I left off in my last Column lamenting that our amateur pan-democrats lack principle and discipline. I then flew off to Kathmandu and began some serious trekking with Su from Pokhara, planning to be at Annapurna base camp (ABC) in a week before trekking down to a posh hotel in Pokhara in a further five days, ending with some sightseeing in Kathmandu before coming back this morning. I am glad that we came back in one piece; no bones broken and no apparent injuries; Su weighed in the same while I lost 7 pounds.
We had no access to Wi-Fi and internet on the mountains, but Su began to wire back photos and write-ups as soon as we checked in Pokhara to keep our friends abreast of our well-being, so that I might not be able to tell you more facts than she had already said in her releases. Nevertheless, I am much more of a words – as opposed to graphics – person, and I would try to share my thoughts in these columns, for those who can find the time to read.
First, why Nepal. Su has been talking about taking me to Nepal for trekking ever since we met. This is on her bucket list. She was in Nepal the first time some 20 years ago, on her own. It was then poor country and rather unsafe: the porters and guides wore sandals and no socks, and they spoke very little to no English; there was no electricity in most places; no toilets and no toilet rolls; no clean blankets or pillows; food was scarce and unclean; water was unclean and could not be taken unless after iodine purification or boiling; and so on. But the place was clean and the air pristine; the sceneries were breathtaking, that is if you can get up there; everywhere was picturesque and postcard quality; things were cheap, so that she had two to three persons – porters and guides – watching over her when she ate; the temples in cities were beautiful and everywhere; the carpets, tapestries, handicraft and artefacts were aplenty and cheap; and she had always wanted to return to the place when she could find the time and the company.
A lot has changed in the past 20 years: there have been earthquakes, the last one on 25 April 2015 being particularly devastating resulting in many changes, some rather drastic; there were major political and economic change; the people, at least some of them, are more educated and sophisticated, albeit still very poor. Per capital GDP was around US$50 in the 1960s, rising to around US$220 in the late 1990s to almost US700 in 2015. Today, big cities in Nepal such as Kathmandu have electricity while the townships in the mountains are powered by hydro-electricity and solar energies, which in turn means that our daily activities are very much affected by the weather. Now, Su’s perception of Nepal had affected to some extent how we packed for the trip, a point to which I would come back later.
Su began talking about this trip in serious terms after we returned from Whistler last year when we had more than 60 days of skiing. Trekking requires reasonably sound body and mind to start with, and I am not getting younger. Fortuitously, I had some experience of trail walking dated back to the early 90s, and I have been going to the gym rather religiously in the past two to three years. To prepare for the trip, we went to see the government travel doctor at the Department of Health, where we were vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid and were prescribed acetazolamide tablets (Diamox) against high altitude sickness for we would reach over 3,700 to 4,200 metres for a few days. We then borrowed from Su’s sister her almost new backpack, first aid kit, hiking sticks and other handy equipment. Six weeks before the trip, we acquired new and expensive hiking boots and broke them in. We also packed almost new sleeping bags which were manufactured for conditions below -9 degrees Celsius. Su also bought new air pillows.
Su’s plan was that we would sleep with our clothes on, complete with thermal underwear within the sleeping bags, with our documents and valuables tugged inside and torches or overhead lamps handy so that we would be ever ready for our nature calls during the night when everywhere would be pitch dark.
We would each pack a full backpack which the porter would carry during trekking and a day bag which we are to carry ourselves in which we would have toilet rolls, surgical masks, wet sceptic tissues, heat packs, chocolates, biscuits, cheese, hip flasks with whiskies, water and backpack covers. Then we each carry our own camera, batteries and accessories. So much for the preparation.