Friday, December 31, 2021

Photo Friday: Nepal Trek Part III: Up the Imje Khola River to Pangboche

If you are just joining the blog, here are the earlier posts that will set the scene:
Trek Part I: Lukla to Namche
Trek Part II: Namche to Khunde

Also, I'm aware that it's New Year's Eve. Have a great time, and a better 2022.

Trekking Day 5:
We left Khunde and walked down through the neighboring town of Khumjung, stopping at the monastery where a multi-day ceremony was taking place to honor a dead elder of the community.

Walking towards Khumjang
The monastery where the ceremony was taking place.
The Khumjang gompa

Kim Bannister of Kamzang Journeys giving the large prayer wheel a spin.

There seemed to be no issues with us taking photos, nor with some coming and going. When I saw that our Bhuddist guide, Lhakpa, was taking pictures, I tried to capture some of the feel of the place. Part of the significance of this gompa is that they have what they claim is the only yeti scalp in existence. I'll skip the close-up.

Yeti scalp in the display case.

Continuing on, we stayed on the high trail above the Dudh Koshi river to climb to Mong La and on to Phortse.

A glimpse of the very well-built trail. Zooming in showed us that we had a lot of steps to climb. Ama Dablam (22,349'/6812 meters) is prominent in the distance.

Climbing toward Mong La ("la" means pass, but in this case it was more the high point passing over a shoulder of the mountain), with our day's destination visible in the distance.

At this point in the trip, the weather was still warm, as we were at "only" about 12,500'. That didn't feel low until much later in the trip!

After a tasty lunch at the Mong La Mountain View Lodge and Restaurant ("If you stay here you can see good view from here"), we continued on past the stupa, clockwise of course.

We had great views of Phortse, which wasn't far off. Only... yeah, we had to drop several hundred feet to cross the Dudh Koshi river, coming in from the left from Gokyo. We will follow the Imje Khola up the valley to the right, towards Ama Dablam.

Cool trivia bit: volleyball is big in the Khumbu, and while we were in Phortse, the Khumbu tournament  was going on a short way below our lodge. We heard later that Phortse took the championship.

Arriving in Phortse. The villages have suddenly gotten much smaller.

Day 6: Phortse to Pangboche

Hiking out of Phortse in the morning. The view is up the Dudh Koshi (towards Gokyo).

The route had its ups and downs, but was never short of scenery.

 Thanks to recent efforts to contain and remove trash, the trails were remarkably clean. But those blasted plastic bags get everywhere. My son had enough extra energy (thanks to being the only member of the party under 50, I think) to do a little rescue work. Skip the plastic, folks!

Ama Dablam, Lhotse, and our destination (Pangboche) in the valley below

Descending through Upper Pangboche, past the monastery, with Ama Dablam looming over everything.

Shining copper prayer wheels at the Pangboche monastery.

Always happy to arrive at our lodge! Some members of the party went back out to tour the town; I enjoyed a hottish shower in an almost-warm room.
The view from the dining room

We were to spend 2 nights here, with a visit to Ama Dablam base camp on the layover day, so it was laundry time! Washing clothes in icy water by hand was made slightly easier by the rubber kitchen gloves I had thought to take. It still took ages to thaw my fingers afterwards.
Our laundry line. Most of that was frozen before it was dry.

Happy New Year!

Notice: I expect the blog to migrate to my new web site January 6, with double posts on January 5th. Watch this space next week for more information, and/or sign up for my newsletter for a reminder!

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Merry Xmas, and another photo report!

Nepal Trek, Part II: Namche to Khunde

In our last, we had arrived in Namche (often called Namche Bazaar, but the locals have moved away from that name) and found our sunset blocked by the fog. Fortunately, when my son and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 to check the sunrise, we were better rewarded.

Kongde Ri from the Everest viewpoint

The viewpoint above Namche is also the Tenzing Norgay memorial. His statue shows him holding up his ice axe with the flag attached. The summit of Everest is just visible over the ridge of Nuptse and Lhotse.

Returning to the hotel, with Kongde out in full glory.

The Moonlight Lodge, Namche. Being only a long day's walk from the airport (11 miles, which we did in 2 days), it was nicer and better supplied than most of the lodges we stayed at.

With schools centralized in the larger towns, many of the children have to board during the school term. The Namche boarding house was right below our hotel, and as we prepared to leave the children were getting ready for school.

They wore smart uniforms, and housemothers are helping braid the hair of the younger girls.

All students are taught English from a young age, it being the lingua franca  of Nepal, as it were. We met several fairly young children who spoke English very well. The Namche school, and several others in the Khumbu (the Everest region), was founded by Sir Edmond Hillary.
Students clearly had numbers (as did we, come to think of it. I was #4, my son #5, and our bags and meals were handled by number). I counted about 70 toothbrushes on the rack, making it clear why numbers were important.

Leaving town, we headed pretty much straight on up the ridge, passing a chorten (a sort of a shrine) on the ridge.

Nearly to the top, we stopped to learn more about Sagharmatha Next, which is working to create more sustainable tourism in the Khumbu. The buildings being  constructed on the hill above Namche will house art studios and artists, local and international, who will work to create art from the waste stream. In addition, the organization is working with the Park on a waste management plan, and will be rolling out "Carry Me Back," a new initiative to enlist trekkers and guides to help carry the waste back to Lukla for removal.

Project director Tom Gustafsson shows our leader, Kim Bannister, one of the paving stones supporters can soon sponsor to help with the construction. Waste bags (for the carry-out program) will also be for "sale", though at this point that aspect of the web site isn't up and running.

A short way farther up, and we were atop the ridge with view of Everest (the left-most peak), and Yaks to be dodged. They are adorable, but can be cranky, and those horns are nasty!

Approaching Khunde

However fierce yaks may be, a joyous sight for us was seeing our yaks arrive with our luggage.
Yaks arrive at the Khunde Guest House
Our room. We provided the 0-degree sleeping bags that made these rooms habitable.

The view from the room was pretty okay, and I could check on the sunrise without getting out of my sleeping bag--always nice when the overnight temps in the room drop below freezing.
Once we'd had a late lunch, we climbed the hill behind town to the Hillary Memorial and a stunning viewpoint.
Approaching the viewpoint, just past the chortens and prayer flags.

The author

At the viewpoint, with the fog moving in, we experienced the amazing Brocken Spectre, which can be seen only when you are above a cloud with the sun behind you (typically from a mountaintop). It's hard to see here, but inside the rainbow halo is my shadow. It looks large because the shadow is actually on the clouds/mist just below me, not on the ground far below.

The fog moved the rest of the way in as we climbed a bit more to the Hillary Memorial, three chortens dedicated to Sir Edmond Hillary, his wife Louisa, and daughter Belinda. The latter two died in a plane crash during the construction of a hospital in the area, sponsored by the family.

Hillary memorial with Thamserku in the background.

From the lodge. It's nice when all the light and color you could want are visible through the windows.

Next: farther into the Khumbu as we head for Ama Dablam base camp.

 For now, happy holidays of all sorts to you, and I'll see you next week, when I've recovered from my own holiday celebrations.


Watch this space--the blog will be moving to our new home after the new year! That one's not quite ready, so I'm not sharing the URL yet, but just putting you on notice!

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Monday, December 20, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: A Place to Hang the Moon

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Title: A Place to Hang the Moon
Author: Kate Albus. Read by Polly Lee
Publication Info: Tantor Media, 2021. Original Margaret Ferguson, 2021, 309 pages
Source: Library
Publisher’s Blurb:
It is 1940 and Anna, 9, Edmund, 11, and William, 12, have just lost their grandmother. Unfortunately, she left no provision for their guardianship in her will. Her solicitor comes up with a preposterous plan: he will arrange for the children to join a group of schoolchildren who are being evacuated to a village in the country, where they will live with families for the duration of the war. He also hopes that whoever takes the children on might end up willing to adopt them and become their new family--providing, of course, that the children can agree on the choice.

Moving from one family to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets, and the hollowness of empty tummies. They seek comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Muller, seems an excellent candidate--except that she has a German husband whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Nevertheless, Nora's cottage is a place of bedtime stories and fireplaces, of vegetable gardens and hot, milky tea. Most important, it's a place where someone thinks they all three hung the moon. Which is really all you need in a mom, if you think about it.

My Review:
This is a totally easy feel-good read. There is nothing extraordinary about it: the plot progression is obvious, and the standard tropes are called forth as expected. That doesn't stop it from being a highly enjoyable orphan story, in the great tradition of books about abused orphans who find their forever home with someone who will care for them. 

The biggest issue I had with the book was actually not the predictability of the plot (which these days is kind of a bonus for me), but a slight tendency to anachronism. Some of the language and diction of the characters didn't quite ring true to 1940s England, though I think most of the big-picture story did (leaving aside the utter absurdity of the premise, which is... utterly unrealistic). I do tend to get hung up on that sort of thing! 

The audio book was well produced and the reader did a good job--the characters were voiced distinctively and different accents rendered  convincingly.

My Recommendation:
This is utter brain-candy, a fun read if you are feeling the need for something a bit simple and sentimental. It's probably not the best introduction to the period for children, though the depictions of the mixed conditions for evacuees and the general mess the war caused are pretty good, really.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of A Place to Hang the Moon from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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Friday, December 17, 2021

Photo Friday: Trekking in Nepal, Part I: Lukla to Namche

Going over my photos, it's hard to see how I can do this trip report with anything like a reasonable number of photos, unless I do one day at a time (and even then it could be hard). For that matter, I could do a whole post on flying into Lukla! Here it is, though.

Background: My second son (age 22) and I signed onto a group tour with Kamzang Journeys, a 21-day trek in the Everest region, with several days in Kathmandu on either end. Let me say right up front: Kim Bannister, Lhapa Dorji Sherpa, and the whole Kamzang crew were amazing, and it was a fantastic trip. It probably didn't hurt that they were all so excited to be trekking again, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. Nepal has focused vaccination efforts on the main tourist areas, making the trek feel as safe as anywhere in that regard (honestly, the vaccination rate in the Khumbu--the Everest region--is far better than in the county where I live). We also found that many if not most of the people spoke English, some very well. It appears to be taught now in all the schools. With so many different languages spoken in Nepal, it makes sense to use English as the common tongue, since it works on most tourists, too.

The real trip began with our 4:45 a.m. departure to the airport. All flights in and out of Lukla are in the mornings, pretty much, because the weather tends to deteriorate through the day. This did mean that we were in the mountains in time for breakfast. Lukla is at about 9300' and our first day would drop to the Dudh Koshi river then climb back to Monjo at a similar altitude, so we weren't too worried about the elevation--yet.

Preparing to board.

Great excitement at views of the Himalayas out the window.
A short,  sloping runway. I'm standing on the wall at the top, watching planes take off. There's no adjusting for wind direction here--you always land uphill, take off downhill.

While we had breakfast, our guides bagged our duffels and loaded them onto the dzokios--yak/cow hybrids that handle lower-elevation packing in the region, where it is too warm for true yaks.

Starting off down Lukla's main street. One thing you notice right away: everything up here happens afoot. There are no vehicles on the "roads" and "streets" of the Khumbu. I hope it stays that way.
Nepal has made a huge, and largely successful, effort at reforestation of these regions, which had been stripped of everything burnable. Now, power comes from a small hydro plant and solar panels, with heat from small stoves that mostly burn dried yak dung.

Great excitement at the first several mani walls--always circle them clockwise--and the giant prayer wheels that flanked the route in many places.

Not all prayer wheels were equally well maintained.

We enjoyed further excitement as we dropped to river level and began to cross bridges, some fixed, more of them swing bridges--and yes, the dzokios, yaks, and donkeys use those same bridges. They always have the right-of-way.

We got even more excited about our first glimpses of snow-and-ice-covered peaks.

Happy to find our first-night lodge. I was surprised how many of the lodges sold (or at least advertised) espresso drinks. I was off coffee for the trip, so never found out if they were any good.

The second day, leaving Monjo for Namche (11,363') meant a big climb. We also entered Sagarmatha National Park almost at once, which caused some thinning of the number of villages and lodges, but not as much as you would expect from a US park model--this park acknowledges and accepts the people who live there, and were there before the park.

Entering the park.

Things did start to feel wilder. The Dudh Koshi is a glacial river (the name means "Milk River"), thus the beautiful color. 

The lower bridge is no longer used, so we climbed to the high bridge. It was... really high.

Really high.

Arriving in Namche.

Namche Stupa

Climbing up the narrow streets and steps to our lodge nearly killed me. I'd been coping with stomach bugs all day, which really impacted my ability to cope with the altitude. I was so happy to see our lodge!
I recovered enough to climb to the Everest viewpoint for sunset, but the clouds moved in, so that all we saw was this lovely photo Lhakpa showed us from that very spot, in 2019.

Two days of hiking, to be followed by a day of rest and altitude adjustment. I'll pick up the story next week!

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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