Thursday, March 8, 2018

Out to the Solu Khumbu: Phaplu, eastern Nepal (Nepal article 2017-08)

My friends and I were on our way to trek in the Solu Khumbu region in east central Nepal. This is a beautiful forested terrain inhabited by the Sherpa people. We planned to fly to the town of Phaplu, which has a short airstrip carved out of the mountain just below the town. We sat in Kathmandu airport all day, but all the flights were diverted to the town of Lukla. This is where the hoards who tromp to Everest Base Camp and genuine expeditions disgorge. Some 35,000 trekkers a year do the Base Camp forced march, so Lukla is high priority, while a town like Phaplu is lower priority. There was no assurance that the plane would fly to Phaplu the next day. OK, change of plan. You need to be flexible in Nepal. We loaded our duffels back onto jeeps, stayed in a hotel in Kathmandu overnight, and set out the next morning.
The 7 hour jeep ride became 13 hours, thanks to tire repair, lunch stop, and rough roads. Some of the main road south to the lowland (the Terai) was well-paved, but some sections were mud, water, holes, stream crossings, and ruts. The road east along the foothills reminded me of Greek mountain roads, but with much poorer paving (where it was paved) and with sides that plunged down 3000 ft. An occasional squashed bus or pickup truck lay down in the gullies.
Schoolgirls in Dhulikhel, Nepal
Waiting for the bus, Khukot, Nepal
We stopped for tea in Dhulikhel and lunch (dahl baht, of course) in a market town called Khukot.
Waiting for the bus in Phaplu, and waiting, and waiting....
Phaplu was pretty interesting. It consisted on a main street lined with 10s of shops and guesthouses. It is a busy trade town because it is at the end of the main paved road, although secondary roads do fan out to the north. Morning was noisy with trucks, dogs, yelling vendors, tractors pulling laden trailers, motor scooters, and planes droning overhead on their way to Lukla. The people were friendly and pleased to see foreigners (= potential customers).
Tibetan couple, Phaplu
We met the friendly couple who ran the Tibetan Shop. Many of these people are refugees from Tibet after the Chinese invaded in 1953 and proceeded to systematically destroy the culture and religious traditions. The Tibetans are ethnically different than the Sherpa people who have lived in these valleys and ridges for centuries.
Biscuits, chocolate, and other manufactured goods, Phaplu
Typical Phaplu guesthouse/hotel
Fermenting hot pepper sauce on the windowsill
The black and white photographs are from TMax 400 film from a Leica IIIC rangefinder camera. The color photographs are from Ektar 100 film shot with a compact Yashica Electro 35CC rangefinder camera with 35mm f/1.8 lens.

The next few Nepal articles will cover the towns and monasteries we visited on out trek north of Phaplu.

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