Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Current situation of trekking in Nepal post-earthquake and the impact on The Mountain Company’s Autumn treks

Photo: summit day on Mera Peak in Nepal
Following two earthquakes in Nepal on April 25th and May 12th we at The Mountain Company (“TMC”) have been assessing the current situation to determine the impact on our portfolio of Autumn treks.

We have been gathering information from various sources such as Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and directly from our trekking guides, NGOs/charities working on earthquake relief and lodge owners. I have also been following social media where have picked up useful information on current condition of these trekking regions through extensive contacts on Facebook. I was in Nepal throughout the Spring season and being on the ground was very useful in order to get the latest situation reports and updates.

As already published on TMC website fortunately following the earthquakes all of our groups, guides and staff are fine and accounted for. However sadly many of our guides and cooks lost their houses and we are helping to support them financially during these hard times. TMC had one group on Dhaulagiri Circuit during the earthquake and I was in daily contact with Almas Khan the leader of this group to determine the best course of action for them.

For more information on decisions we made for their safety and the group’s feedback on their experience please read Trip Report for Dhaulagiri Circuit in April 2015. TMC cancelled two treks (Upper Dolpo and Everest Base Camp) scheduled for arrival later in the Spring season as we felt there was a safety risk with further aftershocks and also felt it would be inappropriate to visit during the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

For Autumn 2015 season TMC has decided to organise most of our treks as planned except to areas badly affected by earthquake. The good news is that the following trekking areas should be open Autumn: Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Lower and Upper Mustang, Dolpo, Humla and Jumla.

Everest region has been affected both above and below Lukla however we have been in contact with lodge owners and most lodges used for our Everest Base Camp and Luxury Everest Base Camp treks have sustained only minor damage and should be repaired by Autumn season. Unfortunately the Everest Summit Lodge at Tashinga and Rivendell at Deboche have both been badly damaged so we will use alternative lodges at these locations.

I plan to go on a recce trek to Everest region during the month of September to check and inspect the condition of all our lodges. If I conclude these lodges are not safe then instead we will organise camping treks in the Khumbu. In the villages of Khumjung, Khunde and Thame there has been a lot of damage to the buildings so in these places we will use tented accommodation with meals provided by the tea houses.

The worst affected trekking regions in Nepal are Langtang, Gorkha, Rolwaling, Ganesh Himal (Ruby Valley), Manaslu and Tsum Valley. Unfortunately it will probably be not possible to trek in these areas until 2016 when they have had time to rebuild their houses, lodges and trails.

At The Mountain Company we have always taken the safety of our groups very seriously and during the next few weeks we will update our risk assessments for all trips and review for compliance with BS8848 ----> for more information on BS8848 and risk assessments. One of the issues encountered  by other trekking groups in Nepal after natural disasters like earthquakes and cyclones (i.e Cyclones Hudhud in October 2014 and Phailin in October 2013) is lack of communications as cell phones and land lines are often disrupted.

Please note for your safety The Mountain Company:
1) Sends Thuraya satellite phones with all of our trekking groups therefore we have direct communications with our leaders in the field.
2) Receives professional bespoke weather forecasts from everestweather.com for all of our treks in Nepal ----> for more information see blog article Weather forecasts for our Himalayan treks and expeditions during 2015

Following our initial review of risk assessments for Autumn we have identified increased risk of landslides, rockfalls and more exposure from damaged trails as well as possibility of further aftershocks. However our conclusion is that these risks should have stabilised by Autumn and it is likely the locals will have repaired trails and many of the lodges by October in time for the peak season. We will monitor the situation over the summer and my recce trek into the Everest region during September will help us make more accurate risk assessments before the start of Autumn season.

Earlier in the week I wrote a detailed article on TMC blog “Current condition of temples and buildings at World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley following April 2015 earthquake in Nepal”. I suggest you read this article as it explains how fortunately many of these structures at World Heritage sites have survived and in the future the destroyed temples will be rebuilt to regain their former glory.

Further good news is that the Kathmandu hotels used for TMC groups are still operational: these are Hotel Tibet, Hotel Manaslu, Hotel Ganjong and Hotel Shangri La. In Pokhara there was very little damage so all of the hotels in this city are operational too. Other places in Nepal that were unaffected by the earthquake also include Chitwan, Bardia, Lumbini, Tansen and Ilam.

The best way to help Nepal to recover from this devastating disaster is of course to come and visit on holiday later in the year. Not only will this help the economy bringing in much needed income but will also support the Nepalese people and give them a confidence boost during their post-earthquake rebuilding phase. TMC has a portfolio of treks now guaranteed to run including the following camping treks:

Dhaulagiri Circuit (Dates: October 4th to 23rd 2015)
Naar to Mustang GHT (Dates: October 30th to November 22nd 2015)
Mera Peak Expedition (Dates: October 31st to November 22nd 2015)
Kanchenjunga Circuit (Dates: November 4th to 29th 2015).

Please click here for TMC's full list list of treks guaranteed to run in 2015 and 2016

If you have already booked a trek with TMC for Autumn season then we will be in touch with you soon about the current status and any changes to the proposed itinerary. I am now back in UK so please get in contact if you need any further advice or information about trekking in Nepal.

Namaste and hopefully see you in Nepal!

Roland Hunter

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Trip report for Dhaulagiri Circuit led by Almas Khan in April 2015

Photo: terraced fields near Muri village
Our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in April 2015 was led by Almas Khan. Almas led our successful October 2013 trek around Dhaulagiri Circuit and I know he was looking forward to going back again (read October 2013 Trip Report). The Sirdar for this trek was Domi Sherpa one of our most experienced climbing guides and the assistant guides were Sonam and Khumbu. The cook was Saila Tamang.

Our Dhaulagiri Circuit group arrived to Kathmandu on April 19th. During this Spring season the Nepal Himalayan region received high amounts of precipitation, this was much more than usually experienced at this time of year. However we carefully tracked the amount of snow that had fallen in Dhaulagiri region for the last month through our bespoke weather forecasts and hindcasts from everestweather.com. From this information we identified there was less snow in Dhaulagiri region compared to Annapurna. Therefore we were confident with our experienced crew led by Almas Khan that our group would have a good chance of safely crossing the high passes to Jomsom.

On 20th the group flew to Pokhara then drove by bus to Beni where they met the trek crew and then walked to their first camp at Tatopani. The trek progressed as planned and on 24th they arrived to Dobang camp. However this all changed at 11.56am on 25th as there was a 7.8 Richter earthquake in Nepal with epicentre located near Gorkha. I was in Kathmandu during the earthquake and shortly afterwards I called Almas on his satellite phone to find out if the group and crew were all ok. I heard from Almas there was some rockfall on the trail although there were luckily no injuries in our team as the tremors were not so strong in this area compared to other trekking regions of Nepal.

On 26th we decided to allow the group to walk up to Italian Base Camp as this is a wide, open area with low risk of rockfall or avalanche so would be a safe place for them to stay for a while. After further discussions with Almas on satellite phone we decided to abort the trek as we were concerned about the risk of rockfall in the narrow Chonbarden gorge leading to Glacier Camp. All of the other groups descended from Italian Base Camp however we decided to keep the group at Italian Base camp for a further four days. We felt this was the safest option as it would be risky walking down the narrow Myagdi valley if there were further aftershocks.

The other consideration was the severe congestion at Kathmandu airport with many people trying to leave the country when at the same time many international aid flights were arriving. Therefore we decided to stick to their original return date to Kathmandu of May 6th. The group descended Myagdi valley and slept the night of May 5th in Beni then drove to Pokhara staying that evening at New Pokhara Lodge. On May 6th they all returned to Kathmandu as planned and then flew home on May 8th. By this time the airport was far less busy and was back to operating normal schedules so there were no delays or flight cancellations like a week earlier.

I was in Kathmandu when this group returned and spoke to each member of the group for a debrief. Everyone was supportive of our decisions and I gather they enjoyed their time exploring around Italian Base Camp and overall had a positive experience. Please see some of their comments below:

“There is no doubt that Almas is extremely experienced and there was no time on the entire trek where I felt like I was in danger including the earthquake. I believe the handling of the situation was very professional and in the interest of everyone in the party.” Eva (USA)

“I was of course concerned about the impact of the earthquake on the local people and our team - but I never had any concern that anything other than the best decision had been taken for the immediate safety of the group (both staff and clients).” Martin (UK)

Martin also went on to say “The Mountain Company specialises in its area of expertise and this showed through at every level - ability to communicate useful info; answer questions; provide the best best team for the trek and then take the best decisions re the earthquake. I was very happy to have chosen The Mountain Company. In addition one of my concerns on my first trip to Nepal was to ensure I traveled with a company who recognise the safety of the team (in particular porters) is equally important to that of tourists - I was very happy with The Mountain Company's approach to this.”

Thanks very much to Almas, Domi, Sonam, Khumbu, Saila and the rest of the crew for their help in organising this trek. Great job!

The Mountain Company has a guaranteed departure for our Dhaulagiri Circuit trek in October 2015 led by Allan Gibbs, please get in touch with us soon if you would like join this group.

Roland Hunter

Friday, 15 May 2015

Current condition of temples and buildings at World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley following April 2015 earthquake in Nepal


On April 25th 2015 there was 7.8 Richter scale earthquake in Nepal resulting in 9,000 fatalities and 19,000 injuries mainly in Gorkha, Dhading, Lamjung, Rasuwa (Langtang), Sindupalchok and Dolaka districts. Beyond the human cost, there was a huge amount of destruction to property resulting in over 500,000 houses being destroyed throughout the country and, as widely reported in the press, a lot of damage to the World heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley.

After the earthquake the media reports focused on the destruction at the World Heritage Sites however I was curious to find out which temples and buildings were still standing. As I was in Kathmandu I decided to inspect and to take photographs of these temples and historical buildings to find out their condition after the earthquake.

On May 12th and 13th I visited six out of the seven World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Swayambhunath Temple and Patan Durbar Square. I did not get the chance to have a look the seventh World Heritage site at Changu Narayan Temple.

It is incredibly sad to see many temples damaged and destroyed however I was surprised to also discover many were still standing and hardly affected by the earthquake. As my visit was more than two weeks after the main earthquake a lot of the debris had been cleared up by the army, police and many volunteer helpers.

From seeing these places after the earthquake I have come to the conclusion it is certainly still well worth visiting the World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley. Pashupatinath Temple was barely affected; in Patan and Bhaktapur most of the temples are still standing. I was very relieved to see both Boudhanath and Swayambhunath Buddhist stupas had survived too. It seems that Kathmandu Durbar Square was worst affected by the earthquake.

I have listed below the condition of World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley, please get in touch if you have any further information or changes since my visits.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

The good news is that Taleju temple known as tallest in Kathmandu survived, this is located at the north end of Durbar Square. In this area, the Jagannath Temple as well as the nearby Vishnu and Indrapur temples are also intact. The large stone image of Kala Bhairab, a manifestation of Shiva, known as God of wrath and terror is still standing.

Photo: Taleju temple after 2015 earthquake
Photo: entry to north side of Durbar Square

Over on the south side of Durbar Square the Kumari House sustained only minor damage, this is where a girl known as Kumar revered as the living goddess, lives.  Other surviving temples and buildings include Bimaheshwor Temple, Kabindradpur Sattal, House of the Priest, Mahhendreshwar Temple and Kabindra. The Shiva Parvati temple house where the Hindu gods Shiva and his consort Parvati take shelter has also survived.

Photo: Gaddi Durbar (heavily cracked) and empty plinth from destroyed Trailoka Narayan temple
Photo: rubble and debris from destroyed Kasthamandap temple 
Sadly the temples of Kasthamandap and nearby Biseshwori Mahadev as well as the tall pagoda style temples of Maju Dewal and Narayan that used to dominate Durbar Square all have completely collapsed. Trailoyka Narayan temple has been destroyed and and the large statue of Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu, has toppled. The nine-storey Basantapur tower overlooking Basantapur square has partially collapsed. The old royal palace at Hanuman Dhoka and also the large white palace at Gaddi Burbar has been badly damaged. The statue of King Pratap Malla in front of Hanuman Dhoka has toppled over.

Photo: Basantapur tower has partially collapsed after 2015 earthquake

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square is believed to be the oldest city in the valley dating back to Licchavi period 350 to 740 AD. The good news is that most of the temples survived however many of the older private houses collapsed around the main squares.  Fortunately the famous Pashupatinath, Nyatapola and Dattatraya temples all still standing. 

Photo: Chyasilin and Pashupatinath temples after 2015 earthquake
The Royal Palace, the magnificent Golden Gate and the palace of fifty- five windows all survived. The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla seen on a column facing the palace is still standing as well as the nearby Chyasilin Temple rebuild recently after 1936 earthquake.

Photo: Palace of 55 windows after earthquake
Photo: Nyatapola temple after 2015 earthquake
Vatsala Durga temple between Chyaslin and Pashupatinath collapsed and Siddhi Lakshmi shikara is damaged although still standing.

Patan Durbar Square

Luckily the magnificent Royal Palace survived the earthquake and its tall pagoda of Degutale. The main temples in Durbar Square Chyasin Dega, Krishna and Bhimsen survived too. However unfortunately Hari Shankar and Char Narain temples have completely collapsed. I heard Kwa Bahal monastery complex often know as Golden Temple and Machchhendranath Temple also are still standing. 

North of Durbar Square in Swotha Square the three-tiered pagoda temple dedicated to Radha-Krishna has collapsed (I climbed onto the stone plinth during the second earthquake on May 12th).

Photo: Royal Palace and Degutale pagoda
Photo: Krishna temple to left with Garuda on pillar facing temple
Photo: Bhimsen (merchant) temple

Photo: Vishwanath temple
Boudhanath stupa

The Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath has survived the earthquake intact, some of the golden sections at the top have been dislodged however these should be repairable. I noticed one one of the smaller stupas on north -east side has collapsed.

Photo: Boudhanath stupa after 2015 earthquake

Swayambunath stupa

The Buddhist stupa of Swayambunath has survived although many of the buildings, monasteries and temples around the main stupa have been damaged and collapsed. 

Photo: Syambunath stupa after 2015 earthquake
Photo: Harati temple (Hindu)
Photo: Anantapur shikhara temple destroyed in 2015 earhquake
Photo: Karmaraj Mahavihar monastery badly damaged

Pashupatinath

There has been very little damage at Pashupatinath temple complex located on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Sadly the ghats have been busy with cremations for the many people killed during 2015 earthquake. 

Photo: Pashupatinath temple
Photo: ghats with cremations on holy Bagmati river

The best way to help Nepal to recover from this devastating disaster is to come and visit later in the year. As you can see from these photos many of the temples and buildings of the World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley are still standing and not affected by the earthquake. There is no doubt Nepal with assistance from UNESCO and international community will rebuild many of the destroyed and damaged temples.

Please support Nepal by coming to visit for holiday this Autumn season. Most of the trekking areas in Nepal will be open apart from areas like Gorka and Langtang most severely affected, I will write an article on TMC blog with more information about where it is possible to trek once we have more information.

Please get in touch if you have any further information or updates on the current condition of these places or if you have any corrections on this blog. Thanks!

Roland Hunter


The Mountain Company