Project Nepal

On October 23, 2015, seven intrepid explorers – Austin, Tony, Simon, Nigel, Dawn, Ann and Peter – set off for a three-week adventure in Nepal in conjunction with Community Action Nepal and CAT Treks, to do some essential repair work following the recent earthquake earlier this year. Following this work we were to go on a trek to a sacred lake called Dudh Kunda (Milk Lake) in the Himalayan range.

From Manchester we took off at 20.30 on the Friday heading for Kathmandu (KTM) via the United Arab Emirates where we had an eight-hour stopover. To kill some time three of us took a taxi to Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque which was newly built and had no less than 80 turrets. When we left the airport building it was only 10am and already it was like walking into an oven – the temperature was in the mid-30s! After visiting the mosque it was becoming far too hot so we jumped into an air conditioned Mercedes taxi and returned to the airport!

We set of again on the Saturday afternoon but were delayed by three hours, stuck on the runway. This was due to a party of Muslim pilgrims on board returning from a Haj in the Middle East with 16 extra bags in the luggage hold unaccounted for, so all the bags were taken off and sorted.

Finally we arrived in KTM at about 11pm on the Saturday night and after a short welcome by a rep from CAN we went straight to the Malla Hotel and to bed.

The next morning (Sunday) two of our party (Dawn and Simon) had to get up early (5am) as they had booked to go on a scenic flight along the Himalayan range to see Everest. The rest of us had a sleep in because we’d already been on the trip in the past.

After breakfast at the hotel we all went to the Thamel district of the city to buy some essentials for our forthcoming trek. Shona’s Trekking Shop there is owned by a Birmingham lad and his Nepalese wife Shona and they have everything you would need to go trekking. I bought a silk sleeping bag liner, a heavy duty plastic water bottle and a warm down jacket. I also bought some prayer flags for presents for people back home. We then had lunch at Thomas Kilroy’s restaurant nearby; I had fish and chips!

Early on Monday, October 25, we set off in two Tata jeeps for our first project and travelled all day, climbing higher and higher through streams and across rock falls in the road that had come down during the recent earthquake. Our destination was the Everest region, known locally as Solukhumbu.

We arrived at a small village at around 9,000ft where we unloaded the baggage, porters carried them and we carried our rucksacks. Setting off, we first descended 1,000ft into a valley and then ascended 1,000ft to reach the village of Ghunsa.

My first experience of climbing at that altitude was one that I’ll never forget; the air is much thinner and your blood is much thicker, consequently you quickly become tired. So much so it’s advised to rest for a few seconds every couple of minutes. You recover quickly and are ready to set off again, repeating the process on the way.

We arrived at Ghunsa village in the evening around 7.30pm. It was already dark and we set up camp in the grounds of the community health post where we were to stay for the next six days. Our project was to paint the outside windows, doors, grilles, toilet, bathroom and the front entrance with a supply of both brown and blue paint that had previously been ordered from India.

We then moved on to a nearby school (Shree Baleshwor Secondary School) where during the quake the gable end of one building had fallen down and been condemned. Our brief was to help erect around 10 new classrooms that were made from rush matting, wooden stakes, tarpaulin and rope.

Halloween was spent at a makeshift disco on our last night there, put on by the villagers in the school playground, where we danced under the stars. The next morning we were given traditional marigold necklaces and scarves before we set off to climb even higher to 10,000ft and another village called Lapcha.

The school there (Shree Jana Chetana Lower Secondary School) had a dry stone L-shaped building that was slightly damaged. Some of the walls had bowed out so we dismantled and re-built them. Also some of the wooden floors in the classrooms had become unsafe so we removed them, strengthened the beams underneath and replaced the boards.

The night sky was spectacular at this altitude and you could see the whole of the Milky Way with shooting stars in abundance.

On November 5 we were given a send-off by the villagers to continue our trek to 11,000ft and a village called Phaplu where we set up camp in the grounds of a trekkers’ hostel.

The next day we continued on to a village called Mingo where there was a Buddhist stupa (religious building) that had also been slightly damaged in the quake.

The evenings were becoming decidedly colder the higher we trekked, so much so that we ended up lighting a fire on a ridge where we set up camp at around 12,000ft. The batteries in my head torch no longer worked so I replaced them with lithium batteries that thankfully I was advised to take with me. From this ridge we climbed even higher to a popular viewpoint with a magnificent view of the Himalayan range, Everest sitting proudly in the middle. A big photo opportunity for all!

We continued our trekking, however it was no longer on rocky ground but on snow-covered paths. Our lunch was prepared in a sheltered valley by the guides and cook who were with us throughout our trek.

We continued to climb to 13,500ft where we camped in a valley next to a stream which became frozen at night but melted during the day. The temperature ranged from -9 to 23 degrees centigrade! From that valley we had a view of a snow capped mountain – our destination the following day. It was very cold at night and I had a bottle filled with hot water that I put at the bottom of my sleeping bag, along with the down jacket I purchased in KTM over the top of my bag to keep warm!

The next day (November 9) we set off on our final ascent to Dudh Kunda which took around four hours and on the way I saw a small stoat or weasel-type mammal running down the mountain, it was very agile!

Dudh Kunda is a frozen lake at the foot of three Himalayan peaks (Numbur, Khatang and Karyolung) and on arrival we were rewarded with clear, deep blue skies and a magnificent view of the whole frozen lake. It is a sacred place of pilgrimage in the summer and there were plenty of prayer flags flying. At this altitude (15,250ft) we had to keep our sunglasses on as the UV rays are extremely strong. After half an hour taking photos suddenly clouds appeared and the magic moment was lost so we descended to camp, taking around two and a half hours to do so, and were greeted with a welcome cup of sweet tea from the Nepal team on our return. After an evening meal we were all very tired and went to bed around 7.30pm.

On this part of the journey, as well as our team of seven we were joined by two daughters of the guides, Perma and Kandu, who just wanted to come along for the experience of climbing to the height we did.

On November 10 we set off to a little village popular with tourist trekkers called Ringmo where we set up camp in a hotel garden and had our meal watching wrestling on the TV (there was nothing else on!). We had descended quite a bit so thankfully the temperature in both the day and night was much warmer.

On November 11, we made a final descent to Phaplu in glorious sunshine and because it was Remembrance Day, at 11am we found a shrine and held two minutes silence in honour of the war dead. We continued our trek arriving around 4pm.

We stopped at the Shangri La hotel in Phaplu so the porters didn’t have to put up our tents this time. At night we ate fried chicken, rice and vegetables washed down with San Miguel beer!

After the meal the porters and guides were given their wages and a bottle of beer and we donated some of our clothes, hats, water bottles and boots to the porters; they certainly earned it carrying our bags, tents, cooking utensils, tables and stoves all that way.

When we got to bed some dogs were barking in the village for most of the night so not much sleep was had!

The next morning, November 12, we loaded up two Tata jeeps and set off to KTM. Perma had befriended a little stray puppy and it sat on her lap for the whole journey back – she named it Molly. We managed to get some diesel from a garage where the pumps were under lock and key because of the shortage from India.

Later on in the journey we had more opportunities to photograph the Himalayan range and arrived back at KTM in the early evening and booked into the Malla Hotel. It had been a 14-hour journey. PHEW!

Friday, November 13, was another festival day so not all the shops and banks were open but we managed to get our last minute purchases. Dawn, Simon, Nigel and I went to the river in KTM to see the Holy men and hermits who frequent it. We also took photos of the monkeys there and we had a guide to show us around the very old part of the city. We also saw another Buddhist stupa which was slightly damaged in the recent earthquake. That evening I found an Italian restaurant in KTM on Trip Advisor (get me!) and we all had a delicious meal there.

On Saturday, November 14, we packed our bags and put them all into Austin’s room as he was staying at the hotel for a few more days. We had lunch at Kilroy’s restaurant round the corner and in the afternoon we said our goodbyes to Austin and set off on the return journey to the airport. Our plane had to refuel in Lucknow, India, due to the fuel shortage in Nepal. Then it was on to Abu Dabi and finally Manchester Airport, arriving at 6am Sunday morning, November 15.

The whole trip to this region and the projects we were appointed to carry out had been a total success. I myself came back much fitter and tripled my personal best trekking height from 5,000ft to 15,000ft. Afterwards we all received an email from Doug Scott himself, the chap in charge of Community Action Nepal, thanking us for the work we had done.

Information about this trip can be found on You Tube (Nepal trek to Lake Dudh Kunda) and (search for West Yorkshire Nepal work team 2015).

Tony Wilson