Trekking in the Himalayas proves to be tough!
26.04.2011 - 09.05.2011 10 °C
Following flight after flight, I eventually arrived at Kathmandu airport to be greeted by massive hugs from Alice and Molly, along with a sign saying "HELLOOOO KJ!" We went immediately to pay for our mammoth 11 day trek, which came to just 330 pounds - a bargain. Foolishly I thought it would be, so to speak, a stroll in the park. Oh, how wrong I was...
The mad rush which I thought would welcome me never came to fruition, as a transport strike meant we had an extra day in Kathmandu to spare before our trek. It was blissful to eat meat, albeit a yak burger, on my first night in Kathmandu. We were joined by a couple of German girls and Esteban, an Argentine (Molly, Alice, Alice and Saul all thought he always paused before saying his name, "Errr, Stefan," until an email received yesterday confirmed his actual name!).
The bus ride to Syabrubeshi was eventful to say the least. Much like the matatus in Tanzania, the Nepalese buses don't seem to have a limit to the number of people hopping on board. In fact, many sat on the roof for the nine hour ride, during which we passed an overturned bus half way down a cliff. Good omen. Needless to say, my 6'3" frame didn't quite fit in the small seats either.
The walking began on 29th April up the Langtang Valley, which took us past rushing rivers and across jangly metal bridges. The first day of walking was certainly testing - 1000m climbed in nine hours of trekking. Ouch. Nevertheless, it was to be our longest day. On the way up the Langtang Valley, an obscenely tall Nepalese lady compared certain parts of my anatomy to apples and proclaimed how she "wanted me first" (VERY roughly translated). I scarpered faster than the speed of light, thinking that would be the end of the day's events, but no. We were shown round a Tibetan temple by a very drunk, old man and to round things off nicely, passed a man squatting next to the path. Lovely. These sort of obstacles should be introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario. They would certainly pose a different type of challenge than the usual fire-breathing dragon.
The first half of our trek was complete with arrival at Kyanjen Gompa, a wonderful (one of Molly's many phrases) little village at 3900m. The views up the valley were spectacular, but here, even with the dense cloud shrouding the many snow capped mountains around, the vista was truly stunning. Having arrived early, we had time to 'amble' up to Lirung Glacier, at 4150m, and pop back down before yet another meal of daal bhat, the staple diet in Nepal, which is far better than posho and beans - sorry Uganda! Not content with trekking up to 3900m, I participated in an exhausting 15 minute game of football with our Nepali guides and some Israeli trekkers. Certainly the highest altitude I've ever played football at! Just thought I'd add that Bharat and I won 2-0, too...
Throughout the trek, we stopped for lunch and slept in many tea houses, which are lovely, quaint buildings with wooden floorboards and walls. Despite the cold, they are, on the whole, fantastic little places to rest and huddle round the log fire. As we descended nearly 2000m before yet another uphill climb to Gosainkund, we stopped for lunch on 2nd May to discover Osama bin Laden had been killed. It's always said that you remember where you are for major events, and it'll never be more true than in this case. We all crammed around the tiny portable TV at a teahouse, 3000m up in the Himalayas, watching Americans parading in the streets with placards shouting "Obama 1-0 Osama." I don't know which was more shocking - the news that Osama bin Laden is dead or the overtly patriotic reaction by many Americans.
Once again, we began to climb, this time to Gosainkund. Our evenings on the second half of the journey were very musical. At Thulo Syebru, we all jumped up dancing to 'Tere Mast Mast Do Nain' from Dabangg, with Salman Khan's 'cock flop' move being a particular favourite. Hotel Sherpa in Shin Gompa had a guitar, which Alice strummed away brilliantly on with a spoon, especially considering it only had 5 strings! She played popular classics such as 'Motherfuckin' Cookie.' Seriously though, it was on the highlights of the trip so far. We sat around the fire and sang all manner of songs, as well as the improvised warbles we came up with.
The incline became far steeper on the way to Gosainkund and the effects of a week of walking began to take their toll. A snow storm battered us on the last day to the sacred lakes, but we eventually made it. Enclosed by snow scattered mountains, the lakes at Gosainkund provided an amazing backdrop the to the hugs which welcomed everyone to the teahouse. Not even the devilish carvings of '666' and a drawing of Satan in our room perturbed us. Well, not too much anyway.
Early the next morning, we rose to climb the short 200m up the the top of the ridge, where I thought we'd be getting great views of the bowl-like Gosainkund. In fact, as I made the last few steps up the ridge, an incredible, vast panorama opened up ahead of me, showing 8000m Himalayan mountains. Wow! I had not expected this at all, and we spent a long time at the top taking in the truly breathtaking view and posing for copious amounts of photos.
Reluctantly, we descended back down to Dunche, which signalled the end of our trekking. The two days down were agony on the knees, but that didn't prevent us from dancing away in a dragon themed guesthouse with a few beers to celebrate. Our guides got involved too and they fully deserved to let their hair down. A massive thanks to Bharat, Lucky, Prakesh, Nir and Vinod for both the amazing work you did and the hilarious, if slightly disturbing, dancing.
Despite the bus being just as crowded on our way back to Kathmandu, the music selection was far better. Of course, 'Sheila' and 'Tere Mast Mast Do Nain' were played, but so were The Venga Boys and 'Who Let The Dogs Out.' I failed to realise that I had built up a sizeable audience as I partied away to The Venga Boys. I opened my eyes to many a staring face and colossal embarrassment.
Our last evening in Thamel inevitably meant a few drinks and a nice meal out. We started at Fhat Khat, a marvellous first floor bar with such a chilled atmosphere. After 11 days with no meat, I wolfed down a delicious steak before ending the night in Reggae Reggae bar. It was great to relax and have a good time, but an Oompa-Loompa-esque Nepalese lady tried her best to disturb us by screaming at us all and yanking our clothes in her obvious state of intoxication.
The group split up on the Monday. After spending the day slurping coffee and exchanging photos, the first of many goodbyes was said. Marianna, who is such a bubbly personality, is hoping to do Everest Base Camp, and was the first to say goodbye. Then the effervescent Saul went off to visit his Nepalese rock star friend. Not everyday you can say that, is it?! Finally, the girls (Molly, Alice and Alice) left for China. It's been such an incredible two weeks, and I can't say enough thanks to all seven members of the group! I'm gonna miss you guys!
I had mixed emotions when booking my flight home for the 10th June, too. It'll be great to come home, but now my journey is finite! Best not to think about that, though. I still have a week left in Nepal, starting with a bus ride to Pokhara with Ranu tomorrow!
Thanks for reading, and in the words of Truman Burbank, "in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night!"
P.S. Along with spreading the word of trueLAD, I have also got many people across the world hooked on Gunther. Bharat, our trekking guide, was a particular fan of 'Ding Dong Song.' In five years time, Gunther will be huge in Nepal! Watch this space!