Saturday, 29 November 2008

Dunbartonshire Cross Country

29th November 2008
9.4km cross country at Kirkintilloch


A bit of disaster really. First of all I set off with a seized up back after last night's IKEA trip, then during the 3rd lap my sore right hamstring decided to go into complete spasm. I instantly decided to drop out and walk to the finish, but found I go still do a sort of hobbly limpy run that might see me finish the course. This did duly get me to the end, but I lost 5 places in the process slumping from 6th to 11th as 3 Garscube, a Stornaway and GUHH runner all passed with ease. Don, Gibby and Stuart were the only the other Westies who turned up.


Friday, 7 November 2008

Chitwan National Park

5th to 7th November 2008


I've just been down to Chitwan National Park for a few days to relax and spend time with the elephants.

It took around 7 hours on the bus from Kathmandu down to Sauhara where you access the park. The first afternoon we spent some time checking out the local village life of the Tharu tribe who inhabit the region.

On Thursday we had a full day of jungle activities that included an elephant ride through the forest where we managed to round up a single-horned rhino plus baby rhino which felt all a bit Jurassic Park. Then later we rode the elephants into the river where we all took a bath, with many hilarious attempts to climb back onboard a large slippery moving elephant. In the afternoon we took a serene wobbly ride down the river in a dug-out canoe, the higlight being a breath-taking cruise past a man-eating crocodile basking on a sandbank only metres away, with jaws slightly ajar. Needless to say, everyone was very quiet as we coasted past.

We also visited the elephant breeding centre with dozens of Dumbos chained to posts, and were later entertained by the Tharu tribe performing mesmerising stick dances.

This morning we did some misty early morning bird-watching, where within minutes we spotted dozens of exotic species of hornbill, woodpecker, oriele, bulbul, flycatcher, treepie, shrike, babbler, and many others.

Another hot and sweaty 7 hours on the bus, and I'm now back in Kathmandu enjoying the mayhem of Thamel for one last evening before flying out to Delhi tomorrow afternoon for the trip home via Dubai.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Langtang-Gosainkund-Helambu Trek

Back in Kathmandu now after 7 day trek around Langtang and Helambu, starting at Syabru Besi and finishing up at Sundarijal, after crossing the Laurebina La at 4550m.

Day 0 - Kathmandu to Syabru Besi (Oct 27th)
The trek was preceded with the 9 hour bus journey from hell. No words can fully explain how uncomfortable this ride is. It combines an extreme and violent assault on every aspect of your anatomy, including the draining sense of imminent death. It didn't help either that the back window spontaneously imploded due to the stresses on the bus, and for the final 5 hours of so dirt and dust were pouring into the bus and into my lungs. We finally arrived shaken and wobbly in Syabru Besi just before sunset, and I picked the first available lodge.

Day 1 - Syabru Besi to Langtang View Hotel (Oct 28th)
The first was a long slow plod up the Langtang Valley from around 1600m to 3100m, climbing through dense forest alongside a raging river. I stopped 2 or 3 times for the odd drink, and was eventually accosted by a Tibetan woman who insisted I stay at Langtang View Hotel. The "hotel" is really a small lodge with 2 rooms. I was the only person staying, and enjoyed relaxing beside a scorching hot stove before an early night. In fact every night is an early when you are trekking and it's pitch dark by 6pm!

Day 2 - Langtang View Hotel to Kyanjin Gompa (Oct 29th)
The following day I was escorted by the same Tibetan woman (Tsolmo) who was carrying a gallon of Tibetan wine to her sister in Kyanjin Gompa. We stopped for a while in Langtang Village where I met more of her family and had various foodstuffs thrust upon me. Eventually we arrived up at Kyanjin Gompa 3800m where the view really opens out and you finally feel amongst giant snowclad peaks. I spent the night in a small single-room hut with Tibetan sisters and 4-year old niece (Yishi Zangmo Lama), sitting on the floor around a fire filling the room with woodsmoke.

Day 3 - Kyanjin Gompa to Langshisa Kharka and back (Oct 30th)
Ater much haggling with the Tibetan sisters I finally escaped for the day to hike up to Langshisa Kharka - a yak herders hut at 4100m in a very remote location, surrounded by gigantic 6,000m snow-covered mountains. The dominant hill of the region is Langshisa Ri, and little did I know at the time but a French team had just climbed this 6400m peak, and during base camp alcohol-fuelled celebrations, a 61-year old man collapsed and died. I saw the helicopter heading in the next morning to collect the body. Anyhow, my hike was far less eventful, and I saw virtually nobody all day apart from one English guy and 2 Americans who had lost their ponies that had carried their camping gear in. I slightly underestimated this walk and got really cold and tired on the way back, and just collapsed in my sleeping bag when I finally got back to Kyanjin Gompa after more than 8 hours.

Day 4 - Kyanjin Gompa to Domen Lodge (Oct 31st)
My original plan had been to climb up to Kyanjin Ri viewpoint first thing, but it turned out pretty cloudy, and I was keen to get away from the smoke-filled Tibetan hut, so I made my excuses and tried to head off down the valley early. However then Tsolmo decide that she and Yishi were going down to Langtang Village, so I ended up carrying 4-year old Yishi on my back most of the way, while Tsolmo carried my rucksack. This got a few funny looks from other trekkers. After Langtang Village and seeing various other Lama family members, I finally escaped and legged it back down the valley all the way down to Dolmen Lodge, which is only just above Syabru Besi where I started. More and more kids were heading down the trail to catch tomorrow's bus to Kathmandu for school following the Tihar vacation. Dolmen Lodge was pretty rough and basic, with my room full of giant spiders, and only a few porters in the smoke-filled dining shed for dinner.

Day 5 - Domen Lodge to Chyolangpati (Nov 1st)
Today was uphill all the way, climbing from jungle at 1680m to sub-alpine scrub at 3580m. The first 600m was up steep steps in cool shady jungle before reaching Thulo Syabru at 2250m where the early morning sun finally struck. This was possibly the most picturesque section of the trip, with colourful terraced farming and village life. As I climbed higher I moved into dense quiet shady forest. I passed through Shin Gompa and reached a high easy ridge section leading to Chyolangpati, where I decided to stop at Lirung Langtang View Hotel, even though it was quite early. It cold windy and cloudy higher up at Laurebina, so I just festered around all afternoon chatting with the lodge owner Nima Tamang.

Day 6 - Chyolangpati to Mangengoth (Nov 2nd)
All my days so far had been pretty short, but I was starting to feel pretty grubby and fancied getting back to the hotel in Kathmandu, so decided to motor on a bit today and more less triple-stage it. Leaving the lodge around 7am the ground was frosty and icy, and early morning sun lighting up huge snowy jaggy peaks. I plodded up to Gosainkund Lake and stopped for a drink before crossing the pass of Laurebina La at 4550m, with expansive views. The descent to Phedi was easy enough, but the next few hours after that past Ghopte were unbelievably tortuous along a rough rocky trail snaking around the hillside with constant and enormous climbs and descents, so I was fairly wasted when I finally reached Thare Pati at the start of the ridge into Helambu. However there was still plenty of daylight, so I carried on for a bit further down to Mangengoth, where once again I was the only trekker at the lodge.

Day 7 - Mangengoth to Sundarijal and Kathmandu (Nov 3rd)
It was a lovely fresh crisp frosty morning at Mangengoth as I set out around 7am. The trail was pretty much deserted. I saw a few school kids just before Kutumsang, and also bumped into Jean-Marc Wojcik from Everest Sky Race, so stopped for a chat for a few minutes. The villages and people were scattered, but the hiking was easy and I reached Chisopani at just before 2pm where I stopped for a drink and bought the permit for the final section through Shivapuri National Park. There is a short wooded climb to 2400m before a long descent down to Sundarijal that get progressively more interesting as you drop back down into civilisation, with colourful farming and eventually meeting hordes of day-trippers and school kids on the trail. I arrived in the town square of Sundarijal around 4.30pm and savoured the completion of my trek for all of 10 seconds before being accosted by a taxi driver giving me a special price direct to Thamel, and so straight back into the mayhem of Kathmandu!