Clear thinking at 4500m in the Himalayas

Early morning in Manang, a long day ahead to reach Thorong Phedi
Early morning in Manang, a long day ahead to reach Thorong Phedi
Looking back towards Manang and the Annapurna Himal
Looking back towards Manang and the Annapurna Himal
Seven hours and a 1000m climb to Thorong Phedi
Seven hours and a 1000m climb to Thorong Phedi

This day literally became the high point of the journey for me. At 4500m altitude, in the middle of the Himilayas I met a straight talking Nepali/Tibetan man, Michung Gurung, owner of the Thorong Base Camp Lodge and Manang farmer. I had been told about this person by Bhim, the ACAP ranger in Manang. But it had been a long, hard day, and I was feeling the cold and altitude as well as needing to be with the girls, particularly with Lena who had a bit of a headache (a high altitude effect). While the girls went to bed I noticed this man outside my room, lighting a small fire and beginning a small ceremony for the Gods. This was Michung Gurung, the lodge owner and person Bhim had told me I should talk to. This man spoke good English and had plenty to say. After all the challenges of the last two months, after the incredible challenges since we began trekking… here I was high in the Himalayas talking to a man who was worth listening to. We went into his living quarters, next to my room. It was dark, but there was just enough light from the battery powered fluorescent light to film. I filmed about 8 minutes of interview at 4500m. This is a voice that many people need to hear … a straight talking man who says that the hope for the world lies in people putting an end to greed, an end to spending money on weapons and wars. If we turned this money to reafforestation everywhere then we might have a chance of restoring ecological balance and health to the world and of turning things around. The big problem, says Michung Gurung, is that there is too much talking in the world and not enough doing. His view is that we need to put money and resources into the hands of the doers who can provide real leadership for positive change.

“I think that people who has money, I think they should work from inside, you know, from the heart, not from the mouth then the solution will be solved. From the mouth it doesn’t work.” Michun Gurung
“I think that people who has money, I think they should work from inside, you know, from the heart, not from the mouth then the solution will be solved. From the mouth it doesn’t work.” Michun Gurung

Farmer perspectives from Manang

A good day! Ali had slept well and no more diarrhoea or nose bleeds! We were all able to appreciate the stunning mountain scenery here and also meet and film interviews with some local people. Bhim, the ACAP conservation officer was very good. He accompanied us down to some local fields where we filmed people at work and briefly interviewed a local farmer.

“Right now he is saying he is working in the farm, he’s spending his life on the farm and he’s saying that he’s seeing the glacier of Gangapurna Lake is decreasing year by year but he has not any concern whether the glacier is decreasing or increasing, nothing for him. He is a typical farmer. There are many farmers like this living in this village. He’s not well educated and he’s concerned with his living only, not for environment, not for other things.”

“I have nothing to ask and no opinion. We are the workers of the farm. And I am happy with the way things are.” Local farmer, Manang
“I have nothing to ask and no opinion. We are the workers of the farm. And I am happy with the way things are.” Local farmer, Manang

We then walked over to Gangapurna lake. This lake has formed over the last 20 years or so from the melting of the Gangapurna glacier.

Gangapurna glacier and lake. The latter has formed over the last 20 years with melting of the glacier
Gangapurna glacier and lake. The latter has formed over the last 20 years with melting of the glacier

After lunch we met with Sonam Chhiring Ghale and Sonam Chhiring Gurung, both farmers and lodge owners. These are both smart farmers, who talked about more erratic rainfall patterns over the last 20 years, which have resulted in an irrigation scheme supported by ACAP. Big issues are declining snow levels and loss of forest cover. They can’t control the loss of snow and the melting of the Gangapurna glacier but there is potential to manage forest cover. However this requires support to introduce fencing to control animals that presently free-range and to protect trees that are planted.

Sonam Chhiring Gurung, local farmer and owner of Manang Hotel, at home with his wife. He and Sonam Chhiring Ghale talked about higher temperatures, more erratic rainfall patterns, less snow and loss of forest cover
Sonam Chhiring Gurung, local farmer and owner of Manang Hotel, at home with his wife. He and Sonam Chhiring Ghale talked about higher temperatures, more erratic rainfall patterns, less snow and loss of forest cover

“When I was 10 or 12 years old the lake near the Gangapurna Glacier was very small, the glacier was a massive chunk of ice. But now everything is gone. The lake has enlarged massively. The receding of the glacier is progressing leaving the bare rocks behind.” Sonam Gurung

“Of course we understand that the entire earth is warming up. We know from what we have observed from Kathmandu. The increase in traffic has resulted in the formation of the smog in the atmosphere. When we were small the atmosphere of Pokhara was smog free, but just within a span of 10-12 years we see the change. The same polluted air will travel to the high mountain places. The dark smokes that we see coming here in the evening is that very smog from low land. It is this polluted air of the lowland that has melted the snow. We need to plant the trees and see how we can protect our environment. That’s what we need to do.” Sonam Ghale

To Manang, the call of the mountains

The challenges of the journey continued with Ali having diarrhoea in the night and again in the morning! This was a concern as from now on we were getting into seriously higher altitudes, where altitude sickness is a real risk. Ali was incredibly strong today, making it to Manang despite everything. I feel the sheer, almost indescribable, majesty of the mountains we were now among and the incredible power of nature we were feeling had a real strengthening effect on Ali. Despite all challenges of illness so far it was hard not to feel this power and energy around us. The biggest concern was when she started having nose bleeds just short of Manang. Number one priority when we got to Manang was to get on top of her diarrhoea, which we managed to do. Thank goodness tomorrow was a rest day! Time for Ali to recover and also for us to adjust more to the altitude.

En route to Manang, a day when Lena was inspired to write a poem
En route to Manang, a day when Lena was inspired to write a poem

While Ali and Lena rested I went down the road to the Manang District HQ of ACAP, where I met Bhim Prasad Upadhyay, conservation officer. We arranged to meet again with his manager next morning.

What a stunning place, with the Annapurna Himal spread out above us!
What a stunning place, with the Annapurna Himal spread out above us!

The mountains are calling

By Lena Kenny

The snowy mountains-

lonely, lofty heights;

they are calling.

Pine trees and their falling needles-

their smell is drawing me in.

To walk, and remember days gone past.

That whistling wind is so familiar.

See- the drifting wind catching

the snow up

to curl and twist in the air.

My feet are following a path

that has been trodden before-

by another set of feet,

on a different day.

Cliffs, mountains, trees.

I am smaller than them all.

So small…

Will they remember me walking past?

I am so small,

and yet…so big!

And the butterflies are still dancing,

and the wheat is still swaying,

the wind still whispers in my ear,

and my feet,

they are still tredding along that well

trodden path,

that leads to the mountains,

those mountains, they are calling…

Interview at Chame

I was better today, but still a bit weak. We walked down to the local Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) office where we met Sherjung Gurung, the local conservation assistant. At short notice Sherjung managed to call in Tashi Dhindu Lama, Chairman of the Forest Management sub-committee in Chame. He talked about declining snow levels and the importance of forest conservation. He saw good and bad things with less snow. Less snow and higher temperatures means more crops can be grown and more grass for grazing. But bare rock is not good, it makes the mountain gods unhappy, it makes those local people who respect and understand their environment unhappy.

“I don’t think less snowfall means good, because what would become of these mountains if there is no snow? The name ‘Himal’ (mountain) will have no meanings if they lose snows, the name will be lost in future. Also most of the foreigners from all over the place appreciate these snowcapped mountains and for us also they are the symbols of good fortune. But if these mountains have no snow cover then the very essence of these mountains will be lost. We will be heartbroken if such things happen.” Tashi Dhindu Lama, Chairman of the Forest Management sub-committee in Chame
“I don’t think less snowfall means good, because what would become of these mountains if there is no snow? The name ‘Himal’ (mountain) will have no meanings if they lose snows, the name will be lost in future. Also most of the foreigners from all over the place appreciate these snowcapped mountains and for us also they are the symbols of good fortune. But if these mountains have no snow cover then the very essence of these mountains will be lost. We will be heartbroken if such things happen.” Tashi Dhindu Lama, Chairman of the Forest Management sub-committee in Chame

They’re doing their best to protect the forest but the pressures are great. This interview inspired me and gave me real confidence that all the challenges of this journey so far would be worth the effort. I felt much better as we walked from Chame in the morning sunshine, with pine forest around us and stunning mountains above. We reached lower Pisang in good time.

Every day we saw tree cutting activity for firewood

A tough day to Chame

Just as the girls were right, I came down with diarrhoea! I thought it had been tough until now, supporting the girls and hoping at some point I would make a few more connections to do more filming. But this was my toughest day as I drew on my reserves to get to Chame. I collapsed into bed when we got there.

Clearing forest to build a road that doesn't make sense
Clearing forest to build a road that doesn't make sense

A long day

Finally we were all feeling good. Lena was determined for us to make up for lost time. It was a long day of walking as we tried to get to Dharapani. In the end we stopped at Karte, about 30 minutes short of Dharapani. We’d made up two and a half hours, which was very good going. Attempts to connect with local people and do more filming were on hold for the time being.

An awesome early morning scene with our first glimpse of snow-capped peaks. Our first clear sky day after a thunderstorm the afternoon/evening before.
An awesome early morning scene with our first glimpse of snow-capped peaks. Our first clear sky day after a thunderstorm the afternoon/evening before.
Firewood harvesting continues to be a major problem
Firewood harvesting continues to be a major problem
Where trees stand there is hope. Trees and rocks were a constant feature of the stunning landscapes we walked through on this day. A long day with Lena determined to make up for the day before
Where trees stand there is hope. Trees and rocks were a constant feature of the stunning landscapes we walked through on this day. A long day with Lena determined to make up for the day before

We'd had a steep climb up beside a massive landslide and then came to this stunning view of the plain of Tal. We ended our long day when we came to another small village, Karte
We'd had a steep climb up beside a massive landslide and then came to this stunning view of the plain of Tal. We ended our long day when we came to another small village, Karte

Planting crops by the river, en route to Karte
Planting crops by the river, en route to Karte

A road to nowhere

Thank goodness Ali had a good sleep and her energy levels steadily improved through the day. Lena was at her lowest this morning and seriously struggled for the first hour. We managed however and came to a nice place above the river with a breeze blowing and small waterfall nearby. We stopped there for about two hours to give Lena a good rest and also ate some chapati and cheese. Lena started picking up after this, but only had enough energy to get to the tiny village of Syanje, about three hours short of Chamje our original destination for the day.

As we walked I saw the road building activities on the other side of the river. I had reflected on this since talking to the two brothers at Bahundanda. My view is that this is a road to nowhere. It is being built in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. The problems of deforestation and landslides are clearly evident on our walk so far. With a real likelihood of more snow melt and more intense rainfall events I think landslides will become a far greater issue with climate change. It is very evident that the road that is being built will be severely affected by the combined effects of intense rainfall, deforestation and landslides. I don’t believe the resources will be there to maintain it, maybe not even to successfully complete it. I might be proved wrong, but that is my view. I think it would be far better to put the money being used to build the road into a concerted reafforestation programme.

Road building near Bahundanda, in an area already affected by deforestation and landslides
Road building near Bahundanda, in an area already affected by deforestation and landslides
The tiny village of Syanje perched between a massive rock and the Marsyangdi River
The tiny village of Syanje perched between a massive rock and the Marsyangdi River