Humla’s little princes
Like other remote regions of Nepal, Humla has been affected severly by the country’s 10-year long civil war, now an immanent part of Nepal’s recent history. What only few know though is that hundreds of Humli children were taken from their homes and families during the war and put in fake orphanages in Kathmandu by child traffickers where they would help to “raise money” from benevolent foreigners.
In his novel “Little Princes”, American Connor Grennan, a former volunteer in the Little Princes Orphanage in war-torn Nepal, reveals the destiny of the so-called “Lost children” and takes readers on a journey to Humla and along on his mission to reunite the “little princes” with their families. During the course of the story, Conor not only finds the parents of the lost children, but starts the NGO Next Generation Nepal, dedicated to help reunite families with children they feared were lost to them forever.
“Little Princes” is a truly heartwarming story and a great book that you will not want to put down. This is what Connor said about why he wrote “Little Princes”:
“When I was first approached about the idea of making the story of my time in Nepal into a book, I turned it down. I was up to my eyeballs in my first year of business school at NYU Stern, with a heavy course load and the challenges of serving as president of my class. My wife Liz was expecting our first child. I was trying desperately to keep Next Generation Nepal (NGN) afloat, running the organization almost singlehandedly while Liz supported us by working long hours at a New York law firm. The thought of simultaneously trying to write a book seemed ludicrous.
After long discussions with Liz, I decided that if I could find the time to write the book, if even a few people read it, it would be a wonderful way to share the story of Nepal, and specifically of the kids, with as many people as possible. We might even bring in some donations. Fundraising for NGN is a difficult and never-ending task, and life was only going to get busier when our son was born.
The book turned out to be a joy to write. It was as if I was back in Nepal, back with the children, reliving my days with them. I loved those days so much. I had taken hundreds of pages of notes in the time I was there, taken literally thousands of photos, and written dozens and dozens of blog entries about it for friends and family back home. Each of the children I knew there remains permanently etched in my mind; I can conjure any of their voices and movements and little traits that identify them—especially the 18 children of the Little Princes Children’s Home, with whom I lived for eight months. They were the ones that changed my heart about Nepal and inspired me to first try to find the families of all those lost children. I named the book “Little Princes” in their honor—it couldn’t be any other way. It’s their story.”
Watch this video about Little Princes:
GHT trek for a good cause
55-year old German Gerda Pauler embarked on an epic journey on the Upper Great Himalaya Trail to raise awareness and funds for the Nepalese NGO Autism Care Nepal, an active organisation supporting parents of autistic children in Nepal. A mountain enthusiast, Gerda had been travelling to Nepal for many years, before she heard about autism in Nepal and the difficult situation of children and parents. She writes: “in 2011 I returned to Nepal for the 10th time and read an article about autism in a local newspaper. Since I work with autistic children myself, I realised that being autistic in Nepal is totally different from being autistic in Europe. An idea was born. How to combine my enthusiasm for the mountains with helping autistic children? The answer came naturally: a Charity Walk – a really long one – The Great Himalaya Trail.”
Gerda’s 4-month long “GHT Walk for a better future” was supported by British mountaineer Sin Chris Bonington and the Norwegian NGO Mountain People and successfully raised considerable funds to help autistic children and their parents in Nepal.
Read below about Gerda’s challenging GHT adventure. For more information, browse her website Great Himalaya Trail Charity Walk.
“Is it really necessary to be young and super sporty to follow the Himalaya Trail 1700 km across the mountains of Nepal? Well, not really. In my opinion aim orientated madness,, time and basic mountaineering experience are sufficient.
At the age of 55 I am no longer that young, and since I stay away from any sort of gym or running tracks I am not the fittest in town – I am just more crazy than others.
Admittedly, I have been to the Himalaya 15 times (no package trips), I climb regularly and use my bike to get to work. However, is this enough?
At the end of March 2012 my guide Temba and I set out from Taplejung in the far east of Nepal; our destination is Kanchenjunga Base Camp (5140 m). Many of the lodges along the trail are pretty basic and already a few days after our start some uninvited guests have found a new home in my sleeping bag and in some of my clothes – fleas. In some places my body resembles the top of an apple crumble pie, and the itching drives me close to madness. However, the breathtaking landscape makes me forget the torments soon, and we arrive at Kanchenjunga Base Camp without any problems.
Two high passes have to be crossed when walking from the Kanchenjunga area to the Makalu-Barun National Park. There are only two villages on the way and we had arranged to meet two porters from Kathmandu in Ghunsa. Sonam and Lakpa will join us; carrying food and camping equipment.
At this time of the year the trail is still buried under deep snow and it seems semsible to employ a local guide in Olangchun Gola to accompany us for two or three days. When he returns to his village he also “takes back” our coffee; this has never been a part of our deal. Yet, in my opinion it is better to be in the right valley without coffee than sipping coffee in the wrong one. I forgive the guide and hope he enjoys a few cups.
All member of my team come from Makalu area and of course this trip is the most perfect opportunity to visit their families and relatives. Nepalese families are big! Occasionally, the eating and drinking starts as early as 7 o`clock in the morning. Endurance is of uppermost importance because everyday countless cups with Tibetan Tea (tea with salt and butter) have to be emptied and six plates filled with Mt. Everest sized heaps of rice have to be managed. Luckily, I am not here in Nepal to lose weight.
Between Hongon and Makalu Base Camp the infrastructure is very poor, and we employ one porter in addition. The following five or six days we cross jungle like forests, wade through streams, balance on tree trunks over rivers and plod through deep snow up a pass from where the trail runs down into a beautiful alpine valley that finally leads to Makalu Base Camp.
There are three passes on the way to the Solo-Khumbu and they require basic mountaineering skills and proper equipment. When getting to Sherpani Col (almost 6,200 m) I am filled with joy and I am very proud about myself — well, and a bit gasping for oxygen.
After having crossed West Col (6,190 m and Amphu Labsta 5,780 m) safely into Solo-Khumbu we consider us lucky; very lucky. I am sure that all the blessings we had received from the older women in the villages where my team comes form, contributed to our success.
In Chukhung the rumor goes that there are modern terrace cafes in the next village where Cappuccino is available. Adverts all over the world promise you to get wings when drinking a certain energy drink. I cannot confirm it, but the mere thought of a cup of Cappuccino makes me “fly” down the hill. I even manage to pass several locals!
The last time I visited the Mt. Everest area had been in 1989 and I am virtually shocked by the amount of people I meet while walking down towards Namche Bazar. Yet, I also notice all the positive changes: better hygienic standard, electricity, excellent communication systems and even a dental clinic offering European standard.
Via Namche Bazar and Thame we continue to Tashi Labsta (5,760m), our last “technical obstacle“ on my journey across Nepal. The weather forecast is pretty dismal, and we already look for an alternative route. All of a sudden good news: a 24 hours gap with sunshine in a couple of days. However, the question remains: do we make it to the pass until then. We push on and have the most perfect conditions for the crossing. following days we walk down Rolwaling valley; through forests, along meadows full of alpine flowers and wild strawberries, fields where the corn gets ripe until …. If there is one thing I do not fancy at all it is HEAT. The abrupt change from the cold of higher altitudes to the summer heat of the hills ends with a heat stroke. Although I decide to walk on after one rest day I am affected for about one week; feeling weak and dizzy all the time.
“The Last Resort”, beside the Kodari Highway not only greets us with luxury we had been deprived of for some time but also with “modern” tourism. The visitors come here for rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning and team building activities. I feel that I do not belong here, and already the next day we continue to Helambu/Langtang.
About one week later we get to the trail running to the holy lakes of Gosainkund which I have never seen before and thus chosen as my destination. I send my whole team back to Kathmandu and walk on; on my own. Though the main season for Hindu pilgrims has not begun yet I meet some illustrious figures – mainly overweight – sitting on horses and heading for the holy lakes to take a purifying bath or to circambulate the lakes; this means merits for the life to come.
Traversing Ganesh Himal is a challenge; not because of demanding passes or difficult trails but because of the lack of touristic infrastructure. The locals are poor and several times the only dish they offer are boiled potatoes and in case they serve my favorite meal, Dhal Bhat (rice with lentil soup and vegetable curry) it frequently arrives without soup. The people lack the money to buy lentils, and even tea is a commodity many of them cannot afford.
About one week later, this area lies behind and together with Temba I continue my journey through the area of Manaslu; a guide is mandatory. It is here that I experience “discrimination“ of tourists for the first time. Whereas Temba gets a huge serving of Dhal Bhat I am served the tiny tourist version of the national dish; almost without any spices. Of course I complain and finally get as much food as him. Curiously, the owner of the hotel watches me when everything disappears from my plate. Well, after almost 80 days on the go I am pretty hungry all the time, and by now I could win any Dhal Bhat eating competition.
I fall in love with the beauty of the landscape the Manaslu area offers, and I wonder why there are only a few tourists opting for this trek. Maybe it is because of the costs for the required permit and the mandatory guide but in my opinion it is worth investing some money. Here, one experiences trekking in pristine nature and in no other place (apart from Solo-Khumbu) one gets closer to an 8,000 metre peak. The monastery in Lho would be the perfect place to stay for a couple of days; to wonder and ponder, to relax and meditate. Unfortunately, I have to walk on.
About ten days later we reach the legendary Round Annapurna Trail, which is, together with the treks in the Everest area, the main trekking destination for visitors from all over the world. I send Temba back to Kathmandu to get the permits for the remaining sections and to put a supporting team together for Upper Dolpo. Melancholy memories pop up. I have been travelling in the Annapurna area since the 80ies when it was still possible – I should say: necessary! – to walk the entire circuit without seeing a road or any vehicles. Today, two roads (one from the east and one from the west) have been built and a great part of the way can be done by sitting in a bus or in a jeep; one could even hire a motorbike to go to Manang. Is the Annapurna Trail going to die? It is difficult to answer the question, but fact is that in some places hotels are closing down for good; the bus tourists do not stop for a meal or a cup of tea. But maybe it is a start into a new and different era? Already now one thing is for sure: the Annapurna Circuit is the number ONE destination for ambitious cyclists. I cross the Thorong La (5,416m) and arrive two days later in Kagbeni where I meet Temba and a small group of porters; two lovely young ladies and a young man.
Dolpo opened for tourists in 1992 but extremely high costs for permits, the rule that one has to travel in a group (at least two people) and problems with the Maoists have limited the number of visitors. My traverse from east to west turns out to be demanding; in two ways. On the one hand, Upper Dolpo is not connected to the road network. Thus any kind of transportation is difficult and costly and results in high prices for everything. The poverty of the locals (90 % live under the poverty line) hampered any touristic development and there are hardly any hotels or shops. Once, Temba returns from one of his ramble through a village with fresh spinach for our dinner; a rare luxury!
On the other hand ten 5,000 metre passes have to be crossed. Arriving at the last one I am physically exhausted and suspect the muscles of my legs have gone on holiday without giving notice. A feeling of great relief takes over when I finally reach the top and luckily, the trail runs down the valley to Gamgadhi for a couple of days.
Regarding ethnic groups, Jumla is exceptional. Generally, the GHT runs parallel to the Tibetan border and the area is inhabited by people who originally came from Tibet and follow Tibetan Buddhism. Here, there are mainly Hindus and since tourists are few and far between they stare at me as if I have just arrived from a faraway galaxy; a creature with two heads and three noses. My friendly “Namaste” remains unnoticed and unanswered. My smiles provoke just more stares. Honestly, I am happy to come back to Buddhist culture when arriving in Simikot.
The final sprint to the Tibetan border – politically correct: China – is a walk in the park. The trail follows the Yari valley and the few pus and downs are moderate. The landscape slowly changes from alpine to arid and one gets the first impression of wht the Tibetan plateau is like. A last 4,000 metre pass has to be crossed just before the settlement of Hilsa and 123 days after my start in Taplejung I reach the border.
I did it, but still I cannot believe it. Would I do it again? YES!”
Nepal Traverse (Upper GHT) by Dutch mountaineer Katja Staartjes
Katja Staartjes is the first Dutch woman who successfully climbed Mount Everest. She also lead successfully some expeditions to other eighttousend meter peaks. She and her husband (Henk Wesselius) are now doing a complete Nepal Traverse, starting in West-Nepal. This traverse is practically the same as the Upper GHT. In the Far West and Far East the trail Katja and Henk are walking is a bit different, as their goal is to go from the triple border point Tinkar La (in the west) to triple border point Jhingsang La (in the east). Up till now they have done the west and central part till Syabru. For this autumn is the track from Syabru to Tumlingtar is planned. They are trekking light style, partly joined by 1 or 2 Nepali. One of them is their friend Chhiree Sherpa from Myths and Mountain Trails, with whom they also did the western part in 2011.
Read more on Katja’s website.
For those who understand Dutch, can check out her site dedicated to the GHT Traverse as well.
Trekking in Nepal
Early this year I had my most spectacular trekking in Nepal experience ever: I walked the Lower Great Himalaya Trail from East to West Nepal. For 88 days I have been walking in the Himalayas, walking through very varied landscapes, from spectacular high altitude landscape to bright green agricultural fields and terraces. Of course the snow capped Himalayas were in view regularly. Most of the time we slept in local guesthouses or homestays in small villages, so I had a good chance to get to know authentic Nepali village life.
The highest point of the Lower GHT is the Jang La (4519 m) , the pass that leads from Dhorpatan into Dolpa in West-Nepal. The lowest point was in the Makalu Barun Section, close to Khadbari, only 320 m! And in between these were pass after pass and valley after valley. In total I have climbed (and descended obviously) 87,549 meters, this is almost 10 times Mount Everest! Poor knees!. The total distance I covered is 1412 km. There is still one part missing though, and that is the part between the border with Sikkim/India and Dobhan in East-Nepal. So the total distance of the GHT will be around 1550 km.
Though passing well known areas like Annapurna and Solukhumbu, most of the trail goes through areas which are still hardly visited by international tourists. This gives this trek a special touch as well. Especially in the Far West it was us, the tourists, who were the attraction of the day! If not of the year! People were coming out of their houses when we were passing by, looking at these strange people walking in the distance. When having lunch, the whole village gathered to take a look at us. Of course especially the children were very curious!
I have described my experiences during the trek, section by section, here in the blog section. The first section you find far below (as this section is organized by date, with most recent posts on top). Besides, under GHT treks you can find detailed day by day itineraries (including walking directions) of each section of the trek.
A day by day itinerary of the complete trek you can find here.
During most of the trek you can sleep and eat in small local guesthouses. However, it is indispensable to bring a tent. Cooking equipment is only needed in the stretch between Dhorpatan and Dunai in Dolpa.
If you think of walking the GHT, you could of course also consider to combine the Upper and Lower GHT, walking the Upper GHT for some sections and the Lower GHT for others.
Written by Linda Bezemer, GHTDP Tourism Advisor
Picture perfect Dolpa
In late August, we sent Nepali photographer Samir Jung Thapa to Dolpa to document Shey Festival, an event that is celebrated only every twelve years in the year of the Dragon. Samir brought us incredible pictures of his trek around the Upper Dolpo Circuit. We asked him about his experiences and what makes Dolpa such a special place for photography. Here is what Samir says:
“Dolpa is one of the most remote places in the Himalayas, a land where mysticism and spirituality play an important role in people’s lives. It’s a photographer’s paradise, one where you can express emotions through pictures, and where every picture has a story to tell. Dolpa’s vast landscapes and rich cultural heritage provide for some stunning pictures. The region allows you to play with light and colors, and bring out various interpretations of the same images. The trek to Shey Gompa is very picturesque and filled with changing sceneries: snowy peaks, ancient and remote villages, lush green vegetation, arid landscapes, rich wildlife, lovely Buddhist monasteries and the breath-taking Phoksundo lake.”