Thursday, March 23, 2017

My past travels in Nepal, weather extremes past and present (II) (3/23/2017)

As promised and trying stepping away from my anxieties about current-day politics, a trip down memory lane today. On the 12th of January this year I was prompted to write about an extreme weather event we were experiencing here on the east coast of the U.S.A. and that made me reminisce about a snow storm that I experiences in Nepal <click here to see that post>. That episode made me think of the comic book of my youth called “Tintin in Tibet.” But I never saw the Yeti, also known as the abominable snowman.

Well the weather extremes this year did not stop from occurring with that one event. In February we had 80 degree (27 degree Celsius) days and now in March we have seen snow (actually parts of the East Coast have seen one of the worst snow storms ever) and it has been very cold.  It has been a crazy year in many aspects.

But let's step away from that and as promised talk about our stay in Nepal (1981-1983).  Yep, that was a long time ago; it was way before many of us were talking about global warming or climate change, although we Europeans were somewhat aware that it was imminent, having been alerted to the possibility by a 1972 report published by the "Club of Rome."  But again, I digress.  

It was our first monsoon season 1982 (10 years after the publication of that report) and in our naivety we decided to stay in the country through the height of the rainy season.  Hearing this, our best friends planned to visit us, not knowing what we were into.  Well, monsoon means rain, and a lot of it!  When our friends left after two weeks they had seen one fleeting glimpse of the Himalayas (probably 15 seconds long), when during our trek (or hike) the skies finally opened up and they saw the Machapuchare or the Fishtail, a sacred mountain in Nepal.  Except for the hike through the foothills they really wondered if there were really 27,000 feet (8000 meter) plus mountains back there.

This is a picture I took of the Annapurna massive, with Annapurna 1 (26545 ft., the 10th highest in the world) sticking up.  You can barely make out Machapuchare to the right, the fishtail is just sticking out of the clouds.
Another view of the Annapurnas from Pokhara.  Machapuchera is now in the foreground and is blocking the view of Annapurna 1.  To the far left is Annapurna South and far right Annapurna 2.

During that monsoon season we had seen our share of landslides already, but we decided to take our best friends (who were visiting from Holland) to the village where we lived part of the time.  For us who were used to hiking it usually took us 2 days to hike to our home (eventually we could do it in 10 hours; we were in killer shape), but with them the trek took us 3 days.

The first night out we stayed at a local hotel (hut and you sleep on the floor on a mat in a communal room, so the word hotel is a bit of a stretch).  As usual in the monsoon, it started to thunder and rain.  And it rained and rained.  We went to sleep and around midnight we were awoken by other guests by the words "Pani auncha" which can be translated as "water is coming."  We got up and stepped out of the hut and the rushing water was over our knees in the village.  So what do you do?  It is pitch black outside, rushing water down the streets and they tell you the water is coming?  It is already there, darn it! So it will probably be rising even higher and the only thing you can do is to make a run for it.  Our first instinct was to rush down stream with the water.  After a few steps, a person in the next hut tells us not to do that but to go up stream.  Easier said then done.  There are no paved roads but stone paths with steps that are now covered with knee-deep rushing water, you cannot see where you step and where the path is, it was a struggle.  Finally after some time we get to an area where the water is less high.  A good Samaritan sees us and invites us into their home and we all huddle around the fire drink hot tea and wait for the storm to subside and the water to go down.  Eventually we do sleep some there and by morning we go back to the hotel pick up our stuff and get on our way, tired but safe.

A picture of the Annapurna during the monsoon
What happened was that the village was at the mouth of a valley and this storm got stuck in the valley and dumped so much water in the watershed that evening and it all came rushing out.  Obviously, this had occurred before, because the people knew to go upstream and not downstream, where flooding would have been worse.  Our friend died a number of years ago and we saw him a few years before his death, but he still remembered those words "Pani auncha" and we reminisce about them. 

A typical monsoon day in Nepal, cloudy and heavy rains 
For us it was just a foreboding of what was to come during our trek to our home in the village, and I will write more about it in a subsequent post.

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