Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Family's Trekking Travellogue to Nepal ~ Day 4

Day 4 - The second day of trekking

6:30am. I took this shot out of my window.
The sun was just about rising.
Another new day. Another new adventure.

The children were really not bad. Managed to squeeze all the sleeping bags into their cases, and pack their backpacks,
and managed to get ready for the roads again in a short time.

After breakfast, Mahesh gave every one a run-through of our trek for that day... and soon, we were off..

 Ulleri (2070m) to Ghorepani (2870m)

This day's trek was essentially an upward hike towards Ghorepani,
a large Margar village, and the starting point for the trek to Poon Hill.
As usual we didn't know what to expect.
Mahesh reassured us that today's trek is going to be easier than yesterday's
But strangely I felt that it was equally strenuous in terms of the climb.
Looking back at the GPS data, I realise that the climb was indeed quite significant,
but thankfully analysing the vertical distance gained and lost,
it was clear that there wasn't too much of ups and downs..
More of up and up and up... Exactly like what Mahesh said.

This is the actual GPS track of our trek from Ulleri to Ghorepani

Click on the image above for a larger version

Some points about what we carry on our trekking trip.
The porters carry the big back packs. But still, we have to carry a day pack containing:

  • water bottle
  • camera equipment
  • walkie talkie
  • torchlight
  • extra batteries
  • jack knife
  • food - snicker bars, snacks..
  • emergency medicine
  • gloves, headgear and such..
  • space to store our middle layer when we take it off when it becomes too hot..

Essentially anything that we need should a situation arise or something we need en route.
Because the porters are usually way ahead of us.. they usually forge ahead to secure the guest lodge and get things prepared, upon the guide's instruction.
We don't use any ponies ourselves at all, although there were some travelllers who choose to take ponies for ascend and descend.

I tried to keep everyone's daypack to less than 5kg. But for some of us, it's a little tough.
For me myself, and the son - we end up carrying about 6.9 - 7kg of stuff in our daypack.
After the first day trek to Ulleri, we tried to pare down the stuff. But ended up still with the essentials.

8:30am. The Singapore flag moves out.

The recorded temperature read 6 degree Celsius.
We all were decked in our outer shells on this morning because it was cold.
As we started to walk, the morning sun came shining onto the side of the mountain.
But strangely despite the sun, the air was still cold.

What I have come to realise so far on this trek was, the contrast between the lit areas and the areas in the shade was great.
Thus often, the pictures turned out half black and half bright.
'twas really hard to shoot.
Some more, what I have found on the first day of the trek was, as we climbed and walked, I was too tired to focus on every shot.
Thus I had to depend a lot on using hyperfocus and a smaller aperture (around f8) to ensure focus.
In such a way, SereneXMM and I were literally just shooting with the rangefinder in a point and shoot manner.

We had quite a lot of muesli bars and snacks.
And as much as I remembered in my heart that we should try our best to refrain from giving out these snacks to the children so as to help
prevent dental decay, somehow the urge often overcome our kind intent.
We still ended up handing out the goodies.

Remembering the GPS track, we started climbing almost right away.
Sometime into the middle of the trek, I felt that we were walking much faster than yesterday.
I asked Mahesh:
"Hey Mahesh, do you find that the children are walking faster today?"
Mahesh: "Yes, all of you are walking faster."
Me: "Hmmm... why is that so, I wonder? Perhaps every one was well rested last night and has gained much more confidence today."

I believe my postulation was correct. The level of confidence was high.
Spirit was high.
A few of us had started to develop thigh aches and knee strain.
But the knee guards and some anti-inflammatories kept things at bay.

.. and a shot by SereneXMM... showing just how happy the Jiejies are...

Trekking is pretty interesting.
I tried to walk with every single child in turn for a stretch of the track.
Sometimes we would see things that interest us and that got us talking and talking non-stop.
Sometimes, we would all be lost in our own thoughts as we walked, but our eyes were still alert and were always on the look out for unique scenes.

And on a trek like this, as long as we kept our eyes open, we would discover new things and new sights.

Like young little kids, the girls would always exclaim when they come upon buffaloes, horses, goats and even chicken and ducks.
City-dwellers like us have been really too starved of such lovely creatures of nature, creatures that until a couple of generations ago, were still commonplace back in Singapore.
Haha.. so much so that we had to rediscover them on a trek in a far-away land. What an irony.

For me, personally, it's a time of rediscovery of my own link with the children.
Every step I walked just behind them or in front of them, was a renewal of the bond with them, a bond which many of us parents working hard in this modern world have in certain ways neglected.

On this morning, I looked up and marvelled at how blue the sky was.
I remembered Adrian of SgTrekker telling me that this was a great period to trek in the Nepali Himalaya because the sky is clear and beautiful.
Indeed. Lovely sky.
I wondered if it would snow any of these days, just for the pleasure of the children, but while doing my research back home, I have come upon forecasts that stated that the few days we were trekking would be clear days with almost no precipitation.

Along the trek, we would see many of the local people who went about their own business.
I didn't believe it at first, but I was totally swept by how easily a single word Namaste and a sincere smile could bring out a similar response in the passers-by.
How readily they were in returning that greeting.
I was surprised how swiftly our children learned to do just that.
And they greeted almost every body on the trek whom they meet.

These two school-going girls were very cute.
They greeted us with clasped hands as we Namaste-ed them.

This pair of young and old ladies smiled and nodded at me when I smiled and took a shot of them

And this wrinkle-lined old lady in beautiful ethnic costume returned me a smile when I said Namaste.

 ... Villages after small villages...

This was indeed a trek of villages.
From Ulleri to Ghorepani, there were many tiny little villages that we would past by.
So many that I cannot remember which village was which.
I was asked once: "When you trek, you will just see mountain after mountain, and village after village. And every turn, you will see the same mountain. What fun is there?"
I think that was a really good question, facts which I do not deny.
But I think the only answer that I can give in reply to this question is:

"As much as I enjoy reaching the destination, I enjoy every rock on the path, every sound of the river rushing below us,
every groan of strain during a climb,
every laughter of joy along the way,

~ everything that brings me close to Nature, and to my loved ones as we accomplish the journey hand in hand."

This was around late morning already.
And every one was starting to feel the warmth from his/her own body as well as the lovely warmth from the sun.
And outer shell layers were off.

Thus far, it had been a great walk this morning.
Steady pace with no stress.
Even the climbs were met with a ready acceptance and a willingness to overcome with little complain.
We are all slowly slowly beginning to be more like the mountain people already.. haha...

Challenging ourselves

I became quite self-confident myself as I observe how good the children were walking.
I told SereneXMM: "Ok, I'm going follow our son right up in front."

And I did.
Haha.. what a big mistake.
Fellow was fast. And it was later in the evening that I discover the repercussion of my stupidity ~
a pair of aching thighs.. Haha...

Thankfully both of us came to a boulder just at the edge of the trail.
Instinctively the young man climbed up there and sat right at the end.
I thought that was a good idea - a nice shady rest place for us to wait while the rest of the group catched up with us.

"Yeah..." I thought to myself. "A good spot to photograph the girls coming up..."
And AhLiXMM and AhSing came right up...

It was quite a nice feeling relaxing on the big rock waiting for everyone to come..

We waited and waited..
And then SereneXMM saw us and took this happy shot...

And then Mahesh came by.
And SereneXMM passed him her rangefinder and he took this shot of all of us..

Waterfall... what a nice surprise.

We continued walking until we could hear the sound of rushing water a distance away.
I remember we excitedly descended a flight of downslope steps to come to this small little waterfall

We hadn't had a chance to see too many waterfalls along the track.
And indeed it was refreshing to behold this, albeit a small little one.
We all just stopped at the side to take in the view.

We were now in the shade. And we were suddenly feeling cold again out of the sun.
The recorded temperature at this time on this day was 16 degree Celsius.
We took but only a short duration of rest before we took on the road again.

Crossing a wet bridge and making another climb, we found ourselves embarking on uphill all the way from this point onwards.
We have been walking for about 3 hours plus already.
The earlier momentum seemed to have been a little lost.
Mahesh appeared to have noticed that in us, and not long after this, he brought us to a small little lodge for a short rest with hot drinks..

[Taken by Fann the Penguin]

"We will be aiming to hit Nangethanti for our lunch break," encouraged Mahesh.
"It's not far. Just a little bit more to go."

Nangethanti? Where is that on the map again?
Here it is. Click on the small map to view the larger version.
A herd of Mountain Goats! What a lovely surprise.. again.

To the mountain people, goats must be a daily sight.
But to us, it was another refreshing encounter.
The children totally fell in love with the bleating goats, especially a few young kids.

Ho Ho Ho... Goats!

Fann the Penguin was very fast with her Canon 50D.
And she snapped and snapped and snapped, to give us these lovely photos..

The baby goat.

The big brother goat.

And the Mother Goat taking a photo.

Edging towards lunch point at Nangethanti...

The terrain began to climb.
And the strain on our back, our thighs and our cardiovascular system began to show.
The whole morning I had been shuttling between the son in front, the two elder Jiejies behind and the two younger sisters in the middle.
That was really tough.
Why was I doing that? Because as a Father, I had to keep reminding myself to pay equal attention to every single one while on the trek.
Otherwise the child might as well had been walking alone. There lies the reason why I had to pumped my quadriceps quadruply hard to keep up with the boy at the earlier part of the climb.
And now, as the climb to Nangethanti approaches, I once again turn my attention to AhLiXMM and AhSing.

A shot of yours truly's behind by SereneXMM..

SereneXMM was the real poor thing in the whole trek.
I can guess that of all of us, the physical strain upon her would have been the highest.
Thus by now she had lost her backpack to our good guide Mahesh, and was walking slowly but steadily.
For some strange reason she had also given up her second trekking stick and was using only one. Haha... to lighten her load, probably..
.. A shot of SereneXMM's behind by yours truly...

"Bzzz... Ah Li, Ah Sing.. where are you both? Over." I walkie-talkied the two younger sisters.
"Erm... Papa, we are climbing a steep slope now. Over." replied AhLiXMM on the walkie talkie.
"Oh yah! Ah Li, I can see you right across the cliff through the opening," I exclaimed. "Can you see me?"
"Where are you, Papa? I cannot see you."
"Here here, look to your left side, across the gorge. I am waving at you..."

Lovely lah, this equipment of modern technology called walkie talkie.
And indeed I could see AhLiXMM walking up the slope. She stopped for a while, trying to search for me through the trees.
But then she started moving off...

Click on each of the following photos to see the larger versions.

I muttered to myself under my rapid breaths that I have still a great distance to cover to catch up with AhLiXMM and AhSing.
Shucks.. better start increasing my cadence.
I walked and walked.. and saw our good porter cum assistant guide Ramesh waiting for me and the back group.
Ramesh is really a gentle guy. Soft spoken but always with a kind word and a smile whenever being spoken to.

I looked back at the jiejies and said:
"Hey Q and Fann, I am just going to quicken my steps to catch up with AhLiXMM and AhSing."
"You all try to keep up ok? Please keep an eye out for Mommy."

And after the young girls I went... pumping both my sticks with as much gusto as I could muster.

And I was walking with them for quite a distance, and surprise surprise, the three ladies behind did manage to catch up with us.
And SereneXMM took a shot of us - me, the son and AhSing, here like this.
Well, I guess the lure of lunch as lunch point neared must have given them that little extra bit of push.. LOL..

And again we went.
It was getting a little bit monotonous now, even for me..
Of course, the climb didn't make things better.
So I had to keep myself entertained.

And I looked up and saw Q's dayback and saw the words behind.
(sorry for the OOF as I was too breathless trying to take a shot of her bag with my widest aperture).
It said "HOT SH*T".

And now I finally understood why over the past two days of trekking I had been constantly reminded of these..

Yupe... full of HOT SH*T.. LOL...
OK, joke over.

Now back to our quest for LUNCH.

In no time, we came to another opening.. this time the blue tint of the roof showed through the walls of the mountains..

Aaaaaah.. there was our lunch point, Nangethanti.
But before we reach Nangethanti, we still got to cross a last bridge.
It had been so many bridges I cannot even remember which bridge belonged where.
Still, I took a shot of this little bridge to remember it by, for on our way back we would not pass through here any more.

... and finally, lunch.

.. and a chance for my Columbia beanie and my Rudy Project to take a rest... from my head.

I distinctly remembered the time when we had lunch.
It was about 2:15pm in the afternoon. The sun was about to set from this part of the mountains.
And the air was chilly.
For myself and AhLiXMM we were feeling the effects of the chill.
And we kept having to seat ourselves in whatever remaining sun there was to keep ourselves warm
We really tried. But it seemed futile for the coldness of the air had set in.

A quick lunch of Dal Bhat and fried rice and fried noodles.. and a couple of red bulls and coca cola (at mountain prices.. whew! Real mountain prices..) and off we went.

From atop a slope, I catch a sight of the three ladies at the back marching in synchrony.

Into the woods we trekked again.
And I came across this sign which said: "Help preserve the Nature, save the firewoods."
Mahesh related that in the mountains, there are only certain periods in a year when the locals are allowed to go forth and cut firewood for burning.
And the local authority actually reinforces punishment should that be contravened.
Interesting. Sounded just like the situation in Namche area.

Not only into the woods we went, into a last stretch of steep climb we started, for this was REALLY that last stretch to Ghorepani.

A video documentation of my terrible physical condition...

I kept marvelling at the way the young girls trek.
They were so daft and so nimble with their footwork such that it betrays the toughness of the terrain.
Seeing the way they walk, it looked so effortless.
And me? I was panting heavily all the way.
Don't believe me? Take a look at this video..

In the video, where the porter took a rest, we were at an altitude of 2612m.
Another 260m to Upper Ghorepani... push on!

Only then did Mahesh reveal that we have only arrived at Lower Ghorepani.
Where we need to end up was at Upper Ghorepani.. somewhere higher up there.
Shucks.. some more walking...
A video of that moment...

Anyway, a record shot of yours truly by SereneXMM.

I think I'd better tell the children..

All creatures big and small...

Even as we came to Lower Ghorepani, we still had our eyes peeled to all the animals and insects..
And hey, a rooster-a-coodle-doo was standing proud at Lower Ghorepani waiting for us..

And I quietly followed it as it strolled leisurely along the pavement.
Only to find its path blocked by SereneXMM... Haha..

The girls thought this was the end and were rejoicing.
But haha.. no lah, still another climb to somewhere up there.
OK guys, follow the track an turn right and keep climbing... wah lau eh..

Upper Ghorepani welcomes us at 2870m

Whew. Finally the checkpoint at Upper Ghorepani came into sigh.
Communications on the walkie talkies have been flying all over as the younger children who have arrived earlier are calling and asking when we would be reaching.
"Ok OK.. I have just arrvied. Where are you all?"
"Papa, you just keep walking, there is a Stupa and once you see the Stupa you continue walking and we are all waiting in the Guest Lodge."

And yes! The Stupa!
Mahesh, who was walking just in front of me, said: "You see the small side road behind this Stupa?"
"Yes, tomorrow morning we will be walking up this small track in the dark to go to Poon Hill..."

Oh.. I thought to myself.
Enough of adventure today already ba... another adventure awaits tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I got to look for the young ones...

I stumbled forward a little more and come to a most wonderful sight!
Annapurna South peak! We meet again!
And wow.. the village with such a beautiful view to wake up to every morning.
I am sure many of us in Singapore will pay a high premium for something like this.
Q Jiejie cried: "Oh wow! This is like.. the mountains are so near to us! OMG!"

Haha.. yupe. The little ones are safe and sound right at our lodge - Green View, it said.
And have been patiently waiting for us.

Wow.. what a day it had been.
A day of long walk.
And a level of climb no less than the day before.
A day of new sights, new smells, new experience.

But right this moment, our tired legs and bodies just needed a rest... and er.. hot shower?

Hot shower?
Hmmm... man, this lodge's hot water is not really hot...

What cameras can we bring for trekking in Nepal?

We have crazily carried heavy DSLR with long lenses and a few heavy lenses to trek in Nepal previously.
And when we decided to go for this trek, our promise to ourselves, both SereneXMM and I, was to take care of the children, and to share close moments with them, not to shoot nicely orchestrated landscape shots on tripods. Haha...
But we still had to take our record shots ah...
So one rangefinder each:
For SereneXMM ~ a rangefinder + 35mm lens.
For me ~ a rangefinder + 35mm lens (mostly mounted on the camera). I brought a 75mm and a 90mm in addition. But they started to weigh down on me in my day pack such that the second half of the trek, I left one of the other long lenses in my big backpack for the porter to carry.
Fann the penguin brought her trusty Canon 50D and her 17-85mm.

But the champion must surely be the eldest Jiejie Q.
She was shooting the whole trip with her iPhone and the Golden Half film camera (seen here hanging from her hand).

The younger three children?
Ask Ah Sing and Ah Li, and they will tell you what I often told them:
"Use the BEST camera in the world to shoot ~ your own pair of eyes."
Haha.. yes, in my opinion, the best camera in the world indeed is your own pair of eyes, coupled with your own genuine heart as the best memory card.

That night at dinner...

By this time, my camera battery has gone almost flat, and Q's iPhone is almost zero already.
The wonderful thing about these Guest lodges are, although many of them do not have individual charging power sockets in the room, you are welcome to make use of their common power socket located in the dining hall, or the kitchen to do your charging.
Up till now at 2870m, we have not needed to pay for charging.

I was lucky for I made use of the opportunity to walk into the kitchen and observe the lodge owners cooking our dinner.

These ladies are so friendly - they never chased me out of the kitchen but smiled at me.

Mahesh walked into the kitchen and struck a conversation with me.
"Limwhow," he said. "You know, all the porters say that the children are very very good trekkers."
"So far they are very good. Especially your son. He is very fast. He was with Ramesh and the rest of the porters all the way in front."
"Tomorrow will be a very tough trek because we need to set off early at around 4-5am to trek 400m up in the dark to Poon Hill at 3210m. Going there will take about 1 hour and coming back another 1 hour. And after that we will set off from Ghorepani to Tadapani. This is also another long trek, about 5 hours. So it will be a total of 7 hours of trekking."
"After tomorrow, we will all give the children the 100%!" He encouraged.

Shot taken by SereneXMM while I was talking to Mahesh.

Yeah, man. I knew it was going to be a tough trek the next day.
In fact, in restrospect, compared wit the first day up Ulleri, the trek from Ghorepani to Poon Hil and thence to Tadapani, was the toughest walk.
Why? Several reasons:

  • By now, most of us have already developed some form of muscle aches and joint pains. Myself and SereneXMM were aching from top to bottom. AhSing's knees and ankles were acting up already. Q has some calves pain. Fann the Penguin is a light girl, so she has nary a problem. AhLiXMM is ok except for also some thigh aches. The son? That fellow is a tough guy. LOL..
  • The vast majority of the trek on the third day would be undertaken at altitudes of about 3000m. So it would always be important to keep an eye out for Acute Mountain Sickness, though, in my opinion, the chances of that would be not high as we have been ascended slowly and our bodies have been acclimatizing.
  • That early morning trek up to Poon Hill would be quite shagged, I felt. Cos the ascend is steep. And that first part 2 hours of the day would probably take some wind out of most of us already.

But heck lah, let's just take it a day at a time.
Meanwhile, tonight we need to have a good sleep.

Hot shower?
Haha.. what hot shower?
Here, the 'hot' was at best 'luke warm'.
We tried to shower. I tried to shower. But at the first touch of the water, I could only tahan enough to just wet my hair and sprinkle some water on my body.
Couldn't even apply soap/shampoo.
That was why I suffered terribly that night. My hair was soooooo itchy I was scratching my head the whole night through..
"Tomorrow wherever we arrive at, I must wash my hair properly," I promised myself.

A cold, cold night...
ZA the son walkie talkie:
"Papa, I have prepared your sleeping back for you already."
Wow.. what fortune I have to have my bed prepared for me... LOL.
That night the temperature dropped to about 2 degrees.
Really not cold, as compared to many other wintry destinations.
But honestly, when the wooden room has no heater and you are totally on your own to bear the cold, every degree is significant.
And we were on our base layers again with the middle fleece layer, and T shirt, and trek pants and merino wool socks..
In fact, for the son and I, we have been wearing exactly the same clothes since we began trekking in Nayapul.
So we just powdered our clothes and socks thickly.
And we just grit our teeth and tahan the cold that night..

And.. ho ho ho.. my favourite heat packs.. disposable heat packs so important that I simply stuck one to each of my palms and sole of each foot.
And we knocked out very quickly that evening.
We must have been tired.

Click Below to continue to the next Chapter:
A Family's Trekking Travellogue to Nepal ~ Day 5