*****I might not have made it clear enough – I did these two combined treks in late August and early Sept, 2004. Refer to my first blog post. =)
While I was trekking, twelve Nepali’s were captured and killed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq (employed by Manpower), they were beheaded and the brutal killings were posted on the internet. When I returned to Kathmandu the city was a war zone! Tanks on the street, black smoke covering the sky, Soldiers and police out in force and mobs and mobs of pissed off Nepali’s! Unfortunately they were taking out their anger and frustration on ALL Muslims, some of which I had made friends with. After a few days of curfew’s it all got back to normal, but a lot of damage had been done.
One more thing for anyone who may read this and is not on my mail list. Dengue is a country that I made up during this trip. It’s been so much fun telling people that I’m from Dengue that I had some fake flag patches made up in Kathmandu and sewed onto my backpacks. Dengue will come into play later on in this story, so I thought it necessary to point out. Enjoy…*****
Okay my first real trek, (Helambu/LangTang) was absolutely amazing! The fun started as soon as I left my GH (guest house). The bus I needed to take was WAY to crowded and the driver wouldn’t let me sit on the roof (don’t know why). I had to hang outside of the bus with just one foot in the doorway, the other hanging, one hand on the hand rail, the other inside the window, with five other people doing the same thing, all while I had my backpack on! Oh yeah, everyone almost died when the best bus driver in the world came within inches of a telephone pole, we all let go at the last moment and got a little muddy, but hey…
I need to mention this so everyone can understand my sheer stupidity, before I left KTM (Kathmandu) I was talking to a guy who owns a trekking store. I don’t remember how it came up, but he was a pain and I was wearing flip-flops at the time. He made a sarcastic remark, something like “you’re gonna try to trek in those things, you must be a REAL trekker”. Although I had no intention of trekking with flip-flops, I thought to myself DAMN (actually it was another four letter word), because I realized then what I had to do! That started a five minute argument (very entertaining by the way), in which he told me “you can’t combine Helembu and Langtang treks with flip-flops, you’ll have to climb to Gosain Kund (4,300 meters), it is not possible!” I guess the stupid American in me came out (not uncommon), so I told him I’d be back in about two weeks with pictures of me at Gosain Kund wearing flip-flops! It’s the little things like this that keep me going.
Anyway, the bus dumped me at Sundarijal (the starting village of the Helembu trek), and just in case I had forgotten, the biblical downpour reminded me that while it’s coming to an end, the monsoon season is still here! It was 3:00 pm, not the best time to start day one of my trek, but there were no GH’s (Teahouses they’re called on the trail) in Sundarijal, so reluctantly I began trekking at 3:30 pm and didn’t arrive at a Tea house until 7:30 at night (sunset is 6:30). Oh yeah, my flip-flops broke at about 6:00 pm and no, I didn’t bring my cross trainers (half shoe, half boot) with me. So day one was a success
The next morning at about 5:30 am, I awoke to what was at the time, THE most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen! As far as I could see, it looked like an ocean of clouds below me, with snow capped mountains, like islands high above to the north and smaller peaks warming themselves at random spots to the south and in between. The morning got better when I found replacement straps (for my flip-flops) for 10 rupees each (75 Rupees to the dollar) at a small shack…er, store. Well, the mornings kept getting more and more beautiful the closer I got to Langtang (about 45 kilometers north as the crow flies), but soon after the clouds would come and try to steal all the attention. I personally liked the clouds a whole lot more when they complemented the mountains, but I guess they’re a bit insecure?
Gosain Kund translates as Holy Lake. It’s the site of a great spiritual gathering, very sacred and important to Hindu’s and Buddhist’s alike. It falls at the end of August and pilgrims make their way from all over Nepal, I happened to be there at that time. Apparently, 4 pilgrims thought of me as just another pilgrim (why else would some white fruit-loop be way out there…in flip flops?) and asked if I would make the pilgrimage with them. That was great, the way trekking should be.
Every hour, just when all the juices are flowing and I’m ready to really walk, they would stop for Roxy (spl?), home made rice whiskey! 2-3 drinks later we would start walking again, they take it really seriously, the drinking that is. We made it up Laurembina Pass (4,500 meters, 1 meter = 3.2 feet), and besides the holes that had begun in my flip-flops, I also realized we were stopping for some more Roxy!
At this time of year, villagers build temporary shelters for the pilgrims all over the place. They pretty much consist of wood with plastic on top and hay on the ground, and a simple fire place in the front to warm up the Roxy, oh yeah, and cook food. That’s where I slept, well, tried to sleep. I froze every night, I had no sleeping bag and the blanket they gave me was way to short, so either my head or my feet were numb in minutes! In the morning I awoke to the husband and wife making chapatis (like a thick burrito shell looking thing made with flour) and preparing for the rest of the day. It was cool to watch them scramble to beat the crowds of pilgrims and they were so busy that a friend of theirs came to help. She was the best! She had only two teeth left (front teeth, sticking way out of her mouth) and had rice stuffed up her nose, super helpful though…
The whole experience was excellent, one of the highlights of my trip so far! I’ve left out a whole bunch and this is already too long, but it was an eventful adventure to say the least and at that point it wasn’t even close to done!
Gosain Kund marked (roughly) the middle of the the two treks and links them together (most people take a bus to one or the other). Throughout the trek I had some real Dengue (a country I made up a few months earlier) tests, but I passed them all. A lot of the walking I did was through known Maoist villages and along with the rest of the world, they really don’t like Americans. Unlike everyone else though, they have machine guns and are in the middle of a civil war in which America is supplying arms to the Royal Nepalese Army/RNA, their enemy! Most Americans say they’re Canadian, I don’t, I usually say I’m American, but occasionally I say I’m from Dengue just to mess with people (guess I have too much time on my hands). I told a bunch of people in the Maoist region I was from Dengue and most of them asked two or three times until they understood DEN-GUE! My first test came when a villager brought me into his home and pulled out a map. I showed him where it was “supposed” to be, inside of South Africa, between Swaziland and Lesotho. Of course it wasn’t there, but he looked at me apologetically and said it was an old map.
The next, tougher test came as I entered Lang Tang National Park. The soldiers/RNA have a small base there, and I had to register and pay a fee of 1,000rs. When they saw me write Dengue as my home country one soldier gave me serious attitude and said “what Dengue?”. I looked at him as if offended and said “what Nepal?” I don’t know why, but he wasn’t very happy about that, so he motioned for me to stay were I was and then called his Superior. He came and gave me the same attitude and I asked him if they teach geography in Nepal? I don’t know why, but he didn’t like that either?! They called a third man (he might have been in charge) and I must admit, my heart started beating pretty fast! He also came with a map and I showed him where it was “supposed to be”. He wasn’t buying it, so I had to explain to him (he spoke English) that in 1869 we broke away from South Africa (how old is South Africa anyway?). We’ve been an independent nation ever since, but not until September 20 (my birthday) of this year will the UN officially recognize it as such! About time! I told him to check the the UN web site, knowing there was definitely no Internet up there. And so, I passed my first few REAL Dengue tests!
Anyway, the trail in the National Park was terrible, and most people had to go backwards for a full day and take another rout. No way I was doing that, so I continued on until I saw the problem myself. There was no more trail! Two nights before, a huge landslide came and the path I was supposed to take had been washed away, a good 50 meters straight down! Well, the rock climbing I learned in Thailand helped out a lot. I managed to scale my way far enough to grab a tree and then walk, but mostly crawl on a very steep slope until the real path continued (about fifteen minutes later). The rest of the trek was uneventful, but beautiful and enjoyable. After the trek ended (in Sephrubesi) and I tried to get back to KTM, it got rough again!
7 German girls and I woke up early our first morning at Sephrubesi to catch the KTM bound bus at 7:00am. Due to landslides on the road, it was a half hour walk to the bus. When we got there we noticed the bus had a flat tire. It took a full hour to fix it, the back tires are doubled so they just swapped them. Not long after the journey the bus stopped because the road was half gone, the landslides had wrecked that part of the road as well! We all got out and started repairing the road, stone bye stone and then patted it down with dirt! Only in Nepal! It worked though and looking forward to good food and a hot shower we were all excited, until an hour later, when the next tire blew. That meant the next tire couldn’t be replaced. That was never an issue though, because when we got to the next village (Dunche) we heard about the madness in KTM!
We were told that no vehicles were allowed to enter KTM valley, so we spent the night there and hoped for the best. They said the same thing the next day, so we decided to walk to the next village (about 4 hours away), much to the protest of our hotel owner. We were hoping that there, 8 whitey’s could hire a jeep or something. It was a good idea, for two of the four hours there were no roads anyway because of landslides, and one actually started as we were walking, rocks just missed me and two other girls! We caught a bus later that afternoon, even though everyone we talked to said they wouldn’t leave that day. The bus took us to Thripili, were we slept the night and then to KTM the next morning at 5 am.
When we arrived KTM was chaos, with black smoke from burning tires rising everywhere and looting and protesting going on! It was because of the 12 Nepali workers that were captured and executed in Iraq! Muslim owned businesses and Mosques were targeted as well as some government and media offices. Clashes between the police and protesters erupted and dispersed and then erupted again. After a couple of days of this, the riots and curfew were finally over, but the transportation strike that the Maoists put in place was still in effect! The Maoists have also shut down at least one college, because the police arrested some Pro-Maoist students. It was a hard time for Nepalis. Afterwords, they were quite embarrassed by their actions and they definitely went over board, but they have been going through a lot and I think, part of it anyway, may have just been an excuse to let the world know how frustrated they really are and that they’d had enough.