Friday, May 18, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 1

Another early start, though not as bad as yesterday. We left he hotel at 6:30am and headed for the start of our trek at the village of Manebhanjan at 2,150m. Paras, our travel agent, had thoughtfully arranged for the Viceroy hotel in Darjeeling to hold on to most of our luggage, so we set off with a small rucksack full of gadgets, and a larger one with our clothes. Once at Manebhanjan I had to fill in some forms, and buy permits for our still and video cameras. For once I am charged the local Indian rate on account of my PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card, although one of the officials mentions that I don't look very Indian!

After a breakfast of meat momos, exactly which meat was never determined, we head off up the hill. It's a long and steep climb to the ridge, and San discovers that she doesn't like uphill that much. We are following an unmetalled road through the forest. Occasionally a stepped footpath can be used as a shortcut letting us miss a few hairpins. The downside of course is that the direct route is steeper yet. A couple of hours later we reach the ridge, and the India Nepal border. There is a low fence and a stone marking the boundary. There is no passport control as we go through a gate in the fence, and head off through the mist to a monastery. We are served tea and biscuits inside one of the monastery buildings - very civilised!

Our break over we head off along the ridge. It is still misty, but the gradient is much reduced to San's relief. John is with us again, and we have another guide, Kumar, for the trek. They are carrying our backpacks and the food supplies. Our backpack is quite light, so John marches ahead. Kumar is laden down with supplies, so heads up the rear. By late morning we pass a small village. John was there first of course, but Kumar has passed us too, and they have laid out some fruit, juice and chocolate. We take a rest and eat what has been provided. Then it is time to press on. We pass a vintage Land Rover that is parked in the village. We have seen a few of them today. Interesting that these old machines are preferred to the local 4x4s when the going gets really tough. There is less mist than earlier, but little in the way of views. John is quickly ahead of us, and invisible in the fog. Fortunately he writes his name in the ground with an arrow showing what direction he is heading at frequent intervals.

Today we are heading for Tumling at an altitude of 3,000m. Before we get there we have lunch at another village. The Nepali proprietor is asking a couple of Italians where they are from. He then asks if they can speak French. When they admit to some knowledge he starts talking to them. His French is better than theirs, so the conversation does not go far. After lunch we have a few more kilometres to cover before heading in for the night. Once we arrive we are shown our room and have a rest. Almost immediately we hear thunder, and the heavens open. We are lucky not to be drenched! Less lucky are the next party to arrive. They are French, so I hope they had a chat with the restaurant owner in the previous village. We leave our room and sit in the main building's living room. It is cold so we are around the fire, along with the drying clothes of the French party. As the sun sets, the French party's guide announces that the mountains are visible. We head out and walk to the top of the ridge, and we can see that the recent storm has cleared the air. Kanchenjunga is visible looking one way, whilst we can see quite some distance into Nepal when we look in the opposite direction.

The light is now failing so we head back to the warm fire. We read books to pass the time, and eventually we have our dinner. It's pretty basic rations, but we're hungry and eat up. We then have to head outside and to the accommodation building. It is very dark, and the clouds are still broken. Venus shines as bright as a diamond.



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