Friday, September 24, 2010

Nepal Trek Part III - Leaving Marpha, To Beni

Of course all good things come to an end. But that doesn't mean the good is finished. From one good experience to the next. Marpha was a dream - everything about it met me with open arms and wide smiles, and oh yeah, crazy, rambunctious kids. Once the tears subsided upon departure, new characters entered the scene.

Some exotic creatures caught my eye, but the spikes on this guy says, "No touching, only looking!"

Strong young lad. Carrying a basket of apples back to his home. So young and inspiring.

This old man claimed to be some type of guru monk, but the alcoholic stench leaking from his mouth told me otherwise.

And of course, the ever so dangerous landslides. Luckily I showed up after-the-fact, but still proved tricky maneuvering through this to the other-side of the bridge. The only way to continue was to give up the cleanliness of my pants. Actually, I left my cleanliness back in America the minute I landed in India. Still, my legs were coated with mud, all the way up to my thighs. Getting messy!

And finally, after poisonous caterpillars, smelly gurus, and sloshy mud, I made it to Beni, the last town along the trek before I head to Pokhara by bus. My legs must hate me by this point.

Next stop: Pokhara

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Marpha Part II - Meet the Students

Shree Janabal Secondary School. Tucked in between some of the highest peeks in the world. A cozy place to spend 6 weeks.Meet Sagun. She is the daughter of the guest house I stayed at. Every morning and evening I would do one on one tutoring with her, teaching her English and sometimes Math, too. Math was tricky, however. Even though it was simple addition, subtraction and multiplication, the characters for the letters are different from the 1, 2, 3 that we're familiar with, therefore I learned the Nepali numbers so I could help with math. The picture above and below were taken on Sagun's birthday. She turned 10. We had chocolate cake and everything. The picture below is Sagun, myself, and Serene, Sagun's cousin. They were so cute and obnoxious, both in a good way, and a way that occasionally drove me insane.This is class 4. All the kids are crazy, and not just class 4, but the whole school. In a good way though.
This is class 3. I taught class 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Each class offered new challenges for me.This is Bibek in the middle, his older brother and mother. Bibek was hands down the best student that not only I had, class 7, but probably in the entire school. The school is Nepali medium, which puts these students at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to other students in Nepal whom may be in boarding schools where it is English medium. Bibek is lucky because his older brother has a masters in English, so he teaches Bibek when at home. He is a good kid, and they are a good family, too. His mother is a great cook, and they had me over for dinner once in while.This girl is just soo cute. I don't really know here on a personal level, but she would usually roam around in the streets with other students. Crazy kids. Some of the teachers and I went on a hike and the woman with us struggled a bit up the scraggly hill, so I offered to carry her purse for her. I just thought this was a silly picture, yet stunning with the river and valley below.A bunch of the students decided it would be fun to jump all over me. Crazy kids.Two Tibetan women in the street. The woman on the left, Trecai Chosan, and I became friends. I bought some things from her at her Tibetan shop. She has a son in Pokhara as well in Darjeeling. I am currently writing from Darjeeling and staying with her son, Phurbu.
This was one of the happiest and saddest days in Marpha. This was the school ceremony to bid me farewell. I sat in a chair where all the students at the school lined up to say bye to me. Most students had a scarf, or Katha, to wish me well. Each student that came up brought a tear out from within. Offering a Katha is a traditional gift given to guests who have developed some type of relationship with the people.This is just after all the students presented me with the Katha. This is Saligram, the teacher whom I taught English with. A sweet sweet man he is indeed. Some of the teachers, including Saligram, have sacrificed much to be a teacher in Marpha. Some have families elsewhere in Nepal, and they come to live and work in Marpha for 11 months out of the year. During their 1 month vacation they return home to their families to see their wife/husband and kids. They live in Marpha either alone or with another teacher in a small apartment.These are the teachers. Such amazing people they are. This was the farewell ceremony the teachers alone had for me, and again presented me with Katha and a farewell gift - a flower vase. I had a school boy crush on the teacher in red. Her name is Sarita, and I came close to proposing to her, but then my senses kicked in and held back - damn senses.

Marpha Part I - How Red

Marpha, Oh Sweet Marpha! From Kagbeni, Tony and I made it to Marpha. The next morning, with our packs on and boots strapped, we were heading out of Marpha to the next village. There was the local school up ahead. I stopped by and asked the head master if it was possible to volunteer as an English teacher for 3 or 4 weeks. He hesitated, then asked if I wanted compensation or a place to stay. I laughed and said no, and that was all taken care of. He then stuck his hand out to welcome me aboard. I slowly walked out of the school to where Tony had been waiting for me. I told him it was nice meeting him and hiking with him for the first 2 plus weeks. He alone proceeded to the next village. I went back to the guest house we stayed in the previous night to rest the remainder of the day before my first day of class began.This is Kamala; she is the owner of the guest house I stayed at in Marpha. She is an amazing cook, known for her Nepali Enchilada, which I am holding, and soon thereafter devoured. Equal Delicious!Marpha is known as the Apple Capital, but here I am picking locally grown appricots - and my god are they so so sweet. They have apple and apricot trees all over Marpha. I would walk down the street and pick a new kind of apple or apricot. My stomach was surely satisfied here!My extended stay at the guest house granted me kitchen privileges. I would often cook my own food, and sometimes cook food for the other guests as well. Maybe this picture is Chow Mien or Fried Rice.3 am hike to Yak Karaka. To say the very least, this day was quite an experience. Where do I even begin. 3 am walking up in the dark coated by clouds making it near impossible to see the narrow and rocky path, but we (myself, two Germans, and a woman from France) made it. We hiked to Yak Karaka to see some Yaks, but not only to see the yaks. Well, one nice thing about this hike was the sun rise view of Mt. Nilgiri at 22,796 feet. And of course, the famous and mystical Yak. What a creature.I even got to pet a baby Yak, so cute!And, oh ya, the locals believe that drinking Yak blood is good for digestion, so, many locals come to Yak Karaka once a year for two weeks, camp out each night, and wake up to cut the jugular vein of the yak, which makes way for the blood to shoot out and land in cups. One jugular vein cut will fill up nearly 20 cuts of blood for the people. And how red the blood is - pure blood.A local during imbibing the medicine.And her colorful smile immediately following. Happy People.But not so happy Yak. They do live, however, if that is what your wondering. Well, at least the ones used for just the blood and not for their meat. One of my favorite pictures. The eye of "get your hands and cups out of my neck and leave me alone to roam the hills, Dammit!"

Nepal Trek Part II - Pass

Thorong La Pass was a beast. At 17,769 feet or 5416 meters, carrying what seemed to be a light pack on straight-aways quickly became a weight that prevented you from lifting your legs over an inch off the ground. But that's how we made it up this treacherous pass - one heavy inch and one long breathe at a time. How glorious the top felt, and what a way to welcome us with plenty of prayer flags blowing in the fierce and taunting wind. New heights - highest I've ever been. Not only did the prayer flags welcome us, but we sat at the top for a light picnic, looked up to the left and noticed the clouds were clearing. Once cleared, those long breathes that were previously hard to take were now gone at the sight of the towering glaciers that made their appearance. We were awe-struck.Only smiles at this point - oh ya, and a sore body, the whole body. This is Sofie; we kept each other company on the way up and down. This is also Sofie. We were walking through clouds on the way down, and again, words simply cannot describe the views and feelings and thoughts rolling in and out of my mind, just like one cannot describe the clouds rolling in and out of the mountain pass. What was one of the toughest days on the trek also became one of the most rewarding days. Same day, and the day kept granting us views with exploding mountain peaks. This peak is Dhaulagiri at 26,794 feet, the seventh largest peak on this crazy and wondrous planet. Bizarro Boulder. I sat and stared at these "flatirons" having strange thought of stepping into this odd land either millions of years earlier in Boulder, or perhaps millions of years in the future in Boulder. Then I woke up - who knows! The next town is just below known as Mukhtninath, a religious place for Hindus, but I haven't found a place which isn't holy for the holy Hindu's.This is the next day after reaching the pass. This is Tony, and from Mukhtinath, we decided not to take the beaten trail. Instead to hiked down to the river bed and had a nice stroll along the river. The river was once a place long long ago (60 - 400 million years ago) which was blanketed by oceans and inhabited by ocean creatures, and these creatures remained in fossils for us to see. They have been untouched ever since. This is Kagbeni. We stayed here two nights and the full day there, we went on a 3 hour hike up a "gentle" hill. We could see the whole town, and also the meeting place of the two rivers - one from Mukhtinath and the pass, and the other from Upper Mustang and Tibet.This is Upper Mustang and the horizon is a Tibet. This is the closest we were able to get to Tibet as it is very costly to travel to due to the Chinese occupation.
The next day, we went to Marpha. Marpha of my dreams!

Nepal Trek Part I - Meeting My Hero's

Grand arrival. What a way to enter Nepal - by riding on the roof of the overcrowded and bumpy local bus (said to be a tourist bus, ha!). I met some travellers from Japan and another from Switzerland who lives in New Zealand. His name is Tony (picture below). Tony and I trekked together for the first two weeks before he continued the trek, and I stayed behind in a small village called Marpha.I met my hero's on the first few days of the trek. While we were hiking, we sat under a tree to have a rest get some shade. Apparently, this tree is a common rest place, and after just a few minutes of relaxing and letting our sweat subside, four women approached for a rest, too. I call them women, even though three were young girls - maybe aged 6, 8, and 10, and the eldest was their mother. After five minutes, their grandmother came along as well. In the picture below, you can see these women carrying heavy tree logs and baskets over their backs. With a small rope, the women hoist their load upon their backs and leash the rope over their foreheads. I attempted to lift loads like this over my forehead and nearly broke my neck. I don't know how they do it, but from an early age they hike up steep mountains probably everyday with them. My Hero's!So many waterfalls, and each one so so beautiful. This picture was taken from the hotel room we stayed at. Waking up at 6 am only to peer out the window and see clouds hovering above is a great start to any day.Plenty of waterfalls to be juxtaposed in front of one for a classic tourist "I saw a waterfall in Nepal" shot.Each time I crossed a bridge, I would always stop in the middle to gather the fresh air the roaring river never ceases to grace one with. There is an everlasting energy flowing through the rivers and standing atop a bridge over the river is a sure way to feel it.This picture is taken on the path in the middle of the mountain with views below and above that would make anyone tremble with frieght. It made me realize just how small we as humans really are in this crazy world we live in. These mountains simply laugh at us. Silly humans they think - so silly!But the mountains are anything but silly. They are a beauty of a thing to view, but a monster of a thing to trek through. This is Tony in the next two shots, and this is the nearly unpathed mountain trail we had to traverse in order to get to the highest lake in the world. This skree, or loose gravel, was unpaved, and fortunately Tony found a walking stick earlier to scratch out a quasi way, which enabled us to keep on moving.And that's just what we did. We just kept on moving. We are simply passerbys, but these mountains or at least Mother Nature will remain forever.