Thursday 8 January 2015

Day 209: Beding - The Sherpas and the Frenchmen

Dramatic scenery awaited us at Beding
Gaurishankar woke from shadow into a blue sky and, feeling enthused, we determined to reach Beding, the 'capital' of the Rolwaling valley, before nightfall.  The way involved another hefty trudge, including over twelve hundred metres of ascent.  As the weak link in the party, I led the way so I would not end up floundering.

As we walked, we resembled travellers to St. Ives, moving against a flow of people on their way down the valley to Simigaun.  Groups of women in Tibetan dress carried babies in cot-shaped woven baskets; young men sported drums; horses stumbled down the steep pathways; large family groups and small trickled by.  Surely the valley was not already emptying for the winter?  Or was there a religious festival in lower, warmer climes?

Calling 'Namaste' to members of the exodus, we continued upwards, making the best time that shoulder-bruising loads would let us.  The trickle of snacks seeping from Paul's bottomless pack helped, as did a similarly bottomless portion of dal bhat at lunchtime.  The only delays came when Paul, Ian and Guy decided to line up next to each other for a communal pee at regular intervals (how come it's women who have a reputation for going to the bathroom together?).  Leaky bladders notwithstanding, we made it to Beding with time to spare before nightfall, and handed over our TIMS permits for inpection at the school-come-checkpoint.

Cheerful faces on the path
"Are you climbing Pachermo?" the inspector asked us, as he looked at our Gauri Shankar Conservation Area Permits and our Trekkers Information System cards.

We all shook our heads.  Pachermo is a 6,000m+ peak beside the Tesi Lapcha and some of us fancied having a go at it.  But you cannot climb Pachermo without a permit and you cannot obtain a permit without taking a full crew of guides, porters, chefs, kitchen assistants and so on along with you.  We had no wish to do so - surely independent adventure mountaineering should still be an option in Nepal? - so we had decided to sacrifice Pachermo in favour of an independent expedition, although not everyone had completely given up the idea of the climb.  Still, the official answer was "no, we are not climbing Pachermo".

But the inspector was not entirely satisfied.

"Do you have guides and porters?"

We shook our heads and he raised his eyebrows.

"You are the first trekkers to tackle the Tesi Lapcha this season without a guide."

This could have sounded ominous but we were not surprised.  To cross Tesi Lapcha you have to carry several days of food as well as ropes and harnesses to protect the glacier crossing.  Not many people are willing to live without their extra changes of t-shirt and their hearty lunches in order to make room for a rope and six days of meagre spaghetti rations in their packs.  Ian, Paul, Guy and I are more than usually strange specimens of humanity.

Lush waterfalls
But for now we were feeling pretty smug as we laid down our packs in a cosy lodge.  In just two days we had made it up to 3,693m, despite our pack donkey status.  Perfect.

At this height, the evenings already waxed chilly and our host filled the stove with yak dung to keep us warm.  Over yet another dal bhat, he told us that he too was a school teacher.  (Teaching and running lodges seem to be complementary activities in this valley.)  Amongst other subjects, he teaches Tibetan, which is very easy for him, he said, because he is a Sherpa (the Nepali tribe that lives in the Rolwaling region) and the two languages are very similar.

"I think the Sherpas were originally Tibetan," he told us.  

This didn't surprise us.  Looking at the map, the Tibetan border lies only a few miles to the north of the Rolwaling valley.  The houses too reminded us of those we had seen so recently in Tibet, while the local women wore full length Tibetan aprons over dark-coloured skirts, indicating their marital status.

But Tibetan wasn't the main language we could hear around us.  We shared the lodge with a French glaciologist and his party and soon fell to comparing notes on the Hampta glacier, bordering our recent trek in the Indian Himalaya.  True to stereotype, the French party were missing soft cheese in equal proportion to their enjoyment of Himalayan glaciers.  They pulled out a bag of yak cheese to round off our dinner.

"Try some," the glaciologist told us.  "It's actually not bad.  Of course, it's not as good as French cheeses but it's much better than British ones."

We laughed and sampled it.  Thus was our cheese-craving semi-fulfilled.  Tomorrow, we will tackle the pipe dream of hot showers!

Dramatic sunset at Beding
Ian crossing a bridge on the way up to Beding
Beding (looking upstream)
We gave Paul the rope in the hope it would slow him down a bit...
not a chance!

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