Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for December, 2011

Amazing Hong Kong

As I write this post, it is December 3, 2011. I arrived in Hong Kong yesterday early in the morning. What a difference compared to Kathmandu. Kathmandu has many challenges but over time I grew to appreciate some of it’s charms. In contrast, I immediately loved Hong Kong. So much action, activity, polite people and despite its size an extremely clean city. I am amazed at the number of cleaners they have out for example in Kowloon Park continually sprucing up the place. If you love shopping (I do not personally) this is surely heaven. The number of stores is overwhelming. Everything from inexpensive bakeries all the way up to extremely high-end shops selling the most exclusive goods. Even though there are many people you hardly ever hear any car horns unlike Kathmandu. Everything is orderly and everything works. This is another distinct difference compared to Kathmandu. There was an underlying sense of brokenness and decay in Kathmandu. Hong Kong exudes energy and enthusiasm. The other thing that became immediately obvious was that it was Xmas shopping season. Decorations and Xmas music blaring out everywhere. I left Canada mid-October so I guess Xmas is a coming and mighty soon.

I arrived yesterday, as mentioned, quite early and could not check into my room until 2 PM. This afforded me the perfect opportunity to cruise downtown Kowloon on foot since I had so much practice walking over the previous six weeks. Everyone in Kathmandu is trying to sell you all manner of goods. In Hong Kong the only people who try to sell you goods in the streets are the tailors. There must be thousands of tailors in Hong Kong. It seems everyone wanted to sell me a new custom-made suit. During my morning I visited the beautiful centrally located Kowloon Park. What a mecca of peacefulness in the centre of this busy city. It had a wonderful aviary, beautiful sculptures and many people practicing tai chi, martial arts and swordsmanship. The weather was warm (about 23 C) and beautiful with blue skies. It is amazing how cheaply one can eat in Hong Kong. Taxis are always available to take you anywhere you want to go for a reasonable price. It seems the only type of taxi available is a Toyota Crown Custom LPG automobile (in Kathmandu it was broken down and barely legal Suzuki Maruti’s). Not all of the taxi drivers have a good command of English so it is a good idea to be aware of major landmarks around where you want to go or where you are coming from. As an example, on December 3 traveling back from a hike on Dragon’s Back I asked the taxi driver to take me to the YMCA on Salisbury Road. After driving through the expensive districts of Refuse Bay and Stanley (both lovely by the way) he happily stopped and wanted to drop me off at South Gate Way. After a lot of confusion, I decided it was best he just drop me off at the Star Ferry near Kowloon which he seemed to understand. In his broken English he was very apologetic.

After getting back to my hotel at 2 PM, I was informed that because the hotel was so booked with an open house they were having the next day that they were upgrading my room. Excellent. The room was absolutely palatial compared to what I had experienced over the previous six weeks. The upgraded room had a separate suite and a beautiful view over the downtown area. It was extremely comfortable. Needless to say I had a wonderful sleep to make up for the lack of sleep the previous night on the flight over.

I actually slept in on December 3 and finally got out of bed at 10:30 AM! Wow I guess I needed that sleep. I then had a quick breakfast and took a taxi drive out to the Dragon’s Back Trail. This is a wonderful hike if you find you have time and are in Hong Kong. Within 25 to 30 minutes it’s like you have left the city. It is so quiet and the views are panoramic. The weather was perfect. Certainly all my high altitude hiking helped over the previous six weeks as this hike seemed very easy. You basically get up to a high point of approximately 284 m over undulating hiking trail hence the name of Dragon’s “Back”. I have attached the elevation profile because I have finally figured out how to do this from my GPS!  One must do something with the data from these tech-toys!

Dragon’s Back Elevation Profile

When I completed half of the hike I decided to completely descend to a lovely village on the beach which was very quiet and a great place just to reflect on the experiences I have had over the previous six weeks. I then double-backed on the same trail and along the way watched a paraglider take off from the slopes and gently ride the thermals and when I got back to the start point I took a cab back to my hotel. Overall, a nice little hike- total distance 11.6 km and total ascent cumulative 542 m. I had a fantastic dinner and will go out to walk around downtown to simply soak the ambience of this fantastic city this evening. My plan tomorrow morning is to get up early and to do a run along the nearby promenade. I try to do a long-distance run in every city that I visit. The mornings are generally very quiet and it is a wonderful way to explore a city. I regret to say I did not do this in Kathmandu. It just didn’t seem like it was a safe , healthy or particularly pleasurable thing to do in that particular city.

After my run I plan to have a leisurely breakfast and again simply walk along the promenade enjoying my final hours in the city. I fly out of Hong Kong International at about 4:30 PM December 4 and will arrive back in Calgary December 4 as well late afternoon.

What a fantastic trip this has been. So many wonderful experiences and wonderful people. I hope this blog was able to communicate to you some of the experiences that I had on this wonderful journey. I hope you enjoyed the photographs and also the narrative. I tried to be as entertaining and brief as I could. Certainly with many of you I will further expand on my experiences when I am back in Calgary. Who knows where the next adventure will take me. Certainly Patagonia in Chile is one place that I really want to visit, hike and camp in. Perhaps that will be where you will next find me. For now I sign off, however, I plan to keep the blog active even for some of my local adventures so check back often. Goodbye for now. As always, a few pictures for you to enjoy.

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What I learned in Nepal

1. Many problems can be solved with a hot cup of tea.

2. Most of the world does not shower everyday.

3. The minority of people in the world use flush toilets squatting is just as effective.

4. Nepalese people are kind, gentle and warm-hearted.

5. Always choose the less traveled routes not always the most popular.

6. If you are trekking upwards and come to a junction the correct trail is always the one heading uphill.

7. Smaller guesthouses may not always have as many facilities as larger ones but provide a better service.

8. When trekking on an incessantly steep upward trail don’t forget to look up and breathe.

9. Avoid local buses if you can.

10. Dal Bhat is a gift from the gods.

11. Nepalese trail maps are not to be trusted in terms of spelling or in calculating travel times.

12. In Nepal bargain for everything but be reasonable.

13. If you are a citizen of Canada be thankful. Many people all over the world envy you.

14. Step outside your comfort zone and travel to developing countries.

15. Walking is very good for your health.

16. Namaste is a beautiful greeting.

My trip is rapidly coming to an end but I will try to post one or two more times regarding my time spent in Hong Kong. Stay tuned. I hope you have found the blog entertaining and useful. Namaste.


A few extra bits

I am now presently in Hong Kong. It is December 2, 2011. I left Kathmandu, Nepal at approximately midnight yesterday and arrived in Hong Kong at approximately 6 AM this morning. What a difference a change in countries makes. Hong Kong seems like paradise. It is extremely clean and even though it is busy it does not have the same sense of chaos as Kathmandu. Everything works as it should in Hong Kong very little works properly in Nepal. I did get a little bit of sleep on the plane last night however Hong Kong is so exciting I spent the day touring the downtown area. I can always get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow I will hike the “Dragon’s Back” which is only 20 minutes out of the downtown but gets you out into a wilderness area. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for the suggestion Lorraine.

Thank you all for the comments through the blog site. In this post I will try to answer some of the queries that came through the comments section. This one is for you Walter.

In an earlier post I spoke about the gear I brought to Bhutan and Nepal. I am happy to say that I pretty much used everything I brought and everything worked perfectly. In particular, the smaller camera gear was much easier to carry and it still gave me excellent quality files for some eventual large-sized prints. The camera worked flawlessly even down to temperatures of about -10°C in the morning. The lithium polymer battery pack was also an excellent choice. I had no worries for up to two weeks on each of the treks with regards to power as I charged the battery pack in Kathmandu prior to going out on the trek each time. I did not even have to use the solar panels for charging. Your alternate option if you did not want to bring this device is to bring three or four camera batteries fully charged as well as a relatively large memory card perhaps two 32 GB memory cards would be plenty. Just remember if you are trekking for a good portion of the day you are less likely to take hundreds of photographs. I certainly found this was the case. Some of the hikes were gruelling so it was hard to wake up in the morning to set up for sunrise shots. I suspected this would be the case. I still feel a tripod or monopod is essential for certain photographs including soft water shots, low light shots including sunrise and sunset. Just try to get a relatively light and strong tripod.

The GPS was excellent and it had no problems tracking us. It is useful if you enjoy summary data but is not absolutely essential. If you are going to blog a digital voice recorder is essential in order to record information on the day so one could refer back to it as I often did not have access to the Internet for up to 10 to 14 days after events occurred. A very good quality headlamp is also essential. Many guesthouses do not provide any artificial light and it is helpful in the morning or if you arrive later in the evening.

It is also not absolutely essential if you want to travel light, to bring a sleeping bag or down sleeping pad. However, just be aware that some of the mattress pads provided are extremely poor quality and thin and you will have an uncomfortable night. Not all guesthouses provided blankets but most did. I still feel a reasonable quality sleeping bag -5°C would be adequate and a smaller sleeping pad then I brought would be adequate for most needs.

Regarding water purification, most guesthouses provide filtered water however it is in the form of plastic bottles which adds to environmental waste. Also be aware that the cost of filtered water increases the higher in elevation you get. For example in Kathmandu you can purchase one leader of filter water for 30  Nepalese Rupees but you may pay as much as 200 Nepalese rupees up at several of the base camps. I was much happier using my Katadyn water purifier and filter water bottle. This provides an all-in-one solution and if you want to be extra careful just bring along extra chemical treatment with Pristine water purification drops.

A very portable washing system involves approximately 60 mL of biodegradable liquid soap for 2 weeks, two J-cloth towels (for manual washing), a medium-sized pack towel and packages of antiseptic wipes. Not quite the same as a hot shower which is a rare commodity in Nepal but absolutely adequate for keeping yourself clean.

Remember not to bring too many clothes. Everything eventually gets dirty. Try to stick to dark colors which do not show dirt as much. I found I only needed 2 day changes of clothes and an evening change of clothes which gets you out of your smelly and dirty day clothes and feels so much better prior to going to sleep. I had very little rain or extremely cold temperatures so I really did not need the Gore-Tex top and bottom but it is always a good idea to be prepared. Gators were not required. Remember, if you use a porter your bag is carried by a human being. Generally you should keep your total weight between 11 to 15 kg. Unfortunately from what I saw this was not followed and many tour operators had individual porters carrying up to 70 kg! You do not need too much stuff.

While the trails at times can be very rocky and rough you really do not require full higher altitude hiking boots. An approach hiking shoe would be more than adequate. Please be very careful about Vibram soles. I do not feel they are required for hiking in Nepal and in fact can be quite treacherous on the wet rock and tree stumps. The soles just become too slippery and markedly increase the risk for a fall/injury. Crocs also work supremely well as they are light, washable and very comfortable to wear after the day’s hike. They are absolutely essential to wear for sanitation reasons to the bathroom or shower areas.

I usually am a big proponent of hiking poles but I did not bring any and did not miss them.

The food you receive at most of the guesthouses is more than adequate to meet your needs however you will still lose weight because of the huge caloric expenditure of trekking day after day if you are trekking between 3 to 6 weeks or greater. It seems like the menus are pretty standardized amongst guesthouses and after 3 to 4 weeks of trekking you will struggle to find a new selection to choose. They generally offer teas, pop, instant coffee, hot lemon, filter water, beer, soups (which are excellent- noodle, tomato, potato, lentil, mushroom and others), mo mo’s (stuffed dumplings steamed or fried), pastas including spaghetti, macaroni, Lasagna and variations, chicken chowmein and variations, spring rolls usually fried, Dal Bhat of course, tuna sandwiches in some locations, roasted and fried potatoes with cheese, occasional salads like coleslaw, desserts like apple fritters, apple pie and sometimes chocolate cake. I may be missing some menu items but you get the idea. At no point did I get any gastrointestinal illness from the food. Just try to be careful with some of your choices if you are concerned especially regarding locally made cheeses, unpasteurized milk or unpasteurized butter and salads unless you are absolutely sure in how they wash and prepare the salad. It is probably worthwhile to pick up high-energy snacks including nuts, power bars or chocolate bars in a local supermarket in Thamel as the prices are remarkably cheap compared to the prices you will pay out on the trail. It goes without saying that you must carry your own toilet paper. Assuming you don’t have a massive case of diarrhea 2 rolls for two weeks should be adequate. Remember to pack the toilet paper in a plastic baggie.

Regarding clothing, I found lightweight to mid-weight long distance running pants were ideal in terms of warmth and weight. They can also double as a second layer. A convertible long pant is also helpful. Marino wool tops are fantastic and do not produce much odour despite days of wear. It is an expense well worth considering. Make sure you have at least three pairs of lightweight hiking socks. There is no need for middle-weight or heavy-weight hiking socks. The temperatures during the day just don’t get that cold. A little bit of cushioning in the sole of the sock is helpful.

Do not bring expensive sunglasses. They will get scratched or you will lose them. Very cheap pairs can be picked up in Kathmandu prior. I did not find safety or theft issues were a problem at the guesthouses. Just use common sense. All of the guesthouses do provide locks for your room. Be much more careful if you are in a shared room or a dormitory. Remember, if you are hiking solo the higher in elevation you go the more likely you will not get an individual room. I did bring a small portable lock for my duffel.

Many people brought playing cards and reading material to pass some of the hours while you are not trekking. I preferred conversation with strangers and sitting outside looking at the stars on clear nights.

As always, make sure you see your travel physician and get adequate preventative medication prior to traveling. Markedly reduce the risk of altitude sickness by going slowly and not over exerting yourself, staying well hydrated, trying not to exceed >300 m elevation gains in a day, for every 1000 m gained take a rest/ acclimatization day and do not drink alcohol or take central nervous system depressant medication including sleeping pills at elevation.

A guide is not absolutely essential even though at times there can be challenges with a lack of trail markings. Most of these confusing junctions occur in or heading out of villages where generally there are plenty of people to ask for directions. Not having a guide provides you with the ultimate in setting your own schedule and relaxation. However, be aware that guides do act as an excellent interface with most guesthouses and certainly at higher elevations can get you better prices as there is a ” Nepalese price” and a ” tourist price”. Regarding arrangements it also reduces stress on decision-making for you. The Nepalese are very kind, honest and warmhearted people. They are the highlight of Nepal as far as I am concerned. It is nice to get to know them and provide some effective financial resources for them. It really is up to you.

I hope you find this information helpful if you are planning on trekking in the Himalayas in the future. Feel free to contact me to provide further information or to give you contact information for excellent guides. Again, Namaste.

Langtang Trek- Part 4

We left Thadepati Pass November 25, 2011 and had a steep descent down a beautiful forest trail under brilliant blue skies and then crossed a suspension bridge over a river and climbed up to Melamchigaon, 2530 m. We had a quick water break and then proceeded onwards to Tarkeghyang at 2600 m. At times we crossed a road which was the first evidence of a return to civilization. The guesthouse at Tarkeghyang was quite large. It was also very busy. We arrived in the early afternoon and the sun was very warm and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon chatting with Anna, a lovely German woman who was trekking on her own but had been to Nepal 30 years previously. She was revisiting some of the areas she had seen before. She was most interesting to talk to. Before we arrived at Tarkeghyang there was an absolutely beautiful Buddhist monastery and temple that we visited. It was in a beautiful location and very peaceful. I had a relatively early evening in order to continue the therapeutic process of improving my cough. It was starting to settle.

November 26, 2011 was a relatively easy day traveling to Sermathang, 2590 m. It was nice not to have massive elevation gains or losses. I think I had reached my fill of trekking and was looking forward to winding down. We arrived quite early in Sermathang and again stayed at a wonderful guesthouse. At this guesthouse I met Julie, a retired British schoolteacher who was doing volunteer work at the local school. To my delight Anna also showed up at the same guesthouse later that afternoon which made for a wonderful evening full of conversation and fantastic kitchen dining. The food was superb. The remainder of that afternoon I spent walking around the village and just enjoying myself and taking a few photographs. It was a very relaxing day.

November 27, 2011 we had the final leg of the Langtang trek. Our destination was Melamchi a relatively large town at 870 m. This final day did involve quite a bit of trekking on a road which seemed shocking after all of the trail we had been on. I perhaps would’ve chosen a different route down which did not involve this stretch but I think my tour organizer wanted to add distance and increase days to match the duration of the missed Everest trek. It was very hot on the descent and I was happy to reach Melamchi. I swear I was the only Caucasian tourist in this particular town. We stayed at a relatively comfortable hotel that was advertised as a beachfront hotel. I am not sure why they did this because all we had for views was a large construction area surrounding the hotel and a distant view of the Melamchi Khola. I enjoyed another wonderful Nepalese lunch meal eaten with my hands with the guide and the porter of Dal Bhat. I then walked around the town and enjoyed an afternoon exploring and taking a few photographs. At the river I was enthralled with two homeless men fishing for their dinner. That evening we had a quiet dinner and then settled into a peaceful slumber. The Langtang trek, and in fact all of my trekking, was completed. What a rewarding experience overall. This was a much quieter, more remote and in many ways more rewarding trek than Annapurna. The trek was approximately 187 km in duration with a total ascent of 12,417 m (yes, that is correct!) and a total descent of 14,059 m!  It was was a lot longer than Annapurna and more challenging.

Langtang Trek Elevation Profile

We got up early November 28, 2011 and after a simple breakfast proceeded to the bus stop and took the local bus back to Kathmandu. There were no tourist buses in this area due to its more remote location. If I thought the tourist bus from Pokhara was bad it was nothing compared to the local bus. This trip was actual torture. The bus was very old, eventually absolutely packed with people to unsafe levels and in it’s condition should have been condemned. Most of the seats were ripped and had no cushioning. The ride was bone jarring again. It took approximately 4 hours to get back to Kathmandu. I was never as happy to get off a bus as I was on this occasion. Through six weeks of trekking with massive elevation gains and losses I had no pain or discomfort. However, after this bus ride I had an extremely painful right shoulder and right lower back pain. 4 hours on this bus accomplished what six weeks of trekking could not do. Thank God for anti-inflammatories. I arrived back in Kathmandu and stayed at my original hotel The Eco-Resort in Thamel. it was a wonderful experience to have a hot shower, get a haircut and shave and sleep in a comfortable bed that evening. Ah… we do like our creature comforts!

My final tour in Kathmandu was on November 29, 2011 when I visited the local tertiary Kanti Children’s Hospital for approximately 3 1/2 hours. I spent so much time there I was unable to make it to the leprosy clinic afterwards. It was a fascinating experience and I met some very committed and wonderful Nepalese physicians who were able to speak to me about their experiences trying to provide care. A relatively fascinating individual was the head oncologist who had trained in Los Angeles between 2007-2010 but had returned to Nepal to provide oncology care for the local children. He was having a direct positive impact with relatively good outcomes despite having very poor financial support and limited pathology support including blood cultures. With induction chemotherapy he often had to guess what was producing fever because certain cultures for common organisms fungal and otherwise were not available. I also had the opportunity to meet with a British nurse who was here providing volunteer training on central venous line placement for chemotherapy. This would make a big difference to the comfort of the children during their treatment protocols. The sanitation and infection control in the hospital were challenging issues. It was an eye-opening experience and again I am so thankful to be living in Canada. It would be interesting to come back and provide some volunteer medical time in the hospital teaching or providing service. I will have to consider this in the future. The need is so great here.

The evening of November 29, 2011, the entire day of November 30, 2011 and December 1, 2011 were spent relaxing, touring the tourist areas of Thamel and catching up on the blog. I am now relatively caught up- yeah! As I dictate today it is December 1, 2011 and I leave Kathmandu at 11:30 PM this evening to fly to Hong Kong and will arrive December 2, 2011 at approximately 6 AM in the morning. I will spend a few days in Hong Kong before I return back to Canada. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time both in Bhutan as well as Nepal. I grew to enjoy in Nepal after my initial reservations and I must say that the people of Nepal are extremely generous, warm and very gentle. I am so impressed with them. They are passionate about their children and providing education and adequate health care to them. However the government does not really support them in this regard. There are so many challenges in Nepal. Many of the Nepalese also have a passion to learn English as they realize this provides a gateway to better paying jobs usually in the tourist industry. I will continue to add a few more blogs about Nepal while I am in Hong Kong. For now I will say “Namaste” packing awaits.

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Langtang Trek- Part 3

November 22, 2011 was the third massive trekking day in a row. Our goal was to get to Laurebina, 3910 m which would put us on the Gosainkund trek. Over the previous 18 hours we had a cumulative elevation gain of 3100 m. Unbelievable! It is amazing where your two feet can take you. However, my cough was worsening and I realized with the massive elevation gain that I would just have to slow down my pace in order to prevent any progression to pneumonia. I would really have to pace myself in order to get through the remainder of this very long trek without incident. From Landslide we had a relatively steep climb back to Thulo and then a very steep climb, which was exhausting, up to a viewpoint on a ridge where a lovely tea shop was located. We stopped here for lunch. We then continued a more gradual climb through beautiful forest on the ridge until we reached Cholangpati, 3654 m. This was supposed to be our destination however we could see Laurebina just above us on a relatively steep slope. We proceeded up the additional 300 m and arrived at the first guesthouse which was quite large. I was quite tired and wanted to stay at this guesthouse but the guide stated it would be better to climb an additional 50 m to the next guesthouse. Despite my reservations I learned from Annapurna to trust him. The next guesthouse looked extremely small and in much worse shape then the guesthouse we had passed on. I wondered about his logic. However, after staying there I understood. He informed me that as a solo trekker large guesthouses do not provide good service. They seem to cater to larger groups. The smaller guesthouses were often empty run by small families and provided much more personal service and better food for the solo trekker. This proved to be the case. I absolutely loved the smaller guesthouses and they treated me royally. I must say I had a wonderful sleep but this was certainly also due to the exhaustion with the previous three days of trekking. I think my aging body was starting to feel the cumulative effects of five weeks of gruelling trekking.

November 23, 2011 was supposed to be a relatively short day and climb to Gosainkund, 4165 m. This would be a day to catch up on rest. However, on arriving at the small village the guide informed me that because I was a solo trekker they were going to charge double the regular room rate. I felt this was quite unfair. We decided to hike onwards to Phedi. So much for the short day. This area was extremely wild, remote and with very few trekkers. Excellent. It was very rocky and we passed several Kunds or small lakes which added to the beauty of the trek. There was also a holy man who lived in the rocks with a very basic shelter at one of the larger Kunds which a small Buddhist temple. He apparently had lived there for the last 18 months and was committed to living there for another three years! He apparently was waiting for Vishnu to arise from the lake and tell him his life’s purpose. Apparently smoking hash made the wait more tolerable. What an interesting individual! We passed through Laurebina Pass at 4610 m and also reached the highest point at a cairn at 4770 m. We took a few photographs at this point. The sky was clear but it was relatively cold and windy. This did not help my cough. We then had a very rocky descent to Phedi at 3780 m. That evening we witnessed an absolutely spectacular sunset which I was able to photograph. There was no other habitation in this area except for the occasional guesthouse. It was really wild. The guesthouse was relatively loud and busy but I was able to get a reasonable sleep.

November 24, 2011 our goal was to reach Thadepati Pass, 3690 m. It was a rocky descent with a stop at Ghopte, 3430 m for a water break. We continued to trek and just prior to our final ascent to Thadepati Pass as I was going to take a picture I realized that I had lost my detachable electronic viewfinder for my camera. I typically carry my camera on an external holster attached to my backpack which makes it easier to take photographs on the fly. I had no trouble throughout the entire 5 1/2 weeks. Unfortunately the electronic viewfinder does not have a lock mechanism when it fits into the hot shoe. We went back about 1 km to look for it but to no avail. We decided the chances of finding it were slim so proceeded on to our destination. We arrived at Thadepati Pass which provided a wonderful view on top of the ridge and we were able to look back on the backend of the white-capped Dorje Himal range which extends all the way to the Tibet border. Fantastic views. I also had the pleasure of meeting another Canadian couple at this guesthouse who just happened to be from Calgary! What are the chances? We had a very pleasant afternoon relaxing and chatting in the warm sun. This was very therapeutic and started to have a positive effect on my cough. That evening at dinner a Spanish trekker showed up at our guesthouse and asked if anyone had lost an electronic viewfinder?  Apparently he had found it on the trail shortly after Ghopte where we had stopped for a water break. What luck! I was thrilled I would not have to purchase this camera accessory again. I told our guide good luck had followed us from the prayers he had made at the Kund where the holy man was located which had a series of prayer wheels and Buddhist temple. Even though my guide was Hindu whenever he passed any Buddhist temples or prayer wheels he always rang the bells and spun the prayer wheels. Would our good luck continue?

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Langtang Trek- Part 2

18, 2011 was the official start date of the Langtang trek. We had a relatively short day trekking from Dhunche to Thulo Syaphru, 2250 m. It was such a change from the incessant climbing of stone steps at Annapurna that I thought wow this is going to be easy! It was much more vegetated and the trails seemed much more like the trails we have at home. It was a very pleasurable and relaxing hike. I had another interesting experience when I passed through an army checkpoint exiting Dhunche. The guide and porter had gotten ahead of me so I passed through the checkpoint on my own. I was stopped by an army guard with a rifle who spoke quite good English. He asked me where I was from and what I did for a living. Upon hearing that I was a physician from Canada he started to tell me about his life and his wish to come to Canada. He was insistent that I help him achieve this goal. He said he had six more years of military service but then would be thrilled to come to Canada to be my personal secretary!  I related this story subsequently to a very humorous Scottish woman I met later on during the trek who at that time asked me ” was there anything in your manner that led him to believe that you were required a secretary?”. We had a good chuckle over this. Fortunately, the guide came back and saved me from this situation, however, I could not leave until I gave him an e-mail-thank God for phony e-mail addresses.

I had a lovely evening at the Lama guesthouse in Thulo. They had the most wonderful hot shower in all of Nepal. Even in Kathmandu I did not have as hot a shower as I did at this guesthouse. The food was excellent. The owners were very friendly and obviously of Tibetan origin. This was a recurrent theme on this trek. There was a very strong Tibetan influence throughout this entire region. Obviously many Tibetans had emigrated to Nepal as Tibet is located very close to the Langtang valley.

November 19, 2011 was an extremely long trekking day. We initially lost 300 m hiking down to Bamboo, 1970 m and then steadily climbed up to our eventual destination of Langtang, 3430 m. We must have hiked about 28 kilometers and we had a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 1500 m. We arrived at Langtang after nightfall at about 5:30 PM. Our porter struggled with the distance and elevation gain but did not develop altitude sickness. At one point at the army checkpoint entering the valley at 3030 m we had to stop as our porter was not following us. We waited for about 10 minutes and then the guide went back to find him and actually took his pack and carried it. I think he was just exhausted. We were all tired that day. So much for easy trekking. We stayed at a very small guesthouse that evening that was very basic and did not provide lighting in the sleeping area. Thank God for the headlamp. We ate dinner in their actual kitchen which was a wonderful experience. I met the whole family and the very proud grandfather of a newborn granddaughter. It was very different from the ubiquitous dining halls of Annapurna. Subsequently, my guide told me that kitchen dining was a particularly unique feature of trekking in this area. I grew to love this concept. So personal and friendly.

November 20, 2011 also involved climbing but was a much shorter day as we only had to travel to Kyanjin Gumba, 3830 m. We arrived midmorning under very clear and sunny skies. It was absolutely spectacular in this area. We found ourselves surrounded by the peaks of the Langtang Himal to the north and the peaks of Kangja La and Dorje Himal to the south. There was a completely different feel to the village of Kyanjin as opposed to Annapurna Base Camp. I felt completely relaxed here and even though we probably had as many guesthouses and trekkers it was much more spread out and seemed quieter. It was on this day that I finally let go of any disappointment I had of not reaching Everest and simply immersed myself in this wonderful area. In the afternoon we did a relatively steep climb to a viewpoint near Kyanjin Ri and got up to our high point of approximately 4300 m. The views were even more spectacular from this viewpoint. We were the only ones up there and we had a brilliant diamond blue sky overhead with white Himalayan peaks bright enough to hurt the eye when you looked at them. I felt so relaxed I was able to set up the tripod and hopefully get a good panorama photograph of the Langtang Himal. Fantastic! The guesthouse was wonderful and we met a wonderful Dutch fellow, a French couple, a lovely young American woman and three Irish individuals so the evening was full of wonderful conversation and cards. What a fantastic day.

November 21, 2011 was again a massive trekking day as we descended from Kyanjin all the way down to Landslide at approximately 1900 m. We had an extremely fast pace and I must admit I was somewhat exhausted at the end of this day. We again stayed at a very quiet guesthouse in Landslide, in fact, I was the only guest. I did start to develop a worsening of the cough I had in Bhutan. Would it effect the subsequent trek?

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Langtang Trek Begins!

As mentioned previously, Everest was not to be. The alternative location was to do the GHT trek in Langtang combining it with the Gosainkund and Helambu treks. Langtang National Park is located north of Kathmandu and is definitely not as popular as Annapurna or Everest due to its more remote location and less-developed services. To get there we would take a 4×4 and drive 146 km to the village of Dhunche, 1960 m. A 4×4 was definitely required. The road initially started off paved and climbed incessantly until you reached a very rough gravel road which eventually delivered you to the aforementioned village. It was definitely more remote and there were lovely villages along the initial stretch of road. We stopped along the way at Trisuli and I had a little fun with the camera taking some art filter pictures which I have included in this post.  The rough stretch of road was at times frightening with precipitous drops, no guard rails and no retaining walls for the dirt road. In several sections large amounts of water were crossing the road which certainly did nothing for its stability. At one point I looked down on a particularly steep section of road and saw these skeletal remains of a bus lying on the side of the mountain. I must say this did nothing for my confidence on this road. Having said that, our driver was superb and very careful.

We arrived relatively late in Dhunche and the first thing I noticed was the almost complete absence of tourists unlike Annapurna. The guesthouse only had six other guests and was very quiet. This was the only guesthouse where I received relatively poor food service. All of the other guesthouses were excellent. The next day we would be starting the Langtang trek and I wondered if I would enjoy it after the disappointment of not traveling to Everest. Read on to find out how it went.

Another Everest Attempt

After the Annapurna trek I spent the afternoon of November 14, 2011 and the full-day November 15, 2011 in Kathmandu. It was nice just to relax and not to have any scheduled activities. I was able to catch up on e-mails, I finished the blog for Bhutan and also got laundry done (which was critical) and simply walked around and enjoyed the tourist district of Thamel. Kathmandu did not seem as stressful or harsh to me as it had initially. I seemed to slowly be giving in to some of its charms. I also found a great place for espresso which was nice after weeks of drinking tea. I enjoyed some of the excellent local restaurants as well. A funny thing occurred as I sat down for dinner at a restaurant on the evening of November 16, 2011. Just as I was starting to be served I noticed a woman looking at me (generally this is a good thing) and then coming over to my table. What a surprise! It was the lovely Australian woman and her anesthesiologist father whom I had met on the Annapurna trek in Sinuwa. What a small world. We enjoyed a lovely dinner together. Her father was leaving back to Australia the next day but she was continuing on to India with a friend. It was lovely to meet with them again. Her blisters were healing nicely.

November 16, 2011 we awoke early and quickly set off to the airport hopefully to catch a flight to Lukla to start the Everest trek. The weather again conspired against us and had become relatively foggy. We actually stayed at the airport from 630 in the morning through to 3:30 PM until it was finally announced that no flights would be going to Lukla. My hopes were dashed again. Because we had finished the Annapurna trek one day early I had another day tomorrow to try to fly out.

November 17, 2011 we traveled to the airport to try for the Lukla flight again. It seemed fate had conspired against me. All flights again were delayed. At 10:30 AM I received a phone call from Ramesh informing me that alternate plans would have to be made if I wanted to trek again to a different location. I must say I was quite devastated. The chances of getting to Everest were slim. I finally agreed that an alternative trek was my only option. The main reason for me to come to Nepal was to visit the Everest area and also a particular school and hospital supported by the Sir Edmund Hillary foundation which I have supported over the years with charitable donations. I reconciled myself to the fact that this simply meant I would have to come back to try again sometime in the future. With somewhat of a downcast heart I left the airport, went back to my hotel for a lunch and a private hire 4×4 was waiting to take me out to my alternate destination. I also met my new porter at the hotel Deepak. He was another very slight, young man who spoke very little English.  Where would we be traveling to instead of Everest and would my wounded heart warm up to the new area? Time would tell.

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