For those who rarely walk even to the neighborhood grocery store, the question of why anyone would want to trek in Nepal is unanswerable. But for the adventurous traveler - or the armchair traveler who likes to dream about "maybe someday" - here are two views of far-out tourism.
Yvette Cardozo, a writer, made her hike on a tight budget (though, of course, it was still necessary to pay more than $1,000 for round-trip air fare). Harold J. Datz, a local attorney, took a Sierra Club tour package, with a per-person cost of $715 for the land arrangements alone.
TREKKING IN NEPAL hiking in the Himalayas! The very phrases promise high adventure, spectacular scenery and exotic wonders. Having recently returned from such a journey, my wife and I can joyfully report that the promise is not an empty one. Our great expectations were more than fulfilled.
The long flight from New York on a Sierra Club tour finally touched down in Delhi, India. From that point, we transferred to a flight destined for Katmandu, the bustling capital city of the mountain kingdom of Nepal. In a pleasant two days we recovered from flight fatigue, readjusted our "body clocks," and, most important, began to sample the delights of Katmandu - fantastic pagodas and shrines at every turn, marvelous cuisine, busy market places and the soft-spoken charm of friendly inhabitants.
But the pleasures of Katmandu could not deter us from the prime purposes of our journey. At 8:30 a.m. of the third day, a sleek modern coach arrived at our hotel and transported us to the town of Pokhara. Although the distance is only 150 miles, the trip takes about seven hours. The road climbs and descends precipitously through high mountains and narrow canyons.
Long stretches of the road were being repaired from the ravages of the summer monsoons. Literally thousands of Nepali men, women and children, using the most primitive tools imaginable, perform the seemingly endless tasks of hewing rock and gravel from the mountainside, carrying this material to the specific area under repair, and then dumping it to fill in sections of road. The wonder of it all, and some rather spectacular mountain views, made the long ride a fascinating if somewhat harrowing experience.
At length, we arrived in Pokhara, and were driven to our first campsite just outside of town. This would be our first experience of what camp life would be like on the trail.
To begin with, this campsite, like all of the ones to follow, was carefully chosen for its magnificent scenery, its access to water and wood, and its reasonably level terrain. On the first night, we found ourseleves in a lovely green meadow beside a rushing stream. We gazed at snow-capped mountains which rose dramatically to 25,000 feet against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
The tents had been pitched for us by Sherpas who had preceded us to the campsite. They would do this every day of our trek, racing ahead to insure a cozy tent and a warm fire at the end of a long day. Often, at the end of a particularly strenuous day of hiking, the bright orange tents would suddenly appear around a bend in the trail, like a mirage come true, much to the delight of some very weary travelers.
After breakfast, we were off on the day's trek. We carried only those items that we would need for the day. The rest of our gear went into the duffel bag which would be carried by a porter to the next campsite. We trekked for 18 days and covered approximately 140 miles. We climbed from 2,000 feet at the start, to 16,000 feet at our highest base camp in the Annapurna Sanctuary. Further, since there were many mountains to ascend and descend before our final climb to the sanctuary, we actually ascended about 28,000 feet for the entire journey.
Fortunately, the Sierra Club had required all trip applicants to submit the results of a physical exam and a description of previous hiking experiences. Since the club received more applicants than the number of tour openings, it could afford to be selective. In addition, the club strongly suggested that selectees maintain a regular program of physical conditioning during the nine-month period betwen acceptance and takeoff.
Words cannot transmit the splendor, the variety and the wonder of what we saw:
There were mustard fields of bright yellow, constrasting with the green of the fields; picturesque mountain villages of thatched-roof dwellings; the Nepali themselves - friendly, physically handsome, soft-spoken and very helpful; and tradesmen who trekked the trails, laden with crops and wares strapped to their backs or fastened to their mules.*tThere were jungles, complete with the flora of enormous trees and hanging vines and with the fauna of chattering, white-faced monkeys; the bluest sky imaginable, day after day, with only a few clouds (and no precipitation) forming on some afternoons; waterfalls which fell from as high as the eye could see into a chasm below; rushing streams which provided the brave with a very cold bath at midday; mountains of 10,000-12,000 feet, richly verdant and skillfully terraced, and finally, soaring another 15,000 feet beyond these mountains, there was the most awesome sight of all - majestic peaks and massive spires of dazzling white against a canopy of royal blue.
The trekker sees all of this at best advantage. There is ample time to stop and stare, to pause and reflect. The absence of machinery of any kind makes the scenery all the more tranquil and pristine. And the fact that one has hiked to this remote setting gives the trekker an additional thrill and sense of accomplishment.
The Annapurna Sanctuary offered a special adventure. We arrived there late in the day. The plan was to spend that night there, to rest and recuperate in that marvelous setting on the following day, and to depart the next morning. However, a group of five decided to climb even higher on our "day off." We set off early in the morning, trudging through snow, scrambling over rocks, and walking gingerly over ice. Two of us went to 17,000 feet and the other three went to 18,000 feet.
At those altitudes, scenery which had heretofore been spectacular now became magical - there is no other word for it. In a setting of purest white, unbroken by tree or bush, we were completely encompassed by the massive peaks and spires of surrounding mountains that soared to heights of 25,000 feet or more. The effect was unreal.
We are now far from the Himalayas, but their effects linger on. We came, we saw and we have been changed. CAPTION: Picture 1, The Himalayas; Picture 2 Lack of light inside forces a tailor to work outside; Picture 3, and chain and rope bridge a stream, photo by Yvette Cardozo; Picture 4, Harold J. Datz on the trail in Nepal; photo by Eva Datz.