The Garden Of Dreams

An oasis of calm amongst the chaos of Kathmandu

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Space is at a premium in the busy streets of Kathmandu but I managed to find a haven of calm amidst the chaos.

I would never have known it was there if someone hadn’t recommended it to me as we were chatting over breakfast at the hotel.

It was a hot, dusty day and I’d spent a couple of hours wandering around Thamel, I’d walked there from the hotel and decided to walk back and, remembering the advice I was given, I checked my map for the Garden of Dreams. I’d walked past it on my way into Thamel but hadn’t noticed it, if I hadn’t particularly looked for it I would have missed it on my way back as well.

The Garden of Dreams is hidden behind a high wall only metres from a very busy intersection and what an oasis it is. You pay a couple of dollars entrance fee but it’s well worth it. It’s a neo classical garden created as a private garden by Field Marshall Kaiser Sumsher Rana in the early 1920s which was restored and opened to the public in 2007.

The ivy clad walls of adjoining buildings create a cooling atmosphere while the meandering footpaths, the green lawns and the lily pond provide a tranquil spot for locals on their lunch break and tourists wanting a bit of a breather. The Kaiser café provides light lunches and I certainly took advantage, the cold Heineken went down well too.

So, if after surviving an exhausting morning in the chaotic streets of Thamel you’re in need of reviving make sure you find that door in the wall that will take you into this amazing Garden of Dreams.

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Everest Base Camp Trek: The Final Hurdle

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river of mud, yak poo and urine beneath my feet had become a blur some kilometres back, all that mattered now was that my feet were taking me forward, not what they were stepping in.

I began chanting to myself, one … two … three ….

One, two, three, counting my footsteps, counting the steps getting me closer to the end. Every turn on the track spat out more steps upwards, never ending, one, two, three.

One … two … three … Yangjing’s encouraging ‘not far now,’ urging me forward, washed over me as the mud ran under my feet. I’d long since stopped looking for the end point. The late afternoon dampness enveloped me, so far removed from the morning crispness we had set off in some 10 hours ago.

Yangjing, one of our guides - I owe her a huge debt of thanks.

Yangjing, one of our guides – I owe her a huge debt of thanks.

At what point had enthusiasm for the day’s challenge turned into a struggle and then into a determination that blotted out all else? There was no option, I had to keep going, I would reach the end.

Ironic, that as we headed theoretically down the mountain, the track took us upwards to our destination. This was our starting point just over two weeks ago, obviously we set off in a downwards direction but who realised or remembered that this is what we would face at the end. I certainly never thought that one of my biggest struggles would face me on this last day.

The entrance to the Sagamartha National Park, the gate that we’d originally passed through enthusiastically and with a verve that had gone missing in me in recent hours came into view, but still more steps.

Upwards.

One … two … three …

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I walked under that arch, through that entrance way and back into Lukla. That main street didn’t seem so long the last time I walked it. One … two … three ….

One … two … three. The slippery rocks that paved the way needed a watchful eye and careful footwork, the open ditch needed to be crossed, I almost stumbled and needed Yangjing’s steadying hand.

More steps up to the lodge, I grabbed the handrail needing all the help I could get. It was no longer one, two, three but one … one … one …

And then it was over.

I’d done it.

I’d trekked from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and returned. The tears held determinably in check for the last couple of hours erupted, there was no stopping them. The seat that I collapsed onto was so welcome, my legs no longer capable of supporting me.

Others in the group who’d arrived half an hour in front of me shouted their congratulations and high fived me, but all I could do was sob. Anande put a warming cup of hot mango juice in front of me, at least I think it was mango, he accepted my gulp of thanks and refilled the cup as I emptied it.

From my sitting position I unloaded my pack from my back, leant my hiking pole against the wall, leaned back and breathed.

Yep, I’d done it and despite my tears I was grinning inside.

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Suspended in the Himalayas

Suspension – the act of being suspended.

Suspend – to attach so as to allow free movement.

Literal sense – to cause to hang.

Example –Suspension bridges over the raging glacial rivers in the Himalayas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s well known in my family that I’ve never been terribly good with heights, it’s not so much the heights but the edges, put me near the edge and my knees start to go to jelly.

I’m the one who hid in the back of the campervan years ago as we drove precariously high up in the Swiss Alps and I’m also the one who declined to go up the Leaning Tower when we were in Pisa, so it will probably surprise my family to know what I achieved on my trek in the Himalayas.

As you can imagine, when you’re going up mountains, it’s difficult to avoid edges and ledges and when you have a bridge slung from two of those edges, and it’s the only way to get where you’re going, you don’t have a lot of options. Add in the tendency these bridges have to sway when there is more than one person on them, the lack of concern in these areas for safety issues and the very real possibility of meeting donkeys or yaks half way across and you can imagine my nerves, particularly as we encountered the first one.

After two weeks and a couple of dozen of these bridges I’d like to be able to say that I was almost skipping across them by the end, but no, I just learnt to look straight ahead not down and to keep walking.

Would you feel safe on some of these?

The first bridge we were faced with

The first bridge we were faced with

Hmmm ...

Hmmm …

Does this look safe to you?

Does this look safe to you?

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One Hell of a Walk – Base Camp Day

The wonderful guys who got us there.

The wonderful guys who got us there.

I know I’m jumping all over the place with my posts on my trek to Everest Base Camp and this one is totally out of sequence, but I’m writing them as they come to me, if I had to do it in order it may never happen. So today, maybe, is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Today was the day we had all been anticipating for months, the day that all thirteen of us  had been training for and the day that we expected great things from. Did it deliver? Overwhelmingly, yes.

Everest Base Camp had been my focus for the last eleven months, the planning and training had taken over my life for almost a year, every step I’d climbed, every track I’d walked, every kilo I’d carried in my backpack, were all aimed squarely at this day. I’d spent hours researching the clothing and the gear that I’d need, talking to others who had done the trek and sales people who knew the technical stuff about boots and hiking poles and water bottles. I’d agonized over how many t-shirts I should take and whether I’d be able to cope with the toilet facilities (or lack thereof) and I’d worried that my training wouldn’t be enough. I probably knew more than was good for me about Lukla airport and altitude sickness and those who had died on the mountain and  now here I was, only a couple of hours away from my goal.

The altitude had made me restless during the night, actually I had lain awake worrying about the lack of oxygen at nearly five and a half thousand metres and the possibility of breathing problems and the fact that I was alone with no one to keep an eye on me – not good thoughts in the middle of the night, and then I was awake before dawn listening to the sounds of other trekkers setting off early so I was a touch tired this morning. But then, this was nothing new. I was tired most mornings.

It was a glorious Sunday morning as we set off with the sun reflecting off the high peaks above Gorak Shep.

It was one hell of a walk along the ridge from Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp but this day gave us some of the most stunning scenery and views of the most majestic mountains that we had experienced. It was difficult to watch where our feet were going when our heads were continually veering to the right to gaze at the continuous panorama.

How did I feel when I finally achieved my goal?

Overwhelmed.

Arriving at Base Camp was a very emotional moment for me and inevitably the tears flowed. It had been hard, at times more than hard. I’d struggled, I’d cried and I’d laughed but I’d also been determined. Determined to achieve the goal I set myself almost a year ago. I wasn’t going to give in.

Here’s just a part of what we saw that day and what I think probably had a deep effect on all of us.

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Pashupatinath Temple – a cultural jolt.

Pashupatinath Hindu temple in Kathmandu, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a contradiction and a challenge to western sensibilities.

The temple, open only to those born into the Hindu faith, is set on the banks of the Bagmati River and is one of the major tourist attractions in Kathmandu, but along with a visit to the most sacred temple of Hindu Lord Shiva in the world comes a cultural  jolt.

The two main roofs of the temple are embellished with gold, the four main doors are adorned with silver and the temple houses the sacred phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. It is not the history of this temple, that dates back to 400AD, nor the awe inspiring architecture, that holds the focus of most tour groups though, but rather the cremations taking place in front of the temple.

In Hindu religion fire is seen as a sacred gateway to the spiritual world and, although there are indoor crematoriums in most cities, there are still areas where the Hindus cremate their dead in the open air.

Raised concrete slabs by the Bagmati River in front of the PashupatinathTemple is one such area. The bodies are cremated and the ashes then brushed into the river.

These cremations are undertaken in full view of the gawking tourists with cameras at the ready.

Personally I was more intrigued than upset. Mortuary archaeology of Roman Britain was the topic of my PhD thesis, so I was able to relate this custom to very similar ancient customs, but understandably it can be quite disconcerting and even upsetting for some people.

Around the area you also have the inevitable sellers of jewellery and trinkets, constantly pushing for a sale and the Sadhus, holy men or wandering monks who have renounced everyday concerns to live a life on the edges of society.

One cannot help but be sceptical though when those who have renounced society require payment before a photo of them is taken.

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple

A Sadhu

A Sadhu

And another

And another

The hillside where the Sadhus reportedly live.

The hillside where the Sadhus reportedly live.

Playing about with my camera settings

Playing about with my camera settings

A row of small temples

A row of small temples

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I have given serious consideration to as to whether I should include the following photo of a cremation pyre. I decided it should be included as this ritual is part of the culture of the place I visited. If you don’t wish to see it please stop here.

A Hindu cremation taking place at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

A Hindu cremation taking place at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

A Journey Of Epic Proportions

DSCN1251Epic – that’s the only way to describe the journey I just took, no other adjective can possibly do it justice.

This trip required more of me than I’ve ever been called upon to give. Physically I’m shattered, mentally, I’m still trying to catch up. But how do I explain it to you? How do I put into words something so momentous?

Over a number of posts I’ll at least try.

This was one amazing place. Here in the Himalayas, the earth has pushed up these mountains creating valleys and peaks, green on the lower slopes and a moonscape once above the tree line.

A population has infiltrated this landscape and adapted to its guidelines. There are no roads, no vehicles, no wheels. If you’re going somewhere you walk, often days to visit relatives, if you need something it’s carried there, by people or yaks. Building and roofing materials, food, gas canisters, furniture, it’s all taken up manually.

Some of the tracks are in a reasonable and easily negotiated condition, more often than not you’re scrambling over boulders, climbing hillsides of loose gravel, slippery beneath your feet, or ascending hundreds of roughly made steps running with mud and yak poo.

As we got higher the altitude began to grapple with our bodies. Mainly sea level beings some began to feel the effects and need medication, all of us felt the lack of oxygen and understood that the only way to do anything up here was slowly.

The weather at this time of year is tempremental at best. The beginning of the monsoon season saw the clouds beginning to roll in during the mid afternoon and obscure our surroundings, by the time we reached camp the air was damp and the view generally non existent.

But then most mornings we would wake to a crisp, clear sky with the mountains overseeing our campsite. They surrounded us, they dominated, they were simply breathtaking. Our cameras clicked as we were struck by the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of what we were seeing.

How do you wake in a morning, in these surroundings and not be changed in some way?

Our whole group made it to Base Camp, a major feat in itself as approximately 30% of those that set off don’t make it that far.

That I’d made it overwhelmed me and it took a while, sitting on a rock gazing across the Khumbu Icefall that I’d seen so many times in pictures, for me to compose myself, dry the tears and actually be able to join in the celebrations and the photo opportunity.

Here’s just a sample of the squillions of photos I took, more to follow.

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Lukla - streets of mud!

Lukla – streets of mud!

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And THIS is Mt Everest!

And THIS is Mt Everest!

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