Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Trek Day 2

It was another early start the next day. The cold made it fairly easy to wake up, as we were keen for someway of getting warm. There is no electricity up in the mountains, and no heating. There are some stoves, but they weren't in use. Probably just as well as they can be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning. Getting into bed last night was a challenge. We needed both duvets and blankets, and it was still freezing. You have to sleep close together to stay warm. John came with our tea at 5:30, and an hour later we moved back to the main building for our breakfast. I'm not the greatest fan of breakfast, but was glad to see a warm bowl of porridge on the table.

Heated up, we left at 7:00, and the French party looked like they were ready to follow. The clouds had returned in the night, but once again we were spared any rain. We stopped for some more tea in the next village, and left the faster French party behind, as they stopped for their breakfast. We then started on a downhill stretch which culminated in an army post and checkpoint. By now the French had caught us up once more, and their local guide was very interested in my PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card.

We had gone down as far as we would for the day, and the path headed steeply upwards from the checkpoint. The hill slowed San down quite considerably, but we were eventually back up on the ridge. We stopped for some more tea inside a hut in the next village. The woman there was huddled round her stove with a cat for company. John soon joined them there. Today we were heading for Kalpokhri, which means black lake. As the name suggests there is a lake near the village, which is at an altitude of about 3,200m. The rest of the walk along the ridge was cloudy, but there were occasional breaks, so we did get to see some scenery.

The lake is surrounded by prayer flags, and immediately afterwards, before you reach the village, is another army checkpoint. As I write my name in the book, I see that the French passed through an hour ago, and are heading onwards to the main summit at Sandakphu. We're taking it easy and doing that tomorrow. We are shown our room for the night, and we lie down. This room is lighter than the last one, but every bit as cold. The weather closes in, and whilst there is no rain, it becomes very cloudy. We venture out in the early evening, and I call my mum in Scotland from the ridge, surrounded by inquisitive yaks. Whilst we are outside my boots pass the waterproof test as I stick my foot into a deep puddle of cold water.

We go back into the lodge and sit round the fire with the owners and their family. I show interest in what the man is drinking from: a miniature keg filled with seeds from which he drinks with a bamboo straw. It is called Tongba, and is made from fermented millet. He described the process. It is quite involved, but involves fermentation, drying out and storage in the loft for six months. It is served by placing the dry mixture into the mini-keg and then you just add boiling water. the alcohol dissolves, and the bamboo filters out the seeds. When you have finished you just top up with more boiling water, until all the intoxicant has been consumed. Surprisingly, it is pretty nice, and the first flush is fairly potent.

He speaks to us about life in the hills. Unsurprisingly it is tough. We ask about hospitals: the nearest is in Darjeeling, hours away in an expensive, hired Land Rover. He says when someone gets ill the rich go down, whilst the poor go up... There are local schools up to the age of eight, but then the children have to go to boarding school in Darjeeling to continue their education. This is the busiest time of year for the tourist trade. In the wet season no one ventures up. In winter there are only crazy Europeans marching around in the snow, the locals stay down on the plains. Shopping too is done in Darjeeling. They hire a Land Rover, and buy in very large quantities, to minimise the number of times they have to make the expensive trip.



Post a Comment

<< Home