Wednesday, May 22 9am, Manebmanjang, West Bengal, India
So what does it take to go on a tour trek up a mountain. You need a driver to get you to a starting point. A guide to run the whole show. A cook and a cooks helper. Three porters to carry all the camp gear. And in our case, two more porters to help us with our stuff. Charlotte and I and one porter started out first. The path was very steep. Without letup. The surface is rough loose rock. We have 11km to this today. After 80 minutes and two kilometers, we’re really wondering. We’re drenched in sweat, we are passing no one and young people are bopping along right past our huffing and puffing. By 4 km we’ve reached a ridge and there are brief stretches of more level ground. At the half-way point we stop for tea and biscuits. They make us bamboo walking sticks. Maybe we’ll do better with three legs. We are in the clouds, it looks like a lot of forest up ahead. I can see the top of the near ridge – which is reassuring, but the ridges beyond it disappear up in the clouds – that’s not so good. The mountain people are interested in the digital camera and delight in Charlotte taking their picture and immediately showing them their image.
Thursday, May 23 8am, Tonglu, Nepal
We completed the 1st day trek to 9,000 feet in about 6 hours. Having run 2 marathons and Charlotte 1 marathon, the effort yesterday was similar. Charlotte has gotten diarrhea too and we are both taking medication for it. Our first camp is better than we expected. The cook is very good and we had a seven course meal last night. Charlotte met a Sai Baba devotee here. We had a good breakfast – toast, with orange marmalade from Bhutan, porridge and an egg. We left camp at 8:15am. The path is almost always strewn with rocks – we’ve seen millions of Himalayan rocks by now. Each step involves a small calculation to get good footing. Yesterday Dawa shared a walking tip with me. As the slope gets steeper, take smaller and smaller steps to keep from getting fatigued. Downhill, the same rule applies but more to maintain control. Today we find we are not the only ones in our crew with a diarrhea problem. As we walked today we crossed back over into West Bengal and that is where we will spend the night. We reached our destination in about 3 hours. The hiking is taking its toll on our muscles and bones. After resting a short while, I got up and could hardly walk the few steps to our balcony. They brought us hot lemonade a few minutes ago. Charlotte can’t imagine making it through the next two days. I keep saying "one step at a time". Last night there was a tremendous rain storm and we did see some sides of the road which had washed down into the pathway. Now we are hearing thunder again. Charlotte is the guardian angel of international relations. Hundreds of times already she has smiled at people and said Namaste or Namascara (blessings from the essence in me to the essence in you). Our second most common word is duuaba or dinnewa which means ‘thank you’. The different pronunciations are mostly a difference between south and north India.
Thursday, May 23 3:30pm, Trekkers Hut, Garibans, West Bengal
We’ve had lunch and now a good tempura onion and mushroom snack, sandwiched on either side of a nap at it rained. Charlotte is really worried this is the monsoon and we won’t be able to walk in this rain. Luke tells her its just good sound effects for sleeping. We’ll see. Dawa says no one can predict the weather in the Himalayas. It stopped raining and gave us a fairly clear view across the valley. A half hour later a huge cloud rolls in and obliterates the view. While walking we must have met 100 dogs. Every one of them was of a peaceful temperament. Now we have met our first 2 barking dogs. It appears they are trained to bark when anyone comes down the trail to the trekker huts. I meditated for a while and I notice Charlotte has fallen asleep. The one-step-at-a-time walking practice is very similar to breaking up a 30 minute meditation sitting to watch 1 breath in, 1 breath out, …. We have seen no airplanes. There are only 2 airports in the entire region – Katmandu, Nepal and Paro, Bhutan. We only saw one western vehicle so far on the trip. It was between Delhi and Agra An old Chevy van filled with people. Often the vehicles are packed to overflowing with materials or people hanging from the top or back. As many as four on a small motor scooter. I doubt there are any automatic transmission vehicles in Darjeeling and beyond. We have only seen 4 wheel drive vehicles since leaving Darjeeling and they are getting scarcer – 3 vehicles today. We actually saw more pack horses than autos. There is another life lesson from mountain climbing. When you stand and look up at a rock strewn path leading sharply upward and you are already out of breath, feeling sick, soaked in sweat, every bone and muscle aching, it is quite easy for the mind to say no way, I can’t do this. And standing there – it’s true. If instead one can look down at ones feet and see the rock just ahead, move a leg up and step on it, no matter how slowly one repeats that process, it is a sure thing you will reach the summit. With all the elimination problems we’ve had, we’ve used up 1 roll of toilet paper and have just 1 left. You might get an urgent message from us "Please Fed-X 1 roll of toilet paper".
Friday, May 24 5:30am, Garibans, West Bengal, India
We’ve had a nice long rest here and we requested we start trekking a half hour earlier today which our guide said is a good idea. Last night we showed Dawa our NightStar flashlight that has no batteries or lightbulb but gets its energy from shaking a piece of metal through a coil. He took it and showed the rest of the crew. He came back smiling and said they were all surprised. He had told us stories the previous night of having to search into the night with kerosene lamps for hikers who would not follow his advice. We think we will give this flashlight to him when we leave for Bhutan. The last two villages we’ve stayed in have had small amounts of electricity for lighting. They are getting the electricity from photovoltaic panels on the roofs. Today we are told the trek will go up steeply the first hour, then several hours of moderate increase, then the last hour steep again. In all we will be going up about 1000 meters. Ok. Charlotte’s health is now clearly not as good as mine. She has to go to the toilet a lot and has little appetite. A new wise saying, "the journey of 1,000 miles begins by going back to bed and reconsidering the need for the journey". I think my beard growing is falling behind pace. I’ll have to try a bit harder. One simple thing that would bring the rich countries and the 3rd world together would be to have everyone gain proficiency in using squat toilets. The 3rd world already has it down. In Darjeeling a few guys tried to sell me marijuana, but when I acted like I didn’t hear, they left me alone. I sure wouldn’t want to try this trek with impaired senses. A lot of the construction we see reminds me of how we built things on the hippie commune. Lots of creativity and color, but low cost materials and simplicity and practicality.
Saturday, May 25 4:30am, Mount Sandakphu
We began walking yesterday at 8:30am straight up out of the valley we had walked down into yesterday. After two hours we were at the same altitude as yesterday’s summit. The path kept going up for a short while, then began leveling off as we worked our way around different summits. After about 4 hours we came to a small village and had a tea break. There we met some European young hikers who showed us a headline that India had declared war on Pakistan. There are no papers or paper deliveries up here and people here have no idea what the government in Delhi is up to and could hardly care less. When we get off the mountain we’ll read about it more. Leaving our tea break we can see the mountain peak we are headed for. We are headed for another steep climb. Part way up my nose feels like its going to bleed. It s very cold, but walking produces so much heat, that I’m hot in a t-shirt. When we stop I’m cold and immediately need a heavy jacket. Even though it is overcast we are getting sun burnt or wind burnt and don’t realize it. With increasingly frequent stops we make it to the summit in about 6.5 hours. We found many people here already. Nearly all from India. Still no Americans anywhere. We get situated with a bed. Our guide confesses he was worried about us and was genuinely happy for us making it and gave us each a big hug. Once in bed I realized how dangerously exhausted I was. It was very cold and I was shaking uncontrollably. With difficulty I got more layers of clothing on and with the help of Charlottes body heat, the shaking stopped. Sunrise is the best time to see the mountains so we were out before 5am and we had a beautiful view of the impressive Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Kumbhakarma (Jano). Later, the three sisters peaks in Nepal came into view. Mt. Everest further to the east stayed behind clouds. Looking at the mountain ranges we saw snow coming down to 4000 meters – which is about our altitude. Charlotte thinks she got a photo of red pandas in a nearby pine tree. We’ll have to enlarge the picture to know for sure. (wasn't a panda - bark and moss instead) We keep running into bottles of "Hit – super strong – Beer".
Saturday, May 25 5:20pm, Rimbik, West Bengal, India
Today our trek was to be "downhill and long". True on both accounts but it leaves out some description. Right away our path left the one we came up the mountain on. Right away we loved it, the path was narrow and less traveled with lots of beautiful rhododendrons, pine trees, bamboo groves and more. But now the rain started and it rained heavy for many hours. The path got very treacherous with slippery rocks and mud everywhere. Charlotte fell twice and was once rescued by her sherper (porter) as she teetered on the edge of the path. A small slip or inattentive step on most of the path would give you a nice several hundred food freefall. After about 6 hours of carefully picking our way down the mountain, we reached a river. Now we followed the river. The river kept dropping and we kept rising. Finally we reached a couple huts and a vehicle was there. At it was close to getting dark, we loaded everything in the vehicle and headed down the last 3-4 kilometers to Rimbik. At Rimbik we got into some dry clothes, arranged to get a light bulb working in our room and visited with the same group of Europeans we met going up the mountain. Our driver from Darjeeling also met us here. Tonight we’re trying to figure out how to tip our helpers on the trek. Dawa said he would help us figure it out. Its so funny because when Charlotte manages a meditation retreat, people try to get her to tell them how much to give the meditation teachers – who always teach on a donation basis. Charlotte pestered Dawa really well, but he did not break. He said the most important thing was to let each person know from the bottom of your heart how much you appreciated them – the money doesn’t matter so much. After we gave the core group their tips, we made a group picture. They have been together for 10 years and they truly do show great skill, service and friendship.