Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Family's Trekking Travellogue to Nepal ~ Day 6

Day 6: Our forth day of trekking- From Tadapani (2660m) to Ghandruk (2060m)
*Yawn.... an easy easy trek...*
[Haha... that's what most would think...]

Yupe. So it had come to Day 4.
Somehow, after my deep slumber, and after awakening to a fresh cold mountain morning,
I couldn't believe that
the family had done three days of pretty tough (read, in our family term lah, but in real mountaineering terms, it's 'easy') trekking.

Me to SereneXMM: "You know something, Dar?"
SereneXMM: "What?"
Me: "I knew somewhere, some time along the trek, it is just going to be MENTAL already. No longer purely physical, but Mental."
"But I didn't realise that it occurred so soon. Yesterday, it hit the children. Yeah, Day 3 was the day when the Mental part played a major role."
SereneXMM: "Yah lor... for me, since Day 1 it was Mental already..."

*Blur...* How do you reply to that? Hahaha..
Anyway... here is the GPS track of our 'short' trek from Tadapani to Ghandruk on this Day 4..

Click on the image below to see a larger version

So.. off we go on the start of Day 4...

The forth day of Trekking started like any other trekking days.
As cold as any other trekking days, if not colder.
Every one of us walked like penguin ding dong ding dong down to the outside (almost outdoor) washing basin to brush our teeth and wash our faces.
It was so cold......
I almost didn't feel like brushing my teeth.

Really? At least you guai guai brushed..

Edit: Added photo of AhLiXMM brushing her teeth in the outdoor...
I saw the mirror reflection of the opposite lodge as I was brushing my teeth with her. That scene was pretty feelingful to me: the cold, the walking out, and toothpaste all over her mouth... her kitten beanie.. all here on this fateful Tadapani morning...
Didn't have my camera. Only my iPhone.
So just took a snap of it for memory's sake...

A munch of breakfast, a sip of coffee...
8:15am, off we go.. a brand new start to a brand new day!

Ramesh and RajKumar getting our backpacks ready...

Oh... with the short trek today, I had a feeling that they were going to fly like ponies with wings right ahead to our destination...

"So! How is every one?" cheerful greetings from Mahesh. "Are we ready? Ok! Let's go!"
A blink of the eye, a broad smile from the handsome guide, and the girls were totally charmed, and their legs started pumping.

Analysis of the GPS Data in retrospect showed that on this day, our trek was much less undulating than the previous day's.
A totally descending trek, without too much of undulation, was the main reason why Mahesh confidently declared today's trek to be the easiest one in all the whole trip.
Somehow, I didn't know whether to believe him 100% or 99%.
Sometimes the twinkle in his eyes could be a gentle persuasion to push on a little more.
Especially knowing how we Singaporeans tend to behave... he could have developed a knack to gently 'encourage' us to attain our goal.

Nice, flat terrain...

The Rhododendron forest had taken on a different kind of feel now that we have descended off the highs of 3100m to the current around 2600m.
No longer did we see frosted ground and ice, we are enjoying a nice breezy hike through lush greens.

.. well, lush enough for a sub-tropical vegetation.
Walking behind the girls, the view from the back looks totally beautiful.. Like a page out of Lord of the Rings..
Or something to that effect. I just couldn't help but fired away on my camera - f/8 all the way.

Ok, for those who are crazy about trekking to Annapurna Base Camp...

Somewhere right after Tadapani we came to a small junction.
Mahesh pointed out the route one would take to end up at Annapurna Base Camp..

Wow.. that's another story altogether yah...
Maybe one day we will be trekking on the left route instead of this right route.
One day. One day.

"Trekking is kinda boring, isn't it? You just walk, and do nothing else.."

Some of my friends and patients have asked me this very valid question. I don't deny that.
But it all boils down to how you walk. Yes, that's right ~ how you walk.
You could simply choose to walk and totally immerse yourself in your own thoughts.. an almost meditative silence ensues and some trekker achieve a never-before attained peace of mind, that was so welcome a break from the signal-overload in a modern society.
Or your could choose to let go and open your eyes and your mind to your environment.

More often, we would lapse into periods of silent trekking, alternating with periods of engagement trekking.

What I loved about trekking at a leisurely pace in the Nepali Himalaya is that the person with whom you trek closely can participate in an ongoing conversation throughout the whole period while you both were walking.
I talked and talked non-stop with each of the children, laughing.. marvelling at the plants, the poultry the livestock, and of course the mountains.
Throughout our trek, the Annapurna South peak, the Hiunchuli peak and the Machhapuchhre peaks kept following us. And their presence gave us the reassurance that we were all in good hands as they watched over our safety.

I didn't think I ever had even one-tenth of the time really talking to the children back at home at the end of the day, totally exhausted from a hard day at work. And I thought the talk-and-walk thingy was pretty refreshing. It's just communication.
In the serenity of the Rhododendron where nothing disturbs the peace except the sound of footsteps and the rustling of the leaves, hearts and minds are most open to words from the one walking close by. And communication is just like that ~ an exchange of words, a sharing of opinions, so that each of us can grasp what the other person is thinking of.

I don't know. That's just what trekking is to me.
To those of us living in a modern society, hectic and full of datelines and stress from not only our own work, but our children's school works, I would offer my sincerest of recommendations ~ do all of yourselves a great favour. Give yourselves a break from the race of the rats, if only even just for a week. And insert yourselves right into serenity here in the outdoors, where the internet cannot reach you, where the normal material comforts eludes, and where, for the first time in a long time, you have a whole, undivided time to be with your children, your spouse, and even your loved ones.
And the time you have is protected and blessed by the watchful eyes of the Himalayan mountains.

Do it. No regrets.

"Huh? But no shopping, no good food, no soft and warm bed in comfortable hotels... how to be relaxed?"

Yes, we had none.
Everything was rudimentary. But you are back to basic.
Back to Nature which was what we human beings were meant to be be living within, NOT living without.
Convinced your wives, convinced your husbands, and convinced all your children.
Just take a leap of blind faith and do this ~ just once.
And it could just turn out to be the trip of your family's lifetime.

That, is the take home message of my this humble thread.

Anyway... back to the story...

Down, down, down... and more down...

True to Mahesh's words, we were going down and down and down.
But mind you, it wasn't an easy down.
600m of descend in a short few hours meant only one thing ~ that your knees were almost guaranteed to be banged hard as the impacts from repeated blunt contact with hard rock surfaces would transmit the force of connection all through your leg bones right onto the cartilage of your knees.
And viola! Knee pain and ligament strains were a constant companion.

Those of us who were familiar with the uppings and downings of trekking in Nepal would know the pit falls.
I myself have learned, by observation, that the Nepali porters always kept their knees slightly bent whenever they descended and they would do a forefoot landing rather than a heel landing. All these translated to shock being dissipated properly instead of being focussed right onto the knee cartilages and ligaments.
Granted, in order to do this, you had to have strong thigh muscles and calf muscles.
But that's how one should trek to avoid too much knee and ankle injuries.

... I kept a close watch over the younger two girls while I descended with them.
Main purpose? AhSing was the one with the weakest knees amongst all the children and I just got to make sure she was ok.
I wasn't too worried about the climb. But when a day's trek was almost entirely descending, one often became complacent and coupled that with tiredness, and a trekker could easily slacken and loose the proper form of trekking.
And that was when injuries most often occurred.

The other issue was that of hydration. No doubt it was cold throughout the whole few days of trekking.
The cold and the low humidity (we had absolutely no precipitation and the days while we trekked were almost cloudless days) predisposes one to dehydration.
It was easy to just walk and forgot about drinking because one was not hot, as compared with walking or exercising in the Tropics.
I literally had to keep reminding the children and SereneXMM and myself to drink.
Water had also became a premium up here in the mountains.
What cost 25 rupees (Singapore 35 cents) a 1 litre of bottled water had escalated to 150 rupees (Singapore $2.11) per bottle.
If one was daring enough to ask for refill of 'Drinking safe water' from the lodge, it would cost 50 rupees (Singapore 70 cents) a bottle.
Cokes and beers were also at a premium at such high altitudes.
Thus, the best deal? Just drink plain bottled water. And if the guest lodge didn't sell bottled water, ask for 'Driking safe water' to refill your water bottles.

Descends, descends and more sharp descends...

Our faithful forward scout, he was always on the look out.
And just like the previous day when he warned us about the icy up-slopes, today he kept walkie-talkie us about the sharp descends..
"OK OK... there are many sharp down slopes," he warned. "After the downslopes, there is a small stream with only a few rocks to step on in order to cross it. Careful. Wet and slipper."

And after a while, he discovered another sharp descend...
"Another sharp down. Hard to find rocks to step on..."

Really tough. All these.
And what I found more teruk, was that we had to cross a few streams merely stepping across logs and small rocks in the middle of the stream.
Haha.. what an experience. If we missed a step, we would simply go downstream with the flow liao...

Wah... walk until knees really painful!

This day was the one when my knees really cried out loud.
As much as I kept my knees bent and toes tipped, the strain on the knee ligament was still pretty tremendous for a man of my size.
Yupe. Served me right for not losing more weight, and not training up my thigh muscles even more before we came for the trek.

While walking, the eyes must be kept focussed on the step-able rocks and surfaces.
Really. Because you just can't trust what appeared to be safe. Some of the small mud puddles turned out to be quite slippery.

And often, the down-step is not a low one step, but a high two step drop.

Even after a short distance forward, I looked back and found that the girls behind were still quite high up.
Wow.. only when I looked back could I see how much we have dropped in terms of vertical height, only after a short walk.

I told AhSing and AhLiXMM.. let's all slow down a little bit and stop here at the stream to wait for the rest behind.
Let them have a chance to catch up so that we can walk together.
And caught up they did, and pretty quickly too.

Just as we were enjoying some flat terrain, another sharp dip came upon us...

[Shot taken by SereneXMM]

SereneXMM was very clever.
While I was struggling with the dip, she had the presence of mind to capture the side of this cliff..

[Shot taken by SereneXMM]

Oh... a clearing!
Wow.. the gorge suddenly open up in front of us and we came right up to a nice opening where some trekkers were sitting on the grass enjoying a scene of the mountains ahead. We grabbed the chance to take a rest and gobbled down some water...
We should be not far from Ghandruk, yah?

It was just so Himalayan, wasn't it.
When it was down, it would always present you with some ups.
And here, the girls found themselves straining their quadricep muscles again on an upward slope.
Come on, Ghandruk MUST be near already! No?

.. I am sure I could almost smell Ghandruk...

It's noon time.
And after that short climb, we kinda could feel something changed.
The feeling in our bones, of something nearing..
That feeling of home-run, all over again.

Looking left of our track, we began to make out terrace farms, small little houses...
gradually we started seeing people.. people standing in the middle of the farm..
And good-looking houses... all accompanied by the giants looking down from high up.

Machhapuhhre observing the villagers [limwhow].................................

Hiunchuli eyeing the houses [shot by SereneXMM]

How could you tell that you were entering a well-established village?
Well for one, the road is well-paved and level.
And the walk is... OoooooOOOOHHH sooo comfortable.

Yes! Ladies and Gentlemen... welcome to Ghandruk!
Deeper and deeper we walked into the village.

"You mean, that's it?" I thought to myself.
"Such a short trek only? It was only aga aga three and a half hours of trekking..."

Yes lah. Just enjoy Ghandruk while the noon sun is still up.
Relax lah.

Ok, then.
Let's try to explore the village a little bit this afternoon, after we had lunch.
Should be quite an interesting village.

Taking our own sweet time to arrive at the Guest lodge...

By now every single one of the children had arrived at the Guest Lodge.
The porters and Mahesh had arrived at the Guest Lodge.
The only two persons who were still taking their own sweet time in walking was me and my lovely SereneXMM the Mother Goat.

We just wanted to enjoy the scene lah..
And slowly take in the atmosphere as we walked through the quiet village...

.. and of course, now that we have arrived, SereneXMM suddenly had the mood to start shooting photos again...
And she saw a group of children having fun...

"Papa, you turn left... and walk.. and then turn right, and then turn.. and then turn. and then make a U-turn.. and you will be at the Guest Lodge," our forward Scout walkie-talkied. "It's very nice!"
We did just that.
And we suddenly saw the guest lodge...

"Hotel Milan"
.... it said on the wall. Big Big sign it was.
Hang on hang on... did we come to the right place?
Are you sure it's not some ABC Guest Lodge or DEF Guest Houses or something like that? A 'Hotel'?
Come on lah, here in Ghandruk, where got Hotel one? Huh, what you said, Mahesh? Really ah? Hotel! Wow...
Hotel Milan, what a name!
I would have thought I was somewhere in the middle of Italy or somewhere like that... what an Italiano name, Milan...

It was later that when Mahesh explained to me that I realised that the hotel was named after the owner's son, a boy named Milan.
In the local language, Milan means 'Friendly'.
Now we knew. The Friendly Hotel.

But what a lovely Guest Lodge it was.
Beautiful view.
Here... this was how it looked from the lodge.
Man, I would wake up to this view every day for the rest of my life...
Imagine! To be greeted every dawn by the magnificent Annapurna South (on the left) and the Hiunchuli (on the right)...

... even the Teddy Bear Yi-mao also wanted to retire here...

Haha.. AhLiXMM's Teddy Bear had made it so far up here.
By now, this bear was so full of dirt and soot on its face and body it had almost acquired a Nepali tan.
But still, for all its hard work, it deserved a victory shot here... with the magnificent Machhapuchhre at the background.

[Ahem.. this is the only shot that I dare announce my gear used...
Leica M9P with Summilux 35mm FLE shot wide open at f/1.4 with B+W 6 stop ND filter

I think both SereneXMM and I suddenly went kee siao about shooting wide open in broad daylight.
Here is her depiction of a flowery welcome for us at the Friendly Hotel...

Some housekeeping first... huh? No housekeeping needed?
LOL.. Every body was soooooo relaxed today.
I think the easy (yah, t
ell me about it, 'easy'...) trek and nice, cosy environment had put everyone at total ease.

The Guide Mahesh and the porters had arrived earlier. And very soon they were enjoying the nice warm sunlight in the courtyard having a game of bridge.
That was their favourite pastime. In face every night in the Guest lodges, once they were free, the men would be engaging in this card game.

And what about me? I was still lugging my daypack and trying to figure out which room to which children...
And trying to make full use of the still existing sunlight to dry my days of wet, damp, moist, mouldy clothes. Wahaha....

The corridor was fantastic,
The walls were made of bricks, real bricks.. and the toilet cum shower was... just there.. there.. right at the end of the corridor!
So convenient! Man, we were so lucky!

The dining hall was also so cosy that the boy and the jiejies couldn't wait to get themselves soaked in the atmosphere..
A round of drinks for everyone for a job well done..

We were for once, lost for things to do.
For we had never arrived in our destination village so early, ever.
So while the cooks were cooking up a feast for us, we were exploring the hotel..

Video on Hotel Milan...

Some Information about Ghandruk..

Ghandruk is the largest Gurung Village in this parts.
The Gurung are a Nepalli tribe who are Buddhist and agriculturalist.
From what Mahesh explained to me, the Gurungs are a very hard-working and enterprising group of people.
Many of them have become business people, and some have joined the Gurkha military to work in the Middle East and in Asia.
It was very apparent to us as we walked around the village that Ghandruk (or sometimes known locally as Ghandrung) was a much more well-off settlement than many other villages around.
The houses were well kept, the facilities were well maintained, and in fact there were several solar panels on some of the roof tops.
Even the children here were comparatively more well-dressed and well-nourished.

Here was the Mother Goat on her Royal tour of Ghandruk.

.. and the Royal Teddy Bear...

.. and of course, the Royal pony.

Oh.. only thing was, Nepal no longer has anything Royal in her.
The Monarchy was abolished in 2007 after the various political parties formed a Coalition with the Maoist holding a majority.

Strolling around the village of Ghandruk

The weather was too good not to go walking around the village for some jalan jalan..
There was supposed to be two different Gurung museum. But from the way our guide spoke, it sounded like it probably wasn't that worth going for it.
Anyway, we were more interested about going around and seeing the actual village for ourselves.
Every corner we turned, we would find the mountains embracing us... the feeling is pretty magical.
I cannot begin to describe the experience.

It was a quite village. The local school, which until about half an hour ago was still full of students, had just closed. And we simply walked leisurely down to the school compound. But the main gate was closed already... aiyah..
So we just continue walking a round..

Hmmm.. interesting that they should also have hot spring here.
But the signage... looked a little more touristy though...

From high up our Hotel Milan, I spotted a Buddhist temple somewhere further downslope in the village. And we walked towards it.
It was a small Buddhist Monastery,

The Villagers...

We came across the villagers, who smiled and smiled at us and Namasted and Namasted us.
Here was the caretaker outside the Monastery..

And a group of young kids whom we encountered and given our chocolates to. [SgTrekker is surely going to scold us for doing that.. LOL..]

And SereneXMM took a shot of this boy. Hmmm.. they are really quite well dressed, in comparison with people of the other villages.

As we walked slowly back to our Guest Lodge, we came across this sister and brother.
We gave them a chocolate each and they hahahaha.. laughed so happily between themselves.

That evening, we all had a nice warm shower, had a nice warm full dinner and drinks, and had a most restful sleep.

Click Below to continue to the next Chapter:
A Family's Trekking Travellogue to Nepal ~ Day 7