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  • Ben Church

Return to Civilization

Welp, I’m back in Kathmandu! We arrived here Monday as we spent a few days in Pokhara over the weekend after completing the Annapurna Circuit. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad to be back in Kathmandu. This is the same city I couldn’t wait to get out of just 2 months ago. I mean the dust and smog are still here so give me another few days and I’ll be ready to blow this popsicle stand.

little chitlins in the town of Tatopani



last selfie before we left for the pass

It’s been great catching up with the Simon and Helen (two of the docs from the other clinic) as well as meeting some of the docs from Everest Base Camp ER this season. Carlo will be here in a few days as he is running the Everest Marathon. The Base Camp ER experience sounds like a pretty cool gig, maybe someday I’ll be writing a new blog titled “Emergencies at Everest”.


The trek around the rest of the circuit was great: no altitude sickness, great weather, and even better views. I hiked up to Thorong Phedi at 4500m with the team but then made a decision I’ll never regret. I took a pony named Aakash up to the top. Man was it great. I was talking to the lodge owners Kate and Kumar who I mentioned in my blog a month or so ago when I hiked up to the Thorong La pass and they said “ya, definitely take the pony, no charge!”. I couldn’t resist. It was so much fun and also WAY easier than hiking obviously. I got to spend almost 2 hours at the top which was great. The guy leading the pony in the pictures is Gupta. He was so fast, like we got to the top in 2.5 hours when it took me 4 hours before. Pretty incredible.

view from the hotel in Yak Kharka

pony view near the top

pony view near the top

me, Aakash, and Gupta in all our pony glory

Aakash!

my location at 9AM May 21, 2018

accurate portrait of me and Aakash that Liz drew. (I did get a little ridicule from the group for taking a pony)

Thorong La part deux

the team at the top!

Also going up to the pass we were able to see the yarsagumba up close and personal in one of the villages. The man had collected about 2 kilos of the stuff. That amount is going to net him about $30,000+ (wiki here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_sinensis)

yarsagumba, really expensive worm fungus

After going up over the pass, our first stop was Muktinath. I had been looking forward to this town as it is a very holy site for both Hindu’s and Buddhists. There is a large temple complex that includes a temple to Vishnu, a massive 100ft Buddha over looking the valley, and another very holy temple with 108 water spots surrounding a spout that is simultaneously spitting fire and water at the same time. There were beautiful trees and bird songs enveloping the whole area. So nice. The indian prime minister Modi had just made a visit there maybe 1-2 weeks before we left, luckily his visit didn’t coincide with our own cause the whole complex was closed off to the public while he was there. The town itself was a bit of shock when we descended into it. I was so used to snow capped peaks, small villages, and more yaks than people. That all changed in the town/city area of Muktinath. It was really crowded and dusty. There were also lots of Indian Hindus who were making the pilgrimage from their home countries at sea level to the temple at 3800m and getting pretty bad altitude illnesses a result. The town with it’s stucco buildings and packed in street vendors felt more like a mix of Mexico and India than Nepal.

the descent on the otherside

downtown Muktinath

little chitlins in Muktinath

massive Buddha statue

Also, kind of a funny story from my time in Muktinath. I hadn’t showered for about 4 days by the time I got there so I really couldn’t wait to get clean. The lodge owner turned on the hot water and everyone showered but I waited until the night as I wanted to get to the temple with the porters (Omi and Chandra) before the sun went down. Well I got back from the temple and it was time for dinner, so by the time I got into the shower it was nighttime. The Nepali lodge owner had showed me how to used the shower earlier in the day, explaining it all in Nepali, while pointing to all these different knobs. I figured it was easy enough to figure out how to use a shower on my own so I just smiled and said “tk tk” whenever she looked at me. Well the shower experience turned into a small nightmare. The shower had 3 knobs, 2 handles for different pipes, and two places for the water to come out. There was a bucket full of cold water already filled from the small drips that had collected from that day. First the shower was cold, then it was hot, like REALLY REALLY hot. Well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Scalding, burning hot. No matter what I did I couldn’t get the cold water on, I turned all the knobs, all the handles, everything. Meanwhile I’m in my birthday suit with soap all over myself. I decided to mix the really hot water with the really cold water in the bucket and took a bucket shower. No problem. Only thing is the power in the town went out in the middle of all this. So basically I kept burning myself on the hot water in the dark and had to settle for a bucket shower. When the power finally came back on at the end of the shower my whole room was completely obscured with steam. I mean I couldn’t even see my clothes right in from of me….there was that much steam. Ah well, pretty on par for the course here.


We descended into the valley along beautiful stone hut towns, endless fields, and increasingly warming weather. By the time we got to about 2000m the valley was nothing like I expected. Lush tropical rain forest like valleys with exotic bird songs and plant life displaying every shade of green: emerald, jade, aquamarine, bright lime, olive. It was incredibly beautiful. There was also this really interesting plant that grew wild everywhere.....

beautiful streets of Marpha

birds eye view od Marpha

Kagbeni

downtown Tatopani

interesting plant that grew EVERYWHERE

Our team did begin to fracture and splinter a little near the end of the trip. Liz and I decided to take a jeep out from Tatopani while the rest of the group went on to spend 1 more night before we all met back up in Pokhara. The jeep was supposed to take 4-5 hours from Tatopani to Pokhara, but we’re on Nepali time here! The actual trip length was about 10 hours. Oy vey. We got delayed almost immediately after leaving Tatopani as they literally had to build a road before we could go on. I mean there are construction delays in America but usually there is at least a road to travel on. Here we waited for 3 hours for a dirt road to be built, likely from a landslide the previous day or so. Along the way we stopped at a mechanic shop so they could look at the front right tire, that took about an hour. A short while later that same tire popped and went flat. The tire change took another hour. Oh well, we eventually arrived in Pokhara.

3 hour delay building a road out of the mountains

We spent the 2 days in Pokhara indulging in delicious food, wearing shorts and t-shirts as opposed to down jackets and thermal underwear, and generally just relaxing. I visited a temple to Durga (wiki here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durga) and had a few things blessed there to bring back to my mother in law and also visited the peace pagoda on top the hill in town. Soon enough it was time to head to Kathmandu, this time we splurged the extra 500 rupees and got on a tourist bus with air conditioning, very much worth it.

Pokhara Peace Pagoda

We have a banquet tonight to celebrate the end of another successful season. We treated over 300 patients at Manang and lectured to over 1000 about altitude illness and safety. Pheriche treated about 560 patients and lectured to over a thousand just like us. Tonight will all be about good food, drinks, and swapping stories like why exactly that yak fell into the septic tank and where cheese dog may be now.


I’ll be taking it easy over the next few days before heading back to America this Friday! EEEEEEE! So excited. Stay tuned as I’ll be making one last post before leaving Nepal reflecting on my time here and trying to put into words some of my thoughts and feelings on the whole experience as a whole. Thanks everyone for reading and can’t wait to see friends and family back home!

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I'm Ben! I'm an Emergency Room doctor in Massachusetts who loves backpacking. I'm spending 3 months in Manang, Nepal at 11,500ft above sea level from March to June 2018 volunteering with the Himalayan Rescue Association. This is my blog about the experience.

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