Tag Archives: momos

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part I

Two weeks ago I got back from a hike to the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, which is the area of the Himalayas where Mt. Everest is located. A lot of people who go there just go straight up the Everest Base Camp trail (we call these people EBCers), and then they go straight down. While cool, there is so much that you don’t get to see while doing this. So, my brother, Danny, and his girlfriend, Melissa, and I went on a 16 day trek up to Gokyo-Ri, across the Cho-la pass, and then to Island peak, and then back down. (A lollipop route, as Melissa pointed out: we overlapped just the very beginning and the very end.) This way we were able to see incredible views of Everest and Lhotse, as well as incredible, diverse landscapes and peaks.

For reference, a map of our route through the region.
For reference, a map of our route through the region.

To get to the area you have to fly into Lukla airport at 2840m/9,300ft. It is one of the highest airports in the world, but, more importantly, holds the record for being the most dangerous airport in the world. Good things to know before flying in there! Why is it so dangerous? Well, the airstrip is on the side of the mountain, and when landing the plane flies onto a short, uphill runway that points directly into the mountain. And when taking off, well, you are flying off of a cliff. The flights are extremely weather dependent, too, and so if there is too much wind or too many clouds anywhere between Lukla and Kathmandu the flights cant fly. Because of this we were extremely lucky that our flight there not only took off on the day that it was supposed to, but it took off pretty much on time, too! It was a good start to the trip!

Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.
Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.

After landing at Lukla we had a quick lunch before setting off on the first leg of the hike: a four hour hike to Phakding, at 2,610m/8,500ft.

There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.
There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.

Day 2, a bit longer, took us up to Namche Bazaar, at a more respectable 3,440m/11,200ft. This was the last town where we were able to eat meat (above Namche Bazaar the area is a national park and you are not allowed to kill animals. Because of this, any meat on the menu is carried in by porters from below and therefore is not very fresh), so we ate plenty of buff momos and yak steak, and also took the last hot showers we would take for another week or so! It was quite luxurious.

Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.
Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.

Day 3 was an acclimatization day, so we did a day hike from Namche up to the small towns of Khumjung and Khunde.

Our first view of Everest, behind the Lhotse Wall, from a view point near Namche Bazaar.
Our first view of Everest (L), behind the Lhotse Wall (R), from a view point near Namche Bazaar.

Day 4 was another short day, a few (beautiful) hours to Dhole (4,200m/13,800ft), and day 5 was short, too, from Dhole to Machhermo (4,470m/14,600ft). Both of these days were beautiful, taking us around the sides of gorgeous mountains while also following the Dudh Koshi river north up towards the higher mountains and towards Tibet!

Following the river towards the whitecaps.
Following the river towards the whitecaps.

One more short day on Day 6, from Machhermo to Gokyo (4,790m/15,700ft). Gokyo is surrounded by five high altitude lakes, three of which we got to see on our way! They were beautiful, settled into the mountains surrounding them, some frozen over some not.

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Day 7 we finally got some of the really amazing views! In the morning we hiked from Gokyo up to Gokyo Ri (5,360m/17,585ft). From there we were able to see amazing panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and surrounding mountains.

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A view from Gokyo Ri

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In the afternoon we hiked from Gokyo, across the Ngozumba Glacier to Dragnag (4,700m/15,400ft).

The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri
The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri

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Day 8 was another big day: we woke up early and set off to cross Cho-la pass! This involved a hike to the base of the mountains, across a large snow field, and then up a good deal of boulders and large rocks until we got to the pass. It was difficult, but fun, even though it took a really long time to get to the top. When we finally reached the top of the pass at 5,420m/17,782ft we got views out onto the ice glacier in front of us, and down the steep rocks and snow below us.

Us, at the top of the pass.
Us, at the top of the pass.

 

Looking back towards Dragnag
Looking back towards Dragnag

The glacier was fun to cross, though difficult at times. It consisted of a lot of testing the snow in front of us, stepping on it and hoping to not fall down into the snow! A lot of times we could take a good number of steps on top of the snow and everything would be fine, and then all of a sudden we would take one more step fall knee- or hip-deep into the snow! I missed out on getting snow this winter, so I personally loved getting to fight my way through the massively deep snow.

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Finally, after nearly nine and a half hours of hiking, we made it to our destination: Lobuche (4,910m/16,100ft).

More later on the second half of the trek, and Island Peak!

Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.
Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.
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Tihar, Tika, and Traffic Jams (Part I)

There are no road names here. No road names, no numbers, nothing to be able to tell where you are at any given moment besides landmarks. So how do we (Lauren and I) tell people how to get to our flat? How do we describe where we are to meet up with someone? We use landmarks.

I live by the vegetable market (takari bajaar), turn left, then right at the “Compact English School” sign.

Or, “I’ll meet you at the main chowk (intersection) at the top of Durbar Marg”.

Or, “get off the micro at Namaste supermarket. Cross the pedestrian bridge and walk 3-5 minutes”.

So, today is the third day of Tihar, the second big holiday during this holiday season. This one is the festival of lights, so the entire city is covered in Christmas lights, and feels a bit like a city at home during Christmas time. It also finally started to get cold today, so it officially feels like winter is coming!

Backing up to Friday, Lauren and I hosted a housewarming party for our apartment!

The hosts, out at a bar after our party.
The hosts, out at a bar after our party.

I made veg momos and Nutella momos for everyone, and we made mulled cider and invited all the (tenish) people who we know to come toast to our apartment. It was mostly americans, but also a few Nepalis who Lauren knows from her work.

Momos! Both veg and Nutella.
Momos! Both veg and Nutella.

Yesterday was the second day of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, which celebrates the dogs, who are supposed to be the messenger of the God of death. People put garlands and tika onto the dogs to acknowledge them and celebrate them. Seeing all of the street dogs prancing around with tika on their forheads was pretty cute, I’ve got to say! Some of them still have their tika on today, too.

Today was a busy day, though. It is one of the major days of Tihar, the one that celebrates Laxmi (the goddess of wealth), and Gai (cows), who also are a sign of prosperity and wealth.

Cows chilling in the street.
Cows chilling in the street.

We started the morning early, going to a meditation center (Brahma Kumari), where they were celebrating this third day through speakers, and dances and songs. We stayed for an hour or two, watching the various songs and dances.

Two young girls performing a dance in front of an alter with girls dressed up as gods (I believe).
Two young girls performing a dance in front of an alter with girls dressed up as gods (I believe).

At the end, they gave us tika and sweet cookies that are eaten on celebratory days—they were incredibly welcoming of us, which was incredibly sweet! They seemed quite happy to have foreigners there celebrating with them, and attending their ceremony.

So, that was the morning, pretty easy and calm. It gets more hectic once I decide to head down South, to Pulchowk, in Lalitpur. (For those who aren’t familiar, Kathmandu Valley is actually made up of three districts: Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Baktapur. When people say they live in Kathmandu, this many times will refer to the valley as a whole.)

Now, there are a few ways to get around this city. You can walk, like I do when I go to work, and hope that there are sidewalks most of the way. In this case it is a good idea to bring a scarf and glasses because the dust gets pretty bad, especially during rush hour in the morning and evening.

The next option is a taxi, which is good especially for the evening once the buses stop running, and if you are too lazy to negotiate the buses. This only costs around 200-300 Rupees ($2-3), so it is not too expensive of a splurge once in a while, but can add up if you decide to take them too much.

The last option is to take a bus. All of the buses go to and leave from one main area, called Ratna Park. It used to be an actual park that people could go to, but now the park is run down, and the term refers to the entire area around it.

The buses can be real buses, old with paint peeling, but bigger, but most of them, at least the ones I would take, are micros. They are little vans with sliding doors that can fit maybe ten people comfortably, many many more uncomfortably during rush hour!

There are young boys that stand in the door of the bus or the micro and shout incredibly quickly their destinations. Every once in a while I can make out the words, but usually it just sounds like they are shouting a random string of sounds.

The micros have numbers and writing on them, but this is all in Nepali, so your best bet is to go up to the bus-boy and ask if he goes where you’re headed, and he will usually nod or shake his head to let you know if it is the right one. A lot of them are pretty nice, and will also tell you when you get to where you are going. Gotta love being in a place where people take pity on foreigners.

The last option for getting around is to hitch a ride on a motorbike. Usually I walk too and from work, but my supervisor lives just ten minutes past me, and so sometimes he will give me a ride, since it is right on his way. That is pretty nice, because it saves me a walk, and gets me home before dark! It is quite something to get used to, though. The roads are usually pretty rough, and it involves quite a lot of weaving quickly through traffic or intersections while hanging on to the back of the bike. I’ve gotten pretty good at riding on the back of a bike, though, which is quite the handy skill to have!

So, this afternoon I took a micro down to Lalitpur.

I got off at Namaste Supermarket, and crossed the pedestrian brige nearby and walked 3-5 minutes and met up with Peter and Maneeshika (who I went hiking with), and Maneeshika’s Nepali friend, Dhana.

We went to go see a concert of the Joint Family International. They are this Nepali reggae band, and played right after the farmers market had left the location. It was yuppie. So yuppie. 90% expats, drinking farmers market wine and relaxing in the sun. It was pretty funny, but also a great thing to do with a beautiful holiday afternoon!

The scene at Joint Family International
The scene at Joint Family International

After that I took a micro back north to Kathmandu, and will go to see the lights later tonight! More on that in Part II.

Updates, Dasain

No updates in a while, as things are a bit slow around here. I am still working on getting used to the pace of work here, as it is pretty different from what I am used to. I am so used to, at school, juggling class, work, homework, clubs, and friends, that it is weird to work at a slower pace, to match the way that things are done at the office!

In the past two weeks I finished up fixing their profile to give to donors (in both Word and PDF forms. This involved a lot of learning random functions and things I can do in Word to make an aesthetically appealing document. Good use of my art/design skills, and obsessive-compulsive need to make it look aesthetically perfect!). I also finished up two versions of a concept note for them (a longer one and a shorter one), a project proposal for a contest, and gathered and compiled all the materials they need to send to a US company that is vetting them before giving them a grant. Also, I learned to make a budget for the aforementioned project proposal. And yet, it is slow! That is also in part because they didn’t want me to start any new projects before the holiday, Dasain, which we are now in the middle of.

This week the city has been slowly emptying out. Last Saturday was the first day of Dasain, the major festival here that lasts for two weeks, and is the reason why I am going trekking. It is sort of like Christmas, and everyone goes home to their villages and to their families. Because of this, the NGO is closed for the next week (starting tomorrow), and, apparently, out of the seven million people living in the city, nearly four million of those leave! So the place basically empties out. It makes it a good time to take a vacation and get out of the city, hence going trekking!

I spent the last week or so finding the remaining things I need for my trek that I leave for on Saturday. This involved going from knockoff store to knockoff store to find the best fake-brand name hiking pants I could! Also found a fake Nalgene (for $3!). Of course Kathmandu has a North Face store, a Marmot store, and one or two other real outdoors stores, but everything is 10x cheaper at the knockoff stores, so that’s where I went instead.

I think my favorite conversation I overheard this week was between an Irish-sounding guy and an American—the Irish guy just got another backer so is going to Everest! I love how casual of a conversation that is here. Just casually dropping that he’s heading off to Mount Everest soon, over a couple of beers and momos.

I’m moving soon, too! Moving in with the other American working at my NGO, Lauren. I’ll finally have internet AND backup lights when the power goes out…I feel like I am moving to the civilized world! I’m also excited to live with a roommate again—it’s been getting a bit lonely living in a flat alone.

Anyways, more updates and photos when I return from the trek! (For those who are interested I’ll be up in Lang Tang, which is north, pretty close to Tibet.)

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The view near my house, when the clouds clear out after a rain.

Ice Cream, Momos, and Other Thoughts

We’ll start with an adorable picture of Mohit (cutest two year old ever) playing with a balloon, throwing it up in the air and trying to catch it:

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The children got balloons and candy from the guests:

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We took the children to a restaurant yesterday to get momos (dumplings) for lunch. There really is nothing like seeing crazy Asian traffic actually stopped at an intersection for once because of a string of thirty children walking across the street. There really is nothing more terrifying, too, of walking towards the back of said line and watching the cars and motorcycles start to get impatient to start driving again. Don’t worry—we all got there safely.

The kids loved the momos. They got ice cream, then a plate of momos each, and then were still hungry so asked for pizza. Boy, can these kids eat!! Here’s a nice little photo of us walking home from lunch:

Walking home from momos

In other news, at this lunch (the kids ate inside, grownups outside), there was a woman (Corulla) visiting from Austria to the shelter, and three women who have been helped by the shelter came along, too. She spent some time, before the meal, asking them questions about themselves, what they are doing, etc., and I got to listen in, which was really a wonderful thing to get to do!

Lisa (Corulla’s daughter), Muna, Goma, and me at lunch:

Lisa, Muna, Goma, and me

As a side note—I absolutely loved the variety of languages being spoken around the table. Nepali, English, German. Also it was really quite neat to see how English was being used so that someone from Nepal and someone from Austria can understand each other by speaking a third, more universal language: English. Kind of cool to think about, and to witness.

Anyways, on to the point:

Since I have been here I have read about what Raksha does, written about what it does in the form of proposals, and even worked with research data when helping Goma with her thesis, but it was really wonderful to get to listen first hand to what the NGO has done for these women.

They talked about the jobs that they have now—one works as a therapist in a massage parlor, another owns her own teashop. They talked about how all of the different aspects that the NGO provides really come together to be important. How the education and giving skills is just as important as gaining confidence and courage to change their jobs, and do something new.

They also talked about how much the children’s shelter helped. One of the women had Raksha taking care of her daughter for around three years before having her daughter move back with her a year ago. She said this really helped her out a lot, because, not only did she not have to worry about what would happen when she brought her daughter to work with her, and what she would witness, but it meant that Raksha was supporting her daughters education, something that is difficult for a lot of these women to pay for.

For all my time volunteering at Sarah’s Hope (a women’s shelter in Baltimore), I don’t think that any of the women there would ever have let a shelter take care of their children so that they could work on getting back on their feet. I don’t think it would usually be an option, either. It makes a lot of sense, however, especially for these women who have limited work options, and the only thing to do while they are working is to take their children along with them to work.

It is a very different model, however, from the US. At the shelter in Baltimore, progress was made by providing the women and their families living at the shelter with space to live (in dorms with other families), meals, and certain other things (diapers, laundry soap), depending on how much income they generated. They stayed there until they had jobs and could find somewhere to live, and then they were released. (The other way they might be released would be if they broke rules or exhibited bad behavior.) While there, the women took classes in parenting, money management, and other classes to help them along.

It’s interesting to see how the needs change, yet stay the same with the country. They all need jobs, stability, schooling for their children, food, all the necessities to lead their lives. How this is going to happen, though, is very different. Here it might mean letting someone else care for your child while you work on the home situation. Or looking towards a community network to help you work your way out of a bad situation.

In Baltimore it seemed to be much more about the individual, and how the individual could get back on their feet, here it is about working together to get the community back on their feet, and to work towards a better situation for all of them. Now, here’s a bonus picture of Mohit being adorable:

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The First 48 Hours

Yesterday was a lot of things. Scary, new, exciting. It was scary coming here at night, because I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that the cab drove off of the main street, down the dirt roads, and into a little piece of road that is more piles of bricks and trash than drivable street. I have a bottom floor flat in my building, which is across from Raksha Nepal, the NGO that I am volunteering at.

I chose to go straight home after the flight, instead of getting something to eat with the girls who picked me up since I was pretty tired from traveling for so long. It was really after unpacking my things into my flat, that I had the very scary realization of just how far from home I really am. It’s scary being so far away from home, alone. Especially at night when the noises are foreign and the streets are new, and I have no idea of where I am or really what I am doing here.

Today, however showed me just how wonderful it is here. While yesterday was spent in a daze of learning about the shelter, meeting people, and trying to explain who I am to everyone I met, today was a lot easier. Saturday is the weekly holiday/weekend here, so I didn’t need to be in to the shelter at any specific time. Instead I tried to sleep in a bit, and hung out watching TV and trying to decide how to spend my day. I figured I would try and walk around a bit, see more of the area around me, and maybe try and find an internet café so I could finally get internet.

My day was decided for me, quickly, when I heard a banging at the door early in the afternoon. “Jenny! Jenny!” Two of the girls who are my age, Isu and Rekha, who work at the shelter, were at my door, looking for me! They have decided to take me under their wing and befriend me so that I have friends here. They waited for me to pull on jeans, then we walked to Thamel, the busier, more touristy area just a ten minute walk away from our district, Lanichaur. There we met one of the other volunteers for lunch: buff momo (mutton dumplings, essentially), french fries, and paneer pakora. After that they took me to a store to get some groceries and ingredients to make tea with, and took me back to my flat to teach me to make Nepali tea for myself! They are so sweet, really making sure that I don’t feel alone here, and that I know that I can come to them for anything.

Isu and Rekha are partially in charge of helping to entertain the children at the shelter, so we went back and brought all of the kids up to the roof and turned on music for a dance party. We spent a good hour or so dancing up there, and one of the children even stole my phone to take some videos! It was so much fun just playing with all of the children—they all would come up to me, going “sister! Sister! Come dance!”. And beyond the crowded and colorful roofs of the city were the mountains rising up in the north. It’s really quite an amazing thing to see.

It’s still hard adjusting to this new place. Cold showers, muddy streets and strange food are just part of it. But having this whole family that really wants to take me in and make me feel at home makes it so much easier. They treat me like a sister, constantly making sure that I am feeling okay, that I have food, water, everything that I need. It is such a warm, open place to be. And while it is still scary at times (well, I am only two days in…) it is also such a warm and sweet place to be at the same time.  I still work to get used to some customs (it’s hard to remember to take off my shoes outside, still!), but I know that I will get used to them soon!