Random Observations from the Nepal Himalaya

As most of you reading this probably know, I spent October in Nepal, mostly trekking in the Himalaya.  I have honestly been dreaming of this for... I'm not going to think about it for fear of divulging my age (since high-school anyway), and it exceeded even those expectations!  I promise photos are coming soon, but in the mean time here's a few random observations.

  • Nepal is the most mountainous country in the world: everything is up-hill.  "Flat" means "uphill", and even descending still involves a substantial amount of climbing.
  • No other country, I am convinced, makes you feel more inadequate, or less of a man.  While you are gasping as you struggle up a small hill, porters that look to weigh less than 60kg will trot past you while carrying an obscenely heavy and awkward load, while whistling.  Officially, they carry no more than 30kg; in reality, they often carry double that in order to receive a double wage.  Apparently they can also drink you under the table (all I can attest to is their eating prowess).
    • We saw a boy, probably about 16 but looking more like 12, carrying a double load (2 x 30kg bags of rice).
  • I'd always wondered what the altitude would "feel" like; I'd assumed that the air would somehow feel thinner.  It doesn't, and most of the time you don't even notice it.  It's just that as soon as you exert yourself in the slightest you feel incredibly unfit.
  • The scale of place is so vast, so absolutely massive in every direction, that it is near-impossible to get any idea of scale.  As you look out out over a valley which plunges hundreds of metres down sheer walls, and is capped on the other side by snow-covered mountains that rise for several kilometres up again, the resulting vista seems almost two-dimensional.
    • Along these lines, in every view of Everest you are likely to see it will probably appear tiny next to the neighbouring Nuptse (at 7861m, actually about a full km shorter).
  • Before going I had read this piece on the Annapurna region, and I was particularly taken by this bit: "Everyone who's been to Nepal tells you the Himalayas are big.  But nobody prepared me for the reality of breathing hard at altitudes already near those of some Rocky Mountain peaks, only to see a mountain rise another full height of the Rockies above me".  Yep, it's like that.  I live at sea-level but am blessed to have a 1271m "mountain" right on my door-step, which really does dominate the skyline and city.  Now, imagine doubling that by stacking it on top of itself, then double that resulting stack again: that's what you're looking up at all day (ok, only a 3-stack by the end of the trek), and you're already struggling to move faster than a snail's pace because of your own altitude.
  • A low-protein mostly-carbohydrate vegetarian diet makes Mark very skinny indeed.  I could feel that I was losing a lot of weight, and the airport scales in Lukla as we were leaving confirmed it (not to mention my gaunt torso when I finally had access to a mirror back in Kathmandu): 8kg down!  In fact, I think it was actually more like 10kg and those scales were wrong, which we suspected anyway after the smallest member of our party had apparently gained weight; for the next week and a bit I ate like a demon trying to recover the deficit, yet when I got home to scales I knew I was still down 8kg.
It is honestly the most stunning scenery I have ever seen.  I apologise in advance for my photos, which don't do it any justice (it will be no surprise to most of you that I took a lot of panoramas, mainly just trying to capture the scale).
Mark Hepburn 19 November 2010
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