Tag Archives: mountains

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part II

Continued from Part I: we made it to Lobuche!

The next two days were shorter: I had been getting sick for the past week or so (I had a bad cold and cough which went to my lungs on the day we crossed Cho-la pass, and was having trouble breathing while hiking in the cold air), so I decided to take a rest day. This worked perfectly, because the plan from here was to hike to Gorakshep, and from there go to Everest Base Camp one day and to the peak of Kala Patthar the next day before coming back to Lobuche. So I stayed in the lodge and Danny and Melissa went up to Gorakshep. They decided not to go to Everest Base Camp (Because there’s really nothing there, especially now since all the Everest expeditions this year were canceled), but went up Kala Patthar the next morning before coming back to Lobuche to meet up with me again! After 1.5 days of resting and taking tons of cold and cough medicine I was much better than before, and ready to keep hiking!

Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.
Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.

Day 11! It was extremely cloudy and overcast, and we decided to, instead of going over the Kongma la pass and not getting any views, we would just go around and take it a bit easier on ourselves. We already got one amazing pass experience, so we were content with that. This brought us to Chhukhung, at 4,730m/15,500ft. Here we rented equipment for ice climbing and got ready to go to Island Peak!

Day 12 we had a short hike to the Island Peak Base Camp, at 4,970m/16,300ft. Here we were going to be camping, so we set up tents and settled in. We were supposed to take day 13 as an acclimatization day at Base Camp, but we decided that, since we had been at high altitude for a week already, we didn’t need it. That meant that we would be waking up at midnight that night to do the climb to Island Peak!

At Base Camp we also met our climbing Sherpa who taught us how to clip into fixed ropes and use the ascending and descending clips to go up and down the slope on the rope line. At the top of Island Peak there is a period of time where there are fixed ropes on the ice, and you use those plus heavy-duty plastic boots with crampons to ascend to the peak. So we spent some time that afternoon getting used to climbing up a steep slope on lines, harnessed in and everything!

That night we went to sleep early and woke up at midnight. We had some oatmeal, as much as we could eat at that hour and then set off: day 13 was officially under way.

Sunrise at Island Peak.
Sunrise at Island Peak.

The first few hours were brutal. They were switchbacks covered in a thin layer of snow, and above all we could see were the headlamps of hikers who had started earlier than us constantly rising higher and higher. If you have never done this (gone up to a peak in the middle of the night), it basically sucks. Every time you look up you think that the end of the lights must be the top, and that that is where you are going! But in reality that is just the end of the line of hikers, and it keeps rising higher and higher. You cant tell how high you are, how high you have gone, and all you have is the monotony of switchbacks up a steep hill on little to no sleep, in the dark, in the cold.

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The view from Island Peak

Finally, after a few hours of the switchbacks we got to something new: icy rocks! Again, not ideal in the dark, in the freezing cold. Because it had snowed the previous afternoon (like it does pretty much every afternoon up there) there was an inch layer of snow and ice on all the rocks, and so for the next hour we climbed up boulders and across rocks, balancing on the snow.

Finally, at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning it started to get light out.

Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.
Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.

We spent another two hours climbing up the rocks over the snow, finally with a bit of light, and by 7am we had finally reached the top of this part! We could see the top from here, and we could also see all of the amazing views that the top had to offer. It was really a perfect spot. We could have kept going, another four hours across the glacier, to the top, but at that point we had been climbing for around six hours, were completely exhausted, and overwhelmed by the climbing that we had been doing. So we decided to end the climb on a high note, sat around eating some snickers bars that we had brought with us, before starting the long climb down.

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Myself and Danny at Island Peak

By the time we finally got down from the mountain it was nearly 10:30 in the morning. We sat around, ate some instant noodles as a sort of breakfast, and basked in the brief period of warm sun before packing up our things and hiking back down to Chukkung. By the time we got to Chukkung it was almost 3pm: we had been hiking nearly 12 hours that day on very little sleep, and all we wanted was to go to bed. We made ourselves stay up till 5pm, and then ate a light dinner before going directly to sleep.

Day 14! By this time it was mostly downhill, but we had a long day in store. The plan was to hike all the way to Namche Bazaar in one day, a hike that is close to 8 hours long, and includes both a good amount of downhill and a few intense uphills. So, we set off early, stopping only once or twice the whole time (including a lunch break in Tengboche consisting of slices of cake at a great bakery there), and made it to Namche Bazaar by around 3pm. We put down our bags and immediately went to a pub for beers and buff momos to celebrate the (near) end of our hike! It really was pretty great going down so far in altitude: we had much more energy, and the hiking felt easier because of all of the extra oxygen in the air! After being at high altitude for so long we were sure we could do anything with all of the air going to our lungs.

One last view on the way down!
One last view on the way down!

The next and last day we hiked from Namche Bazaar to Lukla: our hike was done, all that was left was to get off of the mountains!

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.

For the past few days no flights had been getting in or out of Lukla. There were too many clouds between Lukla and Kathmandu and so it wasn’t safe to fly in. The way it works is that there are a fixed number of flights going in and out, and if your flight gets cancelled then you get placed at the bottom of a waiting list for flights the next day. But there were already nearly four days worth of people on the waiting list trying to get flights because theirs had been cancelled, so the chances of getting a flight out soon was getting pretty grim.

Helicopters landing in Lukla airport
Helicopters landing in Lukla airport

In addition to this, instead of having a flight time the flights just have an order for takeoff. They fly four flights an hour (one from each of the four airlines), and so the flights in hour one are flights 1-4, the second hour they are flights 5-8, etc. So if you have an early flight number (like 1 or 2), the theory is that you only need one or two flights to actually land in Lukla from Kathmandu, and you’ll be able to fly out.

We were flight number 15.

Of course, none of this matters if no flights at all land in Lukla that day. Which is what was happening the morning that we were supposed to be flying out. Danny and Melissa had a flight back to the states in a few days, and on top of that we really didn’t want to be stuck in Lukla, since it was a pretty miserable town. So when the flights weren’t going out we had to look at our other option: a helicopter! This meant having our trekking guide follow some leads, find a helicopter with spaces on us for a reasonable price, going to the western union to take cash out to pay for it all, and then wait on the tarmac until the helicopter landed, sprint to it, board, and we were on our way. All in the course of approximately an hour. It was a hectic way to leave, but at least we got out! And with that we ended our trip: fifteen days of hiking later!

Last day of hiking!
Last day of hiking!
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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.

When You Fall off Your Bike…

Around here no one speaks English. Not a word, not hello, not goodbye. Not north, not south, not hospital.

So when I crash my bike going around a corner through the sand that is the road it is hard to translate what we need. What needs to be done.

Bikes parked along the road.
Bikes parked along the road.

I remember seeing Jordan coming sprinting from his bike pulled over ahead to pull me out from under mine, I remember being in pain trying to get up. I don’t remember how everyone else got to me, but soon everyone is around. They get my bike out from the middle of the sand patch that stands for a road and slowly I try to drag myself up and to the edge. I can’t walk.

We understand the hand gestures from the family whose store is right next to the sandpit to carry me down the hill to their house. The guys, Jordan and Ian, loop two arms around me and I am half carried to a chair where they set me down and tell me to put my foot up. The woman starts spraying my cuts with hydrogen peroxide and the man dabs around my ankle with some green oil with Chinese symbols on the bottle.

It feels like the oil is helping but I can’t tell if that is in my head.

My head. My head is spinning and thick. From shock. It is hard to get words out but I also don’t need so many words to get across what I need. I point to a spot on my ankle, I try turning it different ways. I attempt to curl my toes. I can curl my toes, I can’t move the ankle though. I can’t stand up on it. It hurts and it hurts, and there are some things that cross language barriers, and one of those is that I need to get to a hospital. I don’t fully understand what happens around me as it does. I drink the water I am supposed to slowly. I try to stop crying. I keep crying, because the pain really won’t go away. It keeps coming back in waves to replenish the supply of tears coming down.

We need to go to a hospital.

Views of the ocean from the road.
Views of the ocean from the road.

The drive today was beautiful. The scenery was amazing. The roads were incredible. Well, until they weren’t. We drove through the mountains and across rivers and wetlands. We slowed down for trucks and for tractors and for small towns that we would drive through with their groups of children running along the road to shout at us hello. We drove through all the colors you could imagine. Oranges and purples and blues making up the mountains in the distance, Greys and browns and yellow ochre dotting the ground with trees and bushes and little white flowers to accent it all. The speed was exhilarating, the sun was shining down and it was the perfect day and the perfect place to drive.

It was so perfect until it wasn’t.

The roads switched between beautifully paved ones racing through the scenery, past the mountains and the rivers and wetlands, to small ones filled with potholes and rocks. Ones still in the middle of being constructed, and ones that were still gravel or rocks. Or sand. Ones that weren’t roads at all, but connected the real roads together, and helped to map the course between the small towns and the larger towns and the different colors dotting the skyline.

The mountains, the rivers.
The mountains, the rivers.

Soon I am brought to a Vietnamese hospital. It is bare, so bare, but there is a nurse there who speaks some English, and she walks with me to the x-rays where they take pictures of my ankle. They try to take x-rays of my knee, too, which is wrapped in napkins from where the woman had treated it, but I tell them that it is fine, just bruised and cut, and that what really needs to be looked at is my ankle.  He takes the x-rays, looks at them, convinces me that it is not broken, and after some haggling I pay them 100,000 dong (~$5) and get my ankle wrapped, and my cuts cleaned up. I am lifted onto the back of a motorbike, and we go to a hotel for the night. There is no way we are making it to Nha Trang today, and it is debatable if I will even keep driving south.

I want to keep driving, though.

It is already day three of our drive. It was supposed to take two days to drive from Hoi An to Nha Trang, but with all of the stops we have made, including two hospital visits (mine plus another cover-up hospital visit when Jordan got into a smaller accident with a local), and some falls (Kateryna in sand, too, Ian and Joe when they ran into each other while stopping) and lots of stops for photos, it is taking what now looks like four days to get to our immediate destination.

Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Kateryna and me, pre-falls
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)
Post-falls: Kateryna with her scraped up knee, me with my cut up knee and sprained ankle (and hospital wheel chair)

 

 

 

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So in the morning I get up, I try to put weight on my foot, and I find I can limp along. It hurts, but if I take some drugs and bear through it I figure I should be fine to drive. I don’t use my feet to drive my bike, after all, so I figure there should be no reason for me not to keep biking. I also know that if I don’t get back on my bike in this town then I will stay scared of driving. And I don’t want to be scared of driving. So I go for a test drive in a circle, prove to Kateryna that I am able to drive, and we go.

Getting back on the bike is easy, and it is also difficult. Starting it initially is scary. I don’t completely trust my hands and my legs to do what I need them to. I don’t trust my balance, and I don’t trust my mind to keep my bike steady. On the good roads, though, I feel fine. It is not difficult, it is fun, it is almost as fun as it was before. But soon we hit the bad roads, the ones that are still in the middle of being paved, and the large patches of gravel. All the things that need to be negotiated. The roads that bump along and scare me. Those are harder to navigate because I doubt myself on them. I keep remembering that I fell once on rough terrain, so what is keeping me from falling again? It is hard to stay steady, and it is hard to go fast.

Kateryna tells me multiple times that it is just not going to work if I keep going this slowly. The boys wont wait up, the whole group wont be able to wait up. Something is going to change, and that is going to have to be my speed.

And so, slowly, I start getting myself to go faster. It is scary: it is scary going over the rough patches, and it hurts, too, when my bike bumps against my ankle. I am slightly less sure of my handling of the bike around turns and sharp corners, and I am worried I am going to make a stupid mistake.

I do make mistakes. I go through potholes I could have avoided, I stay in a spot of the lane I didn’t need to. It takes a little bit for me to hold all the pieces of driving together in my mind in the same way I was doing before. But I am driving, and that is what matters to me. It hurts, in my ankle, and when I bend my knee, but I am going. And I force my bike up to high speeds again, like I was doing before, and I make the turns safely again, like I was doing before, and little by little we make our way to our destination, to Nha Trang. And slowly slowly my cuts and my sprained ankle are doing better and better to heal.

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New Beginnings

So I am sitting in a café in Pokhara, Nepal. I am surrounded by the mountains rising out of the horizon, the snowcaps poking up into the sky, so much clearer than they were in the big city. There is a lake here, and trees (!), and everything is slower. Slower and cleaner. It is such a contrast to Kathmandu, where the roads are fast and dirty, where the air is never clean and everywhere you go is crowded with people. People on bikes, in cabs, trying to sell you things or trying to get money. Of course there is some of that here, but much less. All to a smaller degree.

The lake and the mountains in Pokhara
The lake and the mountains in Pokhara

It is an odd thing, leaving a place. It is hard to remember how long you have been somewhere, how much you can grow attached to it, until you leave. I was actually pretty sad leaving Kathmandu: not that I didn’t think that it would be a sad thing to go, but I did not expect to actually feel it. I will be coming back, in the spring, albeit for a shorter period of time.

It was sad leaving the little alley off which I live. It was sad, passing the vegetable market for the last time, dark still in the early dawn with the street dogs asleep in the middle, where all of the sellers would set up their stalls later in the day. It was sad, too, catching the early morning micro bus, still half empty, filled with school kids making their way to college, and men sitting with bags of things to sell on the streets that day. I got so used to my routine, to seeing these simple things every day, that I forgot that it might be sad when I had to see them or sit with them a last time.

My last day at my NGO was also incredibly sweet. They had a little going away thing for me, said a few words and gave me a plaque to take home to remember them by! We took a lot of pictures with it, and had a dance party with the children. My friend, Stephen, got here last Friday (we will be traveling together for the next few months), so he came, too, to the NGO, and got to meet all the children. They sang their welcome song to him, they danced with him, and when all that was done we sat and watched them singing their evening prayers, and ate daal bhaat. It was a good last day. Sweet, and wonderful to get to share with a friend from home.

Me, my plaque, and Raksha Nepal
Me, my plaque, and Raksha Nepal

And now I am on the road! I have my frame pack, my backpack, my camera and my ukulele. All the essentials for being on the road. The next few months will bring many new countries, sites, people and foods. It is a different thing, being on the road. I wont be able to go back to my apartment every night, to the same things, see the same people, follow the same schedule. The things that I do will change every day, and the places that I am and the people that I meet will change every day, too.

Stephen dealing for a game of gin rummy at happy hour by the lake
Stephen dealing for a game of gin rummy at happy hour by the lake

So it is a different type of traveling. A more exciting one! But I will still miss my home in Kathmandu. The smells of the trash fires burning at night (which really does grow on you), the same dogs hanging around near my house and my local temple. The worn out streets and the people that walk along them and the little micro where I know the route so well. And the city that slowly became my home without me realizing it. That I will miss most of all.

On Seeing the Good

Yesterday I was riding the micro home from Zumba at night. Zumba takes place in a little room by an even smaller gym with twenty people lined up to attempt to follow along with the Nepali instructor as she shouts instructions and dances around the room.

I was riding a half empty micro that was inching along in the six pm traffic hoping for more people to fill up its seats before it crossed the river from Lalitpur back into Kathmandu, when a Nepali family, a mother, a father, and their little girl got on the bus. This is not something that is odd, families riding the bus, but normally the buses, or micros, are too crowded for me to really see them. Normally I am more focused on not falling on someone, or the odd way in which my back is bending to accommodate the short space and my (relatively) taller frame. This time, though, the bus was nearly empty, we were going against the grain of traffic up north towards Ratna Park, the palace, and my home.

A man and his flag, Kathmandu Durbar Square
A man and his flag, Kathmandu Durbar Square

What struck me about this image, was that I realized that this was my first time really watching and seeing a happy Nepali family. I spend so much of my day writing proposals about women whose husbands are not there, or who have suffered from abuse. Women who cannot take care of their children, or need help to, or cannot take their children back to their home with their families. And about children who are better off staying at our shelter because their home is not able to care for them, or who have been sold, or who have had to resort to working in the industry because there was no one else looking out for them, no one else making sure that they are okay.

But here I was, watching this father and mother interacting with their little five-year-old girl, all happy, smiling, chatting.

It is so easy to get caught up in the things that I am working with here, and forget that there are things outside of what I immediately see. The women that I see here at Raksha are strong, are some of the strongest women I know, but they also represent a section of the country that is not strong. They are the women who have gotten out of bad situations, or they are helping women who are stuck in situations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. They represent things that need to be fixed, in the entertainment industry, and also in the country to help them be real citizens and not blown off, or denied their education, or abused.

But while that may make up a certain percentage of the population here, and in so many other countries too, that does not mean that that is all there is. It does not mean that all that I see is all that is there.

I have to take myself out of where I am at times to remember that. I have to step back and remember that there is more than what I am currently looking at.

Prayer flags arching from temple to temple
Prayer flags arching from temple to temple

It reminds me, actually (and bear with me for a moment) of studying the impressionists and post-impressionists, and the ways in which they painted. They painted with this idea that what we are seeing might not be exactly what is there. And they painted, also, in ways that reflected what we actually see in our brains. They took the colors and the images that are in front of us and broke them down. They took the straight images that other artists were observing, and they resolved to find the meaning behind the light and behind the colors.

Now, I know this is a bit off topic of the women who Raksha is helping, and the women who I see on the bus every day. But it does seem to reach into this idea of stepping back to try and see things as they really are.

To try and see this country as more than just the things that I see and write about at work every day. To try and make sense of what is here, and what I will do with this knowledge when I go home. The country is more than what I see in my immediate vision day to day, and it is these little things that remind me of this. There are children that need to be cared for because their families are not there, or cannot afford to. But there are also children who are smiling and laughing on buses with their loving mothers and fathers. There are women who have been exploited and abused, but there are also women who are in amazing situations with amazing family, education, and opportunities.

It is hard, at times, to see the great things through the sad, but it is also such an amazing feeling when I am reminded of the beautiful things that make up a country that can override the bad.

The city from above, Swayambhuneth Temple, Kathmandu
The city from above, Swayambhuneth Temple, Kathmandu

Bombs and Bandhs: Election Time in Nepal

On Tuesday, the entire city shut down as Nepal held its first elections in five years, and voted for a new Constituent Assembly (CA) for the country. For those you of (read: majority) who aren’t up to speed on Nepali politics and history, here is a little crash course:

Nepal, for years, was ruled by a monarchy.

From 1996-2006 there was a civil war, also called the Maoist conflict, because it was headed up by the Maoist party looking to overthrow and replace the monarchy.

In 2006 the war ended, in 2007 Nepal was declared a federal republic, and in 2008 they held their first elections, electing a Constituent Assembly, the majority of seats of which were won by the Communist Party of Nepal (aka CPN aka Maoists).

The newly formed CA was charged with writing a constitution. They failed to meet their deadline.

They got an extended deadline. They failed to meet this one, too.

In 2012 they had STILL failed to meet their deadline and to write a constitution, so it was announced that they would have elections that November.

They did not.

They finally set the ACTUAL date for November 19, 2013.

In the months leading up to the election, the Maoists did everything they could to try and get the elections canceled. They held bandhs, or strikes, where everything was closed and no cars or vehicles could drive on the roads for fear of being vandalized. Starting November 10th, they threatened to hold a 10-day long bandh that would shut down the city and keep the elections from happening. This lasted only a day or two, with people deciding that they did not want to just go with it, and going out on the roads and opening their businesses anyways.

This did not stop everything, though.

Bombs were found in the city. Fake bombs real bombs. Some went off, injuring people, which is perhaps one of the things that has been most reported in the (two that I can find) articles published. The point, again, being to scare people into not holding the elections.

This, again, did not work! It was, however, a bit scary.

Tuesday their first elections were held in five years. Public spaces (such as the basketball court where the vegetable market is held by my house) were roped off on Monday to create polling locations.

Ping pong played on a sunny day off from school.
Ping pong played on a sunny day off from school.

Because many Nepalis are illiterate, the ballot was made up of symbols printed onto the paper. Each of the 120+ parties vying for the votes chose a symbol to represent them. Everything from a tree to a sun to bowling pins to hands pressed together. This way everyone would be able to vote, literate or not.

The government declared a four-day long public holiday, starting Sunday, so that people could go back to their villages to vote.

There was a threat of strict bandhs on buses, which would prevent people from leaving and going home to vote, but that did not happen, people got home, people voted.

I stayed inside all day on Tuesday, though, because there was still the threat of being caught up in a rally, or run into a bomb, real or fake.

And on Wednesday? All was well, people returned, slowly, to the city, kids returned to school. All was well. They had voted, and in time the results will come out.

Military doing drills in a practice field in the middle of the city.
Military doing drills in a practice field in the middle of the city.

So far it looks like the Nepali Congress party (symbol: tree) will win, which, at least according to the Nepali’s I have asked, is a good thing.

So why is it so hard for them to come to a decision on a constitution? Well, to start with, the country is incredibly diverse. Within the one country they have trouble just starting to consider how to divide it up into states.

Nepal is made up of 26.5 million people, with a literacy rate of 63% for men, yet only 35% for women. 81% are Hindu, 9% are Buddhist, 10% other. It has more than 100 different ethnic groups, an even greater number of languages (125 and 127 respectively, as reported by the New York Times), and three different ecosystems, ranging in altitude from only 60 feet above sea level to 29,029 feet above sea level (hello, Mt. Everest).

View of the snowcaps from the big city
View of the snowcaps from the big city

And this is just part of it.

There are many problems: poverty, diversity and the lack of opportunity for women in the country being just a few of them. Many people have migrated to Kathmandu as a result of the war, and to look for jobs, but many times these jobs are not available. Or they do not have the education or skills sets to get them. Of the nearly 7,000,000 people living in the Kathmandu valley, at least half go home each year to their villages, they are not from here.

There is a great risk of natural disaster, too. Nepal is susceptible to frequent earthquakes, but Kathmandu is in no way built to withstand a major one. There are so many people and so many buildings so close together that it is really quite a frightening thought of what would happen, or will happen, when they get a big one. They are supposed to get a major one once within every 100 years, and the last one was at least 80 years go. So there is that.

It is hard, still, to figure out what to think about the election, or what is going to happen. It is so hard to get a good news source that will say anything of substance that I think the trick is really just to wait and see what happens.

Hopefully this new government will provide stability and a good constitution. Hopefully it will address some of the major issues that face Nepal. Hopefully it will do its job. And until then, we wait. We celebrate the fact that the elections happened at all, and we wait to see what change they bring for the future of a little Himalayan country with so much to offer.

1000 meters here, 1000 meters there…

The past week was a holiday (Dasain) all over Nepal, so NGOs, schools, offices, government (what government there is), were all closed, and people left the valley for their villages. To give a sense of how many people are on the buses out, around seven million people live in the Kathmandu valley, and nearly three to four million of those leave for the holiday to go home to their villages.

They leave on motorbikes and scooters, piled two or three deep per vehicle. They leave on minibuses with kids on laps crushed to the windows. And they leave on big buses making their way out from the center of the city along the windy mountain roads that are sometimes paved, sometimes not. The lucky ones who get tickets sit on the seats inside the buses painted every color of the rainbow,  covered in pictures and designs with slogans on the front like “DRIVE SLOW LIVE LONG”, “SPEED LIMIT”, or “ROAD KING”. And the ones without tickets? They ride on the top. There are at least thirty guys sitting on the top of each bus, most inside the luggage rack, their legs hanging off of the edge of the roof, others kneeling on the edge, holding on to the railing that lines the roof of the bus. I pray these guys don’t fall off.

As for us? We were big spenders and sprung for a jeep, since our travel dates coincided exactly with when everyone was flooding out or back into the city. The jeep ride took around seven hours to go approximately 100 kilometers as the crow flies, averaging fifteen miles per hour on the precarious mountain roads.

The path we would take is directly through the mountains, as seen from Syrabu Besi, the first town we stayed in.
The path we would take is directly through the mountains, as seen from Syrabu Besi .
The Lang Tang river, running up into the mountains towards our destination.
The Lang Tang river, running up into the mountains towards our destination.

The first few days were pretty rainy. Because of the cyclone in India, even though the monsoon season has passed, Nepal got hit with rain for a few days, which meant that we were hiking in the pouring rain for the first few days of the trek. According to our guide, Ganesh, this was the worst weather that he has had to guide in! The streams that we needed to cross turned to rivers, the trails turned into mud pits and waterfalls. Everything was soaked. We were cold and wet and, after hiking for seven hours, got to the village we were staying in. We got some soup, sat by the stove in the common room of the guest house, and slept, very wet, and very cold.

It was rainy the second morning, at 2,500 m (8,200 ft).
It was rainy the second morning, at 2,500 m (8,200 ft).

The next day it took a while, but we finally rallied and hiked the last three hours up to the top village, Kyanjin Gompa. Here, the clouds finally started to let up and we could (finally) see the mountains and the snow peaks that we had been waiting for! The morning when we woke up and saw the peaks out of our window was probably my favorite of the trip: we had finally made it to the top village at 3,800 m (12,500 ft)! The sky was clear, wispy clouds creeping in from below the valley, but for the time being the air was clear, the sky was opened up, and the peaks around us towered up to 7,000 m into the sky.

Kyanjin Gompa in the morning
Kyanjin Gompa in the morning

That day we went on a day hike up towards the Ganja La pass. We weren’t planning on hiking over the pass mainly because of money: to do it we would need to hire a more expensive climbing guide, as well as porters with tents and food, because for three days around the pass there wouldn’t be any tea houses to stay at. So, instead, we decided to hike up as high as we could. For this hike we weren’t following an actual trail, but, as our guide explained, just the trail that the yaks use to get over the mountain. We climbed as high as we possibly could, getting up into the snow at the top of the mountains, close to 4,800 m (15,750 ft). At that point it started raining/sleeting, so we turned around (but not before having a brief snowball fight), and headed back towards the town, our rooms, and a big pot of Sherpa stew that they had waiting for us as a belated lunch.

The view from the bottom of the valley.
The view from the bottom of the valley.
Snow at the top of the mountains!
Snow at the top of the mountains!

The next day we hiked up to the peak, Kyanjin Ri, which stands at 4,779 m (15,679 ft) above the town of Kyanjin Gompa. The peak is covered in prayer flags raised up above the rocks, and around us we could see everything: peaks, valleys, and the town way below us, nestled on a little plateau between the ranges of mountains. Below the town the Lang Tang river flows back towards where we started from, back south towards Kathmandu. We had a picnic there of this amazing brown bread that is made in the town (more on that later), and yak cheese made one town over, in Lang Tang Village!

The group at the top of Kyanjin Ri. Lauren, Peter, Maneeshika, Me, and Ganesh.
The whole group at the top of Kyanjin Ri. Lauren, Peter, Maneeshika, Me, and Ganesh.
Prayer flags and the view from the top.
Prayer flags and the view from the top.

After that we headed down to Kyanjin Gompa, and then another three hours down to spend the night. The next day we (stupidly) decided to go really far, and ended up hiking ten hours straight and making it back to the original town, Syrambu Besi in one day! We hurt (a LOT) after that, but it meant that the following morning we could hire a jeep heading back to Kathmandu, and get back home two days early!

The mountain cow, or dzo: a cross between a yak and a cow!
The mountain cow, or dzo: a cross between a yak and a cow!