Recounting my Nepal Trek
At the beginning of this Millennium I traveled to Nepal with my friend Martin Palmer and we wrote this account of our trekking
Sensational, awesome, majestic, humbling, all feel inadequate to describe the experience of being surrounded by the worlds highest mountains in scenery that defies description.
To enter the foothills of the Himalayas is to walk into a time capsule, a medieval rural idyll. Four days pony trek from the nearest road, no vehicles, no TV, no telephones. We had travelled further in our trek than some of the Nepalese villagers had ventured in their entire lives. 80% of the population of Nepal, one of the poorest nations on earth, live off the land. Here in the mountains they cling precariously to the side of the steep valley sides, farming fields cut into the mountainside in narrow terraces.
On the third day we reached Ghorapani, a small village straddling a snow covered pass between two valleys. Overlooking the village is Poon Hill (3210 metres), which we climbed in the dark to see the sun turn the vista of snow-covered peaks red as is broke over the horizon. This really was some of the best the planet has to offer, in wide screen.
A couple of minutes walk along a ridge from the top of Poon Hill was a government communication post that had been blown up by Maoist rebels the night before our arrival. The wrecked tower lay smashed on the ground, the solar power cells had been riddled with bullet holes and the smell of burnt timber was still heavy in the air (footage available from Undercurrents international).
The rebels have been waging a low intensity war from their bases in the hills, but what was really happening in this war? An occasional hit and run on a police post or something more intense?
Our first clue had come as we drove into the mountains from Pokhara, Nepal's second city. We approached a bridge over a foaming river encountering an army check point. All the passengers in every vehicle were forced to get out remove all headgear and walk the couple of hundred yards across the bridge, past a gauntlet of heavily armed troops. There was no mistaking the nervousness of our Sherpa guide, porter and driver.
It was impossible to verify rumours of bands of armed men entering villages seeking food. Beyond doubt was the killing this week of sixteen police in an overnight firefight when the Maoists attacked a motorway construction site. We heard of the assassination of a police inspector east of Pokhara while the press reported an attack on a cabinet ministers house in the west of the country destroying the property, he was not at home at the time.
The root of this unrest lies in the widespread corruption and incompetence of Nepal's fledgling democracy, it's just such a shame that the only people offering an alternative have the political sophistication of a blackboard and chalk.
All this may sound like a war zone and it has affected tourist numbers, even though the rebels have made clear statements saying they have no quarrel with foreigners. Tourists, especially trekkers like ourselves, bring much needed income to some of Nepal's poorest; the same people the guerrilla's gain much of their support from. At no time did we feel threatened, in fact we made attempts to meet them but they proved as elusive as the Yeti.
Traveler numbers are down in Nepal, which makes it an ideal choice for a venue. The people are very easy to meet and interact with, it's one of the most beautiful places on earth, there are no queues and everything is available. We just can't wait to go back.
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