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24 January 2011

Nepal #9: Trekking in the Himalayas!

A typical day on the trek... it's a long one, I apologize!

"Chiya! Chiiiyyyaa!"

After a few days on the trek I've become accustomed to waking up as quickly as possible when I hear those words. Ratna and Sarita, the Nepali students I am sharing my tent with, are rustling out of their fluffy down sleeping bags, which are about 2 feet too long for them. I hesitantly unzip the tent to see two blurry smiling porters handing me a metal cup filled with steaming Nepali chiya, a delicious black tea that Nepalis drink multiple times per day. "Namaste didi!" (hello older sister!) they say. I take it with my right hand and pass it to Sarita on the far side of the tent (which isn't very far since the three of us are squeezed into a 2-person tent for warmth). After handing another to Ratna, I take my cup and try to find a place to set it to cool as quickly as possible since the metal sides heat up ridiculously fast. Finally, a metal platter covered in biscuits comes into focus and I grab a bunch of those to share. We ate these Good Day cookies twice a day for the entire trek, and I'm starting to believe the name!

I reach into the tent pocket for my watch and glasses. It's about 7am (in Nepal, time doesn't really matter - all that matters is that we just had morning chiya). We start packing up our sleeping bags and getting ready for the day. We leave the tent two at a time so the third person can change inside -- it's not appropriate to change in front of anyone, regardless of whether they are male or female. I don't really mind though - the time passes quickly when the view from your tent looks something like this... This mountain is Langtang Ri.

Once we're dressed and have had time to use the latrine (see below), we head over to the dining tent to wash our hands for morning dhaal bhaat. See this post if you're curious about what we ate!

After breakfast we pack up our tent, which has hopefully dried in the strong high-altitude sun. We put the tent on the pile of tents for the porters to carry to our next campsite. They are responsible for carrying our shelter and food. We just carry our personal belongings and a few group-gear items in case of an emergency. I really can't complain about the set-up - my pack feels heavy enough already without adding a tent, a huge bag of rice, and a couple fuel bottles!

We meet in a central location with the rest of the group. By now most of the porters have packed up their baskets and left for the next campsite. The leaders of the day tell us the plan, and before we depart Alex (American student in charge of all things medical-related) facilitates a pulse check. We've been checking our pulses a couple times a day, at rest and during times of exertion, to gain an idea for what each person's normal pulse is. If Mike gets injured on the trek, for example, we will know that his resting pulse of 50 isn't abnormally low!

The first half hour is always the hardest. Our packs feel so heavy, and the uphill is so steep! We walk slowly though. The leaders of the day are in charge of maintaining a good pace that keeps the group together. On the uphills, especially on the snowy and higher altitude days, we only go one or two steps per breath. Every half hour we stop for a pee/snack/water break. This continues for 3 to 6 hours, depending on the day. Along the way we pass locals carrying huge loads of fodder, packs of firewood, and freshly chopped logs for building houses.

Even though it's cold out, the sun is ridiculously strong at higher altitudes. I was initially skeptical when told that it's because there is less atmosphere for it to penetrate, but a couple migraines later I was convinced! Mid day attire included sunglasses, a baseball cap fitted with a bandanna to protect my neck and cheeks, and multiple thick layers of sunscreen (especially on the backs of my hands!). Somehow I managed to avoid getting burned, which I rarely achieve at low altitudes...

Some time in the afternoon we arrive at our new campsite, where we are welcomed with a steaming cup of chiya or hot chocolate and more Good Day biscuits! We search for a flat spot to set up our tents, which is not always easy - everything in Nepal seems to be on a slant.

After a couple hours of relaxing, taking pictures, playing cards, or exploring the campsite, the sun starts to set and the temperature drops significantly. Frost forms on everything that is exposed to the sky, so we learn quickly to put everything in the tent! Chilly clouds form and sweep through the pass:

We layer up - swapping sun hats for wool ones and adding a couple layers of long underwear, top and bottom.  It's time for evening dhaal bhaat. The porters did a great job of including some variety in our evening meals. Some examples include pasta with tomato sauce, spring rolls (hand made!!), other beautiful filled pastries, potatoes at almost every meal (sometimes as french fries), ginger soup, noodle soup, and sometimes veggies. It was all very carb-intensive, but we definitely burned it off during the day! Yum!

After dinner we gather around the campfire (well, more like blazing bonfire) that the porters have set-up. They are singing our favorite song - Resham Firiri - and we join in. It's fun because the chorus stays the same, but people make up the verses and usually say something funny or tease someone else in the group. It usually resulted in a lot of laughing with very little understanding!

Soon we hear a call for tato paani! It's time to take our BPA-filled nalgenes to the dining tent and fill up with boiling hot water. This serves two purposes: treated water without the nasty taste of iodine treatment and even more importantly, sleeping bag heaters! During the entire trek I consistently got the best sleep from bedtime until about 2am, right around the time my water bottle failed to be warm...

We dash from the warm fire into our warm sleeping bags. After a few minutes of reading or journal-writing, we are exhausted.

Did I mention it's about 7:30 or 8pm?

P.S. Post soon about the route we trekked and a brief description of each campsite!
P.S. (again) Thanks to major jet-lag I'm actually writing these posts at about the rate I'd hoped... Alright, time to go back to bed (it's 3:45am).

1 comment:

Tammela said...

Nena -- I'm loving reading about your adventures. Did you lose weight with all the hiking, or gain with all the rice and carbs? Haha. Your mountain pictures are gorgeous.