Saturday 22 November 2014

Days 169 - 170: Dolpo 1 - Hello pen!

Hello pen! Juphal children are not shy.
Flying to Juphal, in the remote Dolpo region of Nepal, is not an experience that British Airways passengers would recognise.  Nobody cares how many liquids you carry in your hand baggage.  It's important to remember a warm jumper because the cabin isn't heated or pressurised.  And even if whisky were served on the plane (which it isn't), no amount of its numbing yellow droplets could prepare you for the landing.

It is a two-leg journey, with the first taking us to Nepalganj, which has been described as 'Nepal without the good bits'.  After a night in a rat-infested hotel we concurred and started calling it 'Nepal Grunge'.  Everybody was glad to board the flight to Dolpo the next morning, although the word 'glad' does not accurately describe anyone's emotions twenty minutes later.

We crouched behind the pilots, watching them make every manoeuvre and pull every lever, including the ones bound with gaffa tape.  (Gaffa tape has proved its worth time and again on expeditions but I have never wanted to fly in an aeroplane patched with it.)  We grazed mountain passes with less than a hundred metres clearance, gazing into the eyes of the blue sheep.  Then we swung hard to the right, dived and I strained for an airstrip in the valley.  There wasn't one.  With seconds to spare I realised we would not be landing in the valley but on a strip of vegetated and deeply rutted ground, perched high on the shoulder of a hillside.  It looked just about fit to hold a shepherd's hut, but surely an airport was out of the question?  Surely?  No?  We hit the ground, showering the next flight's passengers with dust.

It wouldn't be "Four Feet in the Clouds" without some!
For the rest of the day we descended through terraced fields and villages where children shouted 'hello pen, hello pen' (optimistically; we had none to give them), then diverged into a quieter side valley.  At lunch time our Nepali cook made a hot meal including the vegetable 'curilla', a spiky variant on a green pepper which quickly earned the name 'gorilla'.  Then in the evening the crew set up our camp and cooked a three-course feast.  This was a world outside my experience - not the shouts of 'pen' or the terraced fields or the yomp along a river valley but the regular replenishment of pasta on my plate, as though the wheat were on growth hormones.  When trekking, Guy and I are used to stirring a pitiful ration of pasta, mining it for the occasional scrap of onion or fleck of parmasan.  What happened to starvation rations?  This was going to be a luxury trek like none we had experienced before - so long as we could forget the shock of the plane journey.

More Juphal children
Wow... photogenic!

Exploring the main street in Juphal
Faces and Windows
Juphal children
Loading up our donkeys with Dol Badu and Narinda

Lead Donkey
(Okay, I admit it. It's a mule really)
Heading upriver to lunch 
Nigel crossing said river
A kitchen boy follows Nigel
The confluence

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