Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Yak Culture

Domesticated Herd in Tibet
If you decide to go trekking in Nepal or Tibet's mountainous regions, you will often find local farmers tending to their herds of Yaks. Yaks are large, long-haired, bison-like animals known as bovine, that graze on grass and other shrubs. They will not eat grain, contrary to some beliefs. Yaks were once found in wild herds throughout Nepal and Bhutan, but wild Yaks are now considered ''vulnerable'' and found mostly as domesticated animals.

The Yak is said to have diverged from typical cattle some 1 to 5 million years ago. The Wild Yak is amongst the largest bovine, second only to the Gaur in shoulder height. Wild Yaks stand about 5-7 ft. tall at the shoulder and weigh 670-2,200 lbs. The female wild Yak is about 1/3 the weight and 30% smaller in height. The domesticated Yak is much smaller with males weighing 770-1,300 lbs and females weighing in around 500-600 lbs). You can differentiate a male from a female by their horns. Male horns are generally darker in color and sweep out to the side, whereas female horns are a bit lighter in color, smaller, and have an upright shape. A male is called a Yak and a female a Nak. So, no--There is NO such thing as Yak Cheese-- Its NAK Cheese!

Wild Yak
Yaks are very heavily built, with bulky frames and sturdy legs--made for hard work. They are the only bovine with long, thick hair--which helps them live comfortably at colder, high-altitude climates. Their larger lungs and hearts also help them live and perform at a higher rate than those cattle of lower altitudes. Yaks consume only about 1% of their body weight each day, compared to the 3% consumed by common cattle. Yaks do not thrive at lower altitudes, however, and begin to suffer from heat exhaustion around 15C or 59F. This is due to their thick layer of fat and hair, as well as having almost non-functional sweat glands.

Yaks are generally friendly in nature and are easily domesticated and trained. They are usually not hostile creatures but mothers, as with any animals, can be very protective of her young and even charge if she feels there is a threat.

Tibetan Woman with her Yak
Mt. Kailash Yak Caravan
Yaks are domesticated primarily for their milk, hair, meat, and ability to carry large quantities of goods between villages. Their droppings are considered important fuel--used all over Tibet and in parts of Nepal. Yaks are used to not only to transport local goods, but also to transport equipment for mountain expeditions. Their milk can be turned into tasty cheese and butter used in the famous Tibetan Butter Tea, and their hair into wool for a number of quality products such as bags, hats, gloves, socks, coats, decorations, and much more.

If you're out on the trail--make sure to stock up on local NAK cheese and try the infamous Tibetan Butter Tea. You'll see why the locals worship this animal--for giving to them in such abundance.

Yeti: The Himalayan Bigfoot?

TV Show Host Josh Gates with Footprint
Hollywood Version of the Yeti
From childhood and through the ages we've always heard about the illusive Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman. He's appeared in our cartoons, movies, and even on the news when one person or another claims to see him. But did you know, the Yeti gained his origin in Nepal?

You Westerners might be thinking: "But I thought Big Foot was sited on the opposite side of the world?" -- Well you would be right and wrong in that assumption. In fact, Big Foot and the Yeti are NOT one in the same. I guess you could say, the Yeti is the mountainous version of Big Foot. Is it a coincedence that two similar creatures have been spotted across the globe? I'll leave that for you to debate.

The Yeti actually has a long history in Nepal, and he was not, in fact, named  Yeti by Nepali people. In Tibet, he is known as ''Miche,'' or man bear. In Nepal he is known ''Bun Manchi,'' or jungle man. ''Mirka'' is also another Nepali name common in the area. Most all Yeti sightings have been in the Everest Region of Nepal--but others have occurred in parts of Tibet, Bhutan, and even the Annapurna Region of Nepal.

Analyzing a "Yeti" Finger
The Yeti started appearing in the Western culture in the 19th century. An early record of large, strange footprints appeared in the 1899 book, Among the Himalayas, by Laurence Waddell. The heat really turned up on the hunt for the Abominable Snowman in the 1920's. In 1921, Lt. Col. Charles Howard-Bury recorded finding large, strange footprints that he credited to a wolf, but stated that his Sherpa guide immediately corrected him saying it was from the "The wild man of the Snows." Again in 1925, N.A. Tombazi, a photographer for the Royal Geographic Society, wrote that he saw the ''creature'' at 4,600m., near the Zemu Glacier.

Yeti Skull in Tengboche
Fast forward to 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and guide Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Everest. They later started to doubt what they saw and eventually chalked it up as nothing more than a legend, althought Tenzing Norgay did report his father seeing the Yeti twice in his autobiography. In 1954, John Angelo Jackson was the first to trek from Everest to Kanchenjunga--at which point he photographed ancient symbolic painting of the Yeti at Tengboche Gompa.

Along the trail to Everest Base Camp, you will find a number of temples that hold supposed Yeti skulls. The most famous one can be found in Khumjung. These skulls have been examined by anthropologists, doctors, and scientists, but no one can prove anything.

What do you think?? Fact or Fiction?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mountains & Monasteries

If you dream of visiting the Everest Region, but you have limited time and/or trekking experience in Nepal--then the Mountains and Monasteries trek is for you. This 8 day trek is perfect for families and elderly people, as well. We recently had an entire family (Mom, Dad, 2 small children under the age of 10, and Grandparents) complete this trek with ease. They had a spectacular time amongst the world's highest mountains.

This trek offers amazing views of Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, Peak 38, Amadabalm, and of course, Mt. Everest! As you travel through the world's highest National Park, you'll experience Sherpa culture at its finest, while walking amongst some of the Earth's most breathtaking scenery.

One major highlight of this trek is visting Tyangboche, one of the highest monasteries in the Khumbu region. Here, you will get a feel of the Sherpa people's religion--which is heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
Between Phakding & Namche

The itinerary for Mountains & Monasteries is as follows:

Day 1: Fly out of Kathmandu- Lukla, trek to Phakding
Day 2: Trek to Namche Bazaar
Day 3: Acclimatization Day
Day 4: Trek to Tyangboche
Day 5: Exploration Day
Day 6: Trek back to Khumjung
Day 7: Trek back to Lukla
Day 8: Fly back to Kathmandu

If you're interested in booking this trip for you and your loved ones, or even if you want to go it solo -- Let us know!

Thamel, Is it for you?

In recent years Thamel has become the tourist hub of Nepal. Travelers from all over the world converge here in local guesthouses and hotels--to explore Kathmandu, eat, drink, shop, and make plans to venture out into the great unknown of the Nepali Himalayas.

There are a plethora of restaurants to choose from, with cuisines ranging everything from western-style fast food to gormet French delicacies. The nightlife in Thamel is more or less the same regardless of where you go. The two extremes of that being live rock music performed by local artists or quiet, traditional live music performed by local artists. Either way, your ears are in for a treat. The talent in Thamel is actually quite astounding.

If shopping is your thing, you'll love Thamel. Beware of the tricky shop owners that see a foreign face and think dollar signs. Don't be afraid to bargain, but remember, they do have families to feed at home. Offer what you think is fair and you'll get a good compromise every time. In Thamel you can find gurkas (knives), pashminas, cashmere clothing, hiking gear, hippie clothes, paintings, traditional clothing, tapestries, teas, and much more.

Also, if you're looking to book a trip-- look no further than bustling Thamel. As of late, there are over 700 travel agencies in Thamel alone. For those of you who know Thamel, you know its not that big of a space. You can book everything from Terai tours, to trekking/peak climbing expeditions, to rafting and bungy jumping. Whatever you desire to do in Nepal, you'll find an agency ready to accommodate your needs!

So--the question is.. Is Thamel for you? For those who like constant auditory stimulation, human interaction, and bustling city life-- I would say Thamel is the place for you. You'll meet new people at every turn and have a number of choices on where to appease your appetite or quench your thirst.

If you'd like to hear no noise, keep away from the shopping stalls, and do your own thing-- I would suggest Thamel is not for you.

If you're in the area, stop in and see us for any information you might need--We even have free city maps! Our offices are on Mandala Street (Next to the NEW OR2K) and in the small plaza next to Kathmandu Guesthouse. Look forward to seeing you in the madness!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Island Peak: 2011 Expedition

 Island Peak, in the Everest region of Nepal, was named by Eric Shipton and his expedition team in 1952--as they said it looked like an island in a sea of ice. The Nepali name is Imja Tse. This peak can be found between the Lhotse and Imja Glaciers, standing at 6,189m/20,305ft. From here, you can see stunning views of Lhotse and Ama Dablam. 

In April of 2011, Italian born citizen, Matteo Reforzo, set out on an adventure of a lifetime with the Trek Nepal team, in collaboration with Italian adventure operator Viagga con Carlo. He and another friend reached Base Camp (5,100m) on April 22nd and successfully attempted summit (6,189m) on April 23rd, 2011. Summit took the team 8 hours, but they made it. Here is their story in photos--

 Trekking to Base Camp
 Prayer Flags for a safe ascent
 Himalayan Peaks
 Natural Beauty
 Matteo in the Mountains
 6,188m -- 1 more meter to go until summit!
They made it! Congratulations men!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tibet Motorbike Tour

Attention all adventure seekers:

Bookings are now available for the Tibet Motorbike Tour-- What is this, you ask? Exactly as it states: A thrilling 11 day tour through the mysterious Tibet on none other than a 500cc Royal Enfield motorbike.

The roads are both challenging and exhilarating to navigate. You'll see some of the world's best high altitude views, while experiencing a culture that is still closed off to most of the world. 

Lead by experienced guides and followed (for safety reasons) by a jeep of staff--this tour will lead you from Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, to the border crossing at Kodari--along the Tibetan Plateau (4,900m), past Everest Base Camp, Rongbuk, and over the Gyatso La (5,220m) and Karo La (5,050m) passes. Once in Tibet, you will pass Shigatse, Tibet's 2nd largest city, and pass the pristine turquoise waters of Yamdrok Tso--all before arriving in Lhasa. You'll enjoy stunning desert landscapes, with roads that disappear into the horizon. You will encounter nomadic life, ancient monasteries, and get a feel for one of the most well kept cultures in the world.

In Lhasa, you will visit the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera, Drepung, and more before leaving the so-called Roof of the World. From Lhasa, you will fly back to Kathmandu--enjoying spectacular mountain views along the way.

If you're an adventure seeker and motorbike lover--This is the trip of life time you don't want to miss out on.

Tibet borders are now partially open to groups of 6 or more of the same nationality--Remember: If you book your trip in advance while the borders are open, and the borders close at the time of your trip, you can still go on your trek/tour because you booked when the borders were open!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy Tihar!

As the end of the holiday season approaches--we are blessed with one final celebration of life, prosperity, and happiness-- Tihar--also known as Diwali.

Tihar means "The Festival of Lights" Many candles are lite both inside and outside of houses to brighten  the night.

Tihar is a 5 day long Hindu festival that appoints each day for a blessing of a certain animal or person. The first day, yesterday, was puja (or offering) to the crows. The cawing of crows represents death and grief, so offerings are made to them at this time to avert death and grief in the household.

 Today is puja for dogs--so you will see many dogs around Katmandu with red tikas on their foreheads, and maybe even flower garlands around their neck if they tolerate it! Dogs are known to be the messengers of the God Yamaraj--the messenger of death--so the offering is to again, avert this in the household.

The third day is to honor the holy Cow--Cows are seen as a sign of prosperity and wealth and also the animal of Lord Shiva, who is extremely sacred to Hindus. The Goddess Laxmi is also worshiped on this day, as she is also the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.

The fourth day is can be for the worship of oxen or for Lord Krishna, for those who follow. This day also begins the New Year, especially celebrated by Newars--or the indigenous of Katmandu Valley.

The fifth and final day is the day for all sisters to give tikas to their brothers to ensure them a long life and thank them for the protection that they give.

You may hear firecrackers in the night, as this is quite a common celebratory practice for Tihar/Diwali. Many places throughout India and Nepal are promoting a greener Tihar and refraining from using firecrackers, which pollute our air with their debris and our neighborhoods with their sound.

Have a very happy Tihar -- Many blessings to you all!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The History of Everest

Mt. Everest
Nepal is home to 8 of the world's 14 highest mountains--including the mightiest of the all--Mt. Everest, known in Nepal as Sagarmatha, and Tibet as Chomolungma. The majestic and mighty Everest sits at 8,840m (29,002 ft).

The first record of Mt. Everest was in 1841 by Sir George Everest. Sir Everest, a British surveyor, recorded the location--and it wasn't until 1848 that another British surveyor recorded the height at an estimated 30,200 ft. from 110 miles away. The surveyor was only 1,200 ft. off -- not too shabby!

Mt. Everest was originally known as Peak XV--but in 1865, was renamed to Mt. Everest after Sir George Everest. It wasn't until 1907 that the Everest region was entered by foreigners, and mapped along the Dudh Kosi River, all the way to the Khumbu Glacier.

The Mt. Everest Committee was formed in 1920, in attempts to plan the summit of the mighty mountain. At this point in history, expeditions had reached the North and South Poles--Everest was the next likely feat for society.

In 1921, the Northern Route up Everest was established by Guy Bullock and George Mallory after 10 weeks of exploring the Northern and Eastern faces of the mountain. In 1922, 3 failed summit attempts were lead by Mallory, claiming the lives of at least 7 Sherpas in an avalanche on the 3rd attempt. When asked by reporters why he wanted to reach summit--he replied, "Because its there!"

In 1924, another British expedition lead by Lt. Colonel Edward Norton, set the height record for the next 29 years by Norton at 28,126 ft (8,570 m). In the same year, Mallory and Irvine attempted summit on June 8th, and lost their lives--The mystery of whether or not they ever reached summit still prevails to this day.

Edmund Hillary & Sherpa Guide
Edmund Hillary
The first flight over Everest took place in April of 1933--and a picture, worth its weight in gold, of the summit was taken. In 1936, the first light weight sets of radios were taken on yet another failed summit attempt. In 1947, after still having no successful summit attempts-- the Himalayan Committee of the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Society were formed in place of the Everest Committee. In 1950, after the Rana family was over thrown, the Nepalese borders were opened to foreigners and climbers were allowed to attempt summit from the South face.

In 1951, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, made his first failed attempt. It wasn't until 1953, 112 years after the first siting of Everest, that British Expedition team finally reached the summit of the mighty Mt. Everest--

                                                               The rest is history!

What to Bring

Many of our clients have never been trekking before--or if they have, its been in different areas of the world where the climate and terrain are different. One of the number one questions we receive before departing is, "What do I bring?!" The trick is--you don't want to bring too much--and definitely not too little--especially during the winter.

Certain areas of Nepal require different gear, such as treks where you'll be going above the snowline, as opposed to the warmer southern regions of Nepal. Established routes, such as Annapurna and Everest, usually have shops along the way if you're missing something vital--but it can be quite costly.

Here is what we, at Trek Nepal, recommend you bring with you on your next Himalayan adventure:

  • 1 Pair of Hiking Boots (Or comfortable shoes for established routes)
  • 1 Med. Sized Backpack
  • 1 Day Pack (For personal items i.e. camera, money, etc...)
  • 1 Sleeping Bag (Recommended up to -20C)
  • 1 Down Jacket/Goretex Jacket (In colder northern regions/during winter)
  • 1 Light Wind & Waterproof Jacket
  • 1 Inner Sleeping Sheet
  • 2 Long-Sleeve Shirts
  • 1 Water Bottle (We provide treated drinking water and DO NOT recommend you buying bottled water)
  • 1 Pair of Gaiters/Over Trousers (Colder weather/when snow)
  • 1 Pair Sport Shoes/Sandals (Especially in Southern/Lower Mountainous Regions)
  • 2 Pairs of Light Weight Trousers
  • 1 Pair of Shorts
  • 1 Fleece/Warm Sweater
  • 2 T-Shirts
  • 2 Pairs of Light Socks
  • 3 Pairs of Heavy Wool Socks
  • 1 Sweatshirt/Light Sweater
  • 1 Torch(Flashlight)/Spare Batteries
  • 1 Swimming Costume/Bathing Suit (For Annapurna Region (Hot Springs) and Chitwan)
  • 1 Med. Size Towel
  • Personal Tolietries
    • Biodegradable soap/shampoo
  • Insect Repellent
  • Moleskin/BandAids for Blisters
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toilet Paper
  • Personal Medications
  • Underwear (Incl. Thermals)
  • Warm Hat & Gloves
  • Sunglasses & Sun Hat
  • Spare plastic bag for wrapping clothes

There are laundry facilities along most established routes--so remember, pack lightly. You'll be amazed how little you really need when its just you and the mountains!