Thursday, January 12, 2017

My past travels in Nepal, weather extremes past and present (I) (1/12/2017)

It has been a crazy weather week (again) this first full week of the New Year.  For us in Yorktown it was somewhere around 11 inches (28 cm), with even snow in Alabama and floods in drought stricken California.  The year has barely started and the weather extremes are raising their ugly heads already, a sign that the climate is changing.

This is what the ponds behind our home looked like during the middle of the storm that dropped 11 inches of snow in our area.  It was actually great to go out for a hike
I saw an article that a climate change skeptic posted on LinkedIn (this is my LinkedIn profile) the other day where a researcher claimed that the temperature had actually gone down 0.3 degrees in the past 1000 years.  It is like anyone can measure that with any tools or any precision, or that we had a tool 1000 years ago to measure the temperature.  However, the skeptics are using it as proof; they don’t want to see what has happened in the last 100 years.  But let’s make sure that we confirm a climate change denier (or skeptic) to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the next four years and let the environment go to hell.  Oh well, I better get of my soap box.

In their 2017 report, the World Economic Forum reports that one of the most likely risks with the most severest impacts on society will be extreme weather events (top right corner).
We know that climate change is the cause of those extreme events.
Interestingly enough those extreme events can be linked to many of the other threats on this graph.

The weather brought me thoughts back to our time in Nepal (I have written at least two more posts where I mention Nepal).  I worked there from late 1981 to late spring on 1983.  I worked in natural resources management in three districts (provinces) that ranged from the lowlands (in Myagdi) to the highlands behind the main mountain range on the Tibetan plateau (in Mustang).  The other district I worked in was Gorkha, the district that was the epicenter of the recent earthquake and the home area of the famous Gurkha soldiers.  This week’s weather brought back all the weather extremes we encountered while living there.

I was working with some yack and sheep herders in the highlands above Muktinath in the Mustang district.  Muktinath is a sacred place and an important pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhist alike.  The elevation of Muktinath is 12,170 feet (3710 meters), and I had been working in the pastures around 14,000 to 16,000 feet (4,200 to 4,800 meters), which was challenging in itself.  Getting back to the hotel (a hut with a common sleeping area) where I was staying that evening, I had one of the most mystical times of my life.  Three Buddhist monks were holding a meditation/prayer ceremony in the main room that I was able to watch.  They were chanting … Ohm … reciting sacred scripts in Sanskrit, spinning the praying wheels ringing bells, burning butter, it was amazing.  I was just sitting there sipping Tibetan tea and taking it all in.  It touched me deep inside.

I took a photo of this guy (obviously Tibetan stock) during one of my hikes to Muktinath.  He was sitting on the side of the trail, selling trinkets to tourists who were hiking up to the temples.  I had a wonderful talk with him.  That was the advantage of living and working there, I spoke the language and could communicate with the people in their language.
The next morning though we woke up to an unexpected snow storm.  There was at least 4 inches (10 cm) on the ground already and it was a complete whiteout.  My guide recommended that we get off the mountain and back to Jomsom (at approximately 9000 feet elevation or 2700 meters) as quickly as possible before everything became unpassable and we would be stuck up there for who knew how long.  In those days there was no vehicular travel in these areas and everything was done by foot, so here we set off in a snow storm on a 4 to 5 hour hike down the mountain in heavy snow.  I vividly remember the hike back; it was sometimes difficult to see the trail, but nothing really seriously happened during the trip, but if you have ever hiked in deep snow, into strong wind and heavy snow fall, you would know.  Once back in Jomsom; however, I was literally exhausted, I could hardly move, had a headache, and I could not understand why.  Finally, in the evening it dawned on me that I had never peed (urinated) that day; while hiking makes me thirsty, hiking in the snow storm didn’t, and I did not drink much or any water that day.  Together with hiking in heavy snow, the dehydration and elevation were playing tricks with me and I was in danger of dehydration, and that could set of altitude sickness, or maybe I already had a mild case of it.

That evening in the hotel I just swigged water like crazy and enjoyed the Bollywood movie they were showing in the hotel.  The movie was a rare treat, but me and a bunch of tourists were stuck, snowed in for a day or so until the weather lifted and I could fly out.

On an earlier trip I had met Tsampa Ngawang a Tibetan scholar sitting next to me.  Tsampa and a guy named Pasang Sherpa (who I met later) had joined the famous anthropologist/religious scholar David Snellgrove on his treks and studies through Nepal.  Tsampa and I often spoke about those trips and about Tsampa's interests.  This photo was taken when I took my wife (and dogs) to Mustang and we visited Tsampa and his wife at their home up in the highlands (a remote village in the back of the Annapurna at around 10 or 11,000 feet).  We still own prayer flags, the printing block that Tsampa carved to print them and a publication that he wrote.  Also shown in the picture is their young child and our "guard" (the project insisted we had a Gurkha guard) Bim Bahadhur.
This episode taught me a valuable lesson: you can even get dehydrated in a snow storm!  Next time I'll write about how we were impacted by the monsoon in Nepal, by flash floods and landslides.


  1. Tashi Delek
    This is Amchi Dr. Tsewang Gyurme Gurung son of Amchi Tshampa Ngawang Gurung ( Chhamb Nahwang Gurung ). It's happy to see my parents picture. I have written to David Snellgrove but it was sad to know his demise. Thank you for old memories. Contact me via

  2. Unfortunately the place where the photo was taken is also no longer there. It was destroyed by the earthquake.

  3. David Snellgrove past away not so long ago.
    So sorry to hear your homestead was destroyed by the earthquake.