Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Kanchenjunga Trek - South

Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. We chose the Kanchenjunga trek for a number of reasons but the main one being that it’s at relatively low altitude compared to other treks in Nepal and, despite having climbed much higher in the past, my more recent tendency toward puking my guts out at altitude is not much fun. I was both anxious and paranoid to see how things would go.

Through the first week, we quickly settled into a routine – up at 6, breakfast at 6:30, on our way between 7:15 and 7:30. Depending on the day’s elevation gain and location of lodges or homestays, trekking time was been anywhere from 2 ½ to 6 hours. Although the trek can be done in either direction, we started on the south side.

Pasang and Kumar - Day 1, just leaving Suketar
Our first home stay at Lali Kharka
We are staying in lodges and homes as much as possible and having food made by the family. The other trekking option is camping the whole time and bringing an entourage of guide, cooks and porters carrying food, stoves, fuel etc. to last the trip. We are really happy we chose the lodge/homestay route as it means we sit around the cook fire, observe the interactions of the local family and definitely eat local food (a separate blog post on that). 

The lodges and homes are very basic. Rooms with two single wooden beds, sometimes with a mattress, sometimes not. We used our camping mats several times as well as sleeping bags. We have camped only one night when the stopping place only had cooking facilities and sleeping room for the family.

Trying to dry clothes in high humidity - we rigged up a clothes line in our room overnight
Using our sleeping mats on hard beds
The first few lodges we stayed at had clay ovens in the corner of the kitchen (a couple had a chimney) but since then it’s been a large grate covered with tin. The kitchens are well ventilated although it does get quite smokey at times.

Most of the lodges have solar panels, which provides enough power to provide light in the rooms. Sometimes turned off during the day to save power.

The level of humidity in the lower regions has been unexpected. Fortunately, a couple days were cloudy and a little bit rainy. On the day it wasn’t cloudy, the sun and heat just sucked the energy out of me. And it takes forever for clothes (even exofficio underwear!) to dry. 

The post monsoon humidity also meant leeches! I think we all got some blood sucked at one point or another. And luckily, many years of seeing Andrew's fascination with spiders and other creepy crawlies meant that I didn't freak out when I found several huge spiders in the toilet in the middle of the night. 

One of the spiders I found in the toilet

There were lots of curious children at each of the stops. They eagerly played games on Kumar or Raj’s cell phones, hovered over Andrew’s and my shoulders as we read our books (some of them even trying to recognize English words), and when we took photos of them turned the camera to show them, they giggled in delight.

At one of our rest stops I noticed a group of adults playing a tabletop game. After they were finished there were some kids around so I went over to have a look. One of the older boys (about 12) spoke quite good English and taught me how to play carrom. It’s a lot like pool but played with small coin-shaped pieces. I played pretty well but lost by three discs.
Playing carrom with the shark on the right.
The first 4-5 days we went through forest area but much of it had been cleared for small terraced fields filled with things like rice, millet, corn and cardamon. Brightly colored flowers surrounded the houses. Chickens, cows, buffalo (not like our buffalo), pigs and goats wandered nearby or occupied pens near the houses. 

The first few days were “Nepali flat.” Meaning that we went up and down, up and down many slopes and valleys each day but ended up at pretty much the same altitude.
Terraced rice fields

Trail going across the slope

Note swing bridge near bottom left in photo.
Porters on the narrow trail
We are also very much enjoying the fact there are not many trekkers on this route compared to other trekking routes in Nepal. About 1,000 per year as opposed to 70,000 in the Khumbu/Everest region and 100,000 in the Annapurna region. Raj told us that the Annapurna trek, which used to be 20+ days is now down to 3 days that isn’t driveable by either jeep or motorcycle. Progress does have disadvantages.

It’s amazing how much area has cell phone coverage! Raj was often on his phone up until about day six. That’s how we learned about the tragedy in the Annapurna region . . . via a phone call from Himal (the owner of the trekking company). 

At Lasiya Bhanjying - the one places we camped. Had meals with family in the bhatti on the left.
This landslide occurred several years ago. Note the end of the trail. 
See my other Kanchenjunga Trek posts. 

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