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

Makalu and Solukumbu

We’ve now reached day 20 of the hike, completing Makalu and Solukumbu (Everest region). We’ve established a bit of a daily routine, which I’ll outline:

  • Pack our bag +/- cover blisters in Betadine and dressings
  • Breakfast. Arranging breakfast in non-touristy areas is a bit of a lucky dip. We generally just ask to be fed and wait to see what comes out. Nepali people generally don’t eat breakfast so we get mixture of interpretations on breakfast fare: sometimes popcorn, fried soybeans, chapatti and egg, (winner), chapatti and veg, or minute noodles. Always accompanied by cup of sweet milky tea or ‘ciya’. Over the past week in the more touristy areas around Solukumbu we have been treated to a full breakfast menu written in English with tasty treats such as pancakes and peanut butter. Needless to say we have been having about three breakfasts each.
  • We usually start walking about 8am. Generally our days start with a steep ascent followed by a steep descent, or vice versa, times ten. What about the flat you say? Doesn’t exist. The best you’ll get is ‘Nepali flat’ which is tiny sections of flat indespersed with steep ups and downs.
  • Along the way we often pick up a Nepali person headed in the same direction (Phil, Eddie, Matt, to name a few) who either walks with us or walks about 20m ahead and occasionally looks back to see we are going the right way. More recently, we have picked up some four legged friends – dogs will often hike a few kilometres with us before heading on their merry way. Paul Lambert the dog waiting for Ronnie:

  • We have ambitions to secure a baby goat as a hiking buddy. Ronnie gave this one a thorough pep talk about the route ahead, but the little chap remained unconvinced he’d make it given he’d just been born and was having quite a difficult time coordinating his front and back legs.

  • For lunch, if we have time we stop at a local eatery for dal bhat (dal, rice, veg) of which we eat several plates each. Or if we are tight on time we scoff minute noodles from the packet en route, along with whatever else we can find (cookies, Snickers, lollies, wafers. Recently we have acquired a packet of sulfurous peanuts that have a suspicious rotten egg gas pong, but are calories all the same).
  • We continue hiking for another few hours (generally a total of 6-8hrs of hiking each day) to our destination. The landscape varies from high altitude snowy passes, to rhododendron forests, to small settlements/villages with rice terraces. Route finding of late has been relatively easy, as the trails have been well defined, and (maybe) we are getting better at map reading.
  • Our accommodation for the night is usually in a local guesthouse which varies from a well built stone house with thick walls (winner), to a house made of wooden slats (with lots of gaps in between), to a plywood shack with a tin roof (coldest option by far). One night in Sibuje we ended up in the plywood shack variety above the snow line, there was a foot gap between the top of the plywood walls and the roof. We could see mist flowing up the valley and into to our room. It was cold.
  • When we arrive at our destination Ronnie usually goes straight to the washroom for a cold bucket wash while I collapse on the bed wondering if the trauma of a cold bucket wash is really worth it for a clean body. The wash rooms all seem to have windows/holes positioned at unfortunate heights (chest level) which adds to the difficulty. I inevitably give in and follow suit however occasionally treat myself to a baby wipe wash or nothing at all.
  • We usually then write diaries and hungrily await dinner – dal bhat again. This is typically accompanied by some spinach and potatos or cabbage that are grabbed from the veggie terraces outside. It’s all cooked on a mud brick wood burning stove. We demolish two to three plates of dal bhaht every night. And still never quite feel full.
  • I’m usually comatose by 8pm and Ronnie is never too far behind.

Stories and photos from Makalu and Solukumbu:
Passing Dobhane meant we had officially completed the far east section of the walk and were moving into Makalu region. We went to take a celebratory map photo and our goose of a friend kindly pointed out which trail we’d taken:

From Dobhane (day 7) we completed one of our biggest days yet: a 20km hike over 8hrs, up, up and up – with 2300m climb in elevation, mostly through remote rhododendron forests to reach Gupha Bazaar (2900m), a freezing little village full of shabby lodges, goats, and spectacular views.


We were initially the only ones in our lodge but shortly after we sat down for tea about 20 schoolboys arrived on school camp, and sat down to demolish a few kilos worth of rice and dal. They somehow managed to squeeze themselves into the two remaining rooms, a total of four beds. We were awoken the next morning by their almost on-pitch singalongs to Greenday and Hotel California.
Day 8 was spent hiking 19km down through alpine landscapes and rhodendron forests to a town called Pokhari where we had the luxury of a tiled bathroom!


Day 9 was a bit of a battle, my blisters were aching and we were both feeling exhausted. We ate several chocolate bars in quick succession to try to boost our energy, to no avail. We descended down to a river where we decided to take a break and cook some noodles for lunch.

We’d barely got the stove going before two guys pulled up on a motorbike on the dirt road next to us, clambered off and came and sat to watch us from a nearby rock. Next thing we knew we were being filmed for about 5minutes, cooking our noodles. Almost as soon as they’d left an older Nepali man came and perched on the same rock above us and watched cooking for about 10minutes. We may as well have been in the MasterChef kitchen. We then hiked another two hours up to Linling, where we luckily arrived just as a thunderstorm started.
On day 10 we were bound for Khadbari, a big village with road access where, after a 4hour battle steeply down and then uphill we found a hotel with actual mattresses, clean sheets, and an ensuite bathroom with a hot shower, true luxury. We did some washing and had an immense feed on curry, rice, beer, cake, momos (Nepali dumplings) and felt utterly content.
Trails to Khadbari:


Momo feast:

Sunset rooftop laundry:

The next morning on day 11 we had three breakfasts each and sadly left our newly found slice of heaven behind.
Day 12 involved a rare treat: 2hours of flat trail walking alongside a river. We came across the first westerner we’ve seen – a German man who was doing his ‘warm up trek’ before working as a guide during the tourist season. He told us he hiked this route every year, and every year he got lost in the myriad of trails in the section up ahead. We ended up having no issues finding the way, which was an utter miracle. That afternoon, as we hiked through a dense jungle, a massive thunderstorm hit. It lasted through till midday the next day, which meant the morning of day 12 was spent zipped up in waterproofs. Luckily the rain stopped at midday and we were back to sweating it out, hiking up near verticle stone steps for 1.5hrs to reach Thulo Pokte, a small Sherpa settlement at 2200m, that had been covered in snow during the storm, where we stayed in an absolutely baltic little lodge.


On day 13 we had an epic day, crossing the Salpha pass at 3500m, which involved climbing more agonisingly steep steps for a few hours before climbing further through rhododendron forests, and then finally plodding through fresh deep snow dumped during yesterday’s storm. Luckily a man and his donkeys had come over the pass before us and had tracked out the path for us, otherwise we would have had little chance of finding our way.

The Salpha pass in my sights:

At the top of the pass sat a little wooden shack, a Gompa, and some prayer flags. To our utter amazement, out of the shack emerged a tiny little old lady, who went and sat in the sun to brush her long white hair. God knows how she got herself up there let alone food and supplies, she was tough as old boots. We stumbled down the other side of the pass through waist high snow like a pair of drunks, spending a lot of time on our ass. A little way down we had to step to the side to let a very disobedient buffalo train go by.

After a few more hours through a beautiful forest we eventually reached Sanam, a beautiful little settlement on the side of the hill, with a monastery and a Gompa, overlooking the snowy peaks. Our guesthouse was run by Posie Sherpa, a lovely lady who made us a thermos of tea to enjoy in the sun.

Despite the beautiful sunshine it was absolutely freezing. I washed some undies and found they were frozen solid a little while later when I went to bring them in.
Day 14 involved walking down to the bottom of a never ending valley, over a suspension bridge and then back up the other side to Kiruale, an 8hr day with a descent of 1500m and a climb of 1200m. A standard day on the GHT.


Day 15: another day, another pass – Charakot pass (3070m), followed by an epic icy 1000m descent to the bottom of a valley and an incredibly steep 800m ascent to reach Sibuje.
On the way through Sibuje it seems we were following the local butcher – a middle aged man with a western looking back pack lined with a plastic bag. He stopped at each house and pulled out a big lump of meat to hand over. That night we tried Chang for the first time (Nepali beer made from rice or millet). It tastes like alcoholic kefir. Not bad. Not good.


Day 16 involved crossing the Narkung La pass (3200m) to Karikhola, which lies on the tourist route up to Everest region. Kharikhola has a main route through town which is somewhat of a donkey highway, full of mules taking supplies up to the higher settlements. It also boasts lodges with extensive English menus which we thoroughly sampled. In Kharikhola we found a map of the GHT, it seems we are about 1/5th of the way there!

Day 17: 6hrs walking with 1.5km vertical gain to go over the Taskindo pass (3100m) to Ringmu.

Day 18: Ringmu to Sete via Lamjura La pass, 25km, 2000m vertical gain, 9.5hrs hiking. This was a particularly taxing day. On our way up to the pass we picked up a lovely black and white dog who I named Paul. Then Ronnie though we should name him after the pass – Lamjura. This became ‘Lam’ and then ‘Lambert’ and then Paul Lambert. Which coincidently is a Scottish footballer, apparently. Paul Lambert stopped for some sniffing every now and then, then caught us up. He walked with us for about 10kilometres and left us just below the snowline. When we eventually reached the pass, it was shrouded in clouds.

Hiking to Junbesi, en route to Lamjura La:

Reaching the pass:


The other side involved an hour of blissful flat and then two hours of steep downhill to reach Sete, below the snowline, where we arrived just before dark.


Day 19, exhausted after the pass, we took it relatively easy. This still involved a brutal 2hr climb, but we finished in Bhandar at 12.30pm at a lovely guesthouse which had a beautiful warm sunny courtyard, delicious meals with huge portions, and a gas hot shower. We also met a German who was also staying there, which meant someone to talk to other than Ronnie. All boxes ticked 😜. We washed our clothes and relaxed in the sunshine.

On day 20 we ended up doing a 9hr day hiking all the way to Jiri, a large town, as all the lodges we’d considered staying at along the way turned out to be closed.

We passed through Shivalaya which marked the border of Solukumbu, and our entrance into Rowaling, a region notorious for poorly defined trails and lost souls – slightly unsettling.

Finishing the Solukumbu map with a cautious cow having a peak at our route:

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

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

Phucking Phalut

The last few days have been eventful to say the least. Our goal was to reach Phalut, a small guesthouse on the top of a mountain at 3500m, on the border with India. From Phalut we would then turn around and start walking westward across the length of Nepal to the western border. Getting to Phalut was an emotional rollercoaster: exhausting, terrifying, frustrating, thrilling. A start that hopefully hardened us up for the rest of the trip.

We started with a 15hr overnight bus from Kathmandu to Birtamode, which left an hour and a half late, as we would come to realise is pretty standard in Nepal. At first we went at a snails pace due to Kathmandu traffic, however this quickly escalated into a terrifying high speed ride, mostly spent on the wrong side of the road whilst overtaking other vehicles. We tried to distract ourselves by watching the Bollywood thriller blaring from the TV above, which only made me want to spew, and which only added to our sombre mood as all the characters were shot dead one by one. We tried to sleep but couldn’t as we were bounced around like peanuts and periodically thrown forwards as the brakes went on.

Finally we arrived at Birtamode at 8am, exhausted. After a quick breakfast we were on a jeep to Tapelejung, slightly closer to the border. Jeeps serve as public transport vehicles in most rural areas of Nepal due to the terrible roads. They seat 9 people however generally carry around 15 people, plus a few on the back or the roof if required. All come carefully decorated with fluro fur and fake flowers, and pump out Nepali music at full blast. It took 8hrs to reach Tapelejung, Ronnie had a little old lady balanced in his knee for a good part of the trip, who let out a little chuckle every now and then at her good fortune. We wriggled and bounced our way to Tapelejung through some beautiful hill villages. In Tapelejung we stayed at a lovely family run hotel, where we were grateful for a bed and a hot shower. The family were absolutely lovely and had long conversations with us in broken English. To our amusement the wife named our balance bags (packs worn on the front to balance our load) our ‘Himalayan babies’.

In the morning we got a jeep to Ganesh Chowk, from which we would get another jeep to Chyanthapu, from which we would walk to Phalut on the border. We arrived in Ganesh Chowk at 11.30am and were told there would be a jeep to Chyanthapu at 12pm, then 1pm, then 3pm. We ended up waiting 4hrs for a jeep by which time we thought we would be staying the night in Ganesh Chowk.

During our time at the ‘jeep stop’ we were able to witness Nepali village life:

  • Countless people filling buckets at the communal village tap opposite
  • One woman doing her washing, hanging it out, and watering the adjacent road every hour or so to contain the dust kicked up by passing jeeps
  • A goat ‘bahhh-ing’ at us at it went by in a rickshaw
  • A little boy dropped off from a jeep only to promptly vomit right at Ronnie’s feet

While we waited, a heap of people came past and asked us ‘where you going?’, then ‘ahhh Chyantapu, 5 minutes, coming’. Apparently all jeeps are only 5 minutes away. Finally at about 4pm a jeep came who told us they were going to the town just before Chyanthapu. We negotiated to pay double the original fare if they took us all the way to Chyanthapu.

The jeep ride was on tarmac for 5km then quickly became a rocky potholed dirt track, at which time the driver turned to us and said: ‘its dancing from now on’. The road was so bumpy that my merino bra was just not adequate, and I spent most of the trip arms crossed over my chest, dreaming of a sports bra. We drove through villages and rice terraces, up and down ridiculously steep hills, and couldn’t help but thinking we must be mad to want to walk up these.

Eventually we arrived in Chyanthapu and were shown to a local family’s homestay. We were served a tiny portion of chow mein for dinner, satiated but nowhere near full. It seemed rude to ask for more so we decided to make do as is. We sat at the table for another hour doing sudoku whilst the man of the house banged around in the kitchen cooking dinner for his family. But then to our suprise he served the food to us! – a huge plate of thali: a mound of rice, three different types of veg, potato curry, chicken curry with gravy, chicken curry without gravy, dal. It was so delicious but we filled up so quickly after having already eaten. We then had to try to say/mime no thank you when he came back to offer more for every separate dish – Ronnie unsuccessfully trying to mime being full by drawing a line across his neck – the poor man looking confused. We ate as much as we physically could to try to show our appreciation and breathed a sigh of relief when the meal was over. But as soon as our plates were taken away we were served two Nepali donuts each! We were ready to vomit by the time we got through them. We thanked the man profusely before hurrying upstairs to bed before he could serve us anymore.

Ronnie, our brilliant chef, his sister in law and wife.

The next day we started walking, aiming for Phalut, 8hrs away. We walked through cardamom and ginger plantations, crossed questionable suspension and bamboo bridges, and at times caught glimpses of a snowy peak in the distance that was Phalut – our destination. Every local we passed told us ‘Phalut, very far, very far’, adding to our anxiety.

We first got lost after about an hour, and found ourselves wandering up trails between terraced rice fields, asking locals for the way to Phalut, all of whom just pointed up. But when we went up we found a myriad of trails to choose from. We eventually pieced the way together after asking local after local, each of them incredibly kind and friendly in showing us the right way, in amongst just so many trails. After another 2hrs we were lost again after choosing to follow the most well trodden path, which after 30mins we decided wasn’t going in the right direction. We traced our way back and headed out on another path going in the correct direction, jubilant! However this path quickly disappeared and was replaced by what looked like animal tracks, which we followed for a short time before finding ourselves in the middle of the forrest with no idea what to do. Just as panic started to set in we heard some noise not to far away which got closer and closer until a middle aged Nepali farmer, with yellow gumboots and a small knife tied around his waist appeared through the bamboo. We later named him ‘Bruce’ as his name was too hard to pronounce let alone remember. With some miming and some broken Nepali we told him where we wanted to go. He started heading off up the hill, not following a trail, and waved at us to follow. Follow we did, thinking that he would take us to the trail and off he would go. 2hrs later Bruce had walked us all the way to Lem Pokhari, a shrine by a lake that was on our route and far further than we had ever imagined. Along the way Bruce led us confidently across countless trail junctions that we would never have been able to negotiate on our own. We felt guilty that he was walking so far with us but at the same time didn’t want him to leave us. Periodically he turned around and grinned at our tired puffing faces, and then carried on walking, hands behind his back like he was taking a Sunday stroll. We reached Lem Pokhari after 8hrs (the time we were supposed to take to reach Phalut), 2hrs before night fall, and seeing the snowy path ahead decided it would be foolish to keep going. We bid Bruce goodbye, gave him some money and food and thanked him profusely for his help. We set up camp, had a miserable dinner of floury dehydrated potato and went to bed at 6pm, freezing, wondering how on earth we would make it to Phalut or back to Chyanthapu on our own tomorrow.

After a freezing night we were up at 6.15am for more dehydrated potato for breakfast. We took far too long to get ready and didn’t set off till 8am. We felt incredibly anxious about the walk ahead – Bruce along with another few locals we had met had told us there was snow knee deep on the trail to Phalut. We decided we would continue up the trail for 2hrs and if we hadn’t reached Phalut or there was too much snow we would turn back as were running out of food and it would take another day to get back to Chyanthapu. To add to the fun, I discovered that I had been bitten by a tick on my belly. We tried to pull it out with tweezers unsuccessfully – it’s mouth remained buried in my skin and just would not come out. Even more upsetting, it sat right where my pack belt sits. We decided we would get going and address this later.

The trail was well trodden and easy to follow thank God. We had a couple of minor moments of panic feeling like the trail was going in the wrong direction but continued on. After setting off there was almost immediately snow at the side of the trail, and then ice and snow on the trail, getting deeper. With a steep trail and a shear drop on one side this made our path treacherous. We became even more nervous when the clouds rolled in and it started snowing, heavier and heavier, causing the visibility to deteriorate. We lacked energy, our potato breakfast was not enough and we scoffed jerky and dried mango to try to keep energy levels up. We considered turning back multiple times. When it reached 10am, our turn around time, we felt we must be close to the top and decided to give ourselves 30mins more. After a little while we caught a glimpse of a building high up in the distance, with a power line going to it which looked promising. We decided we would turn around there. We battled on and luckily at about 10.30am we reached the building, which it turned out marked the Indian border. We were absolutely ecstatic. We knew there was a guest house at Phalut, 1km from here, provided it was open.

We marched on confidently through the snow and were over the moon when we came across a sturdy guest house, and within it, Naazi Sherpa, a happy and friendly soul who walked around the place singing at the top of his voice. He showed us to a room, and made us tea, dal, potatos rice and egg. An angel sent from above. We were so happy and relieved we couldn’t stop smiling.

Ronnie had a wash using a chux cloth and water from a mostly frozen bucket. I chose to be smelly and warm.

We then spent about 2hrs trying to dig the tick’s mouth from my belly with a needle and tweezers, it was not enjoyable, and was very upsetting when couldn’t get it all out. We are now in our sleeping bags in our room as I write this, the temperature must be sub-zero, any water around the place is frozen. There is a thunder storm going on outside and it is blowing a gale, hailing and snowing. There seem to be a lot of holes in the guesthouse so there is snow coming in everywhere, giving a white dusting to everything, including the toilet.

Hopefully the snow won’t cover the tracks we were planning to follow tomorrow. Tomorrow we will head off early with the aim of returning to Chyantapu – heading west – in the right direction for the first time.

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

The beginning

After a hectic last few days in Sydney scrambling to pack up our life into backpacks, we finally got ourselves on a plane to Kathmandu Nepal, absolutely spent.

We got our first glimpse of the Himalaya, snow capped in the distance, just before touching down; the sight of airplane wreckage next to the runway bringing on a nervous giggle.

Our first few days in Kathmandu were spent gorging on indian curries, Nepali momos (dumplings), and wandering the dusty streets, diving out of way of motorbikes, trucks and cars. Ronnie recalling every shop and street corner we passed, apparently. We were lucky enough to spend our first two nights in a beautiful boutique hotel (thank you so much Junglefy), where Ronnie spent each morning eating a small Himalayan mountain worth of buffet breakfast, and the highlight of which involved watching star wars from the hot tub.

On day three we met with Robin Boulstead, who is responsible for originally developing the great Himalayan trail (GHT) by connecting existing trails to make a route encompassing the entire Himalaya, from East to West. Robin provided a heap of useful tips on logistical challenges, and also filled us in on what it takes to get on ‘the list’ – of those who have successfully completed the GHT. The criteria being that you must cross from border to border, with no sections skipped, and no vehicular assistance, otherwise you may only qualify to be placed on the ‘noteable efforts’ list 😲. If our competitive spirit hadn’t yet been ignited, it certainly was after this meeting.

In the following days we scurried around the streets of Kathmandu, buying supplies and arranging logistics and documents. Deepak from Adventure Mountain Club was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable in assisting us with finalising our route, and arranging our permits. After some discussion we were advised to avoid the Tashi Labasta pass due to the higher than normal snow fall this season, which would likely make it impassable. This was both a disappointment and a releif, as we had both been a nervous flap about using ice axes and crampons for the first time.

Despite all of this planning we still managed to get ropped into having tea with our hotel’s travel agent, who was lovely yet highly disappointed to learn we already had planned and arranged our trek. Unpeturbed, he spent the next 45minutes attempting to convince us that after 4 months in the mountains we would probably like nothing more than to back up with a further 10 day trek with his company. Another half hour of smiling and nodding later, and we finally wriggled free.

Other highlights of the last few days include:

– Attempting to print documents at a local copy shop, which involved logging into Ronnie’s email account using a keyboard that was so clogged with dust that every second key registered twice. Combined with a hidden password field, this was an almost impossible task. After half and hour of admirable persistence, he was in, cheering.

– Searching for a copy shop that could do colour photocopies of our passport: we were consistently given a delighted smile and a ‘yes, colour, yes’, only to end up with about 15 black and white copies of our passport, before we gave up.

– Realising after we’d moved in that our hotel room was caked in a thick layer of dust as the balcony door had been left open. Ronnie couldn’t stop sneezing. After trying to explain this to the hotel manager we tried to ask for some clean sheets – to which he looked absolutely horrified, then a moment later overjoyed. He then hurried to the laundry and gave us one clean pillow case. To which we pretended to be overjoyed, and shyly asked for another. To which he again looked horrified and then a moment later, overjoyed. This cycle repeated until we eventually ended up with a clean under sheet and pillow cases, and resolved to just turn the doona covers inside out rather than continue.

Six days later and we have commenced the journey to the eastern border to start walking. This includes a 15hr overnight bus (which we are currently on and so far has been maintaining an average speed slightly slower than walking pace); an 8hr jeep ride; and another jeep ride to a town which is a day’s walk from the border. In total, about 4days worth of misery. On the positive side we have a healthy supply of samosas and onion bhajis at the ready. Wish us luck 😜

Please consider sponsoring us by donating to PHASE Nepal: 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