Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nar and Phu | The Lost Valleys of Nepal

The trail to the village of Phu
"On the eastern side of the valley, sunlit pastures mounted towards the 23,000-foot summit of Kang Guru, a massive sugar-icing dome flawed by shadowy crevasses and ice-falls. Yaks grazed on the hill; the chiming of the bells they wore drifted down to us. To the west, our maps told us that the village of Nar stood on a shoulder of pasture land that ran up from the river, but the village was still hidden behind Pisang Peak. Northwards, the valley narrowed again between mauve and ochre precipices veined with glittering quartzite." 
Windsor Chortlton, The Cloud Dwellers of the Himalaya, The Bhotia

If you are walking on the famous Annapurna circuit in Nepal you will pass the small village of Koto Qupar. Right of the main trail there is a non descript track which plunges down into a forest and crosses a bridge over the  river. This is the trail to Nar and Phu villages, part of the restricted area of upper Nepal. A rewarding trek is to visit Nar and Phu villages and re- enter the Annapurna circuit at Ngawal crossing the 5320 metres Kangla Pass with it's dress circle view of the entire northern sweep of the Annapurnas.

South Col Expeditions trekked this route with a small team in late September-early October 2015. Here are some black and white photos from the trek.

A trekking team on the trail to Kyang from Phu from Kyang

Walking above Phu village with Kangaru peak in the background

Porters carry planks of wood for construction from Meta to Phu

The abandoned Khampa settlements at Kyang 

A yak descend on a rocky trail above Kang la Phedi

Village roof top at Nar

Main street of Nar village

Panorama from the Kang la pass 5320m
For more information and photos do visit http://www.sujoydas.com/Nepal-Himalaya/Nar-and-Phu-Valleys-of-Nepal/

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nepal Earthquake | One Year After


Kaule village,  Nuwakot district,  May 2015
On 25th April 2015 at around 11- 56 am, I was standing inside a “tankha” painter’s studio in Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang district in the rain shadow of the Himalayas.  All of a sudden, I noticed that the bowls of paint in little cups were vibrating and this began to increase rapidly.  As I watched in amazement the colours began to spill onto the floor which was also shaking and we then realized it was an earthquake. We ran out onto the street and looking up I found the walls of a nearby building shaking dangerously. Each time I thought it was going to collapse it miraculously straightened up again. At that time I had no idea of the enormity of the disaster which was unfolding in Nepal.

We cut short our trek and started our long journey back to Pokhara. The story of that journey has been told in http://sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2015/09/mustang-and-lo-manthang-itinerary-part.html 

The earthquake of 25th April 2015 was followed by a second major earthquake on 12th May 2015 which further crippled Nepal. 

Since the two earthquakes and the numerous aftershocks which have rocked this mountain kingdom, Nepal has been on the world map for the last one year.


 The images  and videos are by  now all too familiar – rubble and shattered homes and buildings, cars smashed by rocks, large chunks of the hillside falling away into dust and ashes  in a video, avalanches the size of large tidal waves sweeping up a camp, those familiar orange and blue shelters adorning the hillside shot by cameramen in  helicopters,  women trying to find their  belongings in the rocks and bricks which were once their homes, and police and  soldiers on their constant patrol trying to keep order in the world heritage monuments many of which are now lying in ruins.

Durbar Square Kathmandu soon after the earthquake
It is now the first anniversary of this calamity. What has happened in Nepal since then?

Very little really.

The earthquake in Nepal was followed an agitation by the Madhesi parties against the new constitution which resulted in a border blockade with India for six months and brought the country to its feet.

Fuel and cooking gas were being black marketed, costs of all essential commodities spiralled out of control, flights were not refuelled at Kathmandu airport, long lines of buses, cars and motor bikes stood daily outside fuel pumps which were dry and foreign countries like USA, UK, Australia issued advisory warnings against travelling to Nepal.

Haze and pollution over Kathmandu as seen from Swayambhunath, April 2016
 Further, Kathmandu the capital is in a shambles. Very high pollution levels accompanied by a haze which sits over the valley has affected the health of many. Wearing a face mask while walking on the street is now the norm rather than the exception.  The Nepal capital has been rated as the third most polluted city in the world. Along with this, electricity shortages to the tune of 12 to 14 hours per day have brought the city to its feet. And it does not look like the situation will improve in a hurry and neither does the Government have a plan in place to tackle these issues.

Roland Hunter of The Mountain Company at Everest Base Camp, September 2015 on a recce visit to assess the earthquake damage on the trekking trails to Everest
Tourists and trekkers who had planned to come for the autumn 2015 season put their plans on hold and Nepal tourism received another setback with virtually no business for two consecutive seasons.
The blockade was lifted in early 2016 but by then the damage was already done. However the trek agencies and hoteliers are optimistic that autumn 2016 will bring back the tourists if there is stability on the political front and not further agitation by the Madhesis.

But what of the reconstruction process?




One year later the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) is sitting with $4 billion dollars of aid to distribute to the people but due to the lack of proper infrastructure and systems for distribution these funds remain locked. In fact, after the Government announced relief schemes,  the number of those claiming to have lost their homes shot up from about 5.70 lac houses to around 7.70 lac houses and the NRA was called upon to  verify the data once more, further setting back the recovery timeline.

The villagers had also been promised Rs 2 lacs each to rebuild their homes in earthquake proof designs – none of this money has reached them either as no design has been approved by the Government. But in actual fact the cost of an earthquake proof house would be to the tune of Rs 5 lac at least so where will the rest of the money come from?

The prototype at Kaule almost completed
Various aid agencies have been rebuilding earthquake proof prototypes in different villages and have been applying to the DUDBC (Department of Urban Development and Building) for approval of the designs.

Building the roof of the prototype at Kaule
 As a part of South Col Nepal Earthquake Support we have supported the building of one such prototype (www.thekauleprototype.blogspot.com) with indigenous materials in Kaule village, Nuwakot district and have also submitted the design for approval.

Detailed drawings submitted to DUDBC for approval
As typical for most of the people in Nepal, the villagers wait in hope for their Rs 2 lacs each for re-building their homes. 



Until then as they say in Nepal, ke garne?


Butter lamps, Bodhnath, March 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Annapurna Range from the North and South


The south side of the Annapurnas on top as photographed from a flight above Pokhara town and the north side below photographed from the Kang La Pass (5320 metres) - click to enlarge

On my last trek to the valleys of Nar and Phu in Nepal, I crossed the Kang la Pass ( 5320 metres) and descended into the Manang valley to join the famed Annapurna circuit route. On that sunny morning, I had a dress circle view of the Annapurna peaks from the northern side. I shot a panorama of the view and later on compared it to the view from the south which most of us are familiar with. The two views are given above for comparison.

The post below covers some of these great mountains and their first ascents. The data is courtesy the data base of Elizabeth Hawley.

1960 Dhaulagiri 8167m / 26,795ft
Expedition: Swiss / International
Leaders: Eiselin & Forrer
Summiteers: Dienberger, Diener, Schelbert, Vaucher, Weber, Sherpas ND & ND

Dhaulagiri Poon Hill View

1964 Annapurna South 7219m / 23,684ft
Expedition: Japanese
Leaders: Higuchi & Uyeo
Summiteers: Sherpa MT

1950 Annapurna I 8091m / 26,545ft
Expedition: French
Leaders: Herzog
Summiteers: Herzog, Lachenal

Annapurna I from the south - this was not the route climbed by Herzog in 1950 but by Bonington's team  in 1970

1962 Mardi Himal 5587m / 18,330ft
Expedition: British
Leaders: JOM Roberts
Summiteers: Sherpas AT, TN

1964 Machhapuchhare 6993m / 22,943ft
Expedition: British
JOM Roberts, attempt. Did not summit, got to within 20m of summit and turned back. Mountain now closed to expeditions.

Machhapuchhare from the Annapurna south base camp

1965 Gangapurna 7455m / 24,459ft
Expedition: West German
Leaders: Hauser & Greissl
Summiteers: Ehlers, Ekkerlein, Kollensperger, Reismueller, Seibold,
Wuensche, Sherpas - AT, PN & PD

1961 Annapurna III 7555m / 24,787ft
Expedition: Indian
Leaders: Kohli
Summiteers: Gyatso & Sherpa GS

 1955 Annapurna IV 7525m / 24,688ft
Expedition: West German
Leaders: Steinmetz
Summiteers: Biller & Wellenkamp

1960 Annapurna II 7937m / 26,041ft
Expedition: British
Leaders: JOM Roberts
Summiteers: Bonnington, Grant & Sherpa AN

1974 Lamjung Himal 6983m / 22,910ft
Expedition: British
Leaders: Burgess
Summiteers: Chamberlain, Isherwood, Neame & Scott



View 300 metres below Kang La including Dhaulagiri and the Chulu peaks - click to enlarge

1956 Manaslu 8163m / 26,781ft
Expedition: Japanese
Leaders: Maki
Summiteers: Higeta, Imanishi, Kato & Sherpa GN

1960 Himalchuli 7893m / 25,896ft
Expedition: Japanese
Leaders: Yamada & Miyashita
Summiteers: Harada, Nakazawa & Tanabe

1960 Baudha 6672m / 21,890ft
Expedition: Japanese
Leaders: Iso
Summiteers: Kobayashi & Shibata

South Col Expeditions treks every year in the Annapurna Hmal. Join us!



Sunday, April 10, 2016

Markha Valley Trek | Ladakh | July 15th to 24th 2016


South Col Expeditions will once again be trekking the beautiful Markha Valley in Ladakh from July 15th to 24th 2016. The details and schedule of the trek is below:

Day 01 Delhi to Leh  
We take the  spectacular one hour flight over the Himalayas to Leh. Be prepared to sit on the left hand window seat for the best views. The rest of the day is spent acclimatizing in Leh.
Day 02 Acclimatization day in and around Leh
We take the opportunity to visit some of the splendid monasteries in and around Leh like Shey, Thikse, Hemis etc.
Day 03 Leh to Chilling by road and then walk to Skiu 3400m (4 hours)
We leave Leh in the morning after an early breakfast and then drive to Chilling in around  two and a half hours. We meet our pony man and support team in Chilling.  From Chilling we start our four hour walk to Skiu  and reach by later afternoon.
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Day 04   Skiu to Tunespa 3600 m ( 4 hours)  
The trail is mostly flat following the Markha river. After around three hours the trail crosses a bridge and then traverses some steep slopes before entering the hamlet of Chaluk. From Chaluk there is a short walk to Tunespa which is small village with cultivated fields. 
 Day 05 Tunespa to Markha 3700 meters 3 hours and then Markha to Hankar 3900 metres 3 hours 
The trail from Tunespa climbs up to some chortens from where there is a good view of the valley. It continues to follow the river until it enters Markha where we have lunch. From Markha it is a gentle climb past Umlung to Hankar where we stop for the night.
Day 06  Hankar to Tahungtse 4150 metres 3 hours   and the  Tahungtse to the Tea Tent (lake) 3 hoursFrom Hankar the trail climbs to reach the walled pastures of Tahungtse. We stop for an early lunch here and then proceed after lunch to reach the small tarn with excellent mountain views. There is a small tea tent here in season for refreshments

 Day 07   Tea Tent to Nimaling ( 4720 meters) 2 hours uphill  
The  trail climbs to Nimaling which is a large valley where yaks, sheep and goats are grazed by the villagers of Markha. We do a short day to Nimaling as the next day has a pass crossing and a stiff downhill! It is beautiful campsite but can often be cold and windy!

Day 08 Nimaling to Kongmaru La 5100 meters 2 hours and then down to Chukirmo 4050 meters four hours
The trail then climbs to the pass of Kongmaru La from where there are good views over the Zanskar mountains and the peak of Kang Yaze. From the pass the trail drops steeply for about 1000 metres to the settlement of Chukirmo where we camp for the night.
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Day 09  Chukirmo to Shang Sumdo 31/2 hours and then drive to Leh two hours
The trail continues to drop but more gradually now to  Chogdo and then passes a school and finally enters Shang Sumdo. We have our packed lunch in Shang Sumdo and then drive  back to Leh.
Day 10   Leh to Delhi
We can avail the morning flight from Leh to Delhi and be back in civilization in an hour!  In case you wish to stay on in Leh further please do inform us for hotel bookings and onward reservations.
For a detailed pdf of this trek please email sujoyrdas@gmail.com.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Everest Region in Black and White


Ama Dablam and Kangtega on the trail from Dingboche to Dugla

Thamserku from Luza on the Gokyo trail

Setting moon behind Kwangde, Namche Bazar

Pumori and Kala Pattar

Everest

Thamserku on the Gokyo trail

The Scott Fischer memorial above Dugla

Kangtega and Thamserku last light from the lodges of Kyanjuma

Join South Col Expeditions on the Everest trek in October 2016.  For details do visit
http://www.southcol.com/treks-nepal/the-everest-trek-to-kala-pattar/

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Moods of Macchapuchhare

One the trekking trail near the village of Dhampus

The Fishtail Mountain of Nepal Macchapuchhare has not been climbed. Attempted in 1962 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts,  the climbers failed to make the summit. Soon after the Nepal Government put the mountain "out of bounds" and no further expeditions were permitted.

I first saw the mountains of the Nepal Himalaya from the lawns of the Crystal Hotel in Pokhara. It was December 1978 and in the grey light of a chilly dawn with my first and new SLR camera, I attempted to take some photographs. The garden was full of red poinsettia blossoms but in the pre-dawn light they looked dark crimson, almost black. And then behind them in that half light, there was the Fishtail mountain, Machhapuchhare, her razor sharp ridges slicing the inky blue sky.  Next  to her impossibly high were the Annapurnas and to the west peeking over the lower hills was Dhaulagiri. I have seen variations of this Himalayan vision in different incarnations all through the years, and it never fails to arouse a feeling of awe and amazement each and every time.

This essay shows the some of the moods of this iconic mountain:

Winter sunset Pothana

Unexpected spring snowfall Annapurna Base Camp

Telephoto close up near Doban on the ABC trek

On the trail between Upper Sinuwa and Bamboo

Dusk Annapurna Base Camp

Moon rise Macchpaucchare base camp

For views like these join any of our Annapurna, Mustang, Poon Hill trek this year!

Visit http://www.southcol.com/treks-nepal/ for more information.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Kaule Prototype Project in Nuwakot District Nepal



As many of you know South Col Expeditions Earthquake Support  has been working with a dedicated team on building a prototype house in Kaule  village in Nuwakot district Nepal using eco friendly materials and local labour. The idea is to train the villagers in using local materials and techniques so that they can build their own houses in future.

The upto date  details of this project can be found at  http://thekauleprototype.blogspot.in

Some recent photographs of the work going on in the village is below:








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