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Packing the dokos at the start of the trek.

Monday 24th April 2006
Trek Day 1
Sundarijal to Chisopani

We are out of bed at ten past five, for final packing and a shower. We're hoping to get down to the dining room and grab a quick breakfast before Nurbu arrives, but for some unknown reason, he's an hour early. This is because we need to get out of town well before the curfew resumes. Still hungry, we set off in a rickety old taxi heading for the village of Sundarijal, where we are to start the trek. Sundarijal is a typical road-head village. They are usually grubby places, but this one isn't too bad. There's a military presence here with accompanying razor wire, but it is all pretty low-key.

The taxi journey to Sundarijal answered lot of questions for us. We'd seen the riots through the binoculars from the roof of the hotel, and now were seeing the aftermath close up. We passed along a road that had been the scene of a very large protest. The protestors had dismantled walls, pavements, and even the large kerbstones had been moved to block the roads. This was to prevent the police from deploying their armoured vehicles, to stop the demonstrations.

The roadblocks are now breached, forcing our taxi to zigzag through the gaps. There are a few army check posts along the way, and we pass a few police stations which have been heavily fortified. On the last stretch of road to Sundarijal, there is an army post, with razor wire road blocks, but we pass through without problems. The soldiers are free with their 'namaste's' and their smiles. Everyone is very friendly towards us.

After the porters have organised their loads, and Nurbu has bought some bits and pieces, we set off on the trek. We climb on the right bank of a river in a rather narrow, forested valley, with a large steel pipe suspended on pillars right next to the path. The pipe is about 70cm in diameter. It looks quite old, and is very rusty. I ask Nurbu, and he tells me that it supplies water to Kathmandu, from a lake at the head of the valley, where the river has been dammed. I hope the dam is in a better state of repair than the pipe!

The path is quite busy and we pass groups of local people going both ways. Some groups consisit of entire families, including small children and babies. One guy is carrying what looks like a laptop case. He looks like he's on his way to the office. Nurbu describes today's route to me. We just have to climb to a small pass, and then walk along a ridge to Chisopani, where we'll spend our first night.

After a short climb we come across our first army check-point. There's a lot of razor wire here, and a small army encampment which shares the location with the national park entrance office. We have to fill in our details and pay Rp300 each for the entrance fee. It seems like there's also a charge for cameras, but when we show them our tiny Canon digital cameras they ignore them and don't charge us. The tariff board outside the office shows the scale of charges. There's a very high charge for video cameras, but as we only have a miniature one of those we don't mention it. It appears that the tax on cameras probably only applies to professional equipment anyway.

The ascent just goes on and on. The path is steep in places, and as soon as I think I'm at the top, I find there's yet more climbing to do. We end up climbing just over 1000m to the 'small' pass. This is by no means an easy first day to break us in gently. The climb could be boring and tedious, but isn't. There's so much of interest that I'm constantly looking forward to seeing what's round the next bend, or over then next rise.

Overrun with goatsWe reach what looks to be the summit. Here there's a small clearing with several abandoned buildings. It looks to me like it could have been a school. Actually it could still be in use; I've come across many working schools in Nepal which look as if they might be abandoned but aren't. However, It turns out that this was once an army check post. The clearing is quite pleasant with little grassy knolls, and it's beside one of these, that our cook has set up his kitchen, and is busy preparing our lunch. Bang goes my hope that we've reached the top of the pass; the fact that the kitchen boys have found a small water source nearby, means that there must be more climbing to do.

We sit in the sun on the grass and have our lunch. Lunch is a big pot of fried potatoes, with fresh cauliflower in a spicy tomato sauce. There's also a pile of chapattis and some mandarin oranges to follow. A procession of travellers passes us by. Most of them are local people, but there are a handful of trekkers too. Most of them seem to be doing a teahouse trek and not camping like us. An old lady, with a herd of goats approaches us. She sits staring at us from one of the knolls as her goats try to make off with some of our lunch. Nurbu tries to offer her some tea, but she doesn't seem to understand him. A dog turns up and the goats make a bolt for it. She yells out, and amazingly the goats come back. She seems to speak fluent 'goat'!

After a lazy lunch, we pack our gear and set off on the last leg of our first day's hike. The sky is full of small clouds and it's very warm when the sun breaks through. We are now walking through dense Rhododendron forest. Some of the trees are in bloom and it's a bit like walking through a botanical garden. Finally the trail levels out a bit. We are more than a thousand metres above Sundarijal.

We catch up with a Nepalese family, walking with a couple of young children. They'd passed us at lunchtime. One of the kids has shoes with some sort of squeaky toy built into the soles, so we hear them before we see them! We start to glimpse our destination on the ridge up ahead and at a lower altitude. Before we start to descend, we pass through another army check-post, which I guess is the exit from the Shivapuri National Park. The soldiers just wave us through.

The path becomes steeper and is a bit slippery. It looks like it has rained here recently, and we start to feel a few spots. It doesn't look to be too far to Chisopani, so we move along quickly in the hope of avoiding a soaking.

Chisopani is a collection of tea-houses strung out along the crest of a ridge. The name means cold-water. There's another, quite substantial army post here. The village is situated at a crossroads of paths, and a jeep-able track which passes through the centre. One track leads to Nargakot, a popular Mount Everest viewpoint, within easy reach of Kathmandu. We've walked for about five and a half hours to get here, so are pleased to sit down outside a comfortable lodge for a cold beer. We've arrived without getting wet.

We sit and chat to the owner who tells us that many more trekkers are now coming this way due to the difficulty in getting road transport to the more popular starting points. He's happy at the upturn in business, and reels off his recent occupancy statistics. He tells us of his plans to convert the garden into an outdoor restaurant. It sounds like it'll be irresistible to trekkers coming this way. Scattered across the garden he has an array of Chinese-made solar charging units. The solar panels, in the lids of these tin boxes, re-charge a battery within. He uses this stored electricity to illuminate the lodge dining room each evening. He's obviously proud of his gadgets. The lodge next door has a serious-looking wind generator on the roof. It's all high tech in this village! There is even a small shop selling these gadgets.

Halfway through the village is a pool-hall with a poster sized picture of Britney Spears in the window, and loud music playing. It seems bizarrely out of place in this idyllic location, being directly opposite the Lama Lakpa Dorje Lodge, which has delightful views, comfortable lodgings, and reportedly, endless hot water for travellers to have showers. I guess the hall sprang up as an enterprising way of cashing in on the spare time, and boredom, of the soldiers stationed up the road. This village is not short of entrepreneurs, it seems.

While we are relaxing, and chatting, our camp has sprung up on a very pleasant, grassy terrace, just across the road from the lodge. It's an excellent spot, and I'm prepared to bet that, if the clouds clear, then it will have delightful views, just like the Lama Lakpa Dorje Lodge next door. We cross over the road to our camp and settle down with another beer. There's a lot of coming and going in the village, and up the road I can see the soldiers horsing around with their weapons in hand. I'm not sure if it's comforting having them close by, or not. We hear on the radio that the Maoists have raided an army post not too far from here, and sadly there have been some deaths, and injury, to people in the area.

Chisopani fun and games!We meet a middle-aged couple that we've seen a couple of times on the trail on the way up here. It turns out that they're Polish, so Liz enjoys chatting with them in the language of her parents. They're a really nice couple, and apologise, with typical Polish politeness, for speaking in a language that I can't understand. I really don't mind at all, and like to hear Liz speaking Polish.

We say farewell, and return to our camp table. I spend a mad half-hour, searching my bags for my contact-lens kit. My eyes are itchy, and my lenses have become cloudy, so I want to take them out and put them to soak, but I can't find my lens kit. I'm certain that I've packed the little zippered pouch, but it's nowhere to be found. I search, and search again, and I just can't believe that it isn't somewhere in my baggage. Eventually, after much unpacking and repacking, I admit defeat, and come to terms with the fact, that I've either lost it, or left it behind. Fortunately, I've got some spare fluid, and squirting some of that into my eyes does the trick. The whole episode has provided quality entertainment for the porters, and local kids, who are always curious as to what we tourists actually have in those gigantic bags! Now they've got a better idea.

It looks like there might be more rain. There is the sound of thunder in the distance, but the sky clears sufficiently, for us to catch a brief glimpse of Ganesh Himal, and to give us a hint of the delightful views that may be in store for us in the morning. If it's clear!

The sun goes down. It starts to become cold, so we retire to our blue dining tent for a slap up trekking dinner. The excitement of the day has all been a bit much and we soon run out of steam and start yawning, so we make our way to our tent with my half drunk cup of coffee, and a can of cold beer. Both are there un-drunk in the morning. The coffee is now as cold as the beer!

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