Saturday, 29 October 2011

Karl attempts to grow a moustache

In response to all of the jibes Karl has received about his lack of facial hair, he has decided to participate in Movember- a month of moustache growing in aid of men's health. This will not only prove all those naysayers wrong, but hopefully also raise some money for a good and under-represented cause. No longer being in a customer facing job, and the general lack of hot running water experienced whilst trekking here in Nepal does make the task easier, but we hope you will never-the-less show your support for him. Please take a moment to read about Movember and consider donating. Find his  page at

The people of the Langtang Valley

An unexpected but fascinating aspect of the Langtang and Gosainkund trek was the opportunity to meet some of the people who forge a life in the Himalayas. Tourism has brought great opportunities for employment where before there was only limited subsistence farming, but many people seem to continue to live much as they always have, growing their own vegetables on small plots of land and keeping a few yaks and chickens. The village of Langtang exists above and beyond providing services to trekkers and we felt privileged to have an opportunity just to walk through this traditional Tibetan village at about 3500 metres.
Langtang Village
The stone houses have intricately carved wooden doors (however hard life may be, there always seems to be time to make things look pretty!) and the meadows were full of women and children gathering hay. Yaks are used for ploughing, and Dyzopkus (yak-cow crosses) are kept for milk, butter and cheese. There is even a high altitude cheese factory set up with Swiss assistance that exports 7000 kg of yak cheese a year to Kathmandu!
The village of Langtang is entirely Tibetan although most people have never had the opportunity to visit Tibet. The Tibetan border is in sight- it follows the summits of the mountains at the head of the valley. The people here are 1 or 2 generations separated from Tibetan exiles from the Chinese invasion of the 50's. The Tibetan religion, dress and way of life are for the most part preserved here. Paths are lined with water powered prayer wheels, every pass is draped in colourful prayer flags and there are buddhist stone carvings, monuments and monasteries.
Kyanjin Gompa- monastery in the Langtang Valley
It is only in the younger generation (who mostly study in Kathmandu) that the Tibetan culture has started to be diluted with western clothes and tastes- one young girl we met only speaks Tibetan to her parents, loves the X men and Justin Bieber and wants to be a businesswoman when she grows up. 
Langtang village is over 2 days walk from the nearest road- and it's not an easy walk with over 2500 metres to climb! Everything that cannot be produced is brought in by porters. The loads we saw being carried in varied from 2 sacks of rice weighing 60kg, to a mattress or even a single large plank of wood. Unfortunately a lot of completely unnecessary things are also carried in for the benefit of trekkers- like glass bottles of beer, plastic bottles of water, tins of fruit cocktail, snickers bars and pringles. Porters are not paid to carry rubbish back out so there are lots of environmental issues with this- but that's for a different post!
There are of course very limited medical facilities up in the valley- it's a long walk to a hospital. While we were staying a 20 day old baby was brought back home after being born in the lowlands. She was bundled up in a basket on the back of a mule for the journey.
Another issue is education. Most of the people we met have managed to establish international sponsors who help pay for boarding school fees for their children in Kathmandu. Although this splits up families it gives much greater opportunites, and if the fees can't be paid then education is extremely limited. One lodge owner we met is desperate to find a sponsor so he can send his son to school- if anyone is interested in helping then get in touch with us! The fees are about 800 Euro a year.
This boy wants to go to school!
As we descended from the high mountain valleys to the foothills the culture changed from Tibetan Buddhists to Nepalese Hindus, and it was really interesting to see the transition in the villages we walked through on our return to Kathmandu.

Nepali girl

Our first Himalayan trek- Langtang, Gosainkund and Helambu

Room for one more?
Our first trek in Nepal started with a very long bus journey. This was actually a lot of fun, especially the part where we all had to get out and walk- a truck had got stuck at a landslide and men from all the buses behind it helped to push it up the hill amid lots of cheering from us on the sidelines. The bus was PACKED, everyone ended up with a Nepalese lady or baby on their lap, and there were about 20 people on the roof too.

We trekked for 14 days, and climbed about 8500 metres (similar to the height of Everest). Starting in the hot and humid forest of the lower Langtang valley, complete with monkeys, and after climbing extremely steeply for the first 2 days, we came out above the tree line into a high alpine valley very close to the Tibetan border. All the villagers were Tibetan, descended from exiles from the Chinese invasion in the 50s, and there were Buddhist prayer wheels, carved stone walls and prayer flags all around. One of the best things about the trek was having the opportunity to meet the Tibetan lodge owners and get to know a little about their lives.
At one of our highest points- 4600m
We stayed for a few days at the high summer settlement of Kyanjin Gompa- a 500 year old monastery, now with a large collection of tourist lodges. From here we could explore the upper valley of summer yak pastures with soaring peaks above. We climbed to our highest point in the world so far- 4600 metres- beside the glacier and snowslopes of the 7000m Langtang Lirung.
After another few days trekking and our coldest night ever we arrived at the sacred lakes of Gosainkund, a pilgrimage destination for both Buddhists and Hindus.

Approaching the pass of Laurebina La

From here we crossed the 4600m pass of Laurebina La before descending from snowy highaltitude scenery into the heavily terraced foothills of Helambu, walking for the last few days through farms and villages full of animal and human life all the way back to the outskirts of Kathmandu.
Bizarrely, after 2 weeks walking with packs every day, we have no injuries, don't feel we need to rest and have actually started to (almost) enjoy the steep uphills??! We're pleased that we could keep up with those who had a team of porters and a guide and enjoyed the independence of trekking 'self-supported' this way. The first day Harriet almost collapsed with exhaustion, but now we feel fitter and stronger and ready for the next trek! So in 2 days we fly to the tiny airstrip of Lukla to start trekking in the Everest region. If conditions are good and we have no altitude problems we hope to climb to passes over 5000 metres and get a view of many of the highest peaks of the Himalayas.
Dense forest of the lower slopes
Prayer flags adorn every pass and summit

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

H's upgrade

Our 24 hour journey from London, via Bahrain, to Kathmandu wouldn't normally have it's own blog entry. However, on the second leg of the journey Harriet was blessed by that most illusive of things - an upgrade to first class. How or why this came about we don't know, but she didn't complain!

First impressions of Kathmandu

Kathmandu is hot, hectic and not what we expected. It's quite overwhelming walking the narrow streets dodging motorbikes, rickshaws and taxis, with the constant tooting of horns, and everywhere is so busy it's hard to take all the activity in. Outside the touristy area of Thamel with its hundreds of trekking gear and souvenir shops, street vendors selling tiger balm and snake charming whistles, the narrow streets of the old town are even more fascinating, interrupted by little squares with pagoda temples surrounded by burning candles, every space filled with somebody selling something. Medieval temples are decorated with amazing wooden facades, and by climbing the steps of one of these temples we could get a bird's eye view of city life. Each night there's been a black out, but life just carries on by candlelight. It's easy to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, but so far we've made it back to our 'hotel' each night (it turns out 6 pounds a night doesn't get you a bargain deluxe hotel room, just a horrible place to stay!).

Tomorrow we're leaving the city on a 117 km journey to the Langtang region of the Himalayas. 117 km may not sound very far, but somehow it takes 10 hours! If you watched 'World's most dangerous roads- Nepal' you may understand. Apparently there is a landslide blocking the last section of the journey but we should be able to get nearly the whole way and walk from there! We have read that the bone rattling bus journey is so bad that some people have opted to walk the 8 days back instead! We're hoping to walk up the Langtang valley to a high monastery, and then to some sacred lakes and out via lowland villages. The whole trek will probably take about 2 weeks, and we'll be staying at tea houses each night. So you'll probably next hear from us when we're back in Kathmandu nursing blisters and sore shoulders.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The journey begins

Well, this is it! All our worldly possessions are in Karl's mum's loft, Hamish the cat is living the life of Riley in Scotland, and the van is off on new windsurfing adventures on the south coast. We had a fantastic send off in London last night but are feeling a little worse for wear today! It still hasn't really sunk in that we're actually going but we're as ready as we'll ever be!
Next stop Kathmandu, where we're spending the first few days planning and preparing for our trip into the Himalayas. 
Watch this space!