Nepal Trek, 1979 – Fr. Joe Thaler, MM
In the fall of 1979, Fr. Joe Thaler, Maryknoll missioner in Nepal, went on a trek in the Gosainkund and Helambu areas of Nepal with Babu Kagi, a Tamang man who worked in the Maryknoll House in Nepal. The following account is excerpted from Fr. Thaler’s diary and photographs documenting the trek:
A little after 7:00 am the bus left… As soon as we were outside of town…Babu Kagi and I climb up on the bus roof and enjoy the remainder of the ride looking at the beautiful views and mountains on this clear and sunny morning. As the bus comes to a halt in the Trusuli marketplace we are overwhelmed by men wanting to be our porters… Needless to say a lot of them were disappointed when they found out ‘Shab’ (that’s me) was going to carry his own backpack. So soon after arrival we were on our way to Betrawati where we camped the first night at 2100 ft… Most of the food we have is dried plus rice. Besides we have a tent and sleeping bags that we carry… This way we are able to camp along the river which provides us with the necessary water and the small kerosene stove is more than sufficient to cook on.
Saturday, September 15:
This day the walking was mostly uphill to Ramche [which] is at 5875 ft. Twice this day I was at police check-points where I was asked to show the trekking permit.
Sunday, September 16:
Today we go from Ramche to Dhunche [which] is at 6450 ft. Seems like every time we passed a stream I had to stop for a drink.
Up, up, up…to Chandabari at 8000 ft. In this place there are a couple of houses but the big attraction is a cheese factory… Once one gets into the real hills of Nepal the poverty is overwhelming at times… In places the only things in abundance are water, mountains and plenty of fresh air. But in many places the mountains are so steep that it is only through the daily hard work of the people that they survive.
Tuesday, September 18:
Still in Chandabari. Decided to stay an extra day. Actually we ate so much cheese yesterday we can’t move… The place here is beautiful. Tomorrow we climb and climb…for two days maybe going up around 15,000 and 16,000 ft to Gossainkund then over the pass to the Helembu area.
This was a day that I walked like I haven’t walked for a long time… Most of the day we were above the tree line… The fog and clouds were very thick with the visibility nearly zero… I was breathing like a steam engine… We walked a while today with our umbrellas out for it rained and then as we got higher it snowed… We arrived in Gosainkund…in the fog and snow. In this area there are supposed to be a hundred and eight lakes… we set up camp right next to one of the biggest lakes that is considered the most sacred…a place of pilgrimage…
Today was a rough day. We walked in the snow and up and over the pass [at Surjakund] that according to the map is 15,121 ft. Over the pass and it is down, down, down then it is up, up, up again. This is definitely the hardest day of the trek. Our destination was Gopte Cave, but we fell…short by two hours… We found a cave, really an overhanging rock, set up the tent and I crawled into my sleeping bag. We are still around 12,000 ft.
Friday, September 21:
Today most of the movement was downhill… We walk for eight hours…the last two hours are in the rain as we slipped and slid along on the down hills. Our stop for the night is a Sherpa village by the name of Malemchi Goan. So we spent our first night in over a week within a house.
From Malemchi Goan we walked across to Tarke Ghyan (8400 ft). In the middle of this area is a Buddhist Ghompa with a huge prayer wheel. The diameter of the wheel is over three feet and the wheel is close to eight feet tall.
Thursday, September 27:
We arrive in the village of Matthi…home of Babu Kagi and his family. This is also the time of Dasain and the Tamangs…are busy like everyone else in Nepal making the final preparations for the great feast…a time to celebrate the victory of the gods over the forces of destruction… This will be my first time to experience Dasain in a village…
Babu Kagi and I went to the house of his uncle who is a Buddhist Lama. Babu Kagi told him that I was a priest and he wanted me to be there for his puja ceremony. (Puja refers to the worship and prayer service). After the ceremony it was a rush back to Babu Kagi’s village for their Dasain puja. The eldest brother performed the Dasain ceremony…that will bring good luck to all involved. The brother led the prayers and chants, then he sprinkled rice around the altar and over the goats along with water and incense while the brothers take turns holding their goats which are about to be sacrificed.
In the afternoon we were off like little children to the area where…some of the village people [constructed] a wooden Ferris wheel for four people. [It] is called in Nepali a Roti Ping. It is a structure with two main ground supports. The top of these ground supports is built like a Y shape and through these Ys the center piece for the wheel is placed. Then square like structures are built around it and four seats are built and you go round and round…you have to see it and experience it to believe it.
About 5:00 pm, a bit later than expected…we set out for the village of Seela Gaon…It was a beautiful evening and I was amazed at the light that the moon provided for us. We stayed in this village for an extra day and visited with the many Tamangs and…left on Wednesday and finally returned back to the Maryknoll Nivas on Thursday the fourth of October.
Thank God for the wonder and beauty of His creation that surrounds each one of us. It is up to us to open our eyes and see it.