Hello from Kathmandu!
We got back yesterday from our 25 day trek in the far east of Nepal – well away from the earthquake. Starting walking from Sekathum we went north to Kanchenjunga Base Camp (north side) then backtracked a bit before heading west over two passes – the Nango La and Lumba Sumba.
The Lumba Sumba is technically 3 passes, all over 5000m, and we had stunning views of Kanchenjunga, Jannu (and more) in one direction and Makalu and Baruntse (and more) in the other.
Amazingly lucky with the weather – blue skies pretty much every day, with the odd afternoon of cloud on a couple of days.
We are now indulging in two days relaxing at the Chharari Retreat high in the hills above Kathmandu, before a couple of days back in the thick of things in Thamel then flying back to the UK on Thursday and catching the train home to Herefordshire on Friday.
I’m getting a “Trekkers Massage” later today, we had fresh fruit for breakfast and they have fresh roast and ground coffee in the rooms and organic shampoo and body lotion in the en suite (The En Suite!) – luxury!!
So, the trek…..
We flew to Bhadrapur, jeeped through tea plantations to Taplejung (1 day, tarmac) and then on to Sekathum (1/2 day, dirt track). From there, a gradual ascent (with plenty of descents en route) through mostly tiny villages to Lhonak at 4700m. A cold and frosty place but a very warm welcome.
From there we did KBC there and back in a (long, cold but clear) day, then returned to the relative metropolis of Ghunsa (3500m) via Kambachen (4100m).
You can get fresh ground coffee and good solid chocolate cake in Ghunsa….
Then we headed west, off the beaten track and over the Nango La and a few days later, the three passes of the Lumba Sumba. There were then a further 5 days trekking out to Num, each day involving A Lot of Up and Down.
The contrast between the KBC section and the rest of the trek was striking. On the KBC we met lots of trekkers (Hello, Snickers-fuelled Andorrans!) and stayed in tea houses. Once we turned off that trail an hour south of Ghunsa and started trekking west we were mainly camping or staying in relatively basic “hotels” / homestays, until we got to the end of the trek in Num. The exception was Olangchugola where we stayed in a tea house along with a fair few trekkers (Hello, Belgians!). They’d only had about 50 people trek to / through the village this whole year, and later, in Honggon, we heard that we were only the 3rd group of trekkers to cross over the Lumba Sumba this year.
The vegetation was very different to either side of the Lumba Sumba. On the KBC side, we were walking through forests of glorious golden autumn larches, bronze barked birches, glossy green and gold rhododendrons and deep green juniper. On the Arun khola side we had lots of bamboo, tall trees and, as we descended, lots of very lush growth of all sorted of trees, shrubs and plants. Cardamom covered the lower slopes for the first couple of days and the last couple too. Butterflies galore.
The trails were clear – lots of stone steps and slopes where the trail is still the main route between mountain villages and yak pastures. But they really hugged the hillside in places and some of the drop offs were sheer and went a long way down, particularly once we were following the upper sections of the Arun river. So, not recommended if you get vertigo….
There is also a lot of ascent and descent, pretty much every day, rather than the steady ascents / descents of routes further west. Tiring towards the end, when we were trekking down to the river and back up high again at least once a day. And the final day, from Ghadidanda to Num came with a 300m descent to the construction site of one of the hydro power stations being constructed on the Arun, followed by a hot and sweaty couple of hours going straight up the 500m to Num. We earned a beer that day.
Lots of bridges – some metal suspension, others new built wooden replacements for ones that get washed away…
….. and lots of landslides – the most I’ve encountered on a trek, and the most challenging too, particularly high above the Yangma Khola between the Nango La and Olangchugola village.
The two passes were easy. With no snow to complicate things, it really was just a matter of walking and a lot of up, then a lot of down.
Although we only had 7 nights camping, they were memorable with multitudes of stars, the Milky Way, fingernail moons and bright shining Venus. And yaks… which are not very familiar with guy ropes it turns out.
Our return flight was from Tumlingtar, where we stayed in the most squalid hotel ever. Avoid Hotel Makalu if you’re ever there, although I’m not sure anywhere else is much better. It’s very much an airport village. The jeep journey from Num is a bumpy 4+ hours, until you reach the tarmac at Khandbari.
A big, big thank you to our main guide, the wonderfully calm and competent Mingmi Sherpa, and her brother Tenzee and Mingmi, our local Taplejung guide who completed our trio of guides. Dali and his kitchen team fed us feasts full of flavour while we were camping, and our porters where all lovely, and very good at getting a camp fire going…..
Thanks – and credit – to Steffi for the photos! Mine are still on the old school camera SD cards….
And big, big thanks to Val for the inspiration, planning and coordination. We missed you!