A Trek and Tour in Nepal
Our group of 10 left Vancouver in October for a Nepal adventure. And Nepal lived up to it's reputation as a place of beauty, surprises and the unexpected.
back row: Nancy Campbell, Doria Moodie, Kundu Sherpa, Gord Konantz, Rinji Sherpa, Cathy Campbell, Barb & Ken Cross front row: Janet Plant, Gail Konantz, Geoff Plant, Jim Moodie
Following two days of touring the Kathmandu valley, we boarded a Twin Otter for a flight to the tiny airstrip at Phaplu, high in the Solu district of eastern Nepal. The afternoon clouds were towering and we took off with hopes there would be an opening 40 minutes later to allow us to land. But no such luck! We circled the valley in a white out with the odd glimpse of green mountains off the wing. The decision to return to Kathmandu was met with mixed feelings of disappointment and relief.
And so began our trek. It would be two more days of waiting at the domestic air terminal, aka the "suffering room", before we successfully touched down at Phaplu.
We were left with 7 days to see the highlights of this very old Sherpa culture and with the imaginative Rinji Sherpa, our resident Sirdar, we packed it all in.
Sherpas migrated south from Tibet in the 16th century and settled this rich agricultural district. It has never been a destination for travelers, even though Mt. Everest is only 40 kilometers away. Now thousands of trekkers fly over the Solu area and land 10 minutes away and the next valley to the east to begin their trek to the base of the world's highest peaks.
Our agenda was to climb Pike 4065m, to see the masked dancing at the annual Mani Rimdu festival at the Chiwong Gompa, and to re-visit one of our favourite places in Nepal, the elementary school at Ringmu. By trekking longer each day and reversing our route, we managed to pack it all in and see the Everest group as well!
We pushed our luck by tackling Pike first, rather than last, which meant climbing from 2500m to 4065m in just 3 days. Ideally, we should have made the final climb on our last few days of the trek when we would have been properly acclimatized. We reached Pike base camp at 3600m on the afternoon of the second day to be met by a severe thunderstorm with hail and high winds. Our tents had been set up by the Sherpas and we dove in to wait out the storm. What followed was amazing - a late afternoon sunset with surrounding mountains bathed in brilliant Himalayan alpenglow.
An early morning start on Pike was aborted at the 3850m level as the sky again closed in but not before seeing the panorama in the north of the snowy peaks of the Khumbu.
Two days later, we were witness to afternoon prayers of 120 monks at Tubten Choling monastery high on a hill overlooking the village of Junbesi.
The weather had now settled down and we had begun our final days of trekking to the Chiwong Gompa and the festival of celebration timed with the October full moon. Monks in ancient Buddhist costumes swirled in the monastery courtyard playing out timeless scenes from monastic rituals. We were treated to a private audience the following morning with the head lama. Light filtered through a window illuminating his orange robes. We were blessed with katas (white scarves) and twists of yellow and red thread to wear around our necks.
And finally, our trek concluded with a visit to the Ringmu elementary school. We have been associated with the school since 1994 and have assisted with it's development on annual basis. 65 children, some walking from up to an hour, attend the school to be taught by 7 teachers. The facilities have been greatly improved since our initial visit. For details of our visit, read our story at www.everesttrekking.com and click on "Giving" - Nepal School Fund.
From the rigours of trekking, we then flew, again by Twin Otter, to the Chitwan National Park and the luxury of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge. The lodge is renowned for its elephants and peaceful setting. Daily, at sunrise and sunset, guests are taken on elephants into the forest and grasslands to seeing the one horned white rhinos, deer, wild cattle and, perhaps, the Bengal tiger. But most of all, it's the setting that appeals. The Himalaya are only 100 kilometers to the north and to quietly sit calmly, beer in hand and watch the sun set on the Manaslu range is a memorable experience.
The valley of Kathmandu and it's three cities is changing rapidly. It now has a population of about 4.5 million and yet roads are basically unchanged. Air quality continues to be an issue and prime time travel is demanding. On the other hand, the number of high end hotels and restaurants increases and the historic sites shine with improvements. It is a city of major contrasts.
This was a trip with major emotional highs and lows, of delights and difficulties, and beauty and ugliness. It was extra--sensory overload on a daily basis.
We come to Nepal with expectations. Nepal teaches us to live in the moment. We were given a Buddhist teaching on a walk to the Shivapuri National Park following our second day in the "suffering room". We happened upon a small meditation monastery and there we met a monk who told us... "everything changes, nothing stays the same". It became the mantra of our trip.
Gord & Gail