Sunday, October 23, 2005

More pictures...

I know I have been slack so you can look for more pictures of the trip and paddling on my friend Karin's site:

It's in Swedish but if you go to the bottom of the page to "Här kan du läsa mer..." and click on the links you can see some pictures for the trips we have done. (Half the pictures are mine anyway!)

Mardi Himal Experience

Well Nepal is amazing, beautiful rivers, spectacular scenary and friendly people, and even some sheep. It is enough to make a kiwi girl feel at home.

I have just come back from a very interesting trekking trip up Mardi Himal. This is a trip very near the famous Annapurna base camp trek but away from all other the tourists. For the whole week my Swedish friend Karin and I saw no-one but locals!

After trying to climb Fanispan and getting lost with all the forest trails in Vietnam, I decided it would be good to hire a guide. Luckily we were able to find a guide willing to carry his own stuff and do a low budget ascent on Mardi Himal. A couple of his friends were keen to come along so that made five in total.

The first night was spent in his home village buying essentials like food, and playing with the kids. They have a game a little like pool, but with disks on a floured table. To win you had to sink two disks one after another so it was a good thing we had guides with us or our game would never have ended... It was really nice as we also got to meet our guides family and experience some local dahl baht.

The next morning we started to head up. After an easy mornings walk which included meeting two old men who gave us some "special grass" we had stopped for lunch. This proved a long affair with the cooking of a full dahl baht meal including rice, potatoes and dahl, and a short sleep. Walking after such a heavy meal proved quite difficult. Luckily it wasn't far until we came to our campsite which we shared with a local buffulo farmer and his herd. The highlight of the night was rice pudding made with fresh buffulo milk, and our guides singing after a little rum to get going.

The next morning we set off again, up through the rododendron forest and onto the ridge. The forest was awesome, and so were the views. We meet several local farmers up here. I felt right at home surrounded by the sheep, and with the addition of a few spaniards I would have thought I was in kiwi land.

Just as we were coming up the last hill our guide seemed to run out of energy, and then we realised that he had had nearly no water all day. So we gave him some water (our 3 guides had only 2 litres of water all day as they didn't seem to think they would need water bottles on the trip). After putting up our tents we went to look for water but all the streams were dry, and but which stage we were very thirsty as we were camping at 3000m. Our guide kept claiming there was no problem and in the end as the night faded the local shepard came to our rescue carrying a 35 litre barrel of water, so we said a very big "ram ro cha" to him and gave hime some Dahl baht. That night we all listened to my kiwi tunes, and shared a little rum punch.

The next day we were supposed to camp at 4000m but after much probing we realised our guide really had no idea whether we would find water. Since they still had only a couple of litres of water we decided to play it safe and camp at 3700m. Again it took us all a long time to find water. By the time we had cooked dahl bhatfor lunch it was too late to move on so it was leisurely afternoon. The guides wanted to camp on the hill top, but I suggested that we camp about 20 meters down since it was a little windy. As it became dark thick white clouds ascended from the valley...

Around midnight there was an impressive electrical storm and I could feel the hairs on my body. Noone else could sleep but somehow I managed to doze until I woke to the unmistakable sound of lightning and thunder right above us. Everyone was excited particularly the guides, there was singing and much loud Nepalese. We started counting our lucky stars that we had decided not to camp on the ridge after all! And then it started to snow...

And it snowed. In the morning it was just begining to settle on the ground, and still it snowed and thundered even during the day. Every so often it became quiet and I would think the snow had stopped, only to find 10cm more snow of the top of the tent blocking out the noise. It snowed for over 24 hours without stopping. There was much fun cooking pancakes over the dodgy kerosene stove in the guides tent, and watching them play in the snow for the first time. But they had only 2 sleeping bags between the three of them and all there stuff was wet. We need to get out of the snow and down the mountain.., but who was the guide now and who was the client?

In the morning it was still snowing lightly but we decided to head off anyway. Karin and I were reasonably well equiped except I was in running shoes, but our guides didn't have very good clothes at all. After another great pancake breakfast we quickly packed up (well quick by Nepalese standards...). We made the guides all use plastic bags in their shoes, and tied our trousers for impromptu gaiters and each grabbed a stick. I slipped and slid like crazy in my running shoes, but luckily I had found a stick with a branch sticking out a little like an ice axe so I felt okay. About twenty minutes later our guide was walking along with his jacket undone but freezing, so I stoped and took of my gloves and did it up for him.

We gave the guides a quick lesson in self arrest and then headed down the steepest hill! Luckily for us, we weren't far above the snowline and after descending only 300 meters we were out of the worst of the snow. But that 300m was terrifying. It was steep, with wet snow over snow grass and on top of a 700m+ hill and I could get no traction in my shoes. Once, both feet slid out from under me and only the "pick" of my "axe" held me and my grip on the stick was getting worse and worse as I struggled to find my feet.

After we left the snow, things started to become better. Atleast now we didn't have any problems finding water any more. The sheep we had passed at 3000m on the way up were also heading down the mountain.

As we headed DOWN the mountain, Karin had the crazy idea that maybe we could get back to Pokarau the same day. So it was decided to take a short cut down to a previous days lunch spot. So we started walking UP and UP. The side ridge we thought we should walk down passed and still we were walking up. It was a great path right on the ridge so I didn't mind but Karin started to get a little upset that we weren't going the right way. (At the end of the day the guide kind of admitted that he had missed the track he meant to take).

After a while we did start heading down, straight down. It happens like this, you are following a little track in the forest and then suddenly the forest clears and you realise are basically on what is nearly a cliff, and you can see the paddy fields below, a long way below, and wonder how the hell you are going to get there. The paths themselves aren't especially scarey for a kiwi tramper, but I still find it amazing that somehow someone has found the track that weaves it's way down an incredibly steep hill with only a couple of very steep bits. I was loving the way down it was far more exciting and had better views than the way we had come up. However I stayed at the back to give the guides cookies and Raro when they started to tire.

Finally we came across a house at which point we stopped for a while and discovered forest + lots of rain + tiny tracks = LEECHES. Karin had many around her stomach and hated it. I, only had small leech farm in my shoes. However we couldn't stay where we were. Instead of heading back to town we decided to spend a last night in a local house, 45 minutes away, on some indefined track through prickly stuff or were our guides just a little lost again? And now we knew to look for the leeches climbing into our shoes.

When we got to where we were staying we were dripping wet, and picking 100s of leeches off our feet our hosts could only laugh. We stayed at an awesome place, where only three families lived with there own rice paddies on a small flat island. In the morning we found there was no easy way down or up from where they lived. Dispite the persistant rain everyone came out to see what the excitement was about when we arrived.

That night was wonderful. We were made a special fire in the house to warm us, and drunk some extremely good roxy (local alcohol and not the smoky stuff we had had earlier). It was so embarrasing for me because I couldn't get my feet to stop bleeding from all the leech bites I had! The guides especially were having a good time. We had a lot of laughs about the trip and it was so nice being inside while it rained outside.

The house was simple and beautiful, a mix of old an new. We slept on grass mats but had thick kerosene smelling polarfleece like blankets to keep us warm. They had toothbrushes and a well kept plates, but little else. Outside was a beautiful stone courtyard, and there were flowers in the garden. Really I cannot believe that these people are poor, they have eveything they need. About the only thing out of place was the alarm clock that every hour spoke the time in English. In the morning at 6am shortly after the real roster outside had woken, it woke everyone up with an electronic crowing noise including our lazy guides who had hoped to sleep in!

The last day we found an even steeper trail to take our tired legs down, and yes there were many more leeches. At moments like this you just need to embrace the leeches and laugh when the locals laughing at you and your bleeding feet as you pull 50 leeches from your shoes and socks! This is what the journey of life is about... We made it back to our guides village where we were local celebrites. After 3 days inside because of the constant rain everyone came round to hear our story, and the guides parents were very relieved that their children were okay. After that we wandered home again and I tried carrying the guides (now lightened) load the traditional way on my head, while he carried my heavy backpack.

So that is our story. We had hoped to climb the mountain (5500m) or atleast to make it to the snowline, but this time the snow came down and meet us. This was certainly one of those experiences which teaches you that life is a journey and not a destination!

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