Walking the walk – Far West Section
11 April 2012 Ratapani (1431 m)-Kolti (1390 m) 7 hrs
We were walking in quite a barren, desolate landscape for most of the time today. The villages along the way looked like small oases, with their bright green fields of wheat. The arid, barren landscape, the heath, the cactuses, and the shepherds with their goats or cows, gave us the feeling we are not only walking in the Far West, but also in the Wild West.
In Riga, a tiny settlement of just a few houses, one woman asked me to make a picture, which is quite special, as normally I am the one asking if I can make a picture of them. It turned out that she wanted a family picture. After having taken it, they asked me to send it to them. But how to send mail to such a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere?? I was suggesting to email it to the boarding school the children go to. But then the man of the house went inside and came back with an envelope, addressed to him, sent by somebody in Holland (my country)! So mail does arrive even here! Probably the guy who sent it never knew whether his pictures arrived, so in case you read this, Marc Nederlof from Leeuwarden, your pictures have arrived, and they are very happy with it !
The trail was following the Karnali River most of the day. At one point we had to climb high above the river on a rocky trail, which was quite scary, as the trail was pretty narrow at some parts, with a vertical drop deep down to the river. You don’t want to make a misstep here….
We stopped in another tiny settlement, Khunekhola. There were lots of papaya trees here, and as we haven’t eaten any fruit for the last 3 weeks, a papaya straight from the tree was very appealing. It was quite difficult to get them though, somebody had to climb in the tree, and use a long stick to shake them from the tree. Nice to see, but unfortunately the papaya wasn’t as nice as we expected!
We had lunch in Artangechaur. A village with a few local restaurants, but with no toilet, and the lady of the restaurant we ate at didn’t have any soap, not for washing dishes, nor for washing hands. Dishes she did with ash. They are not at all aware about hygiene and sanitation and for this reason the cooking was done by our crew. An awareness programme about simple hygienic standards would be good and would definitely have a positive effect on the health of the people living here!
In the afternoon it started to pour down on us, heavily! Fortunately a friendly man let us stay in his house during the heavy shower. I would have been soaking wet, as my rain gear is not 100% waterproof. We went on when the heaviest part was over, but not before having taken pictures of each other. Each time it surprises me as people in these remote parts take out their camera . Unfortunately it was kind of drizzling all afternoon, a bit boring to walk. But what to do…
We are staying in Kolti now, a small bazaar town. Nice to be able to do a bit of shopping: washing powder for our clothes, pain cream for our knees, candies to keep us going, etc.
In the evening we met Jivan Karki, who is working for a small NGO, Phase Nepal (www.phasenepal.org), bringing health care to remote areas in the west. They are expanding their area and he was here to do a baseline study of the health situation of the people living here; which is not very good at the moment. Good to know that there are organizations like this working here, as it is very much needed!
12 April 2012 Kolti (1390 m)-Martadi (1591 m) 10 hrs
In the morning we had an interesting conversation with Farid Ait Mansour of another small and good NGO working here, Next Generation Nepal (www.nextgenerationnepal.org). They are trying to prevent child trafficking and reunite children who do have been trafficked with their families. Child trafficking is a huge problem, especially in West-Nepal. Parents actually pay money to send their children to Kathmandu, expecting that they will get a good education there. In Kathmandu these children end up in fake orphanages, in which most of the times they live in poor conditions, so that the owner of the orphanage gets money from tourists who visit the orphanage. It is a sad situation. They also published a book about this, Little Princes.
This was probably the longest day of our trek! In the afternoon I walked with Paribesh and Samir and we arrived in our hotel at 8.45 pm! I have to add that we “already” arrived in Martadi at 7.45 pm, but we stopped for barbecued mutton (sekuwa). Which was a real treat ! It was quite a hike: we climbed to a pass of 2710 m (my GPS shows that all together we climbed 2043 m) and had to go 1100 m down again, and we walked a total distance of about 29 km. I am quite exhausted, I have to say!
In the morning we passed lots of villages. This is quite a fertile valley, which attracts many people. Most of the houses have a cactus on the roof of their house and we were wondering why. It turned out that this is to prevent lightening to hit the house! According to the people living here, lightening has never struck a house with a cactus on the roof. It is only necessary to put a cactus on your roof if it is a stone slate roof. If you have a straw roof, this is not needed. Interesting!
Close to the pass we entered a beautiful forest and most of the way down went through forest as well, passing a small village now and then. At around 7 pm the trail arrived at a wild flowing river. Without a bridge… We had to pass it stone hopping! Samir crossed it immediately, but Paribesh and I spent about 10 minutes looking for a better place to cross it. Meanwhile it was getting dark, and we had to cross soon, as crossing in the dark would only be more difficult. Quite scary! In the end we managed, for me it was quite difficult, and my feet got soaking wet. But at least we crossed safely! Later we found out that a bit more upstream there was a kind of bridge of stones, which would have been a lot easier option !
We had to walk in the dark now, and at 7.45 we finally arrived in the small town of Martadi. Samir asked around for snacks, and luckily we found this nice sekuwa place. After arrival in our hotel (Baniya Hotel, which has 21 rooms!), we got more food: first soup, then spaghetti. Whow, I can’t remember how long ago it was I ate something else than dahl bath (rice and lentils)! After food, I went straight to bed, completely exhausted…
13 April 2012 Martadi (1591 m)-Koth (1962 m) 6 hrs
Happy New Year! According to the Nepali calendar, today is the first day of 2069. So Nepal is a bit ahead of the western world . I hadn’t really a party evening yesterday (fáááár to tired!), but some friends in Kathmandu had a good New Year’s Eve party yesterday I heard.
We left a bit later, so I could still do some work in the morning, as yesterday I was too tired to even look at my computer. All day today we still felt tired of yesterday (at least Elizabeth and me, but also the men of our team were taking a power nap while waiting for the lunch). In fact we are not only tired, but have all kind of pains, like painful knees, shoulders, feet. I even have shooting pains in my bottom! Didn’t know that that was possible! Fortunately “only” 6 hours of walking today…
It was a day of lots of steep ups and downs, at least before lunch. After our lunch in Kirtichaur, we were entering a valley with lots of small medieval looking villages, with small houses with straw roofs, surrounded by green fields. Medieval looking, but with electricity (hydro power) and some houses even with Nepal Disc TV! People here are clearly not used to see foreigners, as in every village people stopped what they were doing and were coming out of their houses to see how we were passing by. As if we were some celebrities! Well, it is of course the Climate Smart Celebrity Trek . I tried to tell them that the real celebrity is Apa Sherpa, but they didn’t listen!
We are staying in Koth/Kothgaon (VDC Manakoth), in a small room without any windows and a very low roof, sleeping on the ground; it is a bit like being in a cave. Water is a precious thing here, as the villagers have to go far to get it. So we could only use a tiny bit for refreshing ourselves. How fortunate I am living in Kathmandu, even though the water is rather scarce there as well!
14 April 2012 Koth (1962 m)-Tuti (2020 m) via Bateli Bhanjyang pass (3232 m) 8 hrs
We slept very well in our little cave, but would have loved to sleep a few hours more. Both Elizabeth and I had an “off-day” today. We’re low on energy and the pass was quite a struggle, both the climb as the descend. That also meant we were pretty slow! Apa Sherpa arrived around 3 pm, we at 5.45 pm…. It is normal that we arrive an hour later than Apa and his team (logically we can’t keep up with Apa Sherpa), but this is quite extreme! Fortunately we have a short day tomorrow, about 3 hours walking. Hopefully this will give us time to recover.
Meanwhile it was a beautiful walk, almost completely through the forest. We left at about 8.30 and didn’t see any settlements until 5 pm. It was a pretty steep climb, and as we got higher, the landscape got more and more barren. At about 2850 m there was a little shrine, and it even looked like the pass was there, as the trail went a bit down after this. But we still had to climb almost 400 m to the real pass, the Bateli Bhanjyang pass (3232 m). Crossing the pass, we were also entering in a new district, Bajhang district (leaving Bajura district). In the barren landscape were some lonely rhododendron trees, which were in full blossom, a beautiful sight! After the pass we entered the forest again, and also here were lots of rhododendrons, some with pink flowers and others rose-red. Very beautiful!
Unfortunately it was raining most of the afternoon. It seems like the monsoon started early this year! At 5.45 pm we finally arrived in Tuti/Tutigaon. We are staying in a small guesthouse, which has 3 single rooms only, so one for Elizabeth, one for Paribesh and one for me. What a luxury! But also nobody to chat to!
15 April 2012 Tuti (2020 m)-Chainpur (1290 m) 4 hrs
The rain continued, all through the night, and hadn’t stopped in the morning. Very difficult to motivate yourself to start walking in the pouring rain, I can tell. It looked like it wasn’t going to stop this day, so we had to start going, what to do. Fortunately we had only a short day today. And even better, after about an hour the rain did stop! When it is dry, you start enjoying the landscape again, which was really nice, with bright green and yellow terraces with wheat and barley stretching out till the horizon, and small villages spread out into it.
Around lunch time we arrived in Chainpur, which is not a very beautiful city, but still it has lots to offer: the possibility to do laundry, a hot bucket shower (after 9 days!), nice milk tea (only 1 cup though, although I see cows everywhere, milk seems to be scarce around here), fruit, samosa’s, nice biscuits and a room with television. Enough to make us happy!
In the afternoon it started raining again, including thunderstorms, it looks like monsoon really started already. I hope it will be dry tomorrow, as we have a long day ahead of us!
We spent a great evening, watching National Geographic and a movie, having diner in front of the television. Very luxury, room service !
16 April 2012 Chainpur (1290 m)-Jhota (979 m) 6 ½ hrs
Fortunately we woke up with a beautiful blue sky! That is a lot nicer walking!
To go to Darchula (which is northwest of Chainpur), we are taking a different route than the GHT trail indicated on the map, which goes north from Chainpur. With that trail we have to cross a pass of around 4,500 m. Here in the Far West the snow starts at a much lower altitude than in other parts of Nepal (I also don’t know why that is; it’s a different micro climate), and to cross this pass we would need special equipment. Probably it would be ok to cross the pass later in the year, like in May, but now it is not recommendable to go there without proper equipment. This means we are going straight westwards now and northwards later.
The trail started very nicely, passing charming villages surrounded by green fields, like Ritapatha (1257 m). We also passed the airstrip, just a flat piece of grassland, from which flights are going to Nepalgunj in Southwest Nepal.
After about 2 ½ hours we arrived at the dirt road, which we were following for the rest of the day. Unlike the dirt roads we sometimes walked on during the last couple of weeks, this road does have quite some traffic, and once and a while we had to step aside for a truck or bus. We had hardly seen any motorized traffic for a long time, and now suddenly a plane, buses and trucks. Culture shock! The people in the bus must think we are crazy! “Why are they walking if you can take the bus?”
Although it is nicer to walk on a small trail than on the road, it was quite a nice walk, walking alongside the roaring Seti River which was surrounded by bright green and yellow fields of barley and wheat, and passing many small villages. Most women we met were wearing colorful dresses and bright yellow necklaces. Whereas most people in Bajura, the previous district, were too shy to even greet us (they just looked at us in amazement), here the people are quite open and almost always answer my “Namasté!” and sometimes even start some small talk (where are you coming from today; where are you going to and where are you from). Funny how that is different per district!
The bazaar villages look a bit funny, with shops and local restaurants constructed from corrugated iron plates. It looks a bit as if they were put there as a temporary building, but people just left it that way. We are staying in one of these villages, Jhota. We noticed that quite a lot of NGOs are working here, and the UN World Food Programme has an office here as well. May be that is why people seem to be more used to see white faces like us.
The WFP distributes soya been oil in these areas. Families get the oil for free under the condition that their children go to school and can demonstrate an attendance rate of minimal 80 %. Seems like a good system to me! Especially because I do see children working, for example a young goat herder of 9 years old. This kid needs to be in school!
17 April 2012 Jhota (979 m)-Jhapa (1185 m) 8 ½ hrs
I woke up with the sounds of tropical birds, you can notice we are at a lower altitude. The day started with a bright blue sky, but already during breakfast clouds were gathering. Soon after we took off it started raining. Again! Walking on the dirt road, in the rain, you can imagine that this wasn’t one of the best days. But fortunately after a couple of hours the rain stopped.
After lunch we left the dirt road, and continued on another one, but this one doesn’t seem to be in use by motorized transport, so it felt more like walking on a large path. It was easy walking, mostly flat, with good views to the river and the green and yellow fields with wheat and barley below.
It was a long day, we walked about 35 km in total. Music keeps me going! At nearly 6 pm some local villagers instructed us to leave the dirt road, and go down on a steep slope; this would save us time. Arriving down, we found out we had to cross the river as well. Arriving at the wild flowing river, we found out we had to cross it via a wooden bridge, consisting of one tree trunk. A bit scary I can tell, especially because it was tilting a bit! But fortunately we all crossed safely, without any difficulty.
We arrived at 6.45 pm in our camp for today, Japha, a tiny village. No tourist facilities here, but we managed to get a few rooms! Elizabeth gave treatment to Prakash, one of the porters, who has a huge open blister on the bottom of his foot. That must have hurt incredibly! Imagine how strong these guys are!
18 April 2012 Jhapa (1185 m)-Sela (988 m) via pass Ganayi Khan (2126 m) 8 ½ hrs
Another long day! The distance was a lot less, “only” 24 km, but the climb to the pass, although relatively low, made it tough. I arrived in Sela at 7.45 pm, in the dark. There is no place to stay here, so we are camping again. The last time we camped was Rara Lake. May be this will be the last time we are camping during the whole GHT! As we have only 2 more days to go….
Today we walked all day on a small trail through a nice green landscape, amidst green terraces and some small forests. Beautiful countryside! I want to be honest with you, the last couple of days I had a bit enough of all the walking, I was getting more and more tired, my knees were paining, and I was very much looking forward to be home in Kathmandu again. Seeing my friends again, having different food, not being an attraction for the local children, sleeping in a good bed, put other clothes, etc. I guess it is logical to be looking forward to be home again after such a long time. But today, now the end is really getting near, I suddenly felt melancholic about reaching the end. I will surely miss the beautiful mountains, the countryside, the nice villages, the encounters along the way, the clean air and the sounds of the crickets, birds, and village life when I’m back in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Instead of the bells of the mules, goats and cows, I will hear the claxons of the cars!
19 April Sela (988 m)- Gogani (1357 m) via pass Sipti (2094 m) 8 hrs
We woke up being surrounded by a bunch of girls around the tent, who were very curious what strange creatures were in there. It worked a bit on our nerves, so early in the morning, but later we heard that they had never seen foreigners before, so we have to give them a bit of credit here .
Today was another long day! Fortunately I arrived just before dark, around 7 pm, but Elizabeth had to walk in the dark again, as she was arriving around 8 pm. Again we had to climb a pass, and although the pass was relatively low (2094 m), it was one of the hardest climbs we had. I think it is easier to climb from 2000 to 3000 m, than from 1000 to 2000 m. At least in this time of the year, as end April to end May is the hottest period. The climb was completely in the open, no relief of shade, it was incredibly hot!
This was our last full day, and in a way I felt like today was a kind of a summary of what we experienced during our GHT trek. A long day, the heath, a long climb, which I enjoyed at first, but got very strenuous at the end, we lost the trail for a while, and the long descend which was hard for the knees. We got it all! But also nice landscapes, beautiful mountain views (Api Himal, 7132 m), nice encounters along the way and beautiful villages!
20 April 2012 Gogani (1357 m)-Darchula (890) via Dhalek (2139 m) 5 ½ hrs
We did it! We’ve reached Darchula, and we completed the whole GHT! I still can’t really believe that the trek is over. We just repacked for our bus journey of tomorrow, and the moment of shortening the walking sticks was really a sign that tomorrow we are really not walking.
In the end we still walked about 5 ½ hours today, which you could call a full trekking day. But compared to the other days of our trek, yes, this was more or less a half day .
It was a beautiful walk through a green valley full of green terraces and scattered villages. Only the last 2 hours we were walking through a more desolate landscape.
It was quite exiting to arrive in Darchula, ending about 3 months of walking. But strange enough none of us were really in a party mood, may be because we are all not fully realizing it. Probably only when we are really back in Kathmandu we will. We still have 2 days traveling ahead of us, tomorrow a 14 hour bus ride and the day after a flight. We are leaving at 5.30 am!
21 April Darchula (890 m)- Dhangadhi (176 m), 19 hour bus ride
5.30 am Nepali time, in the end we left at 7 am, as in the early morning there was an improvised honoring program for Apa Sherpa. And in the end the journey took a bit longer, 19 long hours. This was may be the hardest day of the whole GHT! Although we didn’t walk more than from hotel to bus, bus to breakfast, lunch and dinner place and toilet, it was a very tiring day indeed. 19 hours sitting in a bus, over a (at some places very) rough dirt road, that was not much fun. But fortunately all things come to an end and at nearly 2 am we arrived in Dhangadhi. We stayed in a very nice hotel, with even an elevator, airco, etc. All these facilities, it was as the bus was a kind of time machine and we had entered a different time! You can’t believe how nice it was to finally touch the pillow and go to sleep. It is still hard to imagine that tomorrow we’ll be home….
22April 2012 Dhangadhi (176 m)-Kathmandu (1330 m) 1 hour 15 min flight
After a relaxing morning, including the best shower of my life, we went to the airport. It was a smooth flight to Kathmandu, where we received a warm welcome from the national press, Asian Treks and HCI.
At 4.30 pm I turned the key of my apartment. How strange it is to be back home again! And how nice!
23 April 2012 1st day Kathmandu
Early in the morning I woke up from my phone ringing, friends congratulating me for having finished the GHT after having seen the picture of our group on the front page of Kantipur, one of the leading newspapers of Nepal. How nice to see myself on the front page of a news paper . The morning I spent relaxing at home, the afternoon in Kathmandu downtown with Elizabeth. Whow, it was a bit too much hustle and bustle for the first day…. In the evening, pizza a Fire and Ice with a bottle of white wine, celebrating our successful completion of the trek !
24 April 2012 Kathmandu
In the morning our team was received by the President of Nepal, which was originally planned for yesterday, but as that was a national holiday, it took place today. As the chairman of HCI also mentioned during his speech, the end of the trek is just the end of the beginning, in other words the end of the 1st phase. Now it is our duty to promote the trek and the different destinations that are part of it, so more tourists will come and will bring income and job opportunities for the people living in these places. Besides, mitigating the consequences of climate change for the people living in the Himalayas and in the downstream flat lands has to remain high on the political agenda. Tourism can be a way to build the resilience of the people, let’s hope we can make it work! I will do my part in composing itineraries for the whole trek and all the destinations, and in providing practical information about the points of interest for tourists, goods and services available, entrance and exit points, etc. We will put this information on the website soon, hopefully by the end of May. Besides, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you happen to be from the Netherlands, and want to know and see more, I will give powerpoint presentations in Bever outlets this summer. Keep on checking our website for the dates or send me an email!
Far West Section – Flickr Photos