Nepal Awaits You

The government controls what trekking routes are open to the public. At this time nearly all routes used prior to the earthquake of April 2015 are open and safe to use.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Insights into a country and culture along with a trek to Poon Hill

David and Hem
This first entry into the blog will be much longer and filled with many more photos than what will probably follow over the coming days, weeks, months, and years.  This first entry is more akin to an introduction to both the culture of Nepal and tea house trekking in general.  We hope you will enjoy this as much as we did.

In November of 2015 Hem and David and Marty Thornton from Maine, USA, got together for the third time to go on a trek.  This was the a trek they had often talked about but never thought they wanted to do because it would be more difficult for them.  Hem reassured them that this would be manageable and that he had planned for a longer trek if they needed any extra time.  

Both David and Marty are in their 70's so not quite as quick as the "kids" in the 50's or younger that they had often encountered when trekking.  Marty has two artificial hips and needs to be extra careful to ensure that she doesn't fall.

The trek started after the last celebration of the last day of Tihar (a five day Hindu festival in which the crow, dog, cow, ox, and brother are worshipped and in the case of everyone worshipped, the tika and a garland are often easily given.  Crows might be a little hard to put a tika on.  

David and Marty joined Hem at one of his sister's home in the a small village for the Bhai tika celebration, the worshipping of the brother.  In the photo to the right you see David, Marty, Hem, his two sisters and his older sister's two children.  All are wearing garlands and have tikas.  It was a very special event for the Thorntons to be included in this celebration.  And, very typical of Hem to have made the offer to them to participate!
As a consequence of the Bhai tika ceremony the trek started a little be later than one would normally head out on the Poon Hill trek.  

One of the interesting things about trekking in Nepal is that you are required in many parts of the country to have a permit and it is important to stop at all the checkpoints to have the permit stamped/checked by the authorities.

The trek started in one village and then after crossing over some river beds there was the first checkpoint.  There are many bridges like the one you see below in Nepal.  This one covers a short span, but others span hundreds of feet across deep gorges.

The first TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) check post was in Birethanti.  Once checked in it really felt that though the trek had begun.  That's not something we can explain, just a feeling really.

The TIMS checkpoint was on one side of the river while the other checkpoint was on the opposite side.  Naturally, we stopped at both!

The decision was made to go as far as we could this first afternoon/early evening.  Hem was not very concerned about our finding a tea house/guest house because tourism is at an all time low due to the earthquake and people being hesitant to come because of fuel shortages.  Both concerns should be set aside.  Most of Nepal's trekking routes are open and ready (the government controls these).  And even though fuel is short, buses still run between cities and villages.

We made pretty good progress that first afternoon and enjoyed some of the amazing beauty that is the nature of Nepal.  

One of many waterfalls we saw on this trek.

We were surprised to find a very new, actually brand new guest house in Bajgara.  We were, or were told, the first guests to stay there.  We were also the only guests to stay there that evening.  The room was very nice, good shower, and a nice warm comforter for our night's rest.

The restaurant for the guest house was fantastic.  We enjoyed both our evening meal as well as a hardy breakfast.  Here we learned that the menu in all the guests houses along the way would be the same!  Not a bad idea at all.  One certainly gets to eat well when trekking from teahouse to teahouse.

After leaving the guest house the first person we met was the older man shown below.  He was, believe it or not, doing trail pick up.  Removing the trash left behind by trekkers and locals alike.  We learned that he was paid a stipend to clean (daily) a stretch of the route we were taking.  Needless to say, we were impressed!

A little further along we entered another small village where we saw one giant swing.  These monster swings are built during the festival time in the fall and are so very much enjoyed by the children.  The wood used appears to be bamboo.

It is important to remember that there are no real roads here in this region. There are no trucks, buses, and so bringing in everything that is not locally produced is brought in on the backs of either humans or horses and mules.  The first of these "trains" of critters was encountered on this road returning in the empty mode from making a delivery to some village along the way.

Once "stuff" is in a community and has been used up.  Then disposal becomes another issue.  Along the trek we saw several piles like the one below.  All bottles waiting to be carried out by someone or something!  Those of us who live in places with recycling, deposits on bottles generally don't think about what happens to these things in other countries.  Well, see for yourself!  They wait to be picked up and taken away!

As you can see, this is mountain country but still with farming.  Terracing is the method that must be used to farm on such steep hillsides.

Farming here is not easy work!  First off there are no tractors, the farmers use oxen to plow and till their fields.  They also carry everything by hand, or we should say by basketful on their backs.  This woman below is putting the manure from their animals onto the freshly tilled soil.  Most likely she will work this in by hand as well.

On the morning of our first full day we stopped for a tea break and were greeted by the tea house owners children.  This little one observed us from the safety of a balcony.

One of the reasons we thought that maybe this would be a harder trek for us than previous ones was because of the steps!  And, we were right.  Previous trekking had us at much higher elevations but we had never encountered steps like this.  And the steps just went on and on and on and on!

Further up the trail we got to see more terraced farmland and a farmer with his oxen.  This photo really shows the size of the terraces which from a distance it is difficult to appreciate.  One other thing to note is that the cherry trees are in blossom in November!  We were told that because spring leads into the monsoon season and it would be difficult for bees to pollinate the blossoms.

We continued up more steps from the above photo until we reached a point where we agreed we needed a long break from the steps.  An overnight break to be exact!  We spent our next night on the trek in Ulleri in the lovely pink palace below.

Marty's breakfast!  Wonderful Tibetan bread, fried potatoes with onions and peppers and an egg.  There was milk coffee (several cups worth) as well before we headed out for our second full day on the trek

Morning greeted us with a cloudless sky and lovely light on the mountains.  It was chilly but after the wonderful breakfast and multiple cups of milk coffee we were ready to face another day of more steps!

The beginning of day three of our trek, after a beautiful sunrise and light on the mountains, bells ringing as the "trains" of mules and donkeys came and went along the trail.  We again came to STEPS.  Just when you had gotten used to somewhat flat walking, there they were again.

 Several hours out we stopped for our morning tea break.  This is quite a large guest house/teahouse that was started but never completed.  It was really lovely and we could easily imagine what it could be like if ever finished and filled with the sounds of trekkers from all parts of the world.

As we were getting ready to head out on the trail again, a huge flock of sheep were herded down the stone trail.  Hundreds of them along with goats.  At the very end of the herd was the herdsman and his dogs.

Finally we arrived at the lower part of Ghorepani.  Our destination for the night was ahead of us, the upper village!  And there were more steps! There are lots and lots of guest houses in the two parts of the village, however, again there were many fewer people than we would have seen if tourism was not way down.

The upper village has it all.  Lots more guest houses and also folks selling whatever you  might have forgotten before you left home...down filled jackets, sweaters, mittens, hats, scarves, just about anything you might need for a cold morning ascent to Poon Hill.

The next morning we were awakened before 05:00 so we could begin our trek up....more steps and this time in the dark with only flashlights and headlamps to illuminate our path. This time the steps would take us to the top of Poon Hill were we waited for sunrise along with several hundred other people.  There was a whole lot of energy and voices speaking many languages.  And it was just a little cold.  But the wait for the sunrise was worth every little shiver we had.

The trip down the steps back to the hotel was a lot easier, and also with wonderful views!

 View on the way down from Poon Hill to upper Ghorepani.

A close up of one of the peaks.  

When we left our guest house we headed uphill for quite a bit and more steps.  We agreed that these were some of the nicer steps we had taken.

On our way down from Ghorepani we had more clouds, mostly because we were on the other side of the mountains going into another valley.  The trail changed quite a bit as well, but only in parts.  Below is what we had for a wood trail without steps.

 For a change we had wooded trails with a decent walking surface.  These were lovely woods and we heard many birds, but never really saw them to identify them.  Hem, however, knew their songs so was able to tell us that bird we had heard.
The woods were really magical.  As we started down into the valley there we met the clouds which enveloped the trees and obscured our view of the mountains.  But the view of the clouds in the trees was so special, so very different and magical.
Our lunch break was in a small cluster of guest houses where we encountered many people from other countries.  

Our destination for the day was Tadapani and a nice guest house there on the side of the mountain.  It was interesting because the dining room for guests was a separate building with glass on all four sides for some pretty amazing views of the mountains!  Note the round brown stove in the center of the room.  This stove was probably a metal barrel that was coated with clay.  It held the heat nicely and everyone liked to sit around it in the late afternoon and evening.  There was even a drying rack around it for those of us who had damp clothes we needed to get dry to for the next day.  Once again we were with people from many different countries and it was a nice to exchange experiences with them all.

The hotel.  Now it must be said that it was damp here because of the time of year and the fact that there were often clouds.  Our bedding was damp.   As we crawled into bed that night we wondered if we would ever warm up, but we did and ended up being quite comfortable.  The bathroom for the hotel was located outside at the far right.  The showers were in another location and came with a price.

 The next morning we were on a mixture of trails.  All with waterfalls and good sights.  Even some monkeys were in the trees as we trekked along.  But soon as you see  below, we had more steps!
The steps really were not so bad.  These were in really pretty good shape.  One has to wonder how all these trails with steps are cared for with the amount of traffic they receive each year.
Our lunch break was at a nice spot with more good views, but the post box is what caught our eyes.  This was the first one we had seen on the trek.  Yes, they sold post cards as well.

Between villages we visited a lovely Hindu Temple.  It had a view and it had steps (below).  Quite a place though as it was set in a tea farm!

We enjoyed the last of our trek into Ghandruk.  This is a fascinating village in two parts.  One traditional section that has no guest houses where people used to do home stays (and may still, we are not sure on that point) and the more modern section where one finds all the guest houses.  Below is the older part of the village with traditional Gurung style homes.

We were fortunate that Hem knew a lot about this village and he took us to see the local blacksmith.  We sat right in his shelter and watched him work.  Really a wonderful experience.

The next morning we awoke to the sounds of bells!  Yes, another mule train taking supplies.  We were told that these were probably going to the Annapurna Base Camp. The bells are make a wonderful sound and were a "wake-up call" to us that our trek was about to end.

One last village before the bus.  We could have hiked further but with sore feet it didn't make any sense, and besides from here on in we would have just been on the roads.

The bus awaits in Dhampus where we decided we had gone downhill and uphill for enough miles.  Besides, Marty had very sore feet.

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