Boudhanath Prayer Flags - On Halloween Night...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s ON the menu… Should we order one!?

Here in Thailand, and of course in Nepal, we’ve been savouring delicious food on a daily basis… In the old days, there usually weren’t menus, and both Karen and I recall walking into the kitchen to see what was available, then using lots of pointing and sign-language to order. Nowadays, “English” menus are everywhere, and we’ve spotted a few pretty interesting options….

We can start the day off nicely, according to this Thai menu, because “breakfast is the nice start to day. You can mix energize food for make good taste and a healthy.” How about a cup of “Cffe” to go with your “Scream Bleed Egg on Toast.” Or do you prefer “2 eggs any stole?” I hear their “Dabble Egg Pupcake” is delicious!

Fancy some fresh bakery items? How about a “Shinamon Rool, Brouned Role, or Aple Sturoll?” If you’d like something sweeter, try their “Aple Croumble” and “Choklete Coreation,” and finish it off with a hot slice of “Choklete Cock” if you dare!

Main courses? Oh yeah baby… every menu in Boudha has a “fing” section, which is, we think, a rice noodle type dish. We often ate “Fing Tank,” and “Buff Fing.” Others we didn’t try included, Spicey Flat Fing, Clocked Pork Fing, and Charpi non-Mushroom Fing. A few others that we steered clear of were the Ox Tripe Gastric Wall, Red oil with Ear Piece, Crips Pork in Screen Bowel, Salad Tongue, and our all time favorite delicacy, Seweage Drop Egg in Soup! I wonder how many foreigners order that one!?

Oh I’m sorry, you are a “vageterian.” In Nepal, that’s no problem! There are lots of vagetarians here… You can always go for the Vagetable Frird Race, 3-Silk Vage with Red Oil, Cassarool of Fish in Sour Vage, or Big Meat with Vage Sauce.

Had enough? Still hungry!? Chapattis are a staple all across south Asia, so you won’t be disappointed if you choose Chaparie fried Chapati, plain Chaparle per pics, or Egg-Fred Chaparle per pics. I always order my Chaparles by the Pics!

Do you like fish? I love fish… Let’s try the Splash with Spice Fish! Or perhaps the Dong-pu Fish with Thai Big Piece? If you’re extra hungry you should definitely get a “Steam Hole Fish.” If you catch one yourself, I’m sure they’ll ‘cock’ it for you! Or ‘clock’ it? Whatever….

I prefer a cold beer, but a “Hot Dronke” can be great after your meal… Karen loves sipping a nice Red Wine (by the Gass)… we never did order the “Spy Wine.” Hmmm…

Tomorrow I think we’ll splurge on a huge feast and share the Sir & Turf, Fried Baby Cord with Chicken, Frid Meat Sice with Silk of Ckenich, and Baked Crap with Prawn! I just love that baked crap!

Bon Appetit!

Leaving Nepal...

Leaving Nepal was a really emotional event… After sinking our roots into this neighborhood, this culture and country, and our wonderful school, it was very difficult to uproot ourselves and depart. Many times the kids said, “I really don’t want to leave… I mean, I miss home and I want to see everyone, but I wish we could stay here much longer!” And Karen and I agreed…

To give the kids a bit more time to spend with their friends, we organized a little farewell party at our guest house. 20 or so wonderful girls came over, and we enjoyed take-out pizza, cake, fruit, and loads of silly games together! Our girls also taught them a new obsession which enthralled them for several hours -- weaving friendship bracelets!

The next morning (the day before departure) we were invited on the school’s winter holiday picnic… We began at 6am (yes that’s right!) at the school to board 70 students on the buses, then drove to Godvari forest preserve to cook a picnic breakfast… It was a wonderfully out-of-control event, with kids rampaging every which way, and stuffing their mouths with junk food from the moment we began. Then we fed them all breakfast and tea until they were “full.” Minutes later they dug in their packs and pulled out more chips, candy, nuts, and cookies! As Tsultrim said, “Oh yes Sir Paul, we Tibetans love to eat!” Karen and I automatically kicked into Outdoor Ed. mode to harness some of that great energy, teaching them blob tag, elbow tag, etc… Then we went down to the National Botanical Garden to “see the park.” Again, it was chaotic and loud and totally unorganized, but the students were all having a blast just being outdoors together. At a lovely little waterfall in the Japanese garden section, some of the kids started a water fight, which soon involved plenty of teachers as well… Such joyful playful fun times together! Amidst the chaos, we did manage to spot several awesome birds, including male and female scarlet minivets! There were also a few bright inquisitive students who continually grabbed my hand and pulled me aside, “sir Paul sir Paul, why does this fern plant have small spots on this leaf?” or “Sir Paul, tell us the cactus and why is that spine so sharp?” “why is this tree smooth, and that one so very rough?” I would LOVE to have a nice small group of 10 or 12 of them out on an all day naturalist walk… they are so genuinely fascinated by the natural world, but they rarely get out into it.

We packed that night, jamming things tightly into huge duffel bags, and ate one last gorgeous breakfast looking out over the stupa. Then rushed off to the airport… extra early to ensure our selves plenty of window seats on the left side! The flight was originally listed as an 8am departure, but was rescheduled for 1pm… but then there was a major technical delay. So we enjoyed 5 or 6 extra hours in the airport, including a delicious complimentary buffet dalbaht, while I anxiously watched the clock and the setting sun… If we flew out just after dark, missing the view of the Himalaya, I was going to have an absolute fit. But fortunately we boarded right at sunset, and as we took off and ascended out of the filthy air of the Kathmandu Valley petri dish, we were blessed with just enough pink and orange light to see the alpenglow on all the giants… Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu, Langtang, Dorje Lakpa, Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu… and Kanchenjunga way over on the border with Sikkim. Phew!!!! What a lovely and tearful farewell to our beloved Nepal.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas In Bangkok

Holy Toledo, what a transition! We were just bundled up with wool hats and fleece jackets in Kathmandu, and now we are sweating it out in steamy Bangkok! Our flight our of Nepal was delayed for about 5 hours, but with our hard-earned window seats, we barely took off before sunset…. Just with enough light to catch the alpenglow on the full Himalayan Panorama! We could see, from west to east, Dhalagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu, Ganesh Himal, the Langtang Peaks, Dorje Lakpa, etc… then the faint light was just enough to spot ChoOyu, Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu…. And that big lump of white way off to the east? Ahhh… Kachenjunga!

Landing in Bangkok is a shocker… After lil’ ol’ Kathmandu, the massive new sparkling BKK airport blew the kids mind! As did the smooth roads, seatbelts, 7-elevens, and overall cleanliness. They commented in the taxi ride, “this looks just like America!” I did some late night Christmas Eve shopping, while the kids hung “stockings” on the towel rack with care. Actually they were my old socks, tied on with some string… but functional!

Christmas morning was sweaty but jolly, with the Canapary family joining us in our stuffy room for a wonderful gift exchange! Sylvie’s highlight? The ripe MANGO in the toe of her stocking!

Then we set out to ride the river taxis around Bangkok, enjoying the breeze and proximity to water, and avoiding the notorious traffic jams. Amazing temples…. Luscious street food at every corner… nice cold beer…. We enjoyed the intricate temples of Wat Pho, including the humongous golden reclining Buddha, then found a fine riverside restaurant to enjoy our Christmas dinner.

Green Curry, Tom Yum soup, fresh guava and coconut juice, spicy green papaya salad, Pad Thai..... aaaaahhhhh, what a feast! We sure miss our families back home, but it was a wonderful celebration with loved ones over here. Then back to the hotel room for the 3rd (...or 4th?) shower rinse of the day! Enter room, strip, enter shower & rinse, lay on bed under ceiling fan, evaporate... rinse.... repeat....

The most unusual and appreciated Christmas present, believe it or not, was the "Fish Spa" treatment that we gave to the girls! They wanted to try it sooooo badly, so what the heck, we'll buy a 10 minute nibble! You get your feet washed, and then sit on benches with your legs in an aquarium. And no, I am not making this up... the little fish are "dead skin eating fish," and they really go to town on old smelly feet. Our kids fed those fish well! Totally ticklish, but they LOVED it, and are begging to go back again for the full half hour option! So that's the Christmas news from Thailand! Hope y'all are cozy and celebrating with loved ones.

Jungle Adventures in Chitwan

We’d promised the girls an “elephant safari,” and Chitwan National Park was the place to deliver! After a wonderful 3-day run down the Seti River, we crammed into a local bus for the quick ride to Tadi Bazaar… then a short bumpy jeep ride to Sauraha, directly across the Rapti River from the N.P. boundary. Sauraha is Chitwan’s main town for do-it-yourself explorations in the park, and has tons of cheap (…and fancy) hotels, gift shops, guide agencies, and all the typical backpacker amenities. Of course, we would have preferred to stay at Tiger Tops or one of the other plush all-inclusive safari camps deep inside the park itself, but at $300 per night per person, it was just a bit high for our budget.

We had 3 full days to spend here, and decided to do whatever it took (aside from staying at Tiger Tops!) to show the kids as much wildlife and birdlife as possible…. Multiple elephant safaris? What the heck! Merry Christmas girls!!! So the first task was to avoid the many pushy guides and agencies in town, and find the best birding guide. It only took a couple of stops… United Jungle Guide Services has a few offices in town, and when I strolled inside to ask about finding Chitwan’s most experienced birders, Anil was working on his Facebook page. He was editing some photos from a few weeks ago of 2 Brits who he himself had taken birding, and asked if I knew who they were. Nope… didn’t recognize their faces, but I did recognize their names (Carol & Tim Inskipp) as the authors of all the best birding guidebooks for India, Nepal, Pakistan, etc.! I’d found our man!

Anil set us up with several wonderful outings, and truly provided us with expert guides! We did a full day jungle jeep drive on our 1st day, which allowed us to see a large amount of the park. Most visitors do a half-day drive, but therefore only get half as far into the bush… and with 10 or 15 jeeps driving that same “1st half” roundtrip, there is a lot more noise, disturbance, and less wildlife! Our driver was also an hour late, which at first was upsetting, but it turned out to be a blessing. By leaving an hour after the crowds of other jeeps, we had the dirt roads to ourselves for several hours and saw heaps of birds, deer, crocs, a wild boar and other critters. Krishna took us through many diverse habitats, and really worked hard to spot a wide variety of birds… We visited the gharial captive breeding center, a critical facility that is trying to save this rare crocodile. The kids oohed and aaahhhhed at the “cute” reptiles! A lunch break at a truly remote and somewhat ramshackle observation platform gave us a full 45 minutes to quietly watch a one-horned Rhino and her 2 offspring slowly graze by… The “baby” was about 6 months, and the 2-3 year old was still hanging around the pair. Momma was pretty pushy and aggressive with her “teenager,” grazing together but firmly keeping it away from the baby. It was such a thrill to catch glimpses of these massive creatures, just 100 yds. away, so well camouflaged in the dense elephant grass! The afternoon brought us past several oxbow lakes, and we finally exited at Kasara, the park HQ, to drive at higher speed outside the park back to Sauraha. This allowed us to linger longer inside the further away less-visited parts of Chitwan. On the way back, in the buffer zone “community forests,” we spotted our best Rhino yet…. Just 10 yards away in a creek drainage. We parked on the tiny bridge, with the engine humming just in case, close enough see her nostrils flaring and hear her sniffing us! What amazing animals! As a sweet unexpected treat, we enjoyed the “huge red ball sunset,” and the alpenglow on the Himalaya, about 80 or 90 miles to the north…. We could pick out Annapurna, Manaslu, and Dhalagiri, where we trekked just a few months ago! Ahhhhhh…. So lovely!!!! And it was pretty amazing to be seeing such an astounding span of altitude, viewing the 27,000-foot peaks from the 500’ Terai!

The next day we decided to take an hour-long canoe ride, and visit the elephant breeding center. Drifting in the dugout canoe down the Budhi Rapti gave us up-close views of crocodiles and gorgeous birds like herons, egrets, storks and several species of iridescent kingfishers. The birds don’t seem to recognize a floating boat full of humans as a threat, so they rarely flew away as we drifted by. Had we been on foot, we would have spooked them…

Elephants can move safely and efficiently through the jungle, and the breeding center raises and trains them for jungle patrols, park service work, wildlife surveys & research, and for tourist rides! The kids literally flipped-out over the baby elephants, and are already making plans to study zoology & “elephantology” so they can work with elephants someday. The 2-year old brothers living here are apparently the first surviving pair of twin elephant babies born anywhere in the world… pretty cool! After the elephants all headed out to graze in the jungle with their parents and trainers, we took a few hours to stroll back to town. Tharu villages are scattered around the area, surrounded with brilliant yellow mustard flowers that they harvest for the oil. The houses and barns are built with mud walls plastered on a framework of grass that’s harvested once a year from inside the Park. We saw bundles of elephant grass everywhere, drying in the sun, waiting to be used for walls and to repair and re-thatch their roofs. Thousands of cuuuuute baby animals thrilled our kids, and made the miles roll by quickly.

That evening we actually got to board our elephants, rocking & swaying through the community forest for couple of wonderful hours… again, we saw tons of birds, and a couple of species of deer; chital & barking deer. You ride on a square wooden “howdah” perched 10-12 feet high on the elephants’ back. The “mahout” sits on the elephant’s neck, and drives it by pushing his bare feet into the huge floppy ears. The occasional corrective whack on the elephant’s head with a stick disturbed our kids, but our mahout was relatively gentle with “Ranikoli.” The constant wave-like swaying and rocking made me wonder if people ever get “elephant-sick.” Do mahouts ever take Dramamine? We thoroughly enjoyed the meditative swaying pace of the elephant, and the kids were quieter than usual, carefully scanning the thick vegetation for deer and birds from their elevated perch…. What a ride!

Sunset from the back of the largest land mammal on the planet puts everything into perspective. It seemed as if we could see the curve of the earth from up there as the big red ball settled into the soup for the night.

On our last day we had planned to do another morning canoe float in a new area, and then have a more relaxed afternoon…. but several of the best experiences were yet to come! The canoe ride down the Jan Khola (?) was even better than the first, with far more exquisite birds and surprisingly clean clear water! The kingfishers were stunning in the morning light… my new favorite color is “kingfisher blue!” There were also several crocs, including a 6-footer who slipped into the river, swam straight towards our canoe, then disappeared under the water grasses directly under us…. “That was REALLY cool… but a little scary too,” said Sylvie.

We got back to Sauraha just in time to see the mahouts bringing their elephants down to the river for their daily bath, and everyone is welcome to join in for a good scrub… for 50 rupees! The kids went bonkers, and gushed repeatedly about this being “the BEST thing I’ve ever EVER done in my life!!!!” They were required to wear huge life jackets for “safety,” but that was the only precaution… this is definitely not OSHA approved! 3 or 4 people scrambled up on the elephant’s back as they kneeled on the ground. The kids struggled to cling to each other and to its backbone as the beast lumbered and jerked up to it’s feet, then tromped on into the river… then it was splashing, laughing and elephants spraying everyone with their trunks for an hour. Eventually the animals would lay down in the river (more like squatted and fell over into the water), and the riders tumbled off too. Then they got to scrub the bristly elephant hides and backs with stones they’d picked up off the riverbed. Having such playful & close physical contact with those massive creatures made our kids giddy with joy! I was a bit worried one might roll over and squash someone, but no one got hurt… And we were the only ones around for an hour or so… until a huge crowd of 30 Nepali teenage boys showed up, stripped to their black undies, and rampaged around the river screaming, splashing, and tossing rocks and yelling as they pushed each other off of elephant backs. The final judgment, from Dawn & Maya, was “that was even better than swimming with dolphins, and that cost us $170!”

On our last evening, Anil and Krishna took us on an evening bird walk

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rafting the Seti River

Our time in Nepal is winding down… and we are having such mixed feelings about leaving! As a grand finale, we planned to raft through the “middle hills” down to the flat Terai, then visit Chitwan National Park to view wildlife. We chose one of the milder “easy” rivers, the SETI, as other options could be quite chilly in late December! It’s known as having “remarkably warm water,” which became a running joke during out trip! When the sun was out, it was indeed balmy warm and quite comfortable…. But nights and mornings were quite misty and chilly. We were so thankful to have brought our long underwear, fuzzy hats, fleece layers, and warm sleeping bags! No one went swimming voluntarily!!!

We rode a Pokhara bound bus, but off-loaded with our gear at the Madi Khola bridge near Damauli. We helped our crew haul all the various and sundry (and heavy!) boating chunks down to the river, and spent an hour or two pumping up & rigging the boats. As all river runners know, it is such a fine moment to float away from a road bridge… heading downstream…. leaving noise and chaos behind, and knowing you won’t see cars, roads, or big towns for a few days! We immediately floated through a massive tangle of boulders, and then joined with the Seti river. This river flows through a once remote canyon, with fairly pristine jungle on both sides… of course, there is now a rough vehicle road being built along one bank, so the canyon experience will be changing. For now, however, it was a wonderfully quiet, calm float, with a few exciting splashy Class 2 & 3 rapids to enjoy! There is also fantastic bird-watching, as many high altitude species spend their winters right here on the banks of the Seti. We saw many wall creepers, plumbeous water redstarts, white-capped water redstarts, wagtails, kingfishers, forktails, egrets, ruddy shelducks, and even a few Egyptian vultures! Our campsites were on huge sandy beaches… huge because the water has receded so much since the summer monsoon rains. Our wonderful river guides (Krishna, Gopal, Subha & Milhan) set up our tents, cooked amazing meals, and danced by the fire each night!

On the 3rd day, we laughed through the last of the bouncy rapids and suddenly spilled out onto the flat Terai, leaving the Mahabharat hills behind. It was a wonderful transition from the foothills of the Himalaya, to the plains of India… our remote Seti River flowed into the road-side Trisuli River, then merged with the Kali Gandaki at the sacred confluence of Devghat. Now this wide slow-moving water-way is called the Narayani, and we paddled for a couple more hours to reach Narayanghat. We just pulled up to the edge of a small city, broke down the gear on concrete steps (ghats), walked up to a street and boarded a bus! Public transport rafting shuttles… Waving goodbye to our smiling guides, we were off to the jungles of Chitwan!

Trekking in Langtang - part 2

Once we climbed up to Kyangjin Gompa, the ridiculous mountain scenery really kicked in! This high alpine valley is surrounded by 20,000+ foot peaks… Langtang Lirung, Langtang 2, Ganchenpo, Yubra Himal, Yala Peak, Kinshung…… Huge white glaciers, groaning active icefalls, jagged fluted snow ridges with occasional avalanches whooshing down… You can just bundle up and sit outside, hot milk tea in hand, and gaze in any direction at the marvelous scene. Yaks wander and graze on the nearby “hills,” and local lodge owners chase down their horses and ponies to pack ‘em up with a load to carry up or down the canyon.

We stayed 3 nights at Kyangjin, because of the fine scenery and great dayhikes in the area. At over 12,500 feet, we had to be careful of altitude sickness, so we ascended a bit slower than the “average” trekker. Spending a night each at Syabrubensi, Syarpagaon, Ghoretabela, and Langtang allowed us to ascend about 1,500 feet per night. Our girls did great, with just a minor headache or two… probably from dehydration, not altitude! We really had to force them to drink lots of water!

A favorite dayhike climbs up 3,000 feet to Kyangjin Ri, a nearby 15,500 foot “hill” that’s decorated with many prayer flags. From the summit you can spot a few peaks over the border in Tibet, as well as get close-up views of the Langtang peaks and Yubra Himal icefall. From a science teacher’s perspective, the most amazing sight was the textbook-perfect set of lateral moraines flanking the receding glacier far below. Karen and I were up here ten years ago, with baby Eliza in a backpack… we look forward to viewing our old slides from that trip, and comparing the change in glacier length.

It is also amazing to see the growth in the “village” of Kyangjin Gompa. This place was originally a seasonal settlement, only inhabited in summertime when the yaks and other livestock are grazed up in the highest grassy slopes. 10 to 12 years ago, there were just a few small lodges in Kyangjin Gompa, and we felt a bit guilty to stay in the fancy new lodge with the big windows and “sunroom.” Today, that very same lodge looks old and tired, and is difficult to locate in the forest of 20 newer taller hotels that have sprung up everywhere! Again, we’ll have to check our photos from the late 90’s to compare the growth.

Trekking in December has also been a wonderful thing! There are just a few groups and individuals on the trail, and most of the lodges are virtually empty. In the late October/early November high season, it’s sometimes difficult to find a place to stay, especially with a family of nine! But up at Kyangjin, with such a proliferation of lodges, I can’t imagine that they ever fill up! How can all those small businesses and tea houses survive? The lack of trekkers has been great, but it also means that the proprietors of every local restaurant, village inn, or tea shop that we pass, literally beg us to stop in and stay. “Hello Sir! Please stop to take tea!?” “Hello Miss, do you try yak cheese?” “Please looking my shop take biscuit something?” It got a bit tiresome, but it’s totally understandable that they are aching for some income during the low season… and here comes a group of NINE people down the trail (ka-ching!) with kids who might beg for chocolate, biscuits, and tea!!!

The December weather has been stellar! It is below freezing every night, but we keep warm in our polypro long-johns, fuzzy hats and down jackets. Each day the sunshine brings balmy temps, and we sometimes hike in a single T-shirt… but in the shade, it’s chilly! Most of our guest houses fire up a wood stove in the evenings to boil water, as well as warm up the eating area. A few times we just hung out with the staff, and ate in the kitchen, as it was the warmest room.

The other amazing dayhike we did upstream of Kyangjin Gompa was an “ice-frenzy” stroll towards Langshisha Kharka. We wandered along, off trail, letting the kids lead the way. They led us directly to ice, ice and more ICE! Frozen creeks, puddles, and ponds… The main river was awesome with its frozen edges, and amazing ice clumps and stalactites forming on the river banks and boulders. The kids had a “smashing” time busting ice with their walking sticks, and tossing boulders here and there… We also had to do some tricky route-finding on the frozen alluvial fans, to avoid breaking through the crust into the moving water below.

It was hard to say goodbye to Kyangjin Gompa, and lose our hard-earned altitude, but returning to the jungly oak/rhododendron forest was wonderful. On our last morning, a helicopter flew in with some photographers who are working on a new coffee table book about the Himalaya. They were so kind and interested in our kids, and invited them in for a bit of “pilot practice.” The kids LOVED it, but the fun event foiled our planned early alpine start! We finally left the helicopter scene and did a super-long downhill day all the way to Lama Hotel. That covered about 2.5 days of uphill trekking in a single descent, and, at our leisurely bird-watching, yak-petting, red panda searching, ice-busting pace, it took quite a long time. We eventually had to pull out the headlamps and finish in the dark… fortunately it’s December, and darkness hits at just 6pm. Our “late night arrival” wasn’t that late…

Our final 2 days dropped down into the deep Langtang khola canyon, through jungly bamboo forests and dripping vine-covered trees… and then back UP, of course, to Thulo Syabru, a wonderful ridge-back village with stupendous views from both sides of each house. From the front windows or balconies, you can gaze back up towards Langtang, and out the back window your view is the entire Ganesh Himal and a few snowy peaks on the Tibetan border. We LOVED Thulo Syabru and our wonderful hosts at the Hotel Lama.

Our final day was an exquisite traverse from Thulo Syabru, through Brabal, and finally down to the dusty road (ack!) at Barkhu. This bit of trail, once the main entry point from Dhunche to start the Langtang trek, now sees much less traffic… and that’s a real shame! It passes through such lovely forest, crosses lush verdant creeks and bridges, and surprises you constantly with dramatic views… Most trekkers head both up and down the more direct and “efficient” route along the river canyon from Syabrubensi, but doing that misses our two favorite sections of trail! By far our favorite, less traveled, more scenic routes in Langtang were the high trails above the dark cold canyon bottom. The Syarpagaon traverse, and the Thulo Syabru/Dhunche traverse rank up there on our “top ten list” of sweetest trekking days in the Himalaya.

Oh yes… as a fine conclusion to an exquisite trek, we were rewarded with the bus ride from H#%*@ back to Kathmandu! The usual 8 hour puke-fest became a 13-hour marathon, as the cliff-hanger road was blocked by a broken down truck. We had to walk around that mess, follow the dusty road for several miles to find food, then leap back onto our passing bus later in the day as it roared through Kalikasthan… The driver was a bit angry and annoyed with the whole thing, and drove like a maniac, trying to make up the lost time. It was a wild ride! A much better option, if we’d had more time, would be to walk all the way back to Kathmandu via Helambu… Next time!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rafting to Chitwan

Just back from the Langtang Trek, and we're packed up for an early departure tomorrow to raft the Seti River. We'll be on the water for 3 days, camping on remote beaches, then will spill out of the Himalayan foothills onto the vast plains (Terai). We hope to ride elephants, spot rhinos, paddle past crocodiles, and go birding each morning. We won't be bringing the laptop on the river, so we'll be updating in a week or so... Time is just flying by now... It's hard to believe that in 10 days we'll be leaving Nepal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A December Trek to Langtang

We just returned from an incredible 10 day hike through the Langtang Valley with our good friends from Yosemite. Tomorrow we are off to raft the Seti River for several days to Chitwan National Park for some elephant riding and rhino spotting... I'll try to summarize the trek before we head out of town again... and before the power cuts out!

Langtang is a high alpine valley "just north" of Kathmandu, right up against the Tibetan border. As the crow flies, it is one of the "closest" treks to Kathmandu, but the boulder-strewn winding dirt road, and 10+ hour bus ride, really make it less accessible and visited than either the Annapurna or Everest regions. This is my 3rd time trekking up in Langtang, and Eliza & Karen's 2nd, and the area still surprises us with its amazing scenery, abundant wildlife, and quiet "undiscovered" trail options...

The "road" to Dunche and Syabrubensi is famously nauseating, so we opted to skip the crowded local bus & hire a Jeep to get us to the trailhead. Uncle Shankar got us the largest 8-seater he could find, and we crammed all 9 of us into the vehicle. This is another advantage of traveling with kids, as 5 of our group are children... very easy to stuff them into small spaces! We'll likely take the bus back home after the trek.

You can begin hiking up to Langtang on any of 3 trails. The most popular seems to be the direct route from Syabrubensi, following the Langtang Khola (river) right up the bottom of the cold shady canyon. As this is the typical option, we chose to avoid it... Far more enjoyable, from my perspective, is the sunny south-facing slope through Kangjim and Syarpagaon. Ten years ago when we were last here, neither of these villages had any real lodges or tea-houses, but now there are a few simple places to stay. The thing we appreciate the most is that these are authentic functioning villages, with a few recent lodges. On some of the main trekking routes, so many clusters of new lodges have sprung up in "convenient" locations to trekkers. We much prefer to stay in the "wrong" places (according to the standard guidebook itineraries), because the village experience is so much more fascinating. So.... up the steeep pine clad slopes to Kangjim and then the magnificent traverse to Syarpagaon. It's a high somewhat flat several miles, thousands of feet above the Langtang Khola, with warm sun and brilliant views.

After a couple of days we rejoined the main trail, and headed up the riverside canyon past Rimche, Lama Hotel, and Gumnachowk to GhoreTabela ("horse-table"). The oak/pine/bamboo/rhodedendron forest is a magical place, where you really wouldn't be surprised to spot elves or hobbits in the mossy understory... We did see loads of lovely birds, and several large groups of Langurs moving through the trees. In this area you begin to see glimpses of the stunning snow-clad peaks of the Langtang group... Langtang 2, Langtang Lirung, etc...

There were days that we hiked up up up, gaining over 3000 feet of elevation. The kids didn’t even notice as they were discussing world politics with Maya and Dawn, or crooning over “cuuuuuuuuute” animals like goats, baby chicks, yaks or the most sacred of all, (to Eliza anyway), the horses and ponies!

One of Lupin’s highlights was, “…hiking up to the windy place…” (that would be Kyangjin Ri…with its tasty views, high winds, glaciers and a glimpse of the Tibetan border peaks! “There were some really different birds up there that I couldn’t believe can live in that wind and cold!"

Eliza says, "The Langtang trek was so awesome! We got to ride Tibetan ponies twice. We got to hike up a huge steep hill that was so hard and steep, but it was really worth it because even though I thought I was going to die of altitude sickness, we got to the top we could see into Tibet!

We began in the lower elevation with banana trees and the views unfolded as we climbed up so high that we were 3000’ from where we started. The final traverse to Sherpagaon was great. We just hiked and talked with our friends and we seemed to be there so quickly! The next day was mostly flat & down until we were at the bottom of the river canyon, then back up through oaks, bamboo, rhododendron forest…hoping as we walked to see a red panda. Even though we didn’t see one, it was one of the most beautiful places on our whole trek. That night was really cool because we were at Tsering’s house. She is the girl who I played with on the Langtang trek in 1999 when I was just one a half years old. I still remember that she gave me my first Pringles! ™ It is hard to imagine that that little girl I have thought of all these years is 13 years old and in school in Kathmandu now! We gave photos and letters to her family and will send them some photos of us together 11 years ago! As we started the next morning, we passed big ice sculpture made by a spraying, leaky hose! We posed for photos with it and broke it up a bit with our bamboo sticks.

We arrived in Langtang later that day where we walked around the pastures of yaks and ponies and met 3 little girls and gave them horseback rides which they loved! We got to help them put their goats in the stable for the night! On our way home we got our feet really muddy and were scared that the parents would be mad at us. They were happy that we had made some local friends and we just had to deal with our own frozen feet.

When we got to Kyangin Gompa the next day we stayed in a tiny little guest house with a man who owned a tiny little black Tibetan pony named Karma. He let us ride that afternoon. It was so awesome because I got to ride double with Dawn! It was soooooo fun. Here we got to do some amazing day hikes. Up the super steep trail which gave us a great view into Tibet. I loved that. I really love Tibet and loved to see Tibetan soil. I hope so much to go there someday. I just love the people and the culture and I want to learn more about Tibet because I now have so many friends who are Tibetan.

The next day we went on a great “ice adventure” crossing icy streams that we could have fallen into and got to break and bust tons of frozen ice…it was cool! We explored around in a little drainage and wanted to get to the other side, but there was so much ice in the way. We had to make our way around carefully so that we didn’t break through the thin places and fall in. I really LOVE that kind of thing! We walked across an abandoned air strip that had white rocks surrounding it. I can’t imagine landing on that incredibly bumpy surface!

The morning we were leaving town, a helicopter landed near our guest house! Out came a couple of travelers with big cameras and smiles. The pilot let us sit in the helicopter and take some funny pictures. We talked with the 3 tourists who came out and they were really interesting. So we got a later start hiking down the canyon, walked all day long, and pulled in to Lama Hotel, our destination, way after dark. When we got there I was soooo tired but the food was great!

The next day we hiked up a really steep hill to Thulo Syabru. I loved this village and the place we stayed with the cute black kitten. We got to sleep with our friends in our own room! We stayed up LATE talking and playing and were so tired the next morning. It was worth it!

I was sad to finish the trek because it was beautiful and I love the life of trekking; the adventures, the exercise, the scenery and meeting new people every day. Then, we got on the bus home…Achhhhh! Nothing to say, but maybe the videos or photos will sum up the ride!