Back in Belgium, I got the feeling that the universe did not seem to be aligned for this trip. Never have I been seriously injured before, yet 3 weeks before flying to Kathmandu I took a muscle in my ankle. Wherever I needed to get to in Belgium had road diversions or cancelled trains. While I tried to fix music, the e-reader, or a simple hard drive back up technology was going through a collective breakdown. We were put on hold for our flight to Kathmandu and only got to board the plane on the very last minute. Jep, this was going to become an interesting trip.
Yet on a plane we were, and after a short hour of sleep we awoke to a Himalayan skyline lit up by a golden sunrise.
Most people who had been to Nepal before warned us that although Kathmandu is a great city, it can be a bit of a shock at first. It’s dirty, it’s smelly, it’s claustrophobic, it’s incredible that things go around in this chaotic ravel. Yet we like it. We found the best pizza on the subcontinent, we tried lots of Nepalese food, we still haven’t died trying to cross the street and we’ve come across more fake North Face gear than we could ever imagine existed.
We unfortunately have no clue about any sightseeing as we’ve been too busy trying to understand how to deal with the formalities of trekking in Nepal to do anything else but that. I can see why people prefer the comfort of paying an agency to fix it for them, but we wanted to be stubborn and keep the challenge to ourselves.
We fixed them today, right on the edge of the beginning of the Dashain festival, a major Hindu celebration in the country. I felt my heart beating out my chest when we went to the tourist board this morning, hoping that we would get what we needed before the country goes on lockdown for 10 days. Flights, busses, everything is full, and with a bit of patience and some extra cash demands here and there we conquered the last seats out of town this Sunday.
The paperwork has been worse and easier than we expected. Once we understood which forms to fill out and where to pay the fee, no one asked too many questions. We still don’t know if we payed all fees, as no one is ever saying is the same as someone else, or the same as what we found online. But you have to have some trust, so we believe the good lady we spoke to at the TIMS counter that all our paperwork is now on green light.
Before we ever got to the paperwork we spent days talking to several companies who all gave contradicting information, trying to complicate matters to charge us huge fees to hire them and their guides. If it wasn’t for a lucky encounter with Ian Wall from Off the Wall trekking at the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP), we’d still be running in circles. He was extremely helpful over mail before we got here, and we are extremely grateful for all the time he selflessly put in outlining the system to us. If you ever consider trekking in Nepal have a look at his company, together with his wife they provide beautiful experiences in the country.
A second great encounter has been with Robin Boustead, the man who turned this trail from an idea into reality, who pioneered many of the routes we will follow, and who is still the only man that walked pretty much all of the Great Himalaya Range. We met him for beers, and just as we had entirely given up on the Makalu high passes he put us in touch with a guy who might just be able to hook us up with guides after all. We don’t know if it will happen yet and will not know until earliest tomorrow, but if it is an option we will reroute our entire outline again.
We already have done this several times due to permit restrictions: whatever small plan we had, it has been wiped out again and again. We need to adjust, we need to be flexible, we need to live in the moment. And maybe this was exactly the signal the universe was trying to send us.
Group morale has been low sometimes due to permit hassles and at some points I felt that everyone was almost giving up on the idea of any high route. Here, Robin has been invaluable, giving us a pep talk as no other: “Fear nothing. Live in the moment. Be fluid. Become one with the mountains. Become part of the landscape, part of the chaos. Listen, to your instincts, to the mountains, to local people. There is no such thing as failure. As soon as you set the first step, you haven’t failed.”
On Sunday, we will fly to Bhadrapur to then take a jeep to Taplejung and start heading west towards Makalu – Barun National Park. We had to give up on the Kanchenjunga area due to permit hassles. We’ll be covering the Makalu, Sagarmatha and Rolwaling area, after which we will return to Kathmandu to fix the next round of permits. We don’t know our exact route yet but for the sake of safety and information I have written the two most likely options below:
Taplejung – Milke Danda – Num – Makalu base camp – Isuwa La pass – Mera La pass – Lukla – Namche – Everest Base Camp – Gokyo- Tashi Labsta Pass – The Last Resort
Taplejung – Milke Danda – Num – Makalu base camp – Sherpani col/West col/Ambhu Labsta high passes – Dingboche -Namche – Everest Base Camp – Gokyo – Tashi Labsta pass – The Last Resort
Then again, maybe none of this will happen and we will be doing something entirely different. There seems to be only one fitting slogan for this trail, and that is to expect the unexpected.