Happy with WakaWaka

Recently we have been able to rejoice many families in Nepal with a WakaWaka solar light. We could donate 168 lamps, thanks to the principle Buy One = Give One of the firm  WakaWaka and the sales in the shops of Kathmandu Outdoor & Travel   in The Netherlands.

Destination Makalu and Manaslu. In November, some of the give ones were donated through Chhiree Sherpa (Nepal Trekking Best) in the Makalu region: in the village Hatiya and in the 4800 meter high Makalu base camp, where even today are a few simple lodges. In addition, a number found their destination in the Manaslu region.

Solo area. We ourselves were in December 2016 in the Solo area, south of Mount Everest. We offered the give ones in two villages: in Mera (2700 m, a few kilometers east of the airstrip Phaplu) and Khastap / Basa (2000 m). In this last village we supported the rebuilding of a medical post which was officially opened on December 14.

Additional Powers. We had this time also equipped with 8 pieces ‘WakaWaka Power’: the luxury version: Light + USB charger. Thanks to a yoga event of Running Buddha last summer. These specimens we have donated during our trip; at the medical center in Khastap, to a porter, to a shepherd woman and in four places where we were welcome to stay. Oh yes, and not to forget, to the tourism minister of Nepal, Jiwan Bahadur Shahi. So he could experience what a great gift this solar light is for the Nepali.
It was a great joy and privilege to hand out the lights; people were so happy and grateful. In fact, we received constant requests for more WakaWaka’s. It is a golden opportunity! Big thanks to the firms WakaWaka, Kathmandu Outdoor & Travel, buyers of the lights in the Netherlands!

P.S. For more information and previous reports on social work that we undertake in Nepal, visit the website of Foundation Topaspiraties. Also see the previous blog on this site for a summary report of our recent visit to Nepal. It is clear that we ourselves also have benefited greatly from our own WakaWaka Power: Both Henk, Chhiree and myself could recharge our devices (cameras, mobile, wifi receiver) with the solar light on our backpack.

Back from visit Nepal

Last month, we (Katja Staartjes and Henk Wesselius) were 3 weeks in Nepal with the primary objective, to visit two reconstruction projects. In 2015 we were, with our Foundation Topaspiraties, active in Helambu and rebuilt a school in Kakani. In 2016 we were able to contribute financially to the reconstruction of a medical center and the construction of a water tap in the Solo area, south of Mount Everest. All this was coordinated by Chhiree Sherpa with whom we walked along the Great Himalaya Trail.

On December 14, we first attended the opening ceremony at the medical post in Khastap/Basa (just east of Phaplu). A true spectacle with singing, dancing and many speeches. More than 50 people a day since then can be helped medically in this new building, thanks to gifts from donors. Apart from the rebuilding we could support the additional post with a dental chair, an X-ray machine, an electric heater and a first aid rucksack.

After the grand opening of the medical center we visited the support project of the NKBV (Royal Dutch Climbing & Mountaineering Club), on the Dudh Kund trail. This tour is not really known, but is about 15 kilometers west of Lukla. The trail runs from Thaksindo north to the holy Dudh Kund lake at 4670 metres altitude. Every year in August full moon about 3,000 pilgrims visit this beautiful lake at the foot of the mountain giants Karyolung and Numbur. Further, the path in the summer is widely used by shepherds who flock to summer pastures with their yaks. Tourists come only slowly: around 500 per year, and they usually walk the path back and forth. A few crosses east to Phakding (on the regular Everest trail) in the Khumbu valley. Another option is from Dudh Kund to the west by trekking to the Numbur Circuit, what we have done. If you go to Dudh Kund, you need a tent … But what is the trip worthwhile! Amazing views of the Khumbu with massive inter alia, Everest, Lhotse, Thamserku, Kantega. And so pristine and quiet!

On this Dudh Kund trail the Royal Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Club funded three new bridges and funded a water tap. The water point is 3500 meters at the campsite / Kharka Sarkaripati. The new concrete bridges are at 3900, 4000 and 4100 metres altitude respectively in a great mountain setting. Last summer and autumn the first pilgrims, locals and tourists have been able to use the water point and the new bridges.

Concerning our trip in Nepal in December 2016: after visiting Dudh Kund we crossed to the Numbur Circuit, a wild high route over 4,500 meters. Through the village Lacchewar and a primeval forest we went to Ngeju Kharka. Then we climbed up to the west by the pass Gyajo La (4880 m) through a stunning mountain scenery with the peaks Numbur and Sarmoche. A beautiful route, Himalayan pur sang! This area should be given more prominence: technically not difficult at all and very accessible from Phaplu and Shivalaya.

N.B. in Nepal is increasing mobile coverage! During our stay, I could regularly post updates by mobile on my personal facebook page.

At the Foundation’s website Topaspiraties  you can read more information about our reconstruction projects. With great thanks to all donors!

BBC Radio: The Conversation

On 11 th january 2016 BBC Worldservice broadcasted The conversation. Gemma Cairney interviewed two women: Shailee Basnet from Nepal and Katja Staartjes from the Netherlands. Both mountaineers, one from the ‘highest’ country and one from the ‘lowest’ country in the world.

Both women did climb mountains, are motivational speakers and are leading expeditions. Shailee Basnet was expedition leader of the Nepali Female 7-summits team, an extra ordinary project for Nepal. Both women did climb the highest mountain of the world Mount Everest. Why are these women inspired by the climbing and trekking? What did they learn on their expeditions about leadership and teamwork?

Back to Langtang

Two weeks ago we saw a glimpse of the Langtang Valley. At 6th january 2016 we were in Thulo Syabru after traversing Gosainkund from Melamchi Pull and Tarkegyang (see Helambu report).
Langtang was most hit by the earthquake in spring 2015 and is the place where our friend Chhembel Tamang and his family live, who me and my husband Henk support since 2003.
With our team we would drive directly back from Syabrubensi to Kathmandu, there was no time to walk into Langtang Valley. The rest of the team flew back and I would stay a few days in Kathmandu to meet friends and people at NTB and ministery and follow up on agreements.
To make a long story short, I rescheduled my flight to find out the status of Langtang myself together with our friend Chhiree Sherpa. We also wanted to visit Chhembel. His wife unfortunately died during the earthquake and his lodge in Kyangjin Gompa has been destroyed.
On 10th january we went by jeep back to Syabrubensi and started our trek into Langtang. From the village of Sherpagaon our friend Chhembel joined us. He could tell all the details of what happened, the current situation and what the plans are for the reconstruction. Here my findings.

Summary: it was heartbreaking to see the devastation and to feel the emotions of the people and victims. If we purely look at the trail I found the situation hopeful, the trails are restored and partly readjusted. Though there have been many landslides; with rainfall and heavy snowfall they are an extra risk.
Enough lodges reopened to make trek with overnights in lodges possible.
It’s absolute rewarding to visit Langtang valley, the area is still beautiful and the locals are so thankful to receive you when you visit.

Start of the Route
It’s impossible to walk by the low route via the Langtang-khola river (Bamboo lodges); too many landslides. The start of the route now can only be done via the high route on the other side of the river by the villages Khangjim en Sherpagaon.

Khangjim (2300 m): not too much damage in this authentic village. There used to be seven lodges open, in january 2016 this was five.

Sherpagaon (2600 m); three lodges open. I didn’t know this trail into Langtang but it’s beautiful route, with wide open views.
After Sherpagaon there are 4 landslides on the way to Rimche, where the trail connects again with the ‘normal’ Langtang trek.

Rimche (2400 m): of the two lodges one is open, the second opens his doors very soon.

Lama Hotel (2500 m): enough lodges are restored. While we were trekking in january, there was nobody. But for sure in the next weeks some lodges will open again. Do check in advance.

Gumnachowk / Riverside (2770 m): The two teashops are destroyed. One of them in an aftermath landslide in october 2015. Enormous rocks are broken from the cliff above.

Chunama (2800 m): the only lodge (Woodland) is restored and looks good (it was closed and will reopen during the season).

Ghoratabella (3030 m): destroyed by a landslide and impossible to reach via the old trail and in the upcoming years probably too dangerous. That’s why the trail is adjusted; after a small walk from Woodland lodge you cross the Langtang Khola over a new wooden bridge. Then you will walk about 2,5 km on the other side of the river. This part has plenty of possibilities for new lodges; it’s safe and there are enough flat places. This land is part of National Park Langtang… So the question is, if and who is allowed to build here and when the park will write out a tender.
Just before the destroyed (and now) empty Army Camp you cross the river again (wooden bridge) to rejoin the old trail.

Thyangsyap (3140): the lodges are destroyed, by a snow avalanche directly after the earthquake above Chyamki. Maybe the village will be rebuilt in the future. In this area not a single tree stand anymore. The air pressure of the avalanches (Langtang-village and above Chyamki) was so big that the trees fell down like they were small matches.

Chyamki (3230 m): The 6 lodges are gone, inclusive the suspension bridge. The massive snow avalanche and the air pressure have taken everything with it. There are no plans for rebuilding now, the same counts for the lodges and the bridge of Gompa, just before to the former village Langtang.

Langtang Village (3430 m): it’s hard to believe your own eyes if you know how beautiful this village has been here before. A few minutes after the earthquake an avalanche started high on the mountain giant Langtang Lirung (7228 m). This avalanche hit the glacier lake at 5000 metres height. The lake then flooded and came down: tons of ice, snow, rock and mud were spread in the valley over a length of about a kilometre. The power of the avalanche was about 50% of the atomic bomb that was thrown on Hiroshima after world war 2!
Nothing reminds you of the fact that there used to be a village here. It has become one big grey moraine and in the river you still find meters high ice. After this kilometre grey debris of moraine there is a part where everything has been blown away and pushed over by the air pressure. The only thing you see are little pieces of what used to be houses together with peoples belongings.
The old village that is situated a little higher is also destroyed, but here you still see some walls standing.
It’s still unclear if they will rebuild the village here in the near future.

Mundu (3550 m): the few houses of this old village are partly restored and the two lodges below are open.

Sindum (3600 m): 1 teashop is open, there is a small and simple place to sleep.

Kyangjin Gompa (3830 m): all lodges have quite some damage caused by a snow avalanche that came down directly after the earthquake from the Langtang Lirung Glacier. In january 2016 three out of the 25 lodges were reopened. This spring almost all the lodges will be open again and there will be plenty of choice to sleep. There is a lot of reconstruction going on in Kyangjin and every few days a helicopter brings construction materials.

Conclusion: if you don’t carry your own tent you have to walk the part Rimche (2400 m) → Mundu / Kyangjin in one go and you need to bring your own lunch. After this winter the lodges of Lama Hotel and Chunama (Woodland lodge, 2800 m) reopen. Then you can go Lama Hotel – Chunama–> Mundu.
It would be good if lodges will be build soon at the height of Ghoratabella, on the other side of the river. This is also a good height (3000 metres) to acclimatize if you’re not used to the height yet.

Advise to the Nepali Goverment: I spoke during my visit to Nepal with Deepak Raj Joshi (the CEO of the NTB), Tej Raj Dahal (Great Himalaya Trails) and Bachchu Shrestha (Ministry of Tourism) and my advise was: the government should remove debris of the houses around Langtang-village as soon as possible. It is practical and emotional impossible for the survivors to do this.
A beneficial side effect could be that the removal of debris creates jobs for porters.
Reconstruction of the area around Ghortabella needs to start as soon as possible, as now you need to trek from Lama Hotel directly to Mundu. This is for most trekkers quite long and there needs to be an extra possibility for acclimatising. Especially the areas where landslides occurred during the whole trek, need to be made safer.

I am very thankful that I could make this trek again. Even though there is a lot of misery I also found a lot of hope, especially when you see how the locals deal with the situation.
And the area is so beautiful, every time I fall in love again with Nepal and its people. The way to support the people of Nepal is by going to NepalNow!

 

Update Helambu – Nepal

Summary: we trekked through Helambu in december 2015/january 2016 by the route Sermathang/Tarkeghyang. From Tharepati we followed the normal trail via Gosainkund. What is the current status of Helambu that was badly hit by the Earthquake in spring 2015? It is possible to do a trekking here via the lodges! The path was almost everywhere in a perfect condition. But in the villages there is significant damage and the number of sleeping places is in some villages limited.

Report. In the evening of 29 december 2015 our group (Henk Wesselius, Pieter & David Hemels, Roy Heiner and me) arrived in Kathmandu. The next day we departed per jeep to Sindhupalchowk/Helambu. We didn’t follow the trail via Sundarijal. Henk and me did trek it several times, including last time, when we witnessed the unfaithful event of the earthquake of april 25 2015. Now instead we went into Helambu on the east side via Melamchi Pull. More than 1000 meter higher lies the village of Kakani with the main goal of our visit; the local Shree Palchok Secondary School. Here we attended at 30 december the impressive opening ceremony of the new school building together with our friend Chhiree Sherpa, who helped us in the last 6 months to coordinate the project with the School Management.
After this ceremony we had the plan to do a trekking over the 4600 metres high Laurebina La pass (Gosainkund). For Pieter and David this would be their first mountain trekking and an introduction with Nepal. So Chhiree Sherpa did join us too on our trek. What were the condition of the lodges in Helambu, was not clear before we departed. That’s why, to be on the safe side we carried tents, cooking materialsand some meals with us. That also provided work for Ngima Dorji Sherpa who joined our group as a porter. This made us a seven members team, when we were waived goodbye at the end of the morning of december 31 by the students in Kakani.

With very sunny weather we started our trek. The first day is full with monasteries and stupas. In the morning we visited the destroyed monastry of Kakani and in the afternoon we passed by several stupas, some still proudly standing but most turned into rubbles. Every time you see a damaged stupa you feel deeply touched, it’s a terrible sight. Just before Sermathang lies the monastry Palri Radma Odsal Ling. Which was also partly damaged but reconstruction is in full fledge. We also met the initiator, a Nepalese who lives in America: “ We worked ten years on this monastery, but I am thankful that not all was destroyed and that we are able to rebuild this sacred site.”
Admiring how people can keep on thinking positively.

With some rain drops we arrived after a few hours walking in Sermathang, with 2600 metres altitude a good place to sleep and to acclimatise to the height. We were curious how the village would look, because in Kakani there was only one house standing. But because the rubble was cleaned quite well in Kakani, it didn’t look that bad.
In Sermathang we got a small shock, a lot of houses were still in rubbles. We slept in Dorje Guest House, a sturdy concrete building that was actually the only building that didn’t got severely damaged and the only lodge in this village. That night another group with guests arrived in the lodge. They appeared to be civil servants from the Ministry of Education. We started talking and enthusiastically told them about our beautiful experience with the opening ceremony of the school in Kakani. Our story didn’t land very well; “How is it possible we don’t know anything about this school?” was the grumpy reply…
The next day up to Tarkeghyang, you can follow the usual route (over the road) or you can follow the high trail over Yangri Danda. We opted for the last option: a beautiful trail through the forest and over the ridge, with a lovely view over the mountain giant Dorje Lakpa en the Jugal-massif. At 3200 metres there is a nice kharka (open field) where we made soup and had lunch just before the clouds arose.
The village Tarkeghyang is probably even more devastated than Sermathang. There is practically nothing left standing. Only a few people are left living here in temporary accommodations, a real difficult and sad moment to watch this whole situation. Also the lodge Hotel Tarkeghyang was completely destroyed, but is currently reopened. The owner constructed a new wooden building with a sink plate roof and 3 rooms. What a perfect place! Spacious and very clean. And sitting and eating dal bhat near the heat of the fire in the kitchen with the family. The owner is full with strength and optimistic and that made us happy too!

In Melamchigaon the situation is like in Sermathang. The Eco-friendly lodge had a kitchen, and a small room with 2 beds, a true homestay. In Melamchigaon it was usefull we had our tents with us, part of the group slept under the orange sheet. From Melamchi it’s a steep trail up to Tharepati, a beautiful route through the forest, where we rejoined the normalHelambu route. The Sumchho Top Lodge was the only lodge that was rebuild and open; it is a lodge where, just as years ago, you share a sleeping space with 7 beds. Good memory and nothing wrong with that, even very intimate! Here we met our first western people on the trek; 2 Australian women. The following days we passed the still beautiful Gosainkund, where we met another handful of people. NepalNOW should and has to be spread loud and clearly !!
The situation north of Tharepati is better than the circumstances south of Tharepati. There is less destruction and there are more sleeping spots. In Cholangpati and Sing Gompa it’s almost like nothing has happened.

Conclusion: when you are not with a big group, trekking in Helambu is still possible without tents and sleeping in lodges. Even though the limited facilities we experienced a warm welcome everywhere. It’s fantastic to experience this kind of hospitality in Nepal again, and even more intense than before. We enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and nature intensely. The hike and great weather enhanced our experience and of course the company to share the Nepal Experience with our friends. Nepal we love you!

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Kakani (2000 m): 1 lodge is open.

Nigale Bhanjyang (2500 m): the little teashop is open.

Sermathang (2600 m): 1 lodge open (Dorjé Guest House, no damage).

Tarkeghyang (2600 m): 1 lodge open (Hotel Tarkeghyang, rebuilt in a simple way, very clean. Around 10 beds, but a lot of space).

Nakote (2000 m): Zambala Guest House is open.

Melamchigaon (2500 m): 3 lodges are open (among Eco-Friendly Home & Lodge).

Tharepati (3600 m): 1 lodge open (Sumchho Top Lodge). In spring 2016 Tashi Delek Lodge will reopen.

Gopte (3450 m): lodge is reconstructed but was in january 2016 closed. It will reopen in the spring season.

Phedi (3700 m): the 2 lodges are open, and there is hardly any damage.

Ayethang (4150 m): reconstruction of the only lodge is going on and it will open soon!

Gosainkund (4350 m): all lodges reconstructed. When we passed 1 lodge was open, the rest of the places will reopen in the spring season.

Laurebina (3900 m): big damage. Two lodges are temporary and simply rebuilt with just some places.

Chalangpati (3600 m): hardly any damage and both lodges are open.

Chandanbari / Sing Gompa (3400 m): best village we have seen: all lodges are running full service. Cheese factory, with some damage, is open too. The Gompa was being reconstructed while we passed.

Dursagang (2800 m): 1 lodge is open (MountainView Hotel).

Thulo Syabru (2200 m): some lodges are open. Big damage and most people do live in temporary houses in the fields below the village. If you do want to continue to the Langtang valley, you can not pass by Bamboo (the normal lower route). You first need to descend to the bridge of Syabrubensi (1450 m), and then climb up to the village of Khanjgim (2300 m) at the other side of the valley. For the description of the situation in Langtang see the blog).

Syabrubensi and Dhunche: enough places to sleep, well reconstructed.

N.B. Personally, my husband Henk and me, we were in Helambu (Thotungdanda, between Chipling and Kutumsang) at 25 april 2015 during the quake. From others I heard that the lodges in in Mulkharka, Kutumsang and Mangengoth are reopened. Do check in advance how is the situation for Chisopani and Chipling. The village Pati Bhanjyang was totally devastated when we passed there just after the quake.

Opening School Kakani Nepal

Personal report of inauguration of the Shree Palchok School in Kakani (Sindhupalchowk, Helambu area Nepal) at 30th december 2015. The reconstruction of the new building was financed by the Foundation Topaspiraties from the Netherlands.
It was a great festival with all people involved: students, teachers, school comittee, and some political leaders. Even there was a journalist (ABC Television); the schoolbuilding is the first prefab earthquake proof building, fully made with Nepalese materials. A great performance, seen the borderblocks of the last months!
Also everybody has worked very hard the last weeks, to finish the building before the opening. During 3 weeks there has been worked 24/24 to get everything ready in time. They were successfull, with a great building as result: four new classes. So around half of the students can leave their temporary classes.

It was a great experience to attend the openings ceremony of the school: a full afternoon with presentations, poems, singing and dancing. We handed over our final contribution in Rupees and further some topographical maps, plus notebooks and sport materials. Very thankfull was it finally to hand over personally to every student a set pencils and a WakaWaka Light (the Give Ones from shop Kathmandu Outdoor & Travel).

Thanks for all donations! And to WakaWaka en Kathmandu Outdoor & Travel!
See for Dutch updates about the fundraising: the blog on the expeditionwebsite gurlamandhata.nl.

N.B. The ceremony was on Nepalese ABC Television broadcasted on the 1th january 2016 7 pm. Here is the link:

WakaWaka to Nepal

Katja Staartjes: “in one week we will go to Nepal to visit the Shree Palchok Secondary School. Here we will attend the ‘inauguration ceremony’ of the new prefab and earthquake resistent building. Thanks to the donations we received, we have been able to help the school for the reconstruction. Soon the 4 classes will be open for 80 students, half of the total.

We are really looking forward to visit the school. Also we look forward that we will be able to offer each family a WakaWaka Light. This is the result of the cooperation between WakaWaka, Kathmandu Outdoor and the foundation Topaspiraties. For who does not know: WakaWaka (‘Shine Bright’ in Swahili language from South Africa) has the principle: buy one = give one. So every one who buys the light or charger (the ‘Power’), at the same time pays for a Give One. This give one will be given away by a NGO in one of the developing countries in the world.
For the three shops of Kathmandu Outdoor & Travel in Holland it means: all give-ones are going to Nepal by Foundation Topaspiraties. We are really honored to be able to bring these lights to the school. We can not wait to leave and see all our Nepali friends again.”

Nepal NOW !

At 14 october the NKBV (Dutch Alpine Club) organised together with the Nepalese Consulate a fundraising evening. At this evening the Dutch Campaign Nepal Now has been launched by the Dutch minister Ploumen. The objective: getting back the tourism in Nepal and stimulating people to go to this beautiful Himalaya country.

The Nepal Now campaign has started in Nepal end of august by social media and the website nepalnow.org. This website gives up-to-date information for travellers to Nepal. Tourists are asked, to post themselves on social media with texts: ‘I am going to Nepal’ or ‘I am in Nepal NOW’.
The Netherlands are joining the international campaign, which is supported by the NKBV. More info at the Dutch website: www.nkbv.nl/nepal

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Nepal Goodwill Ambassadors

Seventeen international mountaineers and five Nepali climbers haven been nominated by the Nepalese government as Goodwill Ambassadors for the country. This honor was given to famous mountaineers like Reinhold Messner, Peter Hillary, Jamling Tenzing, Junko Tabei, Ed Viestures, Edurne Passaban en Ralf Dujmovits. Katja Staartjes is very honored to be part of this group.

The ambassadors are asked to help Nepal in the support of the rebuilding of the country and above all: bringing tourism to the country and stimulating people to go to Nepal.
More info by the website NepalNOW

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Earthquake – Expedition stopped

They had just arrived in Nepal, when the country was hit by the severe earthquake of 25 april. Katja Staartjes and Henk Wesselius from the Netherlands did arrive in Nepal on 20th of april. The objective was the climb of Gurla Mandhata (7694 m) in West Tibet. it was just a very small scaled expedition with their friend Chhiree Sherpa (basecamp manager) and Dawa and Ngima Geljen, two Nepali climbers. The planning was to drive to Tibet by Kodari. And as the Nepali teammates were well acclimatised, Katja and Henk did leave on 24th april for a trek in Helambu. Just a short drive to Sundarijal and then start trekking.  They slept that night in Chisopani and continued the next morning. During lunchtime they sat as the only guests in a lodge (Thotungdanda, 2100 m, between Chipling and Kutrumsang), when the earthquake of 7.8 hit the area. A huge tragedy for the country and all the victims.

Katja and Henk were at 80 km east of the epi centre of the quake and Helambu was one of the severely hit areas. Personally the couple, and the Nepalese family were very lucky to be safe. The Dutch mountaineers came back to Kathmandu the next day and started a fundraising action.

More information on the Dutch expedition website www.gurlamandhata.nl and their blog