Rolwaling and Helambu

Day 21 was spent having a much needed rest day in Jiri. The highlights of the day included having a hot shower (something I’ll never take for granted ever again); finding that our breakfast fried eggs had runny centres; and having a TV in our room with a movie channel that was playing all the Harry Potter movies one after another (dreams really do come true). We’d read that the next section of the hike, Rolwaling, was quite remote and difficult in terms of navigation. So, during the day we went in search of supplies – Snickers, cookies, minute noodles, lollies. We also managed to find a bag of ‘trekkers muesli’ that we figured we could eat hot or cold and oat by oat if worst came to worst. Over dinner a relative of the hotel owners came to chat to us and asked where we were headed. When we showed him on the map he promptly started telling us horror stories about the area – including that an American had gone missing there, and a few days later was found dead. Feeling quite uneasy we went to bed and dreamt about getting lost.

Schoolgirls playing volleyball in Jiri:

On day 22 we were due to go over a pass (2750m) to Serakapti. For the first section we seemed to be on track, and the trail crisscrossed a road making navigation straightforward. Then we took what we thought was a shortcut up to the next section of the road. It was long and steep, we continued up thinking we’d hit the road further up. We didn’t. Instead we came into a clearing with a cow shelter. We pulled out the map to work out where we were before realising that one of the bottoms poking out of the cow shelter was human. We eventually got the owner’s attention and he pointed us back towards the road we’d been following before, a ridge over. We’d been on the wrong ridge and didn’t even realise. Nepali people always seem to turn up in the most fortuitous moments! We would otherwise have carried on following the trail up, and more than likely got lost. From then on we managed to find our way relatively easily, and after 8 hours managed to go further than Serakapti to reach Singati, a grungy town buried so deep in a valley it felt like we were walking into the centre of the earth to reach it – in total a drop of 2.5km in elevation.

Between Serakapti and Singati:

On day 23 we spent the morning walking up a very dusty road, where occasional trucks and jeeps would pass throwing dust all over us. Along the road we passed a man who told us it’s was 4hours to Bigu Gompa, our destination. In fact, no matter how far we walked that day, everybody we asked told us Bigu Gompa was ‘4 hours away’. It felt like everyone was playing a cruel practical joke on us. Bigu Gompa was up a never ending hill full of beautiful terraces. We’d get over a rise and be told again it was further up. We were told there was a lodge up there, and preferring this to camping we slogged it out, exhausted, sore and hungry. When we eventually arrived we discovered that Bigu Gompa was in fact a huge nunnery complex perched atop a hill.

The road before the climb to Bigu Gompa:

The climb:

To our suprise, as we arrived out of one of the buildings came a guy in skinny jeans with a proper cockney accent who directed us to a beautifully clean room, hot showers and the ‘restaurant’. ‘Serene’ was from China, living in London, and currently spending 10 days at the monastery along with a bunch of other sponsors from various countries. We had a unexpectedly awesome evening featuring a steamy hot shower and a tasty dinner cooked up by some very friendly nuns.

On day 24 we attended the morning blessing or ‘puja’ with the younger nuns.

Sunrise at Bigu Gompa:

We met some American sponsors who showed us photos of the monastery before and after the earthquake – the entire monastery had been destroyed, and now rebuilt. They told us that many donations had come in from around the world after the earth quake but due to slow government processes the money wasn’t realeased for about a year. Nepali people can now get funding to rebuild their house but they have to build to certain specifications and have each part of the build approved before the next lot of funding is released – it takes about two years to build a house this way. Most people find this too slow and just build what they can without funding.

For the rest of the day we turned what should have been an easy day following a dirt road into a dog’s breakfast. First we got a little lost in a rhododendron forrest up the side of a ridge and took a very roundabout route zig zagging back and forth across different trails to eventually find the creek we needed to cross. We then started our ascent to the Tinsang La pass (3300m). Often in Nepal a road zigzags up a hill, and there are multiple short cuts along the way that go steeply up or down. Nine out of ten times they are in fact a short cut and take you to the next section of the road. However one in ten times they aren’t at all and take you way off course, often pitter out into nothing, and spit you out in the middle of nowhere. We took what seemed to be a well trodden short cut soon after crossing the creek. We puffed and panted, climbing steeply up. After about half an hour and a few hundred metres vertical gain we looked over to the left to see the road we were supposed to be following way way down below us. By this point the trail had also started to become less defined and ridiculously steep, and we realised we were well and truely off course.

Lost in the hills:

Refusing to go back down the steep hill we’d worked so hard to haul ourselves up, we instead followed a trail that seemed to traverse the ridge above the road, hoping it would follow and meet the road further up. It didn’t. We soon found ourselves in a bamboo maze, above a landslide, above the road. Half an hour and a number of profanities later we stumbled back onto the road, probably no more than 15 minutes further up than where we’d initially left it. Exhausted, we stopped for a thoroughly dissapointing lunch of watery muesli and digestives.

Digestives, nom nom:

At least there was a good view:

After 6 hours walking almost entirely up we reached a clearing with spectacular views and decided that if we could find water we would camp. We found a pretty nasty looking puddle of water created by the snow melt and filtered 6 litres of water into a bladder.

When the sun went down there was an absolutely stunning sunset, the peaks were lit up an orange colour. It was magical.

We awoke the next morning on day 25 to find that the condensation on the inside of the tent was frozen. A cascade of icey snow fell on us as we tried to open the door.

We cooked up some porridge using the left over muesli and melted two frozen Snickers into the mix to add calories. We then headed over the pass and down to Dolongsa, a small village that was obviously hit quite hard by the earthquake and still had a number of roofs patched up using USAID tarps. Having had no dal Bhat for a over 36 hours the rice tanks were reaching critical levels, so we stopped at a local eatery for lunch.

The Tinsang La pass:

Nearing Dolongsa:

Carrying on our way we passed a few houses and managed to unintentionally pick up a baby chocolate brown goat who took a liking to us and started following us like a dog. We shooed her away, but she kept coming, bahhing at us. Ronnie had to smack her bottom several times and chase her down the road before she eventually tottered back in the direction of home.

We eventually reached Barabaise, a hot, dusty, grimey town by the river and a total of 2500m down in elevation.

Rhododendrons lining the road to Barabaise:

Barabaise:

Day 26 was a mess of a day. Over breakfast we tried to decide which route to take to Jalbire – we had two options: a) follow the trail notes along a route not marked on our map, which appeared to go up really steeply and over the hill, or b) take a different route marked on the map which appeared to follow the valley and would therefore in theory be relatively flat. As our legs were aching just standing up from the breakfast table we chose the latter. This was the first mistake of the day. What ensued was a four hour circumnavigation of Barabaise, trying and failing to find the trail for option b) and then criss crossing the ridge up, down, and side to side in search of trail a). It was hot, sweaty and downright miserable.

Salty sweat stained legs:

After four hours we eventually reached a town called Ramche that is usually only a 1 hour walk from Barabaise.

Reaching Ramche:

Having wasted so much time we knew we’d have to camp that night as the were no guesthouses or lodges between Ramche and Jalbire, our original destination. After 8 hours walking we reached a small village called Mankha where we kept an eye out for an eatery, thinking we’d fill up on dal bhat before pitching our tent some where. We didn’t pass any eaterys and eventually came to what looked like the school – a small patch of green alongside two long rectangular buildings made of tin. There looked to be two teachers locking up and coming up towards the road. Teachers here usually have the great English, so we decided to ask them where we could eat and camp. One of the men turned out to be the principal of the school and told us we could camp on the grass at the school. Then he seemed to change his mind and told us that we’d better stay inside as ‘bad people can come by here’. Next thing we knew he was letting us into the kindergarten classroom and giving us a key. The room was a little tin shack with gaps all through the walls and ceiling, and animal posters all over the walls.

The school:

The kindergarten classroom, our home for the night:

He then took us 100m down the road to the local shop where he arranged for a woman to cook us mutton dal bhat, for which we needed to return at 7pm. We went back to the school and had a wash at the communal tap. I went in fully clothed as I had nothing else to wash in.

At 7pm we headed to the shop where there were a number of locals playing Carrom – a game played on a table where you have to flick little pucks into holes. The owner appeared and motioned for us to follow. She took us into a house across the road and then into a bedroom where we sat akwardly on someone’s bed and ate mutton (goat) dal bhat, the ‘mutton’ consisting mostly of rubbery skin that could be likened to curried plimsole. Ravenous, we wolfed it down gratefully.

We paid the lady as agreed then headed back to the school to bed. What a strange day.

On day 27 we got up early and packed quickly, worried our ‘bedroom’ would be stormed by a bunch of five year old students. Thankfully no students or teachers had arrived by the time we headed off at 8am. We ate whatever we could find for breakfast: a packet of minute noodles, a Snickers, a handful of peanuts, half a coke and half a packet of biscuits. Nutritious and delicious. We walked along dirt road the whole way to Jalbire, passing through impressive terraces.

Jalbire was low and hot, by a river. We found a homestay and hiked up the river to a shady spot for a nap. It was not long before some local kids came to take a good look at us from the other side of the river, even bringing their binoculars:

On day 28 we were rudely awoken by the rooster in the upstairs courtyard right outside our window who crowed around every 30seconds from 5am onwards.

The first part of the morning was spent walking steeply up for a few hours to reach Phulping.

Jalbire far below:

As we walked through a short cut I slipped and managed to sandwich a stinging nettle bush between my hand and a rock. It felt like my hand was being stabbed with a knife, I cried like a baby.

We followed the trail up a burnt out ridge and then through a beautiful pine forest, becoming more and more remote.

We finally found lunch at Bhaskharka, a town clearly hit hard by the earthquake and still made up of tin and tarp shelters held down by logs and peices of bamboo.

As soon as we sat down four kids came to check us out. They sat with us for half an hour or so and looked at our map, practising their English.

We eventually reached Khobre after 8 hours where we found homestay with a cozy lounge area, where we played chess and drank tea all evening.

Khobre homestay:

Out the back of the homestay was an awesome view of the mountains:

On day 29 we took a very roundabout route to Pokhare Bhanjyang. Many of the towns along the way had changed name and with the locals having absolutely no idea what we were talking about each time we asked for directions, we were flying blind. We relied on Google maps and our hardcopy map, which are often inaccurate and can’t be trusted with much confidence. With our stomachs doing backflips from last night’s dinner we were feeling particularly exhausted.

En route to Pokhare Bhanjyang:

We eventually made it down a steep valley to a river where we came across a tiny little village with a few basic stone buildings and a free-spirited little cafe at its centre, with fluoro walls covered in tacky murals, and a little open mic performance corner – quite unexpected. The owner was a young, skinny, grinning Nepali man who served us enormous piles of food and insisted on multiple selfies with us before we were able to bid good bye.

Would you look at that beard:

Up the other side of the valley was a sweaty, humid, zigzagging ordeal, again spent chasing mystery towns that noone had heard of. After 10 hours of walking we gladly reached what we think was Pokhare Bhanjyang, although of course it seemed to have a different name.

Stupa in Labgaon en route to Pokhare Bhanjyang:

Day 30 marked 32 days hiking, including the two in the wrong direction which we took to reach the Indian border at the start of the trek. This meant we were roughly 1/3rd of the way across the Nepal. We celebrated with a relatively short 5 hour hike up to Gul Bhanjyang (2130m) where we arrived just as a thunderstorm hit. Arriving in Gul Bhanjyang marked our entrance into the next region, Langtang, and the start of the tourist trail to Lake Gosiakund, which meant dedicated comfortable lodges, English menus, and inflated prices. On our ascent to Gul Bhanjyang we treated ourselves to a podcast, an interview of a Belgian-born Australian woman who was the first Australian woman to summit Everest and the first Australian to climb the seven summits (the highest summit on each of the seven continents). She mentioned a wise saying:

‘We must live our dreams, not dream our lives.’

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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