Monthly Archives: October 2015

NEPAL – Gosaikunda Lake Trek – days 7 & 8

Stuck between a rock and a Nepalese place…

(Written by Steph)

Today we did manage to get up, and after a brief stretch, we were off. The descent seemed to be neverending, and as we got lower, and the temperature got hotter, we were both getting impatient to reach our destination of Dunche. And then, a glorious sight – the roaring river! We weren’t stupid enough to bathe, but we managed to have a splash and a wash, and even scrub our stinky clothes!

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Our plan was to rent a motorbike from Dunche for the day, and head to the next town, Syabru Besi. Nick was keen to get out on the rocky, windy mountain roads, and we figured there might be more be going on there. We would get the bus back to Kathmandu the next day, we decided. Wrong. What we weren’t banking on was the guy at the rental place being seriously disinterested in both of us, or in renting a bike at all. The quote for his most knackered bike was astronomical and he wasn’t as keen on negotiating as Nick so we cut off our noses to spite our faces and got the local bus.

Ahh, the local bus. Fun times to be had; a bit like a really terrifying fairground ride, but with the actual possibility of death. Still, we laughed through the swerving and catapulting of the vehicle, only briefly pausing to hold our breath when the tyres of the bus looked like they were actually hanging over the edge. ” I hope this place is worth it.”

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The guesthouse alone was worth it. Named “Namaste,” (Nepalese greeting, and literally meaning “I see God in you”), the owner spoke better English than some of my friends (sorry if that’s you 😉 ) Here we had hot water, a double bed, an attached bathroom with a western toilet, and for the rock bottom price of 500R for the room (£3). Bargain. And a good job we liked it too…

That evening on every TV screen, people were glued to the results of the new Nepalese Constitution. Little did we know, but this had been in the making for nearly a decade, and was eagerly awaited by all parties, looking to know if, after all these years, they would finally be represented in the way they had hoped.

The bus we wanted to take would normally have left every morning. Only not the next morning. Celebrations were due to be had. So, we booked a jeep, which was definitely going. “Definitely” in Nepal terms. When we turned up at 6.45am for the 7am departure, no one seemed to know if we were going. No one actually announced this, but the lack of getting into the vehicle, coupled with lots of Nepalese chatter between the drivers and the ticket seller roused our suspicion. When pressed as to what was going on, we were told “tomorrow, ok.” This was not a rhetorical question, nor did it come with an explanation.

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Panicking slightly at the fact that the only ATM in the town didn’t except visa, and having only a couple of quid to our names, we pryed as to what the situation was due to. We were even more confused when we were then told that maybe the bus would go. No one really knew. The Maoists, the rebel group that took control of most of the country in the Civil war only a decade before, were unhappy with the results of the constitution. Their way of expressing this? Apparently to attack anyone on the road, damaging vehicles and threatening lives. Our driver was too scared to risk it, even with tourists. And quite frankly, we were too. We would wait til the next day to be crammed into the jeep like sardines for the 8 hour journey…but that’s another story 😉

Footnote – thank you to Maureen for the dollars!! Luckily our guesthouse owner said she would get her father to exchange these as we were completely out of rupees and stuck! We were so thankful to have had these with us!!

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NEPAL – Gosaikunda Lake Trek – day 6

Sing Gompa

(Written by Steph)

We woke up late (ha! I never thought I would call 8am late!) and decided that as the journey was going to be another 5 or so hours downhill, and me feeling my dodgy dancer’s knees, we would spend a day chilling in Sing Gompa and set off early the next day. There wasn’t a great deal to do here, but it was nice to have a western toilet and a nice, if basic, room.

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Come evening time, we gathered in the dining area, huddled around the fire with all the Nepalese workers who had been working to rebuild a wall during the day. This was fascinating to watch – old school to the max – checking levels with string tied to wooden sticks and flattening rocks with a chisel, a hammer and a great deal of brut force. Still, they had the art down to a tee.

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Over dinner, the Buddhist owners put on a video of a large group of people, dressed in traditional clothing, singing and dancing. The sense of unity and joy between them was magical, and I found myself mesmerised by them. When I asked who these people were and what event this was, the lady owner informed me that these were people from the Langtang Valley in a festival that had taken place one year beforehand. “Now 50% of these people dead,” she told me. The Langtang Valley had been completely destroyed in the earthquakes, being a site of so many landslides. The ones that were still living were lucky enough to be so because many of them were visiting children that were studying in Kathmandu at the time. A wave of sadness hit me. Watching how alive those people were, and knowing that so many of them were no longer, was heartbreaking. What must it be like for the people that knew them, who lived through this tragic experience, watching this one year on, I wondered?  We slipped off to bed, and left them with their video and their thoughts…

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NEPAL – Gosaikunda Lake Trek – day 5

Laurebina (3900m) to Gosaikunda (4400m) and back to Sing Gompa (3300m):

(Written by Steph)

We got up early today, partly because we had a lot of walking ahead of us, and partly due to the insistence of the cockrel outside our window. Boy was it worth it. The previous days had been engulfed in layers of a dreamy mist, but today we were rewarded with bright blue skies, and a view of the snowy Langtang Mountain Range that borders Tibet. Magnificent. Beyond the tree line, our trek started off with less of the impact of the forest, and a steep, and veeeery slow climb. Slower than a snail.

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Near the sheer drop Nick was dancing by

After about an hour, the climb turned into a ridge which we were to walk along. However, relief was shortlived, as Nick swung himself around on the path with his usual carefree style, getting dangerously close to the edge with the deathly sheer drop. My heart was in my mouth for much of the Indiana Jones-esque trail, and I feared my newly married status might be short lived. Despite this, we finally reached the summit, Nick still intact, me still not a widow!

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The long and winding road
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Nick sporting converse with horizontal rope additions

By this time, the cloud had set in and the Lakes, although beautiful, were covered in a sea of mist. We took time to enjoy an amazing Chow Mein in the Tibet Guest House; they were the only one open, and even they had only been back for 5 days, they said. It was pretty darn cold up there, so after a hang out and some picture taking at the Lakes, we started the descent; a mission that would take us several hours of practically running downhill.  A bit like an episode of Challenge Anika, I loved it.

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Finally at the lakes
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Gosainkunda lake in the mist

To break up the descent, and to ease my whirring brain, we had a pit stop at Laurebina to warm our cockles with a masala chai (a spiced milk tea) and to say our final goodbyes to the family we had grown so fond of. We swapped emails, and I bought some of the weaving that Chirring worked on so tirelessly day and night.  She gave us each a friendship bracelet as a gift, and I gave her some money in return. She was so humble and she had never fished for money or made us feel like we were money vessels, as you can, and sometimes do, feel with some people less fortunate than yourselves. On the contrary, she didn’t want to take it, but when I said it was to buy some books etc for Bipasa, she seemed content with that. We both brushed away a tear and said our goodbyes. “I’ll never forget you,” she said to me, and I knew that I felt the same, as we continued on the downward journey to Sing Gompa. 

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A Pika. This rodent type animal is found in high altitudes in Tibet and Nepal, hops like a rabbit and doesn't like having its photo taken

NEPAL – Gosaikunda Lake Trek – day 4

Laurebina (3900m) to Cholang Pati (3600m) & back again:

(Written by Nick)

I had hoped the headache from the previous evening was down to dehydration. Sadly that wasn’t the case. Neither of us could get to sleep at all and the headaches persisted the next morning. Both Steph and I were suffering from altitude sickness.

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I knew it was a risk on this trek, and that it would be foolish to carry on despite being only a few hours from the lakes. We took the decision to descend 300 metres to Cholang Pati and to spend the day in the mystical forest.
Chirring had reminded us what we’d forgotten from Biology class, which is that trees give out most of their oxygen in the day. That explained why it wasn’t until night that our bodies started complaining about the lack of oxygen at 3900m.

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The forest was just as magical as it looks in the photos, and it was the perfect atmosphere for some Yoga breathing exercises. The peace and serenity was only marginally tainted by our tag-along-dog barking at the roaming cows.

The second stage of our acclimatisation effort was to walk an hour higher than we’d stayed the previous night, and have a snack of dry instant noodles before descending to Laurebina for the night. It worked for Steph, but I still only managed a few hours sleep.

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NEPAL – Gosaikunda Lake Trek – day 3

Sing Gompa (3300m) to Laurebina (3900m)

(Written by Steph)

Today we afforded ourselves a much needed lie-in after yesterday’s climb, and set off at 8am. Somehow the early evenings (everyone was in bed by 7.30pm last night) made this manageable for us night owls. I had been beginning to wonder what we were thinking after yesterday, but today, it all became clear.  We were still heading upwards, but the landscape made today’s journey quite far removed from yesterday’s.

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Making yak cheese in Sing Gompa
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We bought 100 grams of yak cheese for 110 rupees (£0.70) and had it with tibetan bread for our lunch stop. We felt pretty sophisticated. It was mild but nice - similar to Emmenthal

I had to pinch myself a few times, as we climbed through a forest that can only be described as “epic.” Huge trees framed winding stone paths upwards, and more than once I felt like an extra on the set of “Lord of the Rings”.  As a green girl, I felt completely at peace here, and the oxygen-giving trees somehow eased the continuing upward journey.

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The forest is engulfed in cloud so often that all sorts of moss grow on the tree trunks

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About 2 hours later, Nick and I arrived at a stop gap named Cholangpati. This was one point that had suffered damage during the earthquakes, but even though there were two guesthouses open, we wanted to plough on. Instead, we decided to stop for tea, as we had at a few other points, trying our best to give these ghost towns even a small bit of our business. Some of the people running the guesthouses had only been back for a few weeks since the earthquakes and had business to make up for, though they lacked the tourists to do so.  As we ourselves had found, not many really knew the state of play on the route, and information tended to come only at the point before the next chunk of the journey. So, it seemed, we were some of the first tourists to try the trek post earthquake.

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It takes one or two full days for ladies like this to weave one of their bags. An arduous task for only 500 rupee (£3.40)

For the most part, the paths were fine, but there was certainly evidence of landslides carved into the mountain face, and it was crazy to imagine the huge boulders we saw, hurtling down as the earthquakes hit. We saw many destroyed buildings, mainly those made of stone, on the way. However, it wasn’t until we arrived at Laurebina that we felt just how devastating an impact the earthquakes had had. Here there was only one guest house open – Morning View. The others were destroyed, abandoned, or replaced with U.S. aid tarpaulin shacks. We went inside to find a mother, Chirring, and her 4 year old daughter, Bipasa, the latter of whom was very grumpy because she had just woken up; some things are the same wherever you are from.

A bit about Chirring & her family:

It wasn’t long before we were chatting away, and Nick and I were both surprised to discover that Chirring had learnt her English from Tourists. She came from the same village as our host in Dunche, Thulo Syabru, which is part of the Langtang Valley, and was arguably one of the very worst hit places from the earthquake. Everyone from that place had been dispersed by it.

It seemed that even before the earthquake, life had had its challenges, with lack of education being a big issue in the government school in her village.  From what she told us, it appeared there were many parallels with India; teachers not caring or not turning up, resources a plenty in some places, but no knowledge of how to utilise them. Chirring had done what many with no other options do – got married early and immediately had a child. She and her husband relied on the tourists coming to make enough to survive, but even before profit, they had to pay 1 Lakh (roughly £665) to the government in taxes, just to be there, because the Langtang area is deemed a National Park. Ironically, their village is also within the National Park and is where they were born. Their only sources of income were selling the weaved bags that Chirring slaved over every minute of the day (so labour-intensive!) and renting out rooms to tourists on the trekking route. As they charge around £3 for a room per night, you can see how this might be a struggle! On top of this, the government take payment of about £35 from every tourist that enters the area, with the promise that 30/40% goes back to the people that live there. There was little evidence of this. In fact, many whose guesthouses were destroyed didn’t know whether they should even attempt rebuilding, as their spots will be up for tender in the next couple of years anyway. If they can’t pay enough, the government will likely replace them with people that can. With everything I had already heard about the Nepalese government, these facts compounded my scepticism about them. “Where was their support?” I asked myself.

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A playful moment with Bipasa

I couldn’t help but kick myself that the few stationary bits and bobs I had leftover from India, I had left in Kathmandu. As “Stationary Queen,” I had not lived up to my title.  Bipasa fed the chickens, helped her father, and sang along with her mother’s songs, but I couldn’t help feel for her; the sole child up in the mountains for months on end, with not even some paper and pens to entertain herself. Instead, as with so many poor Asian families, she had a mobile phone! I noticed she was watching lots of Bollywood dances, so I decided to show her mine and Nick’s first wedding dance, which I happened to have on the tablet. Her eyes flickered from the screen to my face and as a smile crept onto her previously serious face, I knew that from this point on, we would be friends.

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