Nepal: Trekking the Foothills of the Himalayas

Following on from India, I travelled from there in our group of 6 friends including my mother, on this tailor-made trip to experience Nepal which is home to eight out of the fourteen highest peaks in the world and trek in the foothills of the Himalayas with views of Mount Everest the mountain I was particularly interested in.

One of my Views flying over Everest in the small plane

Kathmandu seen as a sacred site is a chaotic hustle bustle of a place full of people and pagoda temples, the roads are dusty and bumpy but infused with the smell of ever burning joss sticks, it was originally first discovered as a small settlement during the dark ages at the end of the Licchani period.

These days Kathmandu is seen as a place of worship with its Buddhist temples and statues where joss sticks are burnt continously and the symbolic colourful flags are hung for protection, many climbers like to visit the flags in the hope it will bring them luck on their climbs.

We went to an older part of Kathmandu which I did not like at all, it had a medieval feel about it and I split from the others as I preferred to explore the area alone, however then walked unwittingly into an area where an animal sacrifice was taking place, it shocked and upset me and I had to run away from it as not only could I not bear to see it I also could not stand hearing it.

It was beyond appalling and cruel.

Further on I came to a temple where there is a Living Goddess, a young girl chosen from the age of around 6 years old for her psychic abilities and a series of other tests, a tradition of Hindu and Buddhism which continues to this day. Once chosen the girl or Goddess as she has now become is given the name Kumari Devi and worshipped on all the religious occasions.

The selection of the Living Goddess is an ancient tantric ritual where she must pass the 32 attributes of perfection test, including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice and her horoscope must also be fitting as the first part of selection.

They will then attempt to frighten girls who are being tested by making them confront a goddess in a darkened room with Buffalo heads scattered around, masked dancers made to look like Demons and terrifying noises. The real goddess is unlikely to be frightened, so the one who remains calm throughout the process is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Other tests are performed where they are tested for any sign of psychic ability, then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.

The god-house Kumari Ghar is a store-house of magnificent intricate carvings where the Living Goddess performs her daily rituals. During her tenure in the god-house, Guthi Sansthan, the government trust fund bears her entire expenses including that of her caretakers.

Her days in the temple come to an end with her first menstruation, however if she gets even a minor scratch on her body that bleeds she is deemed unlucky and impure so therefore invalid for worship. She then changes back to the status of normal mortal and is cast out into the streets, thrown away like an unwanted toy and the search of a new Kumari begins. It is said to be unlucky to marry an ex-Kumari and her family generally disown her for fear of becoming unlucky themselves, it is so sad that this girl after being worshipped and adored suddenly becomes an outcast as soon as she menstruates.

I stared up into the face of the little girl who was looking out of the window above me, she was dressed in rich reds and golds, covered in jewels and looked out over the crowd who were chanting her given name, she can only appear for a very brief time so many seconds before disappearing back behind the window of the darkened room.

If anything, although she appeared confident and aloof, I thought I saw a flicker of fear in her eyes, an uncertainty of everything and if I am mistaken and it was not there at that moment, it soon would be, what an awful fate for anybody to go through, that little girl will be thrown out and no doubt end up begging on the streets when she reaches the age of about 11.

I did not take a photograph of her as it seemed disrespectful to do so, in fact I did not get the camera out at all in this area of Kathmandu, I felt uneasy here and wanted to get away.

I met up with the others again and we headed West of Kathmandu to see the huge ancient structure of Swayambhunath with its ever watchful eyes of the Buddha which are painted onto its face and which stare eerily out in all directions.

It was established over 2,500 years ago and there are over 300 steps leading up to it with various stone carved animals placed along the way, it is an impressive, if touristy, sight.

It also has some real residents there, very cheeky monkeys that patrol the walking area will steal anything that they can off any passing tourists, they are quick and very sharp, be careful they can also bite!

One of the Monekys

The Swayambhunath has a mystical Third Eye painted on which is symbolic of true wisdom and the nose which looks like a question mark symbolises unity being the Nepalese number one or ‘ek’.

We were due the next day to travel up to the Himalaya foothills for a few days of trekking and camping in huts along the way and I was very much looking forward to this more than any other part of the trip as for me it was the sole reason I had come to the area.

I had felt extremely unwell with sharp stomach pains, dizziness and then sickness and diarrhea which continued for most of the afternoon, in the end I returned to my room and went to lay down and try to sleep off whatever the ‘bug’ was.

Later on my mother and a couple of friends entered the room and I heard her cry out in horror shouting to the others that my skin looked ‘green’. In response I tried to sit up but felt so nauseous and wiped out that I found I had not the strength even to try and get up.

I said out loud “can someone please turn a light on, its pitch black in here”.

It all went very quiet and then Jo said: “but its the afternoon, its light.”

To my horror I realised that I had my eyes open but could not see!

This was very frightening and I began to panic, trying to get up and getting more and more upset at what appeared to be a super rapid deterioration of my health in general but most of all the loss of my sight.

I heard Terry and Jo both say they would call for a Doctor and to stay calm, my mother was talking to them and she sounded very upset and panicked, she wanted me to be flown home immediately.

The Doctor arrived within about 15 minutes or so, which was very quick and he spoke excellent English, he calmly told me that he suspected I had ‘acute bacterial gastroenteritis’ which was causing the stomach pains and vomiting, he also had an explanation about the sight loss, which was all linked to a parasitic type of thing and sounded very technical and but which I have forgotten the name/explanation of now.

In fact I cared not what it was I was really just panicking like hell about my eye sight, it was so frightening not being able to see and having the others tell me it was still daylight.

He gave me an injection and said that it would make a huge difference almost immediately, it did, I started to feel fantastic, the sickness seemed to quickly fade and my sight started to come back, blurred at first, but he said to remain laying with a damp cloth over them.

I thought it was the nearest to a miracle that I had ever encountered, what on earth was in that injection I will never know, but it was bloody fantastic.

I felt as though I was literally floating around the room, I was as high as a kite from that injection and it felt great.

The Doctor also gave me antibiotics which were huge, blue and tasted foul but as long as they worked I did not care, he then reassured myself and the others who had all remained with me that there was no need to fly me home early and that if we were heading to Dhulikhel that the air would be a tonic and full recovery would be speedy once up in the hills.

The next morning I felt a little weak but so much better and my sight was fully restored which was a relief beyond words, I could not quite believe the difference.

I reassured the others that I was happy to continue on and packed my day bag ready for the few days camping and hiking at Dhulikhel, the rest of the luggage was left at the hotel.

The drive from Kathmandu to Sundarijal was along bumpy, dusty roads passing interesting market stalls and people scattering off in all directions, the only thing they seemed to stop for was the sacred cows which delighted in sitting in the middle of the road. All traffic would stop for the cows, but they were not so obliging to humans (as I had found out in India!).

Sacred Cow having a rest

I felt a little sick on the journey but it was only an hour and as we neared our destination which was Sunjdarijal, I got distracted by the landscape which changed as we went high up a track to a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and stepped plantations.

One of the Stepped Plantations

Once there we topped our water bottles up again ready for the 5 hour trek from Sunjdarijal to Chisapani, I started to feel remarkably well once out of the vehicle and enjoyed walking the trail through the relatively unexplored foothills of the impressive Himalyas. A group of small children began to walk with us and were good company chattering and laughing, I gave them all some Bic Biros as I had been told prior to coming that the children really value them.

One of the hill children

We had a cook, a Sherpa as our trekking guide, an old army Sergeant major who would salute at every given opportunity and a couple of porters with us on the trek, though I carried my own backpack as it was light and only had the essentials inside.

We continued hiking and walked through the Shivpuri Watershed which had a small settlement of Tamang habitants, passing through this area was interesting and the people very friendly, the trek was very hilly, however the surroundings were so beautiful that you did not really notice it as there was so much to see.
We had gone up a steep hill then continued on down a narrow ridge on through a forest of oak trees and rhododendron bushes going on to Chisapani where we were to camp for the night in a hut.

The flora was stunning

The beauty of the area

The Doctor had been right, the air here was like a tonic, I felt so good and so did everyone else, it was so fresh and pure up in the foothills and the views were breathtaking, I sat in the cool grass and watched as the sun set golden, then pink and then a deep orange over Mount Everest in the distance.

In the evening we ate a fantastic meal of rice and beans with a rich array of spices over an open fire, it was a fitting end to our first day of trekking.

The next morning the Sergeant Major came and knocked at each little hut to wake us all up, he would stand and salute as I opened the door to him, he made me laugh with this routine, the six of us rose to a good breakfast and began the 7 hour Trek from Chauki Bhanjyang, Chisapani along the most beautiful trails leading on to Nagarkot.

There is a majestic panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges from Dhaulagiri in the West then the Langtang, Dorge lakpa, Gauri Shankar in the centre and the awe-inspiring Mount Everest in the East.

As well as the panoramic view there were many rice paddies and stepped plantations with huge palms and some interesting plants including some that looked like giant pineapples.

The Giant Pineapples

On reaching camp for the night I settled into a lone spot with a cup of nourishing soup and rested after the days hill hiking enjoying once again the sun setting over the surrounding mountains, Everest draws you in, I literally could not take my eyes off that mountain and never once tired of staring at it, wondering who may be climbing it at that moment.

What made the experience even more magical was that as the sun went down the sky became illuminated with fireflies flitting about like tiny fairies, it was the first time I had ever seen fireflies and I thought them to be amazing, I still do.

My mother sat under a tree resting in its shade

The next day was the 6 hour hill trek from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel which is often referred to as the gateway to Tibet. There is a small town of Newar with a long history that has been around for more than 500 years and the Newar inhabitants have created a place of charm and beauty. The houses have quaintly carved wooden windows and characteristic sloping roofs and there is an array of pagoda temples and sacred statues scattered everywhere.

Me enjoying the views

I was happy up in the hills, it felt so peaceful to be away from the bustle of the towns and villages, as soon as we were in an area that became remote higher up, I found I was filled with a sense of peace and wellbeing that I have rarely experienced anywhere else.

On the path to Dhulikhel

There was a strange atmosphere at the camp this evening, no one knew why at first but the tension was very apparent, there had been some sort of disagreement between one of the porters and the cook. There was a great deal of shouting between the two of them which went on for quite some time, I stayed with the group on this occasion to see what was happening.

It later emerged that he had been accused of stealing some money from one of the group. Unfortunately when the person checked they found that indeed they did have some money missing and the porter went off in a rage to confront him, much shouting followed and we watched awkwardly as the cook was then escorted off and away from camp by the angry porter. Jo was given the money back that had been taken.

It left a very sour end to what had been a lovely day and we all felt bad about it, I felt a bit sorry for the cook, he had lost his job and been humiliated, he probably only took the money because he was desperate, it does not make it right of course, he should not have done it, but I felt for him all the same.

The Sergeant Major man told us we must each locked our hut doors that night in case he came back for revenge, I thought this a bit over the top as I did not think he would want to come anywhere near us again, however after all the shouting earlier they were taking no chances and the Sergeant Major stayed up all night gallantly patrolling our area.

The cook did not return, it was the last we saw of him.

The next day we had a 5 hour Trek from Dhulikhel to Namo Buddha-Panauti, the trail climbs quite steeply up to the Kali Mandir, a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali before dropping back down to a small village called Kavre then climbing back up again through woods of pine past Phulbari then up and down more hills with breathtaking views.

After a few hours we reached the hill of Namobuddha at an elevation of 1750m, which is a very important Buddhist Pilgrimage located in Kavre District approximately 38 km east of Kathmandu, the trail had been so picturesque that again you did not really feel the climbs too much as long as you took it steady and it was much cooler up in the hills for the trekking.

We had all decided that after enjoying such amazing views of Mount Everest it would be good to take a short flight over it to get a good view of the top of the World, so on reaching the end of our few days trek of Namobuddha to Kathmandu we quickly sorted out a flight in a small plane to round off the trekking.

The plane had just 10 seats on it, so the six of us all squeezed in, I think its fair to say that we were all of a ‘slim build’ the four people who followed us on….were not! In fact all four of them were huge and as we encountered a bumpy flight full of small air pockets over the Himalayas they would all dominate the windows with the best views.

I gave up trying to get to the good windows and stayed put at my little window, it was good enough, I really just wanted to enjoy the views as a relaxing reward for the trekking and so contented myself, to see Everest from above was such a privilege, below are a couple of the photos that I took.

My view of Everest

I was in total awe of these mountains

The flight was fantastic despite the turbulence and the large people hogging the main windows, I still loved it and am so pleased to have experienced it.

The next morning we got up at 05:30am ready to have an early breakfast and take a 3 hour drive from Kathmandu to Bhote Koshi River for a day of White Water River Rafting.
The Bhote Koshi meaning ‘River from Tibet’ is an extremely fast flowing river where waters have come crashing down from the mountains and is classed as a grade 4-5 (difficult in places) which is exactly what we wanted as a challenge and for the thrill of the adventure.

Once there we were given training and instruction then once kitted up we were off, the strength of that river is something that I shall never forget as it felt as though it owned us and could take us and the raft at any time it chose to, hurling us under the water or crashing us on the rocks that edged it.

There was little time to see the passing mountains and monasteries as we had to concentrate at all times to get it right as the rapids were challenging in places.

I was one of the front paddlers and had to use that paddle with as much strength as I could muster against the pull of the current, in quieter areas of the river it would drop to a grade 3 but in the faster, deeper rapids it would quickly go up to the marked 4-5 in difficulty.

Picture taken of us at the beginning of the river

Approaching rougher waters

I really enjoyed the rapids and at lunchtime we stopped at a sandy bank side and had a picnic of bread with hard-boiled eggs and fish with a spicy sauce. It was great to stop for a bit and rest the arms as mine were by now aching from battling the current, however straight after lunch we all wanted to get straight back into the raft and continue on as far as the day would take us. We did just that and had a fantastic remainder of the day white water rafting down the river in a continuation of earlier, the only mishap we had was crashing into a large rock, but luckily no one was hurt, it was more just the shock of the impact of it as the water threw us across as such a high-speed. No one fell out.

My mother and me having our picnic by the riverside

The trip to Nepal was a great success and the experiences fantastic, I would very much like to go back one day and trek some more of the foothills, perhaps getting a little closer to Everest, though have no ambitions to climb any of that mountain, I shall leave that to the experts and instead hope to one day continue to enjoy the less challenging but still visually rewarding foothills.