Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kagbeni: Gateway to the Kingdom of Lo (Part 2)

Kagbeni is an ancient trading city perched on a plateau overlooking the Kali Gandaki River in north central Nepal. For centuries, Kagbeni thrived in the salt trade. Caravans of human porters or goats (really) carried salt south from Tibet en route to India. On the return, the caravans brought back rice and other goods from the lowlands. The introduction of manufactured salt containing iodine largely ended the salt trade, but I am not sure of the date. However, black, rose, and white Tibetian salt are now sold in gourmet stores around the world, so some degree of the salt trade has revived (although some of this new salt trade goes through China, therefore not benefiting Kagbeni at all). In the United States, iodine was first added to salt in 1924. Iodine deficiency is a leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities, or mental retardation (from Wikipedia). Lack of iodine also caused many people to develop goiters (swelling of the thyroid gland).
The geology here is spectacular. The Kali Gandaki winds its way south across a gravel-filled valley, meandering and crossing over and over. The trail crossed some of the streams on temporary wooden bridges, and in other places follows along the shore above the valley bed. In the second photograph, look at the talus slopes (rock debris) tumbling down the valleys and into the Kali Gandaki's flood plain. These talus slopes are an example of erosion caused by gravity flow, with possibly some assistance during the winter by water transport. This is an arid climate, but even minor rainfall may help lubricate rocks and make the slopes less stable.
Many Nepalis come to the river bed to look for ammonites, called Saligram in Nepali. They are Upper Jurassic age, about the age of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. These demonstrate that sediments in the Himalaya were once seabed and that the uplift of the Himalaya is younger than Jurassic. The uplift was caused by the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates, which is ongoing. As long as the himalaya are uplifting, there will be an almost endless supply of sediment to be carried down the rivers, and, eventually, into the Ganges. The Ganges eventually joins the Brahmaputra, which jointly form the massive Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, which protrudes into the Bay of Bengal.
We rough and tough trekkers (wimps) were tired after a day walking north along the river from the town of Jomsom. This was the Trekkers Inn near the south entrance to town. It was clean, cheerful, and comfortable.
Late afternoon, the wind blows mercilessly across the river valley, carrying clouds of sand and dust. Best to hang out in the inn and drink a tea. The walls around the older houses were a protection against the wind. The wood neatly piled along the rooftop are a traditional demonstration of wealth. In the past, the wood was vital to heating and cooking in winter. Today, many houses use kerosene stoves, so the wood is symbolic or maybe just a decoration. The air is so dry, the wood does not rot.
This little fellow welcomed travelers and was a symbol of good fortune. He apparently needs repair on a regular basis. It is a hard job being out in the weather.
Narrow alleys take you to courtyards and an occasional stupa. Again, note the wood stacked along the roof parapets.
The Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery at the edge of town is a fascinating mixture of ancient and 20th century buildings. Some of the books neatly stored in silk wrappers are hundreds of years old. A huge Tibetan Massif protects the grounds. During the day, he is pretty mellow and sleeps in the sun. But at night, he roams the grounds and eats tourists (and possibly goats and cows).
Late afternoon, the goats come marching through. Poop overload, just be sure you are not in the way. This was late October, and the goats were heading south, I presume to markets in south Nepal or India.

After a night in Kagbeni, we proceeded north into Mustang. We had to show our trekking permits to policemen at a guard station at the north end of town. 

Geology note:  This is a satellite image of the Ganges-Bramaputra Delta, from the NASA Earth Observatory, Nov. 9, 2011. Vast quantities of silt, sand, and mud flow into the northern Bay of Bengal.
NASA file

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Deepest Canyon: the Kali Gandaki River, Nepal

Dear readers, I am trying to catch up with some overdue projects. One of these is to summarize my 2011 trip to the Mustang region of Nepal. I listed some of the waypoints of this trip in a 2011 post. This post will be about the fantastic walk down the Kali Gandaki River in west central Nepal.

The Kali Gandaki River makes a great gash through the Himalaya. The river's headwaters are in the Mustang region near the border with Tibet. It then flows south through Mustang (formerly a kingdom and subject of a future post) through gorges and valleys. South of the town of Jomsom, it cuts through the mountains again. "The river then flows southward through a steep gorge known as the Kali Gandaki Gorge, or Andha Galchi, between the mountains Dhaulagiri, elevation 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) to the west and Annapurna I, elevation 8,091 metres (26,545 ft) to the east. If one measures the depth of a canyon by the difference between the river height and the heights of the highest peaks on either side, this gorge is the world's deepest." (from Wikipedia). Eventually, the river flows into the Ganges, after flowing over an immense megafan, comprising sediments eroded from the rapidly uplifting Himalaya.
My 2011 waypoints along the Kali Gandaki valley, with elevations in m above sea level. (Maps drawn with ESRI ArcMap software.)
In decades past, many Europeans and Americans walked down the great gorge when they made the trek around Annapurna (one of the world's great walks). But in the early 2000s, a rough road was cut along the right (west) bank of the Kali Gandaki, and an airport was built in Jomsom. This led to many tourists either flying out or taking a bus. As of 2011, the trekkers' route was becoming underused, and some inns and restaurants had closed.
Jomsom before landing at JMO.
Before my October 2011 walk downstream, I had just completed the trek through Mustang to Lo Manthang, the ancient walled capital of the Kingdom of Lo. My friends flew back to Pokhara from Jomsom Airport (IATA: JMO), which is at elevation of 8,976 feet (2,736 m). The airport often suffers bad weather and has been the site of several crashes. Most of the town is located on a plateau above the river valley.
For my walk down the gorge, I was accompanied by a friendly young Sherpa, Pasang, who had been with us all the way through Mustang. There was also a porter, Rahm, to carry my duffel bag, although we really did not need his services. Regardless, these fellows depend on tourists for income, and I appreciate their hard work.
Day 1. This took us from 2800-m high desert plain into a scrub terrain with juniper and pine that looked like the US southwest or Greece. The first town south of Jomsom was Marpha, which is in an apple-growing region. There is a well-known distillery as well as an ancient monastery.
Approaching Tukuche, the trail hugs the edge of the broad gravel riverbed, occasionally crossing tributaries on rickety wood walkways. One option is to follow a path along the gravel riverbed, but you are exposed to blowing dust. The route along the west side of the valley is better, and, in many areas, the main road.
The High Plains Inn - Dutch Bakery in Tukuche is a great lunch stop, and the hungry trekker is obligated to eat an apple strudel (or two) topped off with an espresso. The route down the Kali Gandaki has  plenty of inns and rest stops like this, so really, this is an easy trek.
We met a lady who was sorting beans that had been drying on a roof. I wonder if they cook red beans and rice? In this area, many villagers stay for the winter, so they carefully stock supplies. But further north in Mustang, the weather is more severe, and villagers migrate to lower altitude areas or to India to find winter work.
Our destination for the night was Larjung, another tidy little town. It is still 2,500 m high, and the villagers were drying corn and other items in preparation for winter.
This was the Riverside Lodge, a nice place with hot water in the shower. Part of the roof was flat, providing a surface to dry corn. The tree had apples. The restaurant was good. Happy chickens lived in a coop and clucked around.
Day 2. The next morning, we continued down stone paths towards the gravel bed of a tributary that enters the Kali Gandaki. The road make a long detour upstream, but the walking path crosses the gravel bed.  In spring, the walking path must be impassable, and pedestrians need to follow the road. As you can see, at this elevation, the flora had changed to alpine forests with pines, much like Austria.
We continued downstream to the village of Kalopani, still at an elevation of 2,500 m.
This is one of these very interesting and somewhat swaying steel suspension bridges that cross the Kali Gandaki.
Looming above you to the east is the might peak of Annapurna, Annapurna I is the tenth highest mountain in the world at 8,091 m above sea level. Annapurna is an especially dangerous peak for climbers, with a death to summit ratio of 32 percent.
I was glad to be well below in the valley. We descended steeply during the afternoon along the river valley to the hamlet of Ghasa at only 1950 m elevation. The Eagle Rest Guest House & Garden Restaurant was really nice, and finally we saw other trekkers. Before this stop, we saw very few Americans or Europeans. My green day pack contained water, camera, and personal items. The porter carried my red duffel, which held clothing, sleeping bag (not needed here), and bulky things.
This fellow with the wet nose wanted a room, also.
Day 3. We continued downhill towards Thalpa, about 1800 m elevation. The valley walls towered above us. Yours truly, of course, looked his dorky best. I had been above 3000 m for two weeks, and here at "low altitude" the air felt so thick.
A tributary, the Rupse Chhahara, plunges down the mountain. The bus trundles through the water. Some of the year, the route must be impassable. It takes a degree of bravery to take one of these busses. My anthropologist friend said every now and then, a bus falls off the mountain. By now, we had dropped to 1590m elevation.
Dana, at 1461m has some old stone buildings with Tibetian-style windows of beautiful craftsmanship. The town has a guest house and a bus stop.
The valley near Dana is bucolic, and the footpath takes you along ancient stone walkways through the farms.

By midday, we reached Tatopani, at 1190 m. We descended steeply into broad leaf forest and finally into jungle.
On recommendation from my friend, I checked into the Dhaulagiri Lodge and Restaurant, near the southern end of Tatopani. Nice place, with an excellent restaurant. They put me into my own little cabin, and right outside my room were bamboo and banana plants and geckoes (no obvious snakes). I paid the porter, Rahm, and he headed back upriver.
Tatopani is famous for the hot spring, and I soaked with chubby Japanese visitors.

All in all, this has been a spectacular trek, a passage through geologic history as well as botanic altitude zones.

Change is coming. The villages here are still poor, but they have electricity and serve hikers who are making the Annapurna loop trek. Most lodges have rooms with private bath, but hot water is still rare. The towns have schools and health clinics. The road is a treacherous dirt and rock trail carved out of the mountain-side. As of 2011, busses and jeeps regularly broke down or fell off, squashing their occupants.
Day 4. Two Germans that we met in the lodge, Pasang, and I chartered a taxi take us to Pokkhara, from where we flew to Kathmandu. The taxi took 5 hours as opposed to 8+ on the public bus (which often breaks down). It was a tiny car, and we were rather squashed. And we had to stop a few times to let the goats move off the road. (Note: this was Oct. 21, 2011, and we learned late in the day that Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, the long-term dictator and butcher of Libya, had been killed by Libyan militiamen.)

Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera, some RAW files processed with PhotoNinja software,

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Return to Monasteraki, Athens, Greece - revisit with Tri-X film

During my 2016 trip to Greece, I revisited the Monasteraki district of Athens, the crowded urban core of the city. I have been there before many times, but the old twisty streets and mixture of early 20th century buildings and modern concrete monstrosities warrant careful exploration. The main commercial street is Athenas, a straight line which connects Monasteraki plaza (near the Pláka) to Omonia Square, but the side streets have no obvious grid or pattern - they are confusing.
Pallados Street
This time, I was struck by how much worse the graffiti was. I know that many Greeks people object to the austerity and cutbacks imposed by the EU in exchange for loaning Greece money, but defacing their once handsome city does not serve anyone's interests nor make much of a statement.
Trendy ladies on Pallados.
Some of the street art is slightly interesting. Note how this building is triangle-shaped to fit in one of the odd corner lots.
Junk (antiques) shop on Aristogonos.
There is a cluster of flea-market-style shops on Aristogonos, off Athinas. I did not see much of interest, but they seem to stay in business. Many of them now are owned or staffed by Middle-eastern men. It is not a nice atmosphere, and there is a lot of filth and debris on the streets.
The metro runs from Piraeus (the harbor) through downtown and on to the suburb of Kiffisias.
This is approximately the same location, photographed in 1951 or 1952.
A trip downtown is never complete without a visit to the Central Market (click the link for an earlier article).
After you are done watching the fish mongers chopping up fish or arranging octopi and squid, stop at one of the small restaurants in the Market to tuck in to fresh grilled sardines and some Retsina. Then have a Greek coffee at the Mokka coffee shop next door. This is the real Greece.

I took the square photographs with my Rolleiflex 3.5E camera on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. The 1951 photograph of the metro is from a Leica IIIC 35mm camera, film stock possibly an Agfa emulsion. The IIIC has recently been overhauled and is back in operation.