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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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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