Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trekking in India and Nepal

All ready to go!
Mother Theresa Home for the Dying in Calcutta

Hanging out in Darjeeling

First day of trekking

One of the little villages we stopped in for lunch

Watching our Tibetan bread being fried for breakfast

Many of our "home stays" for the night looked like Switzerland

As Ben would say: Just chillaxing after a long day of trekking

Just another lunch break

Mt. Kangchendjonga, 3rd highest peak in the world, through the clouds


Mt. Kangchendjonga in 5:30 am

Sometimes nothing seems to go right. Other times, everything seems to go right. This was one of those times. Ben and I spent ten days hiking in India and Nepal for his graduation present and the time couldn’t have gone much better.
The area we chose for our trekking was around Darjeeling, a small town perched on steep hillsides and surrounded by famous tea fields. It was a little bit Kenya (Tigoni tea fields) and a little bit La Paz (built into a nearly perpendicular hillside and surrounded by towering snow-covered mountains).
First, we needed a 24-hour layover in Calcutta and used the time to visit the Mother Theresa Home for the Dying. Obviously quite a contrast to the next several days where both spirits and thoughts soared.
The hiking was a great mixture of culture, exercise, discussion, history, and reveling in the beauty of the scenery. The culture part came from the places we where we stayed for the night. Part home-stay and part youth-hostel we had just enough privacy (our own room) along with plenty of time with the families over meals. Few spoke English so it was mostly smiling and motioning whether or not we wanted more food or tea.
The exercise included hikes of 12, 13, 20, and 12 kilometers, mostly straight up and straight down. I think we started our hike at around 6,000 ft in elevation and then went up to around 12,000 ft. at the highest point. Since we stayed in “homes” each night, we didn’t need to carry sleeping bags or tents or food or cooking gear. We traveled pretty light and at 51 years of age, I wasn’t complaining.
The discussion times were memorable. Obviously I don’t get uninterrupted time like this with Ben very often and it provided lots of opportunity to talk about all kinds of things. Mostly he spent the time trying to convince me that Frank Zappa is the best musician ever and that Southern California will be lucky to get him if he goes to college there. I spent my time trying to convince him that he should pick a certain college in Michigan and that the Bee Gees were the all-time greatest musicians. I won’t mind losing the music argument but I hope to prevail on the college one.
The history part was great for me. I remember as a kid spinning the metal globe I had and letting my figure lightly touch the surface as it spun. Wherever it stopped I would look at the place and wonder if I’ll ever visit there. Over and over I’d spin the globe, fascinated with the world and particularly so with the raised, mountainous area between India and China…the Himalayas. The first pair to ever climb Mt. Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. I didn’t realize that Darjeeling was Norgay’s home…that he trekked and trekked the very same paths that Ben and I walked. He stayed in the same spots along the way. We visited the Himalaya Mountaineering Institute and saw all the original equipment used by Hillary and Norgay. Fascinating to see the maps and models of their ascent and learn more about what a feat that was.
The beauty of the area needs no explanation. While we didn’t see Everest (it’s actually 100 miles away and usually in the clouds at this time of year) we did see many, many other peaks including the third highest peak in the world and the one that shows up in several of the pictures I’ve posted. You will see from most of the hiking pictures that the area was very lush and again, very very steep. Lots of mist and rains at night kept things cool and green and refreshing to breath. Almost he only rain we had came when we were indoors for the night or driving to and from Darjeeling in the Land Rover.
Great time. Everything we expected and hoped for. Enjoy the pictures.