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Entries about monsoon

On the edge: trekking in the monsoon


View Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur 2011 on Chris Parsons's travel map.

Blog entry: by Jen Parsons

Our trek in Nepal has already revealed a landscape of extremes. For the first time on a trip to Nepal we began trekking in the monsoon season. This started with a bus trip that succumbed to the wrong sort of mud as a result of monsoon rainfall (see previous blog - a tale of 2 buses)!

On day two, we discovered the true meaning of the monsoon as we ascended the Budi Gandaki valley. Water was pouring off the tops of the mountains in free-fall for 100s of metres - straight off the vertical cliff walls. In sunshine this created a magical sight with some of the biggest waterfalls I've ever seen, and complete with the odd rainbow too (the National Trust would have a field day if this were the UK!). But then when the rain came - not with any purpose mind, just big spodges dropping casually out of the sky - the river swelled, boiling angrily down the valley.

I stopped numerous times just to watch the "rapids" (though there were no calm spots). These must have been at least a grade 10, i.e. instant death...and the noise from all of this was utterly deafening. I've never seen anything like it before in my life. The path we were taking was carved out of the vertical cliffs some 20 metres above the river. In Nepal, there are no health and safety warnings, or handrails for that matter. One false move or a lapse in concentration would have been extremely problematic!

Later in the day we were faced with another facet of the monsoon - river crossing. On our approach to Macchakhola we were given a choice of route: 1) the precipitous high route (which the locals were refusing to take) or 2) the low-level riverside walk. Given that the locals are prepared to walk in many places I am not, we chose the lower path! With one river crossing already under our belts, and our feet nicely back in our boots toasting after an unexpected wash, the lower path suddenly dropped down to the main river and disappeared. So it was off with the boots again, only this time we were wading. The advantage of being British quickly became clear, as our porters were in the river nearly up to their waists, while Chris barely got his knees wet! I was in over my knees, but just opted for wet trousers as everything else was already soaked....This was just one of the small hazards encountered by the locals in everyday monsoon life, except in their case they were just making a trip to the shops rather than trekking (for fun!).

Nepali legs aren't long enough for river crossings!

Nepali legs aren't long enough for river crossings!

Our third and fourth days of trekking showed us another more serious side to the monsoon. We lunched at a little village called Dobhan, and as we were sitting down out of the blazing sunshine, our guide, Ram, informed us that there had been a big landslide further up the path on our intended route, and that the locals were "sitting it out". As we ate our lunch we watched for signs of activity coming over the bridge from the direction of the landslide. Our "plan" was to go up the path in the afternoon and 'have a look at it', to see if it was crossable. Our destination that evening was Jagat, some three hours the otherside. Eventually, some local porters came through the village, having safely made it across, though they reported the landslide to be very dangerous and apparently still moving! This did not improve the digestion of lunch. With some nervousness we advanced towards the landslide area. Before we even reached the main landslide, we could see where large boulders had ripped through the trees, and smaller landslides - in an outward ripple effect - had occurred. When we got to the landslide itself, it looked crossable, so without hesitation we walked smartly across, over and under boulders and scree. We crossed about 100 metres of rubble, which fortuntely was not on the move, and remarkably already had a path of sorts across it (only in Nepal!). We reached the otherside safely to several high-fives, and a slowing heartrate....

Jen and Ram crossing the landslide after Dobhan

Jen and Ram crossing the landslide after Dobhan

Later in Jagat, after dinner, the heavens opened, with some serious rainfall. So serious, we had to abandon the tent as the campsite was flooding, and sleep in the campsite owners' kitchen / dining area. As we sipped our tea, we could hear the rumble and roar of more landslides up and down the valley. The following morning we rounded the next twist of the valley to come face to face with a giant mudslide. We figured that this is what we had heard the previous evening. The mudslide had wiped out the small village of Salleri. Fortuntely there were no locals resident at the time, as they were away for the festival in Kathmandu. Enormous boulders (the size of houses) had been lifted up and deposited at the riverside. We gingerly picked and slid our way through the mud, avoiding the route of our porters who were up to their knees. This was a far more fragile situation than the previous landslide, and brought home the precariousness of life in the mountains. For the locals, rebuilding a path, a road or a village is one of the facts of life each year in this region.

The mudslide that wiped out Salleri

The mudslide that wiped out Salleri

That night as the rain battered our leaky tent, I was kept awake by sobering thoughts of where the next landslide would fall.

Posted by Chris Parsons 22:51 Archived in Nepal Tagged trekking monsoon Comments (2)

A tale of two buses: a white-knuckle ride in Nepal


View Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur 2011 on Chris Parsons's travel map.

If your bus is Arughat bound
And there's an ocean of mud on the ground
Abandon your seat
And resort to your feet
Else your trousers will surely be browned

Bus travel in Nepal is not for the faint-hearted as we've discovered on our previous trips here. And so it proved again this time around with our journey from Kathmandu to Arughat Bazar. Our experience has taught us some of the unwritten rules of bus journeys, and as we sped towards the bus station in our hotel taxi I ran through them in my head:

  1. It doesn't matter where or when you board the bus, there will always be someone sitting in your seat.
  2. It doesn't matter how far in advance you book your ticket, you will always be sat near the back of the bus or on the roof.
  3. Your bus will break down at least once during your journey.
  4. Journey times include an allowance for breakdowns.
  5. Your bus will have been designed for half the number of people it is carrying.
  6. There is always room for one more person on the bus.

We arrived to be met by Ram, our trekking guide, and some of our porters. Our first bus was a Toyota minivan which seemed to be in reasonably roadworthy condition. We climbed slowly out of the Kathmandu valley on the highway to Pokhara. This is the best road in Nepal but it is difficult to average more than 30mph. Not that this stopped our driver from trying. Once out of the Kathmandu traffic we only had the long-distance buses and trucks to contend with, and the driver began to practice some of his more audacious overtaking moves. Nepalis drive on the left, but this rule is only casually observed when approaching a slower moving vehicle on a blind bend. Nepal could do with some of the fantastic road signs we saw last year in Ladakh, such as "be a Mr Late not a Late Mr", and "be gentle with my curves". We picked up more passengers at several places en route, so by the time we had swerved off the main highway, crossed the Trisuli river, and arrived at Dadingbesi, we were jammed in like the proverbial sardines. The white knuckle ride was over for the time being. We retired to a roadside cafe for lunch and waited for bus no. 2 in the sticky heat.

The second bus was a different animal entirely, a large blue and white Tata vehicle with monster truck tyres. With hindsight this should have given us a clue as to the condition of the road to Arughat. Ram announced that he had our tickets so we boarded the bus and took our seats near the back (after evicting the two Nepalis who had decided to claim them for themselves).

We watched as more and more people congregated around the bus; this was clearly going to be another sardine can. Not only that, but all the gear and food for our 15 day camping trek somehow had to be squeezed on board. Boxes were stacked in the aisle to shoulder height and bags were stashed on the roof (along with several of our porters). We each had a bag wedged between our legs, and boxes on our laps. And just when it seemed as though breathing in and out was going to get difficult, we were off.

For the first few minutes, we enjoyed the passing scenery and the cool breeze on our faces. Despite the cramped conditions, perhaps this wasn't going to be too much of an ordeal. Then we hit the first muddy ruts. The monsoon rains had turned the poorly drained stretches of road into a quagmire with deep tyre ruts. And each time we hit one of these patches we were pitched and tossed around like a trawler on a squally sea. The bus lurched from one side to the other as the tyres struggled for grip in the glutinous mud, giving those of us in the window seats a close look at the huge chasm beyond the edge of the road. What started as mild panic soon became sheer terror and my thoughts went from "that was a close one" to "you've got to be kidding", to "ohmygodwereallgoingtodie"! Goodness only knows how the porters on the roof were managing to cling on.

The newly-resurfaced Arughat road

The newly-resurfaced Arughat road

After two hours of this torture our nerves were shredded and we decided that we'd had enough. We extricated ourselves from our seats (a process which required the skills of a contortionist) and continued down the road on foot, guided by Ram. He took us down to Taribesi, a one horse town next to a bridge over a river, and promised us the road would improve beyond this point. Such was the painfully slow progress the bus was making, it was another half hour before we heard its tooting horn. Shortly after, it came hurtling triumphantly across the bridge and stopped to pick us up.

Walking is not only safer, it's quicker too

Walking is not only safer, it's quicker too

From this point things got worse. We started up a steep incline, but a rocky gully that cut across the road proved too much for the bus which got stuck. Everyone disembarked to inspect the problem. The front axle and the chassis were at wildly different angles, and one of the rear wheels was spinning in free air. Nepalis relish these kind of situations, and 30 minutes later, all four wheels had been reunited with the road and were were back on board.

The last-but-one nail in the coffin for the Arughat bus

The last-but-one nail in the coffin for the Arughat bus

We continued to climb the hillside (the road was just as bad as before) until we reached a flat stretch where the mud looked deeper and gloopier than anywhere else. There was no way round it, so the driver got out and walked ahead to pick his line. Back in his seat he revved the engine and we surged forward, but it was immediately obvious we weren't going to make it. We were stuck again, and this time, no amount of Nepali resourcefulness was going to free us.

With the light fading, we made the decision to find somewhere to stay the night, accepting that there was no way we were going to reach Arughat. Our bags were offloaded and we walked a short way to a small hut at a crossroads. The resident family let us camp in their front yard and fed us dinner. We went to bed under a tree full of snickering monkeys, which somehow summed up our day.

The next morning we awoke, counted our mosquito bites, and watched the monkeys descend from the tree and scamper into the nearby fields to wreak havoc. We continued the final few kilometres to Arughat on foot. As we neared the village we heard a familiar tooting horn and were surprised to see the very same bus we had abandoned the night before with a fresh load of wide-eyed white knuckled passengers, and a smug looking driver. It seems we had underestimated Nepali resourcefulness after all, but at least we escaped with our lives.

The tragic footnote to this tale, is that around one week later, Ram heard from his wife that the Arughat bus had overturned and fallen off the road, killing the 13 Nepalis on board. Most would have been on their way home to celebrate the Dasain festival with their families. We were right to resort to our feet...

Posted by Chris Parsons 03:30 Archived in Nepal Tagged trekking buses monsoon Comments (2)

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