Monday, 13 January 2014

Nepal     2nd article   Please read our first article on Nepal below

November - December 2013

This follows on from our first Nepal blog of 8 January. 

We don't necessarily rate sunrises particularly highly.  It's not just the need to get up at ridiculous hours of the morning in freezing temperatures, but that somehow the contrast doesn't work very well.  There's too much of it.  And when the summits are right, there's no detail in the valleys.  And later on, neither of them is right.  However, there are exceptions and this sunrise from Dobato was worth the effort  -  perhaps we should have made the effort to get back up to the top of the hill but that would have been the best part of an hour's climb, then back down again, then back up again to return to Deurali.

Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre, the Fish Tail mountain.

Later that morning we walked down into the valley to visit a yak farm.  We had tasted the yak's cheese and we've yet to work out how, at the farm, they make such tasty cheese in such unpromising conditions.  But that applies to the food at the lodges as well.  We arrived after milking and there were over a hundred yaks, mostly placidly chewing the cud, which is not the normal image of these impressive beasts.

Like all the other domestic animals that we saw, the yaks were sleek and obviously well cared for.

On the return walk to Deurali, once again we got some of the best views  -  those of Machhapuchhre in our last blog and many others that could look repetetive.  But as we turned from the top of the ridge towards Deurali, we saw the Dhaulagiri range and a few minutes later a view across the ridges and valleys and Ghorepani at the bottom left.

For all our elation at finding ourselves in this gorgeous spot, there had to be a down-side.  Nothing to do with us, or at least not much.  Or perhaps it's just a streak of pessimism.  But all is not well in Nepal.  And the Annapurna Range, in all its magnificence, magnifies the problem.  Global warming is very much an issue.  Even though we were there in December, there was not a great deal of snow on the peaks.  According to Nare, our guide, ten or fifteen years ago most of the major rock faces would have been covered in snow.  The glaciers are receding at a frightening speed and there is a lot of dust lying around that doesn't have a local source.  But then, Nepal is a small country sandwiched between the two most populated countries in the world and two of the most polluted.  


 Apparently, the local farmers are finding that their old cropping patterns don't work well any more.  There is sometimes not enough rain for two consecutive crops in the year and some crops are not growing well at all.

We are both tree enthusiasts and find the big pine forest especially appealing.  After a glacial night in Banthanti, we climbed through a steep valley and at the top were rewarded by stands of magnificent mature Abies Spectabilis or Himalayan Fir (our inexpert identification).  After walking for a while it became apparent that these mature trees were almost the only examples.  Hardly any medium sized trees and almost no saplings or seedlings.  We did find a few but very few.  Perhaps this is also a result of the changing climate.  Bamboo seems to be spreading down from the higher forests where it is dominant and once it has gained a foothold it's more difficult for these pines to propagate themselves.

Higher up, where the bamboo predominates, it seems to have squeezed out some of the rhododendrons as well.

Why the gloomy mood in such a place?  We were told that, and had already suspected, greedy eyes would have noticed the potential of the fast-running rivers coming down from the Annapurnas for hydro power generation.  Apparently there is a project under consideration to build a dam that would flood a great part of the upper Modi Khola valley with disastrous consequences for the local people and the environment.  Of course, the usual rationale applies:  -  India needs the power and Nepal needs power too;  the destruction of a lifestyle for a relatively small number of people in a remote place and the inevitable disaster for local plant and animal life, not to mention local agriculture, is a small price to pay, given the benefits that would accrue to Indians starved of electricity and the development that electricity would bring.  We understand that the development would be a private/public partnership and on the usual optimistic assumption that in 40 or 50 years the development costs would have been met and the project, which would be built by Indians for India, would be handed over to Nepal at the end of that period.  Of course the end of the period never comes.  The chances of Nepal benefitting at all are remote.  And as with all resources curses, the local people and their interests will be ground under foot.  One can only pray that common sense will triumph and that the local people and their wonderful environment will be left alone to construct more of their mini-hydro schemes that supply them with all that they need without any apparent downside at all.


Machhapuchhre dominates the skyline again.

Mules release human porters from the burden of carrying some of the bulk needs of the villages and lodges  -  cement, rice, gas bottles and such-like make good loads and we noticed that, on the whole, the beasts were carrying about 60 or 70 Kg which seemed very fair given the number of loads approaching that weight that we saw on the backs of porters.  We passed an elderly man with a load of firewood  -  he obligingly put his load down and pointed out a tribe of monkeys in nearby trees.  His load was not easy for us to lift let alone to carry long distances.  We're a species in decline.  There were over 2 000 stone steps down from Chhromrong to the new bridge and then a similar climb up to Sinuwa.  Porters take it all in their stride and school children from Sinuwa and farther afield make the journey every day to school in Chhromrong.

Traditional stone house -  the hollowed out logs under the eaves are bee hives.
There's Machhapuchhre again, the most prominent and most beautiful of mountains.

 A large proportion of young Nepali men goes abroad to seek their fortunes.  Construction sites in the Gulf, Ghurka units of various armies, and even domestic service pay just enough to allow them to send home money to their families.  However, as we saw in Papua New Guinea, there are fewer able-bodied men than there would naturally be and the labour of building farmhouses, lodges etc. in the traditional style is a greater burden than using modern materials, especially concrete and corrugated iron.  It's easy for us to lament the past but one only has to look around to see that there is something idyllic about the traditional lifestyle.

We didn't see many photogenic shrines near to the tracks but we found this lovely spot just below Landruk a few hundred metres into the forest.

Our first, relatively distant, view as we approached Annapurna.  There's a tiny shrine on the hill between the two big trees.

Misty sunset from Ghorepani.

We imagine that the water buffalo had work to do, ploughing and cultivating, but they didn't seem to have a lot to do while we were there.  Either lying around looking sleek and unconcerned or standing idly in the middle of the paths and getting in the way.

And back to Kathmandu.

And Patan.


 

 

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