Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for November, 2011

Annapurna Base Camp Slideshow

Enough talk! Here are some pictures for you to enjoy from the ABC trek.

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Annapurna Sanctuary Base Camp- Part 3

Remembrance Day November 11, 2011 was spent descending from Sinuwa, 2360 m down more stone steps, crossing the river and then ascending another couple of thousand stone steps back up to Chhomrong. Of course, we had to stop again at the bakery to pick up some more chocolate rolls and enjoyed the wonderful sunshine. From Chhomrong, another steep descent involving rocky steps brought us to the beautiful village of Jhinudanda, 1780 m. The trek only took about three hours. Heaven. This village had a resort feel to it and the guesthouse was palatial compared to the ones that we had stayed in over the last several days. I was also back to having my own room which was worth its weight in gold. There were a lot more flowers and vegetation at the lower altitude. The weather continued to be warm and sunny. What a wonderful place.

After lunch, we descended several hundred meters from our guesthouse to the Modi Khola and enjoyed a wonderful soak in the hot springs for three hours for medicinal purposes you understand. What a great prescription! There were two separate pools the upper and lower and the water was quite warm and felt wonderful after so many days of trekking. There were quite a few people however this did not detract from the experience. The guide and porter really seemed to have been looking forward to this particular experience. They really seemed to enjoy themselves. After soaking for about 30 minutes I informed some of the bathers in the lower pool of the virtues of going into cold water like a true Canadian. They were shocked when I hopped out of the pool and carefully stepped down the stones and immersed myself into the cold rushing nearby river. I then quickly climbed back into the hot pool to experience that wonderful tingle. Soon everybody was trying it. We all had a good laugh over this folly. I also met up with Barbara and Paul from Okotoks again. We ascended back to the guesthouse afterwards. After a wonderful dinner a wonderful sleep was had.

November 12, 2011, the next morning, we left Jhinudanda and crossed New Bridge and arrived at Landruk, 1565 m, well ahead of schedule. Because we arrived so early I really felt we should go onwards to Dhampus. The guide agreed. The hike was lovely and there was little ascent and no significant stone steps. Yes! There was a more formal trail and beautiful small villages along this route. It was a wonderful hike. I think in retrospect this would have been a much better route to ascend to ABC as opposed to the Nayapul ascent as it would have bypassed a lot of the stone steps which are not particularly enjoyable to do. The evening was spent at a reasonable guesthouse where I met two lovely young women doing some volunteer work and trekking as well. Krishna and I played cards with them into the evening. The weather that day had started to cloud over but it did not really matter with the trek coming to an end. That evening we had a return of mist and fog and it certainly created a ghostly feel to the evening.

November 13, 2011 was a very short descent hike from Dhampus to Phedi, 1130 m. It was extremely humid from the night before and we had a very steep descent on rocky steps. With my hiking boots and Vibram soles it was practically treacherous. I almost fell several times and we really had to slow down in order to avoid an injury or fall. We arrived back at the highway at 0845 hrs which officially ended the ABC trek. It was a relatively gruelling trek and we finished a day early. We had covered approximately 125 km and probably climbed close to 10,000 stone steps, total elevation gained was 8065 m and total elevation descent was 7641 m.  The total caloric output was huge probably in the range of 18,000 kcal. There is no way you can eat enough food to keep up. Hence, weight loss occurs. Overall, it was a great experience despite some of the challenges I have listed. Certainly, it whetted my appetite for Everest base camp.

Annapurna Base Camp Elevation Profile

A taxi picked us up and drove us back to Pokhara. After a nice lunch and probably the best Nepalese Dal Bhat I have had (and I am proud to say that I ate it with my hands- no cutlery- in the true Nepalese style) we had a free afternoon. We decided to rent a boat and had a leisurely paddle on the Phewa Tal to a small island to visit a Hindu temple and then onwards to be dropped off on the opposite shore of the lake to climb up several hundred meters of stone steps (I never seem to tire of this) to a beautiful Peace Pagoda with wonderful views of Pokhara. It was a wonderful afternoon. We took several pictures up at the pagoda. Another wonderful experience was having Ganesh and Krishna sing a local song about Pokhara while we were paddling on the lake. I used my camera to video Krishna singing and will include this in this post for you to enjoy as well.

Almost every Nepali seems to be able to sing well. It is obvious singing brings them a lot of joy. That evening in Pokhara we had a wonderful meal at a beautiful restaurant and enjoyed each other’s company. The next day Krishna would be leaving us and we would have a different porter for the next trek.

November 14, 2011 we took the tourist bus back early in the morning to Kathmandu. I so wished I would have paid to have another private hire taxi ride instead. The bus was in poor condition with absolutely no suspension, very noisy with a bone jarring ride. It was a truly horrible experience. However it is a relatively inexpensive way to get back. Believe it or not it took approximately 7 hours to get back to Kathmandu. The roads were congested and along the way there was a major crash which completely plugged up the road between a bus and a truck. This is a common occurrence. We did have a lunch stop along the way. I also gave Krishna my camera to play with during the journey and to take pictures which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. When we arrived in Kathmandu we took a taxi to a different hotel where I said goodbye to Krishna and gave him a big hug. I really grew to like this fellow. Even though his English was limited his bubbly personality came through and he had a real joyous nature. He seemed to warm up over the 10 days and was much more interactive with me compared to initially. I think that porters are often discouraged from interacting too much with clients. I am so glad I did not ascribe to this policy. I tipped him well and said farewell. I would continue to have Ganesh as my guide for the next trek. Everest base camp had not worked out due to poor weather in early November. Would I be successful in getting there on this second attempt?

Annapurna Sanctuary Base Camp- Part 2

From Chhomrong November 8, 2011, our trek took us down a very long and steep set of stone steps that I was not looking forward to coming back on to a river crossing and then a steep climb up through Sinuwa, 2360 m, and then a relatively upwards but less steep traverse until we reached our destination of Himalaya, 2920 m. The weather was much warmer and I was finally able to wear shorts to trek during the day. The timing for the weather to get better was just right. We were certainly approaching the entrance to the Annapurna Sanctuary. The higher up you go as a solo trekker the less likely you are able to get your own room. In Himalaya I shared a room with Jurich a very interesting man from Switzerland who spends a lot of time traveling on his own in the most interesting places all over the world. He had trekked in Nepal several times previously and had just completed a solo venture of the Annapurna Circuit and was now going up to the sanctuary. We had had quite a bit of elevation gain the previous day over a short time period. From Himalaya we had another significant elevation gain to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC as it is known), 3700 m but we had wonderful views of Machhapuchhre Mountain- this is a holy mountain and it is forbidden to climb it. We were having a relatively good hike but I noticed that our porter seemed to be moving much more slowly. He again was quite stoic and did not say anything. When we arrived at MBC he finally divulged to the guide that he was feeling unwell and had a headache. This was likely initial altitude sickness. We decided it was best for him to stay at MBC and gave him a full dosage of Diamox with clear instructions that if he was not feeling better after resting he was to descend back to Deurali at 3200 m. I would proceed onwards with the guide and just overnight supplies up to Annapurna Base Camp, 4130 m (ABC as it is known) that afternoon. The weather was clear and I seemed to be keen on getting up to ABC. The guide felt it might be wiser to stay at MBC and get up early to hike up to ABC in the morning. I decided on the former plan of action but should have listened to the guide. My initial reasoning was to experience both a sunset and sunrise at ABC.

We arrived at ABC at approximately 3:30 PM. From base camp you can walk upwards to view a huge gravel and rock moraine as well as visit a memorial to Mountaineering Guide Anatoli Boukreev who was killed in an avalanche in Annapurna. During our afternoon, the sky was clear and the views were fantastic. The shade was already creeping into the Annapurna Sanctuary valley. Once the sun goes down it becomes quite cold. I was surprised at the number of people at base camp. For some reason I expected this area to be quite wild and remote. It seemed very congested because the base camp is located over a relatively small area. It just didn’t feel relaxed. The food was not very good because so many people had to be served at the same time. This detracted from the experience. Again, the experience was somewhat tempered by lovely conversation with some Swiss and Spanish gentlemen as we talked into the evening. There was also a full moon which was well worth seeing. However, the sleep that night was awful. Because I was solo, I had to share a dormitory room with eight other strangers. Two of them snored loudly, one of them passed gas with gusto all night and one individual screamed out repetitively likely from nightmares. We were also located right next to the shared bathroom and my sleep was interrupted repetitively with sounds no one should hear. It was also very cold.

I thought the next morning the previous night’s experience could be balanced with a lovely sunrise and some photography November 10, 2011. I got up and went out at 6 AM and was greeted by about 200 other people with the same idea. It just wasn’t worth setting up to do any photography when you don’t feel relaxed. I simply enjoyed the sunrise and captured it with my minds eye. At breakfast I was surprised to meet up with Sam and Vanessa, the British couple, again who had stayed at MBC the previous night and hiked up to ABC early that morning. They said it was very quiet at MBC and they enjoyed a wonderful evening looking at the stars and happened to have an astronomer at MBC who educated them about the lovely night sky. I should have listened to the guide. I think he suspected it would not be a relaxing experience at ABC. Oh well, live and learn-what I learned was to listen to the guide’s advice!

That day, we left ABC and had a long and steep descent picking up Krishna at Deurali (who was feeling much better after having followed our advice) and we continued to descend all of the way to Sinuwa, 2860 m. I noticed on the descent that our guide was moving very slowly which was unusual for him. The temperature was quite warm and I had noticed that both the guide and the porter did not drink a lot of water on the treks and never wore hats. They never seem to complain. After some education, I strongly advised that he and the porter consume a lot more water. It is amazing the difference that this made. The only downside was that they got progressively stronger and quicker and much harder to keep up with! I enjoyed a hot shower in Sinuwa and shared a room with a lovely professor from Seattle, Washington. He had what sounded like a pneumonia so I had to do a little doctoring which he appreciated. I also met a lovely woman from Sacramento who was studying the local birds as well as a lovely young Australian woman (who also required some doctoring for absolutely atrocious bilateral posterior heel blisters), her stepmother and her anesthesiologist father. The evening was filled with lively conversation. One of the highlights of trekking in Nepal is the people that you meet at the guest houses. I was shocked at how quickly the time was passing though and this trek was soon coming to an end. Would the final days make up for the experience at ABC?

A change in plans Annapurna Sanctuary Base Camp- Part 1

I awoke November 3, 2011 with every intention of flying out to start my Everest base camp trek. However, we knew we were in trouble when we arrived at the airport and met another couple who were there for the third consecutive day also trying to get a flight out to Lukla. Alas, it was not to be. I subsequently found out that no flights in or out of Lukla had occurred since October 31, 2011. The weather did not look like it was going to clear. After waiting in the airport until 10:30 AM I had a brief discussion with Ramesh by cell phone and we decided to switch our plans. I would start with the Annapurna Sanctuary base camp trek first. Because we had already missed the tourist bus from Kathmandu which leaves early in the morning to Pokhara, a private hire car was arranged (believe me, this is much preferable to the tourist bus) and after four hours we arrived in Pokhara where I would overnight prior to starting the trek the following day. I was actually quite happy to leave Kathmandu and as we drove further away from this sprawling metropolis I felt better and better. The air was cleaner and the views became increasingly beautiful. The condition of the road to Pokhara was another matter. The roads in Nepal are in the atrocious shape. They are quite unsafe. Luckily we had a superb driver who was very careful. On the way to Pokhara we picked up our porter Krishna who was quite a slight young man of 22 years of age. He did not seem to know a lot of English and was quite quiet on the drive up. About two hours into the drive he suddenly rolled down the window and proceeded to vomit. Unfortunately a lot of it ended up in the vehicle. He did not say anything to the driver or our guide so I informed them and we stopped the vehicle and cleaned him up. I was wondering how he would do for the next 12 days on this relatively gruelling trek. He stated he was okay and only had some car motion sickness as the roads are very serpentine.

November 4, 2011 at 0945 H after a taxi drive of two hours from Pokhara to our starting point for the trek of Nayapul, 1070 m, we were on our way. I was very excited. Initially, the trek seemed quite easy. Then, we started with the stone steps numbering approximately 3400 to our initial destination of Ulleri. Who needs a stair-master? I was not really used to this type of hiking. Initially, I wondered if I would be able to complete the trek if this was what it entailed. However it is amazing what the body adapts to and after several hundred one does get into a rhythm of sorts. We eventually ended up at our first guest house at Ulleri, 1960 m, where I met a very pleasant couple from England, Sam and Vanessa, and spent the afternoon chatting with them. This would be a recurrent theme. When you travel solo you tend to meet people at the guest houses in the evening over tea or dinner. Conversations naturally start-up. The guest houses were very basic, made with clapboard, with no heating and usually just a simple wood plank bed with thin mattress and table were provided. There was usually a shared squat toilet. Separate indoor and outdoor dining areas were provided for meals. Usually at night the temperature got relatively cold so indoor dining was the way to go. The meals were basic but more than adequate. I am very happy I decided to bring that down air mattress as it made for a much more comfortable sleep. As there was not much to do at the guest houses bedtime usually occurred at 7:30 PM. Unbelievable. However, over time, this proved to be a sensible bedtime in order to get enough sleep to recover from the days trekking.

November 5, 2011 we trekked to Ghorepani, 2860 m, which included more stone steps but eventually switched to a forest trail which was much more pleasant. The trek was only about three hours. There was a beautiful stream with small waterfalls along the way which made the trek very pleasant. The weather continued to be quite overcast and one could not see the surrounding Himalayan mountains. It seems our decision to proceed with the Annapurna trek was a wise one. It seemed unlikely that flights were going to Lukla. As it was quite overcast, we decided not to hike up to Poon Hill, 3198 m, in the afternoon. We would complete the hike to Poon Hill the following morning getting up at 4:30 AM in order to do this. This side trek was also important for acclimatization. This location affords a wonderful view of the Annapurna Sanctuary when the weather is clear. Many people actually just hike up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill and skip the Annapurna Sanctuary altogether for an easier trek. That evening I met some pleasant gentleman, Tim and Larry, who were coming down from the Annapurna Sanctuary. They had clear skies up at the sanctuary which encouraged me.

November 6, 2011 we awoke at 4:30 AM and started the trek up to Poon Hill. I knew it was not going to be a pleasant experience when I walked out of the guesthouse and saw a line of approximately 30 hikers with headlamps on proceeding up the trail. We set a furious pace to bypass all of the people going up the trail ahead of us but when we arrived at the top of Poon Hill we were were greeted by approximately 200 other hikers! On top of this the sky did not clear and there were no views at all of the Annapurna Sanctuary. The only good thing was the vendor who provided a wonderful cup of hot milk tea to enjoy encompassed by the throngs. We quickly hiked down back to the guesthouse had breakfast and proceeded onwards to our destination of Tadapani,  2630 m. There was a relatively steep hike up through Deurali Pass but then a very steep descent through an absolutely gorgeous slash of a canyon with a beautiful stream running down beside the trail. The colors of the surrounding vegetation was amazing. I really enjoyed this stretch as it was much less traveled as many people from Ghorepani would not be proceeding onwards up to the sanctuary. We then had a lovely lateral traverse with a shorter climb up to our eventual destination. The guesthouse at Tadapani was probably the worst guest house on this trek. Most of the guest houses were quite acceptable, although basic, but this one seemed particularly rundown and shabby. My room was no bigger than a standard closet. My saving grace at dinner was to meet another Canadian couple Barbara and Paul who were actually from Okotoks, Alberta. Imagine coming all of this way to Nepal and when you meet fellow Canadians they happen to live where you do! We had a lovely dinner conversation and played cards with some of the Nepalese porters who particularly seem to enjoy this form of recreation. They were very animated.

November 7, 2011 we had a later start because of the particularly long day yesterday and enjoyed a lovely trek of approximately 3 hours to probably my favourite village on this particular trek Chhomrong, 2170 m. The guesthouse was lovely and very inviting and the actual village was larger and just seemed to have a much better feel to it. There were more services and this was also the location where our weather started to clear and we got our first views of the Annapurna Sanctuary mountains poking through the clearing cloud. Fantastic! There was also a Nepalese bakery with wonderful chocolate rolls that I purchased for myself the guide and porter as a treat. I was also able to have the true hot shower and shave which does seem to make all of the difference. I felt completely refreshed after visiting this lovely village. Would it last?

Crazy Kathmandu

I actually arrived in Kathmandu November 1, 2011. The flight from Paro, Bhutan only took approximately one hour but unfortunately I did not get a view of Mount Everest on the way in. The airport was an experience in itself.  After landing, there was an extremely long and very slow line in order to get your entry visa. The process was done manually and involved several agents inexplicably. This process actually took much longer than the flight from Bhutan. Once I was through I was able to finally exit the airport and was greeted by about 2 million taxi drivers all wanting my business. It took me a while to get through the crowd but I eventually found Ramesh who was organizing my Nepal trip as well as Ganesh my guide for the next one month.

Driving from the airport to my downtown hotel was also quite an experience. This was the first time I was in a very large Asian city in a developing country. I was simply not prepared for the crowds, the cacophony of continual blaring car and motorcycle horns as well as the general filth and lack of sanitation. It was quite overwhelming and I must admit I took an immediate dislike to the city. It was such a shock from the tranquility and beauty of the high country of Bhutan. Animals were seen roaming and freely defecating everywhere and I saw throngs of people picking through garbage for useful items. The level of poverty was shocking. I tried not to display my shock to my very pleasant hosts who were most friendly. Ramesh, in particular, spoke extremely good English with a Canadian accent.

Ramesh, the tour operator

My hotel was located in the tourist district of Thamel, Kathmandu. This area was full of trekking companies, trekking stores, arts and craft stores as well as numerous restaurants and most of the tourist hotels. It was absolutely packed with action and people. It is part of Kathmandu but not representative of the true culture of the city. In this area it was more common for me to be greeted with “do want to buy and smoke some hash?” as apposed to the proper Nepali greeting of “Nasmste”! After getting settled in my hotel the plan was for my guide Ganesh to take me out to Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square a World Heritage Site Monument Zone. This was located in the heart of the ancient city of Kathmandu and is a complex of beautiful temples and shrines both Hindu and Buddhist. Most of these structures are built-in the pagoda style embellished with intricately carved exteriors built between the 12th and 18th centuries. It is a living open museum of Nepal. I tried out the video function of my camera and have included a short clip of a dance performance we saw that night.

We were able to walk to the Square from my hotel and during this time I learned the fine art of navigating people, motorcycles, rickshaws as well as cars which all seem to move en masse in a beautiful chaos. One has to be quick-witted and surefooted. I am happy to say I survived the process.

After visiting the Square, Ganesh took me out for my first Nepali dinner. It was absolutely delicious. At this point I was still not brave enough to eat with my hands which is the Nepali style. Sleep came easily that night despite the loud rumbling of the nearby Nepali dance bar blaring out music into the late evening.

November 2, 2011 was a full day of touring three other World Heritage Sites located in or nearby Kathmandu. These included Bhaktapur, Pashhupatinath as well as Boudhanath. We also toured the Monkey Palace to finish off our day.

Bhaktapur has the status of being the Cultural Capital of Nepal. Geographically it is shaped like a conch shell and geometrically designed into the Tantric fabric shaped Shree Yantra, it dates back to the early seventh century A.D. and is spread over an area of approximately 7 km². Approximately 80,000 people live in this particular location. Many arts and crafts including painting, carving, masonry, bronze-casting, jewelry-making and pottery continue to be actively practiced here. It is also where I purchased my Mandela Thanka. I believe I paid more than I should have (I have subsequently learned how to bargain more effectively) but it is a lovely piece and if you do not know what it is you will just have to come over to my house to see it once I have it framed.

The Pashupati Temple is one of the most venerated Hindu temples in the world. It is an international center of pilgrimage and Hindu devotees from all over the world come here. The holy complex extends along both banks of the sacred Bagman River. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and houses a lingam or his phallic symbol. This is also the location where many Hindus cremate their loved ones when they pass on. We witnessed two such cremations. One can also find numerous “holy men” in this area. They are fascinating characters dressed extremely ornately and colourfully. They own no possessions and spend most of their time in meditation and prayer but are always open to being paid to be photographed. I passed on this opportunity as I generally do not believe in paying to photograph people. The architecture is quite spectacular in this area. Non-Hindus are not allowed into the actual temple.

Boudhanath contains the great Buddhist stupa. It is a jewel point in the center of a natural mandala, a store of sacred energy. It is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Buddhists. It towers above a small Tamang village that since the arrival of Tibetan refugees in the 1960s has become the centre of a thriving town of monasteries, craftsmanship and businesses. It is the principal centre of Himalayan Buddhist worship and studies in the Kathmandu Valley.

The Monkey Palace certainly lives up to its name with a large variety of monkeys roaming freely amongst several artisans. There are also innumerable handicraft shops selling goods. The location affords a full view of the metropolis of Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the day we were there it was quite smoggy and foggy so we could not fully appreciate the breadth of this very large city.

My initial dislike of Kathmandu was certainly tempered by these beautiful locations and the histories behind them. Perhaps I could come to actually like Kathmandu but time would tell. I was actually relatively tired after all of this touring but enjoyed a wonderful meal with Ramesh, Elsie James and her daughter. Elsie and her daughter had just completed a health camp to assist some of the very poor and orphaned children in Kathmandu. It was very touching to hear of their experiences. Unfortunately Elsie’s husband was quite gravely ill at home and they would not be staying for the entire month of November as planned and were able to book urgent flights out to Calgary within a few days to be by his bedside. My thoughts and prayers went with them. I went to bed early as November 3rd I was due to attempt to fly out to Lukla to start the Everest portion of my trekking in Nepal. Of course Lukla is infamous as one of the most dangerous airports in the world to fly into and flights are often canceled due to poor weather as the pilots are required to fly into the airport by visual approach only and not instrument. Would I make it?

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Day 8-Tiger’s Nest and Paro

This was our final full day in Bhutan. After a heavenly sleep and excellent breakfast we proceeded into Paro. Three of us would not be going to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Gerry elected to continue to recover at the resort, Lorraine and Terry decided after going up to the parking lot of the Tiger’s Nest to return to Paro to shop and then return to the resort for a massage. The rest of us proceeded up approximately 400 m to the monastery. It is a popular destination and there were quite a few people. It was a good climb and we enjoyed the visit to the monastery. It really is in a dramatic location and very photogenic.

Tiger’s Nest Elevation

Afterwards we had lunch in Paro and then a free afternoon just to wander around town. I was able to purchase an original oil painting of prayer flags which was one of my intended purchases. I also took a few casual photographs walking around town. We then returned to the resort and had a final dinner with Krishna and Phuntsho finally joining us so we could all eat together a final time. It was a nice way to end the day and trek. We returned to our respective rooms and slept well.

The next morning we had breakfast and on our way to the airport stopped to watch some archery which is the national sport of Bhutan. The accuracy and animation of the archers was a sight to behold. We then continued to the airport where I would be flying onwards to Nepal to continue my trekking departing from the group. They would all continue to Bangkok and then go their respective ways. I was sorry to see the group go. They were a great group of people to experience Bhutan with. We promised later in the year to get together to reminisce and review our pictures. I promised to complete the blog and share it with the others. Promise kept!

Overall, trekking in Bhutan was an amazing experience. Remote, wild and unspoiled surroundings. We really felt like we were apart from the world free to enjoy the sensory and visual experiences the countryside had to offer. The trekking was difficult but very rewarding knowing we could truly climb mountains and achieve our dreams of visiting Shangri-La. Regarding statistics- including the hike up to the initial village as well as Tiger’s Nest- the total distance travelled was 60 km, 3940 m elevation ascent and 4692 m descent. For now, it was now onwards to Nepal. How would it stack up relative to Bhutan? Time would tell.

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Bhutan Trek- Day 7

This was our final trek day. We were all saddened by this but were heartened by Gerry’s rapid recovery. He was still ill but felt so much better after some rest. We were all thrilled that he was able to join us for the entire final hike day out. He is one tough cookie. We were going to have a relatively steep ascent to Shingko Teng at 4170 m but then a major descent back to Bangena at 2713 m. Terry had felt the previous six days of trekking were particularly hard on her knees. She had prior injuries from sports related trauma. It was her turn to take some mule medicine- it’s really good for what ails you. Once we got up to Shingko Teng we had an absolutely spectacular descent through beautiful old growth forest with abundant vegetation. It was quite a change from what we had experienced over the previous six days. The temperature also became warmer and warmer. I think all of us became rather introspective as we enjoyed the descent and reflected on the experiences we had had over the previous one week. We all felt very proud of ourselves when we finally exited at the trailhead. We were provided with biscuits and hot milk tea from Ugyen, Tsewang’s wife, as congratulations for the completion of our trek. What a heartwarming gesture.

Bhutan Trek Elevation Profile

After saying goodbye to the camp staff we loaded ourselves into our van driven again by Krishna whom we had not seen for about one week. We drove through Haa and then drove over Chele la Pass, the highest road in Bhutan at 3810 m. It was getting quite dark but we did appreciate the view from the top. We also finally saw a yak on this return trip. This road provided a much quicker way to return to Paro and we were all thrilled when we finally arrived at our hotel resort. The resort and the rooms were like a palace compared to the tents we had been living in over the last seven days. We all enjoyed hot showers, a wonderful dinner with wine and beer and then settled in to a well-deserved slumber. Tomorrow would be our last full day in Bhutan and we were scheduled to visit Tigers Nest Monastery at 3100 m as a final destination. We still had one hike to do. Not everyone elected to do this. For some a trekkers’ massage was just what the doctor ordered.

Bhutan Trek- Day 6

It was very cold the previous night. It probably got down to -20°C. There was frost inside some of the tents and some of the water froze even though it was inside the tents. However, in the morning the sun came out and life was good again. The views from our grassy shelf were outstanding. This was a glorious morning. We all had the chance to sit by ourselves and looked out over an amazing panorama before us. True meditation.

The only dark cloud was Gerry who had developed a fever, rapid breathing at rest and chest congestion with lying flat. He had a very challenging night. His energy levels were very low but the good news was he was surrounded by at least three physicians. He was diagnosed with pneumonia. He had been started on antibiotics the evening prior. We had a long day ahead of us and we still had to achieve our highest altitude on the trek. Gerry insisted on initially starting the steep climb from camp but it became evident that he would not be able to complete the hike that day. A mule to the rescue again! Amazing animals. This was provided by the staff and grudgingly Gerry agreed to ride most of the way on the mule to our next campsite. We also decided to not go as far this day as we originally were supposed to. This was because we also wanted to camp at a lower elevation to assist with Gerry’s respiratory recovery. This proved to be a wise decision. The rest of us continued on the steep ascent and achieved our highest altitude at 4465 m where we placed the remainder of our prayer flags. It was the perfect spot to do this. With the blowing wind and high altitude we were sure our prayers would blow through back to Canada. It was an inspiring moment.

We would travel approximately 13 km from Nub Tshona Patta to below the climb to Shingko Teng at 4170 m. Overall it was a very relaxing day and we were happy to make camp in a beautiful location back finally amongst some trees including some brilliant yellow larches. When we arrived we were happy to see that Gerry had already shown some recovery and was resting comfortably. He took his mule medicine and found it acceptable. He unfortunately missed out on the smoked salmon that Jill had brought for a snack that evening. We happily consumed his portion-hey, altruism has its limits. Earlier I forgot to mention that Jill provided snacks from a seemingly endless supply from her pack for the entire group for the entire trek. Thank you Jill. We were fast approaching the end of our trek. Hard to believe. It was an amazing experience. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Bhutan Trek- Day 5

Our mission today on October 28, 2011 was to trek approximately 12 km from Bachu to Nub Tshona Patta. The trail again involved a relatively steep initial pitch to a nearby hill and then passed gently through rocky gradients with rhododendron bushes on either side of the trail to get to Ahri Teng. The trail then descended along the Ahri Teng Bja to Sheychhu at 4120 m. The descent here again was very steep and slippery with rhododendron bushes surrounding us. A very steep uphill climb then started until we reached our highest point thus far in the trek Sheypezey at 4444 m. We then had a gradual descent into the meadows of the Nub Tshona Patta valley. The camp was set up at Lura 4177 m as opposed to the bank of the lake at 4100 m. I do not believe the lake had a name but it was a holy and revered lake.

I must say this campsite was perhaps the most picturesque looking out towards China/Tibet with the beautiful and protected Torsa Strict Nature Reserve below our feet. Torsa is the only wildlife reserve in Bhutan and has no resident human population. We eagerly had dinner and watched in amazement as lightning lit up a far ridge line in the distance. The sky was clear and the sheltering sky was full of billions of stars. Enchanting. This was the most lovely of evenings. It was very cold but well worth sitting outside just to look at the sky and the flashes of lightning off in the distance. Sleep came easily. The memory of this special night will remain forever.

Bhutan Trek- Day 4

October 27, 2011 found us awakening to a beautiful sunny day with no wind. Fantastic- what a gorgeous campsite. It had cleared up overnight but was quite cold last night after the gale force winds that blew in as we were just going to sleep. Our mission today was to trek from Tshelu Tshokha Ya la to Bachu approximately 15 km or seven hours away. Today was a very strenuous trek day. We started with an uphill pitch (what a surprise) which brought us along the shores of Tshelu Tshokha Lake. This is a very picturesque lake which is surrounded by a huge rock wall. On one side of the lake there are erected pillars for making offerings to a deity Akhoe Gyem (a Bon practice). Apparently during the months of September through to October many pilgrims from Haa and the Paro region trek here to make their annual offerings. It was a perfect place to put up some of the prayer flags we had purchased in Thimphu. We did not see any blue sheep on the nearby rocky slopes. Too bad. Prayer flags are often placed on the top of mountain passes, over bridges and streams so that the prayers can be blown or carried by the water far down from their origin in order to spread the prayer message-such a lovely concept.

Bev was relatively ill last night with gastrointestinal symptoms and was vomiting. She was well taken care of by the staff. They really watch out for you here. She was quite weak so for the steep pitch up from Tshelu Tshokha lake they provided a mule to assist her. What service! I think the rest of us were a little bit jealous that we had to hike up the very steep and rocky pitch. They placed her looking backwards at times on the mule which was apparently a better position for the rider and mule alike.

Her husband Dave also had some gastrointestinal symptoms but these were starting to settle. Nothing infectious which was reassuring. I developed an irritated cough but nothing serious. I think it was more annoying to the other trek participants more than anything. Lorraine and Jill are quite sure I have some underlying tuberculosis. Ha!  One thing you learn in life is that sometimes hard work is rewarded. When we reached Gompa Teng at 4356 m we were were rewarded with a clear view of 4 snow capped Himalayan peaks off in the distance. What a moment. We were able to view Mount Jhumolhari as well as Mount Kanchen Jonga. I cannot remember the names of the other two peaks. We were given yak cheese at the top which was very hard and stayed that way.

We then descended along a very steep, snowy series of switchbacks through rugged rocky trails to get to Gor Tsho 4130 m, another beautiful lake where we had lunch and more spectacular views of Mount Jhumolhari and then continued to descend until we reached a stream. Looking back at the switchback we were all amazed that we had actually come down it. We renamed it the Khumbu ice field II- it looked every bit as treacherous. The trail then gradually ascended along the stream and after crossing it on the right there was another steep uphill path leading to Bache Dingkha 4325 m.  At this point Bev was placed back on the mule to have a leisurely ride into camp. The staff had gone ahead to set up camp and actually brought one mule back up the very steep pitch so that she could be assisted. We continued to be amazed with their commitment to our comfort and safety. We then continued to hike for another 90 minutes to reach our next camp at Bachu 4135 m. This was another big trekking day- I think everyone felt this day with so many height gains and losses.

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