Harishwar and I were always passionately fond of the high mountains, and had made a number of trips, sometimes on official duty while we were in Sikkim, but mostly on holidays. We chose to be posted in Nepal, hoping to make a few tours in the north, particularly in the Solu Khumbu region. On arrival, however, we were told that it would be impossible as the distances are enormous, which would entail too long an absence from Kathmandu, and there were no facilities for trekking, such as dak bungalows, food-shops and communications. Those who had already done the trip made a mystery of it and also discouraged us from undertaking the journey.
In March, 1963, 1 made up my mind to set out on my own, with Harishwar meeting me by helicopter either at Gire (six days' march from Kathmandu) or at Namche Bazaar.
On March 21, our staff consisting of ten porters, an assistant who kept the accounts and two servants left, and I followed them two days later with Sardar Ang Tharkey, reaching Hiplu at 4 p.m., having covered 16 miles on foot, including an extremely stiff climb from Dolaghat to Hiplu, that is from 1,800 feet to 5,000 feet, in four-and-a-half hours.
March 24: Setting out at 5 a.m., reached the top of Chaubas at 7 a.m., walking through a thin drizzle. Rhododendrons were in bloom and we saw many wild flowers and birds. The Chaubas Ridge is fairly long and on a bright day the entire Himalayan range of Nepal is visible, right from Dhaulagiri in the west to the Khumbu mountains in the east. From Chaubas down to Nigale there is a sharp descent and then one crosses a river before a steep climb to Risingo. Risingo has an old monastery and a number of fruit orchards, mostly orange and grape-fruit. The houses have good carvings on doors and windows, and prayer flags flutter over the entire village. After an hour's walk through Risingo, there is another steep descent to Dhading and, finally, a stony path leads to Pheda (ca. 5,000 feet), a 16-mile walk. We camped by the river and enjoyed the cool waters after the day's march. The place was teeming with black partridge.
March 25, third day : It rained nearly all day but we managed to reach a bridge below Namdo late that evening. One climbs up a steep hill to Chitre and the top is about 9,000 feet, for we saw many black pheasants and alpine flowers, which unlike Kashmir and Sikkim are to be found above 8,000 feet in Nepal. From Chitre there is a pleasant descent through a thick pine forest to the Sankhu suspension bridge and a climb up to Kirati- chap, before another descent to the bridge below Namdo. We had done 21 miles that day without ill-elfect.
March 26, fourth day : Starting at 4 a.m., we reached Namdo at 7 a.m. and after light refreshment, during which time the porters laid in their stock of rice (rice sells cheaper in Namdo than anywhere in Nepal), we walked down to the river beyond Kapre, where we saw a number of prosperous villagers. The crops were excellent but I could not get a pony for love or money, although we saw a couple of them grazing in the fields. The ascent from Kapre to the top of the pass (ca. 10,000 feet) is extremely steep through thick rhododendron forest, but at the crest of the hill the view of Gauri Shankar, Rolwaling and other peaks is splendid. For the first time, I saw Shyorungi-la (shaped somewhat like Narsing as seen from Gangtok), the sacred peak of the Solu Sherpas. Then the rest of the march was quite easy to Mekchang —first a gentle slope to Sigrikhola along the river, then a gentle climb to Mekchang Those, a fairly large village with a bazaar, Middle School and dispensary, the first to be seen so far. We could see Gire from Sigrikhola, where the Swiss have set up an air-strip and there is a small Swiss colony, a very well-run clinic, a fair-price shop and a school. We walked 18 miles.
March 27, fifth day : There were two very steep climbs, first up towards Barar, passing the route to Thotung where the Swiss have a cheese factory, then down to Barar Gompa and a long stretch of fiat walk through quite a large village. How I longed to have a pony and a canter across it, as we used to do on the Tibetan plateau, nearing Phari or Gyantse ! From Barar down to Ginja there is a long downward slope through dense utis jungle and one stops by the river for a rest, before proceeding up to Shete, which we reached at about 5 p.m. having covered 16 miles that day. In the morning we received a message that my husband could not meet me at Gire as expected and I was disappointed.
March 28, sixth day : Continuing the climb to the Pamper La in a severe snowstorm, we felt rewarded at the top when we had most glorious views of the mountains, Shyorungi La (here its shape was like Lama Anden in Sikkim) on one side and the Pike La on the other, and rhododendron in full bloom, with large primulas. The ground was covered with snow and it took an hour to cross the pass ; after a gradual descent we reached Jumbesi at about 4 p.m., having walked about 12 miles. Jumbesi is an attractive village and is the centre of the Solu region. There is an attractive gateway, painted in bright colours.
March 29, seventh day : From Jumbesi we went up to Nimare and then down to the river, with a very steep climb to Takshindo La. All the way up, the path was covered with huge mauve primulas. From Takshindo to Jubing the path is quite simple, though we walked about 17 miles. Jubing is a small village on the Dudh Kosi which accompanied us from here right up to the last day. Yellow orchids were to be seen on many trees, and rock after rock by the river covered with the white variety.
March 30, eighth day: From Jubing onwards we entered the ‘smallpox zone' and literally rushed through it. First, a steep climb and descent to Kharekhola, then a very steep climb to the Karila, and a descent to the forest near Puyan, where hillside after hillside is just one huge mass of white Magnolia grandiflora reminiscent of the Zemu Valley abundance of rhododendron. There were rhododendrons here also, but not as plentiful or varied as in Sikkim. We walked about 18 miles.
March 31, ninth day: From Puyan to Namche, we passed a number of desolate villages: Surkhe, which had claimed 15 lives in a recent smallpox epidemic ; Chaurikharkha, which has very fine mani walls, and where Hillary is constructing an air-strip ; Muchise Ghat; following the course of the roaring Dudh Kosi all the way. It was pathetic the way people approached me, anxiously asking if I was the amji-la (doctor) come with smallpox vaccine. Others wanted to sell us eggs, milk and fowl at half- rates.
April 1, tenth day : Waking up early, I wore my Tibetan dress, after a cold bath in the icy river, and continued the walk up to Namche, where I expected to get good news of Harishwar's arrival by helicopter. Just outside Namche we were met by a large crowd of school children who gave us a warm welcome, smothering us with scarves and flowers and offering us refreshment. I met many old Tibetan refugees who were really happy to see me dressed like the Iha-chams (wives of noblemen) of Tibet. They had not seen anyone in typical Lhasa dress for many years. Namche is a small town somewhat like Pede in Tibet, very dirty, dusty, windy and cold. There are a few rich tradesmen known as mahajans, but even they live in dirty houses, making the kitchen their living-room. I got a message that my husband could not make the trip, after all. There was another change of government in Nepal which required his presence in the capital. It was always some political crisis which prevented us making the trips or returning earlier than expected. The Sherpas are extremely pious and their devotion to the Dalai Lama is unflinching, as is evident among the Ladakhis, the Lahoulis, the Sikkimese and the Bhutanese. Everyone, man, woman and child, wears his photo in a locket. All over Khumbu we pass enormous rocks painted with Buddhist prayers and sacred words in large letters. These words, Om mani padma hum, are to be seen everywhere, all over the Himalayas, engraved on stones and rocks. The mani walls of Ladakh are most impressive, and some very long, but I had not seen so many gigantic rocks with the inscription before. The people seemed poorer than the Ladakhis and Sikkimese but quite hardy and cheerful. After lunch we went on to Khumjung (where Hillary had his camp) and reached Thyangboche in the late afternoon. Thyangboche is a most beautiful spot, surrounded by high mountains, and I saw Everest every day for the next five days at any time of day and night. It was a heavenly sight by moonlight. Ama Dablam, and other towering peaks, seemed to welcome us in their fresh mantles of snow. The Incarnate Lama of Thyangboche was most kind to us and showed us the monastery and his chapel. Next day he held special prayers for us and I was reminded of our many happy visits to monasteries in Tibet— the same prayer flags, the same budens (low seats) with small rugs, the familiar chanting of prayers, green tea being served from huge kettles, incense burning and the blare of Tibetan trumpets. All the lamas were seated in rows, reading their scriptures with the Rimpoche (Incarnate Lama) on his high seat. After the usual prayers he made a special sermon for the peace and happiness of India, Nepal and Tibet. In the evening we dined with him in his small room, which was decorated with fabulous old thankas and a Lhakhang (prayer altar) with many old manuscripts wrapped in brocade and thing (set of seven silver bowls containing holy water). There was the usual exchange of scarves and presents. Unfortunately, my husband was not there for this, the first visit of an Indian woman to the monastery.
April 2, eleventh day : We rested and Ang Tharkey made preparations for the onward march. We had to engage only Sherpas, as Thamang porters could not go further. To test my stamina, he took me up a hill about 15,000 feet high behind Thyangboche and I managed to reach the top without much difficulty. I had no previous experience of mountain-climbing nor had I found any crampons or rope at Namche, as expected. The American expedition and those following them had taken everything. No supplies were available and I almost regretted not having taken them from the villagers in the smallpox zone, which I avoided like the plague. My fascination for the mountains, however, sustained my spirits and I was determined to climb to a height of 19,000 feet.
April 3, twelfth day: We set out early for Thugla but were caught in a snowstorm, even before Pheriche, and were compelled to stop there. It was bitterly cold, and with insufficient clothing and food supplies, I sadly decided to return next morning. The height was about 14,000 feet.
April 4, thirteenth day : It was an exceptionally clear day and all the peaks were visible, particularly Taweche, almost in front of us. I could not resist the temptation of trying to climb the Taweche Ridge, as advised by Dawa Tensing. He had watched us climb the hill behind Thyangboche. We left camp at 7 a.m. and crossed the river reaching the foot of the mountain at 8 a.m. From there, Aug Tharkey, a young Sherpa boy from Thyangboche, Ram Naresh and I climbed up very slowly over rocks and ice. After about an hour we were right opposite Makalu and surrounded by peaks, Ama Dablam at the back, Kumbhui La, Taweche towering above us, and to the east, Pumori, Nuptse, the ice- fall, Lhotse and, of course, Everest. My life's dream had been fulfilled. It was the biggest thrill of my life, and I only wished my husband had been with us. Our progress was very slow and we reached the top of the ridge after 2 p.m., that is six hours. From there onwards it was impossible to proceed without crampons and ropes. The height was about 20,000 feet, but still we felt we were nowhere, as there was Makalu looking down on us. We were, however, higher than the Khumbu ice-fall. Ang Tharkey advised returning, as our only equipment was a broken ice-axe of the first Indian team to Everest.
We returned next day and completed the journey on foot to Gire in five days, but waited there another five days for a lift back by a Pilatus Porter of the Swiss Technical Aid.
Encouraged by this trip, I persuaded my husband to undertake a trip in May, but just as we were about to finalize the arrangements, he received a wire asking him to go to Delhi on May 27. So we had to go to Langtrang, which is a much shorter trip.
May 13, first day: We left Kathmandu by jeep for Trisuli, which is very hot and low down by the Betravati. From there we got ponies and rode up to a charming spot called Kalikasthan amidst pines and near a very old shrine.
May 14, second day : We walked most of the way to Dhunche, along a very difficult path over rocks, past a number of dirty villages, Ramche, Bokajhunda, Grang, all of which had old houses with carved windows. There are some beautiful forests and we got good views of the Ganesh Himal peaks. Dhunche is about 7,000 feet and we covered 12 miles, camping in a lovely meadow. My husband shot a black partridge.
May 15, third day: We left camp before 6 a.m., as the horses would not go further. The path is very narrow and dangerous. We descended to a stream and crossed it by a log bridge with water-wheels; then a steady climb through pines and grass, passing a tricky bit built on piles, and a sharp descent to Bhargu Khola. On this route, camping places are hard to find, as there are few flat stretches near streams. There were lovely fields of wheat on one side and maize on the other on terraces. After a break, we climbed up again and down to another stream along the Trisuli River to Shyabrubesi. Villagers had primulas stuck in their ears as in Sikkim. Near Dhunche we were shown a Sita cave, said to be a day's march away. All along the route we saw loads of cigarettes, soap and kerosene oil being taken to Timure (the border between Tibet and Nepal) for Kyrong. At Shyabrubesi there is a Police checkpost and the road branches off to Langtrang, Timure, Ganesh Himal side and Gosainkund. There is a swinging suspension bridge.
May 16, fourth day: Left camp at 5 a.m. climbing through a lovely forest full of chir up to 8,000 feet, then among terraced wheat and barley fields and ringalls, and a hot climb through rhododendron forest, along the Langtrang Chu which was way below us. At 9,000 feet it was very exhilarating with firs and occasionally red rhododendrons still in bloom, rather like Bhutan. We met Tibetans with dzos. The narrow path continues with ups and downs, in places built on logs up to Sherpagaon, passing many streams. It was rather tedious thereafter, losing height. We camped in a forest of oaks and tall grass which reminded one of home (Naini Tal).
May 17, fifth day: Walking up beautiful fir and oak forest with the Langtrang Chu on the right, a rushing torrent, and pink and white rhododendrons in full bloom, we picnicked in a glorious spot by a stream, oakwood, meadow, rhododendrons, all in one. We saw Lhangchen Lhendup and other peaks quite clearly from here onwards. My husband shot five snow pigeons near Lang- trang village about 11,000 feet and we camped in a sheltered spot further away. The bodyguard shot a couple of monal. The height here was 11,600 feet. There were masses of azaleas, irises and rhododendron bushes in full bloom.
May 18, sixth day: We reached Gyanzen Gompa at about 10 a.m. and went up a side valley behind it to a wide gravelly amphitheatre, where we had wonderful views of two glaciers and saw the Drakpoche, which I wanted to climb. The kholas are full of boulders, rather like Ladakh, and the country rather rugged but softer than Ladakh or Khumbu. At the junction of the two glaciers there is an impressive ice-fall, and it began to snow heavily. We returned in a snowstorm.
May 19, seventh day : Rode most of the way to Langshisa and to the foot of the Langtrang Glacier, which is very long. It takes about ten days to reach the top.
May 20-22: We returned to Dhunche from where my husband proceeded to Kathmandu, and I retraced my steps to Langtrang, which I reached on May 24; Dhunche to Sherpagaon in one day, then beyond Langtrang and making our Base Camp at the Gompa.
May 25: From the Gompa (12,500 feet) we moved towards Yalla, crossing a bridge and over the ridge, gradually climbing through fresh snow to a height of 18,000 feet and camping under a rock. It snowed hard all night but the morning was bright. Ram Naresh felt too cold and returned to the Gompa, while Ang Tharkey, my servant, Govind Ram, a Garhwali and five Langtrang Sherpas continued the climb up the Drakpoche Ridge in soft snow. We camped at 19,500 feet on a moraine and in the very heart of the Langtrang range with a magnificent view of Langtrang Lining to the west. It snowed heavily all night.
May 27: Ang Tharkey, Govind and I left camp at 6 a.m. and walked steadily up the ridge through hard snow, tied on a rope and with crampons. All around us were deep crevasses which Ang Tharkey skilfully avoided. The route got steeper and steeper and the sky very cloudy until we reached just below the top of Drakpoche, a formidable looking rock 21,460 feet high. We were about 150 feet below it and waited in vain for a cloud to disperse. Visibility was reduced to nil between us and the rock, and there was a gaping crevasse on one side. After waiting an hour, Ang Tharkey advised us to return, as he feared an avalanche. It snowed heavily all the way down to Yalla which we reached late that evening. Unfortunately, we could not make another attempt as I had to be in Kathmandu by June 1 to meet my husband, who was due back from Delhi on the 2nd.
Encouraged by this second attempt, I collected a good deal of mountaineering equipment from a Japanese expedition and the Munich Institute of Himalayan Research very kindly made us a most generous gift of excellent equipment, tents, sleeping-bags, ropes and foodstuffs. On my previous climb I was ill-equipped. We decided to try a 22,400-foot peak called Tsala Sungo in the Ganesh Himal Range, and set out on September 25 towards Shyabrubesi, where we had to cross to the other side of the Bhote Kosi. We had very bad weather all along and were compelled to spend two days at Shyabrubesi as the bridge leading to Chilmen Valley was broken and we were hoping to find another route. Having failed to get across, we decided to return to Langtrang and try another high peak, an unnamed one to the east of Drak- poche which we had seen in May. This time we had two other Sherpas, besides Ang Tharkey. From Shyabrubesi onwards we had to wade through tall grass and overgrown weeds, and in fact lost our way in the thick overgrowth. From Langtrang it snowed heavily and we reached Gyalgin Gompa on October 1 in a severe snowstorm. I was stricken with toothache and could not avoid aspirin to lessen the pain. I usually avoid strong drugs.
October 3: When the rain abated slightly, we set out behind the Gompa along the Drakpoche Ridge and had to take shelter in a hut. Langtrang Sherpas are not strong or brave and they all wanted to return. After much persuasion, we continued the climb in soft snow and finally camped near a goatherd's shelter about 16,500 feet high—lower than my camp in May. It snowed heavily but the night was clear and all the stars were out.
October 4: We set out in soft snow, I falling thigh deep at almost every step and felt exhausted by the time we reached our camp at a little below 19,000 feet. The weather cleared and the views were breath-taking.
October 5: Ang Tharkey, my husband, a sturdy young Sherpa from Darjeeling, Phurpa, and I set out at 6 a.m., all fastened to one long Japanese rope. The sun was very bright and the glare almost blinding. We went very slowly, passing the Drakpoche Ridge and climbing up a very steep rock. Phurpa was in front, cutting steps, then myself, my husband and Ang Tharkey at the end, advising Phurpa which direction to take. Finally we reached the top, a peculiar-shaped knob-like ice-ball jutting out to one side, and saw all the Langtrang peaks below us, except the Langtrang Lining. This point was unnamed, marked 22,770 feet in Auf- schneiter's map. It was a great moment for all of us and we embraced each other warmly. Photographs could not be taken on the top, which was covered with heaps of fresh snow with a deep slope of several thousand feet on one side and a glacier on the other. We came back to Camp I by late evening and I felt quite exhausted, as I was continuously falling in deep fresh snow. On our return journey we went towards Timure and camped on a sandbank by the Bhote Kosi.
In November we set out again towards Rolwaling, and I made an entire circuit of the east, and met Harishwar at Gire on the 29th. I left Kathmandu on November 23 by the Namche Bazaar route up to Pheda, from where the climb up to the pass 7,800 feet is very gradual. The view from the pass was superb, a tremendous sweep from Dhaulagiri to Makalu. After a pleasant walk for about an hour, there is a very steep descent to a village called Sero. Both sides of the river there are huts and fields ; then a very steep climb to Cherikot, a large village with an excellent view of the snows. We camped at Dholaka, which was once an important town of the Newars, judging from the exquisite carved windows and the Bhim Sen Temple which faces the Gauri Shankar Range. From Dholaka there is a steep descent to Mulpu Khola, a lovely aquamarine river with pine forests on both sides. We reached Phikuti Khola and went on towards Bulung, camping in a forest.
Next day I climbed up to Chiani village, 9,500 feet, where the view of Gauri Shankar is glorious. The name Gauri Shankar is most appropriate. Shankar, an enormous rock, shows the powerful aspect of the Lord Shiva, while its mate Gauri, shorter and slightly inclining in ' namaskar', is very white. All the villages were decorated with garlands of flowers on the occasion of Kartik Ekadashi.
From Phikuti Khola to Gire was a very long and tedious walk and there was no camping spot on the way, so we decided to take another route, as a long march for my husband landing off the plane would be too much for a first day. On November 29 my husband came to Gire in Mr. Jenny's Champion two-seater plane. Next day we reached a forest where we camped by the side of the Bhote Kosi. The path is very narrow and stony and at one place we had to cross a waterfall. There had been several landslides in this area. The climb to Shimigaon is very steep and the country is full of game birds. All along we got excellent views of Gauri Shankar, Melamche and Chauba Mare, passing dense rhododendron and oak forests and later spruce trees ; many of them had been burnt during a storm. Finally we reached Rolwal- ing River and camped under rocks, just below Gauri Shankar. It was a great sight by moonlight, Shankar showing the kind aspect of the Lord Shiva with soft snow-lines on its great face.
Next morning we walked on towards Beding, the last village, before crossing the Tashi Lepcha into Khumbu. There were many pink-barked rhododendron trees, as in the Zemu Valley. There was plenty of frost and the ground oozy, as in the Zemu Region. The spruce trees are very beautiful in this part of Nepal and the weather quite mild compared with other Himalayan regions at this time of year. Thus in 1963, we had trekked in spring, summer, autumn and winter.