Trip Report: Trekking Nepal and Tibet
A Trip report from 2011 by Down Wind Sports Owner Bill Thompson
It's not the way you're suppose to plan a major trip nor the way I would suggest, but........ it worked for me. I had planned for over a year on taking a group to travel to Nepal and Tibet with the end goal of visiting the Dickey Orphanage in Lhasa Tibet, to donate money that was collected from generous donors over the past three years. My problem was that no one committed to joining me on this adventure!
CHANGE OF PLANS
Busy with sea kayak symposiums all summer put my trip on the back burner and it wasn't until the end of August that my thoughts turned back towards the Himalaya's. So the way not to plan a trip is to decide on Sunday that I was going, book the frequent flyer miles on Monday, pack a small day pack on Tuesday and depart on Thursday...but it is what I did. It had all of the makings of a trip that was a logistical nightmare including 5 different flights on three different airlines.
THE GOOD KARMA TOUR
Maybe it was the brand new People Magazine describing the recent Kardashian wedding on the flight to Detroit, or the brand new Detroit Freepress left for me on the plane to London, or it could have been the fact that on the flights to New Dehli and Kathmandu I had the entire row of seats to myself....but it seemed like I was cashing in my karma way too soon!
Arriving in Nepal one is immediately thrusted into the chaotic world of Kathmandu. With horns blaring and cars and motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic with no apparent rules of the road it amazes me that not once have I ever witnessed any form of road rage - just organized chaos! I made my way to the Kathmandu Clubhouse, which I found through my affiliation with the American Alpine Club. The home features several bedrooms with multiple single beds in each room. The bathroom is shared and the house offers free internet access. The clubhouse provides the perfect setting as it offers a quite, relaxed atmosphere with internet and hot tea- ideal for expedition logistics! The staff at the clubhouse was unbelievably friendly and hospitable and prepared traditional Nepali meals twice a day. My Nepali “sisters” danced around the house signing Nepali songs and were quick to whip up my favorite meal- dal bhat! Did I mention all of this special service runs $15.00 per day for AAC members! It was by far the best deal in all of Nepal!
TAMANG HERITAGE TREK
Himalayan High Treks based out of SanFransico and Three Jewels Adventures in Kathmandu are 2 organizations that I have worked with over the years and have proven invaluable to me. I like working with them as I am one of those guys that likes to do it my way...and they are very accommodating. I tell them what I want to do and they make sure that it happens! Originally I had planned on doing a trek up in the Everest region but due to budget restraints I had to alter plans and find a suitable trek. Effie from HHT and Amber from Three Jewels worked together and put together the perfect option for me: The Tamang Heritage Trek. The trek is a recently opened trekking route in Langtang region North West of Kathmandu on the Nepal / Tibet boarder. Previously a restricted area, the Tamang Heritage Trekking Trail opened for trekking in 2004, and offers a unique glance of the Himalayan life style and culture. Back in 1855 Nepal, fought with Tibet for salt and some of the biggest areas where this war took place is in the Langtang Region of Nepal, wherein lies the trekking trail. It seems like not much has changed in this area as very few tourists visit....perfect for exploring and immersing in this beautiful culture.
Ambar and I embarked on our trek by boarding a public bus for LONG 7 hour bus ride to Shyaphru. The bus was jammed with locals looking to get back home to the mountains and it was real common for them to transport their goods, produce and animals along with all of us passengers. It certainly wasn't a place for someone that might be a bit claustrophobic and it was quite common to have folks practically laying on top of you as the bus rocketed through the narrow streets and along the mountain tops. This bus ride was by far the most dangerous part of my trip and it was not very comforting coming around a switchback and gazing across the other side to see a burned out shell of a bus teetering on the side of the mountain. I was burning through all of my good karma with each switchback we climbed! The further we drove into the mountains the more deteriorated the road became. Actually the road was more of a path which was being washed away with the daily monsoon rains. Several landslides blocked the road in which we had to leave the bus and count on the fearless driver to get the bus across to the other side!
Gatlang set high on a hillside among terraced fields is a Tamang settlement and was the first stop along our Tamang Heritage Trek. It is an idyllic village of traditional stone houses with it residents living much like their ancestors did over a hundred years ago. After the long and hot day we settled into our guest house and enjoyed a well deserved meal of dal bhat and hot tea cooked over a wood stove. Dal Bhat is a traditional Nepali staple dish which is essentially rice (bhat) and lentil soup (dal), and is served daily in almost 100% of the homes in Nepal! Our evenings dal bhat was also served with delicious curried potatoes and a green vegetable similar to spinach. Exhausted I retired to bed early with the sound of a baby crying "Ama, Ama, Ama" which is the Nepali word for mother.
Our days consisted of trekking through beautiful landscapes of rice paddies and corn fields, alpine terrain, flat meadows, and rhododendrons forests. Each night we arrived in small villages and located a guest houses where the local family would prepare us delicious Nepali meals. Our evenings were spent drinking endless cups of milk or salt tea and discovering the different "stories" of the village and the families we stayed with.
August is the end of the monsoon season in Nepal and a couple days into the trek I was seriously considering that I may have miss calculated the amount of shirts needed on this trip! By the end of each day I was completely soaked with sweat and it was impossible to dry anything due to the high humidity. Each evening I hung clothing to dry and even though my pack only weighed 11 pounds was cursing the fact that I brought a down jacket!
Tatopani means "hot water" in Nepali, and this village perched high along the ridge top is blessed with a natural hot spring that draws locals from as far away as Kathmandu to bath in it's waters. The village being a "destination" still holds on to it's traditions and culture and while exploring the village we were fascinated when we discovered an old woman utilizing a traditional method of weaving. The sticks she was weaving with were polished from years of use and it was heartening to see her passing on this valuable skill to her daughter.
It's no secret that I love children and I was surprised that the village of Tatopani was loaded with them! I spent one glorious evening introducing the kids to the game of frisbee , and with no shared language between us it wasn't long before I had every child in the village running, laughing and masters of the frisbee! We continued until it was too dark to see and then I donated the Pocket Disk to the group and being completely worn out and satisfied with my play time, I retired to the kitchen for a warm cup of milk tea.
From Tatopani we walked through dense rhododendron forests, caught glimpses of Grey Langur monkeys, and then gained a ridge until we popped above the treeline. All day the clouds were moving in and out and offered us quick glimpses of the Langtang mountain range. Situated on the ridge, Brimdang is a small village, 3 homes and a monastery, that offered shelter from the light rain that was starting to move in. Our host, seemed glad to see us as he and his two small children were the only residents currently in Brimdang! Brimdang proved to be the perfect stop over to view the spectacular Himalayan peaks including Langtang Lirung at a lofty 7227 meters. The following day we hiked to a higher view point which offered a panoramic view of the range including glimpses of the Nepal Tibetan boarder.
As we cruised across the prairies of the Dakotas on our way home, we couldn’t help laugh about the whole thing. It was a perfect trip. Great adventure, great paddling, great fishing, Everything you could want, and some amazing luck thrown in to make it one we’ll never forget.
"We must get up early to see the Shaman" is what Amber said to me at our guest house in Thuman. We had just finished an amazing dinner which included the best grilled corn I have ever tasted. I didn't have a problem getting up early as I was mesmerized by the locals drumming all night as they were preparing for the upcoming celebration. Shaman translates to "one who knows" and Nepalese shamanism is widely practiced in Nepal. Shamanic traditions comprise the oldest forms of healing and mysticism and in many villages in Nepal, local shamans hold great power and authority and are revered as elders. The Shamans serve as a bridge between the village communities and the spirit worlds consulting about the curing of the sick, leading the community and guiding the souls of the dead. It seems as if my trek had the perfect timing in that the Shaman was preparing to go on a spiritual journey along the same trail we were hiking!
The whole village was alive with excitement as we made our way to the Shamans house. Many villagers were already there offering money and chang, "the nectar of the gods", a Nepalese type of beer, for the Shamans safe journey. We watched in amazement as the villagers were dancing and singing the morning away. I don't know who was more excited, Ambar or I, as this ceremony was not very common. We followed the throng of villagers, a sort of long samba line as they made their way to the local monastery for more singing, dancing, drinking and celebrating. What an amazing way to top off the trek before heading back down the valley to Shyaphru and the dreaded bus ride back to Kathmandu.
Back in Kathmandu I spent the next few days with no set itinerary and cashed in a little more of my good karma! I was very fortunate to have perfectly timed my return to Kathmandu to participate in the Indra Jatra festival. The Indra Jatra is where the Living Goddess Kumari, in all her jeweled splendor travels through the older part of Kathmandu city in a three tiered chariot accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairab each day for three days. The people of Kathmandu celebrate the religious festival remembering Lord Indra, the god of rain. This festival was started by Lichhavi king Gunkamadev and dates back to the year 3822. I was there with 10,000 of my Nepali friends and the scene in Dubar Square was electric as the massive crowd anticipated the appearance of the Kumari. With a giant roar from the crowd a golden chariot rounded the corner and I caught my first glimpse of the living goddess.
In 2008 my family visited the Kopan Monastery and received a special blessing from Lama Lhundrup Rigsel, the abbot of the monastery. It was a very special time for us and one of my fondest memories from that trip as Blake was able to personally meet Lama Lhundrup and receive a very special message from him. With some extra time in Kathmandu I went back to the monastery for a visit with my friend Amber Banjan Tamang and was shocked to find out that Lama Lhundrup Rigsel had passed away two days earlier. The main assembly hall was packed with monks chanting and praying and the entire monastery was buzzing with activity as the monks were preparing for his cremation. We were very fortunate to be able to offer a blessing and kata for Lama Lhundrup Rigsel.
For the past 3 years my family has collected donations for the Dickey Orphanage by presenting slide shows of our previous trips to Tibet and by selling beautiful Tibetan earrings that my wife made. The sole purpose of this trip was to deliver that money to the founder of the Orphanage.
Tamdrin ‘Mama’ Dadhon sold her family business, gathered the proceeds of the tea house and with 300,000 Yuan and a lot of courage started Dickey´s Orphanage in Lhasa, Tibet´s capital, on September 10th 2002. In Tibetan ‘diki’ means ‘fine’ and ‘happiness’ and that is certainly what one finds at the Orphanage. At the moment Dickey´s is home to 72 children, with a majority of the kids ranging from ages 6-9. These kids are very fortunate- they all get lodging, schooling and medical aid. The parents of these children have either died because of illness or accidents or were abandoned because their parents saw no way out of their miserable situation and fled to neighboring countries. At Dickey´s these children are given a chance to a new start in life.
With much anticipation we opened the gates to the Orphanage and looked for the children. Usually bustling with activity, the place seemed almost deserted...in fact is was deserted! We looked around and finally found Tamdrin Dadhon who explained that all but 4 of the kids were off to school! The Orphanage is going through a growth spurt with a new Tibetan style kitchen facility and a new trade school being built on site. The new kitchen is being built as the need for a larger facility- and one that is better suited to withstand earthquakes is desperately needed. Some of the kids who struggle in a traditional school will benefit by having a trade school on site so they will be able to leave the Orphanage with a skill.
After catching up with what has been going on with the Orphanage I was able to meet the 2 newest babies- a 17 day old, and a month and a half old whom had be abandoned in Lhasa. These adorable babies were bundled up and were obviously loved by Tamdrin and the staff at Dickey's oh how I would have loved to bring them home!
Having not seen the majority of the kids I made a return trip the following day to look up some of the kids we had interacted with in the past. This was my 4th trip to the Orphanage over 12 years and its amazing to see how the kids and orphanage have grown- and how hard it is to recognize them! One girl I did recognize was Yanzoom. Three years ago we practiced our English and read a book together on the steps of the Orphanage. She is now 3 years older and at least a foot taller then the last time I saw her!
It's bitter sweet on the last day visiting the kids as I am so grateful to have the ability to visit the kids, but sad that it might be a while before I see them again.
Yangzoom on the right in 2008
Twelve years ago I traveled to Lhasa and was enchanted by it's Tibetan charm....it really was like traveling back in time. The smell of juniper incense burning in the morning, the sight of pilgrims on a kora, and the sounds of monks chanting will be forever burned in my memory. Lhasa has really changed...it's now big city with new cars and buses, Chinese malls have been constructed over traditional Tibetan buildings and the most upsetting part of all- is that it is a full on military occupied city.
As disheartened as I was with the changes to Lhasa, I was lucky enough to escape to the small Tibetan quarter to see some true locals. Tibetans are devout Buddhists and pilgrims from all over Tibet still make their pilgrimages to Lhasa to visit many of the holy sites. One of the advantages of having traveled to Lhasa so many times was that I was able to escape the bustling new city and find the "real" Lhasa.
I spent my days exploring the small Monastery's of Lhasa, people watching and taking in the sights and sounds. What I discovered was that as much as the city as a whole has changed so much, the inside of these places and the way the people worship have not changed in hundreds of years. It is a real testament to how resilient the Tibetans are.
I ended my stay in Lhasa with a visit and dinner with my good friend Mr. Bhuchung. I spent a lot of time with Mr. Bhuchung on a previous visit and it was so good to catch up with him and know that he and his family are doing well.
BACK TO KATHMANDU
Back in Kathmandu and hanging out with my Nepali brothers and sisters, we had just sat down for dinner and that's when I felt it. It was a quick shaking not too bad, but defiantly something I hadn't felt before. When Rajendra and Ekal started running for the door, my rule of "if the locals run- you run" kicked in. It had been raining and we met in the backyard and were joined by the girls standing in the soggy grass. Another minute of shaking, more like several waves went right under us and the power flicked on and off. When it was all said and done I has experienced my first earthquake. The epicenter of the quake was located 90km east of Kathmandu on the Nepal/India border and registered a magnitude 6.8. The quake ended up being a deadly one with 100 people dieing in 3 different countries including 6 in Kathmandu.
Like I said before it was not the way your suppose to plan a major trip nor the way I would suggest but........ it really did work for me! The only way I was able to pull this off was with the help from my friends at Three Jewels Adventures and Himalayan High Treks. Both of these organizations are professional, organized, friendly, and are there to make sure you have a wonderful experience. Like the ad say's I won't leave home without them!