7th March 2016

I’d had a hectic 3 days in KTM, rushing round to various meetings, catching up with friends, trying to get my laptop to log into work in certain places (bloomin firewalls)  and being reunited with my kit at Hotel Access.   But at 5am (the time they told us to be there) on Monday morning I found myself standing by the side of the road with Namgel waiting for the jeep to Salleri, around 6am we were told it was somewhere in the muddle of vehicles in front of us, Namgel went looking and came back with a smile, he’d found it.  He settled me into the front seat, 7 Nepali’s crammed in behind me and we were off.  After an eventful 11.5 hours, we were in Salleri and I ate my 2nd dal bhat of the day then settled down with my “boyfriend” (hot water bottle) in my sleeping bag and was asleep just after 9pm!

My alarm woke me at 6 after 9 blissful hours, not waking once! Kami knocked on my door just after 6.30 as we had agreed to  leave at 7 but the owner of my lodge wouldn’t start breakfast before 7! So 7.30 breakfast arrives…quick stop at Kamis Aunties house then we set off – straight away we were off roading heading down a steep and slippery locals trail down towards the river where we were greeted by Gelu, Kamis brother in law who was one of our porters in November. Then naturally it was up! Blimey I’d forgotten how tough this part is, am sure all the good memories blot out this pain! We were soon walking past lots of excited kids…running down the hill away from their school. Kami explained this school had been badly damaged in the 2nd earthquake and was now being rebuilt with the help of some Japanese people.  5 minutes later we heard a lot of noise and tin banging against the walls….it was those excited kids who had all been sent down to get a sheet of tin to bring back up for the roof of their school. That’s not quite what we have in mind when we ask the local community to provide 30% of the labour! They were still happy and smiling though, amazing to see this line of blue tin bouncing up the hill!

We carried on through lush green forests only bumping into locals en route…and not many of them!

We stopped for tea at a beautiful brand new lodge with a gorgeous family where the mother Tshering Dorje happily posed for pictures with her 2 adorable daughters.

Back on the trail winding up the hill sometimes in forest sometimes open fields between the terraces, this was properly off the beaten track and the part of my trips that I truly adore. This is me being totally selfish and having the best time in the most stunning place surrounded by the generous and inspiring Nepali people. I am truly one lucky girl!

Just before 12 we reached a place which had a familiar sticker on the window…god bless Kami even here he had been putting our stickers up! This was lunch stop and what else could it be? 3 dal bhat please. It was at this point that Kami told me we were in Kunikhop and the school was 10 mins up the hill (read 20 for Hazel-Time!)

I couldn’t believe we were in his village so soon. Don’t believe the hype Hazel…I was later to find out I had another 2 hours to get to Kami’s particular part of this village!

When we arrived at the school it was tiny! We walked round the corner and it was there….luckily no pomp or ceremony! I met the 3 teachers and was shown the 3 classrooms and tiny playground which has a temporary building on it. More important to me was there was a big drop at the side so the kids would need a fence to keep safe! The kids all lined up in the staffroom and handed out khatas to me Kami and Gelu. Then the headteacher gave the all important letter with the request for help. Uniform,  playground improvement and repairs to building. Seemed doable as the repairs looked superficial but we would clearly get an engineer to look too!

Now time for fun…balloons, bubbles and chocolate courtesy of Sarah Wing (dherai dhanyabad Sarah :)) and the obligatory hats via the hands of my Mam. Everyone was happy and left the school in high spirits.

Then the rain started and out came the umbrellas  followed swiftly by the waterproofs, it was bucketing down. We ran into a house for shelter, we were about 45 mins from Kamis and were offered chyaang. Kami and I looked at each other, shrugged, laughed and of course accepted.

The rain subsided a bit so we decided to brave it up through the lush green countryside. Then Kami pointed to a building ahead “my house” we were home and welcomed into the warmth by his brother Mingma along with his wife and their Mum.

Turns out I didn’t need the tent, I was going to spend the next few nights Nepali style sleeping in with the family….I truly was home and the chyaang, laughter and dal bhat flowed freely

A sunny morning greeted me on my first morning in Gunsa, the Sherpa village in Kunikhop.

Kami and I had decided the night before to bin our planned trip to Pikey Peak,  there was a wedding party the next day which all the villages that made up Kunikhop would be attending.  The “villages”  consist of about 8 or 9 houses dotted over the hillside and tend to be either Sherpa or Tamang .  It was about a 20 min walk to Kami’s closest neighbour which was of course straight up hill.

Today was about sightseeing so Kami packed his rucksack with biscuits and bottles of water and we headed….up, naturally.  Those of you who have trekked with me know that up is my least favourite but this type of up took on a whole new meaning. This was straight up and I really mean STRAIGHT  up!

Proper locals route,  no zig zags to make life easier, in fact at some point no track at all it was all about making it up as we went along.  After 2 hours we came across our 4th house and Kami uttered the magic word “tea”.  Turns out this is where the party will be tomorrow.   I made a mental note to tell Kami that I would stay home, I didn’t fancy 2 hours walking up to the party let alone trying to stumble my way back down after the inevitable chyaang! The party sounded fab but the reality of where it was kicked in at that moment!

So more up…2 hours worth to be precise and we were at the top. No views of peaks unfortunately the weather had closed in but we were at 3000m so of course it was going to be cold, good news was that I had put an extra layer in Kami’s bag 🙂

Picnic, dancing and fun at the top then we headed back down…even more scary than the up as of course if it was straight up that could only mean one thing,  straight down on dusty,  sometimes muddy but always single track trails!  Most of the time Kami would grab hold of my arm to keep me safe as I negotiated the tricky bits with Gelu offering his hand from down below. But we made it! 6 hours after leaving home our sightseeing tour was nearly over, but we were at his next door neighbours and they invited us in and fed us noodles and chyaang and made us laugh.

Back home I was exhausted and struggled to drink the chyaang Mingma put in front of me..I needed chu chende (Sherpa for hot water).  I was looking forward to an early night but my hosts had other ideas.  Turns out the 2 closest neighbours had been invited for dinner/mini party.

So people who ask me what we do in the evenings without TV out here can have the question answered…we create our own entertainment.  Talking, laughing, drinking and impromptu dancing….lots of it! For most of the evening I could hardly keep my eyes open but what a night in Kami’s small and cosy home. I totally loved it 🙂

Late nights don’t mean lie ins here…there are still jobs to do and in a small room with 6 adults and one baby you don’t get much privacy or quiet time!

More sightseeing, off to the monastery 45 mins uphill!  But it was a beautiful sunny morning and the views of the hills of Kunikhop were worth the uphill (remember,  locals trail only,  no luxury zigzags or wide trail)

Getting to the tiny monastery perched on the side of the hill was worth it all, a quick call from Kami and his neighbour from last night appeared along with the keys.

I have been lucky enough to have been inside some beautiful monasteries before. Beautiful and elaborate but nothing prepared me for this. It’s simplicity took my breath away. This was a plain room with the “altar” at one end. No fancy intricate paintings. No elaborate wood carvings,  just a simple centre for all their prayers and pujas to happen in. Kami apologised, “we are a poor village” but I was in tears,  its simplicity meant everything, this was a real and genuinely spiritual place and I loved it and felt it.

We followed Kami’s neighbour back across the hill to his house where of course we were offered chyaang. Again a simple and beautiful family home,  I was falling more and more in love with Kami’s village and could tell he was genuinely pleased to have me there.

The family began to get dressed for the party. Here was me imagining one that started later, no it started at lunchtime and would head on into the evening.  Kami and I had already had an “argument” where he said he wouldn’t go if I stayed home. I pointed out we had changed our plans so he could go and I would just slow him up both going up and coming down. Now he could go and have fun with his friends without worrying about his guest.

But as we headed down to his house we saw the door was shut. Looked like I was going after all.  But his mum emerged to save me, or so I thought. Peer pressure works wonders in the hills. The neighbours came in and drank tea while I changed and Kami made me fried rice to fuel me up the hill. I had 5 mins….so I grabbed a bowl and some water and washed my hair, well it was a party, if I didn’t have party clothes I could at least have clean hair.

Fuelled by rice we headed off, back up that awful hill from yesterday. I told the neighbours to go ahead, I would just slow them down, Kami and I would get there eventually and to be honest I didn’t need the pressure of trying and failing to keep up!  But Dad had other ideas and waited for me.

1 hour and 20 mins later we arrived at the party where we were ushered into a room and offered chyaang and dal bhat. I refused both, I had just eaten and knew I  had to get back down the hill in one piece.

Kami wolfed down his dal bhat and we headed outside where the dancing was in full swing.  We both joined in and eventually I relented and had some chyaang and managed to avoid the constant refills by staying outside and dancing.

Around 5ish Kami said “pepke” Sherpa for let’s go. We wanted to be back down the hill before dark, as did a lot of very drunken Nepalis! We saw a couple fall over, much to the amusement of everyone around, luckily enough we were still sober and I remained upright.

My last night with Kami’s family consisted of us all sitting in the kitchen, round the fire as our dinner was cooked on it,  watching videos of the dancing at the party and a big bowl of Sherpa stew, a totally awesome time, I was going to miss these guys loads.

Kami and I were waved off the next morning and I promised to come back in October, Kami and I had already rewritten my route back from Pangboche so that I could come and see them all before the team flew out to Phaplu, so they knew I was coming.

As I’ve already mentioned earlier, everything is UP round here and sure enough we were heading straight up on the “path” that was just about wide enough for my feet and seriously seriously steep!  Mingma was joining us on this part of the route and Kami handed him my bag to carry which made us all laugh as Mingma was now being Kami’s porter

We had an awesome couple of hours walking up this horrendously steep hill, listening to these two brothers chatting and giggling away together was the best tonic to ease the pain the hill was inflicting on my body.

At the top there was a mani and Kami started to put prayer flags, khatas, light incense sticks and go through his rituals, he then asked if I wanted to add a khata too, I gave one of mine to Mingma so that he could join in and stood back and watched the boys, it was all a bit overwhelming and emotional being part of all this, especially after the last few days with them.  I filmed a bit of it, then started to crack at the end of my commentary.  As we sat down and opened our picnic of Tibetan bread, cheese and boiled eggs, Kami told me this was the mani for his Grandfather, that made me even more emotional as you can imagine.

Now for the good part of the walk…..down,  but of course nothing is that simple is it?  First off the boys couldn’t decide which path we should be on “sorrys” they both chimed at the same time as they laughed and we turned back and went down another path into the forest.  This was where we got lost, more “sorrys” were chimed out to me time and time again, but it was so much fun I was just laughing with them, even though as I headed down this steep hill in this dense forest with no real path and slippy moss and leaves under my feet I was terrified at points.   But of course I always had the steadying hand of Kami available whenever I needed it.   At one point the “path” we found had been blocked by a tree that had been blown over, so we had to climb down the bank and over it, easy for these boys but not so for me!

Eventually we made it out of the forest and onto a main path.  This apparently was one of the routes in and out of Kunikhop and time for Mingma to leave us and head home.  Big hugs and even bigger smiles, we would see him again in Namche when Roger and Namgel arrived.

So, off Kami and I set down what was the main trail apparently, but of course most of it still looked vaguely “local” rather than trekker to me!

We saw the village of Loding on the other side of the hill, we would be crossing the river and heading through here to Tamakhani where we would be staying.  As we walked into Tamakhani we were greeted by a lady and her daughter, turns out we were staying at her place tonight.  Unfortunately, the main building of her lodge had a big crack up the side of it from the earthquake and she was living and cooking in temporary buildings on the other side of the trail.  I was unsure where we would stay until we were shown into the main building, on the ground floor there was one big room that used to be the kitchen and small Nepali dining area, there were 4 beds in here, two in one section and two on the other side of the partition wall.  Kami and I would sleep in here, he shrugged “one night” the building looked safe enough, I just hoped there wasn’t a rumble in the night, I slept in my clothes that night just in case!

The two kids here were just the cutest and when I gave them a hat each and asked for a picture they immediately put their hands over their faces, which of course was a picture I took!

We headed off the next morning to a beautiful clear day, apparently this was going to be an easy day which was mainly Nepali flat with a little bit of up at the end – Kami, as usual, was right – we had a fun day walking along the jeep track towards Salleri, we had come full circle round this big hill and ended up crossing the river and heading back up to Salleri where we would await Namgel’s arrival that evening, then the next adventure would start.

Thanks, as ever for persevering and getting to the end.  If you would like to help me raise funds for Supporting Nepal’s Children and maybe even buy some uniform for the kids at Kunikhop, please click on this link:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/HazelSNC2016

I’ve uploaded some of my pics of this part of the trip to the following folder:  Home in the Hills again    there are not too many, I promise

Until next time….



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