Friday, October 29, 2010

Is Nepal a Culinary Gold Mine?

To most people that have spent any time here, the question on its face may seem like some kind of joke. When I did some travel writing on Nepal early this year the book's editor asked if I could do something on Nepali food, as all the submissions she had so far received had been mostly foreign adaptations. I explained to her that Nepal lacks the kind of culinary diversity of its neighbors like China and India, and that Nepali cuisine could for the most part be summed up in four words; dahl baht takari, mo-mos. Now to be fair there are plenty of regional and ethnic cuisines here that are good, Newari food in particular takes advantage of many different ingredients and subtle flavors. Many Nepali people are also very proud of their dahl baht, they love the stuff and often explain to me that they just don't feel right if they don't have a meal of it at least twice a day. Still in a country that has access to such an awesome array of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and neighbors with such rich culinary histories one can't help but think of someone in the Louvre that is content to sit and play with an etch-a-sketch.

Experimenting with some gourds

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Trips from Kyanjin Gompa; Langshisha Kharka & Tsergo Ri

I've already described the basic trek up to Kyanjin Gompa in the Langtang valley in this post so I'm not going to discuss it again in detail. The main difference was that this trip was done in October, so it was drier, the scenery was much less green, and the river was flowing at about half the rate it was in July. There were also a tremendous number of people on the trail, but not so many that it detracted too much from the trip. While I enjoy this region in general, it has to be stated up front that the food on this trek is by far the worst of the three major regions. There are no meat options on any menus, and most menus are exactly the same as they are set by a local comity. What is actually available on the menu will vary greatly from guest house to guest house, as will the quality of the food produced and what the interpretation of the items description actually is. One stand out location for me was Yala Peak Guest House in Syrabru which produced a chicken chili that was soo good that I ordered two plates on my return from the trail (a place where I could order meat again). Nice people, good food, and would recommend this place to anyone passing through. So anyway let's get onto the topic at hand, two really fun trips from Kyanjin Gompa; Langshisha Kharka and Tsergo Ri.

Yaks graze in the Langtang Valley

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Road to Dunche: An Accident Waiting to Happen

I'm back from another great trip to the Langtang region, and I'll be talking about some of that trip in the following posts. Before I get to that though, I need to address something that is a very clear problem; the road to Dunche might be one of the most dangerous in the world. I do not say this in hyperbole and am not trying to be sensationalist, this road is downright dangerous, and it is only a matter of time before a number of people are killed on it. Being the only access to a major tourist area in this country makes this road even more absurd; in its precarious state it provides the lifeblood of money that sustains that region. Although the region is accessible by helicopter or very rarely by single prop planes, the cost is prohibitive and almost everyone takes the bus or 4WD into Dunche or Syrabru.

Trisuli- A typical Nepali bus scene

Monday, October 18, 2010

Silence of the Goats and Celebrating Dashain

So the holiday season is in full swing in Nepal. Someone might wonder what qualifies as a holiday season in country that has holidays every week. Well you see those holidays are only a single day, now that we're into the big ones they get entire weeks.  Dashain is a a full 10 day holiday and it is followed not long after by Tihar, another multi-day extravaganza. The first few days of Dashain were rather tame, but the festivities come into full swing in the last three or four days. It reminds me in many ways of Thanksgiving back home, comprising of family get togethers and lots of food. There are plenty of other ritual and religious overtones, but the result is essentially the same, only they don't watch Football.

Nepali Goat at a Temple

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Minds Are Malleable, Trails Are Not

People often ask me what I think about when I spend twelve hours alone moving over trails in the Himalaya, and I usually don't have a good answer. For some reason though when I woke up this morning I remembered a mantra that I tell myself over and over again as I traverse the ridges of the mountains, 'my mind is malleable the trail is not'. What I mean by this is that the trail is what it is, it does not change and it does not give you a break, if the trail climbs 3,000' it means that if you're going to get from point A to point B on it you're going to have to climb 3,000'. This all seems rather simple and straight forward, but it's more complicated because we like to lie to ourselves, and make promises that we can't keep, ones that we have no control over. We excel at sabotaging our own morale. We like to pretend that things are not as they are.

After my last trek up to the everest region I met up with the two British trekkers I had spent some time with, Rob and Ian. As we were out in Thamel tossing down some well deserved fajitas Ian discussed what he thought was the hardest bit of trail. He did the whole section from Jiri up to Gokyo and then over to base camp, he had some really long days and climbed up to points over eighteen thousand feet with some rather steep sections. The hardest part though? The flat section of trail leading along the ridge that leads back to Namche Bazaar. It was a long day, and the first that they had really gotten stuck out in the rain, they had left that morning from Pheriche and were hoping to make it a little ways south of Namche. As they got onto that ridge they were wet and tired, clouds reduced visability to a mere fifty meters, and the trail consistently meandered around corners hugging the mountain on the right. Wanting to just be in Namche already Ian explained that it was just so disappointing to round each one of those bends and not be in Namche. He kept telling himself that Namche must be around the next corner, and it never was...well eventually it was but not as soon as he would have liked. It made this part of the trail unbearable for him.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Everest Trek Part 4: To Base Camp & Back Again

So when I left off, we had just spent all day trying to get to the village of Dragnag in order to prepare for crossing the Cho La pass, but complications on the trail over the Ngozumpa glacier had forced us to turn back and look for another way across. When we found the bridges also up when trying to cross to the village of Nha, we finally ended the day in Machhermo and had to plan another route around to base camp, skipping the Cho La pass. After studying the maps a bit we all decided that we would head south to Phortse Tenga and then cross the Dudh Koshi river ascending to the village of Phortse. From there we planned on taking the high trail to Pengboche and from there follow the main route up to Gorek Shep and Everest base camp. Our plan was to make for the village of Dughla, and then on to Gorek Shep.

The Village of Phortse

I hate getting behind, and my thought was that if I had been able to get over the glacier and the Cho La I would have ended the day in Lobuche. In the back of my mind this is really where I wanted to end the next day, but the distance seemed to make this fairly impractical. We were on the trail early the next morning and made good time retracing our steps south and we made it to the very picturesque village of Phortse still early in the morning. After stopping here for a few photos and dodging some streams that ran down the main trails through town we made our way to the top of the ridge and headed out on to the high trail to Pengboche.

The Vertigo Inducing High Trail to Pengboche

Monday, October 4, 2010

Everest Trek Part 3: Crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier

I love writing in this blog and I've rarely gone this many days without writing in it, especially after getting back from such a great trip in the Himalaya. The thing is that there has been numerous things conspiring against me. First I've been busy selling and making salsa for the last few days, and I've also come down with a mild head cold that has been making me quite tired. Anyway on to the story.

Horses relax at the edge of the Ngozumpa Glacier

So After climbing up Gokyo Ri the plan was to head a little ways south, take the trail that crosses the Ngozumpa glacier and end the day at the base of the Cho La pass in the village of Dragnag. I had talked to several people who had come across the pass from the other direction and had said it was a little tricky but they had just followed the cairns and had been able to get across. The pass itself was said to have had some snow on it and to be very steep from the side we were approaching from, but to be otherwise uncomplicated.

Trail Descends Onto the Glacier

So the three of us headed out for what we thought would be an easy couple hours of walking and made for the trail just south of the second gokyo lake that headed across the glacier. At first it seemed simple enough. Sure you were walking over some fairly large rocks and gravel and the terrain was a bit odd but the trail was well worn. Then the trail suddenly came to an end, where the stone and gravel suddenly had toppled into a pool of water that had resulted from a good deal of melting.

End of the Trail

From here the plans got a little confusing. with the clear trail gone we looked on some of the nearby side trails. We followed some yak poop which looked fresh, but these trails also ended in similar collapsed gravel, rock and a sudden drop into water. So we took some time to survey the surroundings, as it was hard to tell which bodies of water were connected, and many large piles of rocks and boulders obscured views of what was beyond. After a good half hour of looking over where we had to go and deciding how we were going to get there we started out across the loose rocks, most of them being about the size of a basketball.

Ian and Rob Navigate the Glacier

It's slow going as you have to avoid the areas that look a little unstable, avoid the water and try to stick to the more stable high ground. Eventually we made our way to the a rock that we had picked out from the first dead end and as we got on the back side of that rock pile I picked up another trail and a couple cairns on the pile to the east. Our big smiles faded immediately as we reached another dead end, which again ended in a sudden steep drop into a pool of water. From this point we again surveyed our position, and picked out a route across some increasingly sketchy terrain. At one point we had to traverse a scree slope, and descended to a very large pool of water that had water and debris falling into it on a regular basis. There was even a trekkers pole floating in this one.

This Pool Even Had a Trekker's Pole Floating In It

On the other side of this pool we came across a large sand dune, that from across the way I had thought was snow from a distance. There were plenty of cairns on the far side of the sand and even some rocks lain out to spell something, though we couldn't read it. We made out across the sand, but my companions were uncomfortable with the cracks in the sand that showed where it had shifted due to the glacier had melted underneath. We made it over to the other side and climbed over more rocks, only to see a huge body of water. This body of water seemed to snake a couple hundred meters north of us, and connected to the large glacial wake that had formed on the glacier just to the south of us. There was no way we were getting across this. It looked like you could possibly cross a ways to the north, but the route passed over some unstable slopes that were getting ready to fall into the watery pool that was in our way.

Sand Deposit On the Glacier

All hopes dashed of crossing this glacier from where we were we moved back across the sand dunes, took out our coconut crunchies that had been given to us by the good folks at the Gokyo Namaste lodge and got to thinking about how we could get over to the village of Dragnag. It occurred to me that if we travel south past the end of the glacier we could cross the river at the bridge that goes to the village of Nha, and from there we could turn north and head to Dragnag. Sure it would take us at least three hours to get there from our current location, but at least it was a route that we knew would eventually get us to the destination we were headed for. We consulted our maps and trekking books to make sure I was remembering correctly and with everything looking good we set off to retrace our steps and get off the glacier.

Trail Back South

Taking every step carefully over this terrain is a bit draining, and I was mentally and a little physically tired by the time I got back on the main trail. Happy that we were at least getting somewhere we set off with a little vigor southward toward the bridge. As we passed the end of the glacier we found the trail signs that pointed toward the crossing to the village of Nha, and we could see the village not too far ahead of us on the other side of the river. Th problem was that we couldn't see any bridge. I was a bit perplexed as we couldn't even find what looked like a bridge that had been washed out...there were trails along the high flowing river but no bridges anywhere to be seen. Some locals in Nha watched us from the far banks of the river, but they were much to far away for us to try to communicate with them in any way. Feeling thoroughly defeated and the time now closing in on 3PM I was out of suggestions.

Our options it seemed were to try and make it back up to Gokyo, at least a two hour walk when you're in a good mood and rested, or head up to the village above us, Phang. We all hemmed and hawed for a bit. In Gokyo we could get a guide to bring us across the glacier and possibly over the pass, in Phang we could rest. I voted for Gokyo and the others agreed that they thought they could make it. On the way up to the main trail we spotted the bridge to Nha, it was up and there was no crossing this river. Getting back to the main trail my companions decided they just didn't have it in them to make it back to Gokyo, and to be honest I was quite tired myself, so we turned south and made for Phang.

Once in Phang we were told that none of the lodges were open. That was about par for the day's course. So we continued south to the village of Machhermo, where we staggered into the friendly  Trekker's lodge that I had stayed in previously. Once there we happily had some soup and conversed with the lodge owner about the days events. He informed us that the glacier had "broken" and that you had to cross it a ways to the north now. Increased water flow from the glacier meant that the bridge to Nha was up more often. It would be some time before people could cross that bridge, maybe another month. With this day completely shot, and not enthused at the prospect of spending another day to possibly attempt the glacier again only to stop in Dragnag before heading over the pass, we seriously looked at taking the southerly route through Phortse and on over the high trail to Pengboche.It would be a long day but it would be possible to make it as far as Dughla.

As disapointing as it was to not get to where we were trying to go, I had no regrets on the day. We had made good informed decisions, it's just that the goal we were trying to accomplish was impossible from the points that we attempted it. Later in the trek we would talk to several trekkers and guides who said the Cho La had received a good amount of snow and was very tricky at the moment. Apparently some things are blessings in disguise. Besides having another pass up that way that I haven't done gives me an excuse to go back up there! The next entry will cover the long day that took me over the high trail to Pengboche, onward to Dughla and onward to Gorek Shep, Base Camp and my one epic day that brought me from the top of Kala Patar all the way to Lukla.
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