Saturday, 31 December 2011


Thursday 22 December: From Kathmandu's tourist bus stand in Kantipath it's a 300 Rupee, five-hour, trip to Dumre then a jeep, heavily-laden with 18 passengers, for the half-hour ride up to the village of Bandipur. I'm on my way to Pokhara lakeside for the festive season but have decided to break my journey in this pretty traffic-free village.
I'm here not just to see the Bandipur but also to climb, through terraced mustard fields, to the summit of the flat-topped hill of Tundikhel for a stunning panorama of the Annapurna range.
Photos of and from Bandipur.


Wednesday 21 December: Back in the noise and pollution of the capital I'm staying in Century Lodge which, from the outside, looks like a bomb has hit it. Inside though I have a sunny room with a small balcony adjacent to the 'hot' shower and western loo. The price has increased to 300 Rupees a night (about £3). I've been using the lodge as a base to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu valley.
I like Century Lodge and Kumari's cafe out in the front yard which provides a decent breakfast and a good dhall bhatt set dinner in the evening. I have at hand my kilo of Yak cheese (actually it's Nak cheese as the Yak is the male, difficult trick) and a handy supply of Mustang apple 'brandy' (cider) for supper. Better fare is available in Thamel like the Nepali set thali with tongba in Hot Plate restaurant and the steak menu in K-Too where I spend my final evening.
A few photos of Kathmandu plus photos from April and May 2010.

Friday, 30 December 2011


Monday 19 December: There's a National strike today so, with no buses or taxis and few motorbikes on the roads, it's a pleasant and quiet stroll an hour or so west to the Buddhist hilltop stupa in Swayambhu. Passing colourful chortons and Buddha statues along the way, it's a steep climb up to the summit. Troops of Monkeys entertain pilgrims along the route swinging and hanging from the railings just waiting for the opportunity to snatch food or water bottles from the unwary tourist. Above the glittering gold stupa hundreds of Steppe Eagles soar, circle and swoop adding to the impromptu entertainment. The view over Kathmandu is a polluted haze despite today's lack of traffic.
Back at street level there's a pleasant prayer-wheel lined walk to one of the largest mani wheels I've seen, hidden in it's own little colourfully-decorated temple.
Photos of Swayambhu.

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Sunday 18 December: Further north and just round the corner from Ratna Park is the stand where buses depart for the one-hour journey to Bhaktapur, the third Medieval city in the Kathmandu Valley. The least impressive and most expensive (US$12) of the three sites, it's dominated by the five-tiered Nyatapole Temple which, at 100ft high, is the tallest in Nepal. The pairs of temple guardians are said to get more fearsome and powerful as you climb the steps: Rajput wrestlers armed with bludgeons, Elephants, Lions, beaked and horned griffons and finally two Hindu Goddesses. Just south is a labyrinth of alleys leading to Potters' Square, where carefully crafted clay-ware is drying in the hot sun.
To the north is Durbar Square with King Bhupatindra Malla's Column and the stone Vatsala Durga Temple of similar South Indian design to those at Patan, but the wonderful gilded-metal Golden Gate is unique to Bhaktapur.
Photos of Bhaktapur.


Saturday 17 December: There are three ancient cities in the Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, each with it's own distinctive showcase Durbar Square. Throughout history each successive city builder has not only tried to outdo his predecessor but has also also tried to outdo his neighbouring king. I'm staying in Kathmandu's Durbur Square and Patan is only short stroll south, so that's where I'm headed today.
Once over the non-too-clean Babmati River the suburbs get prettier and, passing a large water-tank, several courtyards open up to reveal an array of Hindu icons and temples. One courtyard accommodates the Golden Temple with fierce stone guardians protecting the gleaming gilded Buddhist metalwork. A small alley leads to the five-storey Kumbeshwar Temple where worshipers poke and stir wood-fires in his honour.
A little further south is Patan's bustling temple complex of Durbar Square. Krishna Mandir is the most impressive, not least because, rather than being built of brick and wood, it's intricately carved from a single piece of stone. Overlooking the temple, with his back to the Royal Palace (now a cafe-museum) is King Yoganarendra Malla's Column topped by his brass statue. Legend has it that if the small brass Sparrow perched above his head flies off the king will return. But local wags have it that if this happens the two large stone Elephants (one crushing a man), fronting the two-tiered Vishwanath Temple, will wander down to the water-conduit for a drink.
Photos of Patan.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Thursday 15 December: Now based in Kathmandu, I'm exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the area that I didn't have time to see during my short visit in 2009. The first one is a real corker and it's only a half-hour bus ride from the chaotic old bus station, at Rana Park, opposite the tourist office.
An important place of Buddhist pilgrimage, the great stupa of Boudhanath is where traders and travellers sought blessing for safe passage over the mountain passes to Tibet and gave thanks upon their safe return. I add my thanks.
Joining the other pilgrims I take several clockwise turns or koras around the whitewashed stupa and spin many of the multitude of mani or prayer wheels as I go. A double lotus flower is subtly depicted in saffron water around the base of the dome and, above the eyes of Buddha, strings of colourful prayer flags adorn the jeweled and gold embossed crown. A store for sacred energy? I'm not sure, but it is certainly a very special and heart-warming place.
On my way back to Kathmandu's Durbar Square, I stumble across Kasthamandap, the city's largest supermarket, where I'm able to stock up with some of the material essentials of travelling life - Shiraz red wine, Mustang apple brandy and a new pair of 'Nike' running shoes which, at 1,449 Rupees (around £14), seem like a bargain. I wonder how long they'll last . . . certainly longer than the drinks.
Photos of Boudhanath.

Everest Walk Out

Sunday 4 (day 20): Lobuche to Tengboche. A warm early morning start and a late breakfast at Duglha before making Pheriche for lunch where I'm forced, by the icy heat-sapping wind that howls up the valley, to add several layers of clothing. Moving fast now, at lower altitude, it's like walking on air. I've caught up with David and Kate and, from our tea and apple pie stop, there are good views back to the soaring peak of Ama Dablam. 'Thyangboche' Guesthouse (recommended) is our warm and welcoming overnight stop in Tengboche.
Monday 5 (day 21): Tengboche to Namche Bazaar.
In the morning we explore Tengboche's Monastery, made famous for blessings endowed on Everest expeditions and there are fine views over the cloudy valley where it's all downhill to Namche. Saying goodbye to the Californians I opt for the Khumba Lodge this time. It's where ex-US President Carter stayed when he visited. I'm sure he had a better room than the one I'm in, but the piping hot shower is wonderful.
Wednesday 7 (day 23): After a rest day Namache it's downhill again but, paying too little attention to my route, I'm going uphill. I've taken a wrong turn and find myself all the way up in Lukla. So as night falls, and having to use a head torch, it's a relief to drop down to the Everest Trail Lodge in Surkhe.
Thursday 8 (day 24): Surkhe to Jubling. A long day down past painted stone chortons and pretty homes, Gorkhali Lodge in Jubling has a comfortable room overlooking the village centre.
Friday 9 (day 25): Jubling to Junbesi. Another long day and it's dark when I happily arrive back at Ang Chhokpa's Lodge (recommended) for more of the best dhall bhat of the trek.
Saturday 10 (day 26): Junbesi to Kinja. Early morning up then a long downhill stretch back Kinja and New Everest Guesthouse, once again, arriving after dark.
Sunday 11 (day 27): Kinja to Shivalaya. A shorter day and in daylight I arrive at River Guesthouse next to a suspension bridge on the east bank of the Khimti Khola.
Monday 12 (day 28): Shivalaya to Jiri. Mostly downhill it's a short day down to the Sherpa Guesthouse (a better choice than before) in Jiri to buy a kilo of, so called, Yak cheese and arrange a microbus (minibus) back to Kathmandu. Great trip.
Photos of Everest Walk Out back to Jiri.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Roof of the World

Friday 2 December (day 18): Dzonglha to Lobuche (4,930m) (16,269ft). Down one valley then up another one and I'm back on the Everest Base Camp route which runs alongside Khumba Glacier to the pleasant Up in The Clouds Lodge in Lobuche.
Saturday 3 (day 19): Lobuche to Gorak Shep 5,160m (17,028ft), on to Kala Patthar 5,550m (18,315ft) and back to Lobuche. This is a long day gently uphill at first, where I meet David and Kate again who are heading down, I'm sure we'll meet up again. For me it's onward and up over Changri Nup Glacier before arriving at Gorak Shep's Buddha Lodge for lunch. In the afternoon it's two hours steeply up to the summit of Kala Patthar for spectacular views of Everest hiding behind the far more spectacular shoulder of Nuptse. The icy western flank of Nuptse is alive with the loud cracking of avalanches, most small, one quite large. Clouds of white snow cascade down the mountainside. This is fantastic, almost close enough to touch.
I'm breathing hard when I reach the flag-draped peak of Kala Patthar. So much so that I'm nearly caught up by two teenage Aussie girls, daughters of the couple who waded through the glacial meltwater stream.
The views back down to the moaning and creaking Khumbu Glacier and Gorak Shep are almost surreal. Great day. It's dark when I get back to Up in the Clouds Lodge.
I've decided not to head to Everest Base Camp as there's not much to see - at this time of the year all that remains of the Everest mountaineering expeditions is their trash.
Roof of the World photos.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Gokyo Sacred Lakes and Cho La Pass

Wednesday 23 November (day 9): Rather than going directly towards Everest I've decided to take the scenic route via Gokya and Cho La Pass then return to Namche by the Everest walk-in route, so I part company with Matt and Lorraine who, short of time, are taking the more direct route. Due to the altitude gain it's a short up and down day from Namche, via Mong La Pass 3,975m (13,117ft), to the basic Gozumba Guest House in Phortse Thenga.
Thursday 24 (day 10): Phortse Thenga to Dhole 4,090m (13,497ft). Another short but all uphill day to the pleasant Yeti Inn in Dhole where I have time to finish Chris Bonnington's 1976 book Everest the Hard Way.
owner is friendly Sherpa who tells us that his father, who had climbed Everest several times, threw him out of the family home when he refused to follow in his footsteps (most Sherpas say that they climb so that their son's don't have to). He does have on display, together with some of his Father's vintage mountaineering gear, a treasured photograph of himself, as a young man, with Sir Edmund Hillary. Nice man who believes in Yetis the same way I believe in the Loch Ness monster. Here I meet David and Kate, a hippy father and his daughter from California, a happy pair.
Friday 25 (day 11): Dhole to Machherma 4,410m (14,553ft). A short uphill day to the warmth of Yeti Lodge in Machherma where a Yak train is tied up for the night.
Saturday 26 (day 12): Machherma to Gokyo 4,750m (15,675ft). Another uphill day to Gokyo where, after lunch, I climb Gokyo Ri which at 5,360m (17,688ft) is around four times higher than Ben Nevis. It's an exhausting experience and I'm forced to stop frequently to take deep breaths. The summit's only other inhabitants are a pair of finch-like birds, Alpine Accentors, who are undisturbed by my presence but the real reward is the breathtaking views over to the Everest range and downhill to Gokyo's pretty lake.
In the evening, for warmth, we huddle round Namaste Lodge's dung-burning stove and later I dream that I'm struggling for breath, drowning in a tank of air with a brain-splitting headache. Slowly I realise it's not a dream, I'm awake. I sit up in bed for several hours taking deep breaths. If this persists tomorrow I'll need to descend.
Sunday 27 (day 13): Gokyo. I spend an acclimatisation day reading the Dalai Lama's book, The Art of Happiness, I feel not only rested but more content.
Monday 28 (day 14): Gokyo. Feeling better today I hike north along Ngozumba Glacier to Goyko's 5th lake and up to Scoundrel's Viewpoint, 5,000m (16,500ft), for spectacular vistas of Cho Oyu's icy wall and the fang-like Cholo. The creaking glacier and my footsteps are ignored by a flock of Partridge.
Tuesday 29 (day 15): Goyko. I return to the summit of Gokyo Ri to catch Everest in the sunset - it's spectacular but there's a dark and chilly descent back to the comfort of Namaste Lodge's dung-fired stove.
Wednesday 30 (day 16): Gokyo to Thangnag 4,700m (15,510ft). A short but fascinating day I head east across the creaking and cracking Ngozumbo Glacier (I can't believe how loud it is) where amidst the grey morraine little Pika or Mouse-hares dart between the boulders.
An Austrailian couple and their two daughters, who I meet later, tell me that when their guide took an old path across the glacier they were obliged to wade, chest deep, across a melt-water stream wearing just underware and their socks for grip. I navigate my way across easily. Local guides can be a bit hit and miss.
Thursday 1 December (day 17): Thangnag to Dzonglha over Cho La Pass 5,368m (17,714ft). A long tough day which, with hindsight, would have been better tackled with an ice axe and a pack lunch. A steep breathless scramble over jagged rocks leads to Cho La's icy saddle where a slippery hard-ice path crosses an high-altitude glacier before continuing steeply down towards an open valley and Dzonglha's fairly cheerless Green Valley Lodge. Finally, much needed food, I've made it.
Photos of Gokyo Lakes and Cho La Pass.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Everest Walk In: Jiri to Namche Bazaar

There is now an airstrip at Lukla, where package tourists are air-freighted straight to high altitude, but I've chosen the original mountaineer's walk-in route from Juri to Everest Base Camp both for nostalgic reasons and to aid my fitness and acclimatisation process. Tuesday 15 November (day 1): Juri to Bhandhar. Departing Juri's Cherdung Lodge at 7:30am it's a muddy uphill hike through the chilly mist to Shivalaya. Stopping for a dhall bhatt (lentil broth with rice and lightly spiced vegetable curry) lunch here I meet up with Matt and Lorraine, from London, who are on a six-month work-gap trip to Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines. We are persuaded to buy a, probably unnecessary, 2,000 Rupee (about £20) Gaurishankar Conservation Area Permit (we are only just clipping the edge) before logging-in our TIMS cards at the police post. By mid-afternoon, after a cold and misty climb over the 2,705m (8,926ft) Deuralia Pass (about twice the height of Ben Nevis), we drop down to Bhandar and the comfortable pink and blue Ang Dawa Lodge, our home for the night.
Wednesday 16 (day 2): Bhandar to Sete. We are following orange markers painted for the benefit of marathon runners but this lulls us into a false sense of security and we cross a suspension bridge and head uphill rather than following the river. We lose about an hour but eventually make Kinja for lunch. The afternoon is all uphill to Sete where we meet the Chapman family, a party of seven Australians who are also walking in. The basic Sherpa Guide Lodge is our chilly home.
Thursday 17 (day 3): Sete to Junbesi. More uphill this morning to Lamjura Bhanjyang pass, which at 3,530m (11,649ft) it's the highest point on the trek between Jiri and Namche Bazaar (that's nearly three times higher than Ben Nevis). It's freezing and the cairn marking the summit is wrapped with frozen prayer flags and katas (ceremonial silk scarves). We huddle round a wood burning stove for lunch then it's downhill, via the monastery, to the welcoming warmth of the dining room in the blue and white Ang Chhokpa's Lodge and the best dhall bhat of the trek.
Friday 18 (day 4): Junbesi to Nunthala. It's a fairly easy hike up and down through pine forest to Ringmo for lunch then steeply up to the chorton topped Trakshindu La pass 3,080m (10,164ft) and a steep descent to Nunthala's Moonlight Lodge for the night.
Saturday 19 (day 5): Nunthala to Khari Khola. As the day progresses more and more white-topped peaks appear on the horizon. In the evening the delights of the Namaste Hotel include, Tongba, hot Tibetan millet beer sucked through a metal straw squashed at one end to keep the pips in the jug. A popular experience for John and David, two of the younger Chapmans.
Sunday 20 (day 6): Khari Khola to Thado Kosi. A long day and we arrive at Everest Summiter Lodge in Thado Kosi where the owner, the older brother of Khasi (the Chapman's guide), has climbed Everest six times as the certificates on the lodge wall testify. Khasi is only just behind him.
Monday 21 (day 7): Thado Kosi to Namche Bazaar 3,420m (11,286ft). Late morning and we enter the UNESCO World Heritage listed Sagarmatha National Park and a suspension bridge across the Dudh Kosi to Jorsale for lunch then, after crossing Namche Bazaar's high bridge, it's an exhausting climb up to the Everest viewpoint and, through fir tree branches, my first close up view of the world's highest mountain.
Namche, the Sherpa's 'capital, is spectacularly set in a natural amphitheatre but the chilly Hotel Hill-Ten leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately I'm obliged to stay two nights as my gear is being laundered here. A necessary hot shower is an extortionate 400 Rupees (about £4). At 100 Rupees per day hire fee a down jacket is better value.
Tuesday 22 (day 8): Namche Bazaar. An acclimatisation day is also necessary. North of the village is the the white Tenzing Norgye Memorial Stupa with fine mountain views but a little further on there's a great view of the star of the show - Ama Dablam ('Mother with Children' mountain). With a puff of white cloud above her summit, doesn't she looks magnificent?
Photos of the Jiri to Namache Walk In.