Emails sent during March 2010
- (Les textes français sont ici.)
Subject: Why Nepal, why trekking?
Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2010 11:08:31 +0545
Dear all, we're now in Kathmandu. Ueventful flight, though the approach to KTM, with the giant Himalayas in the backdrop, is always a spectacular sight (last time we flew direct to KTM was 2003, so we had almost forgotten about that...). Here it's rather warm and sunny. There's not a lot to report yet so we thought we would talk a little about Nepal and trekking in this mail. All the more so as some of our friends have wondered aloud (with perhaps a few more wondering silently) why on earth we would go back to a place we've already seen so many times before. We're now heading to Nepal for, what was it?, the 12th time... strange, isn't it? Well, first of all, there are the Nepalese. Tough, likeable, ever cheerful and always friendly. And not only by day: Kathmandu, even in the middle of the night, is still a safe place, as it was 16 years ago, when we first visited Nepal. Back then, it seemed a mysterious and promising target... little did we know! Second, the country. The sights, the smells, the Nepalese way of living, the food, the sounds, the gods, the temples... we love it. Sometimes the country doesn't feel completely real, more like something that inadvertently slipped out of a romantic opera: it's such a bizarre mishmash of influences, impressions, behaviours that it just doesn't seem wholly of this world. Third, there are the mountains, the valleys, the sky, the ice, the rocks, the air. These wild, desolate, grand landscapes, whether in the Khumbu or around the Annapurnas or somewhere else in the country, are something we just can't get enough of. And last, but very definitely not least, there are the joys of trekking. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to convey fully the pleasures to be had on a long trek (say six weeks or more) to those of you who have not yet done one. Still, we can try. On this sort of long distance trek there is no pressure to find hotel rooms, to catch buses, to do sightseeing. The whole walking day, calm, relaxed, often warm and sunny, as it stretches in front of you, is itself one long period of sightseeing. And if the weather changes for an hour (or even a day or two) and turns into an elemental force, this only adds to the experience. In the evening, after the main meal, you are tired and feel a bit drowsy, but in a very gratifying way. Even the odd aching muscle or tendon adds to that sense of satisfaction and achievement. Then there's the camaraderie on the trail and in the lodges. You meet all sorts of people on the trails, Western tourists, many Asians these days, even a few Indians;-). But nobody cares one blind bit about your bank balance, your position in the "real world", what cars you drive, and whether you have a six-bedroom palace or a one-bedroom council flat. (Group trekkers are a different matter altogether but we won't go into that as nobody, in the final analysis, is forced to go with a group.) On the trail, there's no man-made noise, no pollution, no one bothering you. It's all perfectly natural and after a few days, once your body has got used to the exertions, the sweating, the occasional panting, you feel strong and active and healthy, fully in control. There's a lodge or at least a teahouse every hour: Rest and Be Thankful (with apologies to the A83: http://arrocharheritage.com/ArrocharHeritageTrail_RABT.htm ). It's a simple life and though it can be rough at times, with no bells and whistles (and not too many hot showers either), these "deprivations" are more than worth it. Indeed, the simplicity of trekking teaches you, among other things, that many, if not most, paraphernalia of modern life are superfluous junk: we think (or have perhaps been conditioned to think) we need them. Do we? Trekking also means that you are alone with yourself and your thoughts for long stretches of time. This can be disconcerting at first, but after a while you begin to see many things, both physical objects and metaphysical issues, in a different, more disinterested light. You begin to ask yourself questions you would never dream of asking at home or in a more stressful, distracting environment. And though the very act of asking a question and thinking about it is often more important than getting an actual answer, you sometimes do find real answers. Having said all that, the one thing that, after a few weeks, really, really begins to dominate your thoughts is more mundane: FOOD. The physical effort of walking six, seven hours a day means you need a lot of it (doing a long trek in Nepal is a perfect diet). True, the big lodges in and above Namche Bazaar or around the Annapurnas do offer an amazing variety of menus. (Though off the beaten track the situation is a lot more restricted: there's dal bhat, or dal bhat, or how about some dal bhat today? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dal_bhat ) At any rate, the food on trek is mostly vegetarian and often pretty bland: it definitely pales after you've had it for weeks on end. You start dreaming of crispy bacon with fried eggs, a crunchy baguette with salt butter and Camembert or a freshly baked butter croissant. Not to mention steaks, chips, fish, a roast... Luckily, all that and more is available in Kathmandu: most people just carry on and dream on. And anyway, bland food is a very small price to pay: trekking offers ample compensation. There are days where you walk for hours on end along walls of blooming, fragrant rhododendrons, high on a small trail perched hundreds of meters above a steep valley, as if on a natural balcony, with views up and down that are beyond description. There are other days where nature is savage and fierce and yet more subtle and beautiful than words can tell. There are also days where you cross a creaking, living glacier in the morning, walk along a string of greenish-blue mountain lakes by midday, climb up a steep ridge in the afternoon and watch the sun set, in front of you a foursome of the world's 14 eight-thousander mountains slowly turning red and then pink and finally dark blue. (There are also nights where you stumble down a steep ridge and wish you'd have had the wits to bring a torch with you.) This seemingly unending succession of days like these, all similar in some respects and yet very varied in others ("same same but different" as they say in Indochina), eases the trekker into a finely balanced rhythm, physically strenuous and yet relaxing at the same time. (It has to be said, though, that in more than 45 weeks of Nepalese trekking we never had problems with altitude or our stomachs. We know people who have been a lot less lucky.) Trekking is, for want of a better word, a wholesome activity. It is one of the very few things we can do for weeks and weeks and weeks and still feel happy and satisfied and full of energy and wanting more. What more can you ask? And so, to conclude this epistle, Nepal is one of the very, very few countries in the world where you can have the sort of completely independent long distance trek we enjoy so much: without too much officialdom getting in your way, with no strings attached, with complete confidence and with almost guaranteed good weather. We've done many treks in other countries: coastal paths in England, the GR20 on Corsica, long hikes in the European Alps, a DIY trek in the Darjeeling/Sikkim area -- but we've found nowhere else the perfect mixture Nepal offers. So there you have it, in a nutshell. All the best Vero and Thomas PS: Peter Fleming (brother of Ian, the creator of "My name's Bond, James Bond") has this to say about travelling in restricted circumstances: http://books.google.com/books?id=6C2aaB3f9P4C&pg=PA165&cd=1 (If this link is broken by your email client or otherwise doesn't work, search http://books.google.com for the expression <<fleming "news from tartary" "good companions">>, verbatim but omitting the enclosing << >>. Once you've found the book, look for page 165ff.)
Subject: Jiri - Namche Bazaar
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2010 00:16:19 -0800
Dear all, so here we are again in Namche! After nine wonderful days of nice weather and even nicer walking, we have arrived in Namche Bazaar (3445m), the main village in the Khumbu region. We will stay here a couple of days to acclimatise and then start the real thing;-) GO UP INTO THE MOUNTAINS! The walk-in route was almost empty (we saw only four or five other trekkers and no group, unheard of!) and even above Lukla (that's where the fly-ins join us... or rather we join them) there is currently not a lot going on. It's of course beginning of the season and Namche has exactly that half-ready feel. We're in surprisingly good shape, Xmas and other excesses notwithstanding. It is pretty cold so far but that was to be expected, so no big deal. You may remember that we wanted to start in Okhaldhunga and finish in Jiri. For reasons of timing (we wanted to be in Namche as quickly as possible to beat the crowds) we switched the two, so we started in Ji. and will probably finish in Ok. This means we won't do the Rolwaling (maybe next time;-)) but to compensate we will climb a mountain we always wanted to climb but which till now required tents (for those who know the region it's Pike Peak, a mere 4070m). For the next four weeks we will visit every nook and cranny in the upper Khumbu region (between 3800m and 5600m)...if the cold doesn't beat us down to Namche again. So the next mail will come maybe in 26 to 29 days. So all the best and we'll be back! Vero and Thomas
Go to April 2010.
$updated from: Email Updates.htxt Thu 22 Nov 2012 14:35:20 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$