This was a chance to revisit a place and an event that took some effort from me. Some 46 years previous, I trekked to base camp Mt. Everest. I was on vacation from tracking down smallpox cases in India (1976). The trek was a dream activity that became a reality. Now I had a chance to revisit if only briefly, an event in my life. I was joining the 40th anniversary tour of GeoEx, an organization known for taking clients to “the ends of the earth”, remote places in the world such as Tibet and Mongolia. I had traveled with them previously, so I knew the trip would be outstanding.
We would be traveling to high altitude places rapidly without the ability to slowly acclimatize. This would entail making bases where we would sleep at lower elevation, and travel to higher elevations during the day to visit monasteries. There would be two such places. The first was at Happy House in Phaplu Nepal (8200 ft). Sir Edmund Hillary used this house when planning trips in Nepal and to return to rest in between climbing expositions. It was built to handle a large crowd and to offer a comfortable place to relax in front of the fireplace. The other base was at the Royal Mustang Resort (12,600 ft) in Lo Manthang, Nepal.
We started in Kathmandu and the first two days visited key projects supported by the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF) that is supported by GeoEx. We visited the Hospital and Rehabilitation for Disabled Children in Banepa, and the Stop Girl Trafficking program in Kathmandu. Then we repacked our luggage into duffel bags for our chartered flight to Phaplu in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal the next day.
When the Sherpa people left Tibet in the 15th and 16th centuries, they settled in the Solu Khumbu Valley being guided by sacred Buddhist texts to Junbesi and Phaplu on their way to the eastern slope of Everest. Thupten Choeling Monastery (9900 ft) is one of the most important monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet. A planned overnight on Ratnange Ridge (9000) was canceled due to heavy rains, but we went up to the ridge for a brunch.
After four days in Phaplu, we were off to Mustang by way of Mt Everest. The plan was to take an exhilarating helicopter ride to Everest base camp and the Khumbu glacier. And then land on Kala Pattar (18,500 ft) for 2 minutes for a photo op for the best views of Everest. Bunch at Kongde (14,943 ft). But everything depends on the weather! We left early for Everest, but the clouds beat us to Kala Pattar. They already covered the view. So, we headed instead for a breakfast at the Everest View Hotel (13,000 ft).
After breakfast we boarded the helicopters from the hotel and headed for Lo Manthang in the kingdom of Mustang. Mustang is surrounded on three sides by Tibet. Governed still by a Tibetan royal family it is integrated into Nepal. Much of its medieval fabric has survived. Ancient trade routes used to come through Mustang. But it only opened to foreign tourists since 1992. We land outside the city walls at the Royal Mustang resort (12,600 ft). Upper Mustang is a magical place with arid plains and rocky red foothills which stretch towards Tibet. At Chosar the caves are carved out of ocher cliffs dating back to 1000 BC. Sitting at the base of the cliffs is Niphu Monastery, one of the region’s oldest dating back to the 12 century.
In Mustang GeoEx also supports the rehabilitation of murals in the ancient temples. Local folks in the community have been trained to clean the blackened murals and repaint them. We visit the ancient Palaces and walk the kora around the city temples.
After three days in Mustang the helicopters were to return to take us on to Pokhara and Kathmandu. However, the weather had its own ideas. It down poured for three straight days, and we decided to take the road to Jomson. But the road on to Pokhara had landslides in 3 places. We were stuck in Jomson for 3 days. Ongoing flights had to be rescheduled. This shows the effects of climate change since October is the start of the dry season and a major trekking season in Nepal! However, I am so glad that I was able to experience the magic of Mustang. It will remain in my memories forever.