Early morning rain soon cleared to a cool cloudy day. We set off early, with the sound of the rushing Dudh Kosi river beside us, fresh from the Khumbu glacier. Vistas of river, trees, stone walls, neat fields of cabbages and corn, sal trees, bamboo, wild ginger, wild raspberries and strawberries, fields of corn five feet high, pines, epiphytes, ferns, mosses: just stunning.
Yesterday we stopped for lunch at the Wind Horse café high above the river, a small Buddhist shrine on the shelf and an ICIMOD poster with a Chenrezig quote asking passing travellers to look after our common environment. The Sagarmatha Pollution Prevention Committee (SPCC) has built small stone rubbish bins along the path for recycling paper, tin and rubbish.
We had five river crossings on the way to Namche Bazaar. Floods, rockfalls and changing river conditions take their toll on these suspension bridges every year. Lunch was at Chhumoara (at 2760m) before crossing a high suspension bridge at Monjo, completed only two months ago as insurance against the lower bridge being swept away.
On the far side we began our big climb, zig-zagging up steadily but steeply nearly 680 metres. We stopped at the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park to admire the 3D model of the region, our guides – Tirtha and Temba – pointing out various routes up Everest (Sagarmatha) and Island Peak (Imja Tse) and where the glacier lakes are building up.
Eventually at 3440m Namche appeared through the trees. We were lucky to see mountain pheasants, the male a bright flash of blue against a brown rock.
We had many conversations on the move and during our breathing spots. I am sad to learn how far roads have encroached into the Annapurna region, almost to Manang on the Marsyangdi side and all the way to Muktinath, a pilgrimage site sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists at the headwaters of the Kali Gandaki River, where a leafy poplar grove is said to have sprung from the staves of pilgrims.
Building roads is seen as an important sign of progress, opening up regions to development. However, it seems counterproductive in many ways. It has the reduced the traditional 21 days spent by tourists trekking around Annapurna into a quick 5-8 day round trip, reducing money going into the local economy.
I’ve been interested to hear our Nepali travelling companions mentioning that blasting and heavy road-making equipment may be contributing to the increase in landslides. The sheer cost of building and maintaining roads in the highly unstable montane environment must be exhorbitant. While not wanting to impose heavy loads and long walks onto the porters of the future, I’d be interested to learn what proportion of Nepalese GDP is ploughed into roads and how this compares with expenditure on the population’s health and well-being.