Thursday 8 January 2015

Days 203-208: Kathmandu, Chetchet, Simigaun - Dhaulagiri says no

Hello Paul and Ian... and Rolwaling!
Trekking down the mining road to Chhetchhet
Farewell to Chris and our overland venture across Tibet.  Hello to Ian and Paul and the Dhaulagiri Circuit.  Well, to Ian and Paul anyway.  The Dhaulagiri Circuit called in sick after last month's storms which killed so many people on the Annapurna Circuit and drenched us in Dolpo.  It remains buried under deep snow and recent organised treks to the area have been re-routed.  Should we cancel likewise?

After two days of researching, eating momos, looking at maps, eating chocolate, receiving utterly useless responses to queries on Internet forums, and eating more momos, we decided to head for a different region of Nepal.  The western Dhaulagiri region and its thick layer of white icing would have to give way to the little-trodden Rolwaling valley in the east.  The four of us set out in a jeep and, after eight hours, we made it to the haunt of bulldozers at the road end.

"What on earth is going on here?" we wondered, mourning a peaceful start to our trek.

Chinese dam building in the Tama Koshi river valley
The answer lay in the sounds of Mandarin being spoken in the guest house and the earthworks appearing higher up the river.  The Chinese were building (/ helping Nepal to build) a dam.

But we soon left the world of dams behind us (along with electricity, motors, light after sunset, warmth after mid-afternoon, and transport except by foot).  A steep path up the valley side gave us seven hundred metres of height on the river by ten o'clock in the morning when we entered the village of Simigaun - not bad to say we had suspended our packs from a set of hanging scales that morning and recorded weights between seventeen and twenty-seven kilos.  (OK, so my pack was at the seventeen kilo end of the scale.  But if Ian will insist on carrying fake gorilla feet on the trail, while Paul carries an entire confectionary store, then they have no right to complain about their sore shoulders.)

Beautiful Simigaun
Simigaun is a picture-postcard island of fertility despite its lofty location.  We photographed the terraced fields of millet and flowers before plodding up the village's forty-five degree footpath-cum-high street to the outskirts on a ridge above.  By the time we reached the crest, lunch was a legitimate concept so we stopped for dal bhat at a guesthouse run by the local primary school teacher.

"How did you like the path up to Simigaun?" he asked us.

"It was very good indeed," we told him truthfully; well-made steps had led us all the way from the river to the village.

"It used to be a very bad path," he said, "but I had the new one made with some help from a Swiss charity.  I also campaigned for the bridge to be built."

He is a man of many enterprises, not only running guesthouses and teaching the local children.  He was also a good narrator with a story to tell.

"When I was child, we had to go miles down the river to get to school.  There was no bridge then.  At the end of the school day we had to whistle and someone brought a device a bit like stilts so we could cross the river.  We paid five rupees each time."

"It sounds very difficult," we sympathised.  I thought of the lollipop lady who helped me cross the quiet road outside my junior school, then of school buses on which I could sleep while the engine did the work.

"Yes, it was dangerous too.  If we had fallen, it would have been the end.  That's why I campaigned for the bridge.  And now we have one."

We congratulated him, both on the bridge and the excellent dal bhat, then signed his visitors' book.  "It's good for you to sign.  That way, we know where you are going if you have a problem," he told us as we left.

Our view up the Rolwaling Kola to Gaurishankar (7135m)
We are planning to cross the Tesi Lapcha pass, one of the longest and highest in Nepal, at 5,700m.  Given that the route involves spending several days on a glacier, we are very open to the notion that we could face problems.

"Tesi Lapcha was closed until last week," our host warned.  "It has only been passable for the first time this season in the last few days."

Snow on Dhaulagiri had given way to sun on the Tesi Lapcha; we were in luck and we plodded up the path into a side valley in good spirits.

Toddler at Surmuche "Hotel"

But the afternoon was a tiring one.  We still had seven hundred metres of ascent to complete, but the path did not seem to understand that it should lead us upwards.  It plunged to the river then half-heartedly reascended the valley side before deciding to try out life as a rollercoaster.  An hour and a half shy of our intended destination we spotted a half-built lodge with a beautiful view of Gauri Shankar at the side of the path and decided to call it a day.  From now on, all we had to do was rest our legs, work our cameras, drink a huge flask of Sherpa tea, and play innumerable rounds of Napoleon - a game at which I wiped the floor with the combined forces of Paul, Guy and Ian.  My success turned out to be regrettable; they proceeded to high five each other whenever I failed to win a round of cards for the entirety of the next three weeks.

Back into Yak territory
The millet fields of Simigaun
Welcome to Gary Shankar 
Simigaun flora
Terracing at Simigaun
Gaurishankar at dusk 


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