Walking the walk – On the trail of the Great Himalayas
Linda Bezemer of the GHTDP reports from the field.
26 January 2012 Kathmandu-Dobhan
Today is the day! I start my big Great Himalaya Trail adventure, joining the team of Apa Sherpa and Dawa Steven Sherpa on their GHT Climate Smart Celebrity Trek. Apa Sherpa is a Nepali hero, who has climbed Mt Everest 21 times, more than anybody in the world. Dawa Steven Sherpa climbed Mt Everest 2 times. Besides there is a professional photographer, Samir Thapa and videographer of Kantipur Television and British Council Climate Champion, Saurav Dhakal, in the team. And of course a big crew of strong Sherpas. They are walking the GHT – mostly the lower or cultural route, but at some parts the higher route – to raise awareness for the consequences of climate change in the Himalayas and for the GHT itself as a climate friendly new tourism product in Nepal. The GHT Climate Smart Celebrity Trek, is part of the Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme (GHTDP) for which I work. GHTDP aims to stimulate tourism in remote mountain areas in order to create income and job opportunities for the people living in these areas. During my trek I will gather as much data as possible about the trail itself; the difficulty, distances, altitudes, attractions, etc and about the goods and services available in the different villages the trail passes through. This will make it easier for other trekkers to walk the trail and for tour operators to offer it as one of their products.
Apa and Dawa Steven Sherpa and their team already left before, to walk a part of the Kanchenjunga base camp trek. From Dobhan in Taplejung they start to trek westwards and I am joining them there. At the moment the quickest way to Dobhan is a flight to Bhadrapur in South East Nepal, followed by a 9 hour jeep ride (within a year the Suketar airport should be ready, which is the starting point of the Kanchenjunga Base Camp trek and about 1 hour drive or 3 hour walk from Dobhan). Unfortunately our flight was 2 ½ hours delayed. We arrived in Bhadrapur at 3 pm, a bit late if you still have to drive for 9 hours…. After a very welcome lunch in a nearby town (Bhirtamod), we set way for Dobhan, passing by beautiful tea plantations in Ilam, Nepal’s famous tea district. We arrived finally at 1 am! I felt quite sorry for the driver, who still had to drive to Taplejung to pick up other passengers at 4 am. No time to rest….
It was not easy to find a place to sleep at that time, but fortunately we managed to wake up a friendly lady who had a room for my porter guides and let me sleep in her room; which we were sharing with some chicken as well, who I found out to be quite noisy eaters!
27 January2012 Dobhan
The lady of the house woke up at 5.30 am. That was far too early for me after the long drive of the day before, so I pushed my earplugs a bit deeper in my ears and went back to sleep. At about half past 7 I woke up. I was facing the wall and was trying to work out a few things on the new gps I had bought for the trip. After 5 minutes or so I turned to the other side….where the lady used to be sleeping, some men were sitting, zipping their tea and studying what I was doing with interest. Ooops! I was sleeping in a teashop full of customers! Definitely time to wake up!
Around lunch time Apa and Dawa Steven Sherpa and their crew entered the village, Apa Sherpa proudly carrying the Nepali flag earlier passed to him by the Nepali president. Nice to meet them here! I can’t wait to start the trek!
he afternoon I spent, visiting the 4 small guesthouses and 2 campsites of the village and gathering info about them. Especially the Hideout Campsite Retreat was surprisingly beautiful, a big peaceful hide away with a cozy lounge restaurant and a few big standing tents with beds inside, quite comfortable. The guesthouses mainly cater for Nepali guests, but if you bring your sleeping bag they are fine places to stay.
Around dinner time we had an official function, with speeches, lots of blessings and katas (white scarves which are used in Nepal to bless a person) to honor the endeavor of our team, but in fact mainly to honor Apa Sherpa, who really is a very big hero in Nepal. The team has received these functions almost twice a day since they started, so probably many will follow!
Tomorrow up to Deurali Banjyang at 2800 m….Dobhan is 658 m, so that will be quite a climb…. a tough start!
28 January 2012 Dobhan (658 m)-Deurali Banjyang (2800 m)
We started walking at 8, and the trail started climbing right away, which it did until it reached Deurali Banjyang. I walked together with the Sherpa porters, and as their loads are quite heavy they quite regularly took a break. And in the end this was quite good, it made the whole walk of today not as difficult as I thought!
Around lunchtime we arrived in the small village of Gorcha (2013 m), where they had organized an official program as well. A traditional dance/music group received us, we received katas and had to drink thungba, hot millet beer (I just zipped a bit, with the climb ahead of me in my mind). Some local authorities came to talk to Apa.
After an hour we had lunch, after which we left, accompanied by the dance/music group. I thought that that was it! But this was all just an introduction to the official program, which consisted of speeches, followed by lots of blessings with katas and vermillion powder, and performances of all the cultural groups living in the village; a Limbu, Tamang and Sherpa Dance. In fact it is great to see how people love Apa Sherpa and how our, and especially Apa’s presence, helps to raise awareness for the Great Himalaya Trail as a new tourism product and the possibilities it can bring for the local people.
But meanwhile it was 15.30 and we still had a climb of about 800 meters/4 hours ahead of us…. So I was happy when they finally allowed us to leave . And I was even happier that the climb went quicker than expected and we arrived just before dark in Deurali Banjyang.
And as the night sat in, so did the cold…..
29 January 2012 Deurali Banjyang (2800 m)-Nundaki (1540 m)
After a freezing night (even the water in my water bottle was frozen), we woke up with a beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga Range.
What a nice surprise!
The walk started with an easy climb to a small pass at 2922 m, during which we had even better views of the Kanchenjunga range and also the Makalu came in view. After the pass the trail went down, sometimes steeply and sometimes rather flat. We walked high on the slope, with views on rice fields and grasslands where yaks graze, with once and a while a tiny settlement.
Around 4 pm we arrived in the small village of Nundaki where we set tent. A great relaxed day of walking in the mid hills of Nepal!
30 January 2012 Nundaki (1540 m)-Bhanjyang Pucha (824 m)
Today we had to cover a long distance, about 18 km. But as we didn’t have to climb a lot, it was still quite an easy day. A big part of the day went over a dirt road, which wasn’t really a problem, as all we encountered were a few motorbikes.
The walk went through cardamom fields, rice paddies (it must be bright green here in summer!) and small villages. Among these, Chainpur was the bigger one, with a big bazar (market). It is a lovely village, with well kept walking lanes and beautiful houses. After Chainpur we took a small trail again, walking amidst rice terraces. On the way, I met a small group of people, among which a girl in a bright pink sari who looked very beautiful. I asked if I could take a picture, which was ok, but to my surprise, immediately the young man who accompanied her took out an (also) bright pink camera and said, “But then we also want to make a picture of you!” So there we were taking pictures of each other. It turned out, that they were just married! Nice encounter on the way!
We pitched our tents next to a small bamboo teashop in the middle of the rice terraces, with beautiful views on the surrounding hills. Beautiful place to camp!
31 January 2012 Bhanjyang Pucha (824 m)-Khadbari (1041 m) 6 hrs
The day started with a steep descend in the forest of about ½ hr to a crystal clear river. I was walking by myself and was surrounded by the sounds of singing birds, a great start of the walk. At the river side I saw a beautiful bright red and blue bird, good I brought my binoculars! After crossing a wooden suspension bridge (600 m), the trail continued through rice terraces, and led via a small wooden bridge back into the forest, where it climbed to a dirt road (still not used by motorized transport).
It was easy, almost flat walking along rice terraces and forests, and we passed a few small villages, like Ghomare, which made a nice tea stop and Lingling, a somewhat bigger village, with a few restaurants, where we stopped for lunch.
We continued through countryside and forests, with terraced hills at the horizon. A steep descend through the forest brought us to a small settlement with bamboo houses, Dobantar. We continued on a beautiful trail through rice fields leading to a river, which we had to cross stone hopping (363 m). This might well be the lowest point of our whole trek! We followed the river for a while and arrived at an iron suspension bridge. Shortly after, the steep and long climb to Khadbari (1041 m) began. The climb went through forest, small villages and countryside.
After about 2 hrs, we arrived at Khadbari, which is a small town, where we saw buses again! Khadbari even has some banks with ATMs (but not 100% reliable that they work) and internet cafes. We are staying in quite a big guesthouse here, and could even enjoy a hot shower!
1 February 2012 Khadbari (1041 m)
Today was a so called a rest day, but apart from the fact we were not walking, there was not so much time to rest! We had several meetings, among which with the chamber of commerce and with the CDO, Chief Development Officer (head of district), during which we received lots of khatas and blessings. Besides a press conference had been organised.
Today the German Ambassador joined us; she will walk with us up till Lukla. So I won’t be the only female foreigner any more
2 February 2012 Khadbari (1041 m)- Majuwadanda (800 m) 5 hrs
After an official goodbye, we took a small path down to the west from the centre of Khadbari. We were immediately in the countryside again, and had surprising good views of the Makalu range. The trail went down steeply for about 1 ½ hours till we reached a small river with an old wooden suspension bridge at 320 m. Will this then be the lowest point of our trek? We reached the beautiful big and slow running Arun River, which we followed for almost all of the rest of the day. After crossing a big suspension bridge over the Arun River, we arrived at the village of Kattike Pull. The scenery was very idyllic here, with the spread out houses, rice fields and the beautiful Arun River to our right. At the end of the village we started climbing again, while the trail kept on following the river, which was now far below. It was a nice walk through the countryside again, with beautiful views of the Arun Valley below us. We pitched our tents in the small settlement of Majuadanda, next to a small guesthouse; Sagarmatha Hotel and Lodge.
Very appropriate name with so many Everest climbers in our team and crew (Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for Mount Everest). How good to be in the countryside again enjoying the sounds of the birds!
3 February 2012 Majuwadanda (800 m)-Salpa Phedi (1530 m) 8 hrs
Today was quite a long and tiring day and I am happy to have arrived at our guesthouse. We walked 22.4 km! And in the mountains that is quite a lot. But it was a beautiful walk, through the countryside and sometimes subtropical forests, with pretty settlements along the way. We regularly met men with huge loads, about 2 times the size of the person carrying it. They were carrying Himalayan medicinal herbs, destined for the Chinese market. It was good to walk with Verena Gräfin von Roedern, the German ambassador, nice to have another foreign female to talk to . Both of us have to catch up with all these strong Everest climbers, but fortunately we are managing ok, although we are both pretty tired now at the end of this day!