Dear Family and Friends,
We have returned
from Trek III safe, healthy, and still enthralled. This time
we went due north of Kathmandu to Langtang National Park, Nepal's
first Himalayan national park established in 1971. We combined
three shorter treks to give us a route that kept us going for
19 days through the Langtang Valley, the alpine lakes around
Gosainkunda and the middle hills of Helambu. At one point we
were within six line-of-sight kilometers of the Tibetan border,
and the trek ended within earshot of the Kathmandu airport. Thus,
we like to think that we hiked from Tibet to Kathmandu, though
in fact, it would have taken eight torturous days to cover the
six line-of-sight kilometers to Tibet.
Like the Annapurna
Circuit, this was a trek where we had one porter and stayed each
night in lodges. Often rooms were free, with the understanding
that you would eat meals at the lodge. Most commonly available
foods were potatoes and rice - boiled, fried, fried with cheese,
fried with a mustard-green-like vegetable, fried with an egg,
or some combination of the above. Omelets, chiapatis, Tibetan
bread, and various momos rounded out the menu. It usually cost
us about 7 or 8 dollars a day to eat, plus an occasional Snickers.
Our porter/guide was AngNeru Sherpa, who had gone with us on
the Dud Kunda trek. Every night he and Dana did an hour or so
of reciprocal benefit English-Nepali lessons using a language
book prepared for the Peace Corps. My job was to teach AngNeru
"You are my Sunshine" and about 20 verses of "She'll
Be Coming Round the Mountain." We would all practice singing
together on downhill slopes.
One of the
most striking features of this trek were the mature, relatively
undisturbed forests, by far the most impressive we have seen
in Nepal - evergreen forests of fir and spruce that could have
been in the Pacific Northwest, mixed forests of rhododendron,
juniper, holly oaks, and bamboo. We saw a conifer over 6 feet
in diameter and an oak nearly as big; we even found a nurse log
with silver fir and rhododendrons growing out of it. Because
of the steepness of terrain, we often walked through several
vegetation zones in a day. Sadly, despite national park status,
wood cutting for fuel is still taking its toll. The demands of
wood for survival are difficult to deny.
We also saw
several troops of white, gray, and black Langur monkeys, including
one group of about 25 at nearly 1200 feet below Langtang village.
We spotted them coming down a narrow draw on the other side of
a rushing stream and managed to intercept them where the trail
crossed the stream. We had lunch and watched them for over an
hour, often only 30 or 40 feet away - but on the other side of
the stream. The monkeys finally departed by scampering up a 200-foot
vertical cliff, mothers, babies and all, when six cross Yak/cows
invaded their feeding territory. We also saw lots of beautiful
birds - Nepal has 10% of the world's bird species.
The most dramatic
day of the trek began at Gosainkunda at 4:00 a.m. on November
28. I got up to pee (facilities outside), and it was snowing
lightly. Gosainkunda is a pilgrimage lake honored by both Hindus
and Buddhists, who gather there by the thousands during the August
full moon. It is over 14,000 feet. When we crawled out of our
frozen sleeping bags at 7, the ground was covered with snow and
more was on the way. This was the first snowfall of the winter
in these mountains. To continue our route we had to cross 15,200-foot
Laurebina Pass. We were told that if we did not cross it that
day, it might well be impassable the next. Despite plans to spend
a leisurely day exploring around Gosainkunda, we set out for
the pass after a quick breakfast. Searching for cairns and footsteps
of those ahead of us, we crossed Laurebina in a snowstorm, nervous,
cold and, exhilarated that we could do it.
In the past 10 weeks we have trekked about 600 miles in 63 days.
It is amazing that all of this has happened in a country about
the size of Tennessee.
(In order for you to view these pictures on the web rather than
downloading them, my brother Whit has put these e-mailings on
this website http://www.jackex.com/kathmandu.html).
1. The Tamang village
of Syabru, a day's walk into the trek.
2. Man sewing together
two woven strands of yak hair rope.
3. When we arrived at
the village of Langtang, we learned that there was to be a three
day puja at the gompa near there. When we went the next day we
were welcomed enthusiastically and urged to sit in a prominent
place across from the lamas and monks conducting the Buddhist
religious practice with chanting and musical instruments. A woman
poured blessed water and then milk into our hands for us to drink.
We shyly let it slip through our fingers. We were told that photos
4. People from the village
gathered outside the gompa to share a meal of dal bhat (rice,
lentil soup, and a curried something). We were served like everyone
else, and like everyone else ate with our hands, at least Dana
did. Kids crawled all over us until I realized that one sitting
on my lap was very wet in the lower parts.
5. Above Langtang village
a mani wall of carved prayer stones stretched for nearly a half
6. This is Kenjin gompa
with naks wandering down from the hill. Kenjin gompa is the last
habitation in the deep, narrow Langtang Valley that is bordered
on both sides by ice peaks. One day we walked for 4 hours up
the curving valley toward the towering peaks we thought stood
at the end of the valley. As we made our way up the arc of the
valley, new peaks appeared, capped by 7,000 meter Dorje Lakpa.
7. One morning at Kenjin
gompa we got up early and climbed 15,900 foot Kyanjin Ri or Kyanjin
hill. This is us on top with a waterfall like glacier behind
coming off 7,200 meter Langtang Lirung.
8. Mani stone with traditional
Buddhist prayer Om Mani Padme Hum.
9. Mother weaving and
children eating nuts we gave them.
10. Gosainkunda with
mixed Hindu and Buddhist symbols beside the lake.
11. Lodge where we stayed
at Magen Goth with proprietors holding a felted wool jacket like
the one the man is wearing. We bought it for Dana for $21.
12. We took a layover
day at Gul Bhanjyang in the middle hills to walk among the agricultural
villages away from the main trekking track. Hearing the beating
of drums and blowing of conch shells, we wove our way down the
narrow terraces to what we thought was a puja at a gompa. It
turned our to be a puja at a home for a 16 year old boy who had
died. By the time we realized this, we were spotted by the people
gathered below and beckoned to come ahead. A mat was laid out
for us in the lean-to structure constructed for the occasion.
Though only a couple of hours from the main trail, we could have
been days away. The colorful items on the altar are made of nak
butter. All of the men were drinking a strong homemade brew call
raksi and laughed heartily when I declined a bowl.
13. On the way back to
Gul Bhanjyang we passed this family flailing millet to separate
the seeds from the stalk. The woman wears typical Tamang jewelry,
and has the all too typical brood of Nepali kids.
14. We developed a fondness
for makki or Napali popcorn after being introduced to it by porters
on the Dude Kunda trek. It was never on a menu, but a couple
of times we were able to instigate a popcorn production. With
AngNeru, we walked up and down the short and solitary street
of Gul Bhanjyang asking at each home if people had dried corn.
Finally, this woman said yes and offered to sell us about a dozen
ears for about 50 cents. When we agreed to the deal, we didn't
know it included her taking the corn off the cob and popping
it for us while she tended the fire and three children and we
sat for an hour on the dirt floor of her kitchen. The corn really
doesn't pop into a fluffy white morsel, but rather swells and
splits like the very best pieces at the bottom of a bowl of USA
We miss home and all of you but wouldn't trade this experience
for a Bellingham winter.
Rand and Dana