The night bus from Kathmandu (KTM) in the direction of Taplejung officially left at 4 pm – 20 minutes past 4 we were at the bus station, as the taxi was held up by one of the daily demonstrations. For me it meant stress, because I didn’t want to sit around in KTM for another day unnecessarily. So I threw all my luggage out of the car on a pile as fast as possible to reach the bus. While we checked the taxi driver in, my netbook was lying on top of my backpack next to the two photo bags – when I took a second look, it was gone. Instead a boy, maybe 12 – 14 years old with a small black bag under his arm, was walking 30 m away. Of course I immediately screamed through the crowds of people – for an outside observer this must have been a picture for gods. Just before I had caught up with him, he dropped the bag and ran on. That was just as well. Since I already had a relatively high blood pressure before because of the traffic jam, it was quite possible that he would have remembered this theft attempt all his life.
When I returned to the luggage with the loot in my hand, there was already a crowd of people gathered there. At the same time, for the first time on this journey, I was glad not to be alone. Then I would not have been able to run after this boy, because the danger would have been too great that the rest of my luggage would have been gone when I returned. Anyway, thanks to Wang CChu, all my stuff was still there and we left KTM on time with 2 ½ hours delay.
After one change and a 26 h bus ride we left the bus in Phidim – about 5 h before our destination Taplejung – early. Already before the departure in Kathmandu I had got the intestinal infection back, which got worse and worse during the bus ride. After I could hardly sit for the last hours in the bus because of nausea, cramps and painful burning in the gastro-intestinal area, I immediately went to the district hospital there.
My own antibiotic had not worked, so I was given two more via infusion. At this time, an average of 3 minutes was needed for any liquid or solid food to pass through my body. Therefore there was enough liquid through the veins next to a pain killer, which relieved the pain very well. After several hours of treatment and equipped with medication for the next 5 days I was allowed to leave the hospital. I especially liked the doctor’s statement that I can start my tour as soon as I feel better.
The morning after the following day, 27.4. at 7:30am, our backpacks were strapped on and we left Taplejung on foot in the direction of Kanchenjunga – Base – Camp. The infection was so far under control, the body feeling throughout pleasant – so nothing more stood in the way of our march northwards. The weight on the back was distributed equally between the two of us, gasoline and food for about 7 days was in our luggage. Since neither of us is unionized, we decided to start with 8 – 10 h daily stages right from the beginning.
The first 4 days to Ghunsa, at an altitude of about 3.500m, one walks in a constant up and down narrow gorges and valleys along different rivers.
Until Sukathum, about 2 day’s march from Taplejung, you are in the area of the Limbhus, a Hindu ethnic group that lives here in small settlements and is more like the people of the Terrai’s, i.e. the southern plains of Nepal or the north of India than the Buddhist Sherpas and Tibetan people further north in the mountains.
From the temperatures it is still very pleasant. Only the daily rain that starts in the early afternoon makes sure that we actually never reach our goals for the day but have to stop early. Despite early starts – mostly around 6:30 in the morning – we hardly get more than 8 hours walking time.
Food is provided on the way. Some huts along the route are also tea houses, you can get simple Nepalese food like Dhal-Bhat (lentils & rice), potatoes and Chinese noodle soup from the package (you can get it everywhere). Meat (goat, sheep or yak) is generally not available for me as a regional vegetarian in this area.
The preparation is fresh without exception – no cooking in stock – on an open fireplace heated with wood at one end of the room. There is no chimney or chimney vent, the smoke spreads throughout the room until it disappears through the cracks of the leaking wall or the soot-blackened roof, out a window hatch or the open door. A real smoke cake, then. For me personally, this is a completely unbearable situation, whole families here in the mountains sit calmly in the clouds of smoke in the only room in the house without electricity, which is used for sleeping, cooking and living, and go about their daily business unimpressed.
These tea houses should actually not be called tea houses but Tsang houses. I was never offered tea by myself but always only Tsang. Tsang is a homemade beer-like alcoholic brew, which is served in a Tongba – a 1.5l wooden tub. Tsang is drunk all day long – from breakfast to dinner – by both men and women. However, this is probably a special feature of this Kanchenjunga region, because even Wang Cchu, who comes from the Everest region, did not know the consumption of alcohol in these quantities.
Late in the morning of the 7th day since the march off in Taplejung we had arrived at the 1st Kanchenjunga Base Camp (Pangema). From an altitude of about 4000m (Kangpachen) the landscape and the climate changes a lot. The valleys become wider, bordered by snow-covered 6,000 and 7,000m peaks, it gets much colder and you march through scree slopes along the Kanchenjunga glacier. One only occasionally meets people, mostly yak herders, who look after their herds at these altitudes.
Due to the altitude (acclimatization) the daily stages are also shorter, as there are no more tea houses, there is enough time to pitch the tent and to take care of yourself. With the self-catering our menu plan was reduced to Chinese pack noodle soup (in the evening) and porridge (in the morning – water, muesli, milk powder and a Mars cooked). This is not the fine gourmet cuisine, but it gives you strength. Which you urgently need, because at night the temperatures in the tent drop to far below 0 degrees.
Just a few hours of good weather had been enough to climb up to the viewpoint (approx. 5.400m) above the KBC, which offers a magnificent view of the third highest mountain on earth. So here it is now from the other side. First from India now from Nepal.
Unfortunately, the icy wind and incipient snowfall had greatly reduced the pleasure of this impressive view. Back at our campground in Lhonak we first had to free the tent from snow. Fortunately one of the nearby stone huts was unobstructed. After the snowfall did not stop and the roof of the hut was leaking, we decided to move to the hut with the tent. The water source was not to be found the next morning any more, why this time the new snow had to be used for breakfast.
The descent to Ghunsa began under fantastic weather conditions. Through ankle deep virgin snow in crystal clear air and sunshine..
Unfortunately, the idyll came to an end relatively quickly. Due to the snow the way through the scree was very difficult to find. In addition, the stones were ice-slippery and slippery, a circumstance that had caused one or two stomach spots, not only for me.
It became really unpleasant once again when we had to pass the most dangerous part of the whole route. A 300m wide landslide that had to be crossed. Due to the beginning sun radiation we heard a loud cracking sound above us and loosened some stones that rolled down in a hellish speed. We decided to cross the slope one by one at a run, while the other one watched out and directed by shouting in case of emergency. Wang Cchu was really lucky because a boulder weighing several hundred kilos had missed him by only a few meters.
The descent had taken a few hours longer than first assumed, but we were glad to have reached Ghunsa safely. After a day’s rest we cross the Nango-La Pass to Olangchung Gola and from there to Makalu Base Camp.