A friend of mine is currently sampling life in Nepal. Here is his first report …
Well I am back after 29 days sleeping in a tent and not washing. It was an amazing experience commencing with a near plane crash and peaking (if you pardon the pun) with fabulous views of Kangchenjunga and the Himalayan range around it.
Flew from Kahmandhu to Taplejung which is an airstrip on a ridge (or to be more exact a cow pasture that doubles as an airstrip). The day was cloudy and it turned out that this was the first flight into the airstrip for 4 months owing to cloud. The pilots here donâ€™t bother using electronic equipment to guide them instead relying on sight – all very good except they couldnâ€™t find the airstrip. After circling 6 or 7 times the mists cleared right in front of us and there was the airstrip, or more accurately, there was the cliffs underneath the airstrip. There was a roar from one of the pilots and a sharp dive upwards and to the right and we cleared by a few feet. Undeterred they did another circle and brought the plane down perfectly. Then they turned to their passengers laughing and waving. I found out afterwards that a helicopter was not so lucky the previous week 3 miles away from the strip. It crashed into a mountain side killing all 23 people on board.
As mentioned the weather started cloudy, warm but cloudy. The days walking initially were about 7 hours decreasing to 5 hours when we hit the 3000 metre mark, and it got steeper. The poor weather initially did not matter as we were walking through thick forest and jungle. One nasty side effect was the presence of many leeches. These are harmless though disgusting and nearly impossible to get off once they have sunk their fangs into you (burning them with a cigarette or using veet is the best way). They drop off once they have their fill of blood. I got done on the foot at night-time. It was my own fault for walking around in sandals. One woman was not as fortunate and got bitten on the arse.
The forests eventually cleared and we ended up in pastureland and villages. The area is very remote here so at every village, children would come down to practice their English and get their home work done. Less interested in practising English and more interested in collecting taxes were the Maoists. There was negotiations with our head Sherpa, money was given over and we were on our way. In fairness, the Maoists have done a really good job in replacing dangerous trails higher up.
We made our way eventually up to South Base camp at 4700m.The views hear are stunning or at least they would be except that they were clouded by a heavy mist. The Sherpa told us to wait 20 minutes as he was convinced that the mists would clear. And indeed they did and the views were stunning. We stayed approx 2 hours there taking photos and getting cold in case there were no further views. In fact apart form a heavy snow shower the weather remained sunny from then on to the rest of the trip.
We climbed a steep pass to another valley and stayed the night in a really pretty Tibetan village called Ghunsa. Got to try a Tibetan drink called Tsomba which was fermented Millet and Barley served in a wooden pot. You just add hot water and drink through a wooden straw. When finished, just add more water and repeat the process. A publicans nightmare!
We eventually made our way to the North Base camp at 5200 passing through the village of Kambachen en route. In 1930 the British Mountaineer Frank Smythe must have drunk too much Tsomba night before as he described the residents of Kambachen as “interbred cretins and imbeciles of stunted dwarf like appearance and possessing but limited intelligence”. Kambachen is now twinned with Ardee!
Base camp was stunning, surrounded by 7000 and 8000 metre peaks all around. It is also consisted of many memorials to various people who died on Kangchenjunga over the years, The most recent being 2004.The temperature at night ranged from a balmy -8C to a distinctly chilly -12C.
Stayed there for 2 days and then it was time to descend. Its not good to stay in altitude too long. I had no problems but a Sherpa and a Porter got sick and had to descend rapidly.
We went down the trail the same way as we ascended. It took about 4 days to go back. We flew back to Kathmandhu on the weekend.
I am currently in a resort town called Pokhara resting. I have lost about 6 kilos in weight so will head off again in a few days.
All the best, Dermot