Friday, December 19, 2014

The Langtang Valley Trek by Karuna Parikh

Karun Ezara Parikh trekked the Langtang Valley in Nepal with South Col Expeditions in December 2014. In this evocative guest  post Karuna recalls her experiences in this beautiful valley.




The last time I went on a trek I was too young to understand the magnificence and privilege it brought with it. I loved the peaks in their powder white perfection and the adventure of being higher than anyone else…the Tent Chronicles and loo sagas, the campfires and ghost tales. But the significance, I suspect escaped me. Ever since, aware of the missed moment, I have attempted so often to recreate the situation, but have found myself on road trips to the foothills or a similar sort of visit instead. This year as cruel December crept in, I finally, eight years later, had my chance to redeem that gift voucher from the gods.

The Lang Tang Valley lies in North Nepal, one range shy of Tibet. I’d never heard the name up until Sujoy Das of South Col. Expeditions sent out a group mail suggesting a trek to the area. Sick of having to cancel various treks over the years due to work, illness, bereavements and so forth, I signed up, paid, and swore to myself I would go no matter what. And voila! I did. It’s an attractive trek…only eight days long, not too ungentle on the knees, and full of glorious sights involving very little boot-in-snow action. You’re essentially walking the entire valley alongside the river, which changes from gentle stream to fierce gushing ice water as you traverse up the valley, closer and closer to the source. The trek allows you such varied views of the landscape, you’ll find it hard to believe your Day 4 and Day 1 images were taken only half a week apart.

When you begin walking from start point Syabrubesi (it’s a tongue twister that’ll be rolling out your mouth neatly by the last day), it’s through forests sporting tall bamboo, leafy green plants, trees on the edge of autumn and the obvious evergreens, strong gentlemen, the army men of the forest. The enchanted woods are full of birch and blossoms, pale minute blue butterflies and shaded areas. Everything  is magic and you can almost hear the fairies shake webs of their wings and giggle behind berries. There are places you stop on the mossy path and imagine Aragorn riding down on one of the many fluffy white mares you’ve walked past, catching the sun in their manes like warmth saved up for later. Then you begin walking upward…and mind you upward really is upward (Days 1 and 2 are serious gluteus-maximus improvement). 



As you walk, the terrain begins its gradual transition from forested to fall. You’re so close to Tibet you can taste the culture changing. In the faces you pass, the languages you hear, the religious relics you walk past…and all of it is heartening. The tiny paths that weave through the valley become strewn with the crunch of auburn leaves. Everything is copper tinted and dry and looks like it may catch fire if left in the sunset too long. But night falls too fast each day, and as the clouds rise like ghosts over the valley we watch the moon as it rises crisp on the other side, over the peaks, waxing as we walk further and further up paths that have succumbed to no vehicle. That’s the really magical thing about trekking…that there’s a point where you pause and look around and you are exhausted and your feet ache and your back hurts and you can’t recall what a cappuccino tastes like or if you’ve ever really had one at all, and you wonder when you’ll be able to wash your hair again, but you also take note of the fact that it was nothing but your feet that brought you thus far. Your feet propelled by your spirit. And nothing else could have done that. No bicycle could mount those ancient steps of stone, no car so slim has been invented for those edges. Your pocket couldn’t afford the helicopter and your boyfriend’s big bike would be rendered useless by this cold. Nothing but your feet could have brought you here, and when you marvel at that fact, the two tiny captains wiggle proudly in their bruised and dusty trekking shoes and no longer feel any pain. And at night you lie there in your sleeping bag, temporarily a caterpillar, and you listen to the sound in the far off distance and think “Gosh that highway sounds awfully close…” until you realize it’s the waterfall and you can hear it so loud and clear because you are one of only twenty people for as far as you can walk.

The “hardships” of trekking are only as troublesome as you are troubled. Yes it’s December and it’s cold and the wind will shred tiny cuts in your lips and the sun will love you so hard you will burn, but for every frozen over water pipe and lamp-less shared toilet there’s a Tibetan boy’s guitar lying idle in a corner…a peak that turns rose tinted just before dark and a chocolate pancake you could have sworn was made in France. These moments, they’re what you come back with…not the bedbugs and sweat nor the blisters and broken nails, but the memory of sitting out on a makeshift bench, the wind whipping the little parts of you you’ve left exposed, your eyes glued to the dark silhouette of a mountain, an almost-alien glow growing stronger by the minute behind it. And then there she is…the first shard of moonlight explodes upon the valley and the goddess rises, full, illuminating everything within and without. In her glory the peaks shine silver and your heart turns to gold. 



It’s humbling, to say the least. To remember your own smallness, in the face of such greatness. Those mountains that have sat from the beginning of time sit serene and somber, and you feel almost doubtlessly that they’re the abode of the gods. It’s no surprise then why over the centuries god-men have turned to the mountains and the mountains have turned ordinary men to God. Because trekking and spirituality aren’t that different. Technically, you leave behind your materialistic desires and take nothing with you save the clothes on your back. Whatever food you receive you are grateful for, and you spend up to nine hours a day in silence, often alone, focusing on nothing but the next step and the vastness of the universe. There’s no other place on the planet where I, a one-time cynic, have felt the presence of a higher governing force more. So very close to the stars, there’s little else that seems important enough to ponder. Lost in the Himalayas is where I’ve had the most peaceful thought of my life….that if I should go now, I would go happy. And therein for me lies proof that those mountains are the closest to Heaven we’ll get on this Earth.


Schedule for the LT Valley Trek:
Day 1: Kathmandu to Syabrubesi by bus
Day 2: Syabrubesi to Lama Hotel Village
Day 3: Lama Hotel Village to Lang Tang Village
Day 4: Trek to the Lang Tang Monastery and back to the village
Day 5: Lang Tang Village to Kyanjin Gompa + summit Kyanjin Ri for views of the entire Lang Tang Range behind which lies Tibet
Day 6: Kyanjin Gompa to Lang Tang Village
Day 7: Lang Tang Village to Upper Rimchhe
Day 8: Rimchhe to Syabrubesi
Day 9: Drive back to Kathmandu

Tips:
-Choose a good time of the year. Everyone balked at my December plans but the skies were so blue I’ve had to actually de-saturate some photos to make them more convincing! December is dry, clear skied and relatively empty as trekking season is technically over. Only drawback is finding places to stay and food options.
-Carry sunblock and drink enough water. Altitude sickness is a very real thing that affects almost everyone if the right care isn’t taken.
-Carry enough snacks of your own. Nuts, fruit, chocolate, energy bars.
-Carry as little as possible. You’ll find one t shirt easily lasts you three days on a trek.
-If you take sherpas or porters with you, don’t treat them as your servants for chrissake.
-Don’t litter.
-And finally, go with a company and group that do treks well. The experience is easily ruined if you’re trekking with folk who aren’t similar minded or if you’re with a group that chooses to cuts corners on small but essential things. I used South Col. Expeditions and was overjoyed with the results to the point where I’ve pretty much put my name down for treks with them up until November 2016! You can check them out here – www.southcol.com 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Mountains of the Zemu Valley, North Sikkim

A South Col Expeditions team trekked the Zemu Valley and the Green Lakes Kangchenjunga base camp in October-November 2014. The spectacular valley has an array of impressive peaks both named and unnamed and possibly some still to be climbed! Here is a black and white essay on some of the peaks of the valley.

Kangchenjunga north east spur and face from the Green Lake plain
Twins on the left and Nepal Peak in front 
Siniolchu from Rest Camp 4450m
Simvu (left). the Zemu Gap and Kangchenjunga (right)
Langpo peak to the north west of Kangchenjunga

Unnamed peaks east of Simvu





Thursday, December 4, 2014

Trekking Stores in Gangtok: Climate Zone



On my recent visit to Gangtok en route to the South Col trek to Green Lakes in North Sikkim, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of new trekking stores in the town.  One of them, I visited, Climate Zone, located on Tibet Road was well stocked and had a very pleasant owner Tashi Namgyal.

Tashi has been sourcing equipment from Kathmandu, the mecca of cheap trekking equipment and also from Wildcraft in India. He has a fairly good collection of sleeping bags, jackets, backpacks, boots etc.


I also found that he was stocking original Petzl headlamps from the US as well as Nalgene water bottles.


Tashi can be reached at 08116800921/03592-201220 and his store is open from 9.30 am to 8 pm Monday to Saturday.(karmaclizo@yahoo.com)


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Apple Orchard, Lachen



On a recent visit to Lachen in North Sikkim, I had the good fortune of spending one night at the Apple Orchard Resort. Situated high above the town, near the monastery the resort is the best place and location to stay in Lachen.

Beautifully done up rooms, large and spacious with wood paneling fits in well with the decor of the region.

Every attention has been given to small details like tea and coffee machines in the room, abundant hot water, heaters for the cold and a lot more.


Contact
www.theappleorchardresort.com
Phones +91 94748 37640 
Tripadvisor reviews
http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g1787696-d1785126-Reviews-Apple_Orchard_Resort-Lachen_Sikkim.html#REVIEWS

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Green Lakes, North Sikkim: Kangchenjunga 1987 and 2014

The photograph on the left was taken in May 1987 and the one of the right in November 2014 from more or less the same location. The lake is now dry and the red line in both photos show how the angle of the moraine of the glacier has also changed.
In the summer of 1987, I was fortunate to join an Assam Rifles expedition to Kanchenjunga led my Major General Kukreti. I was very keen to reach Green Lakes the base camp of the expedition in the Zemu Valley.

So finally in May 1987, I made it to Green Lakes and spend a few days with the expedition, photographing in and around this fascinating valley.

At that time, I decided that I would one day bring a team of trekkers to the Zemu Valley to see this fabulous dress circle of peaks.

It took me twenty seven years to realise my dream. Finally, on 3rd November 2014, our team of seven trekkers reached the Green Lakes base camp on a sunny afternoon.

I walked up to the spot where I had photographed the reflection of Kanchenjunga in the waters of the lake. To my shock I found that the lake had dried up! Where I had seen an expansive sheet of water was now a rocky mud flat!

This was the first time in my life that I had been actually exposed to retreating glaciers and the effects of climate change first hand.

It was a very sobering experience. Other than a small muddy pool there is no water left at Green Lakes.

It is possible that this pool will also soon dry up and then the last water source will have vanished ending the possibility of camping there.

It will also make it very difficult for future mountaineering expeditions who use Green Lakes as a base camp for climbing different peaks in the valley.

The photograph below taken from a high point above the Green Lakes base camp shows the dried up Green Lake and the muddy pool to the left. The peaks are to the east of Kangchenjunga and the Zemu Glacier is below.



Monday, November 10, 2014

Nalanda

The world heritage site of Nalanda is located around 12 km from the town of Rajgir in Bihar. This famous university flourished during the 5th to 12th century AD attracting scholars from all around the world.

Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire as well as emperors like Harsha and later, the rulers of the Pala Empire. At its peak, the school attracted scholars and students from as far away as TibetChinaKorea, and Central Asia  It was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Muslim Mamluk Dynasty under Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1197.

Some photographs from the present site of Nalanda are below: 












Monday, November 3, 2014

KIrti Guest House: Bodh Gaya

The lobby of Kirti Guest House

Bodh Gaya has a large number of top flight hotels as well as guest houses so it is hard to make a choice. I stayed at the Kirti Guest House for a few days this month and it is possibly one of the nicest mid range guest houses in the town located a stone's throw away from the Mahabodhi Temple.

Owned by a Tibetan T.Namdol and run by the smiling and friendly Dorji, the guest house has five floors. The rooms on the upper two floors have large balconies with sit outs and a roof top garden  and is the perfect place to have your cup of morning tea or just chill out with a book.

The entrance of Kirti Guest House
The new rooms on the upper floors are spotless with clean bathrooms. Some of the rooms on the lower floors have air conditioning but can be a bit dark so opt for the rooms on the fourth and fifth floors if you can!

The fifth floor rooms in Kirti Guest House
The only drawback is the restaurant is not functioning so you need to go out for meals.

Kirti also caters to large foreign groups - there was a Sri Lankan group occupying twenty rooms when we were there!
The roof top garden and balcony on the fifth floor
To contact the guest house call 91-631-2200744 or email kirtiguesthouse744@yahoo.com

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

9 Tips for Trekkers Dreaming of the Himalaya




Very useful information for trekkers heading to the Himalaya from a seasoned "pro" and expedition leader Adrian Ballinger- read about it in the link below:

9 Tips for Trekkers Dreaming of the Himalaya

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