Nepal – Kanchenjunga Oct 2015
Well the day we were flying from the UK to Kathmandu via Delhi, we found out about the fuel crisis in Nepal. No idea why this wasn’t on the BBC. (Lots of American tour operators have apparently cancelled their trips, unnecessarily as it turns out. The gov’t is giving fuel to tourist transport as tourism is so important to their economy and they really, really need people to come back).Anyway we decided to get on the plane at LHR, fly to Delhi and hope for the best! So far it has all worked out although we haven’t managed to get on an internal flight due to the fuel shortage and high demand due to a local festival.
But back to our entry into Nepal. You can apply online for a tourist visa into Nepal. This “should” reduce the queuing time at the border however you must first queue to pay for the visa. This queue is as long as the previous visa queues. We suspect they have done it this way to reduce corruption, which a good thing. So don’t expect to race through. You are likely to be jet lagged and very tired. Just get into the “zen” and wait.
After customs you get to retrieve your luggage. At the moment this is chaos. I think it may be because flights seem to arrive near to each other. Am not sure, but there are PILES of lost luggage at the airport. We feel very fortunate to even have arrived in Nepal in the first place and to have both packs- wow!
We were collected by the driver for the Kathmandu Eco Hotel. It is great to not have to negotiate taxi services etc. Obviously the hotel is a better standard than what we would normally chose. We we given the Stupa Deluxe Suite, 6 Flrs up (it is good training), including breakfast for $38 per night. Cheaper than the rates quoted on booking.com. Thamel, the touristy area of Kathmandu, is so quiet. We really feel for the shop owners and the hotels. Our hotel seems to be doing OK as quite a few groups stay here. The food is good, the room is quiet and we are catching up on our sleep. The fuel crisis has had a positive effect on Thamel, no cars so minimal horn noise and not as polluted! You do see many, many people queuing for fuel. There is a new PM now and they are hoping the fuel trucks will start arriving.
Back to trekking: When we found out from the guys at Kanchenjunga Trek, who organised our Kanchenjunga guide, that we wouldn’t be able to fly to Bhadrapur but would have to take a long distance bus (ug!) we decided to go to Gokyo and Everest base camp first and then meet up with the guide early Nov. But then we met Dawa, the guide, who said that there could be snow on the pass and it could be blocked, which would then scupper the whole Kanchenjunga trek. So we decided to stick to the original plan, minus the luxury of a flight. We are now booked onto a “deluxe” bus which should be a reasonable standard (we hope). Am not completely sure about travelling on the Nepali roads at night but the lack of traffic will help. We have been warned not to eat any of the food at any of the stops though! So we have packed peanut butter and crackers, a travelling staple!
We head out this afternoon and are hoping for the best. We hope to start trekking in 2 – 3 days time. It will take us that long to get to the trail head! I will report back!
24 hours later and we are half way there!
As instructed we arrived at the bus depot at 4:00pm for a 4:30pm departure. There were many buses there, (not as many as there would’ve been without the fuel rationing) and we took great interest in identifying which “deluxe” bus was ours. We really didn’t have high hopes but when some of the swanky buses pulled in we thought “maybe it will be ok!”.
Well. The seats are comfortable, the a/c is an open window, and we have an intact windscreen. Not all the buses did!
When I first saw the condition of the bus I thought “I am going to kill them”. “Them” being the guys who booked it on our behalf. Then I took a deep breath, and got into the “zone” – “this is going to be a long journey, just go with it, you are here now” zone. My fear, before we even booked the bus tickets was that we would break down or run out of fuel on the journey. The tour guys put my fears at ease as they were assured that there would be plenty of fuel and that the bus was a “deluxe tourist” bus. They were conned!
We haven’t broken down yet but we have run out of fuel twice so far. Refueling isn’t as simple as going to the gas station, as the only fuel avail is via jerry cans courtesy of the black market. And there appears to be a leak in the fuel tank. Oh and I forgot to say that we arrived at 16:00 for the bus, we boarded at 18:00 and then we queued for fuel until 19:30. Then, we stopped for a tea break at 20:30. Our 14 hour journey is going to be much longer than that!
We were treated to some Nepali music videos followed by an Indian movie dubbed in Nepali. I think they took pity on the oldies as they didn’t play it to loudly. Our seat was naturally beside the speaker. I am not going to mention the toilets except to say the one in Kathmandu was very clean, the rest not. So no more liquid for me tonight!
Somehow we both slept a lot of the night despite the frequent stops. We did buy some noodle soup from some girls at midnight to keep us going. The food at the roadside stands is as we have experienced before so we are eating it. Not much choice really! Noodle soup with egg and spices does the trick.
At one stop we thought the driver was going to be arrested as he was buying fuel on the black market. It turned out that the police didn’t mind that as much as they minded him sitting in a 30 minute zone. So after much drama and discussion they managed to get 40l of fuel and we were once again on our way. We limped into the half way point at 10 am.
It is at this point that we find out that there is a protest strike that is closing the road ahead until midnight tonight so we are “stuck” here. Here being Dhanusha. Luckily we can afford the $10 to get a hotel room for the day. The shower was blissful, the mattress rock hard but we did get a few hours of horizontal sleep. And amazingly enough they have intermittent wi-fi!
A few weeks later…..
I have decided to change the format of the blog and write a letter, inspired by two friends, Mon and Min, who both write such great letters. I suspect that from now until April I will “just” do picture blogs! We will see, I change my mind regularly! We did keep a written journal that I was going to transcribe but to be honest, the days all sound the same! We walked up, down, up, down, cross bridges, ate a “variety” of foods, saw different terrains and watched the local Nepalis go about their very difficult lives. In fact, you may want to skip the rest as it lays the above out in more detail!
As you will have gathered we are back in Kathmandu from our Kanchenjunga trek. It took us about 18 days to trek the circuit. It should have taken 21 days but we didn’t actually make the north base camp as the weather was just too bad. (We turned back as I found it too difficult and scary walking over snow-covered, icy boulders and the weather was changing quickly. I just didn’t see the point in continuing to 5100m in bad weather. I think I am getting more cautious after spending so many months injured last year.)
Of course, the day after we decided to turn back the sky was clear and bright. We expected snowy, cloudy weather as that is what we had had for three days. I wasn’t prepared for the deep feeling of disappointment I felt for not making the north basecamp. “Should’a, would’a, could’a” comes to mind. But on reflection it was the right decision at the time. Who knows what the weather conditions were up at the high altitude.
In truth, the entire trek was very, very difficult. We met lots of friendly trekkers who all agreed that ‘it was hard’. We spent most of our walking time looking at our feet negotiating the terrain. It varied from steep, bouldery ups or downs, to slippery moss and leaf covered stones, to big uneven steps and, blissfully, every now and then we were treated to a lovely pathway. I think those pathways saved our sanity. We did have a couple of “sense of humour failure” days and days when we were swearing at the boulders, it didn’t change anything just made us feel better. I even had days where I talked to the terrain, hoping that the big hill we had to climb would somehow flatten out. There was a lot of “seriously’s” murmured when we saw what was coming.
We started off trekking on the south side and then made our way to the north. Some people do it our way and some do it in the reverse. I can’t say if one way or the other is “easier”, they are both hard. Dawa, our Nepalese guide, was excellent from day one. He really took very good care of us. He is a climbing guide and has climbed many of the “big” peaks in Nepal. We were beneath his skill level but he seemed content to walk with us. As we melted in the heat he did change his timings from say, 2/3 hours to 4/5! I was particularly slow. I felt like I was walking in slow motion.
Dawa was very concerned with making it over the pass (4600m) as soon as we could. This meant we didn’t have any rest days for the first 10 days. That was tough as we were not as fit as we would have liked and the climbs were steep and hot. He really wanted to get over the pass before the snow came as it would be very difficult to find the trail with the snow. So we pressed on. I actually didn’t go to the south camp lookout because I had a shocking headache. I took some ibuprofen and went back to bed for 3 hours whilst John and Dawa headed up the valley. I felt much better when they came down, the pictures look spectacular but John was very tired and would’ve like the rest. The views from Ramche, where I was, were stunning so I was happy!
We hired a local porter to carry the heavy pack over the pass. He was going to go home so it was good to offer him 2 extra days work. (We had been seeing many camping groups who have tons of porters and assistants so we were starting to feel guilty that we were the only ones carrying our own gear. One couple who were on their own with a group of porters said that they felt like they were on a Victorian expedition). Am so glad we hired him as the trail was soooo steep and long. That was one of the days that I swore at the boulders and tree roots. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather that day as it was beautifully clear until mid-afternoon when the heavy clouds rolled in. We had fantastic views of Everest and of Jannu. A great day trekking.
The food was better than we expected, the locals all eat Dal Bhat twice a day. Dal Bhat is rice served with lentil soup and some vegetables, usually a bitter cabbage, all flavored with varying amounts of cumin! My cumin tolerance has dropped way down. I have definitely had enough of the stuff! If we didn’t eat Dal Bhat we ate fried potatoes (often half cooked), omelettes, noodle soup or fried noodles. We drank lots of tea and hot water. Now that we are back in Kathmandu, beer is once again on the menu. As is spicy Indian, Thai and Italian food. And they are all delicious!
We enjoyed seeing a different side of Nepal. The eastern side where we were is very different from the Annapurna and Manaslu side. In the main, we found the villages to be really well cared for. Lots of gardens filled with flowers and vegetables. The hills were covered with tea plantations or thick forest. This vegetation did mean it was very hot and humid in the low elevations, something we struggled with. It was lovely to see the lush, green countryside. Generally the Nepalese people are very poor. They have very little and we really noticed the poverty on this trek. Maybe people are better off near the Annapurna circuit as there are more tourists.
Nepal is in crisis at the moment due to a fuel and gas shortage. There are long queues of cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles waiting to get their small ration of fuel. Restaurants have closed as they cannot get gas to cook on and neighbors are cooking together to save fuel. So called “tourist” transport is protected but we haven’t had access to that. As some of you know it took us 72 hours to make a 12 hour journey to the trail head. The delays were caused by running out of fuel several times and by getting caught up in the protest strike which lasted 12 hrs. At the place of the strike there were at least 200 vehicles lined up trying to get through. It was chaos. And our driver was very aggressive. Time to close your eyes and go to sleep and hopefully wake up when it is all over! On our way back to Kathmandu we were going to take the bus again as we didn’t want to spend $187 for a 45 min flight, but then we heard that there were more convoys and a 5 day strike planned. We spent the money and took the plane.
We are going to hang out in Kathmandu for a couple of days and then will hopefully fly to Lukla and make our way up to Gokyo and Everest Basecamp. Although the destination is higher than what we just did, the trail, level of accommodation and variety of food will be much better. The weather has been unseasonally cloudy and snowy so am not sure if we will make it over the Gokyo passes or not. We can still have a high level walk without going over passes. For now though we are resting up and getting our strength back.
Take care all and feel free to write a letter back. We miss our friends and family and would love to hear from you. We have struggled with uploading the images so that will just have to wait until we are back in a country with good bandwidth. We “should” be able to load our Everest ones on the next trek as there “should” be wifi. Incredible really as people are so poor but some guesthouses have wifi and satellite dishes.
Much love and hugs,