Further and further through the friendly far east

The next morning in Phalut we awoke to a winter wonderland. About 3 foot of snow had fallen. The skies were initially misty and then quickly cleared to a beautiful crisp blue. It was stunning.

We wondered if we would be able to find the trail back to Chyanthapu in all the snow, we decided to try. Naazi Sherpa boiled us 4 eggs to take for lunch and off we went. The snow was deep in places but we could test it with our trekking poles so there were only a few instances when one of us went knee deep. The first section to the Nepali border was easy as the trail was wide and clear to see.

After the border the trail narrowed and the footprints marking the trail were buried by snow. We could still make out a small ledge where the trail ran and so ploughed on confidently, feeling happy to know we were going the right way. We first got lost (suprise) after about 45mins when we came across a shepard’s hut that didn’t look too familiar. We continued on thinking that maybe we hadn’t noticed it in yesterday’s whiteout conditions. Further on things became very unfamiliar so we retraced our steps back to the hut. We could see the trail cutting across the ridgeline in the distance but couldn’t find a trail to lead us there. We ended up spending about an hour wandering around in the snow trying to find a path, getting more and more frustrated and anxious, worried the weather would change. Eventually a shepard arrived with his yaks, and after some ‘Nepenglish’ and gesturing we were able to understand the he was telling us to go back up the track and off to the left to rejoin the right path. Feeling like a bunch of fools for not working this out on it own, we followed his directions and rejoined the trail. Releived, we charged downwards and reached Lem Pokhari after about 3.5hrs, well behind schedule. We stopped at a frozen waterfall to eat our eggs and took turns to chug cold dehydrated potato for lunch as we didn’t have time to stop and cook. It was disgusting!

From Lem Pokhari we followed a well trodden path that Bruce had pointed out to us two days earlier as the path back to Chyanthapu. We followed it mindlessly for a few hours until we checked our location using google maps and saw we had traversed the ridgeline too far and were about to over shoot Chyanthapu, which was down to the right. We headed down as soon as we could find a trail and worried we were way off course until we met a man coming the other way who confirmed Chyanthapu was ahead. After a lot of slipping and sliding down a beautiful forest trail we ended up at the top of a ridge from which we could see Chyanthapu below. From here we walked steeply down, through terraced rice fields and houses, glad to be back in civilisation. Eventually after 8hrs, exhausted and knees and thighs screaming, we reached Chyanthapu, and made a bee-line for our favourite cook’s homestay and a delicious dinner.

That night (much to Ronnie’s horror) we were invited by our host family and the local teacher to go dancing. We were exhausted but knew it would offend them to say no and so found ourselves sitting around a fire pit in a local family’s courtyard with what seemed like most of the village crowded around. The teacher explained to us that today everyone did ‘Puja’ (a blessing) and now they would celebrate with song and dance. He explained that the married women were inside the house praying for their husband’s long life, and that after this everyone would sing and dance. A little while later a drum was brought out and people began singing and dancing around the fire pit. We were asked us to please dance for them. We tried to wriggle out of this but they persisted and persisted. Sure enough a few minutes later we were up standing up, wiggling our hips, turning in circles, and waving our arms in the air like fools, much to their amusement. Thankfully after a short time the song ended and we gladly retook our places. Little did we know we would be called to the dance floor a further two times before we were able to bid everyone good bye and hurry to bed, exhausted.

The next day we began walking to Limbuding. We tried to head off early but lost our packs to our host family who had a good giggle ‘pretending to be tourists’:

The first section of the walk was through villages, rice terraces, and cardamom plantations, and across beautiful rivers via numerous suspension bridges. One of the bridges was particularly terrifying as it’s cable had been damaged by a fallen rock and was hanging low causing the whole bridge to slant to the right.

We climbed steeply after a while, and the path started becoming less obvious. We were overtaken by a maths teacher who was going in the same direction and told us to follow. We gladly did. We later named him Phil. Phil kept about 20m ahead and occasionally looked back to check we were still coming. He led us through lots of junctions and around closed trails that we would have stressed over on our own. Phil said very little but let out a little chuckle each time we said ‘namaste’ to a passerby. He seemed to find it extremely amusing that this is pretty much the only word in our Nepali vocabulary.

Phil left us in Sablakhu Bhanjyan, a little mountain village. We considered calling it a day there but decided to push on to Limbuding, an hour further on. We walked to the edge of the village and asked some local school girls which way to Limbuding. They pointed to the trail and immediately jumped up and grabbed their books to come with us. The next hour and a half to Limbuding was spent slipping and sliding down the side of a mountain in the rain with about eight 15 year old school girls in tow. Anjana, the one at the front, had the best English and was interviewing us about Australia and our life back home. They begged us to sing a song in English to which I eventually agreed, and in return they sung the Nepali national anthem.

When we finally made it to Limbuding we realised it was a tiny spread out village with a few houses a lot of rice terraces, and not much in the way of accommodation. We were hungry, tired, cold, wet with rain and sweat, and my feet were aching with blisters. Nightfall was 2hrs away. We regretted not stopping in Sablakhu at the top of the hill. Anjana asked us where we would stay and we told her we would ask around for a homestay, or camp. After a lot of whispering with her mates she told us they had arranged something for us, if we wanted. We hastily agreed and were told to wait by the village mill while she and her friends scattered in different directions. A couple of them went to speak with some locals, another went away and then hurried back a few minutes later clutching two packets of two minute noodles. Four of them then led us through the village to a mud hut out the back of a house, it was beautifully clean, and we got there just as the rain got heavier. We were told ‘Uncle and Auntie, you can stay here, if it’s OK’. We were falling over ourselves thanking them. Anjana and her friends seemed just as excited as we were. After a little while we worked out that it was Anjana’s and her sister’s bedroom. Anjana told us she and her sister were home alone while their parents visited their other sister in another village. She told us that she and her friends would be sleeping in the kitchen tonight. They then went and cooked us some hot noodles with spinach as a pre-dinner snack, which we scoffed. The rain stopped and we were invited to play football at the field just above her house, bounded by rice terraces and a few other homes. It was picturesque. We started with about five of us but quickly accumulated more village kids as word traveled there was a match on, including some adorable (yet hardcore) toddlers who took a fair few face plants.

After dark we sat in our room writing diaries as Anjana brought in various friends and relatives one after another to introduce to us.

For dinner the girls cooked us up an absolute storm of rice, dal, local hen, potatoes and chutney. We wolfed it down and then had second of everything. They were delighted, and were enjoying themselves so much that one of them took a video of us eating our entire meal! After dinner the girls all came to hang out with us in our room. After a lot of chat, things escalated into a bit of a dance off – the girls performed perfectly synchronised Bollywood style routines, and I put my name and country to shame with a performance of the nutbush and the makareena. Ronnie was horrified to be asked to dance for the second night running and wisely chose to sit out.

Anjana (left) and her sister:

The next day we said our goodbyes, and gave the girls some money for their amazing hospitality. We then hiked 8hrs Khande Bhanjyang through lots of little villages which thankfully meant lots of people to ask directions and a lot less time spent lost. From Khande Bhanjyang we hiked 10hrs back to Taplejung, across a huge valley, cutting back and forth over a dirt road, which helped us achieve our first day of 0% lost. In Taplejung we had a rest day and washed our clothes. The next day we did an easy 3hour stroll down to Dobhan, which was made agony by the blisters on my left foot which have started getting infected. In Dobhan we stayed at ‘The Hideout Campsite Resort’ which was by the river and featured: a badminton net; a western toilet; an overly friendly goose that seemed to think Ronnie’s feet were tasty little sausages; and a flamboyant turkey that gobbled and shook it’s tail feathers at all hours of the day and night.

Some realisations/observations from this leg of the trip:

  • No matter how much I scrub my feet they will always stink, and I should just accept this.
  • We thought we would spend a lot of time thinking whilst hiking. But it’s too hard to think due to the exertion, so it’s almost like forced meditation all day, everyday. It’s nice. For the same reason we often find ourselves happily staring into space for minutes on end, absolutely oblivious to what’s going on around us.
  • Nepali people are some of the most friendly people in the world. They tend to stare wide-eyed at us as we approach, but, if we hold our hands in a prayer and greet them with ‘namaste’ they immediately break out into the most gigantic genuine friendly smile. It feels like you are a wizard casting a spell.
  • Nepali people want to know three things: whether you are married, whether you have kids, and what country you are from. After that you are free to go.
  • Nepali time estimates are wildly inaccurate (I mean this respectfully). A place ‘1 hour away’ can, a minute later, become ‘3-4 hours away’ depending who you ask, and vice versa. Asking for time estimates from a Nepali person is an express ticket to an emotional rollercoaster that inevitably destroys your soul.

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal (www.phasenepal.org): an NGO that improves healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged populations in remote and resource-poor Himalayan mountain villages. Any donations can be made (with many thanks) via the following link: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=AndrewWands&pageUrl=1

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