Ganesh Himal Trek
Rickety suspension bridges over deep canyons
Climbing stairs and rocks, hiking over terraces and in the jungle, crossing suspension bridges over rivers and canyons, walking through the clouds above 4,000 meters toward snowy peaks. On high mountain passes the tent is covered in ice when it freezes over ten degrees centigrade at night. The Ganesh Himal Trek is tough, but an unforgettable experience.
Travelogue & photos: Geja Rijsman
After two and a half weeks in Tibet, we now are in Nepal. In Kathmandu we walk on Durbar Square, which has many temples. In the courtyard of the palace of the Kumari - she is considered a living goddess - we see her for about two seconds
The Kumari is pampered by servants and supported by the state. After her first period, a new one is chosen from a group of young girls. A former Kumari usually doesn't get married: it is supposed to be bad luck and the lady in question is supposed to be too spoiled.
The next morning we are briefed about the trekking in the Himalayas. We hear that we will be accompanied by a large group of escorts.
The two of us are accompanied by no less than ten escorts
Today we leave early. We feel embarrassed when we see that for the two of us there are no less than ten escorts. We stop twice, for tea and for lunch. Both times our guide won't let us pay for anything. On the way we see six grey monkeys by the side of the road.
In Ghorka (1180 m) the porters pack all luggage in baskets. We hire two more locals, because it's too much for ten people to carry. We go upward for an hour, mostly walking stairs. Just past the former royal summer castle Gorakhnath (1385 m) we spend the night in the village of Kalikaktan.
While the porters are setting up our camp, we take a walk. We can only visit the castle if we take off our belts and shoes, but we don't feel like doing that.
When we return, the camp is ready: one tent for us, a tent where we eat, a tent for the guide and sherpa, a cooking tent and a toilet tent. The porters sleep in the cooking and eating tents. The toilet tent is a hole in the ground covered by a high, narrow tent. You can hold on to the tent poles. The porters don't use it, they do their business behind shrubs.
The next morning we see snowy peaks. The guide points out the Himalchuli, Manaslu and Bauddha Peaks. We also see the Annapurna from a very great distance and some other peaks, whose names we don't know.
The snowy peaks are obscured by clouds
The next morning we begin with a descent via stairs. We pass villagers and the children greet us with "Namaste". We also greet them friendly. After a steeper descent we are at 1020 m, the lowest point for today. The climb that follows is a little tough, we sweat, but it's not yet heavy climbing.
After lunch we continue on. The route goes up and down a little. We see lots of butterflies, dragonflies and huge spiders. The snowy peaks are obscured by clouds, but the view of the terraces is also beautiful. Another descent and we arrive, unexpectedly quick, in the village of Khanchok where we spend the night.
Two beggars approach us with a letter in English - plasticized - from some kind of authority. It asks tourists to support the beggars, because they can't take care of themselves and they also have children. They play a song and we give them a few rupis. They immediately stop playing and leave to find other tourists.
We're exhausted and go to bed at 8 PM. When we just lie down, children come to our tent to sing and dance. It's the last day of the Hindu festival of Deepawali. We are too sleepy to get out of the tent and we ignore the singing, which continues for a long time.
In the morning we take a steep, narrow path down. I am rescued by the sherpa when I loose my balance and almost fall in the river head down. We walk along the Budhi Gandaki river and have to cross frequently when the path continues on the other side. Once the guide loses a slipper while helping me cross. I slide off a rock, fortunately my shoes are watertight.
After lunch we cross a suspension bridge and then we walk on a higher-lying path. Where the river merges with another one, we cross a big, iron bridge.
We camp in the village of Arughat Bajar. We saw the cook pass with a living chicken and when I want to go to the toilet, panic breaks out: the cook is slaughtering the chicken and apparently is afraid that I will come and take a look.
The next morning we first take a stroll in Arughat Bajar. On the edge of the village, a man is enjoying a hookah and a woman transports goods to the village in a so-called namlo.
After we leave the village, we are in an agricultural area. There are terraces everywhere and rice is drying in the sun in several places.
A little outside the village we rest under and enormous tree, in which, it turns out, two squirrels live. Our route continues between paddies and is level now. Ahead of us, we have a view of snowy mountain peaks.
We arrive at the Budhi Gandaki, a big river, which we follow. When we cross a tributary, I slide again. Again it's the sherpa who saves me.
After we cross the river via another bridge, we walk along terraces. We see a man plough his field with oxen. Then we arrive at a tributary. It's hard to cross. This time, too, the sherpa loses a slipper while helping me. It is taken away by the river, but fortunately he can fish it out a little farther downstream.
After our lunch break the path goes up steeply. We stop frequently, because even the porters find it tough. After we pass another village, we take a break and see monkeys in trees. We spend the night in the village of Manbu, at a lower altitude.
Straight up the mountain
There is no room to put your foot down or hold on to something
The next leg, the following morning, begins with a steep ascent back through the village. A level stretch follows and then we go up steeply over a landslide. We have to cross a scary wooden bridge without handrails. I'm glad when I reach the other side safely.
At this altitude we expect a level path. But it stays level only for a short while, then we go up again. We cross a jungle with lots of little water streams. I cross one by wading through it, because Michael's balancing act looks scary.
Once we even have to cross a river via a felled tree. At 2120 meters we wonder where we are going. All of a sudden the porters go straight up the mountain. Every now and then I need a hand from Michael or the sherpa to pull me up. There is no room to put your feet and nothing to hold on to.
Finally we see some light and something that looks like a pass. We hope that there will be terraces on the other side, but the jungle continues there.
We camp at 2375 meters. The sherpa and the guide have trouble finding a good spot for the tents, because the ground is slanting and bumpy. They skip setting up the toilet tent. There are enough shrubs here. We go to bed early, because it's cold here.
The next morning we have to cross a stream via a tree trunk again. I hold Michael's hands and shuffle to the other side. Then the path goes up steeply. Every now and then it's scary. Our luggage almost falls into a ravine when the rope breaks that the porter uses to hold our stuff.
We see a huge pile of dung filled with berries. The guide tells us it's a bear's. Michael understands "deer". I say we have to watch out, Michael answers that those animals are very shy. When the guide stops at a tree a little later and tells us that the bear probably slept here, it begins to dawn on Michael. >From now on, we look around us all the time.
The path keeps ascending until we arrive at the Mongeythanti Bhanjyang (Bhanjyang = mountain pass) at 2965 meters. The view behind us is still beautiful. It's not warm, only 13 degrees centigrade.
Because of the cloudiness we don't see the Ganesh and the Pangsang Bhanjyang, the pass where we will spend the night later this week. After lunch we gradually descend. We see another monkey, a grey one this time. It looks Michael straight in the eyes, but when it sees me, it gets scared and bails.
The camp is at 2465 meters by a brook. The porters light campfires, but when I spend some time near the fire, the smoke makes me dizzy, so I sit in the eating tent despite the cold.
Another scary bridge
The view of the Ganesh gets better and better
It's wonderfully clear the next morning and we have a view of the Ganesh and Paldor Peaks. We can't keep up with the porters, especially in the beginning, when the descent is steep.
We pass through the village of Borang, where we take pictures of Tamang women and children. The cook buys two roosters, which are manhandled into baskets.
The path descends steeply as we approach a river. At Lapa Khola we have to cross a swaying bridge and I can't hold on to the sides, so it's very frightening.
When we pass the luggage of one of the porters, our guide jumps in the air and calls: "A snake! A snake!" Michael doesn't understand him and goes to take a look. I see the snake before Michael does. It's a thumb thick, poison green and over a meter long. It slides quietly through the grass. The sherpa throws a rock at the snake, forgetting that the porter is crapping behind a mound. He jumps up, frightened, still hitching up his trousers. Poor kid, he can't be much older than 13.
Soon we have to cross another scary bridge, this time over the Ankhu Kola river. This time there is a little more support for our hands, but the planks are very bad. We spend the night near the village of Albulgaon.
Because of the clouds, we don't have a view of the mountains, but we can see the river flow through the valley. We hear a lot of noise in the cooking tent, then a deep silence: the rooster is slaughtered. We get it in different ways on our plates, but we can't enjoy it.
It's very hot this morning, no less than 27 degrees centigrade. The view of Ganesh gets more beautiful by the minute, but new clouds appear.
And on it goes, steeply up. In a valley at 1690 meters we see een new bridge. Next to it is a landslide. We follow a steep path along the rock wall. Every now and then it's only sand, which doesn't provide much of a grip. At some point, half a meter of the path is missing and we have to jump over the hole.
We rest on a top and give our packet of flattened crackers to the children and the woman who are staring at us. They stick flowers in my hair and are fascinated by my hair clips. But I need them. The path keeps going up and I am glad when we finally arrive at the camp in Tipling (2290 m).
A 1500 meters climb in six hours
It's cold and because of the clouds there is no view
The next day we have to climb 1500 meters in six hours, to the Pangsang Bhanjyang; after ten minutes I already have had enough. We take a break of a few minutes every half hour, so the last porters won't lag behind too far.
After lunch we climb another 350 meters before the path gets level for a while. I am glad when we arrive at the Pangsang Bhanjyang (3825 m). It's cold and because of the clouds there is no view, so we sit down in a teahouse. There's a fire and we drink millot wine (a kind of rice wine). Our cook is cooking dinner in a corner. We warm ourselves by the fire.
When the fire dies around 8 PM, we turn in. We enjoyed the company, even though we don't understand the people. They have a lively way of story telling and you just have to laugh. We smell of smoke and that won't change over the next couple of days.
Around midnight we have to go to the toilet. Both the outside and the inside of the tent are covered with ice. It turns out that the temperature is -11 degrees centigrade. Still, we're not cold in our sleeping bags. But to be sure I put on two layers of clothes.
In the morning I enjoy the view of the Langtang for a short while. Soon clouds appear again. When we want to go for a walk, the sherpa accompanies us. Apparently we're not allowed to walk by ourselves. One of the porters also joins us.
I don't feel well and am short of breath. After the porter has taken my daypack, I climb on for a short while, but after an hour I give up. We are in the clouds and I don't think we'll get above them. In that case, I'd rather lie down in my sleeping bag.
The porter takes me back to the camp. Fortunately going down isn't so tough, so we can talk. I ask his name, which is Men Kumar Tamang. It's a nice kid, he has a strong accent, but speaks English. Back in our camp I go to bed and soon lemon tea and a pot of regular tea are brought to me.
Michael is back around 3 PM. He got lost, together with the sherpa. The sherpa thought he knew a different route back from the top (4,300 m), but something went wrong. They couldn't see the sun because it was overcast and had no idea which way they were going.
Eventually, the GPS led them back to the camp. There was no path, so they had to climb straight up rock walls frequently. Michael gave the sherpa 150 rupis to thank him. The sherpa is an extraordinarily friendly man, who is actually more helpful than our guide.
We have dinner in the teahouse. Afterwards the porters prepare their own meal in a pan they put on the fire in the fireplace. It looks like mashed potatoes. When they serve the food, they heap big mounds on every plate and each time mention the name of one of Nepal's mountains. We laugh our heads off.
The peaks stick out
We descend until we see the camp appear from the clouds
In the morning there are some clouds, but the peaks of the Ganesh and Langtang mountains stick out. Every now and then we climb or descend, but in between are level legs. But even those are hard to walk on because of the huge rocks on them.
For a long time we walk in a rhododendron forest. After lunch we descend to 3,540 meters, but soon we there is another steep climb to the Singla Bhanjyang. It's very taxing for me. Sila offers to carry my backpack and I accept gratefully. When we arrive on the Singla Bhanjyang (3,975 m) I lie down, completely exhausted.
It's sunny and we even have a bit of a view. After 15 minutes we continue on: to my amazement we still have to climb 45 meters to the ridge. The highest point of the standard route is 4,020 meters.
For a long time we walk on the ridge: down, a few meters level and then up again. All of a sudden the guide stops and points to a group of ptarmigans (snow chickens). We try not to frighten them while we get our cameras and we succeed. They cross the path and keep waddling back and forth for a while. Then one is scared by a noise and they all flee.
We see more flowers the longer we're going. We are at a lower altitude now and the route is heavily clouded. We can only see a few meters to the left and right of the path. Just enough to see the huge chasm... And then it's suddenly steeply downward. The path is cut out from the rocks. We descend until our camp appears from the clouds.
This morning we have to focus on how we walk. Especially when we are on down- hill gravel paths. It's not really hard to do or very dangerous, but it requires your attention. We enjoy the sun and the view of Langtang.
After lunch we descend less than we expected. It's a very accessible path and often feels like a walk in the park. But then there is a sudden drop, after which we cross former fields on terraces. The only thing that grows there now is grass.
After another taxing climb we arrive at our camp for tonight. I fell three times. Nothing serious, but it left me exhausted and insecure.
During the first two hours this morning we descend about 500 meter. At first we walk between terraces with on both sides stone walls. It gets wider and still a little later becomes a pretty path in the woods. The next 60 meters we descend quickly, via stairs. After more terraces there is a steep decline to a bridge over the river. It's a steel cabled suspension bridge, but lots of planks are missing.
We are held up for a couple of hours because we missed our cook who we were supposed to meet. When everyone is together again we cross the next bridge by foot. This time we cross a wide river (we have fun swinging the bridge) and we pass through a village. And then our route follows the river. We cross a tributary and arrive on a field of grass, where we set up camp and spend the night.
The water of the river is tempting: I'd love to paddle. I ponder jumping in, but don't like the idea of getting wet all over. When I leave, Michael follows me. He forgets his shoes and wants to pick them up. While picking thenm up, he falls over backwards in the river. Unfortunately, I didn't see it happen. I find out only when he arrives soaking wet in our camp.
We have an elaborate goodbye dinner and for dessert we have a cake that says "Good Luck". Our escorts also give us a bottle of Nepalese whiskey. We offer everyone cake and give the guide a tip of 8500 rupis for the whole group and thank them for this perfect tour.
Men Kumar and the two youngest porters join us. He begins to tell a story and repeats everything ten times - he's obviously drunk. Eventually, he even dances, while the others sing. Michael and I also have to dance. By 9:30 PM we go to bed, though, on this last night of our trek.
It takes a rather long time for the sun to appear over the mountains in the morning. Before we leave, we give all our T-shirts in a plastic bag to the guide, to distribute among the crew. On the way, in the bus that takes us back, we see a large group of monkeys along the side of the road.
Hindu Shiva temples and Buddhist stupas
Today we visit the Hindu temple compound of Pashupatinath on the sacred river Bagmati. It has four ghats (ritual baths and cremation sites) for ordinary people and when we arrive, a cremation is in process. On another ghat they are preparing the next one: the body is already layed out. There are seperate funeral pyres for the royal family by the entrance of the temple.
On the right side of the river are eleven stone chaityas (small stupas). The temple is on the other side of the river and can only be visited by Hindus. The Pashupatinath temple is the most important Hindu temple of Nepal and one of the most important Shiva temples on the Indian subcontinent.
It is thought that Pashupati, a friendly incarnation of Shiva and the god of the animals, has a special relationship with Nepal. The king always visits the Pashupatinath temple to ask for the blessing of the god. Because Pashupati is not bloodthirsty like many other incarnations of Shiva, there is no animal sacrifice in this temple and one cannot enter with anything made of leather.
Today is a holiday which brings many Hindus to the temple and the river.
It is incredibly colorful. There are monkeys everywhere. We are allowed to take pictures of a little monkey, which doesn't move as long as we are there. It looks sad.
We can see the temple reasonably well from the river bank. Everywhere people throw flowers in the river and some even make boats of leaves, on which they place flowers and tea-lights. The boats are placed in the middle of the river.
We continue on foot to the nearby Buddhist village of Bodnath. On the way we pass two temples and see many monkeys. They are cheeky and the largest one grabs a plastic bag from a passer-by. An attempt to retrieve the bag results in an angry response from the monkey. The man gives up and walks on.
The Bodnath stupa is visible from a great distance. It is the highest one in Nepal and one of the biggest in the world. Bodnath is the religious center of Nepal's sizable Tibetan community.
The base of the stupa is in the shape of a mandala ('earth'), on which a dome sits ('water'), with a steeple on it ('fire'), an umbrella ('air') and a peak ('the celestial'). The Buddha's eyes look in the four directions of the compass. It has a third eye between and above the two regular ones and the 'nose' isn't a real nose, but the Nepalese number one (which symbolizes the unity of all life).
A little later we ascend to the temple. Someone tries to make us pay an entrance fee, even though there is a sign that says that entrance is free. I protest and then we can continue on...
Afterwards we visit the rest of the village. It has several Buddhist temples. A huge difference with Tibet: the temples are clearly wealthier and everywhere are pictures of the Dalai Lama.