Travel Diary - Nepal 1999

30th April 1999 - London to Kathmandu

1st May 1999 - Kathmandu

Arrived at the hotel and met up with my fellow travellers. Initial impression is as I had expected for a charity trek. A bunch of middle-aged Real Ale drinkers and WI members. First up we had our pre-trip pep talk. The trip is run in conjunction with STC.

We are being told by Jeff, our larger-than-life Scotish trek leader, that the key to our success on the trek boils down to three things; pacing ourselves, communicating, and drinking at least two litres of water a day. He then resorts to cliché "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs".

2nd May 1999 - Dumre (Nepal)

The 5 hour bus ride from Kathmandu was an unforgettable and exciting experience in itself. The hustle and bustle of the town soon turned into twisting mountain passes and roadside villages along the only road between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Most vehicles are heavily laden lorries and buses. The lorries are all painted and decorated in vivid oranges and blues, garlanded with tinsel, and adorned with written messages and prayers.

But the driving style is thing that will stay with me until the day I die and I'm thankful it wasn't today! Hurtling down an awesome series of hairpin bends and switchbacks. Over-taking around blind corners with a 100ft sheer drop to our side. We spot over-turned buses lying in the valley below.

At one point we were stuck in a 'traffic jam' for an hour. A lorry had run of the road and into a house in a village. A villager had been killed. The villagers wanted revenge, they wanted to kill the lorry driver. It made our delay pale into insignificance. I don't know how it was resolved but we finally got going again.

After leaving the main road at Dumre our bus crossed a ford on a large boulder-strewn river. Everyone jumped out and the bus struggled through, up to the axles in water.

We arrived at the start of the trek proper in the early afternoon. It's hot. Unusually hot for the area 35 degrees. We have some lunch and head off, up hill! We did 2 hours straight up. Using our umbrellas to get some shade, it's hard, hard work. Will be glad when we get up higher and the temperatures drop.

We arrive at the camp site and the tents have already been erected by the team of sherpas, porters and kitchen staff. We eat our first meal under canvass, have songs around the camp fire and crash out absolutely knackered.

Over dinner we get a talk from Captain Tek. He's the one really in charge of our trip. Captain Tek spent 28 years as a soldier in the Ghurkha Regiment of the British Army, rising to the rank of captain, and it shows. He ensures the trek is run with military efficiency, and the Sherpas operate like a well-oiled machine. It is obvious the respect all the Sherpas hold for him. He coughs they jump.

3rd May 1999 - 1st full day trekking

Up early, woken by a porter who brings a cup of tea and a bowl of water to freshen up. This is a regular thing every morning. Another hot day. I decided to stay at the front of group, with the younger and fitter group members. We set off at a decent pace. I felt quite good, but I did appreciate the frequent breaks and the umbrella. After about 2 1/2 hours we stop for lunch and then an easy 2 hours to camp.

In the afternoon we laze around in the sun, play some football with the porters and wait for the rest of the group to arrive. The last few arrive about 3 hours later.

The Sherpas, Porters and Kitchen Staff deserve an entry all to themselves. Everything, the camping gear, and the trekkers kit apart from day packs, food, water, beer, is carried by flip-flop wearing porters. Sherpas wear walking shoes or boots and don't carry anything except their day-packs. Sherpas who have worked at high altitude on mountain climbing expeditions are held in particularly high esteem, especially if they have summitted a major peak. One of out Sherpas had been up Everest 3 times.

The porters come in all shapes and sizes but none of them are very big. Yet they are practically running up the track some carrying one of our 20kg backpacks, some carrying 2! Some of them porters are girls barely into their teens. One girl in particular hung around the out lead group of trekkers throughout the trip. Running along in her little pink flip-flops she was a little star.

On the trail most of the porters race on ahead to prepare camp for our arrival, while the Sherpas walk with the trekkers, constantly keeping tabs on our well-being. Captain Tek brings up the rear ensuring that every one of the trekkers safely makes it to the next camp.

The heat can be debilitating, and it is very important to take in plenty of water. At camp, the Sherpas serve the food prepared by the cooks and kitchen boys, and wake us each morning with a cup of tea, and a bowl of washing water.

4th May 1999 - 1700m to 3100m

A long hard day. Nearly 9 hours of trekking not helped by the fact that I was feeling rough and had to make quite few impromptu toilet stops. I don't think it's much to do with the altitude but more to do with the heat and activity. Any way pumped full of Ibroprofen and Imodium I survived the day quite well.

Once again a hot day, but as the day went on and we got higher the temperature dropped noticeably and by the end it was perfect walking weather. The thing that improved with altitude was the view. The terrain opened up we could see for miles. Mountain ranges both sides of the ridge that we were trekking along, and often severe drops either side of the path.

At one point a porter comes bounding down the mountain past us. Later passes us again this time going up carrying the bag of the little girl in the pink flip-flops. She had been struggling a bit and he ran down to help her out.

Tonight's evening meal went down a treat. I'd definitely worked up an appetite. And it's pasta with a Bolognese sauce with roast potatoes amazing how a bit of comfort food can pick you up no matter how tired you feel.

5th May 1999 - To the top of the ridge

Grim Reaper Day as Jeff called it began at dawn, we leave camp at 5.30, and we turn around at 10.00. Only about half the group take part in today's final push and we stay together in a much tighter group. Many of the group find breathing very difficult, and take long, audible breaths to suck the oxygen out of the air, but I cope without any real problems.

Finally, we reach the end of the ridge, and the world drops away in front of us. The photo-frenzy begins, one trekker has brought champagne, and we celebrate the awesome scene which envelops us. I wander off to a rocky outcrop, and simply sit and gaze at the view. Further along, the grassy slopes give way to a series of ice-capped pinnacles peeks leading right up to the main peak of Himal Chuli. The 8000 metre summit of Manaslu looms behind, a huge white pyramid etched against a clear blue sky.

Time is short though and we we know it we have to begin the descent back through the rhododendron meadows. We reach the camp in good time and meet up with the others and tell them what they missed.

In the evening the weather breaks and the camp is engulfed in a downpour. So dinner is inside the main tent and we all crash out for an early night and a well earned sleep.

6th May 1999 - Down to Bhul Bhule

The journey down is a lot quicker than the trek up but not really easier. We keep up a decent pace but some of it is quite scary, so steep that we have to reverse down. But it's a great day. Scenery again is fantastic but different to what we had seen before. Going down the edge of the ridge, zigzagging forward and back. Eagles and griffins circle over-head and mountain goats from the villages jump around the boulders and bushes that dominate the area.

The camp is at the village of Bhul Bhule beside a raging river, crossed by a suspension footbridge, which carries mule trains from one side to the other. Tonight, there are presentations to the Sherpas, and a party atmosphere to celebrate our last night on trek.

7th May 1999 - Back to Kathmandu

After a few hours walking along the valley we reach a nice little village, time for a few more photos and we're back on the bus and heading back. Only the horrifying white-knuckle ride left to survive.

8th and 9th May 1999 - Kathmandu

Some highlights from my 2 rest days in Kathmandu.

- Hindu Temple on the banks of the Ganges. Bodies are brought down to the banks and cremated on funeral pyres. It looks the filthiest river you're ever seen but it has huge religious significance.

- Monkey Temple. A huge Buddhist Temple in a huge square. Absolutely beauty amongst the 3rd world squalor that is most of Kathmandu.

- Wandering on my own around the narrow streets and small square of the old town.

I like Kathmandu but it's so polluted. I've got a sore throat from, the smog that covers the city. History, religion, cars, bikes, cows, ...

10th May 1999 - Flight around Mt Everest

Another great day, up early for a flight around Mt Everest before breakfast. Amazing views although Everest itself looks lie just another mountain surrounded by other mountains that are almost as high. The tops of the mountains look like ice bergs rising above the clouds.

The afternoon was spent in Bhaktapur. A living museum. Still a real city but cleansed and beautiful. Medieval and like entering a time warp. Afterwards came back to Durbow Square in Patan for a relaxing evening and some good food.

11th May 1999 - Kathmandu

Left Kathmandu again for what should've been a 4 hour journey. But a number of accidents turned it into 8 hours. One of the accidents involved a lorry ploughing through a house, 3 dead. The lorry driver was beaten up. The road blocked by drivers, local population etc. Long hold up, it was very hot. Some people on the bus wanted to head back and forget the trip altogether. But finally we were through it.

12th May 1999 - To Chetwan

The rafting was fun, but not all that exciting it could hardly be described as white water. Just before dark we pulled over onto the banks and set up camp for the night.

We woke up to thunder, lightning and rain. 2 more hours brown-water rafting and we hit the National Park. Great lodge, far more luxurious than I expected.

13th and 14th May 1999 - Chetwan National Park

Seated high on the back of a trained elephant exploring the grasslands you become an integral part of the life of the national park. The elephant safaris are not the most comfortable rides but are an amazing experience. It doesn't take long to spot at least a rhino in these forests.

We kayaked up the river and it didn't seem all that stable to me. We visited the crocodile farm and saw a caged 'man-eating' leopard that had recently been trapped.

The highlight of the trip was bathing with the elephants. In the lake with the elephants. I climb onto he elephant's back and it washes itself sprayed water over its back and all over me. They are amazing creatures they really are gentle giants.

15th May 1999 - Kathmandu

Back to Kathmandu and a nice lazy wind down at the end of the holiday. Did some shopping and bought 2 oil paintings of mountain scenes with trekkers and porters walking along the ridges. The pictures are beautiful and a steal at £75.

This has been the best trip ever. Nepal is great with such variety. The trekking, Kathmandu, Everest, Chetwan. The Nepalese are invariably fun, interesting, friendly and unbelievably courteous. A surprisingly civilised country, easy going, very little begging or obvious crime.

I'd like to go back to Nepal one day.

Below is Doug Scott who organised the whole trek. He is an English mountaineer noted for the first ascent of the south-west face of Mount Everest on 24 September 1975. Scott and Dougal Haston were the first Britons to climb Everest during this expedition.

Doug Scott's Charity work in Nepal (From Wikipedia)

During Scott's climbing career, his understanding of the culture and the people in the regions where he climbed grew as he formed strong bonds and relationships. Scott founded the charity Community Action Nepal and spends much of his time fundraising for this cause, especially from giving public lectures. Scott is also an advocate of Responsible Tourism. Scott set up his own trekking agency in 1989, which is noted for excellent treatment of porters.