Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monsoon Trekking: Langtang

This trip I'm going to separate into posts by region, and we started up in Langtang. Before I get started I just want to remind readers that what I am retelling here is my experience, I do not necessarily recommend the itinerary that I will relate in this story. Also it should be noted that our recent trip into Tibet left us already acclimatized so we had no trouble with elevation and did not have to plan additional days for acclimating to the high altitudes at Kyanjin Gompa or the Gosainkund Lakes.

The route that Donnie and I had decided on would take us up into the Langtang valley from Dunche, then back down the valley and up to the sacred lakes of Gosainkund before descending back down to Kathmandu via the Helumbu region. I really found the idea of walking up to glaciers on the border of Tibet and then returning all the way to my door step on foot a really attractive idea. That one day you could be be in a place that seemed so far away and then literally walk to your door in less than a week was exciting. At least I thought it was. I was also excited to see what monsoon treks were actually like, and my last post gives my thoughts on that.

7 Miles South of Dunche the Road was Washed Out

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Big Monsoon Lie

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom."
-Thomas Paine

If you read any guidebook, trekking book, or talk to almost anyone in Nepal, both foreign or local, about trekking during the monsoon you will get the same answer; don't. Many books and people will advise that you only trek in places where you are in the Himalayan rain shadow, but many of these places require expensive permits like Mustang and upper Dolpo. Others like the Nar and Phu valley, which has a cheaper permit still requires that you use a guide and sign up through a trekking agency. Eventually this will be something I will do personally, but many people (including myself in most cases) enjoy independent trekking and like to be able to hit the trail on their own terms. The result of this common knowledge about monsoon trekking creates a complete lack of tourists through the summer months; Thamel has only a trickle of tourists and the trails are all but empty. You can go entire days without seeing another foreign  trekker.

Why is the trekking so bad during the monsoons?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monsoon Trekking, and Random Thoughts on Nepal

So now that I'm finally done blogging about our recent trip in Tibet I can get back to writing about Kathmandu and Nepal, except I'm going to be heading into the mountains again. Apparently a little over 4,000' just doesn't do it for me any more and I can't resist the call of the mountains. After all what would all this time in Nepal be without a monsoon trek? I mean who can resist the idea of travelling on roads with landslides, hordes of jungle leaches and skies so full of clouds that one can't see the 25,000' peaks above them?  I can't.

Monsoon Trekking: Langtang, Gosainkunda & Helumbu
So Donnie, our friend that we went to Tibet with found out he was going to have some additional free time and wanted to go into the mountains, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out first hand what monsoon trekking really is like (I'm willing to wager it is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be). I mean the rain here is warm, it's not like New England where the rain and cold just suck the heat (and it feels like your soul) right out of you. We plan on starting up in the Langtang valley, go up to Kyanjin Gompa, turn around and then head south to the Gosainkunda Lakes and then head south through Helumba and back to Khathmandu via Sudarijal.

The most frightening part of this hike will be the bus ride tomorrow.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lost in Translation- Lhasa Edition

If Lhasa is any indication of how bad the English translations are in China, then I need to visit Beijing in the not too distant future. There were shirts that were literally making us laugh out loud as we passed them. I've captured two of them here, but it seemed like the cool thing to wear here was a shirt with random English words on it. I regretfully did not get any images of menus that depicted such elegantly described dishes as Yak Tongue with Edible Fungus. Mushrooms works just fine folks, edible fungus doesn't do the same job. Without further ado, here are some of the more comical translations of Lhasa.

Goldfish Rickshaw?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

10 Days in Tibet: Shigatse to Lhasa

The second part of this trip was even a little better than the first. From Shigatse we headed for Gyangze which was the suprise location of the trip, in a good way. Gyangze is in my opinion one of the best kind of places when you are traveling, you don't expect anything, and you find things that rival some of the best tourist spots in the world.

Picturesque fields on the way to Gyangze.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

10 Days in Tibet: Kathmandu to Shigatse

So we had a great trip in Tibet. The price tag was a bit higher than I would have wished, but there is only one flight that goes between Lhasa and KTM so not a lot of competition to bring the price down. Due to Chinese restrictions on travel in Tibet (at least from Nepal) you also have to use a travel agency and be in a group (even if that group is just two people). We ended up going through Borderlands, who have their main office in Thamel, and they were very professional and handled things well. I was impressed enough that I'd use them again. On the Tibet side we had Tashi Delek tours, who I was also happy with, and our Tibettan guide "Jim" was excellent in my opinion and though his English wasn't the best he was very willing to help people out when the need would arise. That came in very handy for us at the end of the trip. 

A landslide about half an hour south of the border crossing.
This was the road we would have to drive on.

So we left Kathmandu early with transportation to the Tibetan border provided by borderlands. Kim and I were accompanied by a friend of ours Donnie, who is in Kathmandu as a research student studying the atmospheric conditions of different areas of Nepal and the effect of pollution and climate change. Anyway we stopped briefly for breakfast and then had a mostly uneventful ride up the Arnaco Highway. It's only about three to four hours to the border with Tibet at Kodari, but roads in Nepal can be unpredictable. Just south of the border crossing we came to a stop behind a long line of cars. In Nepal this can mean many things.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost in Translation- Tibet Edition

Until I get my GPS data in order and I have any idea where I was I'm going to put off any serious discussion of Tibet. Until that time I'm going to have some fun with what is some of the worst English I have ever come across. While Nepal may get some English wrong, the Chinese elevate horrible English to an art form. Shirts we came across in Lhasa and other places were literally a mash of random words that made no sense together. There were so many signs, shirts and other labels that made us laugh that I have to split my pictures between Lhasa and the rest of Tibet. This section will cover the stuff we ran into outside of Lhasa.
"Becarful!!! Please dont urine here
100 RNB Charg


These are the kind of signs we don't usually need back in the states, unless you have the misfortune to live next to college kids. In Asia on the other hand, signs like this are needed, especially when your town is over run with Hindu pilgrims from India on their way to Mt. Kailash. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Celebrating Independence in Tibet

So my computer decided to turn on this afternoon and after moving all important data to an external hard drive I again have access to all my photos from Tibet. There are a lot of things that I want to talk about, and there were some really wonderful places and people I would like to blog about at length, but the first thing I want to address was one of the strangest 4th of July celebrations I have participated in. 

Being American the 4th of July usually means fire works, grilling lots of meat, parades, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and and mixing it all together with lots of family and friends. Somewhere in there we occasionally remember that the holiday is actually Independence Day, celebrating the severing of our ties to the Kingdom of Great Britain an action that lead to the founding of our Republic. Most of the time though that aspect of the holiday is lost on us. We take it for granted. 

There were only three Americans in our group; myself, Kim and our friend Donny. The way that the days fell, Independence Day fell on our first full day in Lhasa. With the thought that we should try and recreate as many of the normal American observances of the holiday we set out looking for things that would allow us to celebrate at our hotel in Tibet. As everything we consume in the U.S. seems to be made in China, it wasn't as tough as one might think. We purchased some American flags at a place that also peddled portraits of Chairman Mao, we found plenty of alcohol, and though Kim and Donny preferred Lhasa beer, there was the option of Budweiser and PBR (I just tossed some cheap local liquor in with my ice tea). At another store we purchased speakers for Kim's laptop so we could listen to music like the sound track to Team America, Jimmy Hendrix playing the star spangled banner, and other patriotic themed music. We ordered plenty of deserts at the hotel and set up all our stuff, fully prepared to be OK with being the obnoxious Americans.

You see what those passports say?
That's right, we're American.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIP- Laptop

So I just got back to Kathmandu from my trip to Tibet and had all these great pictures and things to write about. My laptop however did not survive the journey and after serving me faithfully for almost four years it died due to a seizure of the primary hard drive. Over the last month the poor laptop had suffered several setbacks, starting with the increasingly common built in wireless card failing to work to the more recent loss of the CD drive, which completely vanished one day (even in the bios). The recent problem manifested itself during our stay in Lhasa, and last night proved fatal.
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