It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again

First view of the mountains - Manaslu Himal in the distance

Although I wasn't sure exactly how cold it was going to be on a winter trek, I thought I did a pretty good job of packing this time based on my recent experience of trekking in Nepal just last fall. Everything fit into one duffel, even my extra bag that I planned to leave at the hotel in Kathmandu. I was proud of myself when my bag only weighed 19 kilograms at check in at the Silk Air counter on the morning of my departure. The agent told me that the flight wasn't very crowded so I could have an aisle seat. No, no, no. I wanted a window seat on the right side of the airplane. How often do you get to see the Himalaya from the air? People pay big bucks for scenic flights. I might as well take advantage of a freebie.

It was pretty spectacular too. I could see the main Himalayan crest for the last forty five minutes as we approached Kathmandu. It was almost totally clear. Most of the foothills were obscured by haze but the Himalayan giants stuck up as high as we were. In a modern airliner flying at 30,000 feet you are just not used to seeing mountains that aren't way below you. The Himalaya are something else. I could identify all of the eight thousand meter peaks in eastern Nepal. First Kangchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world. Then the Everest and Lhotse close together, flanked at some distance by Cho Oyu on the left and Makalu on the right. Spectacular. I think my nose was pressed against the window the whole time.

Our lunch stop - not a tourist restaurant

Unfortunately when we landed we were about five minutes behind a flight from India so the arrival hall was packed. I had the foresight to get my visa ahead of time in Singapore so I did not have to waste time getting one on arrival. I wasted this advantage by spending twenty minutes standing in the (poorly labeled) residents only line so in the end I was like the third last person to get out. Strangely when you leave the arrival hall and go down to baggage claim, you have to go through a security check. At least my bag was waiting when I finally got there. I grabbed and went outside to the usual chaos outside. "Taxi sir?" "Take your bag sir?" "Hotel sir?" No. Leave me alone. Fortunately Tashi was in the crowd and spotted me and was able to rescue me before I was carried off by people trying to help me. It was good to see him again. The very first thing he asked was why madam wasn't with me. Just haven't been able to talk her into doing a trek yet.

After checking in at the hotel I spent the afternoon shopping in the many mountain shops in Thamel for a few last minute items for the trek. I bought a pair of warm gloves, a really nice down jacket (cheap) and a microfiber towel to replace the one I left behind on the last day of the trek in October.

Langtang Lirung - centerpiece of the national park

The next morning Tashi met me at 8 am for an early start. According to the itinerary we had an eight hour drive to where we would start the trek the following day. I figured the road had to be bad as it wasn't that far from Kathmandu, maybe 50 miles total distance. It was exciting when we reached a viewpoint in the hills where we could see the Himalayan crest. There was a beautiful view of the Manaslu range, the Ganesh Himal and of course the peaks of Langtang National Park. We stopped for an early lunch at a Nepali-style restaurant. I was the only westerner in the place and they had to look hard to find a fork for me to use. I just had plain rice - Nepalis usually eat dhal bhat which is rice with vegetables and lentil sauce. Plain was ok for me though.

After our lunch stop the road narrowed, turned to dirt and then cut up into the steep hills. It was not as bad as the famous most dangerous road in the world that I had traveled on my trip to Bolivia in 2004, but it was definitely in second place. I was nervous driving in a jeep. I couldn't believe the public buses driving the road. They were completely overloaded so that people were riding by sitting on the roof and hanging on to the luggage tie points. Crazy. Absolutely insane. I would not even want to know how many people die on that road. But we eventually made it safely to Syabru Bensi, the town where we would spend the night. We made good time too - only six and a half hours. Since it was mid-afternoon we went for a walk around town but it wasn't very pleasant. The main road was dirt and the wind kept whipping up dust. Best thing was to just stay at our hotel where I could read my book. I had three along to last me for the trek.

Lower Langtang valley on the first morning of hiking

Surprisingly I did find a place that offered internet access, although only in the evening when the power came on. For a few rupees I was able to use someones PC with a terrible phone connection. After a few tries I did get online and sent Sandy an email. I also stocked up on toilet paper while in town. I had learned last year that it was important to have my own stash.

Next morning was beautiful and sunny and warm. Even though it was winter all I needed to wear was a long sleeve shirt. It looked like the weather was going to be ok, at least at lower elevations. It was time to start the trek.