3.22.2010

The Kali Gandaki valley, Nepal

The New York Times recently ran an article about trekking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal and the impact that building new roads will have on the area.

Prior to the roads being built, the area was not really accessible by motor vehicle, which meant it was very quiet -- no motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, etc -- only foot traffic or mule trains. Given that Nepalis tend use the horns in the vehicles pretty much continuously, the quiet of the landscape is likely to be permanently disturbed.

As usual for a New York Times 'lifestyle' piece the article's tone is slightly pretentious:

"Many walks lay claim to the title of World’s Greatest Trek, but none of those are epics through valleys surrounded by five-mile-high peaks, staying every night in teahouses run by local villagers and stocked with good kitchens, cold beer and Snickers bars. The Annapurna Circuit marries natural grandeur, cultural immersion and relative luxury in a union found nowhere else."

Despite its slightly off-putting tone, it was interesting for me to read this article because I trekked in the Annapurna in the autumn of 2007, and the writer recounts visiting some of the same places I visited.

These images are basically in reverse chronological order.

My trekking group at the top of Thorung La pass, 17,700 feet. I'm dead center in the blue jacket and am violently ill at this point, everything was reeling in circles around me. Right after this photo was taken it was time to head down the pass to thicker air.

Look down into the deep valley.

Climbing towards Thorung La.

The Kali Gandaki is one of the deepest river gorges in the world. However, the writer of the Times article found it to be a drab and rather unappealing landscape:

"Walking down through the Kali Gandaki was a very different experience from the one we had on the way up. Then, we could barely go a hundred yards without bumping into another group of trekkers. Now the only human companions our group found on the road were Nepalis hauling goods too bulky and cheap to be worth transporting by vehicle, usually in giant wire-frame cargo containers cantilevered on their foreheads. The days were long and dusty in a dry landscape of mountainsides and fields rendered in a monochromatic palette of tan, beige and taupe. The towns were more developed and less charming."

In October 2007 the new road was being built up the valley. We walked past the construction crews, who worked with shovels and chisels to carve the road out of the mountainside. Nepal is a very poor country and labor is cheap, and machinery is comparatively rare.

Near the start of the trek, things were more lush and green.

I found trekking to be a somewhat jarring experience, as I did not fly halfway around the world to mingle with English-speaking westerners like myself:

"At the table with us sat three other young English-speaking travelers, and we settled into the same slow dance of smiles and pleasantries that in previous days had led to enjoyable evenings of conversation and beer followed by exchanges of e-mail addresses."

I may return to Nepal some day but if I do it may be to seek out the areas off the beaten track, far removed from encounters with others like myself. Of course, this could amount to a kind of 'poverty tourism' which is another subject altogether.

I wrote about my experience in Nepal pretty extensively on this blog, searching for 'Nepal' or 'trekking' should bring up the posts.

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