Zerky in Nepal

Map of Nepal

January 5, 1968, from JoAnne’s Diary: Read and relaxed in the AM, walked around Katmandu in the PM. We met some interesting people at the Camp Hotel, which appears to be the center of organized trekking activity here in Nepal. A Sherpa cost 10 rupees a day, they told me, and will act as our cook and guide. They are also in charge of the porters, who cost five Nepali rupees (50 cents) per day per 60 pounds. The legal limit they can carry is one hundred kilos, which equals 220 pounds. Wow! The flight to Pokhara costs 79 Rupees each way ($7.50) and is supposed to be one of the finest flights in the Himalayas. So now we are going hiking or rather “trekking,” as they call it here in Nepal.

January 7, 1968. Our Sherpa’s name is Ang Lakbah. Along with our new friend, Brian, we went shopping for supplies.

January 8, 1968. Tomorrow we fly to Pokhara to begin our 150 mile hike into the Annapurna region of Nepal. Tukuche, our destination, is on the Kali Gandaki River between 22,653-foot Annapurna and 26,559-foot Dhaulagiri. Both of them are major Himalayan peaks, and Bill tells me that the valley in between them has the greatest vertical height differential of any place on earth.

January 9, 1968. We landed on a dirt runway at Pokhara that had no airline terminal at all. Our porters were waiting for us at the end of the runway. Hiked a couple of miles to Tibetan Camp where we put up our beloved little pup tent. This is the first time we have used it since we were in Zermatt. Our Tibetan porters are quite friendly, and Ang Lakbah, our Nepali Sherpa, is especially nice.
We got our first view of 23,000 foot Machapuchare today, and also saw Annapurna far in the distance. We will have to climb around the base of it to the opposite side in order to get to Tukuche.

January 10, 1968. Our little troop of tenderfoots has blisters on its feet. Brian met a Gurkha who had been to Liverpool. An innkeeper wanted 3 rupees per head for a place to sleep. Ang Lakbah said no, so we pushed on to Lumli where all six of us ended up staying together in a single small room. Climbed over our first pass today.

January 11, 1968. Marched all day in the rain. Ang Lakbah has taken it upon himself to be Zerky’s protector and sole mode of transportation. Nepalis don’t use backpacks such as we have in the West; instead they use large wicker baskets with a strap around their foreheads. Lakbah has rigged one up to carry Zerky in. First he stuffed his basket full of sleeping bags and then hollowed out a hole in the middle into which he plopped Zerky, unceremoniously. Now Zerk is warm and comfortable. Perched high on Lakbah’s back, he looks like a bird in his nest who enjoys the constant motion and the constantly changing views.

Zerky, Sherpa &  Annapurna

Zerky, Sherpa & Annapurna

January 12, 1968. Clear and sunny this morning with melting snow sliding off broad-leafed trees. Monkeys along the trail. It clouded over as we climbed to the top of the pass at Ghorapani. Had our first glimpse of Dhaulagiri and also passed a mule train of between a hundred and two hundred mules carrying wool from Tibet down into India. All the mules were gaudily decked out in red plumes and colored streamers. They wore bells and had bright carpets on their rumps. In charge at the head of the caravan was a Tibetan listening to a transistor radio.

The houses here don’t have chimneys and most of the smoke finds its way out through leaks in the roof. Our big Tibetan porter with the braided hair looks like an Apache.

The trail was very muddy today. Bill’s ankle is sore and my knee hurts. Yesterday’s long downhill slog from the pass took its toll on us. While cactus blooms red and yellow, and tangerines ripen, we are freezing. Bright red poinsettias on the hillsides along with palm trees and bamboo.

January 15, 1968. Sun’s out again but this morning we ran into snow on the trail. I have been penicillin drunk all day. Bill fell and bruised his tailbone. Zerk is miserable. This has not been one of our better days. Along the trail today, we saw a lot of “half-yaks,” a cross between a yak and a cow, which appears to be the most popular beast of burden. Crossed into a new region of Nepal called Thakkhola.

A View of the Kali Gandaki Gorge

A View of the Kali Gandaki Gorge

Today we ramped through our first Thakali village, Nye. We are now in the upper reaches of the Kali Gandaki River, a tributary of the Ganges that we are following on up to Tukuche. Ang Lakbah has found us a house for tonight that is made out of stone and has a flat roof and a wooden floor, except for the foyer which is mud. Our house has cupboards with dishes, brass cooking pots and other household utensils neatly arranged on the wall. Zerky has fallen in love with a mean goat.

January 16, 1968. A grim cold wind is pushing down the valley out of Tibet. Most of today’s hike was directly into it, which slowed us down and made us feel like we were climbing a steep hill. Had lunch at a village before Tukuche where we were tempted to turn back. Brian and Bill both have diarrhea. As soon as we arrived in Tukuche, Ang Lakbah found Bill and myself a marvelous room in a house, a room that has beds, pillows and hand-carved wooden shutters. Bill went to bed immediately—he is really sick. Zerky had a good run around the village. We watched some kids playing with hand-carved wooden tops that they spin expertly off the ends of strings.

Tukuche is a Buddhist stronghold. Many prayer walls and a Gompa. The landscape here is no longer tropical but rather much more like California. But it is still full winter here.

Our porters are preparing our dinner for tonight: odd meat, onions, grapefruit, red pepper, rice, and something I don’t recognize. A quotation from Chairman Mao is on the wall: “People of the world, unite and defeat the U.S. aggressors and all their running dogs. People of the world, be courageous, dare to fight, defy difficulties and advance wave upon wave. Then the whole world will belong to the people and monsters of all kinds will be destroyed!

This delightful little dog who sits up and shakes hands with me is definitely not mistreated.

January 17, 1968. Bill collapsed again after morning tea. Zerk has diarrhea. While I was obeying an urgent call of nature, Zerky was blown over by the wind repeatedly. Suicide is the only way out of these damn mountains.

Bill says he feels better now. We are heading back. Going down that four-mile stretch of windy river bed.

JoAnne in the Wind and with Snow Plumes on Annapurna

JoAnne in the Wind and with Snow Plumes on Annapurna

Ang Lakbah ferried Bill and me across the Kali Gandaki River on his back. We have made it to upper Lete. That Terramycin Bill bought in Katmandu seems to have whipped his cold and diarrhea. He was sick. Zerky had a good run around the village where we watched some kids playing with hand-carved wooden tops that they spin off the ends of strings. Tukuche is a Buddhist stronghold with many prayer walls and a Gompa.

This delightful little dog who sits up and shakes hands with me, he is definitely not mistreated!

January 18, 1968. God, Lete is beautiful, much more so than Tukuche. This would have been a worthy destination for our trek, had we only known. Two of Annapurna’s several peaks are out to the northeast while Dhaulagiri towers above us in the West.



Both Dhaulagiri and Annapurna were hidden in the clouds when we came through here on our way up. They are two of the highest mountains in the world. Both have great plumes of snow blowing off their tops because the winds up there blow at hurricane force.

Had lunch in Ghasa, a Thakali town, where we put some “magic mercurochrome” on the badly burned foot of a baby who had fallen into a fire. Then a man with an inflamed eye wanted medicine from us. We had nothing to give him.

We managed to make it all the way to Tatopani today. This same stretch took us a day and a half on the way up. Bill’s feet are very sore and now Ang Lakbah has given him his shoes. We rounded the corner of a ridge today and, presto, it was instant summer. Now we have oranges growing, and on the other side of the ridge, there was snow on the trail.

January 19, 1968. A mean goat butted Tarzan. I have taken my shoes off and am now hiking in my stocking feet. Bill’s feet are sore, too, but now he is doing better now than Brian. This morning we washed up in a hot spring at Tatopani where Lakbah gave Zerky a warm bath. Now we are taking a different route back, a route that is longer but without as much climbing. Or so I am told.

We are in now in Magar country but lower down than before. The people here look different, more Hindu and without that Tibetan appearance. Some of them wear huge brooches and nose rings.

Had lunch in a straw hut and spent the night in a farmhouse way up above the Kali Gandaki River, which we are following once more. The trail went up and down all day as we climbed across a series of canyons. A fellow with a huge cyst under one of his eyes asked us for some medicine, but once again, we had nothing to give him.

Crossed a hanging footbridge over the Kali Gandaki River. It was ready to collapse because one of its cables was pulling out and one of its towers bent and twisted to sixty degrees. Ang Lakbah insisted it was safe and, as usual, he was right. The trail on the other side turned out to be a long staircase carved out of marble.

Tarzan is now out of biscuits and we are spending the night in a bamboo hut in the small village of Sorsadara. We have walked from Siberia to the South Seas in three days but at last it is warm again and even the mornings are not all that bad. We had our last view of Annapurna today, high in the sky and far away. No more snowy mountains but some very big gorges that reminded Bill of King’s Canyon in the southwestern Sierras.

January 21, 1968. We left the Kali Gandaki River today and cut back north up one of its tributaries. Now it is warm and tropical. Lakbah told us about a climbing expedition he had once been on. He thought it was funny when he told us about one of the mountaineers who had had to cut off two of his toes due to frostbite. Some goats followed Tarzan. I think they thought he was their baby. Tonight we have pitched our tent in a rice paddy.

January 22, 1968. Climbed for most of the day. Crossed a saddle into the Seti River valley, the same river that flows through Pokhara. We saw both the lake and the city from a notch on a ridge about twenty miles away. Now we are spending the night on top of another ridge about twelve miles from Pokhara. Cold and blisters this morning. Had our last view of Annapurna, plus the classic fishtail view of Machapuchare at 22,740 feet. It reminds us of the Matterhorn.



We are now back at the Paras Hotel in Katmandu and have paid off Ang Lakbah. One hundred forty rupees ($13.33 US) plus a seventy-five-rupee tip. He is happy and is worth much more. Katmandu is cold again, should have stayed in Pokhara where it was warm.

January 23, 1968. We settled-up with Brian and went back for another look at Bodnath Stupa. Then back to Para Hotel where we read Newsweek.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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