It was an early morning start to catch the sun rise from the hill behind the Dhulikhel Mountain Resort. The mist settled in huge ghostly swathes over the valley below and a black eagle hovered above. All was quiet as the mountains in the distance were bathed in a pink glow.
Last night in the restaurant, I had the best egg curry ever along with a bottle of cold beer. I walked back to my room through gardens of brightly coloured marigolds and set my alarm.
I had expected more people to take the short climb up to see the dawn. The hotel was full of Americans on a cultural tour but this morning there were only two of us plus a local man hoping for a tip.
As a photographer, I hoped this would be the first of many spectacular sunrises in Eastern Nepal.
One of the things I noticed during the long bumpy car journey from Dhulikhel to the Sailung region were the massive spider webs slung between trees on the side of the road. I am not a great lover of spiders, but I do respect them, and these beasts were simply magnificent. I think the guides were rather bemused by my interest in them as every time we stopped for a comfort break, I couldn’t help but study them and take photos.
Fortunately, they were doing their thing very high up so there was no physical contact and my group was reassured that this species of spider was not dangerous. In fact, because of their presence we didn’t suffer from flies or bugs at all during our visit.
When the vehicle finally arrived in Solambu, we piled out and got our legs working again. There was a short downhill walk past a stupa to our home for the next two days.
The house was wonderful, perched at the top of the terraced village with views across the valley to the mountains beyond. You couldn’t wish for a better place to sit and relax over a lunch of dhal, potatoes, spinach, rice and chapatis followed by marsala tea.
Having the whole of the next day to explore Solambu was a real treat. One of the best experiences was wandering around the little farmsteads and meeting the locals. We came upon a small orchard with trees bearing Pomelo fruit. I had seen these back in the UK but never tasted one. The farmer’s wife picked a few for us to take back to our house.
Later a Pomelo was brought out on a dish. It was shredded with honey crystals and chilli flakes. A strange combination but delicious, refreshing and every ingredient was local. On our tour of the village, I had seen the barrel shaped bee hives hanging under the eaves of the houses and chilli peppers laid out to dry in the hot sun.
At the far end of the village near the monastery was a small co-operative which sold clothes, material and the rubber shoes that everyone wears. An old sewing machine was sitting outside ready for action. The ladies here were very friendly and as interested in us as we were in them.
Near the shop was a woman weaving on a basic loom made of wooden poles and string as a warp. She was using rice reeds to make floor mats to sell to the locals. The mats are like the ones we buy quite cheaply back home for exercise etc. It made me realise how self sufficient you can be if you have the time and make the effort. These people have no choice. It is a hard life.
After a wonderful stay in Solambu, we walked downhill through the forest and fields of maize, buckwheat and mustard until we reached the suspension bridge over the Chauri Khola (river). This wobbly construction was a lot less scary than most I have crossed in Nepal. The dust coming up from below was caused by a digger clearing the bank for a new road bridge. As I found out later, on our return journey by car, the only way across the river is… well, through the river.
Any moans and groans from the uphill section of this walk were quickly dispelled when I came across this young woman carrying a heavy load in her basket and a baby in her arms. She even had the energy to pose for a photo. I barely had the strength to lift my camera.
I must introduce you to our guide Karna. This young guy was so knowledgeable about the area and we all had a lot of questions to ask. He could speak many different languages and local dialects. I tried to learn some Nepali, but he told me everyone here spoke Tamang and later when we climbed higher, it would be Newari and Magar. Karna knew about the flora and fauna and what he didn’t know, he would find out. He helped me immensely with my photography, carrying my backpack, holding equipment and pointing out things of interest to me. Here he was posing by a wash place in Teksingh just after we arrived.
Because I carry heavy camera equipment, I try to keep my clothes to a minimum. I have a skirt for wandering around the villages and then one pair of walking trousers for the treks.
Whilst in Teksingh, the sun was shining and there was plenty of time to relax. I asked Karna if I could wash my trousers. He took me down to the wash place and gave me a tin bowl and a bar of soap. I happily scrubbed and rinsed a few days dust off while the goats next to me looked on. I hung my trousers over the property fence and within a couple of hours they were dry. I think the men were rather pleased to see a female tourist doing some work.
We only had a short time in Teksingh but wandering around the village we came across this delightful woman brushing her hair and feeding her chicks in the late afternoon sun. I sat down with her for some photos, but she looked better without me in the picture.
That evening I watched the sun go down from our balcony. I could just make out the village of Solambu across the valley. Today had been a beautiful walk and this was the perfect end. Tomorrow would be a new adventure as we climb higher and higher.
The next morning as I was thinking about how hard the uphill trek to Pasiban would be, the porters turned up. I was horrified to see they were all women and the same age as us if not older. They were carrying our heavy bags in baskets with all the weight on their foreheads. Yet they didn’t seem bothered and continued up the steep track chatting and laughing. I couldn’t believe it. I felt humble. These women were tough.
In comparison, here we were having a rest on the way to Pasiban. The lady porters were way ahead of us as they skipped over the rocks and tree roots like goats. Halfway up, we met them again coming back down, still laughing gaily while we huffed and puffed.
One of the most interesting detours on this walk was the Shavi cave set in a sheer rock wall overlooking thick jungle and almost hidden by trailing creepers. There is a Hindu shrine inside which makes it an important site of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Buddhists. We were the only ones there and lucky to see the holy man in action. I asked permission to enter and take photographs though it was very dark inside. I took off my shoes and watched the priest as he chanted wildly while in a trance. Two assistants looked after him. I found it a very moving experience.
The only factor that added levity to the situation was the antics of a colony of Macaque monkeys. They leaped from boulder to boulder and watched the holy man intently as if they understood every word.
The uphill track started to level out until the terrain became alpine. The path meandered through soft hills and then suddenly we spotted our next home for the night. Splendidly situated on a sunny plateau above the main village of Pasiban, the single storey building commanded views worthy of paradise.
After lunch I climbed the hill behind the house and sat in the sun just gazing at the scene below. I was joined by Karna and then a local woman. It was perfect. The clouds covered the mountains but when we returned a day later, they were out in full force.
The Himalayas captured during sunset from Pasiban village house on our return trek from Kholakarka.
The views from the ridge on the Pasiban to Kholakarka trek were so stunning that we had to stop several times. The morning cloud had disappeared to reveal the whole panorama of Himalayan peaks. I imagine in Spring when the rhododendrons are in flower, the scenery must be bursting with colour.
It was my lucky day. As we approached Kholakarka I spotted a small herd of ponies. The word Tamang means Horse Warrior. Knowing this and being a horse lover, I had earlier asked Karna if I would see any, but he didn’t think so. I don’t know if they were wild or pack animals, but they weren’t very friendly.
After we had settled into our tents, we wandered up to the village of Kholakarka. I had heard there were a couple of hotels there and was interested in seeing what they looked like.
This is the kitchen and shop of the smaller hotel. I asked if I could inspect the bedroom and found it was cosy with colourful posters lining the walls. The daily rate was about £1.50 but I don’t know if that included breakfast. The family that ran the hotel were very friendly and offered us seats and tea. They had a cat which I was keen to see but it ran under one of the beds.
There was something I rather liked about Kholakarka. It had an urban feel, was certainly moody and great for photographs. The cloud hovered over the ramshackle buildings with their tin roofs, prayer flags and lines of washing.
The path rising steeply in the distance led up to Sailung Peak, the ultimate destination of our trip, the highlight and the highest point.
Cathy's Adventures in Nepal