Monday, January 9, 2012

Towards the High Mountains

I have been somewhat reticient in blogging about our recent trip to the Solu-Khumbu, though Penny previously put up a post focussed on the educational work she was doing. In November we trekked for a month in this region: first in the agricultural foothills of the Solu, then in the high mountains of the Khumbu. This part of Nepal is wellknown in New Zealand for its association with the work of Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary not only built schools for the Sherpas of the Khumbu, he built them for the much more populous Rais and Chetris of the Solu. We saw evidence of his work in towns like Phaplu, Salleri and Bung.

Near Shivalaya to Sotag with our route in red

Our journey started in Shivalaya, a small town just beyond Jiri on the bus. We walked from here to the Solu capital Salleri, then the village of Deusa over the Lamajura La - 2000 metres of grunt. A memorable stop towards the top of the pass was Goyam, where we sculled back some of the ubiqutous sugary tea and interacted with the locals.

Sam reveals he is as soft as a marshmallow deep inside
Most of the tourists we encountered were very ragged looking people walking out from the Everest region, often after been stuck in Lukla for several days with no flights in prospects. The unreliability of Lukla airport due to weather conditions in peak trekking season seems to be one of the great secrets of the tourism world. This last season there were two periods of other nine days where no plane flights were possible - the helicopter companys must mae a killing. The journey through the vast landscape of terraced fields and villages was amazing, there were many monasterys and people to take photos of, and not a tourist in sight.

Curious kids...
 In Deusa, while Penny was working, Sam and I chilled out, read books and explored the local environment. One day we headed down to the Dudh Kosi, a thousand metre descent from the village which is perched on a ridge. This is the river that flows from Everest, that we were soon to explore the headwaters of. Giant swing bridges, cross the river providing vital highways for the porters that service these remote communities, we met some locals on our travels, including students heading back into their villages for the holidays.

After a week in Deusa, we headed onto Sotang, the home village of GB, our guide from Kanchenjunga. It was amazing to visit GB's family home and live with them for a while and begin to understand Nepali village life. It is a world so removed from our own. Like all agricultural societies their day to day activity is so dependant on the weather, and while we were there it was raining during harvest and cut rice lay rotting on the fields. Another noticeable feature was the amount of young people. The small ridge of Sotang supports a population of over ten thousand and a high school of over 1000kids, studying in two shifts.

Images from Sotang
GB lives with his parents, sister-in-law and niece. His wife and children live 7 hours walk away with his wife's parents, while his brother in law lives in America, other brothers are in the Nepalese army and Afgahnistan. We found it common in Nepal that men would often spend many years out of country, generally in the Gulf states, a sad state of affairs for family life.

GB's niece
Penny has described her medical experiences in Sotang in a somewhat understated manner. Quite what you do when you have a 45year old mother of five, one of who was born 30 minutes ago in the toilet, with a placenta refusing to come out in an ill-equipped medical clinic in the middle of nowhere is hard to imagine. Penny attempted a manual retrieval, all the while having to explain this to and educate the local midwifes and healthcare workers. Unfortunately this wasn't possible and there was no other option than the family carrying her 12 hours to the nearest airport and hoping for a flight to Kathmandu. There were helicopters constantly overhead ferrying tourists to and from the Everest region at a cost the locals, even in life threatening situations, couldn't comprehend. Sam and I were much less constructively engaged, mooching around, eating the town out of samosas and watching BBC at the fanciest guesthouse in town. We did get away for one little walk which ended up with crashing in a monastery and befriending a trainee monk. The locals seemed to like us, they were perhaps a little over-grateful showering even the moochers with flowers, coloured rice and the like when we eventually left. Here's an amusing team photo.

Fresh from a tikka ceremony

But leave we did, and some walking we had to do, from Sotang in the foothills to Lukla, Namche Bazaar and on to the Three Passes trip in the valleys around Everest. The picture below shows our route as far as Namche.

Sotang to Namche Bazaar

It was sad to leave Sotang, and especially GB, who came with us for half a day to guide us on the small trails across the giant valley of the Hinku Khola. We are talking big hills around here, 1500 metres roughly from river to ridge top. It was only one long day from Sotang to where we hit the Everest trail at Kharikhola.

Sam crosses the Hinku khola to the delights of the Everest trail
 We were back on the main path, in the land of copious guesthouses, porters and expensive cokes. But there was still some walking to be done. It is a grind from Kharikhola up to Lukla and we ground it out, stepping aside occasionally to give way to mules, yaks and the occasional Everest trail runner. We actually avoided Lukla taking the low route and saving the Starbucks for the way back through. Briefly we were caught in a mad rush of tourists but largely it was a pretty quiet stroll up to Namche, with the odd pretty mountain or swingbridge or chorten or mani wall or yak or stream catching the eye. Next Everest blog - Pass 1: The Kongma La.

Penny trail wandering


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
What can I write? Awesome and inspiring. Well done.

Jamie Stewart said...

Hey Robb,

Thanks for popping in, hope all is well man. Hoping to finally spend some decent time in the Ruahines this year. I will make sure to get in touch for some advice.