Helambu Family trek in the monsoon
Day 1: A mutual friend introduced The Thuene Family. After an exchange of numerous emails discussing whether to take on the Annapurna Circuit clockwise, which is the opposite of what 99.9% of the people, do. It would have involved going over the Thorung La pass 5416 very early on the trek. The Thuenes were suggested a supposedly easier and shorter trek in the Helambu region instead.
We finally started for the trek on the 9th of July. We picked up the family at an agreed pick-up point and drove for an hour to Sundarijal – the starting point of the trek. We met the rest of the team here and were on our trek when the porters finished tying up the kit bags. We walked along a ridge through a forest of Oaks and Rhododendrons towards Chisopani. It was a relief to be out of the hustle, bustle and the dusty roads of Kathmandu. Just an hour's drive away and we were in another world altogether. We enjoyed the tranquility, remoteness and the green mountains.
We stopped at Mulkhara 1855 meters for lunch, by which time we had climbed approximately 400 meters. Pemba, our Trekking chef, was about to serve our lunch when he was stung by a bee without any provocation, Kishor our porter pulled out the sting from Pemba’s neck. A few minutes later the opposite side of Pemba’s face was swollen – my first thoughts were that he had swallowed something huge, then I realized that it was a reaction to the bee sting. I looked out for the following symptoms –
i) Rapid swelling around the eyes, lips, tongue or throat.
ii) Wheezing or hoarseness.
I also asked if he had the following:
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Itching, cramping, or numbness that is severe.
- A reddish rash or hives.
- Stomach cramps.
Pemba said he felt a little discomfort on the swollen face but was fine otherwise. I asked the locals if they had seen anything like this before to which they said they react the same way when stung by these bees. They told us the local remedy was to rub locally made hooch or a fermented drink called Chang, and the swelling would go away in 1-2 days. It was a relief to hear that.
We continued our trek upwards towards our destination. On the trail, I heard a villager smile and told his friend that one more stung by the bees when he saw Pemba. A few minutes later I saw a guy with an eye swelling and bright red swollen lips who said: “so your friend has been stung too.” I felt terrible for him and Pemba but was somewhat relieved to see the local calm and collected – it meant it was common for this to happen. Later on, we concluded that the bees must have had some intoxicating nectar of wildflowers to make them attack humans without provocation during the monsoon.
We continued climbing up to Borlang Bhanjhyang 2430 meters the highest point for the day before descending to Chisopani. It started to rain when we got to Borlang Bhanjyang. Fortunately, Chisopani wasn't that far away. The damaged and destroyed lodges by the April 2015 earthquake were left as it was. Upon asking the local lodge owner why this was so – he replied that the people running those lodges had constructed and had been operating the lodges inside the Shivapuri – Nagarjun national park illegally.
On clear days we would have witnessed the majesty of Gaurishanker, Ganesh Himal, Manaslu, and Annapurna ranges.
We woke up the next day on a windy morning. We started trekking downhill towards Pati Bhanjyang 1830 meters. We started climbing towards Chipling 2170 meters for lunch. We continued through sparse villages and forested areas. We witnessed a lot of people still living in temporary shelters after the earthquake of two years ago. When we got close to Gul Bhanjyang a village where only 2 or 3 rebuilt houses stood (it was thick with fog). It started raining around 3 pm as it had done for the past two weeks. Our destination of Kutumsang was still 2 hours away. We decided to stay at Gul Bhanjang for the night. The lodge here was quickly built to cater for trekkers temporarily until they saved enough money to construct a bigger and better lodge. Pemba prepared “Himalayan Carbonara” as a consolation for dinner.
Day 3: It had started raining/drizzling right from the very start of the day. It looked like the monsoon had kicked in. We had to go through the leech-infested forest; they would wait stealthily on bushes, rock steps dry leaves stacks. We had a particular leech "repellent" made of rock salts tied in a piece of cloth. The rain made the red clay, stones, and roots sleek and the leeches added to the obstacle for that day. We were aiming to have lunch at Magengoth 3390 meters, as there was nothing after leaving Kutumsang village. The site of the first lodge gave us some relief only to learn that it had been damaged and abandoned, we had to go on for another 30 minutes till we arrived at the other lodge. I had a quick discussion with the team and decided to stay here for the night once again 2 hours before our planned stop. We were fortunate to have a very kind hostess who kept us warm with a fire in the dining hall where we dried our wet clothes. Leeches had bitten all of us. I had three on my ankles, one on my left elbow and one on the left side of my neck. We were grateful that this lodge saved the day for all of us.
Day 4: We got up woken up at our usual 6 am with a unique concoction of Ayurvedic and apple cider vinegar with a honey drink to keep us energetic and is an anti-inflammatory. 7.30 am, and we started trekking with the hope to get to our stopping point before 3 pm to beat the rain. We hiked through a beautifully green area going past a couple of settled landslide area. However, we were cautious and walked briskly on the landslide areas, as the rain-loosened earth could become another landslide. We got to Tharepati at 3600 meters after 3 hours of trekking. On clear days we would have been greeted by panoramic mountain views. We were delighted to have stayed at Magengoth the previous night as there was only one very basic looking lodge here, there were a couple more being rebuilt. We stopped for a hot drink here before our steep descend to Melamchighyang. We realized that the regular trail had been washed off and had to take an off-route path over the problematic and uncomfortable terrain. Once on the main trail, we soon reached our destination with a nice hot shower waiting. We were greeted by the fluttering of Buddhist prayer flags and ornate Chortens.
The afternoon was spent playing games of cards and other local games with the children of the lodge. The Thuene children learned a game their mother grew up playing during her childhood in Nepal.
We treated our trekking family with dried yak meat Thai green curry with potatoes and stir-fried wild vegetables and herbs in oyster sauce for dinner. Helambu being a strict Buddhist region don’t allow animal slaughter. A leopard had killed the yak a few days back. We were in luck.
Day 5: We started the day with a descent down towards the Melamchi river. The water from Melamchi will be brought to supply the residents of Kathmandu in the very near future. We passed through Sherpa settlements. We reached Tarkeghyang for lunch. It has one of the biggest and oldest monasteries in the Helambu region. We had a relaxing afternoon after our showers. The lodge owners told us that they didn't even have eggs, let alone imported meat from Kathmandu as it was the offseason. They didn't keep stock of any canned food as their children would insist on eating it all. All they had was rice, potatoes, and very young cabbage. Fortunately for us, there was a shop in the village; we voted to have pasta with tuna that we sprinkled with the Parmesan cheese the Thuene family had brought for me from the U.S.A, which everyone loved.
Speaking of the off-season, we had a lone trekker on the first night who went to another destination the next day. We ran into less than ten other hikers in total on the whole of this trek.
Day 6: We went past beautiful prayer flags and walked on the fair weather road for about 45 minutes before going on a mixture of hiking trails and the road. The monsoon rains had washed away parts of the road and trail at certain parts making those parts a bit tricky. This day we had to walk down a good 1000 meters to Timbu where there is a road. It got warmer and warmer with each step bringing us closer to our destination. We felt so fortunate to have chicken with our lunch this day finally. Two of our porters and I was to head back to Kathmandu after our lunch as I had to get ready for the next trekkers who were arriving the next day. Pemba was stayed behind with the Thuenes to look after them. He was returning to Kathmandu with them the next day.
Overall we were delighted that all turned out well during this trip to Helambu and back.
The 7-hour bus journey on a local bus was another adventure altogether. My team and I are ever so grateful for the monsoon booking.
Hazards/annoyances of trekking during the monsoon:
1) Trekking trails are slippery
2) Leeches can be a nuisance when it is raining or in moist areas.
3) Landslides could block Trails/roads or get washed away by the rain.
4) You might come across a thunder and lightning storm. (We don't get as many thunderstorms like in South East Asia.)
5) If you are waiting to either fly in or out of remote airports like Lukla or Jomsom, flights can be canceled for many days.
6) Landslides could block the major roads.
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