Nepal 2008 Langtang
Our group of 19 New Zealanders have arrived in Kathmandu at the start of a five week trip in which we hope to complete several treks of varying difficulty, climb a couple of smaller peaks and finish it off with a run around the Annapurna Circuit in 7 days.
For many, the first challenge is adapting to Kathmandu. It is a city I love; friendly, vibrant and colourful. It is also a poor, overcrowded city with barely functioning basic services. Electricity is only available about 18 hours a day, so at random times in each district it is switched off and local generators add to the nose and pollution.
The first challenge for some of the group is gain confidence to leave the hotel courtyard and stroll the streets of Thamel, the main tourist quarter. Everyone soon finds their own favourite coffee shop, bakery, money changer, tailor book and souvenir shop and begins to relax.
Our day begins early with a tour of some of the classic sights of the city. Our first stop is Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple. It is a rambling Buddhist site covering a prominent hill that has numerous stupas (monuments), mani (prayer) walls, buddhas, gongs, prayer wheels and of course monkeys. There is lots to see, but it is our guides commentary that has my attention. Nepal has just transitioned to be a democratic Republic after nine years of civil war. The war was between the hill based Maoists and the flat land based Royalists.The hill people are mostly Buddhist and the nation was a Hindu Kingdom, so I am expecting to hear sectarian comments, but there are none. Our guide emphasises what the religions have in common and the long history of living together. Indeed at Swayambhunath there are Hindu temples amongst the buddhist stupas.
Bouhanath is reputed to be the worlds biggest Stupa. It is also the centre of a district where Tibetan refugees have setlled and it has a much calmer feel than Swayambhunath.
Our last stop is the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath and as always the place is a sensory overload. Bodies are being cremated on the ghats beside the river and we watch a funeral pyre being set and lit while another ghat is cleared with the remains thrown in the river. Boys wade in the river collecting coins thrown by mourners. Next to us Sadhus (holy men) sit around small monuments to the bull Nandi. The statuette inside each monument is giant stone penis set in a steel virgina ring.
Road Trip to Langtang
Visitors to Nepal tend to flock to Everest or, if they have done a little more research to Annapurna, but there are some excellent and less developed alpine areas much closer to Kathmandu, the closest being Langtang and Helumbu which are almost at the doorstep of the city. While our first trek would finish in the outer suburbs of Kathmandu we had to take a circuitous 160km route to the start.
The bus trip to Dunche and the start of our LangTang trip as blogged at the time by Gill
5.00am wake up call and we were all ready to leave Kathmandu by 6.30am.We finally left by 7.30 am after the bus was loaded with gear (on top), all of us plus the guides and four in a four wheel drive. Our delight was short-lived when 20 minutes later we had to pull over to get air in the front tyre and queue up for gas.
We took ages to drive through Kathmandu as it was a festival day and the traffic was horrendous. The chorus of various horns was amusing as the buses and cars fought for their places on the road. We had plenty of time to look at the roadside with ramshackle markets. We saw the army guys and a policeman having a cup of tea on the side of the road during this chaos, a man selling a pile of bras to another man and a man carrying car doors to sell. There were families on motorbikes (mum and dad and two kids), and even a goat on the back of a motorbike. The roadside was dirty and muddy, with rubbish everywhere but the women persil clean and smiling.
Finally after 45 minutes we were out of the city, steadily climbing higher and higher following the rice terraces. Saw limes, papaya, lemons and loads of bananas. Picked up a welcome cool fresh breeze after the fumes of town. One slight anxiety when the driver stopped to ask the way!!! The side of the road often a prep area for the white 'carrots" cleaned and trimmed for there trip to town in a basket. Some of the houses had corn hanging to dry under the eves like a fringe. We had an unexpected and very welcome we stop to recover a lost bag thanks to Russell for spotting rolling off down the road. There were stunning views down the valley and a chance to stretch it was along time before we stopped again. Right up to the top then a very winding drop down which Jill found unsettling. The brakes began smelling pretty bad as well as the fumes the heat increased so we were pleased to get out for a few minutes. Back in and onward up again more flowers, Judas trees, lantana, chinese lantern and great views all the way to Trisoli.
Lunch Dahl Bhaat and a cup off tea . Met up with the 4 wheel drivers who had had a faster but fumier drive over. Pretty hot here and our first experience of Nepali toilets and a view of the 10 year old boys washing up!!!!! guys at tiko you have never seen so many dishes washed up in cold water!!!! They were experts.
Next stretch changed from sealed road that we all? would have liked to have biked ,to narrow unsealed rock base with huge potholes. Luckily the driver had a left hand man who whistled and thumped the driver round the sheer drops into raging torrents. Great road side views of animal butchering on the front porch, women working consistently all the way up teenage boys lounging in packs, kids carrying kids, old men sucking on pipes, women up trees, chopping wood, caring for the animals and washing and washing.
The houses mostly right on the edge of the road are a deep ochre colour or dry bricks often with blue paint somewhere maybe a door or window frame. Had another unsolicited stop to retrieve and reload the baggage and had a lovely interlude with a group of kids turned we turned into film stars for the moment.
And then the landslide before the landslide! Scary.
Comments from Ross
The road was finally blocked by a landslide and so we walked the last 10 kms to Dunche. The weather turned and we had the only rain of the whole trip, but it certainly bucketed down.
Next - Langtang trek
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