Friday, 5 October 2007

To the Himalayas

Last year (2006) Val from the Newport Soto Zen group and her husband Alex undertook a hike into the foothills of the himalayas. What follows is Val's account of their visit with some amazing photos.

Kangchenjunga and the Singalila Ridge Trek, October 2006
Community Action Treks Ltd.

Community Action Treks was founded by Doug Scot, who reached the summit of Everest in 1975 with Dougal Haston. Money raised from these trekking holidays is used to provide schools, health centres, employment and clean water supplies for villages in Nepal.

We spent 24 days with a group of experienced travellers and mountaineers and were looked after very well by Raja of “Adventure Mania” (based in Kolkata) assisted by two teams of porters from Nepal and Sikkim. Accommodation ranged from the best hotels to wooden huts and camping. We initially flew to Kolkata and then from there to Bagdogra in northern West Bengal, from there driving to Darjeeling. After walking on jeep tracks on the Singalila Ridge which runs along the border with Nepal. We then drove to Sikkim (now part of India) where we walked up to 4 900m at Goecha La pass 5Km from Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain.

Most of the people Alex and I met were Indian Hindus, Nepalese porters and Buddhists from Tibet.

Highlights of the tour.

We saw Kangchenjunga for the first time at dawn in Darjeeling. The peaks appear above cloud level and seem to belong to the sky instead of rising from the earth.

We visited many Buddhist monasteries, both of the Gelukpa (yellow hat school) and Nyingmapa schools (the oldest of the four major Tibetan schools). They were well maintained each with approximately 50 monks and a school for the young novices. Prayer wheels set in the outer walls with the interior walls being painted with bright colours from floor to ceiling. At the front a large Buddha statue would be flanked by statues of important Bodhisattvas. Eventually we discovered that we could go upstairs in the monasteries where plainer rooms and libraries could be seen. We could often hear the monks chanting in a separate room off of a courtyard. Only once did I get to talk to one of the monks, who had very good English.

Whilst staying in a small hilltop village I was very lucky to sit with a small group of monks who were chanting and performing rituals for a sick, elderly lady. Although I couldn't talk to them it was a great joy to sit with them chanting and observe the preparations for ancient ceremonies, using rice to create pictures on paper laid on the floor. Tiny models of people and yaks were then placed on top of the rice picture.

Another joy was to see the long strips of colourful prayer flags in the mountains and small towns. We saw a ceremony in which new prayer flags were placed at Tenzing Norgay's grave.

The mountain roads were very dangerous and like the vehicles , were continually being repaired. They are often closed during the monsoon season when it is particularly dangerous for the children walking to school.

The poverty and density of the crowds were a culture shock in Kolkata, it's very difficult to travel in the city without a guide.

Valerie & Alex

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