On Top of the World (well nearly)
Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
32Trip End Jun 14, 2003
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The walk takes you through the lush foothills, terraced farm land for crop growing and pine forests, past massive landslides, following the clear Marsyangdi Khola river (crossed numerous times on rickety suspension bridges which Jo finally got the hang of near the end) before rising into more barren landscape up near the mountains, across the largest pass in the world (at 5416m), through the Tibetian Plateau and then back down into the valley and the green foothills again
It is a popular and rather civilised trek, with villages located every hour or so, all crammed full of guesthouses (or tea-houses as they are called here), restaurants and shops, selling an amazing array of goods, especially considering how far from any towns we were. The restaurants all served great Western food (pizza, Chinese, Snickers), local specialities (Yak Sizzler) and always the excellent national dish, dal bhat, a lentil curry, which the locals eat (with their hands) twice a day, every day. The life blood of the trekking circuits, which have no roads, are the porters and donkeys, which carry everything between them. One day we passed over 200 donkeys, all laden full with goods, which slowed us down no end. The porters, normally wearing only flip-flops, carry extroadinary loads up the steep, bumpy tracks. We saw one guy carrying a steel pipe which must have weighed over 100kg - he was paid around $60 to carry this for 10 days part way up the circuit. The guesthouses were very simple affairs, with normally no more than two single beds in each room. This did mean without any heating it was extremly cold at night and the only warm place was snug in a sleeping bag. The rooms were typically seperated by a flimsy piece of board so you could hear what the whole guesthouse was up to. Hot showers were a luxury, as was electricity given the frequent powercuts. This also meant that we were frequently in bed by 9pm, completely exhausted and then up at 6am, ready to start walking before the sun came up
The trek was certainly a killer on the legs as we climbed from 820m on day 1 up to 5416m on day 10. Altitude sickness can be a big problem if you try to climb too high too fast. We took things easy and aside from a bad headache over the pass we were OK. Acclimatisation, the process of your body getting use to the high altitudes and the lack of oxygen, has some odd side effects: swollen fingers, an excess of gas (at both ends - or was that the Dal Bhat?), loss of appetite (although we ate like horses) and the need to go to toilet every 10 minutes. Most people suffered at the high altitudes especially with headaches, a problem solved by descending very quickly.
Getting over the pass was a real achievement, especially since it had snowed heavily over night. We set out at 5am in the white wilderness and walked for 4 hours before reaching the top. To appreciate how high it was the Thorung La Pass is four times higher than Ben Nevis, higher than Mt Blanc and another 6000 ft higher than the height we skydived from in New Zealand. We were still over 3000m below Everest so there is someway to go to the top of the world. It was quite emotional on the top, having finally got there after days and days of walking. There was plenty of hugging, one guy took off his clothes but the cold meant we quickly headed down the other side only to have to walk another five hours in driving snow to the holy village of Muktinath. What a long, long day but one we will always remember.
About 50 people go over the pass every day, down heavily from the peak in 1998 (+250) - a result of many factors including the Royal family massacre, the current Maoist uprising and more recently SARs in Asia
This was certainly a 'once in a lifetime' experience and one of the highlights of our trip. We will never forget the amazing views, friendiness of the Nepal people, the fresh, clean mountain air and the complete and absolute silence.
If you do fancy a trip to Nepal here are the details of the trekking company we went with and guide / porter who can be contacted directly. They all helped make the trip the tremendous experience it was:
Beyond the Limits Trekking, Kathmandu - www.treksinnepal.com
Suman (guide) - email@example.com
Madan (porter) - firstname.lastname@example.org