Fair warning that this blog entry meanders my contemplative thoughts quite a bit and will probably read more like a diary than an “adventure blog”. (I spent a lot of days walking in forests and clouds with not much to look at, and had too much time to think, haha).
Manaslu was a great challenge and next up were the Langtang & Helambu regions. But first, we were to navigate a little-used trail linking the sections. My guide spoke to many locals about the trail’s condition before we ventured out and the general consensus was that nobody uses it, it goes through thick jungle, and if there was any trail left at all it would probably be significantly overgrown with bush and grass, or thoroughly braided by wildlife. So, my guide suggested that because he was not confident in his ability to navigate the jungle link section, we should bus around it and start the Langtang/Helambu from a better start point. I was a little disappointed given the reason you hire a guide is to get you through those types of spots, but I wasn’t about to put the pressure on and get us both lost for days in a jungle. I agreed to his plan and we hopped on a bus to Dunche.
It’s worth noting briefly that bus rides in Nepal are terrifying, uncomfortable experiences. Our bus got stuck in deep mud pits a couple of times, ventured through thick fog on cliff edge, and all the while various human bodies or bags of rice were poking, pushing, leaning and occasionally sitting on me. Couldn’t have been as bad for me as it was for the goat tied to the top of the roof, admittedly.
Dunche is headquarters for many aid organizations currently, including the Canadian Red Cross, given its proximity to the town of Langtang and surrounding villages which were some of the hardest hit during the earthquake. We stopped in at the hotel the Cdn Red Cross was using as headquarters for lunch in hopes of chatting with a few aid workers but none were about at the time. So off we went toward Chandanbari, en route to Gosainkund Lake.
The hike up to Chandanbari was an upward grind through beautiful forest, gaining 1300m over a short distance. After being cooped up on an uncomfortable bus for so long I had pent up anger and energy to spare so I felt like crushing. I think it only took us 3 hours to reach Chandanbari at 3300m, and having satisfyingly spent myself, I felt like I’d reached nirvana. This picturesque village is perched ridgetop in a clearing that gives spectacular mountain views (usually, and I only caught glimpses between otherwise thick clouds), surrounded by a forest inhabited by monkeys and rare red pandas. If you know me you know I fucking love monkeys, so I was elated at having been surrounded by them all day to begin with. To make matters even happier, Chandanbari is home to a yak cheese factory, and cheese is maybe the one thing I love more than monkeys. It also helped that our hotel was well kept in a beautiful garden, and our hosts were very friendly Tamang people who are renowned for their hospitality. They fed me Seabuckthorn juice which tastes like a mix between orange and mango, as well as dal bhat made to include tasty mushrooms freshly picked from the forest. Yes, I had reached Heaven on Earth after an extremely satisfying (exhausting) climb.
In the morning I truly did not want to leave my happy place but we had business to attend to. We climbed up through thick fog onto mossy rock ledges littered with pretty blue and pink flowers. We didn’t stop until we reached Gosainkund at 4380m. This small village is made up solely of hotels, and serves tourists and people making pilgrimage to this famous group of lakes. Gosainkund Lake itself is only one of 108 bodies of water in the vicinity. Fortunately we seemed to juuuust get above the clouds at 4000m so my view of the lakes was uninhibited by mists, and wow, was I blown away. Each little lake is a gorgeous bluish green, sitting in small gullies between jagged peaks and passes. Small streams and waterfalls interconnect the bodies of water, and religious pilgrims have decorated the area with prayer flags, statues, and shrines dedicated to the god, Shiva, who is said to have bathed in Gosainkunda after ingesting poison. After viewing the lakes we crested Lauribina Pass at 4610m, and started descending toward Phedi, down, down, down at 3600m. Sure enough we entered thick cloud again at around 4000m and upon reaching Phedi we were plenty cold and tied, ready to rest. Luckily the tea shop attendants had lit a fire in the stove to keep things warm, and funnily enough I got to enjoy my dal bhat while looking at an extra large poster of a famous Canadian landmark: dearest Moraine Lake.
From Phedi we started off with a cool morning, descending through a chilly forest. I love getting moving in crisp air, so I was content despite the fact that any spectacular views were still hiding from me. We crossed paths with a massive camping group of 5 trekkers supported by 10 porters and 2 guides, which got me considering the morality of westerners using human porters as mules. I’ve had much time to think on it, and overall it seems to me to be a mutually beneficial relationship that gives work and economic benefit to willing workers who may not have other easily accessible means of income. Personally, I could not bear the image of another human struggling under the burden I should be bearing. My judgemental side wants to shout out to the western employers “maybe you should consider getting fitter before trekking so you can actually carry your own bag, or maybe consider carrying less shit!” But I’ll bite my tongue for the sake of the worker who has willingly and knowingly entered his field of employment.
I digress; on the way down from Phedi we crossed a very tricky, technical landslide, that was actually more challenging to cross than anything in LandSlideLand (Manaslu) and it turns out that this particular slide had killed one French man and injured his wife and guide during the earthquake, so that was sad. Additionally, on the descent we also stopped for lunch at a small unharmed tea shop, standing alone among other buildings collapsed from the earthquake. Here, three friendly Romanian trekkers were staying, waiting for their washing to dry (in thick mist – good luck). They had been trekking in rain and cloud for 5 straight days and were understandably feeling downtrodden, but it was nice to speak with them nevertheless. We descended through interesting forests with trees of red peeling bark, which I nicknamed ‘tourist trees’, making my guide laugh. We stayed in Mangengoth with a Sherpa family that had adorned the hotel with images of lamas (monk leaders such as the Dalai Lama) and various Buddhist mantras, shrines and statues, including a slightly annoying, slightly catchy clock that sang “Om Mani Padme Hum” at every hour. This family gave me my first taste of Tibetan Butter Tea, which is black tea mixed with butter, milk, and salt. It was surprisingly delicious.
From Mangengoth we continued the descent through forest and cloud, which I was starting to tire of. We exited the Langtang region and entered Helambu, continuing to pass by villages which had been deeply impacted by the earthquake. The trail was easy so I allowed myself to zone out and sing songs in my head to the likes of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, ” I like big butts” and Christmas music. I’ll fully admit that sometimes its impossible to be fully present while on trail, and some days I just do not want to be in Nepal anymore. This was one of those days. Life here is difficult, and I have it easy compared to the local people. I have to poop in a hole in the ground, frequently with no access to sanitation, and showering is practically unheard of. I take off sweaty clothes at the end of my hike but they don’t dry overnight so I re-dress in the AM in cold, stinky, damp clothing. I carry a load that feels light sometimes, but at the end of a long day, burns heavy into my shoulders and waist. Often the bed on which I’m sleeping is a hard pad with a hard, flat pillow, if there’s a pillow at all. Sometimes I frustratingly slip and fall all over wet, steep, slippery trails, unable to keep footing or morale. This day wasn’t particularly challenging or difficult, if anything it was actually just kind of boring. So it gave me too much “down time” for my brain (time which I can spend thinking rather than concentrating on not falling or dying). Eventually we reached Thankune Bhanjyang where we checked into a hotel with a nice valley view where I could sit in the sun for a while to collect my thoughts and watch local people pass through.
Our final day of hiking took us on a climb up to Chisapani where there is usually supposed to be a stunning view of the mountains around, but the clouds and haze prevented us from seeing much. Chisapani was also heavily damaged in the earthquake, with large structures left leaning precariously downhill. From here we continued into the Shivapuri National Park, which was a very enjoyable climb and following descent through thick, uninhabited forest decorated by orchid plants. On the other side of the park we began our final descent into the Kathmandu valley, where we caught a short bus ride back into the city.
After being away for nearly a whole month, I was immeasurably happy to welcome back such creature comforts as a hot shower with shampoo, western toilet, toilet paper, candy, a good pillow, a clothes washing service, and more. Nothing makes you appreciate the little things quite like living with the lack of them. I used to think life was tough in Kathmandu but boy, was I wrong. Almost immediately I indulged in such wonderful things as ice cream (OMG there’s enough electricity here to keep things gloriously FROZEN!) and a burger (no offence museli, ramen noodles, and dal bhat but I needed a change). Living on a trail in Nepal really makes me realize how good I have it in Canada. I felt almost ridiculous or embarrassed trying to describe Canadian things to my guide who could barely even grasp the concepts. For example, I explained how house heating systems work (what! You can heat houses with gas evenly and in every room!?), traffic laws (people actually USE seatbealts!?), garbage removal services (you mean you don’t just throw it on the street!?), how much we pay for fashion clothing converted into Nepalese rupee increments (no, but seriously, why!? You have too much money, obviously!), and how practically nobody I know has ever milked a cow, killed a chicken, picked their own potatoes, or come within metres of a farm, for that matter (but how do people get their food, then!?). The more time I spend here the more I internalize lessons about western privilege. Our jokes about “first world problems” can honestly go suck a big one. The things we complain about in Canada are not real problems and we know it deep down, but we can’t seem to STFU. I suppose it is human nature to find any small negative or issue and snivel about it. The problems here in Nepal are just bigger. But it kind of, sort of, just makes me want to move to the countryside and grow my own food to stay away from superficial problems. For some reason this answer seems more and more practical to me every day. Who needs a job, anyway! The land gives you everything you need.
I know its easy to say this now and from here, in an idealistic hippy tongue. But I’m sure I’ll get back home in a few months and settle down into a desk job and comfortable life yet again. I wrestle with this, and I’m struggling with finding the ‘right’ answer. I’ll let you know when I’ve solved the mystery of life, ya’ll.
Anyhow, I’m in Kathmandu now for ten days and then off on the next life-changing adventure to Kanchenjunga with two people I met on TrekkingPartners.com and a guide. I’m already excited to see more stunning mountains. Until next time; Happy Bagging.