This year the monsoon had started 2 months earlier than planned, that is now clear. Since my arrival in Sikkim, no more than 2 or 3 days have been free of rain or snow – which is exhausting and gruelling. The snowline dropped below 4000m, all passes without exception were covered with new snow, some of them meters high, and it actually got worse and worse. From midday or early afternoon a clouded trekking pleasure, one usually finds oneself at this time in the fog or clouds, accompanied by snowfall or freezing rain. In the snow trails are not or very difficult to find, cross-country through rock, ice and deep snow the route chosen means daily challenge, very slow progress, increased risk and finally unnecessary danger. Sure, the trail is the destination – but the question is whether at all costs?
From Taplejung to Makalu Base Camp it took 26 days on foot (including a rest day) and 6 – 7 days were lost due to the bad weather. At this pace I would need 2 – 3 months longer to complete the planned route through Nepal. And should I finally be out of Nepal, there would be winter in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh – i.e. the same or even worse conditions are to be expected. For most of the passes the locals predicted difficult conditions for us. They said it would be hardly possible or very difficult – nevertheless we didn’t let ourselves be deterred. They didn’t go themselves, they waited for the time after the monsoon, it was too difficult and too cold for them. Which they were right.
The next destination was the Everest area. The 3 – 4 day route over the northern passes – Sherpani Col (6.300m), West Col (6.300m) and Amphu Labsta (5.800m) was cancelled for us right from the start, because even with excellent weather and snow conditions climbing equipment (at least 200m rope, crampons, harness, ice axe, ice screws etc.) would be necessary there, of which we had nothing with us except for the crampons. The decision to do without this equipment was made deliberately. Again 10 – 15 kg more simply did not stand for it. The faint hope to borrow the missing equipment in Yangle Kharka or Langmale Kharka or to join a group that goes this way was shattered relatively quickly – both were not available.
A somewhat more southern route over several passes (up to 5.800m up) north of Mera Peak was the second choice, was already considered fixed for me. But in Yangle and Langmale we were strongly advised against it this time. Too heavy and dangerous in this snow. Even if we should make it somehow, it takes at least 8 – 10 days to Lukla. If something happens no chance to get out somehow. Even at Mera Peak nobody is – off season – all have already moved into the valleys or are about to do so. In a short conversation with Wang CChun in which I wanted to clarify if there was a possibility to try it, I did not get an answer – so he was not there either. The feeling is about the same as if a toddler is standing in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and underneath there is not a single present…
Change of plans:
Immediate return to Kathmandu and further travel to India for 8 – 10 weeks. In Ladakh and the northern parts of Himachal Pradesh, wonderful trekking weather should wait for me until the end of September. I will simply prefer this part now to continue in August where I stop now
If you are interested, 3 – 4 people can accompany me on two selected tours after my return to Nepal at relatively low cost. They are organized by the local representative of Worldwide Hikes.
Tour 1: in August from Simikot (Nepal) to Mt. Kailash in Tibet – a very easy, culturally but highly interesting route
Tour2: in October Mera Peak Summit (approx. 6.500m) – Makalu Base Camp, Sherpani Col, West Col, Amphu Labsta – Everest Region with Kongma La, EBC, Kalla Patthar, Gokyo and Renjo La. This tour is demanding and requires very good physical fitness
Detailed information on both tours can be found on the homepage (menu).
After the decision was made to return to KTM, we descended from Sherjong to Num to the first possible jeep within 2 ½ days and 32h walking time. The way down was relatively easy, only a 3km wide landslide and 3 passes over 4.400m through the obligatory snow made it even more exciting. After the experiences of the last days quite easy.
At Kalo Pokhari (Black Lake), shortly after crossing the first of these 3 passes, we were invited for a tea by workers who were erecting a new building there. During the conversation with the men we learned for the first time that things were going well in Nepal at the moment. There was talk of unrest, riots and general strike, as well as of public transport being paralysed by road blocks, marauding gangs on motorcycles assaulting buses and robbing passengers and burning cars – in short, anarchy had returned to Nepal in the time we had spent in the mountains. For 5 years a democratic government has been in power in Nepal, which had not managed to pass a valid constitution during this time. It shouldn’t be that easy considering that there are 119 castes (ethnic groups) with their own interests in this country. Obviously the people try to put pressure on their representatives to do the necessary work. Anyway, I could not believe the statements in the form and for the time being I thought it was pure exaggeration.
The further one descends from the mountains, the more the landscape changes. The transition is not gentle but sudden. Rock – forest – farmland, as soon as you have passed the last tree, you suddenly find yourself between rice fields and pasture land – a sight I had to get used to after the last weeks.
In Tashedong, the last major settlement before Num, we received an update on the unrest. In Kandbari, a place between Num and Tumlingtar, which we had to pass by without fail, desert riots and already 6 cars would have been torched. Wang CChun was worried – for me it was not credible – so let’s continue.
In the evening we received the same information in Num again. Shared Jeeps didn’t drive any in the last week and would not drive any in the next days. But we could go to Kandbari by foot for a day or rent our own jeep for RS 10.000 (about 100,- Euro), but we had to leave during the night, because it would be safer there… Wang CChu was deeply worried in the meantime, he saw us already stuck in this small nest for days, because the hordes in Kandbari would not let us through, or even lynch us. Coincidentally, exactly 5 years ago I was in Nepal from March to July and the first free elections were on the agenda – accompanied by strikes, riots and bombings. At that time the situation changed in a daily rhythm.
So I was already familiar with similar situations – my suspicion was that an attempt was being made to capitalize on our ignorance and a supposed emergency situation by building up psychological pressure. It was out of the question to take up this offer – let’s see what the next day would bring…
The next morning a new offer. That morning a jeep would drive with us at great risk. We should stick a note with “Tourist only” behind the windshield and would only have to pay RS 6.000, for that the driver could take one or the other local with him… It was obvious, on this day a normal shared jeep drove, only with the repeated attempt to pull me over. After a short, but very intensive negotiation round with the owner of the car, we both sat in the front row of the car – of course with the same conditions (RS 500) as everybody else.
The drive to Kandbari was an 8 hour adventure in itself, half of which we spent with repairs to the vehicle, pushing and waiting. After this driving time was predicted, it should always be the same.
First one of the half axles was lost, whereupon the driver 1 ½ hours disappeared under the vehicle. 4 times the vehicle had to be freed from the mud – the four-wheel drive just doesn’t help when driving on these roads with slicks. Once the car had picked up speed again, the driver took advantage of this and drove on to the next dry spot – we passengers had to walk 10 to 15 minutes to the back of the car… Once we had to wait for another hour – nobody knew why – maybe we were going too fast? In any case, it is admirable with which calmness and matter of course the people here deal with such a car trip – nobody got upset, nobody complained or suddered – not even me…
Arrived in Kandbari no trace of roadblocks, riots, burnt out car wrecks or even burning cars. Just a peaceful Nepalese small town in the monsoon rain every evening. Accordingly, it was easy to continue the next day to Tumlingtar, the place from where there was a direct connection to Dahran or Itari, from where a night bus would take us to KTM.
At 10 o’clock in the morning we were standing at the main road of Tumlingtar with the certainty that from here on this and also the next day surely no jeep would be on the way in the desired direction. In Nepal, jeeps only leave when they are fully loaded – i.e. there must be 14 paying passengers on board. We were just 5 people who wanted to continue. The people were unsettled by the numerous rumours around the strikes and therefore stayed at home, did not make any further journeys. The flights from Tumlingtar to KTM were also overcrowded – so what to do?
The first vehicle that came along was a truck, after a short talk with the driver it was clear that he would take all 5 of us to the next bigger town. We could start right away, he just had to load the truck…
It was at 11 o’clock in the morning, at 15 o’clock there were 11 tons of nuts on board (by hand of course). Shortly before that, a second truck from the same company had arrived for the same freight – this one, too, had to be loaded, because after all, they wanted to drive in convoy due to the uncertain situation on the roads.
At 19 o’clock we all sat in the cabin and chugged with full 30 Km/h to the south. In the meantime I had had a conversation with the trucker and learned that he was actually going to Itari. Ideal for us, quickly an agreement was made – if we were in Itari the following morning between 6 and 8 o’clock, he would get 15 USD. After all, we had to reckon with a 10 hour drive. Around midnight we were torn out of sleep at some bamboo hut in some forest – stop – the two drivers were tired and had to sleep now – we should go to this bamboo hut. At 5 o’clock in the morning everybody was awake and waited for the continuation of the journey – except for the two drivers, who slept until nine. We had to wait anyway because of the roadblocks and expected a call as soon as the roads were free. In the meantime you could play something. At 10 o’clock a call really came, the roads were free, there were actually no roadblocks – but it could have been
Excellent guys – come on, let’s go. Another mistake on my part, because in the meantime, the drivers in the bamboo hut had given the order to slaughter a goat – and it belongs to eat, after all. So in 3 or 4 hours we could go on, if there would not be the danger of roadblocks again …
Of course I was now at 180 – all the peace and strength gained in the last weeks in the solitude of the mountains was pulverized, simply erased, within 48 hours of civilization. I was under a lot of pressure, first the involuntary interruption of my trek, then 6 or 7 days of travelling to KTM and waiting there again for the Indian visa – valuable days that unnecessarily pass by and might be missing on the further route.
A short explosion on my part, a Styrian/English mixture of strong expressions was first marvelled at and then only briefly smiled at with a tired smile.
Nepali and the time (2)
While we Europeans regard time as a linear sequence of minutes, hours or days, most Nepali, as well as Africans, South Americans or many other Asians, see time only as the occurrence of an immediate event. While for us the movement along this string makes the present as well as the future absolutely calculable and captures inactivity to the same extent, here the time in which the event does not take place is simply not evaluated. One lives from event to event. We do not drive, so this time does not pass. The bus doesn’t leave until two hours later, the appointment is delayed by an hour – no problem, because the time doesn’t pass until the event. And if not today, then just tomorrow. This also explains why people can sit here for hours and wait for something without getting impatient. Although I was aware of this, under these circumstances it still led to a short-term short circuit in my neural networks.
By the loud honking in front of the curves we could already see from a distance that something bigger was approaching us. When a bus finally turned around the bend, the joy was enormous. All 5 passengers had immediately taken their things out of the truck and changed to the bus. So much for the roadblock. A sudden change of mood from dark grey to light pink came over me, the truck drivers must have changed to the opposite. This poor goat must have fallen victim to the expectation of my 15 USD. To the question what is now with the money, I denied myself an answer. After all we were still 8 hours away from our destination.
But also this bus drove only one hour to wait two more hours in a small village. Nobody knew why – it did not matter. Anyway, there were no roadblocks in Dahran until the evening. A night bus went to Kathmandu, but did not take me with it, because it was too dangerous for foreigners that evening – if something should happen to me, the bus company would be liable. For this I got a special offer again – in an ambulance I would be brought the 600 km to Kathmandu, it would not be stopped on the way. But at a cost that would have allowed me to buy an Around-the-world flight ticket.
So I lost one more day until I was finally told at the counter of the Indian embassy that I had to wait a week for the visa. Enough time for an extensive pit stop.
For one thing I have to fill up with gas. After a short trip on a personal scale I unfortunately had to realize that I had lost between 10 and 12 kg in the last 5 weeks – twice as much as I had expected. Although I had enough to eat every day, our program was obviously very exhausting. A circumstance that causes worry lines on my forehead. If it continues in this key, physical problems will certainly appear in the medium term.
A good pit stop also means changing the tyres, of course. Thanks to the support of LOWA I have several pairs of these excellent shoes at my disposal. I don’t like to give the old pair away because the shoes fit like a glove – 12 hours walking is no problem. But after the intensive preparation and the first hikes in Sikkim and here in Nepal, there would certainly not be enough grip for the next 8 weeks in India.
Henry- until next time – no idea when that will be