It all started at Heathrow, I arrived in plenty of time for our check in and settled myself in Café Rouge with a large glass of pinot awaiting the arrival of Roger. Then I get a message “stuck on M4 big accident, just passed Swindon” this was at the time he was due to arrive at Heathrow! I dropped my bags off and warned the check in ladies that he may be late. They made a note that he could possibly still drop his bags 40 mins before departure. It was touch and go, but soon I got the text that he had arrived at the bus depot and was running up to check in!
Through security with relative ease and we were soon able to settle down and have a small sweet sherry each (OK it was beer and wine) before heading to the gate to catch our flight.
Uneventful flight involving food, wine, chatting lots to the staff and missing the end of the film for Roger!! Then it was 6 hours in Doha……..BUT hang on, is that an update on Facebook from one of my friends with a pic of the mad teddy bear in the airport terminal?? I looked up and saw my friend Jo from KTM typing away on her laptop. Cue a surprise, big hugs and an introduction to Roger, she was on her way to Brazil!! She flew off (literally) while we were left to drink more coffee and mooch around the terminal.
Landed at KTM in the dark, Nepali phone on – texts to my friends and family “hi honey I’m home” then lots of texts back from my Nepali friends welcoming me and we walked off the plane to the heat and the smell of KTM. We both smiled at each other it was a good feeling to be back on Nepali soil.
Easily through immigration, now the matter of waiting for our bags – but within an hour of touchdown we were in the safe and capable hands of Rajan from Himalayan Guides and in the car on the way to our hotel.
At our hotel there seemed to be a problem as only one room card was handed over to be filled in……..yep, they were full and only had one triple room for us! We could go to another hotel or share a room. As it was 3 single beds and we were tired and they promised us we would be moved the next day, we opted to share. Bags dumped we just headed out for food – it was about 9pm, we were shattered and hungry.
We had a mad 4 days in KTM with various meetings with our NGO (The Nepal Youth Foundation) to catch up and plan our way forward for the future. A catch up with Dorje and visiting the schools his children are at, shopping, meetings with more friends, some tongba and momo’s, a visit to Namgel’s home for momos and catching up with his lovely family……then Hazel got ill…
Roger made the sensible decision to postpone our trip for 24 hours. I was gutted as I knew we were on a tight schedule, but it was the right decision. As much as I felt slightly better on Friday morning after virtually 24 hours of bed rest and sleeping, I knew the thought of 12 hours in a jeep with a dicky tummy would not be good.
Saturday morning dawned, or rather it didn’t for a while for us. 4.20am we were picked up by our tame taxi driver, Raj, and off we shot through the dark empty roads of Thamel to pick up Bhim and head out to where we would get the jeep to Salleri.
5am, all loaded up, Roger and I were in the back seat of a 7 seater jeep…it was cramped but I expected them to put 3 on the back seat. After an hour we stopped for petrol and Roger moved into one of the “normal” seats while Bhim moved to the front – all of a sudden I had the back seat to myself! Bliss……
We watched the sun rise over the mountain tops, it was magical, if a bit uncomfortable. The snow topped mountains glistened as the sun hit them and we watched them change colour. Soon we were bouncing around in the sun and then up and down ridiculously windy roads, so much so that poor Bhim ended up with his head out of the window. I made myself comfortable on everyone’s rucksacks in the back seat and had a snooze until we came to an abrupt halt. I thought it was breakfast stop….how wrong was I? They were building the road in front of our eyes, there was a massive digger moving earth to make the road wider, all traffic was at a standstill until it decided to move (I say all traffic, this was about 3 jeeps on either side and we were there for about 15 minutes!)
15 hours of bouncing around, picking up waifs and strays and getting more and more squashed in (10 people in a 7 seater jeep, along with most people’s rucksacks!!) Finally we were on the final stretch to Salleri…….this was proper “off roading” except it was the real road… not sure my car would survive this, not even sure the “Chelsea Tractors” at home were built for this type of off roading!
Soon we were settled into our teahouse. A familiar face, grin and giggle appeared – Kami our trusted porter!! Then we were visited by the Chairman of the local NGO we had been put in contact with. He was very enthusiastic and we agreed to go to his office the next morning on our way to the school at Jogara.
Next morning we had a short stroll up to the offices of Young Star Club, a very impressive and enthusiastic organisation. We left promising to keep in touch once we had spoken to Raju at the NYF when we returned to KTM.
Back into a jeep for an hours ride to meet my friend Bal and visit the school in his village of Jogara. If we thought the road into Salleri was rough, it had nothing on this, but at least it was just the 4 of us in the jeep this time, pure luxury!
I spotted Bal waiting for us on the side of the road and he took us down the hillside to the school. This is NOT a school that you would stumble across if you were trekking, you could barely see it from the road!! But as we trekked downwards we saw the schoolchildren all lined up in the playground waiting for us. Soon we were covered in garlands made from rhododendron flowers and lots and lots of prayer scarves, 150 children had made 2 garlands each! After drinking tea and watching the children go through their morning exercises we went on a tour of the school and met with the headmaster. It was a beautiful school with enthusiastic children and teachers and the standards of English reading in the children was amazing. We left saying that we would be in touch with Bal and made no promises, but explained the processes we would have to go through in order to even begin to be able to make things happen for them.
Now we were trekking at last! Roger and I had been in Nepal for 7 days and this was our first opportunity to stretch our legs….so what happened? The heavens opened of course!! Cue hasty unpacking of umbrellas and we were off round the dusty/muddy jeep trail on our way to our destination for the evening, Budidhanda. But there was a fork in the road, and this road wasn’t here last year when Bhim and I came through – up or down? Bhim chose down and soon we were at a dead end….. much climbing over unmade tracks and grappling through undergrowth, but heading in the right direction, in the freezing rain with the wind seemingly changing directions every minute, we eventually made it to our destination for the evening. Cue some dal bhat and chyaang and soon Roger and I retired to our tiny bedrooms for some well deserved rest.
The next morning dawned bright but threatening rain, so we set off sharpish to try and keep ahead of it (most of our kit was still not dry from the night before, so the luxury of fresh clothes was busted out!) We headed down and down and down through the terraces, laughing as there was no trail, through fields with buffalo and also through some orange groves. Then we were over the bridge (in the rain of course) and on our way up the mahoosively steep hill to Waku. The rain did not make this task any easier than last year, but up we plodded through the “zig zags” as Bhim called them. I think Roger thought I was over exaggerating these in my blog last year, then he was on them and doing 5 steps one way and 5 the other and he realised I wasn’t.
We took a brief shelter from the rain in someone’s house and I dished out some of the hats my Mam had knitted to the kids gawping at the strange white people in their back yard! Up for another hour and we were at our lunch spot. We had been told they were expecting us by a lovely old man walking down the trail, so within 10 mins of sitting down a huge plate of dal bhat was in front of us!
Now for another hour upwards through the terraces again and then finally round the top of the hill for a long, long traverse to Rocham and our final destination. A familiar face appeared, it was Bhim’s brother, Bhakta who was one of our guides on our Everest 2012 expedition – he took my rucksack off me and we set off again.
A seemingly long hour later and we were at the school gates and our reception committee – lots of children again showering us with garlands and prayer scarves and posies. A small welcome ceremony ended with Roger, Bhim, Kami and I dancing in the playground with the children to Risham Firiri – one of my favourite Nepali songs J
Our tents were set up in the nursery classroom “just in case it rains” according to Bhim, bless him! A fun night with his family and beautiful food, washed down with plenty of chyaang, soon we retired to our luxury camping facilities.
The next day dawned with brilliant sunshine – programme day and just the weather we needed! Soon the playground started filling up with children and villagers, meanwhile I paced nervously around going over and over my speech that I had stupidly thought it would be cool to deliver in Nepali……I was scared, but Bhim reassured me and corrected a few words for me. For each of his family that I read it out to, they all agreed it sounded good and I had my pronunciation just right, I was convinced they were being kind!
The programme began, lots of dancing, lots of singing, lots more dancing, a few speeches, Bhakta whispering in my ear if I wanted chyaang (of course I did, “Nepali courage”) and all to soon it was time for me to stand up and do my speech. The children and villagers hushed and I grabbed the mike! I stumbled a few times, but I made it through (and it was videoed!) and got a big round of applause at the end, it seemed I had indeed done a good job!
Much more dancing, some brilliantly acted drama (even moving some of the audience to tears) some more singing, a bit more dancing and then it was the end and all the children bundled onto the “stage” area to dance round and round together, along with Roger and I of course. It had been a truly magical day, but it wasn’t over yet. Then the heavens opened!!! Cue some kids jumping onto the stage with us to shelter from the rain while others ran up to the classrooms and continued to dance in the doorways as of course the music didn’t stop!
Soon the teachers decided to move the music system into one of the classrooms where Roger, Kami and I joined in the fun with the “young’uns” Roger and I decided to leave Kami to it and headed to Bhakta’s house where we had heard chyaang was being served. It was 6pm, still raining and the kids were still in the classroom partying……we were concerned, but it turns out the school was paying for dinner for everyone tonight and the kids that lived far away were being put up by the families that lived close by. We would be eating with the kids and also the party was about to be transferred to the little ledge just outside Bhakta’s house! A tarpaulin was put up to keep us all dry and Roger and I just dipped in and out of the dancing. This carried on until just before 10pm when Bhim decided the party was over and sent all the kids packing.
What an awesome day and evening. Roger and I reluctantly stopped dancing and this awesome village and its inhabitants. Roger had fallen as much in love with it as I did last year
Our last morning dawned with brilliant sunshine. The kids lined up in the playground to do their morning exercises and marched off into their classrooms, we then were taken on a guided tour by the headmaster. In some rooms no bigger than a store cupboard, there were 30-40 children crammed in, definitely something that needs to be addressed…..but they were all happy and smiley and very glad to be in a place to learn, even if they barely had space in front of them to open their text book!
All in all we got the same amazing feeling of community at this school and were waved off (after some more dancing and one last glass of chyaang) to walk up the hill out of Rocham with promises that we WOULD be back in November…..and yes, of course I blubbed!!!
Another adventure was about to start – trekking to Khari Khola, leaving at 12.15 and knowing we had 7 hours of trekking ahead. We were lucky with the weather, for most of the time we were walking in the sun. A quick tea break at the bottom of a very long hill and we were welcomed into a family home. Roger and I had tea and biscuits, then a bowl of something that looked suspiciously like chyaang arrived in front of me!! I protested and said I would have to share it with Roger (it was a HUGE bowl!) as I also knew the next part to Khari Khola was long and hard. Balloons despatched, some of my Mam’s hats given out, happy children, happy family and extremely happy Hazel and Roger with the bill of 200 rupees for tea and chyaang for 4 (that is about £1.30!)
Off we set up the hill and round the corner, well that’s what it looked like when we set out – but the corner seemed to be a set of about 20 of them!! Then it started to rain again, eventually we hit the final corner and were round the hill on our way down into Khari Khola. It was around 5pm and light was fading due to the rain. This is a slippery part of the trail too, so with the light fading and the rain starting to subside (luckily) we carried on, eventually by head torch.
We made it into Khari Khola at 7.15pm, cold and damp but not miserable. We were the only guests at our teahouse tonight and were given an extremely warm welcome by our hosts and put straight into the brand new rooms that had been constructed since my visit last spring. They were clean and comfortable, we unpacked our sleeping bags and headed back to the main room for…..a Sprite for Roger and Tongba for me, Bhim and Kami J Roger then decided he would steer away from Dal Bhat and ordered egg and chips! That didn’t touch the sides, and he enjoyed it so much that he ordered it for breakfast too. I kept to my traditional Nepali diet of momos!
Fuelled by egg and chips the next morning (chapati and boiled egg for me!) we headed down through Khari Khola in the sun, then up the long long hill to Bupse for a cup of tea, then up, up and more up stopping at the house we had visited in 2013 with Namgel and distributed more balloons and hats to the kids there. 15 minutes later we had lunch where we attracted two other trekkers, one from Germany and one from Badminton, not far away from Roger. All of a sudden we were in a conversation with some Westerners other than each other, lunch may have taken a little longer than usual that time!
Now we had some more up before hitting the “slippery trial” as the map said. We had both been over this part of the trail before and it was always muddy. We stopped at a tealodge at the top as we both had signal on our phones for the first time in a week. I received a text from Rachel saying she was all packed and on her way and did I know that Mark had now had to cancel?
We had been out of contact with the world, this was the first we had heard and we were naturally upset, but I had just said to Bhim that the team should now be in KTM as it was 3pm on Thursday. Roger was on the phone to someone, all I heard was “sorry to hear that mate” so assumed it was Mark. Then he came back and broke the news, it wasn’t Mark, it was Ghurkha Dave, there had been a crash at KTM airport and it was closed, so the team were still at Heathrow! They were hoping to fly on Saturday, arriving Sunday instead. Hastily made phone calls from this one spot with signal, the hotel had been alerted that they wouldn’t be arriving and Rajan at Himalayan Guides was busy rearranging pick ups and flights to Lukla.
A quick call back to David to confirm we had made all the necessary changes and we headed off down the extremely muddy path, a little despondent that our team wasn’t in KTM yet, but reassured that they would be and we would be reunited on Monday instead of Saturday. Then we realised, we could have stayed that extra day in Rocham, grrrr….. but, we would soon be in Lukla, on time, and able to catch up with the world.
After a horrible and long downhill stretch through the muddy paths, only just able to see the next stone to hopefully safely step onto and with plenty of helping hands from Bhim for me, we made it down to the river and we were in Paiyya. We had heard from a beautiful old lady on the trail that there was a wedding in Paiyya and also there were some volunteers up at the health post by our usual teahouse, so that was full. But she knew a very nice, Sherpa run, teahouse lower down in the village. It would mean an extra 20 mins walk up hill in the morning, but we didn’t care, we were just happy to arrive at our final destination before dark (just)
Gorgeous big, clean rooms awaited us and Roger came up with the genius idea of moving the mattress from the spare bed in each of our rooms on to the other…..instant luxury and the ability to put our bags up on the other bed to make life easier for us both!
Downstairs to the lovely dining room and the traditional chyaang for Roger and Tongba for me, good god this was GOOD tongba!!! A fun night with Bhim and Kami eventually watching the man of the house being carried in by one of his friends, he clearly enjoyed the hospitality at the wedding a little too much!!
Another beautiful sunny morning and fuelled by a hearty breakfast we set off. It was definitely colder than before and some of the muddy puddles that hadn’t seen the sun yet were still frozen, so we needed to take care where we were stepping. Up and out of Paiyya, watching the planes fly past on their way into Lukla, soon we were round the corner, up some more and round another couple of corners, there was Lukla in the distance. I managed to video a plane flying in and landing on this seemingly impossible runway, it still is a wonder whenever you see it!
Down, down, down all the way to Surke for a quick lunch stop then we were heading up the hill to Lukla, this was ridiculous it seemed to go on forever. Lots and lots of stops, lots of bistari (slowly) and dodging falling rocks as they sped past my head from way up (thanks to Bhim for alerting me to this!) I found a couple of cute kids to take a rest stop by and took the last 3 hats out of my rucksack (there were more in my main bag). As I came up past a big pile of rocks I saw Roger standing by a tree with his map out and then looked behind him, was that really the runway I could see? He couldn’t quite believe it either, but we were now walking up alongside the runway to Paradise Lodge and our home for the next couple of nights until the team arrived.
A beautiful warm welcome from Dawa and the promise of our first hot shower after a week. An hour later, 2 extremely sweet smelling individuals made their way to the dining area. A quick dinner and we headed out to meet Bhim at his tealodge and head off behind a secret door for Tongba and Chyaang and a full and frank discussion on how we would help his school. At 10pm when the owners of the house we had gatecrashed were falling asleep, we decided it was time to stop the celebrations and head back to our respective lodges.
The next day dawned with the surprise in the dining room of our dear friends Tashi and Rhita having just flown in from KTM. We sat and chatted with them and the assorted ladies that they were with. Rhita headed off to Pangboche whilst Tashi waited in the hope that she would be able to get a lift in a helicopter up to Kyangjuma.
Roger and I headed off to Starbucks to contact the outside world and get the latest from our team, it wasn’t good news. The airport was still not open, and they would not be flying on Saturday night, but had been told that they may be able to fly Sunday. More emails between ourselves and the hotel and Himalayan Guides trying to sort out logistics. They would know on Sunday morning 9am UK time when they were confirmed on a flight.
It would be tight, but if they landed on Monday and flew to Lukla on Tuesday, the trip could still be salvaged for them (although they would have no time to acclimatise to 1400m at KTM, but be straight on a plane to 2800m at Lukla!) We spent the day with Bhim, planning our next 2 expeditions and getting dates and places sorted out. We had a plan. Roger was flying with ideas, it was awesome and we weren’t even drinking!
The boys came down to join us for dinner in Paradise Lodge that night and Dawa produced some much needed Chyaang for us. Roger lost his ipad to Kami who spent the night flicking through pictures and videos on there, even finding some of Rogers music that he couldn’t work out how to find himself!! Cue lesson in how to use an ipad from our lovely porter to Roger!!
We headed back to Starbucks the next morning and drafted an email to the team, basically saying that in reality if they didn’t fly that evening, it would not be worth them coming out, for either their health or enjoyment of the trip. But this was a hard email to draft as we knew we were basically recommending they cancel a trip they had all been looking forward to. There was a silver lining, we were coming back in November and they could postpone their trip until then when they could visit both Rocham and Pangboche.
We met a couple, Rachael and Jeff, who were doing some work with the Himalayan Trust and we were promptly “interviewed” by Rachael as they were interested in the work we were doing. We had a great morning with them, giving them information about our projects but also learning a lot from them about how the education system out here works, I think it was safe to say it was a fruitful meeting on both sides
Soon we got an email from David, he had been on the phone to Qatar and the earliest they could confirm would be Thursday, so he would come back in November, this quickly followed with messages from both Rachel and Jenna who would sensibly do the same, there is no way we could make the trip work for them for 8 days in Nepal.
It was with a heavy but relieved heart (we were actually worried about their health, landing at KTM and flying straight to Lukla and rushing the trip) that we headed back to Paradise Lodge to pack.
Hotel Access had cancelled the rooms, Iswari and his fabulous team would make all the necessary arrangements at their end and we would see them when we got back to KTM for any refunds that were available, or to pick up original invoices for each of them to put through with their insurance claims.
BUT as much as they were disappointed, they were all very excited about the new trip in November. Namgel was on his way to Himalayan Guides to pick up a bag with all our promotional material in that the team were due to bring and get his flight to Lukla the next morning confirmed. He was going to be on the 2nd Goma Air flight and would either see us at Paradise Lodge, or catch us up on the trail.
Bags packed, it was time for one last night in Lukla with Bhim, so he and Kami came back and more Chyaang was drunk. It was time to head to Pangboche and officially open a playground…2 years after we stood on a slope and made a promise, it should be an emotional time!
More information on our work can be found on our website please feel free to visit and maybe even make a donation to help fund out work in Nepal.
As mentioned in previous entries, ALL these trips are self funded. Therefore your donations go straight to where it is needed most, the children.
NOT to fund the fabulous times we have in the hills.