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.
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.
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.
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.
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.