Monday, 4 December 2017

An Attempt on Danphe Sail, Dolpa 2016

There is Dolpa, Lower Dolpa and Upper Dolpa..but then there is the real Dolpa

Much has been written about Dolpa and many have trekked through the wild mountains and valleys but few have explored the real heart of Dolpa and for no other reason other than it is wild and above all very remote. Initial access is either by plane from Nepalgung or by road followed by a long hard 14 hour walk to reach Dunai but soon this road will go all the way to Dunai. However, no matter the means of entry to Nepal’s largest National Park to really explore the wilderness beyond you need to allow at least 14 – 20 days just for the walk in to the northern part of the district, then another week or two for the walk out most of which is above 4500m. 

Dolpa provides a real wilderness experience for those who are seeking 
adventure in Nepal, the trails are vague, villages far and few between 
and trekkers certainly require good mountain skills ©Ian Wall 
Nepal offers more than 100 unclimbed peaks open for mountaineering expeditions but few offer the remoteness of the unclimbed peaks as found in Dolpa. By many standards these mountains are not high but they do offer some challenging lines and all are away from immediate assistance or rescue, they are remote!

Danphe Sail as seen from the broad valley a little below the south face, 
the sharp peak in the background is not Danphe Sail but as the most 
striking summit it is often confused for the same. The border with China
 runs up the glacier on the left (west) across the dome of Danphe Sail, 
the lower of the two peaks and then continues along the eastern ridge. 
The obvious line is up the loose and broken rock of the south face to 
the isolated boulder in the ice above, from that point head up towards 
the summit. Alternatives are capped by nasty terrain! ©Ian Wall
Danphe Sail 6103m is one once such mountain that has attracted limited attention. Set straddling the border between China and Nepal Danphe Sail has a far more prominent neighbor that I would suggest had initially attracted the attention of would be summateers but this neighbor is well and truly in China and off limits.

June still witnessed thew remnants of the spring snows with several
 passes providing difficult conditions for the ponies  ©Ian Wall

As far as I can establish up to 2016 there had been only two attempts to climb Danphe Sail. The prolific mountain explorer Tamotsu Ohnishi and four companions visited the region in 2009 when they planned to climb Danphe Sail but then abandoned their attempt. A second attempt was planned but again Tamotsu Ohnishi, with a Japanese companion and a Sherpa, headed for Danphe Sail. In May and June 2010 the three established base camp below the south side of the mountain at 3,900m and Camp 1 at 4,200m. Ohnishi became ill from insect bites on his feet that had become infected and they abandoned the climb. Ohnishi’s were the first recorded “attempts” on the mountain.
Lindsat Griffin, Mountain INFO, Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal and Richard Salisbury The Himalayan Database 2012
I also understand that an Australian team approached Danphe Sail but decided it was too technical so abandoned their attempt. It was likely that they mistook the distant peak for Danphe Sail as both seen from a certain angle could be mistaken for one of the same.

Our 2016 Danphe Sail team, Michael Salmon, Alex Cramb, Bill Crozier 
and Alastair Lawrence and some of the locals from Ku © Ian Wall
In June 2016 I organised a small Anglo Australian expedition comprising of Alex Cramb, Alastair Lawrence, Bill Crozier and Michael Salmon along with two Nepali climbers, Chhering Bhote and Wonchu Sherpa with the objective of making the first ascent of Danphe Sail.
The trail from Duani to Bhijer is well documented as it links the route to the north via Shey Gompa.  Bhijer is the local administrative district head-quarters and although it is situated on the route of the Great Himalayan Trail it boasts little in the way of amenities.

Seen from the watershed between Yambur Danda and Kyala Lek. Kugoan 
is situated in the obvious large east - west valley in the middle distance of
 this image, our objective Danphe Sail can be seen as snow dome below
 the highest mountain on the skyline mid image, another 6 days further on!
 ©Ian Wall 
Leaving Bhijer our team headed east following the Yamchho Khola to Phulak before turning north and ascending a long and undulating 1000m climb to cross the main east-west watershed between the Yambur Danda and Kyala Lek. The landscape was as expected, barren with virtually no respite from the grueling climb, the sun was beating down and with no shade and no water all we could do was to bite the bullet and get on with it. However the distant views provided plenty of excuses for stopping and taking photographs. The early start turned into lunch time and then evening began to draw in. Once on the watershed the indistinct trail dropped down to a small kharka, another opportunity to sit and view our surroundings when out of nowhere a young Nepalese man appeared. Pema joined us and we all got involved in a short conversation. It turned out that this young man was from Ku, he had set out a few hours previously with the intention of going to Bhijer to collect medicines for a friend, a journey he said would only take him four to five hours! I could have sat on that ridge watching the sun set for the next couple of hours but that would not have gotten me anywhere nearer to our destination in Kugoan.

The long descent into Kugoan situated in the bend of the river ©Ian Wall 
The team pressed on however despite there being little water we were forced by a combination of tiredness and darkness to camp at the small kharka near the Yaje Danda at 4742m. The kitchen staff, as committed as ever to the welfare of the team, then set out on a two hour round trip to find water and fill a blue expedition barrel which they then carried back to camp – an amazing effort after such as hard day (for us!!).Traversing the hillside the following morning the expedition eventually reached the end of the ridge at 4740m from where we were presented with the magnificent views to the northern border mountains but more essentially the impressive descent of 1100m to the village of Kugoan. The path was not difficult but as if to beckon us on, the view and details of this remote community got clearer and nearer with every step. 

Once down at the level of Kugoan the community appears to be well 
organised, the houses are well maintained and many have walled off 
courtyards. The buildings are very obviously built in Tibetan style 
with the walls tapered as they rise. Inside the lower level is occupied
 by the animals while people live above. The soil after generations of 
cultivation is richly improved with the use of animal fertilizer. 
©Ian Wall
Entering Kugoan was a step back into the middle ages yet there was a certain uniformity in the way things were organized with the terraces being newly ploughed and looking particularly fertile although the rich brown soil faded into the neutral colours of the surrounding barren hillsides. The houses were of a typical Tibetan style and the community was punctuated with lines of chortens. The locals made us very welcome giving us a tour of their school buildings and the monastery, accompanied by invitations into their homes for a glass of ‘local wine’. After a day’s rest, reorganization and the storing of excess gear in a local house time was spent answering many questions and explaining how an ice axe might be used or what the shovel was used for from the inquisitive locals who were adamant that we were the first foreigners to pass through their village.

The local people were very interested in all our equipment especially 
the technical climbing gear, ice axes, rock gear and the ropes ©Ian Wall
A fact I found hard to believe, however, judging by their inquisitiveness it might well have been true. The village nestles in a shallow bend in the river but to both the east and the west the terrain certainly did not encourage travel in either direction there were two ways out on the valley, going north to the border or south to habitation. On this expedition we had arrived from the south but would exit to the north. 

The gorge was dark, intimidating and early in the morning cold and 
dank. In places the sun’s rays clipped the more open cliff, the way
 ahead was inviting and the higher we got the more light we could
 see at the end of the tunnel. ©Ian Wall
The village holds the key to further progress, initially crossing the Tora Khola by a small bridge and then entering the very narrow gorge of the Jhyanblung Khola with its monolithic sided cliffs. The narrow canyon only a few metres wide in places stretched for approximately 7kms with the indistinct trail crossing and re-crossing the Khola many times before opening out at the confluence with the Shang Khola. One could only guess at the stability of the gorge walls, however not dwelling on the possibilities for too long we pressed on at our own individual paces.

Along the valley approaching the valley to our intended 
Base Camp, heading up towards the clouds!©Ian Wall
At this point our route took a sharp eastward bend and climbed onto a higher shoulder above the river. A bit of time was taken checking out the route from the shoulder and as in many mountain situations the right way looked the less probably way and a further steep ascent onto a short ridge lead to a slow contouring descent. Within a further two kilometers we reached a wonderful kharka and decided to call it a day, but to the north we could see our objective however, now with some ominous dark clouds rolling down the hillsides. 

Once in the valley leading to Base Camp careful navigation was 
required to find the best route for the mules Danphe Sail already
 in the clouds ©Ian Wall
The following morning dawned clear and bright but the route up the broad valley leading to our base camp took some careful navigating to find a safe route through the boulder fields for the mules. Reaching the flat basin under the south face of Danphe Sail we quickly organized base camp. The mules were unloaded and then retreated to the previous kharka for the duration of our stay in Base Camp.  We were in high spirits.

The joys of Base Camp, even if a bit chilly! The direct approach 
via the shallow snow filled gully can be clearly seen in the middle 
of the image leading up to the col. ©Ian Wall
Base Camp was ideally situated in a shallow basin just short of the lake, there was a small but fresh and constantly flowing stream was close at hand and plenty of flat ground covered in a light ground hugging shrub to make life comfortable. During the afternoon of the day of our arrival we decided to do a quick recce of the site for ABC. From Base Camp there were two ways to reach the col, either to approach up a shallow gully hidden behind some lateral moraine or to approach the col directly up a shallow snow filled gully. We looked at both but the direct option was the preferred route taking only an hour to gain the col. The initial plan was to make the col the jumping off point for the summit attempt. 

From what we though might provide Base Camp the col was
 obviously too rocky but the  way ahead to the large 
exposed rock in the snow looked straightforward even if a little
 foreshortened . ©Ian Wall
The first day in BC saw Chhering, Wonchu and myself head off to what was possibly going to be the site of ABC but on arrival the small col was much too rocky so while I descended back to BC Chhering and Wonchu headed up the rock pitches to complete the recce to the foot of the snow field. Meantime the ‘boys’ enjoyed the ambiance and surroundings of BC.

The snow fell, it melted at Base Camp but then there was 
another fall, which almost melted at Base Camp before there 
was another fall, the mountain did not look good! ©Ian Wall
Day two at base camp saw the weather change, occasional snow showers accompanied by a brisk cold breeze.. it did not look good. However we amused ourselves doing a bit of rope work and generally brushing up on our snow skills.

The weather did not look good ©Ian Wall

Day three saw Chhering and Wonchu set off in the dark to try to get a purchase on the snow field at the top of the rocky section but they returned within a few hours saying that the snow was in fact hard blue ice that shattered at the blow of each axe placement and with the wind and snow showers frequent slurries of spindrift were making things difficult. They were back by lunch time and we all headed into the cook tent for more tea and biscuits.
Then it got progressively worse ©Ian Wall
Sadly, the next few days saw the same weather pattern develop with deteriorating conditions. We discussed our options – to stay and see if things changed or to head down immediately. We spent time ‘playing’, packing and re packing gear, sorting the tents out, eating, drinking, reading and generally participating in all the mundane activities normally pursued while awaiting the weather in the mountains.

Finally a decisions had to be made, the mules  were called in and we 
packed up ©Ian Wall

The team decided to give it as long as they could but after five days we had exceeded our time and were faced with not having sufficient days left to walk out. One of the kitchen boys ran off down the valley to call for the mules to come up. They duly arrived and we struck camp and began to withdraw back down the valley. We covered the two day ascending trek in to BC in a little over half a day but decided to stop at the big kharka that the mules and their handlers had occupied for the previous several days. From here it was going to be a long haul all the way back down the gorge to Kugoan.
It had been two weeks since we left Ku but within that time the fields had turned green and the growing season was well underway.  

Our last camp site back in Kugoan and what seemed like a 
completely different world ©Ian Wall

We spent our final night in camp on the bank of the Tora Khola with our new friends from Ku. In the morning as planned we heard the helicopter and in fact saw it for a fleeting moment, but then it disappeared. As if to highlight the remoteness of the village the pilot failed to find the village, despite the fact he must have been within a kilometer of the community and with GPS. He returned to Bhijer to pick up a local to act as an aerial guide, he returned and with two shuttles the team were back in Dunai. However despite constant pressure from us and the offer of, additional funds the pilot refused to give the local ‘aerial’ guide a lift back to Bhijer.. he had to walk!

Thanks Dolpa for another great trip and see you in 2018
.. when we'll be back ©Ian Wall

Other memories

Monday, 18 September 2017

Newsletter August 2017

The August edition of our newsletter always seems to contain two recurring topics – the Everest Season and the Monsoon Season, this edition sees little difference, albeit with a few additions!

With regard to Everest, the main event this past season was the tragic scenario that occurred almost
Ueli Steck Facebook
before the season began and led to the demise of Ueli Steck the world famous speed climbing mountaineer. Steck was in the Western Cwm on Everest preparing and acclimatizing for his expedition to climb the West Ridge, descend the South East Ridge before completing the traverse across to climb Lhotse from which he would descend back to Base Camp. All this would be completed in his usual style, climbing solo and without protection. On the morning of the 30th April he set off for what was thought to be an acclimatization climb on Nuptse. Push the envelope far enough and long enough under these circumstances and the stakes rise almost meteorically, one slip and you won’t get a second chance. And so it was that Steck fell 800m.

Reinhold Messner had suggested that Steck may have had his eye on the Everest Horseshoe, ascending the West Ridge, descending the SE Ridge, traverse across to Lhotse summit before continuing along the ridge to Nuptse, an objective held in the minds of many a world class mountaineer, however, the challenge is still to be completed.

A young mountaineer, Vinayak Jay Malla had seen a climber high on Nuptse around 7100m early on the 30th April but then a little later he heard the sound of what he describes as ‘something falling’. Along with a colleague the pair went to investigate and discovered Ueli Steck’s body at around 6300m. It was reported that near to Steck’s body was a large rock covered in blood, one of his crampons was missing and Steck appeared to have been climbing without a harness. Later investigations showed that there was a pair of ice-axes in Steck’s tent along with a light rope and various other pieces of climbing equipment.

Steck was well known for his ‘axeless` climbing style, he would use trekking poles as opposed to his axes if he thought he could manage the difficulties in that style.
To this day there is no definitive conclusion as to what caused Steck to fall, as Vinayak is quoted as saying “Perhaps we should think of Steck as a Bharal (Blue Sheep) who although the master of their own terrain could fall for any number of unexpected reasons.
The second event to hit the headlines, although not directly associated with Everest in this instance was the announcement by Russell Brice that he was retiring as a commercial expedition organizer. Brice has spent several years organizing and running successful commercial expeditions to the big 8000m mountains.

Russell Brice Facebook
Recently Brice has made a few decisions that he feels, in retrospect, showed bad judgment. As a commercial expedition organizer a main part of your role is to carry out risk assessment. You look for all the likely danger points and then plan accordingly to minimize them. This situation can result in you being hung if you do and hung if you don’t. Brice has over the last two or three years called expeditions off because he considered the risks were not acceptable, usually weather and snow condition related. However other expeditions persisted and their members often achieved their objectives. I guess Brice got a lot of flak from some members who felt they should have been allowed to push the envelope, however, if that had been a bridge too far then again Brice would have been in the firing line, a difficult place to be. Brice has done a sterling job and helped many people achieve their ambitions, and I guess has allowed many climbers to return to their families and live to climb another day.
Apart from these two instances Everest has had its usual share of hype.

South African Ryan Sean Davy tried to climb Everest without paying the 11,000 US $ permit fee,
South African Ryan Davy Facebook
without going through the appropriate channels and avoiding several other compulsory conditions, his excuse, he had no money, but on his own admission he had no real mountaineering experience and added that he was motivated to help those climbers who got into difficulty and were not assisted by others. He was eventually found hiding in a cave at 7,300m by officials, who undoubtedly saved his life. His passport was confiscated and he was ordered back to Kathmandu. He was fined, deported and banned for any form of mountaineering activities in Nepal for ten years.
Janusz Adam Adamski's daughter wishing him luck before
he left for Kathmandu. Facebook

A second climber, a Polish citizen Janusz Adam Adamski completed the traverse of Everest ascending the North Col in Tibet and then descending the South Col route into Nepal. This is said to be only the 15th such traverse and the first to be completed by a Polish climber. 

Although he had a permit for the North Col route he did not have entry permission from Tibet into Nepal via Everest summit and he also failed to obtain a Nepalese permit for Everest. According to Janusz, he believes there are no borders on the mountains. He said he was well aware of immigration and climbing rules in Nepal and Tibet. “As there is no provision for the issuing of traverse permits in both countries, I had to traverse illegally for fulfillment of my lifetime dream,” the Polish economist claimed. He was also fined, deported and banned from mountaineering in Nepal for the next ten years. This also resulted in China closing the ‘big’ mountains on the north side of the border for the autumn 2017 season. In a statement China claimed “His action have caused the industry related internal rules and regulations to be adjusted and improved.” However it did not mention anything about the placing of the Tibetan flag as well as photos of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on top of Everest’s summit, images of which were widely circulated in social media during the spring climbing season.

Another situation that attracted a lot of media attention was whether or not the Hillary Step had collapsed as a result of the 2015 earthquake. Several rumours accompanied by photographic evidence suggested that it might have done but then this was contradicted by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism and the Nepal Mountaineering Association who insisted that because of the unusual snow fall and the fact that Everest had not been climbed since the earthquake the buildup of snow to the east had ‘buried’ the Step making it a lot easier.

Alpine Sange Sherpa in hospital in Kathmandu
after his rescue Facebook
Two very risky rescues were also carried out on Everest, although one was actually a recovery. In the first instance a young and relatively inexperienced Sherpa guide was leading his client towards the summit of Everest when the client experienced difficulties with his oxygen equipment and at the same time the weather started to deteriorate. The guide suggested they turn round, however the client insisted they continue. The result was that shortly afterward both collapsed in the snow above 8000m, the altitude that jets fly at! Ang Tshering Lama was completing his own expedition to the roof of the world when he came across the bodies in the snow, checking their life support systems Ang realized there was still life in the ‘bodies’.

Sange Sherpa's badly frostbitten fingers
Along with his two colleagues they roped the young guide and his client up and dragged them back down to a lower altitude where others were also able to assist before Ang was able to turn round to again ascend their route to the summit which they finally achieved a few days later.
Ang Lama during the rescue of Sange from above the
Balcony on Everest Ang Lama

The second instance concerned the death of Indian climber Ravi Kumar. Kumar was reported missing from about 8400m, above the Balcony on Everest’s South Col route, his body was eventually located after a 36 hour search. However at that altitude it is generally accepted that the retrieval of an injured or dead mountaineer is extremely difficult and hazardous.

This was to be the most complex rescue ever to have been carried out on Everest. This rescue, putting the lives of the rescue team in serious danger was ‘ordered’ by the Department of Tourism (Nepal) as the result of instructions from the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. It stated that the Indian government was providing all necessary support for the operation (apart from man-power) adding that the bereaved family wanted the body back home ‘at any cost’. Due to the risks involved in spending so much time at high altitude, many expeditions choose not to bring down the bodies of their members who die on Everest. Kumar had reached the summit with his guide. The Indian climber then collapsed during the descent at 8pm due to low energy and oxygen levels.

The client had forced his guide to push for the summit even though it was late in the day and getting benighted was a high probability, according to the expedition organiser. The guide left his client, Kumar, on the balcony making him comfortable and leaving auxiliary oxygen. The guide then descended to Camp IV to send back a rescue team as he himself was also suffering from frostbite and snow blindness could do little more to assist his client.

All Indian mountaineers (if in government service) received an enhance life style if they climb Everest, this pushes people to not only lie but to take extraordinary risk to secure promotion, enhanced pension, cars, houses or whatever the menu lists as appropriate. Obviously not every Indian mountaineer is subjected by ulterior motives, the majority enjoy ‘the games climbers play’. I think this situation needs doing away with, including the certification for all foreign summiteers. For the Nepalese staff this is a good addition to their professional bio-data so certification is right and proper but for Mr Mrs Average this means very little other than personal gratification, the individuals know the truth, why do they need a certificate, could it be anything to do with ego? Only those who climbed Everest before the days of the commercial expeditions have credit as true Everest mountaineers, and with a few modern day exceptions. We might get Everest back for the mountaineers then rather than to leave it in the hands of the gold diggers, how many times have we heard or read .. ‘I've climbed Everest, now I'm a motivational speaker, author!!!’
'I might be a bit late home tonight' Image TAAN

The monsoon has been very active this season. Landslips are a natural part of living in a hilly monsoon affected country however in Nepal’s case the government has not adequately prepared itself to tackle possible disasters in terms of precautionary measures and emergency response and relief systems. There still remains a huge coordination gap among government, non-governmental, humanitarian, inter-governmental and development agencies as well as the private sector in relation to tackling natural disasters, including floods and landslides across the country, according to a senior government official.
The Larcha Bridge over the Bhote Koshi RIver

An average of 300 people die each year due to floods and landslides in Nepal, which is ranked the 30th most vulnerable country in the world to floods and landslides. The country also regularly suffers annual economic damage exceeding US$ 10 million as a result of the monsoon. At the end of July ten landslips hit the Chitwan to Mugling highway in a single night, several cars and lorries were buried and a coach was pushed into the river and has as yet to be located. Despite the loss of property there were no reported injuries or deaths, all passengers and drivers managed to escape from their vehicles before the mud and rocks buried them.
The Larcha Bridge after the collapse

In Sindhupalchowk, the Larcha Bridge over Bhote Koshi River was destroyed and washed away by a landslide and as a result the Tatopani area has been isolated from the rest of the country. The bridge, a part of the Araniko Highway, (to the Friendship Bridge) was destroyed as a result of incessant rain throughout the previous day and the night. The landslip had originated approximately 200 m further up the hill side.


As usual, and periodically, various NGOs hold their elections for new Board Members. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has just gone through this process, which goes without saying had political connotations. There was an elected change of order this year so let’s hope things will move forward. One major issue for the new Committee is related to the new Federalism administration. The NMA was granted permission by the government in 1974 to collect peak royalties from foreigners for climbing Trekking Peaks. The original number of peaks open for this purpose was 18, this was then increased to 33 in later years. However, now the entire local administrative, ‘governments’, are insisting that they should keep the peak fees for local application. On the face of it if this money was to benefit the local people and resources then that would work fine, but the question is will itCould this be a question of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? Only time will tell.

Work on the long awaited new international airport in Pokhara began on the 2nd August 2017.This is more of an artistic impression than an architect’s actual drawing, however the authorities have high hopes of it meeting international standards not only in appearance but also in service. The aim is to open the west of Nepal up for tourism as well as to alleviate some of the pressure on Kathmandu. A lot of infrastructure is required before Pokhara, even as Nepal’s second city, will challenge Kathmandu for international arrivals. Completion date is provisionally set for 2021.
Keeping Pokhara in mind
It is reported that Fewa Lake shrank from 10 to 4.2 sq km in 46 years.

Locals show little concern or interest in the problem

It's been a few months since I last walked all the way along the lake front but recently I was surprised to see so many bars and the like built right up against the walkway. I was also surprised and worried to see so much rubbish getting blown onto the shore, obviously the issue is to solve the problem at source ‘Stop throwing rubbish into the lake’ but in the mean time why can't the powers that be scoop the rubbish up in a big net it’s not rocket science! Pokhara would lose so much of its attraction if the lake deteriorated into a murky pond and with the prospect of the Nepal's second airport, maybe this should be a considered priority by the Lakeside community, its authority and the NTB before all the new visitors see it and get a lasting first impression!

However, as long as the land owners are making money today, they don't care about tomorrow.... A fisherman reflects on how most locals don't care (lower image Jenny Caunt)

Meanwhile the Department of Immigration has released their forecast for arrival numbers for this year of 800,000 with an estimated 40,000 visiting from the USA. Tourist inflow to Nepal jumped by 46.8 per cent in the first six months of 2017, indicating signs of recovery in the tourism industry that was shattered by the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the subsequent trade disruptions. According to the Department of Immigration, the country received a total of 460,237 tourists in the first half of this year via air routes, against 313,512 in the corresponding period of the previous year. Tourist arrivals in the first half of this year surpassed the figure of 2014, before the earthquake struck when the country had only received 412,461 tourists who arrived in the first six months, traditionally the expedition and lower tourist arrival season. Certainly 2017 would appear, if things go to plan, to be our best Off The Wall Trekking season of the last five years.

The number of tourist visitors has also been projected well into the future. Since the earthquake both the public and private sectors have been proactive in selling Nepal and the private sector in particular in selling Nepal as a destination to invest in. This has all resulted in the estimated 1million visitor’s mark being crossed in 2022. This has resulted in an unprecedented boom in hotel construction that will add 4,000 star category rooms by 2020. However it has spread concern among the existing hoteliers who fear that the new entrants will eat into their markets.

There are obvious concerns over ‘sustainability’ and the fact that occupancy will depend very much on the continued political stability of the country, not to mention its geological stability and the development of other infrastructure to eliminate recognised bottlenecks.

As a result several genuine 5-star hotels have either been constructed and are now open for business or are under construction and are suppose to be ready for the next season. Pokhara has also two new 5-star hotels being built. The Fairfield Marriott, (open) the Sheraton (due to open June 2019), and the Aloft (open March 2018) already have a presence on the internet advertising their Thamel hotels. These are all developed on ‘brown field’ sites and I can only envisage that some of the other large construction sites are also ear-marked as hotels in the making.
A family menstruation shed often situated several hours
from the family home

Nepal criminalises isolation of menstruating women
According to the new law, people forcing women to follow the Hindu practice of ‘chhaupadi’ may face a jail term as a result of the Nepal parliament criminalizing the ancient Hindu practice that banishes women from the home to a small and often isolated hut during menstruation and after childbirth. The new law which will come into effect in 2018 stipulates a three-month jail sentence or a 3,000 rupee fine ($30), or both, for anyone forcing a woman to follow this custom. As in many other instances in Nepal many feel the new law is unenforceable because it is related to deeply entrenched beliefs that are harder to change. Nepal's patriarchal society plays a large part in the problem, it's the women and female elders who make some of the younger women follow the chhaupadi system, and this causes some of the problems, these women are not all persecuted and banished by men. It will take time for this law to be voluntarily implemented and at least a generation for the root cause to be understood and myths dispelled. This medieval Hindu practice has resulted in many deaths over the years. Now the law must be enforced alongside a program of education.

An income generating opportunity for all image Ian Wall
Many of you will know my affection for Dolpa and its people. As with many other areas of Nepal the local communities want to become more connected and included in their national and local affairs. Dolpa is no different. A new road is being pushed into Duani the administrative heart of the region. This will undoubtedly change the way of life and along with it will come positive aspects as well as some negative aspects. It will be at least a couple of years before the road is anywhere near ready to provide vehicular access to the region but now is the time to visit the remote part of Nepal before it is irreversibly changed.

I last visited the Dolpa at the end of June 2017, Juphal airport was closed for renovation – the old stone runway is now replaced with a pitch one nearly 50 years after the airstrip was built. I travelled with Chandra a local and old friend and he told me about his early life. ``I had heard stories of the long and at times difficult journey but I was keen to see the ‘modern’ world. We would travel along with other folk and porters carrying baskets of food and other essential items for our ‘expedition”.

``The region was rich in agricultural produce so the porters would carry plenty of food, each night we would leave a food dump at the resting place and continue on with our journey. By the time we arrived in Nepalgunj our baskets would be empty and we could make our purchases and prepare for our return journey”.

``We would set off early and follow the same trails back into Dolpa, every evening we would arrive at the resting place and find the hidden food, all we needed to do was to build a fire and prepared and eat the food.”

There was a loud explosion and when the dust had settled a large cliff several hundreds of feet high appeared through the haze covered in white ghost like figures scurrying around with large crow-bars, there was a mass of mobile ‘yellow hard hats’ giving the impression of attention to risk assessment and safety but on closer inspection it could be seen that the health and safety policy ended there, foot wear consisted of the ubiquitous ‘flip-flop’ and no other protective clothing. Many feet above the trail there was a busy workforce prizing and shovelling the demolished cliff into the void below that was shared with the new trail which in turn was situated several tens of feet above the river. Exposed? Just a tad! Dangerous? Just a tad! The only passing nod to travellers’ safety was a ‘stop – go’ worker who would monitor the passage of locals passing under the cliff face, however, this ‘nod’ to safety did not extend to the guy with the pneumatic drill who continued happily banging away literally overhead.Extracts from my blog - 'The Road to Dolpa' to read the full story visit
A family group all employed on the road works image Ian Wall

The Exchange Rate is at the moment hovering around 132.95/- to the pound; 102.27/- to the dollar, this is the highest it’s been for several months now, normally it’s around 130/- to the pound.

Over the last few months the roads of Thamel have been in a particularly ‘poor’ state. Many have flooded due to bad planning and other issues related to official projects. However one major contributor to this situation is the work being carried out in anticipation of the imminent supply of water as a result of the Melamche Water Supply Project.

Kathmandu suffers from an acute water shortage, not only has the population more the quadrupled in the last ten years and all drawing ground water from the valley but the major building programs have paid little attention to the old water courses and channels, the result being flooding, shortage of fresh water and disruption due to parked water tankers. Now with the end of the 27.58km Melanchi Tunnel nearing completion all the roads in town were dug up to lay water pipes, the work did not go according to plan and several sections had to be dug up several times. Over 23km of 27km tunnel have already been completed. According to officials, 99 percent work of the water treatment plant in Sundarijal which has the capacity of holding 85 million litres of water is also completed. 

This multi-million dollar project (c$464million) has been funded by multiple bilateral and multilateral donors as well as the Nepal government. It is hoped the project will supply clean drinking water for Kathmandu residents by the end of 2017. This is a 19 years old project which has yet to be completed due to the civil war, local agitation and several contractor changes at the hands of at least 19 different governments that have changed over the term of the work. 

I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer, I’m off to complete some work in Shimla for a couple of weeks, a new area for me to explore!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Road to Dolpa

Nepal has been an area defined on the world map for centuries however almost up to the end of the 18th Century is was regarded by many as only being the Kathmandu Valley.

The Treaty of Sugauli was drawn up between the British East India Company and the King of Nepal following the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814 -1816 on 2 December 1815 but it was not ratified until the 4 March 1816.  The Treaty established the new boundary line of Nepal post war, and called for territorial concessions in which some of the territories controlled by Nepal would be given to British India and also for the establishment of a British residency in Kathmandu, it also allowed Britain to recruit Gurkha soldiers for military service. 
Anglo-Nepalese War 1814 - 1816
Under the treaty, about one-third of the Nepalese controlled territory was lost including all the territories that the King of Nepal had won in wars during the previous 25 years or so, areas such as Sikkim in the east across to the Garhwal Kingdom in the west. Some of the Terai lands were also restored to Nepal in 1816 while more were restored again in 1860 to thank Nepal for helping the British to suppress the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Old maps show the area then known as Nepal spreading well to the west of the present day boundary. The oldest written, and thus officially recognised as being fairly reliable chronicles of Nepal’s ancient history only date back to the 14th century. One of the first entries being an inscription associated with King Manadeva 1, who reigned from 465 to 505 AD and who was from the Licchavi Dynasty that ruled Nepal from the second to the ninth centuries. King Manadeva was the legendary builder of the Boudhanath Stupa near Kathmandu.

A map showing the extent of Nepal reaching far across Northern India

In Nepal the Hindu princes eventually succumbed to the expanding power of the Gorkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Modern Nepal can, consequently trace its origins back to the Gorkha Empire. Many of the soldiers fighting for the Gorkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah, were the Gurung people and were rewarded for their efforts by being paid with the spoils of war hence the Gurung ethnic group is one of the most widely dispersed ethnic groups in Nepal.

The famous image of King Prithvi Narayan Shah
For most of its history Nepal has been isolated from the north by the mighty Himalaya and from the south by the Ganges and from the rest of the world as a result of the seclusion imposed by the Kings of Nepal in fear of the British in India to the south. While the rest of the modern world developed Nepal lived in isolation. The British were exploring the high peaks of the Himalaya throughout their Indian empire and in Kashmir and Baltistan to the west, and Darjeeling and Sikkim in the east. They gained permission from the Tibetan government to approach Everest from the north, however, Nepal’s borders, containing some of the jewels of the Himalaya, remained firmly closed. 

Dolpa, one of the most fascinating areas to the west of Mustang, consists of a maze of valleys and mountains. To the immediate north is Tibet and to the south the Dhaulagiri Himalaya. Communication in this region is difficult and travelers have to cross over several 5,000 metre passes to enable them to access neighbouring valleys. Consequently, the people from this region have been little affected by the outside world. Although these people were largely illiterate and appeared somewhat untidy they were at one time by no means poor. They grew barley, potatoes and wheat, and bred cattle and sheep, deriving a good income from selling their livestock. The people of Dolpa used to take their cattle north where the Tibetan Drokpa tribesmen used to graze them on good grassland in exchange for grain and a share of the animal products. 

Until the end of the 18th century Dolpa was a territory of Tibet and was ruled by the powerful flanking Kingdom of Lo and princedom of Jumla Dolpa. Later Dolpa came under the province of Lo. After the union of Nepal at the start of the 19th century the coalition with Lo was ripped apart as the border between Nepal and Tibet was redrawn with Dolpa being located on the Nepal side of the line. For a long time the population of northern Dolpa consisted of an ethnic group called Bhotia with their Tibetan origins, but, after the occupation of Tibet and the uprising in Lhasa in 1959/60 Tibetan refugees moved further south into the areas of Lower Dolpa. The Dolpo-Bhotia and Tibetans lived mainly in the villages and subsist on agriculture, trade and animal husbandry. 

Dolpa is the largest national park in Nepal and is situated in the Far Western Region
Dolpa was opened for the foreign tourists in 1951 which initiated changes in several regions of the district. Because of the allegations that the Tibetan Khampas (rebels fighting for a free Tibet) were taking shelter in the region, Dolpa was then closed to foreign tourists in 1974. The danger being that the Republic of China could claim its former territory justified the restriction during that time. In 1989 the southern regions of Dolpa, Lower Dolpa, Phoksundo, Tichurong and Dho Tarap were once again opened for the tourists but the upper region remained closed.

Residents of Upper Dolpa who originally came from Tibet, in fact these people do not speak Nepalese even in 2016©Ian Wall

The mass influx of the Tibetan people into Dolpa not only resulted in lost grazing facilities in Tibet, but also of an over-grazing of Dolpa’s own limited grassland which was then being used by the Tibetan stock coming south. As a result, the number of animals was greatly reduced and the once substantial agricultural and animal business is now in rapid economic decline. This has had a devastating effect on all the people living in this area and there are many communities who are now malnourished and existing just above starvation point.

By the early 1960s the airstrip at Juphal had been constructed but this had little real effect on the region as it was mainly used by government officials and businessmen, the local people could not afford to travel by air and there was, at the time, no air-freight services. Although Dolpa was self sufficient for food the local people had to travel to Nepalgunj for clothing, iron goods and cooking pots, a return journey lasting at least four weeks.

Juphal airstrip in the early days now in 2017 it is being 'black-topped' 
During my recent visit to Dolpa I too travelled the old route from Nepalgunj, although now this avoids the constant climbing and descending of the steep valley hill sides. These trails, in places, were only a few inches wide and would require the use of a rope to safeguard passage where a slip would result in a long fall over the river worn cliffs into the fast flowing Thuli Bweri Nadi below, often resulting in the death. 

The route begins in Nepalgunj and basically follows the river systems north-east into the middle hills via Devisthan, Jajarkot and Jyamire before following the Thuli Bheri Nadi into Dunai.

Our route basically follows the valleys running out of Nepalgunj in a NE direction towards Dunai
The reason for my overland route to Dunai was due to the fact that in 2017 approximately 50 years after the airstrip was built it is only just getting tarmaced, or ‘black topped’, as the locals would say. Even when this modernization work has been completed Dolpa will still be very much at the beck and call of the weather as to whether the flights will actually operate to schedule, it is also an expensive option for locals and difficult when the flight operators give priority to dollar tickets. 

Chandra, manager of the Blue
Sheep lodge©Ian Wall
I traveled with Chandra who recounted his journeys along the original high valley route with his grandfather. ‘I had heard stories of the long and at times difficult journey but I was keen to see the ‘modern’ world. We would travel along with other village people and porters carrying baskets of food and other essential items for our ‘expedition’. At that time the region was rich in agricultural produce so the porters would carry plenty of food and each night we would leave a food dump at the resting place and continue on with our journey. By the time we arrived in Nepalgunj the baskets were empty and we could make our purchases and prepare for the return journey. We would set off early and follow the same trails back into Dolpa, every evening we would arrive at the resting place and find the hidden food, all we needed to do was to build a fire, prepared and eat the food. The whole trip would take us around four weeks.

As in many rural areas of Nepal new roads are being pushed into remote villages and valleys and Dolpa is no different. With foreign financial aid, local workers, civil engineers and the Nepal Army all are slowly carving a way through the narrow gorges and steep valley sides in an effort to provide alternative access to this very remote region.

This 'ledge' will eventually be carved out down to almost river level, but for the moment
provides an exposed traverse line into the higher valley. The yellow square to the left of the
 image is a compressor, the pipes run all the way up to the works of the ledge ©Ian Wall
In June 2017 the road was motorable as far as Jyamire. However the bridges are not yet built so although you can travel by jeep the journey requires five changes of vehicle with the linking gaps having to be walked crossing the rivers via Nepali wire bridges. June of course is at the start of the monsoon season and Lower Dolpa is subjected to heavy rain causing the road to turn into a quagmire of slippery mud which often manages to turn forward momentum into downward momentum!

Heavy rain causing the road to turn into a quagmire of slippery mud which often manages to turn forward momentum into downward momentum! ©Ian Wall
After two days of travelling and with a definite lack of sleep, unreliable jeep links we finally reached the end of the last jeep section at Jyamire where a bed can be found in very local accommodation but don’t expect too many hours of ‘shut-eye’. Despite the bouncing and banging, pushing and shoving of the previous two days the following day is the definite high point and crux of the journey. The first five or six hours consist of typical Nepali trekking, good trails, occasional tea houses, plenty of locals to chat to and all completed in the gentle rolling foot hills. However, before long things take a dramatic change. 

Workers above, walkers below, the guy standing near the edge of the worker group is still using his pneumatic drill
as people pass underneath him! ©Ian Wall
We were soon made aware of ‘what was around the next bend’ when we heard a loud explosion followed by an enormous dust cloud that seemed to hang over the valley for an eternity. We were heading up the trail accompanied my many fellow travelers who had been with us during our previous days jeep exploits. Many of these people had previously walked out of Dolpa via this route and were eager to advise us that ‘this way very, very dangerous!’ I have often heard the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘difficult’ being confused but in this case both were used in the appropriate way. 

Workers perched in precarious situations with little in the way of safety gear, but that is also
the trail for the local people to follow.. and trekkers at this time of year ©Ian Wall
When the dust had settled a large cliff several hundreds of feet high appeared through the haze covered in white ghost like figures scurrying around with large crow-bars, there was a mass of mobile ‘yellow hard hats’ giving the impression of attention to risk assessment and safety but on closer inspection it could be seen that the health and safety policy ended there, foot wear consisted of the ubiquitous ‘flip-flop’, no other protective clothing. Many feet above the trail there was a busy workforce prizing and shoveling the demolished cliff into the void below that was shared with the new trail which in turn was situated several tens of feet above the river. Exposed? Just a tad! Dangerous? Just a tad! The only passing nod to travelers’ safety was a ‘stop – go’ worker who would monitor the passage of locals passing under the cliff face, however, this ‘nod’ to safety did not extend to the guy with the pneumatic drill who continued happily banging away literally overhead. Many of the new cliff traversing paths were of a temporary nature, they were narrow often outward sloping and always covered in deep rock dust making it difficult to judge foot placements and almost impossible to see as every foot placement caused a small dust storm of its own, the whole situation was compounded by the frightened mules who naturally would stay in the danger zone for as little time as possible, speed, was for them, more important than personal safety.

A young guy in charge of the pneumatic drill.. with no safety clothing ©Ian Wall
And so it continued for the next six or seven hours, ascending, traversing and descending narrow paths, dodging falling rocks, avoiding fast moving mules, always with a wary eye on the exposed drop to one side or the other and blatantly aware of the strong gusts of wind that would spring up from nowhere and cause immediate loss of vision, dust storms and dislodge rocks. Resting was not an option. One of the mule boys admitted that the constant movement of animals was not for any commercial reason it was just so the mules could get use to the environment and learn the correct route through the treacherous landscape.

Work - a family affair ©Ian Wall
The civilian work force would start the initial uncovering and demolition of the river side cliffs, the army would then move in with their detonators and explosives, immediately the denotations were complete the civilians would return and start to reduce the piles of fallen rock. This process would be repeated several times until the cliff was far enough removed from the river to allow a road width of ‘flat’ rock terrace eventually allowing vehicular access up the next few kilometers of valley. I was surprised at the amount of heavy machinery that had all been air-lifted onto site, tens of compressors, kilometers of compressor pipes, pneumatic drills, JCB diggers, tractors and jeeps.

This woman was perched over 100 feet above the river prizing loose rock of a recently
blown section of the cliff ©Ian Wall
The new road will of course bring changes to this once remote destination and in my opinion one of the most unique regions of Nepal. Immediate benefit is that nearly all of the civilian work force is recruited from local people and of course they will be earning money.

A Welcome haven for many a Dolpa traveller ©Ian Wall
My only hope is that the powers that be take a long hard look at other developed tourist regions in Nepal and learn from their mistakes and only adopt the best of practices with a specific focus on protecting the environment, cultures and traditions, the very fabric of tourist attractions in Nepal and Dolpa in particular.

To conclude,  the Blue Sheep Inn is undergoing a big refurbishment system under the watchful eye or the original owner's son and daughter, a new kitchen, dining room, additional bedrooms, several fitted with attached bathroom facilities are all expected to come on-line within the next few months.

A young man showing his girl a good time! ©Ian Wall
At times it was difficult to breath.©Ian Wall

And even more difficult to see! ©Ian Wall
Dunai nestling in the bend of the Bheria Nadi ©Ian Wall

The start of the final 5 hour jeep journey, we had the dubious honour of being allowed to travel
during the hours of darkness, something normally not permitted ©Ian Wall
The last raise of the setting sun kissing the tops of the Mukuteshwar Himal ©Ian Wall
The older generation view the new developments with mixed feelings. ©Ian Wall
One of the many local lodges found along the way ©Ian Wall
The lead mule is always revered by the rest of the mule train and he is decorated accordingly
©Ian Wall
I always enjoy my time in Dolpa!©Ian Wall
The 'Team'.. next time Dolpa! ©Ian Wall

An Attempt on Danphe Sail, Dolpa 2016

There is Dolpa, Lower Dolpa and Upper Dolpa..but then there is the real Dolpa Much has been written about Dolpa and many have trekked ...