A 30 Day Journey to KANCHANJUNGA Base Camp – Episode Two – Pangpema NORTH Base Camp

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A 30 Day Journey to KANCHANJUNGA Base Camp – Episode Two – Pangpema NORTH Base Camp

Thanks so much to Deepak bro for making our 2 day stay at Tseram so pleasant “OK, we are off now.” “So the trail from now is fine, all uphill right?” “Yeah, it’s a little hard. A bit steep. About 1.5 hours” “Even with bags?” “Maybe maximum 2 hours for you guys.” “Ok so long!” “Hope to see you again somewhere. Bye.” “All the best for your journey.” The uphill stretch from Tseram to Selele was tough right from start Since it was also above 4000m, we walked slowly It’s not obvious through the camera, but this is the point we have to cross. Super steep Maybe even cross those cliffs The weather was fine in the morning. But it slowly darkened as we climbed upwards Our trail was dotted by lovely small and big lakes The fog would come and go Bright wildflowers spread throughout the landscape felt like a consolation for the fog After about 3 hours of steep uphill walk from Tseram, we have come at this point where the uphill has finished It’s Jorpokhari Deurali Some 20 minute down below, we will have our lunch After that the trail is not that steep Some gentle up and downhill Selele Pass has similar altitude to Deurali here So, hard climb for the day is almost finished “Dai, what’s this place?” “This is Chhedeng Deurali. Top of Andafedi.” “Top of those waterfall?” “Yes the ones that we passed through.” “There’s a lake here?” “Yes there is a lake above and below us. But due to the weather, we cannot see them.” “Now, we cross Chhedeng Deurali and head onto Mrigen La.” “What’s that bush?” “This is sharmagru. From the tiny one like that, it becomes this.” “This is a very important medicinal herb.” “For what?” “For pressure.” Finally we are at a pass I think it is either Mirgin or Selela Pass Lhakpa dai is already ahead of us so we cannot confirm Down this ridge, there is a place where we can camp A small hut We don’t know if the hotel people are there If they aren’t we will camp by ourselves The gentle stretch of trail after crossing uphill would have been a nice hike

But this continuous downpour has made everything a tad bit difficult And we are also making haste to reach shelter soon Our brother also arrived just now “No one was home?” “No. We looked all over. Nobody. And since this was open, we just set up shop here.” “We put these planks down and have started the fire.” “Oh life, it’s hard sometimes.” “It felt like the trail would never end.” “Not a single soul to ask how much farther.” “What’s up guys?” “How was the night?” “Where’s the tea for me?” “Only for kings lad.” “It was awesome dai. We changed sides frequently while sleeping in this palace of ours.” “A good night sleep. My backbone aches slightly due to hard surface.” “So this was our last night’s palace.” “Hello there, to whoever the owner of this shelter was, we spent the night at your place.” “Your place provided us shelter from the cold.” “We haven’t used any of your stored essentials.” “We only used a spoon and some wooden planks.” “And we have restored them back the way they were.” “And so much gratitude to you from our hearts.” “You had closed your hut with steel planks.” “We will close the shelter once again as we found it.” “If by any chance we have disturbed anything, please forgive us. Thanks so much once again.” “What’s this place called again dai?” “Phare Deurali” “Is it downhill from here?” “Yes a bit and then straight on.” “And then we reach Yamatari Top.” It’s been 2 hours since we started from Sela Now there’s steep downhill. We will reach Ghunsa after 1.5 hours of this walk A disadvantage of travelling during monsoon season is before us According to Lhakpa dai, this is an aweseome vantage point But due to bad weather, we cannot see anything From here, one can apparently see Ghunsa and all the neighboring villages Do trek a hard trail with your loved one at least once When difficult path, bad weather, and other things are frustrating you And you are walking alone when you see her waiting for you It means a lot It struck me now because my boys have already gone ahead I fell behind while taking shots And she was there waiting for me “Oh stop already.” Ghunsa is the most well managed and well facilitated place in Kanchanjunga route All of us were excited to be reaching Ghunsa today Finally we’ve arrived at Ghunsa Even though the rain has not subsided, we saw the view of this beautiful village as we were coming down We are hoping for a very relaxed and comfortable rest at Ghunsa “We hope so.” At Ghunsa, we made our first stop at Nupu and Tshering’s house Nupu had already left for Khambachen After brief catching up with Tshering, we went to our hotel

“It’s fantastic. With attached bathroom.” “What’s up guys?” “Who’s this?” “Are you recording my rap? You must, all right?” “Make sure it’s being recorded.” “We have decided to stay at Peaceful Guest House in Ghunsa.” “We fell in love with these cottages and they also have attached bath.” “We will stay here for the night and head to Khambachen tomorrow.” Our host has cooked Yak jerky, dal and rice so well Just look at the kitchen, it’s awesome The delicious meal prepared by our lovely host of Peaceful was a boon to our weary bodies that had drenched from the rain and had suffered due to last night’s poor camping condition “What do you have all over you fur?” As we were drying our wet clothes at the dining room, the host dai brought us some veg dumplings We cannot describe how heavenly it felt to have momo and hot tea by the fireside Tshering had extended tongba invitation for the evening There was work ongoing at his home for a new bakery “Now, we will enjoy with Tongba (millet beverage) It is almost ready now as you can see.” “Kanchan dai will probably have milk tea, right?” We also met parents and younger sister of Tshering “We had a lovely chat with the sip of Tongba and tea.” “They made us feel like we were at home.” “You’ve put some butter at Tongba’s lid there.” “Any special reason?” “It’s for good luck.” “Ok then good luck for tomorrow.” “Oh you aren’t supposed to eat it.” “potatoes” “Of Ghunsa.” Good morning to you all from Ghunsa We planned to head towards Khambachen today. But the weather has been very bad since morning It’s pouring “Weather department?” “We were calling to know about the weather situation of Ghunsa, Taplejung.” “Is there any information?” “It’s showing cloudy with rainfall in Taplejung.” “The rain will subside slightly after about 1.5 hours.” “It will be clear briefly and then cloudy again.” “The weather will be intermittent throughout the day followed by heavy rain at night.” “Very low probability of weather opening up for the next couple of days too.” “Since monsoon is active in East, there’s high chance of rainfall.” “It maybe sunny briefly but high chances of rain mostly.” “And chance of heavy rain at night.” Now this is going to be a problem for our travel Because in the past days, the weather was opening up briefly in the morning It’s not certain how long this weather will last Or what we will do? We are in a big doubt Because we do want to capture good scenery for second part of our trip We will talk among ourselves to decide what to do next “I sell these carpets that I weave.” “What’s the rate?” “Around Nrs. 14-15,000” “How long does it take you to finish one?” “If I do nothing else, then about 12 days.” “Where do you sell these?” “Traders take it into Tibet, some foreigner trekkers, neighbor Nepalis too.” “As I said, there are 40 houses. All Sherpa community At an altitude of 3500m It’s very remote, very far But it’s an amazing place. Whoever comes here all of their heart becomes lighter when they see Ghunsa.” “Khambachen is older than Ghunsa.” But it is so much colder People here searched for a lower area which was a bit warmer

When they descended down, it was warm And people started living here permanently Ghundo means winter. Sa means ground And that’s how it was named by combining those two terms So, basically Ghunsa meant a place to stay during winter.” Looks like we will spend the day in Ghunsa As we were headed to Tshering’s, we saw this store We can find almost everything a trekker needs in here “Right now, Tshering is trying to contact Nupu to inquire how the weather in Khambachen is through walkie-talkie because there’s no phone signal there.” Tourism was badly affected during earthquake in 2015 There was heavy drop in graph But recently, tourism arrival to Kanchanjunga area is increasing every year Last year, it was about 6-700 This time we are expecting even more than that We spent another 2 days at Ghunsa due to bad weather We spent the day strolling around the village We visited the hospital when we knew it had wifi connection From a small health clinic, Ghunsa had now a proper hospital with permanent building due to active support of Ghunsa foundation “We have splint for leg fracture mainly Leg splints, medicine for altitude sickness, and salines to treat trekkers in emergency If you are going to high altitude, you should not go if you have too high pressure You should not consume alcohol Smoking is out of question When you go to high altitude, if you see sign symptoms like lethargy, weakness, or headache, then you should descend down immediately In one of the evening, we also visited the old Tashing Choeling Monastery that lies across Ghunsha River with the head monk himself This is the Tashi Choeling monastery of Ghunsa There are 2 monasteries here According to texts, these were built in 1831 BS, This side of the monastery, there was a fire on its backside Which destroyed the paintings, books, statues everything And the villagers rebuilt and restored it to the old form once again But this other side is still the old structure This has been built on top of this huge rock This rock is shaped like a human skull And some believe it to be real skull It’s 10 AM in the morning Finally the weather of Ghunsa is a bit better So we are heading towards Khambachen

The locals have told us that we will get there in around 5-6 hours The trail from Ghunsa to Khambachen was really astounding There were waterfalls where ever we looked We moved forward along Ghunsa river through lovely green woods The trail was damaged in some places by small landslides We are now halfway to Khambachen This is Hajare Odhar (1000 caves) This has its own history of why it is named so Let’s hear it from the local expert why There are two popular legends One is that a thousand people can fit in that cave So it is called thousand caves (hajare odhar) Not actually legend but what our grandparents told us Another legend is that, there was a Limbu woman who poisoned a thousand people in that cave So it is called thousand caves The story goes that once upon a time, when a Limbu King came to Ghunsa Khambachen to collect taxes, locals killed him. To avenge him, his Limbu queen called everybody on a feast And poisoned them in the feast killing a thousand people Thus avenged, she then escaped to Sikkimm So here is tea & biscuit, tea & noodles, tea & popcorn See we never litter. Whatever we bring, we collect in our bags “This is the feather from the crown of a king.” “Is this feather of Daphne bird?” “I had found this in Selele Pass and kept it here.” “I was joking that it is crown feather of some King but folks here tells me that this is feather of our national bird.” “If anybody wants to buy, I’ll auction it in Kathmandu.” This uphill stretch is the last hurdle before we reach Khambachen We are almost halfway through it There is a bit of gentle stretch after that. And then we reach Khambachen From Ghunsa, we are going upto 4000m We will explore other areas too from here And this is Nupu’s guest house He is the one who invited us for this trek The weather opened up nicely in the morning Lying just at the junction of two Himalayan rivers, surrounded by mountains, Khambachen is a lovely little valley Looks like we need to do some exorcism for our drone The weather was foggy and we were flying our drone half blindly Now we’re off to our drone hunt Looks like it crashed on that hill. So it shows on the map We were assured that we would find the drone easily But it turned out to be way harder Another bad news we lost signal of the GPS So location cannot be tracked It’s stuck here at this place but we are ahead of it Now finding drone is all dependent on luck

Because apparently we went to wrong side of the hill Drone had crashed on the other side We lost its signal. And it’s battery is also drained At first, Lhakpa dai set out for the hunt solo Even after one hour when he didn’t see anything, Aashish and Risabh also joined him They too were gone for a long time. So Nupu also headed out When the 4 could not make any headway, all 5 of us started looking Finally, we spotted it at a crook of a difficult cliff There was anti-climax because we hadn’t expected it to get so serious After this morning’s drone hunt, we had almost cancelled our Lhonak trip But since the weather has also cleared a bit, we have decided to move now “How’s the trail now?” “It’s very good.” “We’ll see you again.” We stopped at a shed of Ramtang briefly and warmed ourselves by the fire Even if we walk super slow, we will get to Lhonak in about 45 minutes It’s a bit risky, all soft trail Anything can happen at any moment. So we’ve to be very careful “Did you guys take the old route?” Right now we cannot see the Lhonak that we’ve been expecting Because it’s very foggy But let’s wait till morning. It’s going to be amazing That morning, barring a short while, the weather didn’t open up We had initially planned to stay at Lhonak It’s chilly outside. The weather has turned ugly So, we are just chilling here after having breakfast Reading books, making videos Let’s hope the weather improves so that we can head to Pangpema “Prepping for Khambachen?” “yes” “Will you come back here again or?” “We’ll descend down to Ghunsa.” “With mules?” “Yes” “And what will you bring?” “We have load of wood.” “For this house?” “Yes.” “You make it from Ghunsa to here in one day?” “Yes in one day.” Looking at the weather, we had decided to stay one more day in Lhonak But since we met two trekkers who just returned, we have decided to stay at Pangpema instead “For Wassna, Loktang was already her record of highest altitude stay.”

“Now she is going to break it again as we move above Lhonak.” “So some words?” “Guys where’s the congratulations?” “Congrats!” “Keep breaking records this way. My blessing to you forever.” When we set out from Lhonak, we hadn’t expected this weather After about 1.5 hours, the sun is out and we can see our shadwo A glimpse of blue sky We were walking side by side of Kanchanjunga glacier But due to fog, we hadn’t seen anything This is one of the biggest source of our freshwater Scientists have predicted that Earth’s climate will change extremely within 12 years We might still see them. But what about our future generations? It’s a very worrying thing There’s definitely avalanche somewhere but we can’t see where due to the fog A landslide of a few years ago had lengthened the trail to Pangpema by about 1.5 hours We now have to climb a steep uphill, cross a steep ravine and then descend down again Since we were already above 5000m, even that small uphill was very hard to cross I hope this is the last uphill stretch before we reach base camp Looking back at the trail and distance from here to Lhonak, I think we made the right decision Just in case the weather opens up tomorrow morning, we aren’t going to miss anything “Boys your slippers will turn into ice tomorrow.” “So what’s up?” “With this, we are at the second phase of our second phase or let’s see at the last phase. End point.” “We will not go any farther than this now.” “We are having a grand time.” “We’re camping at such a high place. Eating noodles and beaten rice.” “This is our new record.” “Also camping in this altitude. It’s raining lightly outside.” “We just had mushroom noodles.” “After that snacks we have mushroom soup.” “And end with Bounty bar as dessert.” Right on the day we reached Pangpema, it started snowing Kanchanjunga view is completely obstructed For shelter, we have nothing but our tent We really don’t know what to do Maybe the sun will come out in the noon But everywhere, it is clouded like the weather forecast said When it looked certain that the weather wouldn’t open up, we sent Lhakpa dai back to Lhonak He would come back for us with food & ration if we didn’t return back until evening of next day “Just checking our ration We’ll calculate everything we’ve got.” This is a very special moment

Even though we are cooped up inside our tents due to bad weather Bu I believe that we four are witnessing the first snowfall of the season Of course it’s bad for us Due to the temperature, the snow is also not set But at least we are first in something I”‘ve a special chocolate which I’ve been saving for such precious moment.” “Which one? Toffee?” “I’ll show you guys.” “But don’t surprise us and be the first to be slapped in 5140m like Rishav was saying.” “No one’s slapped in 5140m before so don’t be the first.” “Yes. It will be the first record.” “So, where did we buy these?” “In Ilam Rake “Yes. And I had been saving it. Because I knew a moment would come when it would warrant these.” “And I knew it would make you all so happy.” Just now, outside of our tent, a herd of blue sheep are grazing They were right outside but have gone a bit farther up as we were setting up our camera They are not scared of us Main problem is going to be this fog We will try for closeup shots with this 400mm lens It’s already 5 in the evening We waited all day long but this snow it hasn’t stopped at all since last night The weather hasn’t opened up even once We saw the base of Kanchanjunga slightly and haven’t seen anything other than that We will stay here for another night as we have supplies too Hopefully, it’ll open up even if slightly tomorrow after this long wait “Yeah, we are inside our sleeping bags and lying low Drink hot water and coffee, sleep.” “We haven’t seen anything since yesterday. Not even Kanchanjunga.” “We pray to all our weather Gods, Indra all please let it be clear tomorrow so that we can see Kanchanjunga at its best.” This is our second day. We had camped yesterday When we woke up around 3-3.30, the mountains had opened up The snowfall had also stopped. And we were so hopefull But heavy snowfall started again after 5-5.30 If the temperature was a little low, we would be in a blizzard right now And we could have been trapped here We will camp for an extra day now I generally love snow But this time it is irritating me Snowfall of today is completely different than yesterday’s And even the wind direction, it’s blowing from West to South so it’s almost perpendicular And here are proper snowflakes Yesterday it was just pieces of ice We cannot even look at this side And that hill, that over there and these look like they are hubs of wildlife There were blue sheep in the morning too And lots of birds which we cannot identify Situation here, we are enjoying it, but only downside is that we cannot see the mountains So we feel kind of stuck

Lhakpa dai is back. He’s brough eggs, noodles, oats So our noon meal is oats with hot water and sugar This is how you do it “Not a moment’s break.” Dinner time now Our chef Kanchan dai is busy making soup Assistants here are removing egg shells “What’s the situation outside? Still snowing?” “Yes.” Even after waiting for 3 days Kanchanjunga which is just here we didn’t get even a short window to see it You are not in charge in front of nature And it’s so evident to us right now Who would’ve thought it would snow so heavy during this month? In monsoon? We cannot wait anymore. We’re already here for 3 days Our ration is dwindling. Everything is frozen Our clothes also cannot bear any more snow So, like they say, with the heaviest of hearts we’re going back But maybe, no for sure, we’ll come back Probably this year otherwise next year, we will come back again to see Kanchanjunga upclose As we were leaving, all of us stared towards where Kanchanjunga was one last time. It was just there yet we never saw it The snow had made the trail tricky We would slid and fall down. It was white everywhere We felt like we were returning through a different path Maybe it was nature’s way of consolation, it opened up slightly as we were going down If you come as a couple, you can also hold hands like this After having lunch at Lhonak, we headed down to Khambachen We also got to see Khandu chushher waterfall on our way back which was covered by fog while we were going up This waterfall is believed to be created by Gods It is magnificent The grandpa from Ramtang had brought his yak shed near Khambachen It was around 4 pm. We had plenty of time so we stopped by to have tea with him “Your name is Nupu too?” “Yes. Nupu Sherpa.” “You from Ghunsa too?”

“Yes.” We were on our way after a brief chat We also got caught in a small yak traffic jam We reached at Nupu’s during evening time We had planned to rest for a day in Ghunsa and then head back But Aashish had a bad fever that night After Prabin examined him in Ghunsa hospital, he prescribed some medicine and suggested bed rest for a while So we stayed at Ghunsa until Aashish was a bit better Tashi Tenjing and Chhamje took very good care of us during this stay Specially of our sick friend Aashish Their peaceful guest house was indeed peaceful with loving family environment It felt like we were at our own home “Not Risabh, Pemba for now.” The food cooked by Chhamje bhauju (sis-in-law) was the most delicious in the entire trip Whatever she cooked tasted super Only Nupu’s food at Khambachen would compete with hers We never knew when a week in Ghunsa was over Finally its time for us to leave Ghunsa We hadn’t thought we would spend so many days here So, thank you to all for making it feel like a home away from home Tashi Tenjing, Chhamje bhauju special thanks And Tshering here who has supported us from the start so many thanks to you You’ve given so many useful info and help “Brother, I was thinking, we spent so many days here if unknowingly, we’ve made any mistake or burdened you please forgive us “No not at all. We are so happy that you came.” “Even though we are smiling, we feel very sad to be saying goodbye In our hearts, we’re still looking for excuses to stay some more.” “Ok. Goodbye. Godspeed.” “Bye bye. All the best.” “We spent so many days here.” It was hard for Aashish to even reach the next village When we stopped for lunch at Gyabla, we searched for people to carry him Since the trail was rough, horse was not an option So the locals found Dorje brother for him who came the next day We somehow fashioned rope out of blanket to carry Aashish In some places Dorje would carry Aashish and at some he would guide him We were walking along Ghunsa river which was getting bigger Generally trekkers go to North Base Camp of Kanchanjunga through this route and then go to South Base Camp via Selele We crossed numerous rivers and rivulets and made slow progress forward We camped early that day too at Amjilosa The next day, we found a doko(bamboo basket) to carry Aashish It made things much easier both for Aashish and Dorje dai The stew at Amjilosa also fortified him somewhat This bridge at Sekathum is special because Ghunsa river and Gola river join here As these two rivers meet, from hereon they become the famous Tamor river

We reached Tapethok in late afternoon Even though roads have reached here, vehicles did not come during monsoon Early next day, we headed towards Thiwa Bazaar some 2 hours walk away via Chhiruwa Just across this suspension bridge is Thiwa Bazaar from where we will take jeep to Taplejung This is probably the last suspension bridge of our trip There is a uphill stretch after the bridge, also probably the last uphill walk of this trip Can’t believe that our journey of 28 days-a month is finally at an end We had made a sick Aashish walk from Ghunsa to Gyabla But after that he was very weak And so from Gyabla to Thiwa, which is about 3.5 days of walking, a very special helping hand was given to us by Dorje dai here who carried Aashish most of the way We are not saying goodbye to him From here, we will take a jeep “OK Dorje dai, good bye. Thanks so much.” We had to wait a bit to get a jeep And then after waiting for an hour, 3-4 jeeps arrived at once After nearly 4 hours, we reached Suresh Uncle’s Mewakhola resort Such a long journey, so many memories, and all the heartwarming connections that were made Unforgettable accidents, incidents, torture, pain and then utter happiness, hide-n-seek with nature, those numerous breathtaking waterfalls, those innumerable bridges and rivers crossed, those backbreaking uphill and downhill walks, the long stays at Ghunsa and Khambachen, what didn’t happen in this trip? And yet, this trip is still incomplete We couldn’t go to Lumbasumba Pass, Olangchula Gola and Makalu Barun We couldn’t see Kanchanjunga even when we got so close to it There’s still some solace in our heart though People who haven’t been here before may think it looks hard But it’s not as hard as it seems or been told Our thirst for Kanchanjunga is not over yet We have our very own home at Ghunsa now There are Nupu and Tshering, Tashi and Chhamje waiting for us Our invite for Olangchung Gola and Yangma is still standing Whole of Mt. Kanchanjunga is waiting for us Thank you so much to Nupu, Tshering, and family who invited us into this journey and helped us throughout the trip Thanks also to all Ghunsa community All the locals who supported and sheltered us Suresh Uncle who made our Pathibhara trip possible and hosted us in Taplejung and our best ally of 30 days Lhakpa dai. Gratitude to you both Kanchanjunga trip is not just for the mountains Because When you start your trek from lowland there’s different landscape. You find plant like cardamom, community like Rai, Limbu. Different culture As you move up, even vegetation is different Trees, plants, flowers are different And as you move up slowly and your altitude increases, there’s Sherpa community. Or as some call it Tibetan communities They have different lifestyle, clothing, houses, kitchen. It’s different