Thursday, 31 December 2009

Reaching the Snowline


India; October 8th; Day 17; Masar Pass; 4899m

Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4267m at 09.03
High: 4959m at 13.34
Descent: 116m
Ascent: 721m

Keith and I left first and traversed across a rocky mountainside before bearing right to follow stream. The trail is not very clear but the direction is obvious. Up! After a steep climb we follow another stream before scrambling over a boulder patch. We have reached the snow line now. At the top of this we broke into a snow filled valley and had good views of the mountains all around. As I walked across the pristine snow I slipped and slid down the slope and lost a lens cap. I didn’t notice right then but fortunately I do have a spare.


The way undulated for a while before rising to a point where a group of porters gathered. It transpired that they weren’t sure of the route and were waiting for instructions. It looked to us that the pass lay to the right and Keith and forged on this way (which turned out to be incorrect) until we reached 5000m. We hung around here, not wanting to go out of sight, but we were eventually called back.


It was all a bit chaotic. Apparently three porters had defected this morning and in the confusion back at camp Ajay had to organize that some of the remainder would have to do two trips again. It was cold hanging about waiting for everyone to get together but eventually it was decided that we would abandon the attempt at getting to Masar Tal today and camp here in the snow. This was probably just as well as it turned out to be a long and arduous trek the next day.

We had to pitch our tents on deep snow but at least we found a flat place, although I believe that we were camped right over a frozen stream! The views all around were superb but as usual the clouds rolled in later in the day. It was cold alright but we were well wrapped up.

For something to do Keith and I visited the Mess tent where dinner was being prepared and they kindly allowed us to sit in the tent whilst they prepared dinner. Cosy. We had our dinner here whilst the rest had dinner delivered to their tents!

As we tramped back to our tents the snow began to fall. It looks like we night be buried in the stuff tonight but at least we are no danger from avalanches. This is the highest I’ve ever camped but this is what we came for and it’s strangely exciting. We are still concerned about the Porters though.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Confusion of New Porters


India; October 7th; Day 16; Vasuki Tal; 4287m

Trek: 4hrs 35mins starting at 8.57
Low: 3606m at 09.00
High: 4527m at 12.39
Descent: 292m
Ascent: 956m

We have heard this morning that the new porters hired yesterday have gone back down to Gauri Kund and that out guide Ajay has left this morning at 4am to retrieve them or to hire replacements. Nobody has any idea of what happened or why they would have done that. We however are determined to carry on regardless as are the porters we already have. It’s a beautiful morning anyway.


Keith and I set off only having a rough idea of where the trail head is, though we know which direction to take. In an attempt to take a short cut we find that we have to cross a stream at a waterfall to reach the trail proper. Keith gives me a hand across and we find the trail which zigzags steeply up to the pass.


From time to time we look back in an attempt to see if the others are coming the same way. There are many butterflies about; a Clouded Yellow, a Tortoiseshell and many many Fritillaries. the views down to Kedarnath and of the mountains all around are superb. As we climb the Rhododendrons become smaller until we are above the tree-line altogether. Eventually we could spot others on the trail below us and a couple of the porters caught us up.

The trail continued to climb and Keith went on ahead as I slowed down. he was waiting for me at the pass although this turned out not to be the high point. As usual in the afternoons the cloud rolled in and we could no longer see the mountains around us. We then walked to the real pass and surveyed our descent beyond.


It was a steep descent and I again lingered to take photographs by a small lake. Eventually the lake of Vasuki Tal came into view though I could see no one else or any evidence of where the campsite might be. I walked down to the shore and then presumed that the trail went around the left bank to the far end. I didn’t see anyone else until I was almost on top of them as I crossed the stream leaving the lake on stepping stones.


We had a long wait here for all our stuff to arrive and unbelievably some of the porters left again to go back and get some more loads. They had no idea if Ajay had been successful in getting more porters or not. It was after dark when Ajay arrived with the new porters. Fortunately our camping gear had arrived before this and we were able to set up camp. It was difficult to find a level spot though and it turned out to be an uncomfortable night for me.


About his time it started to hail and snow too so we had dinner inside the Mess tent.

It was a good hike today and it felt good to be back on the trail after two nights in Kedarnath. But we are obviously concerned about the Porter situation. We will see how things are in the morning. You have to think that Ajay walked the 14km down to Gauri Kund and then 14km back up and then did the trail we’ve done too. And the new porters have had a double day, and some of our regular porters went back to fetch more gear and so walked the trail three times! Unbelievable. We will see what the mood is like tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sitting in the sun

It's Rubbish in the Mountains

India; October 6th; Day 15; Kedarnath; 3607m

Today we are to take a rest day as our Mules and Muleteers are returning home and we are hiring porters to replace them and help us over the next stage. We shall be going too high (5000m) and over terrain unsuitable for mules. In any case everything is still wet from two days ago. Their is no heating here so we are thankful, as are the porters, that today turns out to be warm and sunny.

Keith has been sick in the night and is feeling rough. I manage to scrounge a bucket of hot water from the kitchen so that he can clean up. We spend the morning sitting in the sun drying out all our stuff and watching over everyone else's stuff as that dries too. It’s pleasant sitting with our feet up reading our books. Maneesh brings down the tea and we read some more. keith goes for a wander around town. The others have gone off for a walk to a local lake but are back by early afternoon as the sun begins to go.


We had a bit pf a palaver over our room this morning so now we swopped to two rooms in a separate bungalow. The rooms are still cold though. I do manage to get out and visit the Temple in town. The whole place is a bit scruffy and doesn’t feel particularly spiritual.

In the evening we follow the same procedure as last night and have dinner cooked by our crew in the Rest House restaurant. Remarkably the cook brings out a jelly for dessert! After dinner we retire to our rooms and read and laze. We are hoping that the recruitment has gone well and that we can leave tomorrow.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Yellow Shit Road

Beauty and the Beasts

India; October 5th; Day 14; Kedarnath; 3607m

Trek: 4hrs 19mins starting at 8.02
Low: 2118m at 9.02
High: 3586m at 12.19
Descent: 38m
Ascent: 1608m

Woke up at 5.30 by a knock on the door asking if we want tea. It arrives 10 minutes later. This tea is from the Guest House staff. We get up by and and are quickly packed. Maneesh arrives at 7 with more tea and later we have breakfast, prepared as usual by our Cook, on the terrace outside our rooms. Unfortunately the milk is burnt.

Down below us in the town all is chaos as everyone prepares to leave for the pilgrimage to Kedarnath. It’s chucking it down with rain but it eases off slightly just before we leave. On the way out of town we pass all the people providing transport up the mountain to the Holy Temple in Kedarnath. You can hire a mule, or a Palanquin (which is a sedan chair carried by four people - usually Nepalese) or if you are light enough (children and old ladies only) you can be carried on the back of a Nepalese in a wicker basket. We are going by shank’s Pony although of course we have our mules and porters to help carry our stuff too.


It’s pandemonium at the base of the hill and the paved round is running with mule shit. In fact the whole route is paved in cobbles for the whole 14km to the top. The number of mules on the road means than it is slithery with yellow shit which is made more unpleasant by the continuous rain or drizzle. It’s going to be one long miserable tramp on the yellow shit road today.

The climb is long and steady and it’s important to keep you head down and dodge the excrement and to avoid being nudged off the road by mules as they pass. It’s also best to keep out of the way of the Palanquins as the Nepalese practically run all the way. After a couple of hours we shall have to also dodge the mules and carriers coming down the mountain too.

For the whole time the cloud and rain and drizzle rolls in. We have no views to speak of and it’s a dreary drudge of a tramp up the road. I put my rain gear on but then take off off again as I’m too hot. After a couple of hours I meet James and Keith and we take a break in one of the many road-side char stalls. These are just shacks really and often just cobbled together with wood and tarpaulin.

More rain and drizzle as we plod steadily up and up. after another couple of hours I again catch up with James and Keith who are waiting, again, in a char shop. We wait here an hour or so and have a spot of lunch - just a naan bread. We wait even longer for the first porters to arrive.


We follow them through the small town to our Rest House. We hang around, as usual, for a while whilst our accommodation is sorted out. I can’t imagine what the problem is but eventually we crash out in our cold bunk room waiting for our stuff to arrive. The place has no heating whatsoever. It has no electricity and no hot water either. Great! It’s really quite miserable but at least we are all in the same room and can share our misery.

Our own cook makes dinner for us which is served in the restaurant of the Rest House. A few other people are staying here. All of them are pilgrims. I do have a short walk around town and see all the market stalls selling holy trinkets. I go inside the Temple grounds, but not the Temple itself, and make a small contribution. I get an ash spot on my forehead for my pains!

We go to bed early and huddle under the heavy thick blankets which are provided.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Re-Union with Jan


India; October 4th; Day 13; Gauri Kund; 2138m

Trek: 4hrs 41mins starting at 9.09
Low: 1862m at 12.40
High: 2934m at 9.09
Descent: 1104m
Ascent: 334m

Amazingly I wake up to a sunny morning. Incredibly we are surrounded by a ring of snow clad mountains. This wasn’t visible yesterday. I dress quickly and stagger through the swamp to take photographs before the tea arrives.


We have a breakfast of porridge and pancakes and wait for the sun to dry the tents and as much of our other stuff as possible. I lay mine out on some rocks. After an hour of so we pack up and stumble across the quagmire to find our trail.


Today is mostly a descent. At first it’s down through a forest on a wet and slippery rocky trail. Again you have to watch every step. At least the sun is shining today. After about an hour we come to a meadow where we thought we could come to last night. It;s not as boggy or as covered in cow pats as the place we did stay but their are a few water-buffaloes about and they start to puff and stomp so we move off. The view of the mountains is also good here but some clouds are now rolling in to obscure them.


We wait awhile as we think the trail may fork here and we might have a shortcut but when Ajay arrives we just continue down the trail to Trijuginrayan. We were going to stay here for the night but we decide to press on to Gauri Kund where we hope to meet Jan. As we descend through the village we are beholden by the locals to visit the Temple. Jim and James do. After this we continue down to a char shop on the edge of the village at the road head. Everyone has a cup of tea here and sits in the sun for a while.


The trail then continues down through Azalea and Chestnut woods. One of the porters decides that he knows a shortcut but it merely diverts us through some smallholdings before delivering us back to the main trail. Meanwhile the mules and muleteers have passed us!

Still we go down until we hit a road where we stop for a bite of lunch and wait for Adriana and Jim. We follow the road for a short distance before noticing a trail leading off. We ask a woman passing by if this is the way but then notice that our porters have scratched some arrows in the dirt. This is the way then!

The descent continues until we hit another road at a fierce river where there is a bridge, a waterfall and a Temple. From here it’s a 5km walk up the steep road to Gauri Kund. Jim and Adriana accept a lift that is offered and pick up James along the way, but when they pass me I decline the offer as I know Keith is still walking. I’d never hear the end of it! Keith meanwhile has paid a visit to a Hydro Station at the bottom of the hill. He soon catches me up though.

We enter town which is a scruffy ‘mecca’ for pilgrims on their way to Kedarnath. Ajay is waiting for us and he shows us the way to our Guest House. Keith and I crash out and then have a shower. We get get buckets of hot water from reception.

In the evening we wander through town and find a place to eat. It’s Thalli! Mostly lentils. Jan was here, and had been for 4 nights. This must have been terribly dull as I can’t imagine their is much to do or see. After dinner we picked up some samosas from a roadside stall and sat on our terrace. It’s a good job we still had a touch of cognac left!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Cow Pats and Quagmire


India; October 3rd; Day 12; Maddu; 2941m

Trek: 5hrs 30mins starting at 8.29
Low: 2941m at 14.39
High: 3682m at 11.48
Descent: 851m
Ascent: 665m


Woke up early and walked up to the ridge and the Temples to photograph the sunrise. It was good, but not as good as yesterday.


Came down in time for breakfast and let the sun dry the tent before setting off. We walked down through the village first and then ascended through some woods. It was a beautiful morning and the trail for most of the day was along a gently rising ridge before a descent to the campsite. The views from the ridge were superb and we could see in all directions.


After a few hours we all collected together at a high point for a short break. The ridge continued but by this time the clouds were rolling in to obscure the views. Eventually the rain came and I was forced to put on my camera away and don my rain gear for the first time whilst walking.


The trail continued to fall and rise until eventually I came to the pass. I could see Keith far below on the steep zigzagging path. The descent was difficult at it was wet and some sections were through patches of loose stones. It went down and down to cross a small stream before climbing steeply again, in short spurts, to reach another pass.


I stopped to put my rain gear away and get my camera out again before starting another difficult descent. It was muddy and slippery. The trail re-entered the forest now - mostly rhododendrons and birches - and continued to descend around the mountain. Eventually the trail burst out of the trees to reveal a campsite. Keith and James were waiting here.


A group of orange tents were already pitched here and after we’d had some of our packed lunch some hikers arrived from the opposite direction down the hill. It looks like their wont be enough room for both parties to camp.

We walk down to chat to them. They are French and doing a hike to the religious sites of Kedernath and Gangotri in 7 days. After a glass of hot lemon which they give us we leave having been told that there is another campsite only 2km further down the hill. As we leave it starts to rain. We can’t argue the case for sharing the camp as our porters have already gone. I suspect that the guides from the French group have pulled rank (caste) on our porters and told them to move on. Our guide is still behind us somewhere. As we leave it begins to rain.

The descent from here continues through the forest on a track which is stony and slippery. You have to watch every step.

After more than an hour, and probably more than 2km, we find the porters waiting beside a shit strewn cowshed next to a shit strewn bog. It doesn’t look promising as a campsite! They are convinced that this is where we should stay though no-one really knows. Our guide, Ajay, is not here and we find out later that they had difficulty finding all the mules this morning and spent a lot of time looking for them!

When Jim and Adriana arrive we discuss whether or not to continue. Of course we don’t know if anything better is nearby. It seems no-one can make a decision. then the skies open and a downpour begins. We are forced into the stinking cowshed to shelter. keith remains outside for a while trapped sheltering under a tree. We attempt to get comfortable in the cowshed as it continues to rain. Inside the roof leaks in many places. The smell is rich with sweaty wet bodies and cow shit.

Eventually Ajay arrives and considering the lateness of the hour - we’ve been waiting a couple of hours - and the weather decides that this is where we will stay. We will have to pitch our tents on a very soggy bog and make do as best we can.

In a lull in the rain the porters go out and pitch their tents in the quagmire. We follow and put our tents up on the sodden hill-tops between the cow pats.

Everything is damp including my sleeping bag. I lay in my tent as thunder rumbles around. It’s a picture of cold, dark, damp misery! Eventually dinner was ready and this simple fact raised our mood. The red Mess tent was awash underfoot. After dinner the rain was still falling and we had to make a dash across the bog to our own tents.

I found rain in my tent and a sleeping bag that was getting more sodden by the minute. It wasn’t a very comfortable night as the rain pelted down for hours and hours. I did manage to get some sleep though in between cursing the French!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Mountain Cricket


India; October 2nd; Day 11; Pawali Kanta; 3284m

Today was a rest day.No hiking!

I got up at 5.30 to see an orange glow on the horizon. I grabbed my camera a climbed a small hill besides the campground to arrive breathlessly to see a superb panoramic view of snow clad mountains all around. I was still a little early so I ran back to the tent to get some batteries and also to persuade Keith to get up and come up. We took plenty of shots.


After breakfast Keith and I went down to a spring which we’d discovered yesterday and washed out some clothes. Keith was also brave enough to have a wash! After that I sat in the sun reading my book. However before long I got restless and made some cricket wickets from some bamboo that James had found. A bat was fashioned from a piece of wood with a flat side and we got a game of cricket going. Before long half the porters had joined in. Miraculously we didn’t lose the ball although it was often hit over the hill into the woods. Someone always managed to find it no matter how hard it was hit.


Maneesh brought down some tea mid-morning and we sat out a few overs whilst the Indians continued. Keith, James, Jim and Adriana sloped off for a walk but I re-joined the game until lunch at 1pm.



After lunch I played some more cricket and noticed that the muleteers and the porters wouldn’t play at the same time. I thought this was a bit weird and wondered if it was a caste thing. We played right through until afternoon tea. After that we collected firewood.



Unfortunately the clouds rolled in late afternoon and put paid to any sunset photography. After dinner we sat around the fire for a while but were then forced to retire when it started raining!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A long day's climb


India; October 1st; Day 10; Pawali Kanta; 3284m

Trek: 7hrs 37mins starting at 6.59
Low: 1670m at 7.12
High: 3447m at 14.04
Descent: 179m
Ascent: 1818m

We are all up at 6am to a cup of tea brought by Maneesh and we break down and have breakfast in double quick time.

The taxi has arrived for Jan and we say farewell and hope to see him in Gauri Kund or possibly Kedarnath.

We walk down through the village and at each shop we ask for a cricket ball. For some reason it’s come into our heads that we should be able to get one in India no matter how remote we are. Eventually in a shop just over the bridge we are directed to a place that has them. It is red and it looks and feels like a tennis ball but is significantly heavier.

As we don’t have a guide with us (as usual) we are unsure as to which way to leave town. We can see a number of different trail climbing the hills around us. After asking around we take the route that we came along yesterday and pass the butchers (not open) and the millers and then the small water-mill just out of town.

Today is to be a long day and almost one long continuous climb. Fortunately the day is cool and the trail is on the shady side of the mountain. The first two hours see us climb through rice paddies and the terraced fields of small outlying villages. We continue to see Ghuttu back in the distance. To confirm that we are going in the right direction we ask everyone we meet along the way. The small children are amused and everyone seems to be laughing. We only nearly go wrong once and a young boy coming in the opposite direction soon puts us right again.

We all stop together at a grassy knoll with fine views before we split up and spread ourselves out along the trail. This give you the illusion of walking alone in the wilderness! As we ascend the farms and villages get left behind and we enter the forest. But just before we do we are nearly trampled by a runaway Ox coming down the trail!

Generally the gradient is not too bad though we are climbing a steady 300m per hour. I’m walking alone and stopping every hour or so and every time I do Jim and Adriana catch me up. We have a chat and a little to eat and then I leave. This happens 4 or 5 times as the trail winds it’s way up through the forest. Soon the trail passes into a darker and murkier forest before breaking out at two Shepherd's Huts. Shortly after that a man rode by on a grey horse. He confirmed I was going the right way! Always best to be sure!

Then, for a short way, the trail traversed the side of the mountain without climbing at all. By this time Ghuttu could no longer be seen behind. Instead, ahead, the treeless hill tops were visible.


After about 6 hours on the trail I came across Keith lying down in the sun. I joined him for a short while before continuing. Two men coming down passed us and they said our destination was about 4km away. As we waited there our mule train caught up with us and the muleteers also said it was about 4km. Up and then down! When Jim and Adriana arrived at the same spot Keith and I started off on the final leg. Keith soon got ahead of me though as I started taking photographs of the trail and hills. The trail was still climbing and I came to the tree-line at about 3200m. From here I had good views of the rolling trail ahead and could see Keith in the distance from time to time. Also in the distance I could see a Temple on a far hill top and surmised that this would be our destination. It still looked a fair distance away.


I passed a shepherd and his flock before a brief descent and a final, tiring climb to the summit. It looked like a detour and short-cut would take you to the Temple but I stayed on the main trail which wrapped around the mountain. Looking back from the other side I could see two people up at the Temple so I waited for them to come down before continuing. I was unsure where the campsite was. It turned out to be our guide Ajay and the Cook.


I then followed the trail down the last section before being hailed from the right where the muleteers had unloaded our stuff and where Keith and James were lying in the grass. Jim and Adriana arrived a little while later. We all lazed in the sun awhile before choosing our pitches and collecting firewood. After an hour or so the porters started drifting in looking very tired and after tea we set up our camp.


Then the mist rolled in and it began to drizzle and rain just as we were lighting the fire. We moved into the Mess Tent for dinner and although we sat around the fire later we couldn’t really get much heat going. So we crashed out. It was only 8pm!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Jan takes a tumble


India; September 30th; Day 9; Ghuttu; 1716m

Trek: 5hrs 13mins starting at 8.44
Low: 1673m at 13.39
High: 2688m at 9.10
Descent: 940m
Ascent: 166m

I was up at 6 to see that the sky was clear but the valley below was full of mist. I wander around to take photographs but the light is not good. That ‘pyramid’ mountain is visible again and it is the only one lit by the morning light. Even an hour later the light wasn’t revealing much and the mist stilled rolled in the valley.


We had breakfast outside today, as we do most mornings, and had pancakes. We then waited awhile for the sun to dry our tents before packing and leaving.

Today would mostly be a descending day but it took us an hour to reach the pass before we started down through a rhododendron forest. Me, Keith and James walked slowly as we tried to spot some birds. We saw the long-tailed Magpies again, a Green Woodpecker and then a Black and White Woodpecker before we noticed a bright red bird; it was as red as an american Cardinal. A type of Gold-crest also flitted by. As the trail descended the trees changed to conifers and the forest became quieter. No birds or butterflies, though I did stop to photograph some of the wayside flowers, including what seemed like an orchid.


At a small stream crossing we see a number of swallowtail butterflies but they proved too elusive to photograph. It was here as we chased the butterflies that we saw two Water Buffaloes immersed in a tiny pond. The trail then opened out to terraced farmland and a tiny village before continuing to descend to arrive at another, larger, village, where a porter was waiting for us. He showed us the way through the village and then took us on a merry dance down through the rice paddy terraces. It’s unlikely we would have gone the correct way otherwise.


Eventually Keith and I caught up with the others who were hovering over Jan. Apparently he had fallen and hurt himself. It sounded like a dead leg. Maneesh was there to help and as we went down the trail we passed the Cook and Ajay coming up the trail to help. They managed to help Jan down the trail to a road below and then walked him up to a char shop where the porters were waiting. From here it was arranged than Jan would get a ride to the small town of Ghuttu whilst we would walk the last 4km. It was a hot and dull walk down the road too as we passed the Hydro works and into the scruffy little town. We were to stay in a hostel here but it transpired that it was full - those Academy students! - and after an hour hanging around it was finally decided that we would camp on the roof.

So we climbed up to the roof, much to the amusement of the local kids, and set up our tents and weighed them down with our gear inside. I made a right mess by spilling a can of talc but it wasn’t wasted as everyone used it to sprinkle in their boots and soothe their feet. The washing facilities were a bit primitive but I was brave enough to try the shower cubicle and its cold water tap.

After that Keith and I went for a stroll through town and chatted to the shopkeepers as we went. Crossing over the bridge we walked to the end of town and saw a butcher roughly chopping up meat. This is a bit odd in a vegetarian society and when we asked what kind of meat it was it sounded like he said ‘god’. Perhaps he meant goat or perhaps he meant cow. We didn’t buy any anyway. Another shopkeeper was grinding something and when we inquired he showed us his bins full of various spices and flour.


Back at the rooftop James had made cocktails from Cointreau and Lychee juice. Very strange indeed. Jan is still in a lot of pain from his leg and has concluded that he can no longer continue. It’s been decided that he will take a taxi early tomorrow morning to Gauri Kund where we will meet him in four days time. A porter will go with him to help him walk and to arrange accommodation and meals. Hopefully he will have recovered by that time so that he can re-join us on the trail.

Monday, 21 December 2009

To a camp beside a Temple


India; September 29th; Day 8; Bhairan Gati; 2511m

Trek: 4hrs 54mins starting at 8.32
Low: 1257m at 8.32
High: 2811m at 13.26
Descent: 19m
Ascent: 1030m

I was up ay 6.30 and packed my stuff whilst leaving the tent to dry in the morning sun - when it eventually reached the valley floor. Keith was up already and washing some clothes out in the river.


After breakfast we set off and after walking back through town we started the steep climb through a forest. Keith and James set a fierce pace so Jan and I dawdled behind. Jim and Adriana were having a late start anyway. After about an hour we reached a village and was astounded by the amount of litter around. We must have come into the village by the back door but it does seem that the litter problem is getting worse and worse.

As we were unsure of which track to take out of the village we sat and had a cup of tea outside a char shop and watched the children go by on their way to school. They are wearing very smart uniforms - for several different schools in appears - and we cause lots of laughing and giggling when we say ‘Good Morning’ to them. We always get a reply though.


When the porters arrived we determined the correct direction and set off again along a stretch of hot dusty tracks. The track took us through a series of small settlements. Eventually we left this track and took a smaller trail and were again walking in the forest. We caught up with the Academy students who we had met yesterday and they were making heavy weather of the climb with their full packs. They also had twice as far as us to go as they were going to Ghuttu tonight whereas we are aiming to reach there tomorrow night.


At a broken bridge over a small stream we took a break and the whole group came together; porters, mules, students and us and we began the steep climb. The trail here had many short-cuts to circumvent the normal zigzagged trail up the hillside and it wasn’t long before we were all spread out along the trail again. James and Keith once again shot off as I took a 10 minute break to regain my breath. A man on a white mule rode by me and confirmed I was going the right way; all these tracks had made me lose faith!


Eventually the trail broke out of the woods into a magically beautiful rolling grassy area in front of a temple and a small hamlet. In the corner is a muddy pond inhabited by four wallowing water-buffaloes.


We lay on the turf in the sun finishing our lunch whilst we wait for the porters to arrive. The mules are already here. When they do arrive an hour or so later we set up camp and have tea,


Before dinner Keith and I visit the temple - remembering to take our shoes off - and talk to the porters who are resting up there and chatting. Although their is not much wood around we do manage to collect enough for a small fire. We sit around the fire chatting in the evening.