Karma and I barely slept. The altitude and cold, dry air were affecting my breathing and I was concerned about Lena. Karma was worrying about Lena all through the night. About 4.10am I had Karma outside my door. We went and checked on Lena. She was feeling OK, no more headaches or vomiting. The decision was to get up and go.
I can barely put in words the challenge of this day. The long, slow, 1000m climb to Thorong La Pass (over 5400m); the sense of relief and emotion when we reached the top; the sheer guts and determination from Lena; the incredible strength of Ali, who at 13 years old has to be one of the youngest foreigners ever to do this crossing … who Karma originally didn’t believe could do it when he heard her age, but he did believe when he saw what good walkers both girls are. And for me, an end to any doubt I had about my ability to do this at 48 years old and completing something I had originally been drawn to 24 years ago.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.