The Highest Mountain Pass in the World

Thorong La is a mountain pass located at Damodar Himal in the mid-western region of Nepal. At 5,416 meters, it is known as the highest mountain pass in the world. The access to the pass is only possible on foot, unlike Zatwar La Pass of Ladakh which is accessible through road.


Overview

Thorong La or Thorung La is situated at the elevation of 5,416 meters in the Damodar Himal and inside the Circuit trail. The pass connects two different villages, Manang and Mustang.

It is the highest point you may reach during the Annapurna Circuit trek. It is advised to start the treacherous hike early morning to avoid any worsening weather at the pass. It’s easier to cross the pass from east to west because its safer and you can stay overnight at Thorung Phedi before approaching the highest point.

The western side of the pass, Muktinath, is drier compared to the eastern side, mainly because the massive Annapurna mountain ranges blocks the monsoon clouds from reaching the area.

Due to its sheer elevation, trekkers are recommended to acclimatize properly before crossing the pass. The safest time cross the pass are March-April and September-November. The weather at the pass is likely to worsen during other seasons, and may bring avalanches, snowfall and storm. The altercation in weather can prove to be fatal to your life.

The Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit spanning over 200 meters encompasses into one of the longest treks in Nepal. It may take well over 2 weeks to complete the trek and covers a great sparse of geography. You will get to cross 4 different districts during the trek, namely; Lamjung, Manang, Mustang and Myagdi.

You will witness people of varying tribes and ethnicity. The villages, settlements and lifestyles found along the trail may differ in every 30 km.

Along with the Annapurna Base Camp, the circuit receives over 130,000 trekkers annually.

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Asiatic Vs African Elephants

The pachyderm evolved around 80 million years ago. It is believed, around 50-60 million years ago the Moeritheriums, approximately the size of current day pigs, were the roots from which the proboscideans evolved. Elephantide is the only sub-species of proboscideans alive today.

There are 3 recognized species of elephants alive today; African Bush elephant, African forest elephant and Asiatic elephant. There are around 700,000 and 40,000 African and Asiatic elephants alive today respectively. The latter’s number has dwindled in the last 50 years due to mass poaching, hunting and human encroachment.


Major Differences

  • Asiatic elephants are older than the African elephants, even though the former migrated from Africa. The African elephant appeared only about 1.5 million years ago.
  • Asiatic elephants are genetically closer to Mammoths than the African elephants. Morphological evidence suggests Mammoths and Elephas (Asiatic elephant) are sister taxa.
  • African elephants tend to be larger in size than the Asiatic elephants. A male Asian elephant may measure avg. 2.75 meters, while a male African elephant may measure anything from 3.4 -4 meters.
  • Due to their dwindling number, the Asiatic elephants have been listed under Endangered category by the IUCN list. The African elephants are categorized as Vulnerable species as of yet.
  • An Asiatic elephant can live up to 60 years in the wild, while their African cousins can live up to 70 years.
  • Poaching for ivory is rampant among Asian elephants than the African elephants. Most of the ivory is smuggled throughout Asia for preparing medications or as jewels.
  • Experiencing of Musth, the increasing level of testosterone and libido, is common among both species of elephants. They use Musth to attract female attention during breeding season.
  • A female elephant from both species may carry a child for 22 months before giving birth.
  • An African elephant has larger ears than the Asian elephants. The former’s ear can easily be spotted because of  its shape resembling the shape of African continent.

 

Insight on Everest Trekking

Mount Everest is the highest peak on earth. It attracts more than 50,000 people in a year to trek through the treacherous trail to reach its base camp. But, there’s more to the trekking than just seeing the Everest. The Sherpa inhabitants of the region, their native culture, rich biodiversity and the sight of humongous mountains are few treats of the trekking.


Everest Region

With the commercialization of Mount Everest, the trekking began in late 80s. Since then, millions of tourists have visited the Khumbu (Everest) region; few of them comprising of climbers. Today, the Everest Base Camp along attracts more than 50,000 tourists in a year.

Over 5,000 people have summited the Everest. With availability of better logistics and assistance, more climbers tend to join the expedition every year bringing the total summits over 300 per year.

Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse
Mount Everest

Khumbu is mostly accessible through a short flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. Those who wish to map it on foot can arrive through Jiri village. It may well take over 9-10 days to trekking to reach the base camp. However, there aren’t any lodges available in the base camp, hence, you must stay at Gorakshep or Lobuche before approaching it.

Kala Patthar at 5,643 meters is located just above the base  camp. It’s a small hill or the monument where the trekkers can spend time enjoying the up-close glimpse of the Mount Everest. (Note: Everest isn’t visible from the base camp. The towering Lhotse peak blocks the entire view)

Namche Bazaar, Gokyo lakes and Tengboche are another major attractions in the region. Namche and Tengboche are accessible through the usual trail, however, you must take an entirely different route to reach the Gokyo lakes. Gokyo is a discreet village located at the western section of Khumbu.

Trekking

The trek is generally strenuous and may require walking over 5 hours a day. It begins at Lukla. The trail aslowly ascends towards Namche Bazaar through Phakding. Namche is the most populated Sherpa town and is known for its luxury lodges, markets and ethnic lifestyle. Hiking around the place or staying a day more is recommended.

The trek ascends further towards Tengboche. Tengboche boasts the highest monastery on Earth. The monastery is over 100 years old and the popular Mani Rimdu festival is held every year to commemorate its legacy. Few other Sherpa villages, you’ll come across are Dingboche, Lobuche and Gorakshep before heading towards the Everest Base Camp.

You can hike to the base camp from Lobuche in few hours and come back to Gorakshep to stay overnight. The next day, you an make an early hike to Kala Patthar and start descending the usual way afterwards.

Anyone from the age 8 to 59 can do this trek, with sound health and proper assistance. Acclimatization is essential to get used to the local environment and altitude.

Facts

  • The Everest was attempted by British mountaineer George Mallory before it was successfully summited by the 9th British expedition
  • Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first humans to touch the summit of the peak, in 1953.
  • Over 5,000 people have summited the Everest since 1953.
  • Reinhold Messner became the first person to summit the Everest without the use of bottled oxygen
  • The term Sherpa actually signifies the native tribe of Khumbu region. Today, Sherpa is used as a misnomer for porters, guides and such.
  • Over 250 people attempt the summit in a single day every year during the climbing season of May.
  • The disaster of 1996’s at Everest cost 15 lives. The incident was later adapted into the best-seller, Into Thin Air.
  • The popular trekking seasons are Spring and Autumn. They last from March to June and September to November simultaneously.

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10 Facts about Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is the national landmark of Turkey, located at the center of the capital Istanbul. It was built by the Roman empire as the basilica in 537 AD, and has survived through various transformations. Around 3.47 million tourists visited the landmark in 2015, making it the most popular tourist site in the entire Turkey.


10 Interesting Facts

  • Hagia Sophia was originally built as the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica in 537 AD by the Byzantine Roman empire during the reign of Jutinian I.
  • It was converted into a mosque by the Mehmed the Conquerer of Ottomon empire in 1453. It remained a mosque until 1931, and was opened as a museum in 1935 by the Republic of Turkey.
  • The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. It was damaged in 404 by a fire that erupted during a riot following the second banishment of St. John Chrysostom, then patriarch of Constantinople. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the Roman emperor Constans I. The restored building was rededicated in 415 by Theodosius II. The church was burned again in the Nika insurrection of January 532.
  • The four minarets surrounding the main dome was later added by the Ottomon empire. One minaret was built out of red bricks while the other three were built of white limestone and sandstone.
  • The main structure; the porphyry columns came from Rome and the marble columns came from Ephesus. Marble in varied colors, alabaster, and onyx were cut, fitted, piered, and veneered to cover walls and pavements in geometric patterns. It was built by the Greek architects, Anthemius of Tralles  and Isidore of Miletus.
  • The Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul were designed with an inspiration of Hagia Sophia.
  • To fortify (and beautify) the interior of the church, columns from the long-abandoned and destroyed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus were used for the Hagia Sophia. Additional building materials may also have come from ancient sites in Baalbeck and Pergamom.
  • Also called the “sweating column,” the “wishing column,” and the “perspiring column,” the weeping column stands in the northwest portion of the church and is one of 107 columns in the building. The alleged blessing of St. Gregory has led many to rub the column in search of divine healing.
  • It was enlisted in the world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985.
  • Over 3 million tourists visit the landmark every year, making it the most visited tourist site in Turkey.

The Janaki Temple of Sita

Janaki Temple at the Mithila region of Nepal is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Sita. It was built in the early 20th century, copying the Mughal style of architecture. Janaki temple attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims throughout the year and is considered one of the most revered Hindu sites in the world.


Overview

Janaki Temple or Ram Janaki Temple is a large temple premise located in the Janakpur district, the Mithila kingdom of Nepal. Maithali is the official language of Mithila.

Rama and Sita
Rama and Sita

It spans over 4,860 sq. ft of area and the main temple is 50 meters high. It is a three-storied structure made entirely of stone and marble. All its 60 rooms are decorated with the flag of Nepal, colored glass, engravings and paintings, with beautiful lattice windows and turrets.

Diverse ethnic groups live in the Janakpurdham. Yadavs, Teli, Brahmins, Kyastha, Tharu, Musahar, Rajput, and Chhetri are the main inhabitants of the region. Most are farmers by occupation. The whole region is also considered the center of Maithali culture, therefore Maithali art and culture is predominant in this area.

History

The temple was built in 1910 by the Queen Vrisha Bhanu of Tikamgarh, India. The temple is popularly known as the Nau Lakha Mandir, meaning “Nine lakh or Nine Hundred Thousand.” The cost for the construction of the temple was about the same amount.

Mythology

According to the Ramayana, the original city of Janakpurdham was named after King Janak of the Mithila kingdom. King Janaka of Videha dynasty ruled the entire Mithila (Both India and Nepal) from Janakpurdham.

Janak found a baby (Sita) in a furrow of a field and raised her as his daughter. When Sita was about sixteen, the king announced that she could be betrothed to whoever strings the divine bow of Shiva. Though many royal suitors tried, only Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, was successful to do so. She was married off to Rama.


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Honey Hunters of Nepal

Honey hunting involves harvesting the honey from wild bee colonies located at the high cliffs. The practice of honey hunting in Nepal has been prevalent since hundreds of years. A Kulung clan of Gurung community in mid-western Nepal harvests honey every year from Apis laboriosa‘s honey comb, the largest  honey bees in the world.


Overview

Honey hunting has been practiced since the dawn of civilization. In Nepal, the practice of harvesting wild honey started few hundred years ago by the native Gurung tribe of mid-western region. The harvesting is mostly practiced at Bhujung and Pasgaon villages of Lamjung.

Facts

  • The native practice of harvesting involves using scarce materials made from locally available resources. Bamboo, jute ropes, firewood etc are frequently used. The hunters avoid using harness while climbing the high cliffs, mainly because of the experience, hence increasing the risk of falling.
  • The harvest may last a day or two. A special puja is led by the shaman before embarking on the job. The puja purportedly placates the cliff gods and spirits. The hunter using special ropes climbs up to 200 meters with unprotected clothing and a bamboo stick. The staffs help the hunter in the purpose by setting up the materials, collecting and burning firewood to generate smoke to disorient bees and to carry and manage the hunted bee hives. The hives are cut and collected in the basket and carried down safely.
  • There are 3 types of wild honey available; red honey is created from flowers at higher altitude during spring, spring honey is made from flowers at mid or lower altitude and autumn honey is created from flower at any site.
  • Red honey has psychotropic qualities and isn’t  consumed locally. They are sold at international market at higher prices. Red honey is mostly used to prepare medicines and are mainly exported to Japan, Hong Kong and Korea.
  • The well organized trips are conducted twice or thrice a year to various places in Nepal for the interested tourists. They tour agencies tend to charge huge amounts while their harvest practices doesn’t really follow eco-friendly methods. The entire benefit is engulfed by the tour agencies, leaving less for the local staffs. You are recommended only to participate in the honey hunting trip organized at the designated places in Lamjung district; and support the local staffs earn more benefits from the trip.
    Read more on Honey hunting trip

Himalayan Honey Bee

Apis dorsata labiriosa
Apis dorsata labiriosa

Apis dorsata labiriosa or Himayan honey bees are the largest among the honey bees in the world, and they are mostly found in the higher altitudes of Nepal, India and Bhutan. They were categorized as the subspecies of Apis dorsta, however, in 1980 it was classified as the separate species.

It mostly nests at the altitude of 2,500 and 3,000 meters; building very large nests under overhangs on the south-western faces of vertical cliffs. The nests are made facing against the direct sunlight and potential predators. One nest can contain as much as 60 kg of honey. The bees forage at altitudes of up to 4,100 m (13,500 ft).

A pound of wild honey may fetch $60 – $80 in the Asian black market.

Read The Last Death Defying Honey Hunters of Nepal  –National Geographic

 

 

 

The Last Nomads of Dolpo

People of Dolpo region in Nepal are one of the last nomadic trading caravans in the world.  For more than 10 decades, the locals of Dolpo have depended for their survival on a biannual journey across the Himalayas.

Once the summer harvest is over, the people of Dolpo sew flags and red pommels into the ears of their yaks, rub butter on their horns and throw barley seeds to the cold wind. Then they leave the fertile middle hills of their homeland and head north, to the plateau of Tibet, where they carry out an ancient trade with their Tibetan neighbors.

Located to the far western reaches of Nepal bordering Tibet, Dolpo resembles Tibet culturally. It is a vast landmass with wild and mountainous terrains and can only be accessed through days of trekking or mules. Once part of the ancient Zhang Zhung kingdom, it claims some of the highest inhabited villages on earth.

A restricted region, Dolpo remains a discreet place with lesser influence of the modern world. Fierce winter snowstorms ensure that these routes are impassable for up to six months of the year, when it is isolated from the rest of the country. But during the summer months, when the alpine fields are alive with yellow poppies and the lower slopes are furrowed with barley and buckwheat, the paths are navigable again.