It does feel good to be back in Nepal, a place that I fell in and out of love with so long ago. Now I see why I liked it and disliked it so much. Gelzen’s house was so warm and incredible last night with all of our such great friends in one place. And seeing Gelzen’s father and brother again after all these years. Friends like that are one in a lifetime. The Sherpa culture has impressed us all and reminded me of their goodness again. Seeing the kids playing so strong and no one yelling at them for their play. And Ice Cold Beer! Haven’t had that since Thailand. Gelzen showed us the new house he decided to build and started 3 months ago. It’s going to be beautiful and house 2 or 3 families. 3 bathrooms and kitchens. Wow.
So Nepal is going through a very rough time and it’s hard to get the truth. The newspapers seem full of lies and everyone you talk to their own story. We only really saw tons of soldiers on the move.
We missed the battle in Beni by 24 hours and would’ve probably been very very close to the town when things went down there. Conflicting reports have it that from 3 to 500 Maoists were killed and 157 Police and some 51 civilians but no tourists. Then we missed the shooting in Ulleri on our downhill end of our trek (last day) when 1-3 Maoists were captured and at least being held prisoner in a cave. Once again, I we saw was a division of Nepali Army dudes climbing up the steep steps that we just came down amid discussion on whether it was the steepest descent any of us had ever done. 6,000 feet of down in one day with the steepest part just after Ulleri where these guys in full camo had to go up in the heat of the day carrying weapons and gear.
But the hike really was excellent with great people and a great head sirdar; Kaji Pasang Sherpa, Gelzen’s best friend and a man I respected much from our last hike 4 years ago here in Nepal.
We also were lucky enough to have arrived just before the busy “2nd” season in Nepal, the spring season. Between that and with the war going on, we did one of the most popular treks in the world with a minimal amount of tourists out there with us. I say that even though there were about 40 people going over Tharong pass (the high point of the Annapurna Circuit at 17,599 feet) on the day we went over.
But a beautiful day it was with spectacular light hitting the tops of the peaks nearby when we were halfway up. The weather stayed great all day and I enjoyed some offtrail on my descent preparing myself of the planned climb up to Dhampus peak that I hoped to attempt in 3 or 4 days.
We stayed at the heavily talked about “Bob Marley Bar” in Muktinath on the other side and ate Mexican food for a pleasant change after all the Dal Baht we ate on the Bhuddist (eastern) side of the circuit. This is the main thing Nepali’s eat and is a simple meal of white rice, crushed and soupy lentils, curried potatoes with green vegetable, and pickled turnips. The locals eat this huge meal with their right hand, which we tried back in Kathmandu and found a bit too messy. But we did eat Dal Baht a lot on the 1st half of the trek. After the halfway point, I was a bit tired of it and strayed more towards the western food; pizza (a chapatti with ketchup and sometimes cheese), friend macaroni (like it sounds but with curry), veggie burgers (usually without any bun), French fries (excellent but again always with curry) etc. But the best food we all agreed on was the momo, which is a lot like pierogies but stuffed with veggies and curry and steamed.
The highlight of the 20 day trek for me was definitely when we met our other 2 Sherpas, Dorje and Lakpa who carried all kinds of heavy gear up to Marpha (5 days up to meet us) and then we left the heavily touristy “Annapurna Circuit” and climbed very steeply from 9,000 feet up to 14,000 at Yak Karka where we stayed 2 nights acclimating in our Himalayan style expedition tent and ate the Sherpa food they cooked for us.
What a beautiful spot Yak Karka is with the 4 peaks of Nilgiri always right there less than 2 miles away and 24,000 feet +. Then on our second full day up there, I started up about 7 AM with Kaji Pasang with a 2 man tent to our high camp at 17,000 feet at Dhampus pass. It was a rough night sleeping that high and I had headaches all night and had concerns that I wouldn’t be able to go higher. Kaji really took care of me and after a light breakfast of tea and a snickers bar, we started our climb to 20,000 ft. Dhampus Peak.
Four hours later, we reached the summit after some awesome knife edges full of snow with spectacular views in all directions. We were just across from Dhaulagiri which is one of the top 14 peaks in the world at 8,000 meters +. (over 27,000 feet) My lungs held up well at the altitude and the last 10 minutes actually felt easy as I was on a great natural high, finally reaching my goal of 20,000 feet to celebrate my 20,000 mile of backpacking. It’s very hard to explain the feeling up there and I must say that if I was still in my 30’s, I would be taking up mountaineering to feel that way again.
After the climb, the descent was easy and we made it back down to our high camp in 1 hour, had a big lunch, broke camp and headed back down to the others at Yak Karka, when we got there, we found out that they descended back to Marpha and although it was a very long day to that point, I was eager to tell them about my day and we descended all the way down to 9,000 feet and got to Marpha around 6 PM.
The rest of our trek was anything but uneventful as we were told we could not proceed to Beni as planned because there was a huge battle there in the ongoing war between the Maoists and the Nepali Army. We heard so many conflicting reports but it turns out that there were over 250 people killed and it was the biggest battle of the ongoing 5 year war. We missed it by 24 hours. So, we changed plans and headed up instead of down for a 6,000 foot climb in one day to Ghorepani.
Now this town looks back on many of the mountains we just walked past and one of the best views on the “official circuit” We were ready for town and the next day we headed all the way down to the end of the trek and got a taxi to Pokara, the 2nd biggest town in Nepal and one we liked so much with all of it’s western food, shopping, and a carpeted room with hot showers!
So that’s about it for the Nepal trek although there was so much more sightseeing and shopping back in Kathmandu including my being bitten by a monkey at the monkey temple there. Now I am back in Thailand with my girlfriend who says I smell too much like curry even though it’s been 3 days since Nepal.
ps. a video of this trip was completed in 2005 and is offered at: http://fiddleheadpa.safeshopper.com/50/cat50.htm?609
If you are planning a hiking trip to Nepal, this would be a very good introduction of the country, it’s history, culture, religion, and hiking opportunities and requirements. Good luck.