Day 7: May 30, 2014 (Friday) Chumling->Lamagaon
Departure time: 8:02am
Arrival time: 4:15pm
I am thankful for John’s bladder because we woke up at 1am and went outside to use the toilet (aka hole in the ground). I am thankful because as we walked outside of our room, down the unattached wooden ladder, and further down a set of sketchy steps made of flat rocks, our eyes were met with an incredible starry sky. When we were in Milford Sound in New Zealand, we thought the stars were the best we ever saw or would see again. This Nepali night sky met or exceeded that night in Milford. The Milky Way was out of this world (pun intended)! We stood outside and sat on our balcony for an hour admiring the beauty. Of course, John took some fantastic star photos as well. We settled into our bed again at 2 am, snuggling down into our sleeping bags. It was the first night we really needed them so far. When we got up at 6am, the sky was just as clear as the night sky and we could see the Ganesh Himal range and Shringi Himal (7,161 meters, approx. 23,494 feet high) perfectly. We had some tea, coffee, and breakfast and admired the view. We got moving around 8am to start the most fabulous day yet. Each day has been better than the day before, even though we never think it could be possible. As we started off, we could see Shringi’s white snowcaps behind us and three different portions of the Ganesh Himal Range to our left, right, and immediately in front of us. Simply incredible!
The trail was mostly uphill and still followed the river as we passed through several small villages. The villages all had different statues made of stone with stone tables covered in Sanskrit carvings. Most of the people in this area are Buddhist and they cremate those who die and build these monuments on top of their ashes. We also passed by several Buddhist monasteries. We saw one other group of tourists with 4 Australians who were 3 days behind their scheduled itinerary. Otherwise, we only saw locals and some donkeys and cows, although much fewer than in previous days.
In 4 hours, we gained about 650 vertical meters in elevation. Our final resting place for the night, per itinerary, was Chhokang Paro, a unique and beautiful village with small stone streets and gorgeous houses made of stone. Since we are “good walkers” according to Tek, he suggested that we just stop in Chhokang Paro for lunch and walk another 2-3 hours to save a day of trekking. We agreed and entered town in search of a lodge to order dal bhat. We found out that all the lodges were closed because the village residents are out in the mountains searching for a special medicinal worm called Yarsagumba. The locals can make $1,500 USD/kg and apparently it was the time of year to head above tree line to seek out these extremely valuable critters. Luckily, Tek and Krishna started talking to a man who remained back in the village and we were soon invited to eat lunch at his home. Tek and Krishna reluctantly agreed, unsure of the circumstances or condition of the home. We followed the man to an adorable, quaint home, which they actually use as a homestay. We were introduced to his wife, Karma, and the two of them quickly became two of the sweetest people we have ever met. They continuously smiled and took very good care of us. John had some real Nepali coffee (instead of the powdered stuff) and said it was great. I had two helpings of pear orange tea while Karma cooked us a massive helping of tasty dal bhat. This one has moved into the #1 spot on the dal bhat rating list and our faith in dal bhat has been restored (at least temporarily). We learned they have 10 kids, several of which live in the United States. They invited us to stay the night and we are planning to do so on our way back from Mu Gompa. It was definitely an experience I will never forget! They were so welcoming and kind and genuinely wanted us to be happy and enjoy our meal with them. We ate in the kitchen, a really cool open room with a stove in the middle and a wood fire beneath. This was the first time I had a second helping of everything and ate it all! We can’t wait to go back.
Everyone in Chhokang was so friendly! We met a lady named Tuktin on the way out who had flown in with several monks via helicopter this morning. She invited us in for tea and we told her we would love to on our way back. While we were refilling our water, another local came by to talk to us and kept talking and laughing in Nepali. He was asking about us and then told John he needed to shave because he looked like a Sadu (considered to be beggars by Nepali people, according to Tek). The translation came from Tek and Krishna, of course.
The trail from Chhokang Paro to Lamagaon was the most beautiful scenery we have seen, seriously ever. I know I keep saying this, but it really does continue to get better each day. The terrain flattened out a bit and the mountains were towering over us in all directions. Beneath the mountains were fields and fields of the brightest green wheat. We took too many pictures to count.
After about 2.5 hours of walking, we reached Lamagaon. We were trying to go to Rachen Gompa, 15 minutes away, but the helicopter dropped monks off there today and tourists aren’t allowed to stay. We were given an nice room attached to another bigger room that no one was using, so we can spread out nicely tonight. The sheets and beds were filthy but we found some cleaner comforters in the spare room to spread over top. We will be sleeping in our sleep sacks and sleeping bags anyway since it is COLD! That is to be expected as 3,302 meters elevation (~11,000 feet).
Tomorrow, we are supposed to head over a 4,000 meter pass to Mu Gompa, the final destination on our Tsum Valley itinerary. Hopefully our limbs and lungs aren’t too tired to make it! Oh yea, and Tek informed us that today is his birthday (even he forgot until lunch), so we are going to give him a hand painted elephant card we have with us from India! Hopefully he likes it. It has been a glorious day!