After our long four-hour walk down the Dades Valley – I wrote about that in my last post – we had a delicious lunch in the sunshine on the terrace of the Hotel du Vieux Chateau du Dades. Being at a high altitude in the Atlas Mountains, the air was cold and crisp. Sitting on this terrace (shown in the photo above) we enjoyed the warming sun as we ate. The surrounding cliffs gave a very grand view as we ate.
Enjoying the sunshine
After lunch, most of our touring party decided to walk up the road for half an hour to have coffee near the top of the pass on the road leading north. My wife, daughter and I were too tired from the morning walk to contemplate more walking, so we stayed behind, enjoying the last of the weak afternoon sunshine. After the sun went behind the nearby cliffs, we retreated inside quickly to the warmth of the fireplace at one end of the restaurant.
A warm fireplace
The fireplace was also popular with other guests of the hotel and it was a matter of taking it in turns to get warm. I must say that all in our family really enjoy an open fire. The high cost of firewood makes this increasingly expensive in Australia, but we are pleased that we have a limited supply of firewood on our own property at our home in South Australia. We always have to supplement this with firewood bought from a dealer.
All through our six-week trip, I kept a diary, and parts of these blog posts originate from my diary. So in the evenings, I often spent a half hour or so updating my diary. I also decided before leaving home that I would emulate the achievement of a friend of mine. On an overseas trip, she decided to capture her impressions of her journeying by aiming to write at least one poem a day. I achieved my goal. My friend has since published some of these poems in book form. That joy still awaits me – stay tuned because that is in my plans too. Sitting near to the fireplace in our hotel was an ideal writing spot. Chatting with fellow travellers was another delight.
A town under siege
As we entered Lukla on our return from the trek, we were aware of the many soldiers and police in this small town. There had been many incidents throughout the country over the previous few months and the authorities were very much on edge. The airport at Lukla is a strategic importance, not only for the local economy but for the protection of the tourist industry which relies heavily on the income derived from trekking and mountaineering.
The army barracks were quite close to the airstrip which was next to our lodge, so we were able to watch them training and on guard. There were a number of bunkers with heavily armed soldiers only a few metres from where we sat eating our lunch. I was careful not to aim my camera in their direction.
While several of the trekking group were playing cricket in the lodge garden, the little boy featured in the photo above came to our rescue and threw the ball back over the fence. I was able to take this photo as a poignant illustration of the troubles in this emerging nation. Framed by the barbed wire he so much wanted to join in our game, but was prevented by the barricade. The troubled nation of Nepal is desperately wanting to join the twenty-first century world, but the internal political turmoil is an effective barrier to progress.
Hope for the future
After we had left Nepal the situation came to a head and the king handed back power to the elected government. While the unrest is still evident some ten months later, it is a far more settled nation now than earlier in the year. There is hope for the future.
The final day of our trek in Nepal was rather shorter in walking terms than many other days. The walking was relatively easy going for the first hour or so after we left the village of Phakding. Closer to Lukla we passed some beautiful buildings, many of them trekking lodges.
This little part of Nepal relies heavily on tourism, especially the trekking and mountaineering pursuits. In Lukla itself there are many lodges and hotels, as well as many shops, trekking supply shops and a multitude of internet cafes. I didn’t bother to investigate any of these so I don’t what they were charging. My guess is that they were quite a deal more expensive than Kathmandu.
As we approached Lukla the steep climb up to the town really sapped my energy and I fell quite a way behind the other trekkers. It didn’t matter; I had plenty of time to complete that leg before lunch. As I slowed down I was able to observe the buildings, the people and environment more closely anyway.
I was also in a little pain due to the blisters on my toes and the sore on the left heel. After showering and taking off the blister pack I realised that it had developed a rather nasty open wound. I should have treated it sooner. Our trek leader was very good at applying a new bandage. This helped considerably but it was to cause me walking problems for the next few days.
The photo below shows the garden of the lodge where we stayed in Lukla. We had a relaxing lunch in the lovely sunshine with a wonderful mountain view as the backdrop. The photo features my daughter Rose who first inspired me to undertake this trek. To the right of her is the control tower of Lukla airport. The runway is behind the stone wall surrounding the lodge garden.
- Trek from Phakding to Lukla – extracts from my travel journal written during the trek.
As we approached Lukla we saw more and more small farms. Every available flat – and not so flat – piece of land was utilised for growing vegetables. Not that we saw much growing when we were there, being the middle of winter and the dry season.
Some terracing is evident in order to maximise the areas where food can be grown. Stones are used for fencing to keep out animals. There is no shortage of stones for use in making fences and buildings.
Occasionally, the flatter stones are used like cobblestones on the trekking path we took. The above photo shows one such section.
One of the things one cannot train for before embarking on a trek in the Himalayas is coping with the cold. I just did not know what to expect. The travel agent who did my bookings had been on this trek several times and was able to give some good advice.
During each day we were fortunate to have sunny weather. While walking, the activity, especially when climbing, was enough to keep one warm – very warm. During such times I often walked in just trousers and T-shirt. I never got to the point where I wanted to remove the bottom half of my trousers and use them as shorts.
The cold mornings were something else. It was very tempting to stay snuggled up in the very cosy sleeping bag. Washing and dressing first thing each morning was done very quickly. We would then rug up for breakfast, because in most of the lodges the fire had usually gone out before breakfast time. The warm jackets, beannies and gloves would come off during the first hour of walking after breakfast.
As soon as the sun went down behind a nearby mountain the temperature would plummet in minutes. On came the jackets and beanies again. Then when the fire was lit in the dining room, all would gather nearby to keep warm. By bedtime the dining room would be almost too warm; it was tempting to linger before braving the icy dash into the bedroom and into the sleeping bag. With several lodges the bedroom section was in a separate building so one had to dash outside first. Sometimes the toilet was outside too.
Outside our dining room at Phakding there was a length of black poly-pipe. It had a fine spray of water leaking from a hole. The water had sprayed over a nearby bush and frozen into icicles. I guess it never thawed out because the water was barely above freezing to start with, and the bush was in shade for almost all of the day.
Colder at home
While it was very cold on the trek, I actually felt colder at home during our recent winter. Normally we have about a dozen frosts each winter here in Murray Bridge, South Australia. About once every four or five years light snow falls in the Adelaide Hills 60km to the west. In 2006, being a very dry year, our driest on record, we have had three or four periods of a dozen or more frosts on consecutive days. Below zero is unusual; it reached minus 3 to 5 on many occasions.
If we’d had this last winter before going to Nepal I might have been more acclimatised.