Sunday, December 20, 2009

A sherpa's trick to warm you up

Our sherpa Ang Kami Sherpa had a nice little trick to warm us up in the evenings after the sun had set and the chill of the Himalayan air had sunk down through your core.  Tongba is an adult beverage consisting of fermented millet grain served up in a tall aluminium cylinder or a small red bucket with a thermos of boiled water.  The boiled water is pored into the fermented grain and you drink through an aluminium straw with perforations on the end ensuring you only get a mouthful of tongba, not grain.  Its pretty tasty and since it is not that strong, you can suck down a few buckets before you get wobbly.  Alternatively, you can ask the teahouse owners for roxy (its not on the menu so don't bother looking), which is a local wine made from rice with coffee and honey blended into the mix.  This stuff has the strength of tequila with a taste unimaginably more harsh and comes with a kick in the stomach that will make you question life.  The beers available include Everest and San Miguel (which is questionably offered as a local beer?) And of course you have good ol' Everest Whiskey or Even Royal Stag... my preference being for the former.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snapshots from a Himalayan village

Just a few pics from the villages we passed through from the few times we had a camera with us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A very rugged place to call home

The people of these mountains are more rugged than you can imagine, and they don't fool around when setting up accommodations in these parts.  And of course all materials carried on the backs of porters.

Himalayan HDR leftovers

The big boys

The highlight of any Himalayan trek is the first glimpse of the roof of the world.  Mt. Everest, or Sagarmartha, or Qomolangma stands large at 29,029 feet and the tallest in the world.  Eight of the highest summits in the world are in Nepal and Nine of the tallest summits are apart of the Himalayan range.  On the Everest Base Camp trek you are treated to views of five of these top ten mountains including Lhotse and Cho Oyu as well as other holy and picturesque mountains like Ama Dablam.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Himalayan tea house

One of the pleasant features of hiking the Everest Base Camp Trail as opposed to other treks in the world is that the Tibetans and Sherpa have an established network of teahouses providing lodging. Sleeping in a comfy bed, even if it is literally freezing, is significantly better than sleeping on the cold hard granite ground in a tent. The operators of the teahouses are all quite pleasant and will offer up some interesting dinner conversation which goes well with the traditional Nepalese dal bhat (rice, lentils, veggies, and curry).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bridges to terror

I really hate hates, with a ferocity that may be unparalleled.  The implication of this hatred is the likelihood that I may not be able to appreciate the majesty of suspension bridges draped hundreds of feet above a raging river between two cliffs swaying precariously in the arctic breeze while pack yaks are baring down on you and porters with 80 kilos on their back are nipping at your heals.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Temple Mania: Nepal Edition: Himalayan Temples

Temples galore in these hills.  Early on in the trek you find many Nepalese Buddhist temples and monasteries, but quickly something changes and you find that most of the locales that you meet are Tibetan and Sherpa (as in the people, not the mountain guides).  You soon find stone tablets, walls, and boulders inscribed with Buddhist prayers called mani walls on the sides and in the middle of the trails (Remember: pass on the left).  Most of these walls are inscribed with the same prayer, on mani padme hum.  The same prayer you will hear the Sherpa and Tibetans chant while spinning the many prayer wheels you pass along your way.  If you make it up to Khumjung and you have the time to head over to the local monastery you can find what the monks claim is a yeti skull... Ha! Looks like an upturned hairy cereal bowl to me.  None the less, our sherpa is a believer and its worth a visit.  The same monastery has an uber giant prayer wheel in a room with intricate wall paintings centuries older than the United States itself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Everest Base Camp Trail

Just off the flight to Lukla, we meet up with our Sherpa, Ang Kami, and our porter, Raj Kuhmar, and start our hike.  No rest, just on to the Khumbu trek up the Everest Base Camp Trail.  Its an easy trek at first which gives you plenty of time to soak it all in and comprehend the fact that you are hiking in the footsteps of George Mallory, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tenzing Norgay.  However, we decided to skip EBC itself since it was not the time of year when all of the climbers set up the tent city in their bid to tackle the mountain, but we would veer off the trail after a few days and head up the Gokyo route for its better views of Everest and Lhotse than EBC itself.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A flight to forget

Off we go into the Himalayas.  Step 1: Stop by the UN office in Kathmandu and pick up some tickets for a flight to Lukla, 10,000ft up in the mountains and give ourselves a head start.  Its a hair raising flight on an old Russian prop plane guided by pilots flying only by sight and what must be a sixth sense since it is cloudy 90% of the time.  Without heat you find yourself and the other nine passengers shivering and focusing in amazement on the mountains growing on the horizon you spot out of the front wind shield wondering if that one is Everest, or maybe its that one, or if that was Lhotse.  Buzzing 50ft from sheer cliff faces flying thousands of feet high yet still in the shadow of the peaks above really humbles and gives you a proper introduction to the Himalayan mountains you will be climbing.  Just past the pilot we could see our landing zone, a football field long runway on a steep incline carved several thousand feet up into the face of a mountain.  Everyone laughs a bit , thinking 'Christ, is this guy really going to try and land this beast on that thing'. Walking off this flight everyone had Jimmy legs from experience, and the knowledge we would have to take off down this runway and essentially fall off of a cliff at the end of this football field only made it worse.  But for now, on to the mountains...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Temple Mania: Nepal Edition: Swayambhunath

I have a love hate relationship with monkeys.  On one hand they are probably one of the most interesting creatures to watch and interact with and they are always up to wacky hijinks, but on the other hand they are always  up to wacky hijinks and may actually be ta manifestation of pure evil keeping check on those holy monks inhabiting these temples.  Hold on to your sunglasses, leave your valuables in the car, and watch your back because the next stop is the monkey temple, Swayambhunath, overlooking all of Kathmandu on its highest peak.

Temple Mania: Nepal Edition: Boudhanath

Why not pregame our Himalayan trek with some temple exploration. First up, a Tibetan temple in the semi-autonomous Boudha section of Kathmandu... Boudhanath.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Maoist surprise in Kathmandu

We just get settled into our hotel in the Tibetan section of Kathmandu only to find out there is a bit of Maoist unrest. A transportation strike and some rallied threaten our departure up into the foothills of the Himalayas. Despite a bit of disorder we have a few days to check out the city, visit the UN headquarters, and witness some of the Maoist protests.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Clouds above Kathmandu

Flying into Kathmandu is amazing... surrounded by clouds which slowly disolve away into peaks which eventually emerge as the beautiful Himalayas and then you float down above the welcoming city of Kathmandu.

Kolkata in B&W

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Streets of Kolkata

The streets of Kolkata are inhabited by a single thriving undulating mass of life and chaos. The chaos is unescabale. People bathing, shaving, sleeping, cooking, eating, and praying all in the street dodging the tuk-tuks, rickshaws, Ambassador Classic taxis, motorbikers, pedestrians, and the occasional flock of goat on these streets without even a single stop sign or traffic light to help bring order to the masses. All of this activity occurs on the streets of rubble leftover from what once was the focal point of the British efforts of colonialization in the region. I could have never have dreamed of a place so busy, chaotic, raw, gritty, and alive in my wildest dreams... or perhaps nightmares.