between the Nakvak and the Korok: an expedition to the Torngat mountains. Hiking through the Valley of the cirques, climbing Mont d'Iberville, fishing in the Nakvak Valley, Canada, Torngat Mountains, northern Québec, trek, Nakvak, Korok, icefield, caribou trail, summit, travelogue, trip, travel, hike


Mountain Road


Thursday, November 13
Kathmandu Valley

The morning of Friday, November 13, we took a tourist bus (Rob thought it would be safer) from Kathmandu to Pohkara, where lives the family Rob came to visit, and from whence the trek would be staged. The bus was far from full, so I got to move around from side to side depending on where the best view was found. It was a fascinating ride all the way. (I always like bus rides because there is no stressful interaction or decision making; just sitting back and taking in the country.) Glimpses of Nepal waking as we left Kathmandu. One image to me summarizes all that we saw along the road: there was a sprawling morning glory vine that was coated dirty white with dust from the road. But the beautiful purple blossoms had just opened and were spectacular and immaculate. Like the people who live along the road, the women emerging from their dusty huts in immaculate brightly coloured sarees, the children's white shirts spotless as they walk to school wearing their school uniforms.

Along the outskirts of Kathmandu, the highway is lined with shops, and people out, kids going to school, people starting their day, shops opening.

There were quite a few army checkpoints along the way, due to the Maoist rebels' activity, which slowed us in that there were sometimes lines of vehicles waiting to pass through. But they never delayed us at the checkpoint when they saw that tourists were involved.

We climbed out of the Kathmandu valley up over a ridge, and on the other side was a winding road along a deep river gorge that we would follow the rest of the journey. It being the dry season, the river was small. But in the rainy season this road is often impassable because of rock slides and washouts. We saw the evidence of this, and felt it on rough patches of pavement. There was a large boulder on the road, and a place where a bridge had been washed out.

The driving style in Nepal is scary to the uninitiated. The bus would pass on blind curves and hills, horn blaring. You could just imagine another bus coming the opposite direction careening over the hill and the resulting crash. And yes, we did see the hulking wreckage of such a head-on collision between two busses. And we later met a guy who had seen four such on this same road.

The countryside was beautiful, with mountainsides terraced far up in elevation, and houses visible on the steep slopes high above the road. People worked above us as we passed, children stood on the edges of terraced fields looking down at us. And because the mountain was steep up on one side of the road and the river gorge steep down on the other, the road was the sidewalk for children in their spotless uniforms walking to and from school, and for other pedestrians as well. Little houses lined the sides of the road, some of them made of stones, which are plentiful. The houses shared public water sources that were spaced along each side of the road. These consisted of a horizontal concrete slab and at the back of it, a vertical slab (wall) with a faucet emerging from it. People bathed at these faucets, minimally clothed. One young woman wore a thin simple dress and washed completely in what must have been very cold water, there in public view. But then, there is a different standard of privacy. They washed dishes there in plastic dishpans, and they collected jugs of water to take back to the houses for cooking. The stoves were simple clay boxes with one end open, where small logs with one end burning were inserted. The upper surface of the stove was thus heated and pans could be placed there for cooking. The forests are dense and the supply of wood seemingly more than sufficient. Some houses had outhouses.

The houses had a room or two enclosed, but a lot of living took place outside, right beside the road. The stove was outside usually, and people would squat there by the road to gather and talk or work. Many people were employed in making gravel from stones that were collected from the riverbed, this being the dry season. Trucks found their way down to the riverbed and were filled with stones. People could be seen with hammers reducing stones to gravel, presumably for the making of concrete. It obviously is a very hard life, and these families had very little by comparison with most in our country, but smiles were not in short supply.

For lunch this day, we stopped at an upscale resort by the side of the road. We had a buffet lunch at outside tables, surrounded by manicured gardens bright with flowers. And many species of butterflies deftly worked the nectar factories. Butterflies for lunch.

Wherever there was flat soil, people were farming. There was a lot of grain harvesting going on, which I think may have been millet, but I am not sure. Women do a lot of heavy physical work in Nepal, and this includes farming. They could be seen in the fields, wearing their bright red sarees with gold trim, cutting the brown stalks of grain. The stalks were spread out to dry. They threshed the grain by gathering a bunch and striking the heads repeatedly on a tarp. Some men were threshing with oxen, driving the oxen in a circle, walking over the harvest. Once the grain was separated, the dried stalks were piled in stacks for animal food. And the grain was dried in the sun and winnowed.

Others were busy planting what looked like rice. It is very manual farming, with not a tractor anywhere. I did see some men plowing with teams of oxen, both in fields along the road and later on the trek.

Closer to Pokhara, the land was flatter and there were bigger farms and bigger houses, many of which had a hallway straight through the center of the house, with doors on each end that were grillwork only.

As we drove into the outskirts of Pokhara, long before we reached the tourist section beside the lake, there was a little carnival with a small Ferris wheel. "It's the Pokhara Eye," I said, but really the Pokhara Eye was a stupa on a mountain top across the lake, which we would visit the next day.

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The bus stopped in a small field (or vacant lot) near the tourist section of Pokhara. We grabbed our bags, and I was reminded of how heavy my pack was. Ignoring the taxi drivers, we walked up the sidewalk by the road along the lake, turning down a side street to arrive at the Hotel Nirvana. My large, comfortable room was on the end on the second floor, with windows on 3 sides.

The next day

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