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Nepal April-May 2006

Saturday 29th April 2006
Trek Day 6
Gosainkung to Sing Gompa
A shower or two

The Israelis are still in bed, and the French Canadian guy has made an early start. We bade him farewell through the walls of our tent. Some of us are licking our wounds after yesterday’s trek over the pass. Sunburn and snow-blindness are the main afflictions in Gosainkund this morning. Liz and I are both suffering from the effects of the sun.

Because the sun was being reflected up from the snow, I’ve caught the sun under my chin, under my nose, and on the side of my neck. My eyes are ok but Liz’s are a bit sore. I wonder if my contact lenses helped to protect my eyes. Nurbu and Chotti, and a couple of the porters, have very sore eyes. Nurbu had forgotten his sunglasses completely, and is suffering the worst of all. The Fins had no sun cream, or sunglasses, so with their fair skins they are badly burned. Fortunately their eyes aren’t too bad, maybe because the sky had clouded over when they crossed the pass. Liz has given out some painkillers to the wounded. In the past, we haven’t had too much trouble with the sun. Maybe that’s because we’ve always trekked in winter when the sun is a lot weaker than it is now. It's interesting to see the stoicism with which the Nepalis deal with it all. Compared to them, us westerners are a bunch of babies!

Roy at the viewpointThe weather this morning is beautifully clear, and the walk down to Sing Gompa is pure pleasure. There are amazing mountain views set against the backdrop of the lakes, all surrounded by snow. The birds are making the most of the good weather, and are flitting about the path, gathering food and nesting material. Gosainkund, being a very holy place, means that the trail up here is decorated in all sorts of religious paraphernalia, the meaning of which we can’t begin to understand.

We contour for a while high above the valley, and slowly leave the deeper snow behind. When we reach the end of the ridge, we just have to stop to take some photos of the fabulous panoramic views. From here the path descends much more steeply. We pass a black plastic water pipe, taking fresh water from a high spring to a settlement below. There’s a small leak in the pipe which is spraying water on the nearby juniper bushes. The water droplets have frozen, resulting in bizarre ice formations on the bushes and all around the hose. We stop to take some more photos as the ice sparkles in the bright morning sun. A porter passes us going uphill with an enormous length of pipe coiled up on his back. He’s doubled over with what must be a tremendous weight. Maybe this is being sent up to replace the current leaky pipe.

Khukri is waiting for us at the small settlement of Lauribinayak, where Chotti and the boys are preparing lunch. The buildings are strung along a narrow saddle between two hills. It's an incredibly beautiful location. There are a couple of well established lodges here, which appear to be very luxurious. There are also a couple of shops; the first we’ve seen for days. They’re selling craft items. They have all sorts of knitted woollen things, heaps of jewellery, and stacks of carved wooden bric-a-brac. As we sit in the sun enjoying our lunch, a women is sitting winding skeins of wool into balls. The sign on the lodge next to us says that we are at 3584m above sea level, which is quite a bit different to the readings on my GPS and altimeter. They seem to be very sure of their facts, so I won’t argue!

cottage industryFrom here the trail splits. You can take a right fork directly to Thulo Syabru, or go left to Sing Gompa where you can either go down to Dhunche or continue along the ridge to Thulo Syabru by a less direct route. From Dhunche you can get transport to Kathmandu, but Thulo Syabru is on the way down to the Langtang valley, which is where we are heading. We’ve heard that Sing Gompa is a nice place, so that will be our destination for today. The path is wide and smooth as it contours gently along the hillside. We can walk side by side here. It makes a nice change from the narrow ankle-twisters, and the deep snow that we’ve had to deal with over the last few days. There are literally hundreds of Rhododendrons in bloom across the hillside, and it’s a fantastic sight under the clear blue sky.

The trail enters a pine forest and the birds are singing all around us. When we eventually emerge from the forest the path crosses to the other side of the hill-crest, and gives us views into the valley on the other side. There are yet more Rhododendrons here, and we can see back up the valley towards Gosainkund. It takes us ages to reach our destination because we are constantly stopping to admire the views, watch the birds, and take photos.

Ice crystalsThe path becomes steeper, and the forest thins out as we approach an expanse of hillside where there’s been a forest fire. It looks like it must have happened some time ago, but it’s nonetheless a sad sight in amongst the otherwise pristine countryside. In the middle of this devastation is Sing Gompa with its attendant collection of large and very comfortable looking lodges. We are welcomed into the attractive village by a colourful, arched entranceway, which draws our attention away from the sight of the charred tree trunks. It has taken us five hours to get here from Gosainkund although we’ve actually only walked for a total of two and a half to three hours. The rest of the time has been spent relaxing over lunch, or stopping to take photos.

Our crew are seated outside the Red Panda lodge, playing cards. This is the place recommended to us by the French Canadian guy in Gosainkund. Soon the lads are busy erecting our camp in the garden of the lodge. Ohren and Ehrez arrive and we sit with them at a table under a wooden shelter. They’ve had enough of trekking for now. They’re both a little unwell and have decided to make their way down to Dhunche, where they’ll catch a bus to Kathmandu. I can’t help feeling that when they get there, they’ll wish they were back here!

Pipe transportThe Gompa itself looks a little run down, but the lodge owners have created some very attractive places to rest and eat. There is an unbelievable menu at the Red Panda, featuring dozens of dishes to suit all tastes. The Red Panda also has some solar, water heating panels in the garden, and offers hot showers at Rp50 a go!

Liz is feeling tired and has a snooze on the lawn, while I do some laundry, using some warm water from the shower room. This shower room is pretty smart. The walls are tiled, and there is a large window, high along one wall, which lets a lot of light in. Some lodge showers are dark and grimy, but this one is roomy, bright, and warm. This is all too much for me, and my intention to wash, just my feet under the hot tap, escalates into a full strip-off shower; and very nice it is too. Liz then falls into the same trap and succumbs, just like me.

We’re not used to all this luxury on our treks, but we’re not complaining. We celebrate with a couple of cans of beer, from our kitchen stock that we brought from Kathmandu. The Fins, Johanna and Willi join us in our celebration. It’s a warm sunny day, there’s a wonderful view from the garden down into the valley below, and in the stiff breeze my washing is drying before my very eyes. Almost as fast as the beer is sliding down our throats.

Bottles of beer here are being sold for Rp220 whereas the price had been Rp250 higher up. A bottle of coke is now down to Rp80 from Rp100. There’s a direct relationship between altitude and beverage prices, so all you need to do to find the altitude, is to order a beer. Mountain economics at their best! Who needs an altimeter?

Red PandaWilli has been working as a volunteer teacher of English, in a village near Syabru Bensi. He’s very enthusiast about what he’s been doing, and it sounds like the villagers have really taken to him. He tells us about the agency that he is working through. For continuity, they usually try to have at least two volunteers in the village at any one time.

We have no toilet tent set up, and Nurbu has fixed it so that we can use the one in the main part of the two-storey Panda Hotel. It is on the first floor, and to our surprise, it’s a fully functioning western style flush toilet, with ceramic tiled floor.

A chicken has just appeared under the wooden bench that I’m sitting on. She has her beady eyes on my bottle of beer which is in the shade under the table. I mumble “Sage and onion!”, and she shuffles off. As the day draws in, the sky remains free of the heavy clouds that normally gather at this time. No rain or thunderstorms tonight, it seems. After dinner, we are so full of food we decide that it would be a good idea to go for a walk around the village, before we go to bed. Khukri joins us.

Our TentWe wander just a little way up the path, where there’s a neat-looking cheese factory, which processes milk from the local yak herds. We then visit the Gompa where we meet up with Chotti, and some of the other lads. The door is locked, but Chotti manages to get hold of the key from somewhere.

I really like Gompas. They’re so atmospheric and usually very peaceful places; unless of course there’s a chant going on. This one is typical, and as I enter, I find myself spontaneously bowing slightly to the Buddha. I’m not a Buddhist, but I always find the atmosphere in a Gompa very powerful and moving. There's a large drum hanging from one of the wooden columns. Chotti grabs the crook-like drumstick and bangs loudly on the drum a few times. I smile. Even though the Gompa is very peaceful and holy, it’s not like a cathedral, Buddhists are very easy going, and no-one is going to tell us to be quiet. We return to the dining tent for a hot drink, and then after wishing Nurbu well with his sore eyes, we go off to our tent.

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