ADVENTURES IN NEPAL

By David Horton

   "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot

You can click on any of the small pictures to get a larger version

 

A phone call, during the last week of January 1998, afforded me the opportunity to see the biggest mountains in the world – the Himalayas in Nepal. My wife, Nancy, works for a local mission organization known as World Help. Their focus is on reaching countries that are "unreached" with the Gospel. This is accomplished through training pastors, planting churches where no churches exist, helping to find sponsors for children in orphanages, and hand-carrying much needed medical supplies to clinics and hospitals.

Vernon Brewer, president of World Help, has known us personally for several years, and knew my secret desire to climb Everest. He mentioned to Nancy that through some unexpected events, an available spot had come open on part of a mission trip they were going on in February . . . the part going to Nepal. The trip itself was a three week mission through Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, and India. While in Nepal, they were going to take a few days off and were planning to trek in the Everest region for three days. My portion only allowed time to fly to Nepal for these few days.

With Nancy sitting there with him, he picked up the phone and gave me a call. Since she was letting him call me, I knew she didn’t have a problem with me going, so there was NO HESITATION on my part with a quick "YES". I was on my way in seeking a new adventure. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I may not climb Everest…but I am going to go see it!

It had been almost three years since my last adventure – (1995 Trans-America Footrace). My place of employment (Liberty University) graciously allowed me the time off and several colleagues kindly covered my classes.

With such a short time to prepare to fly halfway around the world, I had a frantic few weeks to prepare. I read as much as I could and talked to as many people as possible who had been there. Neil Biedleman (Aspen, Colorado) had been to the Everest region several times and was a member of the Mountain Madness group that had tragic results when climbing Everest in May of 1996. Others also provided valuable information.

My trip of 29 hours of flight time, 10 hours in plane changes and layovers seemed endless. I watched three movies and read two and a half books. I flew from Greensboro, NC, to Detroit, to L.A., to Taipei, to Singapore, to Bangkok (layover of one night), to Katmandu.

  In Bangkok, I met up with Vernon Brewer and five others from World Help, including my pastor from Lynchburg, VA, Wayne McCraw. This group had already been to Myanmar the week before, and would be going on into India following the Nepal section.

Arriving in the Katmandu airport was like landing in another world, literally and figuratively. Armed guards were around the airport. As we stepped out of the terminal we were besieged by locals (adults and children), offering to help carry our bags, ride in their taxi’s…anything to get money.

Driving through the town of Katmandu is nothing like I have ever seen in America. There were hordes of people everywhere. The streets were overly crowded with bikes, rickshaws, and buses . . . too much traffic for a very small area.

Buildings were broken down and in very poor shape. Vendors were peddling wares of every sort on the streets. Overhanging the entire city was a cloud of fog similar to what you might see in Denver or L.A. on an extremely foggy day. The whole city seemed to me to be like a town in its initial stages of rebuilding after a war. Poverty was apparent everywhere.

After arriving in Katmandu, (pop. 350,000; elevation 4,500’) we drove downtown to walk the streets. Everywhere we went we were besieged by merchants and street kids selling their products. Trying to determine the cost of an item in rupies (100 rupies = $1.68) was very different for me. Bartering for the price of an item was an accepted practice. People who like bargains and/or flea markets would have been in heaven.

We were scheduled to fly from Katmandu to the village of Lukla (9,300 ft.) the next morning at 9:00 am. Lukla is a mountain town 45 minutes of flight time from Katmandu. We were then to trek (hike/walk) 5 miles from there to Phakding (9,000 ft.), spend the night there, and then trek 5 more miles to Namche Bazaar (11,800 ft.), spend the night and then trek the entire distance (10 miles) back to Lukla on the last day.

The domestic terminal was unlike the international terminal in which we arrived. It was filthy. The bathrooms stunk to such a degree that I didn’t use them until I was about to explode. Finally, after a couple of hours of waiting, we were told that all flights were cancelled into Lukla due to a snowstorm. My heart sunk! I only had a few days…this wasn’t good news for me! Vernon thought he would have to tranquilize me!

After much discussion with the trekking company, Vernon was able to work out an arrangement whereby we were able to charter two small bubbletop helicopters and fly into Syangboche (just under 12,000 ft.). This was even better. We would be much closer than originally planned.

After taking several group pictures, I was anxious to be on my way to go as far as I could into the mountains. The others decided the altitude was a little too much for them and decided to just venture around the area and not up the mountains. . My sherpa, Tek, and I took off. We passed through the village of Khumjung, where Sir Edmund Hillary had started a school, on our way to Tengboche. Between Khumjung and Tengboche we descended to the Dudh Koshi River and then climbed 2,000 ft. to Tengboche at 12,600 ft. Some of the water in this river comes out of the Khumbu Glacier which is at the foot of Mt. Everest.

There is a very large monastery in this village where 35-40 monks reside.

The views from this area were spectacular!

Mt. Everest and Lohtse (two mountains of the left) were in full view,
with great view of Ama Dablam.

From there we descended and crossed the Dudh Koshi on our way to Pangboche (appr. 12,900 ft.).

Tek was carrying my big pack (about 20 lbs.) and several times seemed to be getting tired (always wanting to stop for tea or to eat in the villages we passed along the way). Finally, I told him to wait in Pangboche and I was going to travel on by myself.

He didn’t like that idea and tried to argue with me, but finally realized I was going on no matter what!

I turned north and started climbing up a very steep mountain. I continued climbing until the snow and clouds and winds moved in on me. As visibility diminished to just a few feet, I decided to turn around. I checked my Avocet altimeter, and I was at 15,010 ft. After descending to Pangboche, Tek and I began our long trek back to Namche. We arrived back just before 7:00 p.m. (after dark) to the delight of my buddies…as they were considering organizing a search party to go find us.

Just below Syangboche, we stayed in a local hotel in Namche Bazaar (pop. 600) with very spartan facilities. The only means of transportation to any of these villages past Lukla is on foot.
Supplies are carried in on the backs of the locals – carrying anywhere from 30- 80 lbs. Their pay . . . 12 rupies per 2.2 lbs. (approximately $4 to carry 40-50 lbs. for 10 miles.) Yaks are also used to bring in supplies.

I also visited two of the sherpas homes while I was there. Both homes contained basically one room which served as a bedroom, kitchen, and living room. I was humbled and very thankful for what I had.

The next day we hiked out from Namche Bazaar to Lukla (entrance to the town pictured on the left) – about 10 miles. It took us quite sometime as it is not an easy trail, and some of my trekking partners weren’t in the best of shape.
However, the scenery was beautiful. The trail drops steeply out of Namche and then parallels the Dudh Koshi River, which I had crossed on a suspension bridge earlier, all the way down to Lukla.

We passed through many small villages that catered to trekkers and climbers. I don’t understand how they made a living before trekking became popular some 20-25 years ago.

Every available piece of land was used for gardens or fields to grow crops. There was a fairly constant stream of trekkers, sherpas, and locals on the trails.
That night we stayed in Lukla. The next morning we saw one plane arrive and leave the airport in Lukla. The landing strip is on a 6 degree slope and is only 350 meters long. It could be a very exciting takeoff, as the plane looked as if it might fly into a mountain, but would take a sharp turn once it became airborne.

An old army style helicopter (22 passengers) picked us up and flew us back to Katmandu. I noticed that the helicopter was made in Russia.

Arriving in Katmandu we made our way back downtown for some sightseeing and to purchase souvenirs. The store owners and street vendors were wanting you to buy from them and great deals could be made.

The next day I began my long journey back to the good ole’ USA. Flying back into Bangkok seemed like returning to civilization. However, I must have eaten something bad in Bangkok, or had a touch of the flu…cause I was deathly ill all the way back to the U.S.

The Himalayas are extraordinarily beautiful and immense. I would like to return someday and climb one of the 8,000 meter peaks. (Notice, I didn’t say climb Everest…not that it is completely out of my mind!)

However, more impressive to me than the mountains were the people. Their life was one of extremely hard work…survival…pure and simple! And the poverty . . . it was a humbling experience…one that I will never forget.

Even the children work so hard. I passed one mother and child in a garden. As I walked by and spoke to the little girl (to take a picture of her), she turned around and she was hoeing the garden…not playing in the dirt as I had assumed, but actually hoeing right beside her mother! She was probably around 4 years old . . . I was caught speechless.

In talking with a nurse on the plane ride from Nepal to Bangkok, she told me the life expectancy of adults in the cities was somewhere between 50-55 years of age. In the villages, it was somewhere between 35-40. Many of the village children never make it to the age of six.

God has blessed America in so many ways…ways we take for granted! And I’m just as guilty as anyone. Even though I wasn’t going on this trip to take part in a mission as my partners were doing…I was enlightened and am aware of a different world around us that I have never given much thought to. Anyone who lives in the US or other "western" countries certainly need to appreciate what we have.

Thanks to World Help and Vernon Brewer for offering me this experience and to my wife for letting me see a part of the world that I have only dreamed about!

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