas on the hill above the village, which marked the top of Alampu.

201. Looking SE down the Singati Khola Valley from Bigu Gompa. Loting is on a shelf on the left. At the end of the valley, lost in the haze is the dusty town of Singati Bajar.

From here the path skirted west under a forest and continued to climb traversing up more fields of the next village. The road in the meantime headed off west to Rakham under me. The next village was either Magar or Sherpa, or a mixture. It was on a small hidden shelf with a stream running across it. Its position was quite idyllic as the stream kept the secret bowl verdant. There were about 50 modest newer houses here, obviously built to replace the olders ones which were destroyed in the earthquake. From here I could see Bigu Gompa so I just threaded a path through the terraces to get to it. As I arrived I could see some newer buildings but I could not see the Gompa or the Gaurishankar Conservation Area lodge I had stayed at before. In my confusion I wondered into the Nunnery, as Bigu Gompa was for females only, and at their new hotel some short haired maroon robes ladies pointed out the lodge I was at before. I did not recognize it.

Last time I was here I had a dreadful cough, born I think from the dust road of the previous day. It completely incapacitated me and I had to spent two days lying in bed or on the grass. The host of the lodge looked after me, brought me food, and made me inhale some minty vapours. She was a Magar lady and I have always been fond of Magar ever since her kindness. She was still here and remembered me. She said the guesthouse was destroyed in the earthquake and she had just built the kitchen in which she sat in a hurry a few years ago. The Conservation Area had just finished a new one just up the hill and it was open. She took me up and showed me just as the others arrived. We all settled in with Bharat translating some of the memories we both had from my coughing fit seven years ago.

202. The kind Magar lady who runs the official guesthouse at Bigu Gompa. She looked after me for a couple of days when I passed through here 7 years ago and was ill.

After some tea and dalbhat I went over to the monastery to have a look. It was completely destroyed and the main building had been flattened. Now foundations were going in for a new two to three storey building. In the middle of the construction site sat two huge prayer wheels wrapped in tarpaulins which had been salvaged and would obviously be incorporated into the new Gompa. The rows and rows of the nuns’ accommodation seemed to be restored or were unscathed and I should imagine housed up to 200 nuns. Even the row of eight chortens leading to the old gompa were badly shaken and all were lopsided with bits missing. However during my walk around I noticed there was a lot of reconstruction about to get underway with a welding workshop, large carpentry  shed full of new beams and logs, and a masons yard. There was a notice saying the whole project would cost nearly a million dollars.

In the evening we went down to the kind Magar ladies kitchen. She had also lost her house in the earthquake plus all the belongings she had in the previous guesthouse as she had the concession to run it. Since then business has been very quiet as the main attraction of the area, Bigu Gompa, has temporarily disappeared. I hope the construction worker for the new monastery will bring some business but I don’t think it will be the type of customer she needs. It is difficult to see how she can return to the business she had, but she still has the happy kind smile.

May 14. Bigu Gompa  to Palati Jyandan. 15 km  7.5 hours. 1550m up. 900m down. I slept really well in the new Guarishankar Conservation house and my cough and cold was virtually gone by the morning. We went down for breakfast and the Magar lady had everything ready including our packed lunch by 0630. This was despite being overrun by visiting officials who had come to open a new mani wall at the monastery. After breakfast she was very sweet to me and said how nice it was to see me again (kushi lago). We had a photo taken and then a big hug before her daughter showed us the new way as the old way I knew suffered a landslide during the earthquake. She took us down above Rackham village and almost to the small hydrostation where we met the road. From here we started the steep climb.

We followed the road for less than half an hour up through the hot deciduous jungle until we found the shortcut on the northside. It climbed steeply across the bare hillside in scorching heat for a good couple of hundred metres until it gained the deciduous forest and the relative cool. Around 2800 metres we reached the first of the hemlocks as the road started many zig-zags. There was a short cut across each zig-zag, often steep and we followed them for a good hour climbing steeply as the hemlocks gave way to Silver firs. Most of the conifers were huge with a bole of at least a meter. It was almost a forest of venerable specimen trees. After four hours we at last reached a more level area around 3200m. Here there was a Kharka or a seasonal pasture with about five families.

We asked for milk at one shelter and they bade us in. We each had two cups of delicious hot milk sweetened with a bit of sugar. The hosts were Sherpa from the Bigu Gompa area. They made blocks of churpi, blocks of dried milk, which they sold directly to a merchant in Kathmandu. They also picked Lokti, Daphne bhunia, leaves and twigs which they also sold to a natural paper manufacturer. It was an entrepreneurial family and they looked well on it. They gave us some directions for the next leg to Sano Jyandan.

It only took an hour to walk up through the rest of the forest, which did not look so healthy here, possibly due to fires, to reach the Tinsang La pass. We passed a series of meadows but most of the Kharka on them were not occupied. The rhododendrons through this sparse forest were absolutely stunning. They were not the classic red, essentially white with shades of mauve, purple, pink and even a light blue. The bushes were plastered in flowers which were just beginning to go over. The ridge we had to climb after from the Tinsang La pass was speckled white with bushes in flowers. Just before the pass, at the last meadow was a mani wall, we were told to take a right here.

203. Some of the Rhododendrons around Tilsang La Pass were the most spectacular I had ever seen. The hillsides were speckled white with them.

The path led us to the top of an escarpment in a few minutes. Far below us were villages like Dolangsa where I stayed last time before heading down to Barhabise in the Bhote Khosi Valley, some two vertical km below us and lost in the haze. We stopped here for our lunch of chapattis and boiled eggs the Magar lady had prepared and then had a snooze in the vanishing sun. Our route now followed the edge of the escarpment north, climbing through the rhododendron forest in full flower. As it neared the top the path veered onto the steep slope of the escarpment and contoured round under the peak to gain the west ridge of the peak. Below us, on the steep side of the escarpment the rhododendron was especially spectacular with the whole slope speckled white and pink. As we reached the west ridge it started to rain and hail, at times quite heavily.

The path now was quite easy as it pretty much followed the ridge top for three km through an avenue of stunning rhododendron. Even in the pouring rain it raised the spirits. I have never seen anything like it before in Nepal. It was like a well fertilized botanic garden. After an hour, which the rain stopped, we spilled out of the flower filled forest onto a meadow on the top of the ridge. It had about four shelters with goats and chauri (half yak-half cow cross and female-as opposed to the male dhzo). Here we were told there was another Kharka in about an hour at Palati Jyandan but none at Sano Jyandan where we heading and hoped to camp.

As we left the heavens opened and there was a continual roar of thunder for about an hour. It would be miserable camping in this in the small tent. Bharat shared my thoughts and we desperately hoped we would be able to spend the night in a shelter at Palati Jyandan. The next hours walk was miserable with water pouring down as if it were the monsoon. The flash of lightning was also quite disconcerting. We all just plodded on through the stunning rhododendron forest which was the best yet with the path forming a grassy avenue through the flower filled bushes. As we reached Palati Jyandan the thunderstorm eased. There were a few shelters and Bharat asked at the one which looked most watertight. They said we could stay the night and they would cook, obviously for a cost.

Out host were a Sherpa family of mother, father and big strong teenage son. They had come up from their main house near Dolangsa for the summer with their 25 odd Chauri yak cow cross. We were ushered in to a long cabin covered in tarpaulin. It was about five metres by 20. In the middle was a fire and it warmed the place. Around the fire were bamboo mats for sitting on. There was space for about 10 to sleep on the floor. At the far end were stacks of churpi they were making and selling directly to a merchant, all the dairy equipment and churpi press. By the door was a large stack of firewood completely filling the gable end and then a pile of grass. There were three tiny calves tethered inside by the door and they fed on the grass. I understood their only use was to encourage their mothers to produce milk and after that a Tamang would come and buy them cheaply for meat as Sherpas could not do the deed.

205. Our hosts son milking on of the 25 Chauri. A female yak/cow cross. The 60-100 litres of milk they would get each day would be made into churpi, a very mild cheese type product.

As Bharat, Ramesh and Santos charmed the hosts, the father who had once been involved in the trekking industry, the mother and son went about their pastoral chores of milking and dealing with the milk. This way of life once so predominant across the globe say 2000 years ago is now only practiced in a few places as people flock to cities. I had seen it before in Kurdistan, Nepal and even to an extent in Norway or the Alps, but it was a tremendous privilege to witness it again. It is part of out cultural DNA and it is great to see people who still refuse to swarm to the cities to join the urban rabble, who are oh-so-sophisticated with their Italian suits and designer coffee.

May 15. Palati Jyandan to Last Resort. 20km. 7 hours. 440m up. 2450m down. As I feel asleep in the Sherpa’s pastoral shelter I could here the gentle patter of rain on the tarpaulin and it lulled me to sleep and I slept extremely well. After nine hours I woke naturally with the family getting up to start their dairy chores. I got up also and caught the early morning sun on the Langtang range to the north. It was where we were going next but I could not see Tilman Pass which we had to cross to enter the Langtang valley. The mother and the son were busy milking the 25 Chauri. Back inside Bharat, Ramesh and Santos were just stirring. Breakfast was a slow affair as it could not really start until the mother, also the matriarch of most Sherpa households, had finished her milking chores. Eventually we set off at 0730.

204. The east Langtang range where we are going next and over the Tilman Pass from Palati Jyandan in the early morning.

Our route took us along the edge of the escarpment for almost two hours. We passed a few other pastures where the ridge flattened out and decades of pastoralists had cleared the rhododendrons. To the south the escarpment dropped away steeply down to a plateau where it seemed many of the pastoralists we met lived during the winter. It was quite difficult to keep to the track as there were a few options but we just seemed to keep to the top of the escarpment or slightly on the south side of it when the terrain allowed.

The rock was quite greasy after all yesterdays’ rain and on one occasion my foot slipped and I was suddenly horizontal on a steep rocky bit. I landed on the rocky shoulder first but bounced off and fell another metre crashing down chest first. I cut a finger as I put my hand out and was worried about my camera, but I was lucky I did not hit my head or face. Ramesh who was behind me seemed to appear in front of me before I even stopped bouncing, so quick were his reactions. My finger and pride were the only casualties. After this I was much more cautious on the damp rocky sections.

Finger washed and plastered we carried on along the crest up to one final notch passing through to the north side where there was a meadow. From here we started the descent, and it was a huge descent. Firstly there was about 1000m through mostly deciduous jungle. The path just went down and down through small forest and scrub. As we descended it got hotter and hotter. After about three hours from Patati Jyandan we were still coming down through the jungle hoping we were on the right track. After another half hour we at last reached a clearing where there was a view and could orientate ourselves. It seemed we were near Yarsa village, which had a red roofed complex – apparently a monastery.

From near Yarsa we went on the west side of a long ridge with a few knolls and dropped down to Mandre, a hillside village with surprisingly many large new houses. We were still a good 1000 metres above the Bhote Koshi river and we knew there would be more descent. It came quickly with a very step path from Mandre down to Cati which was 500 metres of steps. Cati was also in the process of rebuilding after the earthquake with a lot of activity going on. We pondered stopping here but decided to head north along the track to the village of Tyanthali. It too was being rebuilt. We stopped in a trackside bhatti for a cup of tea each to be told the Last Resort, where we were heading was only 10-15 minutes away. I thought it was a good hour so this was welcome news which seldom happens with time left.

After just 10 minutes down a path from near our teahouse we came to the road. Here there was a suspension foot bridge spanning the Bhote Koshi River and the deep gorge it was in. It was an extremely high bridge and some entrepreneur, called Pat, established a bungee jump from it. It was reputed to be the second highest in the world. Pat had also created the Last Resort on the west side of the river at the other side of the footbridge. Bharat suggested I check it out and perhaps stay.

The Last Resort however had nothing I needed, it had no wifi, no charging points. It was full of middle class Nepali tourists, it had a meaty buffet and was culturally quite bankrupt. In addition I would have to sleep in a dark safari type tent. I returned to Bharat and the others and said it was not for me and I wanted something local. The lady who owned the bhatti where they were eating had a homestay on the north of the river near the Last Restort. We went to check it out. It was perfect, with a large four bedded room with six plugs and great phone reception. We all piled into the room as the rain started outside. I spent the afternoon and evening doing the blog as is now my duty whenever we have some time off.

206. The others still in bed in the early morning in our hosts cabin at Palati Jyandan. Up at the far end of the cabin the hosts had slept and it was the dairy products end also. The calves were behind me.

This was really the end of the Gaurishankar Section. The first half was the epic crossing of the Tashi Labsta Pass and the journey down the Rolwaling valley. The second half had been more of a transit between the Rolwaling and the Langtang. It had some great cultural landscapes and farming views but it was far too populated and busy for my liking and it was also riddled with roads. It usually takes groups about 60 days to get here and although still quite far to the east can almost be considered a half way point in terms of effort. It had taken us 61 days, despite the time spent in the first two sections with their snowy passes; so we are almost on schedule.

Section 06. Gaurishankar. 152km. 69 hours. 9150m up. 11730m down.

‹ Previous PostNext Post ›