The weather couldn’t be any better for the first few days of the trek. We had the pleasure of clear skies and strong sunshine, accompanied by a cool, refreshing breeze. I wore shorts for the first two days and couldn’t quite believe that I was above 2000 metres. Sun cream was needed to protect ourselves from the harmful rays, especially now we were over a mile closer to the sun. This wasn’t how I imagined trekking in the Himalaya. Pine trees covered the hills. A fast-flowing river cut through the valley. It reminded me of the Canadian Rockies, with its sweeping valleys and tree covered hills. Dolpa has a vast array of landscapes. With each turn of the valley, you are presented with a new magnificent sight. Rickety bridges cross the valley often. I was surrounded by snow topped peaks, towering to up to 7000 metres. The beauty is almost too pure to describe.
These first few days trekking were relatively easy. We followed a track that was an old road and didn’t climb a great deal. Following the river valley was brilliant. There is something pure about following a river that never fails to put a smile on my face. Knowing that you have food and water close at hand and the refreshing lure of a river swim is reassuring.
Nothing beats a river swim
I am a sucker for a river swim. For the first 6 days, I had a swim every day. Only once we started getting high up into the snow line did I take a break from my daily dips. The water was always ice cold. It was also unbelievably fresh. Especially at the higher altitudes, the freshness and coldness were strongly correlated. I got pretty good at swimming in these ice cold waters.
I’ve read that there are benefits to a daily exposure to ice-cold water. Some of the health benefits can be almost unbelievable. If you want to read about cold exposure and its benefits, check out the Wim Hof method.
In a remote place
Civilisation was left behind the moment I left the town of Juphal. I didn’t see a motor vehicle for 13 days (other than an emergency helicopter). This was a welcome break from the world as we knew it. My mobile phone lost its signal fairly quickly. I didn’t even attempt to connect to the internet as it was pointless. There was no more wifi cafes or data roaming. Instead of instantly turning to our mobile devices for entertainment or relief from boredom, we would (heaven forbid!) talk to each other. If we wanted some space, we would read. I got through 7 books throughout the expedition. This is more books than I have read throughout the rest of 2017 so far.
I never really considered it before I departed, but this expedition was a welcome break from the connected, Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-WhatsApp world that we live in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy using social media. But I enjoyed not using it more. Social media has its benefits. I can connect to old friends and even make new ones with a few swipes of a screen. It can be entertaining, inspiring and engaging but it shouldn’t control our lives. Most young people have never lived without it (now I’m starting to sound like an old man!). I see them in train stations and shopping centres, glued to their screens. Swiping through what will be mostly irrelevant social feeds of cat videos and their friends flipping water bottles.
The people I met in Dolpa don’t have facebook. They don’t have an Instagram account. Hell, if they did I’m sure they would be flooded with followers as they live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. What they do have though is a strong sense of community. On evenings, families gather in one room with a fire burning in the centre. They all help to prepare the meal. Be it collecting fuel for the fire, preparing chia (tea) or cooking the dhal bhat (rice and lentils). Animals roam free in the villages. Children learn how to handle pack animals, start fires and look after themselves at an early age. They are more street wise than any wannabe gangsters on the streets of our British cities.
There were a couple of moments when I realised how remote we actually were. The first came when an elderly lady asked our guide for some eye drops. Her eyes looked pretty sore and she could hardly open them. I doubt eye drops would have actually solved the problem. Only provided a short, welcome relief. Our guide stopped, asked the woman to sit and administered the drops. I asked if there was a local hospital and was told there was one in the next village but there was no doctor.
In the UK we moan about the NHS without realising how lucky we actually are. Yes, there are plenty of issues and problems with healthcare in the UK, but when compared to rural Nepal it pales into insignificance.
The Nepal Department of Health Services reported in 2015 that a child born in Kathmandu has 82 years of average life expectancy whereas a child born in the remote district of Jumla has only 36 years. This is crazy but having seen how remote these villages are it is not hard to imagine.
Another stat – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – for every 10,000 people, there is only one doctor in Nepal. The WHO state that there should be a provision of 15 doctors for every 10,000 people.
I think we should count ourselves lucky that in the UK we have some of the best healthcare in the world and we should strive to help those that are less fortunate than ourselves. This could mean helping in a number of different ways, be it charity work, donating or offering your skills and expertise.
Meeting the only other foreigner of the expedition
During the 13 days in the Dolpa region, I only met one other foreigner. His name was Alex Conty and he is walking 1700km – the length of the Himalaya in Nepal – in an attempt to raise £100,000 for children affected by autism in Nepal and the UK. Even more impressive is that he is attempting the feat alone with minimal support from porters and guides.
Alex was just past half-way when I saw him. He seemed in great spirits considering how far he had already walked. His guide had to be evacuated from the mountains just as we met him as he was coughing up blood. This shows how difficult walking the length of Nepal can be. It was strange to meet a Westerner in such a remote spot in the Himalaya. Even though I had been away from civilisation for such a shorter period of time than Alex, we still had a lot in common. It was nice to share our stories and hear about his experience so far.
I wish Alex the best of luck for the rest of his challenge. You can support Alex by donating at his website: https://www.himalayasforautism.org.uk
If you enjoyed part two of my adventure in Nepal, you can sign up for updates for future posts below. This is only part two of what will be a number of posts about the Dolpa region in Nepal.