Walking between Kathmandu & Tibet: Day Seven
Day Seven: Snow Bound in the Himalayas
There is always always magical about waking up in a snow storm. If it weren't so freaking cold at the Tea House Lodge I would even be more inspired. Still, it was lovely.
The snow buried our tentative plans to hike through Ganja La Mountain Pass into the Helambu region on the Tibet border. It would have been tough anyway. We did not have the right gear or food supplies. Plus, the pass was above 15000 feet. It start to get hairy at that altitude unless your well prepared. Trekkers should never underestimate the life and death risks of crossing a high mountain pass.
We were the worst outfitted trekkers in the Himalayas. It was partly because we were being spontaneous. We did not like to plan anything, so we had to get by with what gear we had with us. I had a pair of high top leaky sneakers and a heavy yak wool sweater under my old Army jacket. My backpack did have an adequate padded waist belt to diffuse the weight. We had no tent or cooking gear. Kirsten was hardly better off with a summer weight sleeping bag and old alunimum frame pack.
In contrast, we saw a super slick hiker go by yesterday while we were immobile from altitude acclimation. This guy reeked of over preparedness. He had a new red matching full body ski suit that shined as if it was just off the shelf a REI. His backpack and even his boots were color coordinated.
The hiker was alone, but marched with 4 sherpa porters carrying God know what as he also had a full backpack. It was a lot of gear for such a tame area as Langtang Valley, but perhaps he was going over the pass.
This flashy hiker also marched with confidence, as if he knew who he was and where he was going. He had the plan, but it seems somehow intellectual & joyless as if he was missing the beauty of the experience. He marched briskly by as if he had an appointment to keep.
My mind is imagining all these detail about the poor guy and who knows maybe this style was just perfect for him. I saw him later the day of the snowstorm. I can only imagine what kind of hell he experienced in that blizzard last night if he was on a high peak.
His demeanor was total changed. He look dragged out and demoralized. Gone was his jaunty step. Rag tag was his shiny gear. Dulled and worn from just one night.
His head hung low from fatigue and his sherpas looked exhausted. I'll never know what kind of fait awaited him on the mountain. Maybe he found just what he needed, a dangerous situation, that he could tell stories about for the rest of his life.
For me, joy comes in a different form. I'm not overly ambitious and like to smell the flowers as I pass them on the trek. I get alittle hyper sometimes, but it usually works itself out before I actually do something overly zealous. Hence, my Ganja La Pass ambition was out. It was going to be chillin 'in the crib. And I do mean chilling!
It was cold out, so we bargain with each other to see who would go out and collect supplies. Kyanjin had a small Yak cheese & yogurt factory. This offered unparalleled delights that were not ordinarily available in the Tea House menu.
If you ever get a chance to try Yak cheese, I highly recommend it. Yum Yum. It taste just like a yak smells. Hard to believe, but it's good! Also, the thick creamy yogurt was delicious with some Himalayan mountain honey.
As the day progressed, I grew alittle stir crazy in the lodge. I manage to talk Kirsten into attempting the trek down to Langtang Village even though it was still snowing quite steadily. She was a good partner in that way. Always ready for adventure if you phrased the question properly.
Our Euro friends thought we were crazy to go trekking in the snow. The Nepali Tibetans who ran the Tea House, told us the Lama at the monastery had said to all people of the village to wait for the storm to finish. It was unsafe.
I thought Lama-Smama. It's just alittle snow. What's the big deal? Were in a narrow valley. How unsafe could it be? How could we possibly get lost? There's only one way to go, ….. down. We could easily see the sides of the valley from the path in the center. It's not like there is anywhere else to go, …
We suited up and protect ourselves up with scarf, hat and our makeshift gear. As we crossed the thresshold and bade our companions goodbye a tingly feeling rippled through me. Ah, on the trail again!
Trodding one foot after another in crunchy snow was invigorating. The wind whipping around and low visibility seemed like fun to me at first. Langtang village was only about 3 – 4 hours walk. It would be a challenge within reach.
We made it about a hundred yards from the Tea House and the trail disappeared. Oh My God! Where is the trail? These Himalayas are rocky mountains and without a trail you stumble constantly over stones. We could see the sides of the valley easily enough, but where is the trail? Where? Where? Where? Where? Where? It has to be somewhere around here, … under this snow.
After half an hour of zig zaggin, Kirsten & I looked at each other and laughed. It was very amusing. How could we be so naive? Nobody hikes in a snowstorm! You just can't find the trail. Oh well, back to the Tea House for some hot chai and humiliation.
Actually, we were not too embarrassed to turn back and our gang at the Tea House was glad to see us. We hung around the fire until the days logs ran out. It was another day of story telling and makeshift meals.
Luckily, there were a few supply shops in Kyanjin Gompa along with the Cheese Factory. The factory was build by a donation from the Swiss to promote the local economy. What a blessing this small stone building brought! It's stainless steel equipment inside was a sharp contrast to the low tech environment outside. It seems really out of place and yet it worked it's magic here at 14000 feet cranking out delicious Yak Cheese & Yogurt.
Sources for food were scarce at these high altitudes and the variety was extremely limited. Many things had to be trekked in on somebody's back.
One of the most amazing sites I saw in Nepal was a Tibetan woman hiking up the side of a steep mountain with a woven reed basket full of Coca-Cola on her back. Much to my surprise, she was cheerful after the daunting climb and greeted us with a friendly "Namaste" at the top.
I think she even tried to sell us a coke. This was the sole reason for hauling such a heavy load of this worthless drink. It was to make money from tourists. Water was everywhere and free, but if you wanted a coke, it cost a dollar. The price was not too much, considering her difficult long climb, but it was a lot of money for mountain villagers. They were living a subsistence existence farming and hardly every saw a rupee much less a dollar.
Back at the Tea House Lodge, little food parties would transpire with whatever small treats we had in our packs. On this trek, we didn't really carry too much extra food other then small snack items. Thank God! A couple weeks of food supply can be quite heavy in your backpack.
The Tea Houses cooked simple, but nourishing local food and they could be found in almost every village. It was a great source of income for the local villagers. An average meal would run about 100 rupees ($ 1.50) even though the cost of a Tea House place to sleep was only 5 to 15 Rupees. The government of Nepal even had a training program in English language and Tea House operation. Himalayan villagers had to be certified to run a Tea House for tourists. It was very well organized and made the life of a trekker so much easier.
We snacked on exotic dried fruit & nuts with occasional bite of Yak Cheese. On top of our jackets, we wrapped our sleeping bags like shawls to stay warm. I had not shaved or washed for days. My sleep at this high altitude was sparse and I had dysentery. Yet, this was a happy moment and treasured scene. I felt totally alive. Adventure was my life blood and being on a Himalayan mountain top was a real experience.
My energy came from an emotional high that greeted me from the moment I opened my eyes every morning. I was so excited to see what the day would bring. Trekking in the Himalayan Mountains was a trip through time. The people were colorful and interesting. They had lived in much the same manner for 5000 years. Visiting them was like walking into a living history.
The scenery was glorious. The flora and fauna was totally new to me. Every bird and flower was a new color or sound. We had passed through many different ecosystems on this trek and were greeted by a host of earths fascinating creatures.
We socialized with our new Euro friends into the evening in our Tea House Lodge. You meet some pretty interesting trekkers at 14000 feet in the Himalyas. They were strong original people with character and a natural bond was shared between us.
I began to realize that it was really great to be in a slow place with no schedule and no where to go. Just hanging out with nothing to do can be the best thing on earth. One needs to take time to learn to be a real Human BEing. I guess being snowbound was not so bad after all.
I wrote a bit in my journal, and then settled into my sleeping bag as the gray day passed into night. It was early to bed in the mountains with no electricity, no fire, and a silence as big as the sky.