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Travel
Call of the wild


PADAM GHALE in DHAULAGIRI BASE CAMP


The traditional trekking model in Nepal is a two-week to one-month hiking holiday which requires visitors to trudge up and down mountains to reach a scenic valley and trudge back out along the same route.

Take Manang. Trekkers usually take one week to walk up the hot and humid Marsyangdi Valley. Finally they get to Pisang and zip through the most scenic part of the Annapurna circuit. Huff and puff up Thorung La so breathless that one is in no mood to admire the vistas, clamber down the other side to Jomsom and fly back.

The advantage of this was that the tourists had time to acclimiatise and know Nepal in all its diversity not just the high mountains but also the lush, deep valleys. They also spread their wealth in tea shops along the way and employed porters. The disadvantage was that they had to rush through the best part.

As roads go up to some of the popular trekking areas, including the Kali Gandaki and Marsyangdi Valleys, the once remote trekking areas are now more accessible. Some people lament this, but the good thing is that trekkers now have the chance to spend more time at their destination to explore, or just chill out.

More and more trekking companies are planning to fly their guests in the autumn trekking season up to high valleys like Dhaulagiri, Langtang or Kangchenjunga so their clients don't waste time on the trek-in.

This remote and exotically unspoilt valley behind Dhaulagiri would take more than two weeks to walk to from Beni. But in a helicopter, it is a half-hour flight and after that trekkers can enjoy Nepal's nature in all its unspoilt glory and be choppered out after a holiday of a life-time.

The trek takes one through the Swiss Base Camp on the southwest slopes of Dhaulagiri to the Italian Base Camp: a valley that, so far, was only frequented by mountaineers. The sheer cliffs on both sides of the valley soar above, narrowing the sky. Water-falls roar down hundreds of metres from rock ledges on either side, Alpine choughs fly in great flocks high above a landscape that remains as it has for millions of years.

Occasionally from a windy saddle between the Base Camps, one catches a glimpse of Dhaulagiri, unrecognisable because we are right below it and its familiar summit pyramid is foreshortened. And lined up to the western horizon are the lesser Dhaulagiris: lesser in height but all above 7,500 metres and all major massifs in their own right.

After two weeks of roughing it in the glaciers, walking along moraines and being in the wild, it's time once more to rendezvous with the helicopter at 3300m.

From the valley below comes the familiar thump-thump of the Ecuriel. The pilot gets out, opens the cabin door and refuels his aircraft from jerry cans he's flown up for the flight down to Pokhara.

CHARTERING CHOPPERS
Fishtail Air: $1500 per hour. Bell Jetranger. 01-4112206
Air Dynasty: $ 1500 per hour. AS 350 Series Ecureil. 01-4497418
Shree Airlines: $ 4000- 4500 per hour. MI-17. 01-4222948

A helicopter drops trekkers at Annapurna Base Camp, cutting the trek-in time by up to four days. After acclimatisation, they can explore hitherto inaccessible areas.

Dhaulagiri Base Camp that would take a two-week walk from Beni is just a few days away from a heli-drop. This awesome view of Dhaulagiri from the north can be possible if trekking times could be shortened by flying part of the way.


Garbage camp

The closer one gets to base camp on Himalayan peaks, the more you see garbage. In fact, Dhaulagiri Base Camp looks a bit like Thamel when Kathmandu's trash collection people are on strike.

There are mountains of garbage in sacks that have been moved down by the glacier, and judging from the content some of them are from expeditions 20 years old. Mysteriously, there are dozens of old tyres scattered across the glacier: Gorakhkali, Jet Rib from India, Seenma from China. Was there some kind of protest by porters in which they were burning tyres? Or were they laid out to cushion cargo drops from helicopters? No one knows, but it's an ugly sight.

There is even the carcass of a helicopter that crashed here last year, it has been stripped of all its avionics and only the aluminium skeleton remains. One day the glacier is going to deposit all this deep-frozen rubbish at the terminal moraine.

One is happy to get out of the squalour of Base Camp once more to the pristine valley below.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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