Monday, 10 November 2014

Kanchenjunga Trek - The 100 Yard Diet

Everyone’s heard of the 100-mile diet. Trying to eat local and to purchase food grown within 100 miles of where you live. For several days, with the exception of sugar, salt and cooking oil, Andrew and I were on the 100-yard diet. While the diet was very basic, it was fascinating to get a very small glimpse into the lives of the families we stayed with and ate with. This was especially true on the south side of the trek where it is much less commercialized than on the north side.

Although all the locals, as well as our guide, Raj, and porters Pasang and Kumar, seemed quite happy to eat dal bhat (rice and lentils) every day for both lunch and dinner, (and probably breakfast as well!) we were fortunate that Raj understood that we would prefer something slightly different for at least one of the meals. Choices were limited but we often had fried potatoes or fried rice for lunch and then dal bhat for supper. The dal bhat also included a “curry” – a mix of potatoes, green beans or other vegetables (such as iskus or lady fingers) although it didn’t have a strong curry taste that we would expect with a "curry". A small portion of very spicy pickle and a hot pepper or two was also an addition welcomed by some. (Note: We couldn't figure out what the lady fingers were but a google search says that it's okra. Looks much different than the okra we know.) 
Rice fields
Lady fingers (aka okra, but looks different than the okra we know)
Dried millet, peppers and lentils
Potatoes, onions, lentils
Hot peppers
Cooked spinach was also a common dal bhat side dish. The spinach looked and tasted slightly different than what we’re used to.  Eggs were commonly added to the fried rice; eggs and chapatis were common for breakfast. Local honey was a welcome spread for the chapatis. 
Drying corn and beehives producing honey
A producer of eggs (Who apparently likes to brush her teeth? Note toothbrush stuck in tree.)
After ten days I was getting really tired of plain white rice. It also took us about that long to convince Raj that no, we really, really, REALLY can’t eat that much rice! (Imagine a large plate heaping with rice!) And for him to advise whoever was dishing out the food to only give us a very small serving, which often meant returning some to the main pot before it got to us.

To Raj’s credit though, I don’t know of anyone else who could have convinced me to eat as much as I did. Between altitude and hiking, I’m really not a big eater and although I know I should, I often don’t feel like eating. But when someone continually puts food or drink in front of you, it’s harder to refuse. Between the three of them (Raj, Pasang and Kumar) we never went long without a cup of tea being offered. And once they found out what we liked (e.g. popcorn, cucumbers) it seemed to make frequent appearances whenever possible. 
Seriously huge cucumber!
Once we got past the farming areas, to places where food had to be brought in, ironically there were more choices as things brought in often catered to the trekkers and more western tastes. I even ate porridge for lack of other non-fried choices (albeit smothered in sugar!)

We drank a lot of tea with whatever type of milk was available (if any). Cow milk, buffalo milk or nak (female yak) milk.

As we got higher there was often dried sheep or yak meat, as well as cubes or long pieces of yak cheese hanging from the rafters. Being vegetarian was not at all an issue. Only a few times did Raj, Pasang and Kumar have chicken or other meat with their meals and, even when there was, Raj often chose to eat a vegetarian meal with us.

Although we didn't have much of it (that we know of) a lot of cardamom is grown in this area and in fact Nepal is one of the world's largest exporters of cardamom. 
We followed two young girls hauling cardamom in from the fields.
All you could see were the yellow and pink of their  flip-flops.
We saw several banana trees on the trek in but unfortunately they weren't ripe enough to eat yet. We were able to get mandarin oranges on north side of the trek.

A lot of the lodges had a "store" with all the essentials -- coke, beer, Red Bull, toilet paper, biscuits, noodles, Mars and Snickers bars.

The lodge at Ghunsa had a garden with cabbage and carrots as well as a greenhouse with several other vegetables.
After spilling a bit of it, Grandma was teaching Raj how to stir Tibetan tea (a mixture of tea, yak butter and salt).
Seabuckthorn is a fairly recent addition to Saskatchewan markets (booth at Saskatoon Farmer's Market selling seabuckthorn berries, gelato, tea, juice and chocolates) so we were quite excited to see some bushes as we approached Lhonak on the north side. Although it's well known in the Himalaya, it was not harvested in this particular area due to being low in amount.
We had pumpkin soup this night! 
Pasang picking nettles for soup.
Kumar was worried about the end of the bamboo holding up under Pasang's weight!
We spotted these eggplant on the very last day of the trek.

See my other Kanchenjunga Trek posts.

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