Dhaka, Kathmandu and all sorts of insanity
Apr 06, 2002
Palau Weh, Indonesia
I spent 5 weeks there, it definitely needs a journal entry, but I'm lacking the motivation right now. I'm going to write about other, more recent adventures and eventually fill in 5 weeks of relaxation and diving.
A preview of India. The discount flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu conveniently has a 15 hour stopover in Dhaka. Convenient that is only if you want to catch a quick glimpse of Bangladesh. I did. Someone described Bangladesh as "India, only more so". 113 million people packed into a little dot on the map. Some travelers hate India. Most describe it as an amazing experience, but exhausting. With our minibus to and from the airport and luxury (relatively) hotel we were almost completed isolated from the hordes. Almost completely. Here is a quick summary of my Bangladesh experience. Arrive in the airport with hordes of people crammed against the arrivals gate, drive past crowds of people filling the streets, sleep in our very empty western hotel, fight our way through a massive traffic jam of pedicabs and tuk-tuks and the fly out.
A preview of India indeed. People everywhere and general mayhem, but I think that I'm going to like it. I contemplated staying in Bangladesh to try to see some tigers. There are apparently a lot as they have killed 22 people already this year (a new record). I didn't contemplate staying for long. India is coming up soon enough, I'm excited about Nepal which also has some tigers and I've got a mountain to go climb.
I had my 3 great goals - swimming from Alcatraz, completing an ironman and climbing to Everest base camp. I really wanted to limit myself to these 3 goals realizing that any more difficult challenge would undoubtedly contain an even great risk of loss of life or limb.
Well, from the moment that Dave or Marc (both claim credit) said "You should climb Kilimanjaro", the concept of stopping after the 3 goals was shot all to hell. The highest point in Africa. The tallest free standing mountain in the world. Wow! And it seems doable - It's only 500 meters higher than Everest base camp. I do of course realize that this could lead to other stupider, or at the least more dangerous, goals. There is the well publicized climbing of the 7 highest summits of the 7 continents. It isn't my goal yet, but I realize that it could be someday. I scare myself.
War Zone Tourism
Speaking of danger - It wasn't my plan to hang out in lots of war zones. I was just looking for cheap interesting places without tons of tourists. For the most part, these places seem to happen to be war zones. From Aceh with it's 35 years of constant conflict to Nepal with it's Maoist uprising and hundreds if not thousands dead in the last 6 months. As you are leaving the airport the first thing that you see is a soldier standing guard. He's standing in a sandbag bunker keeping watch with a massive machine gun.
Many tourists are staying away from Nepal. I'm not particularly worried though. No one is hunting for tourists and as far as I know no tourists have been hurt. Many months ago I wrote about Bukit Lawang, Indonesia. I realize now that the experience I had was directly attributable to the fact that I ignored my embassies strongly worded warnings and stayed in Indonesia. With two park rangers and myself at the daily feeding session the Orangutans greatly outnumbered us. It was absolutely amazing and one of the best travel experiences I've had anywhere. Others who have been to Bukit Lawang before or since had experiences that paled in comparison. The all were escorted in big groups to see the Orangutans who kept somewhat of a distance. I can't be sure how this civil war will affect the time I spend in Nepal, but I'm guessing that it will be a net positive. There will certainly be a lot fewer trekkers on the mountain.
Mt. Madness and Sudden Reality
For the weeks leading up to my flight to Nepal I was focused on Kilimanjaro. I had all but forgotten about Everest. It was too near of a goal for me to think about. Then, the 2nd day in Nepal a shock suddenly hits me - You're climbing to more than 5500 meters (18,000 ft). You have no idea what you're doing, no idea what you'll need and if you didn't bring gloves (or anything else that you might need) up the mountain you'll have to live without them. Losing fingers or toes and falling down cliffs are real dangers at 4000 meters let alone 5500.
Since that initial shock I've been getting my act together. Through research and shopping over the last few days I've exhausted myself, but I'm getting close to ready. I have most of the gear that I think I'm going to need. I have maps, an Everest trekking guide and most of all a very tentative plan. I'm still hoping to find someone to join me.
Leaving Monday or Tuesday I take a bus to Jiri. From Jiri it's a week or so of "warmup" - ups and downs totaling 8500m of climbing! By the time that I reach Namche Bazar at 3440 meters I'll be very strong, but probably also very tired. I'll rest a few days at Namche, probably taking a few day trips to stretch out the legs. Then it's up, up, up with a few rest days to Gorak Shep at 5140 meters. That's the highest point that I'll be sleeping. If all is going well I'll take one day trip to base camp, and another up to the top of Kala Pattar (5550 meters) which has better views than base camp. On the way back down I'd like take the somewhat treacherous Cho La pass which would take me once again up above 5000 meters then down to the Gokyo valley with splendid lakes and views. Taking this pass depends on a lot of factors including my health, the weather and my ability to find a guide. From Gokyo it should be a nice walk back down to Namche Bazar. One days walk from Namche is Lukla where I should be able to fly back to Kathmandu. It's a very very ambitious plan, but I'm going to go slow and see how far I make it. Wish me luck!
P.S. I'm far more focused on the mountains that lie ahead than I am on Kathmandu, but Kathmandu is great. One of the best places I've been. I'll have to take more time to appreciate it after I return from the trek.