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September 8, 2009

From the Hotel Thamel, Kathmandu

We are staying here for two nights in the hope of starting our trek to Kala Pattar tomorrow by means of an early morning flight to Lukla. This "mountain" is really a shoulder peak of the much higher Pumori, but it has the immense allure of sensational views without the need for technical climbing. At 5545m (18,190ft) it's only about 200m higher than Base Camp, but (unlike Base Camp) it gives (when clear) an amazing view of Everest's summit, as well as several other 8000+ mountains.

Our departure is far from certain because it’s too early in September to count on the weather and Lukla boasts the world’s shortest, steepest runway so there is no room for error even in good conditions. However, we are booked on the 0700 flight and will wait out the day at Kathmandu airport if need be. Let us hope that tomorrow’s date – 9.9.9 – proves auspicious.

The hotel is in central Thamel, the busiest part of the city centre. This morning we walked up the huge flight of steps (the eastern stairway) to the Buddhist temple at Swayambhunath (the monkey temple). Its hilltop position is impressive, although the thick smog over the city marred the view. Winter or early morning would be much clearer. Sadly the all-seeing eyes of the Buddha were missing because it’s undergoing restoration. But our guide Phurba was there today, and he’s coming on trek, so it was great to meet him. (Phurba means Friday, and like most Nepalis he is called after his birthday.)

We dined tonight at the famous Rum Doodle bar, which is just around the corner. I came back to find that despite the power cuts, my wi-fi still works from my hotel room, so I seized the chance to catch up with my blog. This entry was written after we’d been issued with kit bags and told to sort out kit for 4.45 am tomorrow. It’s after 10pm here (bizarrely, we are 4.75 hours ahead of BST). However in the pitch-dark bathroom, temperature control was tricky during the power cut, so now I’m waiting for the water to cool down enough to enjoy.

Anyway, the laptop isn’t coming on trek with me. Blogging and emailing get harder as you climb higher: it isn’t just the dicey power supplies, unreliable hardware, vagaries of satellite position and need to co-ordinate the trek itinerary with solar power, it’s also the fact that there never seems to be as much spare time or energy as you expect when you first see the itinerary. And being away from computers is, for me, part of the appeal of trekking.

September 26, 2009

On return to Kathmandu

Sadly the 9.9.9 date turned out to be inauspicious: we waited 6 hours at the airport that day before it became 100% clear that no planes were leaving for Lukla. Fortunately the next day we got away, so our trek began only one day late. Mine ended only yesterday when I arrived back at Hotel Thamel after a strenuous fortnight.

The first thing I did (after checking emails, of course) was to enjoy my first shower for 15 days. If you’ve never trekked, it’s hard to imagine how much you will relish the luxury of an inside flush toilet, running water and freely recharging batteries. (The last place I checked prices on trek cost R300 (nearly GBP3) per hour for charging, so I was glad of my two spare Lumix G1 batteries.)

Between 10 and 19 September the group trekked from Lukla to Lobuje via Namche Bazaar. We left Lobuje on 19.9 at 3 am for an early breakfast in Gorak Shep, then all climbed Kala Pattar (5545m/18,190ft) which gives splendid views over Everest, Nupstse and the Khumbu Glacier: the photo shows Base Camp at lower left, beneath Changtse, with Everest's summit a dark triangle at upper right:

Everest.jpg

Next day, I diverged to trek “alone” (in fact, with guide Phurba and porter Govinder) for a further six days. While the group returned to Kathmandu, I trekked past the Chola Glacier and its lake, toward Dzonghla:

Cholatse.jpg

Next day I crossed the Cho La pass (5370m/17,620ft), a stiff climb followed by an even tougher rock-hopping, knee-wrenching descent. Later I crossed the Ngozumpa Glacier (Nepal’s longest) to the lakeside “resort” of Gokyo, and climbed Gokyo Ri (5360m/17,585ft) the following afternoon. We waited in thick cloud at the summit about "sunset", hoping for the clouds to lift, but sadly we caught only glimpses of Everest, Makalu and Cho Oyu. Our descent finished in darkness, on challenging terrain. Here's a shot of the lovely turquoise lake that Gokyo overlooks:

GokyoLake.jpg

The next two days demanded over 42 km/26 mi of “descent” (in fact, on undulating terrain) to Lukla – including 300m of vertical ascent to the Mong La (pass) before the descent to Namche. So that was another two early starts and two long days before the final bid to catch the 0730 Lukla flight. It’s now about 5 weeks since I have slept later than 0530, and although I didn't need to get up this morning, my internal alarm went off regardless. So I’ve started the huge project of weeding and captioning over 1000 photos, some of which should end up in the guidebook that eventually will result. For a break, I walked to Durbar Square (which was heaving with people because of the Hindu festival of Dashain). Now I’m really looking forward to starting the long journey home tomorrow. I can’t wait to catch up with husband, family, friends and Bramble.

June 26, 2015

Disaster and resilience in Nepal

Since 25 April when the first earthquake flattened large parts of Kathmandu and surrounding areas, Nepal has been devastated. The media frenzy focused at first on the mounting death toll (now thought to be well over 8500), and then on the second quake east of Kathmandu. On Everest, 18 climbers were killed when avalanches stormed through Base Camp as a result of the quakes.

Tom2.jpg

In Monday's Panorama programme, Disaster on Everest, Tom Martienssen brought all this to life: watch it on iPlayer here. (I've watched it twice already, and will return to watch again.) He speaks of how his reporter's "dream job" of covering the Gurkha team's attempt on the summit turned to nightmare: they were stranded at Camp 1 with avalanches above and below, with food and fuel running out, all thoughts of the summit overtaken by the need to survive.

After returning to the devastated Base Camp, he is lucky enough to be rescued by helicopter, and returns to Kathmandu where refugees who are barely subsisting in tents insist on giving him food. Bravely, he goes to meet the widows and children of the sherpas who died at Base Camp supporting the Gurkha team including himself. His interviews seem unscripted, sensitively filmed and are very moving. At times, he is lost for words.

He joins a lorry with relief supplies on a gruelling 48-hour journey, with many punctures, to villages such as Priti whose remoteness has made them hard to reach with help. He meets villagers rebuilding their road, literally with their bare hands, stone by stone.

roadhands.jpg

Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, and its lack of infrastructure and hand-made buildings are making the efforts to rebuild painfully more difficult. In a country where education is vital, more than 1 million pupils have had their classrooms wrecked. After the initial shock, grief and horror, in Martienssen's words, "for those left behind the struggle to rebuild their country is only just beginning". The Nepalis are bravely setting about reconstruction and trying to restore normality to shattered lives. Their resilience and generosity is overwhelming.

Worldwide, many people donated when the earthquake first struck, but once the media lose interest it would be too easy for Nepal to be forgotten. It's great that the BMC has created an eBay auction in aid of Community Action Nepal, Doug Scott's charity. There's a celebrity-laden set of prizes ranging from a Lakeland walk with Chris Bonington and Doug Scott to having tea with Michael Palin. The eBay bidding opens on 28 June and will be followed by a second auction starting on 2 July. Read more about it here.

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