Ama Dablam

Ben – Another update from the hills

Hi guys, back again. Pleased to report that no leeches were found in any untoward places.

I have been a bit quiet these last few days because of a minor technical issue. A few days back we thought there was power in the next town so we watched Star Trek on my laptop, turns out there was no power until Khote.

Anyway, here I am, fully charged and ready to roll. We have had a few good days of trekking, up and down big time. One day we lost, then gained over 1300 meters, which does not sound like heaps when we are trying to climb a 6800 meter high mountain, but believe me, when your body is flat out trying to make enough red blood cells to keep you firing at height, this is a challenge.To give you an idea of our routine on the approach trek, we wake at 6am, drink a cup of tea while packing up our gear, then have brekkie (normally porridge with some cashew nuts). We hit the trail normally at around 8am and walk, crawl, and gasp our way through this amazing countryside until around 11:30. We stop for lunch (around an hour) then keep walking until around 4pm, depending on the terrain and how quickly we are rocking along. Set up tents and organize sleeping gear then read, play suduko or gawp at mountains until dinner which is served at around 6pm.

We have an amazing support crew consisting of a cook, two kitchen boys and a bunch of crazy strong porters that carry all the heavy gear. On our trekking we usually carry our wet weather gear, some warm clothes and a jacket and lunch, unless we are going past a town or teahouse around lunchtime. Khote, where we are, is a cute little rock town surrounded by big high slabby mountains that are covered in waterfalls. We descended today and are now at 3400 meters, last night we slept at around 4200. This means that we only have 3 kilometers to go up to reach the top of our first objective, Mera peak. Before this happens, however, there will be a whole lot of trekking to be done over around another 7 days.

Now that I have power for now I will be updating more often so I’ll save some of the news for later.

Blues skies and happy feet

Ben grey Ben   Another update from the hills

Ben – update from the trail

This is going to be a short update guys as we have had a massive day today. We kicked off proceedings with a short sharp uphill stretch to 3200, followed by descending 1200 meters to the bottom of a big, wide valley. Occasionally the clouds would open up and give us glimpses of terraced farms and small rock buildings perched on the edge of impossible drops. Everyone took a slip on the mossy rocks, everyone that is, apart from our porters who carry three times more than us! They are true ninjas.Every time I return to Nepal my respect for these guys increases. Without them, us poorly acclimatized low land people would have no hope of any success here.

Once at the bottom of the valley we took a short lunch break then headed off up the other side of the valley. Soon after leaving the rain came in along with the leeches, so far I have counted 6 that I have removed myself, along with a few mystery itchy bits where they likely had their fill and dropped off. The rain just increased and we arrived at Nashing Dingma (?Spelling) completely soaked through, and tired, but in high spirits because just over the next ‘hill’ is where the proper-big mountains start.

Despite the hard work, I am really enjoying walking along these beautiful valleys. Every time we go past a farmhouse small children run out and yell ‘Namaste’ and adults watch us curiously through the windows. Tomorrow is still in doubt, if this rain continues we will stay here and dry clothes but if it clears we will push on up to the next village. The team continues to work really well together, encouraging each other and keeping spirits high with random jokes and fun teasing.

I apologise for any spelling or grammatical errors in this post! It has been very much written on the run, it is now my turn to take a bucket shower, meaning time to check my man bits for leeches!! Wish me luck…

The first days of trekking

Coming from Ben via sat phone from somewhere in the Himalayas.

It is the end of day two of our approach trek to Mera peak (our first of three objectives Mera, Island and Ama Dablam). The flight into Lukla is as crazy, scary and insane as I remember. This time I was sitting right up the front near the open cockpit. My seat afforded me an unobstructed view of the landing, which I filmed and cannot wait to see footage of!

So far the expedition has been a lot of low land trekking. Low land trekking involves a lot of Nepali flat sections – up, then down to the same height – leeches, rain and very slippy mud. Currently we are at 3000 meters above sea level, right in the clouds and rain. As much as altitude hurts, I really cannot wait to be above the weather and into some blue skies. The scenery when the clouds open, however, is astounding. Today at lunch I sat on the edge of a terrace on a ridiculously steep valley and just stared down an expansive valley to watch rural Nepali life playing out. Yaks the size of mice slowly moved up dirt tracks as farmers prepared their paddocks for crops. Soon the clouds rolled over nearby snow covered mountains erasing the view.

In our wanderings we often wander past small villages with a family or two, chickens wandering free and snotty nosed children holding barking dogs and yelling “Namaste” gleefully. The people here always smile, even porters as they struggle up hills with huge loads on their backs. Being passed by female porters carrying three times our load always serves to deflate any chest puffing by the group.

Tomorrow we will be going down 1km and then up again to an altitude that is slightly above where we started the day. The team is bonding really well, making lots of bad jokes and working well as a group. The cook Deb (male) is the same guy who fed Mal and I on Manaslu so the food is top notch, with lots of carbohydrates and energy rich food. For example, today at dinner we had: salty vegetable soup with popcorn followed by curry potatoes, pasta, veg sauce and cauliflower.

It is great to be back in Nepal, I truly love this country, her people and natural history. We have ten more days of trekking and slowly increasing our altitude before we tackle our first proper snowy mountain, Mera Peak. This has been described by Mal as a long, cold, high walk. I have seen pictures of Mera and it does not look at all technical, just long and high! I will update from time to time on the trek, mainly when cool things happen but in the interim just be sure to watch our progress on my map which I will be updating three times a day here: www.redrucksack.com/ama-dablam

Blue skies and happy feet grey The first days of trekking

Pashupatani

grey PashupataniSitting here in the lobby of the Hotel Marshyangdi, surrounded by fellow westerners all plugged into various high tech gizmos it is astounding how damn disconnected we have become. To get to the hotel lobby I walked less than one kilometer from Fire and Ice, the Pizzeria where the team met to eat dinner and get to know each other.

grey PashupataniOn they way I was Namaste-d by numerous people, sure most wanted to sell me hash or singing bowls, but some genuinely wanted to say, ‘hi’. The young chap who sold me a shirt yesterday said, ‘G’day’ (he knows my nationality) so I sat next to him on the gutter and we had a brief but pleasant chat about the unusual weather. All the time he was connected with a friend by holding hands. In Nepal this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. The guard at the hotel gate saluted me with a wide grin before asking how I was and telling me that Thamel will be really busy tomorrow with a festival. Walking inside the hotel to my favourite couch (with the good wifi signal) I automatically said a friendly, ‘Hello‘ to some Swedish men sitting nearby. They looked at me as though I had thrown glitter over them.

grey PashupataniUs westerners have truly become disconnected. Lost in our own personal ecosystems, sheltered from awkward conversations by music players, iPhone fiddling or dark sunglasses. The same goes for death, we desperately hide from it, we hide from it’s ominous march behind age defying skin creams and shiny new sports cars … when the inevitable happens we efficiently deal with death by dressing it in fine clothes, lathering it with makeup, then quickly burying it. We are desperate to hide from the fact that death is something we all have to deal with someday.

Not so the Nepalese.

After visiting Boudhanath, Bish and I went to visit Pashupatinath, a temple by the river in Kathmandu where locals cremate their loved ones. This was incredibly confronting. Not only were we faced with the sight of bodies being cremated, but we were hit with the smell and the sound, along with the uncomfortable thought that we should have skipped this sight. It is after all a very personal time for mourners. The Nepalese do not grey Pashupataniseem to mind the intrusion though. They seem totally at ease living out their most private moments in public, sharing such a small space with 4 million other people will do that. Not only do they seem okay with visitors, but they actively encourage us. Tickets are sold at the entrance, guides are placed around to shunt tourists to the right viewing places and, not surprisingly, touts line the walls.

A cornerstone of the Buddhist faith is the belief in Karma and re-incarnation. When someone dies their soul leaves the body to be reincarnated as another human (or a cockroach depending on how much good karma they have accrued). This is a massively watered down version, but for now it will do. The body becomes an empty vessel which can be invaded by evil spirits, so it is important to destroy the body as soon as practical after death. Fire is the best way achieve this.

grey PashupataniAfter a death the cremation ceremony begins within minutes or hours. The body is shrouded, adorned with money or flowers then taken to the edge of the river. It is dipped three times in the holy river to purify it then placed gently on a pyr of wood. More wood is added, along with straw, before the first born male lights the fire. It is important that the fire start around the mouth as this is where it is believed evil spirits enter. The rest is a matter of time. After a few hours the body is considered cremated enough. The charred body (called an Astu) is taken by the first born son and released into the holy river. A caretaker sweeps the remains into the river so the soul is free from the physical world. It is customary for the son to then wash himself in the river to purify after the ceremony.

We watched a ceremony from the very start, this is a multi-sensory experience to say the least. Bish and I were uncharacteristically solemn while watching. On the drive back to the hotel I was thinking to myself that maybe I need some time alone, with my iPhone plugged in, to rationalise what I have just seen…

Boudhanath – Kathmandu’s most sacred site

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWith a second day to fill in before the rest of the expedition crew arrive, Bish and I met Arnil at 10am with plans to visit Boudhanath, the largest Stupa in Asia. Following another frenetic drive we pull up in a cloud of dust near Boudhanath.

Boudhanath is the largest Stupa in Aisa. When you view Stupas from above the layout is the same as the Mandala paintings (like Bish bought yesterday) that act as a roadmap of reincarnation. Boudhanath is teeming with Monks in orange robes turning prayer wheels as tourists poke telephoto lenses in their faces and touts try to sell hash, paintings or handicrafts. It is Mecca for Buddhists and a town unto itself, monasteries radiate out from the Stupa in all directions.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWe took a short stroll to the biggest monastery which unfortunately was closed for tourists. However, as a consellation prize we were able to climb a stairwell to gain an amazing view over the whole area. Feeling like a sniper through my camera lens I witnessed a tourist shoving his camera right into the monks’ faces whilst the Monk was praying and turning the prayer wheel, later on I saw him walk right in the front of a group of about 40 monks who were chanting to take a photo…clearly he has not read my Travel Guide Book!

After some more poking around and soaking up the atmosphere Bish and I climbed onto the Stupa itself (yes we checked, it is quite okay to do so) fortunately the monks were still praying and we spent a blissful time on the top, listening to the hypnotic chantings and humming of people preparing for an upcoming festival, which sadly we will miss due to climbing commitments.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site  
grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site

 

 

 

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