Trekking from Jiri to Kalla Pattar takes you from 1800m up to some 5600m in around three weeks; only then, while looking at the imposing Everest summit, which is still more than three kilometres over your head, you can start to appreciate the size of the highest mountain on earth.
by SeenThat on May 16, 2011
Why Nepal? After all one could trek the Himalayas from India, China or any other of several other options. If willing to reach by land the highest mountain n the planet, then China is by far the most comfortable option. If wanting to see the origin of Buddhism, then, Nepal is not predominantly Buddhist, Hindu is the main culture. Several other countries, especially in Southeast Asia offer better encounters with Buddhism. The same holds for the Hindu culture; India is probably a better choice.Yet, Nepal defeats all these objections. It is by far the preferred destination of trekkers in the Himalayas. In one of those strange shifts in history, Tibetan Buddhists escaped from the 1950s onwards to Nepal and populated the highlands with magnificent temples. Then, the Hindu culture is flourishing, with the royal citadels and the wonderful Newari craftsmanship being carefully restored back to their full splendor. Nature also gave a hand. The northern side of the Himalayas is a brownish plateau, while the southern slopes – the Nepali side – enjoys plenty of water brought by the monsoons and stopped by the mighty mountains. Nepal is wonderfully green.Culture is an important part of travel; a positive local attitude to foreigners is thus crucial for the success of a trip. Despite most of them not being Buddhists, Nepalis display the broad mindset and tolerance of Hindus, offering a safe and pleasant environment for travelers. Not once during my treks there I felt threatened, despite having visited during a prolonged period of political upheaval. Foreigners were left out of the struggle by all sides involved.Placed along old trade routes, Nepal was never a key thread on the Silk Road. The mountain passes next to the Himalayas highest peaks were never neither popular nor easy. Despite being tolerant and curious toward travelers (what did they bring? Would they exchange that shiny knickknack?), it never became a cosmopolitan place. Its traditional culture survives for the joy of modern visitors.Yet, this isn’t paradise. Unlike Thailand, you can’t just drop by whenever you wish so. The winters are harsh in the highlands; the summers are very hot and humid. There are only two short seasons suitable for enjoyable visit; but if wishing to witness the main festivals – Indra Jatra and Dashain – then there is only one option. Miscalculate the trek – or meet an early winter – and the trip is ruined. Add to these strict visa policies limiting the number of days allowed on every year and you end up with a relatively restricted destination. However, after all this is part of this altitude bastion’s charm, the knowledge of having ventured into the real – and often harsh – world.Then, there is Thamel, a dilapidated – but no less charming – version of Khaosan Road. Regardless the season and weather, it provides a truly cosmopolitan meeting place, with travelers from all over trying to decide between a custard apple strudel and a chili flavored coffee for dessert; futuristic fusions announcing new hopes.
by SeenThat on November 1, 2009
The True Base CampMany visit Nepal for the sake of trekking or climbing. Few countries offer a better infrastructure; none offers higher mountains. Among the various areas available for such activities, the Sagarmatha Park is the most prestigious due to the simple fact it houses the highest mountain on earth. Few of the park visitors plan reaching its summit; most of them just want to reach Kalla Pattar or the adjacent Everest Base Camp. Mount Everest is so high that its base camp is higher than most mountains.Under such uncommon reality, the name Base Camp is misleading. The true base camp all trekkers and climbers have in common is much lower, in Kathmandu, to be more specific, in Thamel.Cultural ShockCultural shock means more than arriving at a place where the language and letters used for writing it are unknown; nowadays, most relevant signs are at least bilingual. Cultural shock means walking in a narrow street without sidewalks and suddenly finding it blocked by an apathetic cow. It means following a whiff of incense for its source, only to find the whole place smells of it. It means that technically you could read the bilingual signs, but that a myriad of them compete for your attention, blocking each other and the view of the wonderful Newari carved windows. Cultural shock means spotting a monkey intently looking at your snack from one of the partially seen windows. It means Thamel.Is Thamel Shangri-La?My main concern while planning the visit to Beijing's Purple Forbidden City was getting trapped amidst a million visitors and unable to enjoy the place. The planned strategy was simple: arriving early in the morning and then rushing to the main sights, while keeping those next to the entrance for the end. This seemed to be a foolproof plan.Next day I bought a ticket and run into the forbidden grounds. I crossed a typical Chinese gate and saw another one ahead of me; "First the palace," I told myself and run through the second gate. And through the third one. At the fifth one I became worried but kept pushing forward; funky designed gates could not stop me now. Having reached the Imperial Garden at the northern edge of the compound, I finally got the message: the Purple Forbidden City was designed a series of gates with nothing that could be defined as a European style palace at the compound's center.I retraced my steps until I reached the emperor's quarters and took a close look. The most astounding part of his living quarters was their relative smallness and lack of facilities; he didn’t have even proper toilets. The head of the largest empire on earth didn’t live in Shangri-La. The last was elsewhere.Thamel is definitely more crowded, and less spacious than the Purple Forbidden City, but it definitely provides a more comfortable, varied and interesting environment, and the gives the backpacker the invigorating knowledge that he enjoys better conditions than the Son of Heaven ever knew.Where is Shangri-La?Arriving at Kathmandu by air is very economical from Bangkok; return tickets are sold there for around 200 dollars. Otherwise, India makes a good entry point by air and by bus. If entering by bus, consider stopping at the Chitwan National Park before getting to the capital. Internal flights are available to Lukla, for the Everest Trek, and to Pokhara for the Annapouna Trek; Bhaktapur and Nagarkot are near Kathmandu allowing awesome looks into the local culture and landscape. Sightseeing flights to the Everest and back are also available from Kathmandu. Tours to mysterious Bhutan can be bought – at a substantial price – and with the limitation that the entry or the exit from that country must be done through air; hence flying there from Kathmandu and leaving by bus to India is a reasonable choice. Despite its humble surroundings, Thamel occupies a premium spot in Kathmandu, just west of the Royal Palace, north of the Durbar Square and south of Bouddhanat.Thamel’s layout is definitely complex; many alleys connect between the main roads, others are just dead ends. The maze is three dimensional, many establishments’ are located on upper floors; reaching them may demand from the traveler quite a substantial amount of ingenuity. The best way of finding one’s way is relating to the central "T" junction, not far from "Himalayan Encounters;" the Kathmandu Guesthouse – one of the hotels that transformed the area into a travelers’ haven – is a few meters north of the junction. Here, the horizontal bar of the "T" is one of the two main north-to-south roads composing Thamel. The vertical line of the "T" is the short road connecting the longitudinal roads. Despite the superficial similarity to Khaosan Road in Bangkok, the visitor will soon find Thamel is vastly larger.What’s in Shangri-LaRestaurants, guesthouses, convenience stores, travel agencies, trekking and climbing services companies, souvenirs and T-shirts stalls; on each of these categories Thamel provides an incredible variety of options. It may seem unappealing, but this eclectic reality is a powerful magnet even for the most resilient snobs.The road is spectacular. Here, travelers can settle down and still live under the illusion they are moving fast across vast distances. A face from a different corner of the planet appears every few meters; sounds in different languages create destructive interferences among the sound waves and mimic a modern Babel Tower. Nobody completely understands his alien conversation partners and yet everything seems to function properly in a modern version of the Biblical "Speaking in Tongues." Such diversity is irresistible for most travelers; few other places provide the opportunity to imagine he is everywhere – and nowhere – at once. The more a traveler stays here, the better he realizes he had hardly scratched the surface of this complex place. Many – nobody knows the exact number – cultures coexist there in perfect harmony showing thus that such a reality is a feasible future.Western Food and Coffee ShopsThere are literally hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops serving hybrid Nepali-Western dishes and among them a few coffee shops and restaurants attempting to be faithful to the originals. The danger of food poisoning – especially due to polluted water – in Nepal is real, thus cheap joints are better avoided, and asking if boiled water is used in the food preparation is recommended before taking a seat. "Tashi Delek" – next to the main junction - turned out being a friendly Tibetan restaurant serving many of the dishes I found later on the Everest slopes.BookstoresThamel houses a significant number of second-hand English bookstores – definitely more than Khaosan Road in Bangkok – and is the recommended place for stocking up and exchanging these oddities. The usual deals offered are "two-for-one" or "one-for-one-plus-an-exchange-fee." Prices depend on the books quality and conditions.As always in Asia, names should be taken with a pinch of salt, pepper and copious amounts of chili. The "Barnes and Noble Book House" in Thamel is a good example of that.Travel Agencies, Climbing and Trekking EquipmentDespite the ubiquitous travel agencies offering special treks and climbing expeditions, the trekker should remember that trekking is basically an independent activity and that the Nepali teahouses scattered along all the main routes make the activity an easy and friendly one. However anything classified as "Trekking Peak" and upwards demands special permits and local guides. That’s when the agencies become handy.Many of the shops in the area sell equipment related to climbing and trekking. They can be easily categorized into those selling inexpensive equipment produced in Nepal or in nearby China and those selling equipment brought from Europe – mainly from Germany. The merchandise in the last is substantially more expensive than in Europe, while the merchandise sold in the first would barely last one trek. SouvenirsNewari carved windows are wonderful, but difficult to take home as souvenirs. Gurkha swords are equally interesting, but probably the traveler would face certain difficulties at the airport. Buddha statues are interesting but essentially similar to those found elsewhere in Asia. Luckily, Thamel has more than that to offer. What Thamel really excels in are thanka paintings.These painted Buddhist banners originated in Tibet and are used in Buddhist monasteries or in home-altars as a worshipping or studying medium. Most of them are rectangular and can be scrolled. The most popular motifs depicted in them are the Life of Buddha and the Wheel of Life. Theologically, they are related to Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism (and thus cannot be found in countries like Thailand, since its people practice Theravada – also called Hinayana - Buddhism). Even for the non-Buddhist traveler, thankas are fascinating works of art, with extraordinarily rich images and vivid colors which sometimes include gold in their preparation.
by SeenThat on November 14, 2009
"Did you just walk?" was the strange question one of the early readers of this journal did. There is more to a trek than walking, yet that action is at the very heart of the adventure and some attention should be given to the way it is performed. "Walking like a Nepali" is the best way to enjoy the adventure.HighlandersAt first I was surprised; later I found the same behavior in Bolivia and concluded highlanders walk differently. Most of us would try to find the flattest path between two points. Walking around the peak is better than climbing to its summit and then descending. That’s not so in Nepal.Most paths follow the shortest possible way between two points regardless the slopes. It is tiring, but unless the trekker is ready to create new paths, that’s the only option. Such an approach demands a different type of walk. A Nepali kind of walk.Effortless StrainI found a group of porters minutes after leaving Jiri, on the first day of my trek. The sight was unbelievable. The tiny men – none of them was above 1.6m – were carrying two rice bags each (90kgs) in big baskets placed on their backs. The rice weighted more than them. Peculiar walking sticks helped them to balance the weight; later I saw them sitting on the large horizontal handles of the sticks. Some of them were without shoes. Yet, despite the wet, slippery ground, they seemed to advance effortlessly.TrollsIn the following days, I met time and again groups of foreign trekkers leaving as early as I did, but running ahead in hyperactive rush. They would disappear behind the horizon in a matter of seconds. "Would kryptonite weaken them?" I thought, but kept silent.Invariantly, I would meet them a few hours afterwards fighting for the scarce oxygen and complaining about strained muscles. Their faces - distorted in pain - focused on my improvised walking stick. Invariantly, I made longer walking days than them; each day I met different people. It was like walking back in time; each successive group had begun the trek before the previous one.Steady PaceBoth events carried lessons about how to walk along the specific paths of the area. Keeping a steady pace is the best way of covering large distances there. The best way of learning it is watching the porters for a while. The recommended speed varies with the terrain conditions, but the average speed should not cross the 2 kilometers per hour mark; it may sound slow, but keeping it for eight to ten hours per day – day after day - in a mountainous area is difficult.A constant temptation is rushing downwards at every opportunity. That’s not only dangerous – falling down and suffering damage is a real possibility here - but also may lead to overstrained muscles. At the first opportunity, measure the time it takes you climbing a hill and then how long the descent takes. A proper pace is if the way down took 80% of the time the way up took. If it takes less, then it’s too fast.A good technique for achieving that involves watching your steps. Make sure you place the next step on the driest, solidest and softest piece of ground ahead of you (the last two are not mutually exclusive). That makes sense and has a strange effect: it is easier to achieve that in the way up than otherwise. Easier means faster; that means it creates a natural way of balancing the speed between the ways up and down.55-5Depending on the season and the time of the day, the trekker may encounter extreme temperatures. Cold is worse a problem than heat, since if the muscles cool down too fast after a walk, beginning walking again is difficult. Strange as it may seem, that’s the reason for the location of the porters’ teahouses along the way. They are roughly located an hour away from each other – that is if you walk like a Nepali. These simple huts are immediately recognizable: the smoke rising from them is a clear sign of their having a fire inside. Here, fire means tea. Moreover, they are always located along the way. Strange platforms next to them allow the porters to put the heavy baskets down comfortably. The point is walking 55 minutes of any given hour and resting the other 5 minutes next to a cup of steaming, sweet tea. No more than five minutes, otherwise the muscles cool down. No more, otherwise you get sleepy and the day is lost.Make It Venti, Pumpkin FlavoredThe teahouses welcome trekkers; don’t worry about language barriers. They serve only tea. "Tea" is "chai." No Problemo. Make it venti, pumpkin flavored, and with whipped cream, please."Did you just walk?"No, I didn’t just walk. I enjoyed the landscape. I met a different culture with an interesting cuisine. I saw the Ultimate Stuppa and many of the most beautiful mountains on the planet. And I learned to walk like a Nepali.
On a Slow Death and How to Cheat ItThere isn’t a sadder way of spoiling the perfect vacation than climbing beyond the altitude limit where the body can get suitable amounts of oxygen from the atmosphere. The problem is that this limit is not steady, it varies as the body gets accustomed to the altitude; a process known as acclimatization.Enjoying an altitude trek demands from the trekker knowledge of his – or hers – acclimatization stage at every moment and how much altitude gain is possible to get in a given day without suffering damage. A point usually confused is that physical fitness is not related to acclimatization. Ahead of me in the trek was a group from north Europe. They did the short trek, from Lukla, and advanced without any acclimatization stops. Among them was a triathlon professional. Shortly after they crossed the 4200m, the champion collapsed at once despite his superb fitness and was evacuated within a pressurized plastic bag. Less fit members of that group were not affected at all. The issue is individual; nobody can take decisions better than the well-informed trekker.Above 5000m, the issue gets tricky. At those altitudes the trekker is near the human limit. It isn’t as dramatic or well advertised as the dangers of reaching the Everest summit, but the danger is real. Above 7000m the body cannot acclimatize and begins dying, that’s why climbers rush up at those altitudes. Above 5000m acclimatization is slow and demands long stays; or for those aware of their exact acclimatization stage a quick ascent to and descent from the desired sight.What is high?As explained above, the response to altitude is personal. 80% of the population would not experience any troubles between 2000 and 3000m. However, above that everybody needs acclimatization.How do I know my limits?The only way to find one’s body response to altitude is reaching it. That means the first time this is done extreme care should be taken. Be aware of sudden dizziness and headaches; unexplained fatigue is also a sign. Try walking in a straight line heel to toe and standing on one leg. If failing any of these simple tasks, then altitude is taking its toll on the trekker.Why?The air pressure diminishes with altitude. That means the body gets less oxygen molecules per breath.AcclimatizationAcclimatization is the process which allows the body overcoming the diminishing pressure. It includes several adjustments. The simpler one is increasing the breathing rate; this is important and would be expanded later on. Beyond that the pressure in pulmonary arteries is increased, so that blood can reach portions of the lung which are not used during sea level breathing. Moreover, the body produces more of an enzyme that facilitates the release of oxygen from the hemoglobin to the body tissues. Finally, the body increases the number of red blood cells, so that there is more hemoglobin available for carrying oxygen; in parallel it decreased the amounts of liquids in the blood, thus an increased urination rate appears. The last processes takes time and demand stays at given heights until new cells are produced.DamagesBeyond the preliminary signs described above, the trekker would find harder to walk and climb as altitude is gained: a peculiar feeling of suffocation appears. There is no air, despite nothing obstructing your airways. Scary. All these signs are collectively known as Mild (or Acute – depending on the signs) Mountain Sickness (AMS).Dizziness can cause accidents, but the real danger is of a different nature. At certain altitude – different for every person – fluid leaks from the capillaries to the lungs and brain. This process is known as edema and is life-threatening. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) happen to people going too high too fast or going very high and staying there. Both are dangerous, demanding evacuation to lower altitudes and a complex follow up.Go Down!If vomiting, unreasonable weakness or ataxia (bad coordination) appear, wait for nothing: go down along the fastest and safest path. Mild Mountain Sickness had set on, and the Acute variation is on its way: don’t wait. Down, down, down!PreventionLuckily, prevention is easy, demanding just awareness of what is sensible to achieve during the trek. For those having read the "Trek" part of this journal is obvious that the first rule is advancing from low altitudes by foot. Reaching a high altitude by car or air and starting the trek from a high point (for example, Lukla) is the sure way of getting in troubles. Then, walk at your own pace until the 3000m line is reached. Problems are not expected, but perform the test described above at least once a day. After crossing the 3000m upwards don’t sleep 300m above the altitude spent the night before. That means during the day you may climb higher than 300m, as long as you descend to that altitude difference for the night. Three nights should be spent between the 3000 and 4000m line. If at those altitudes the AMS symptoms appear, there is only one course of action: go down! Don’t panic, don’t run. Just go down as fast and safe as possible; if following the precautions all along, all the symptoms would reverse soon after crossing the last night altitude downwards.Afterwards, for every 1000m accumulated, take a day off at that altitude. During that day exercising lightly is recommended; that means walking along the same altitude. Due to the nature of the process, drinking lots of water and eating well helps the acclimatization. Monitoring is essential; perform the tests described above daily and check out the urine color: it should be clear, otherwise the body is dehydrating. Alcohol, tobacco and any depressant drugs would worsen the symptoms; avoiding them is recommended.CheatsAll that is nice, but what happens when a storm approaches and threatens spoiling the end of the trek? In the trek described in this journal, the first winter storm was announced shortly before I reached the 5000m line. All the medical books in the world wouldn’t have convinced me to walk down and wait until the next season.Luckily, I had a cheat in my pocket. While in Kathmandu, I had purchased a strip of Diamox (Acetazolamide) and kept it with me. There is no need of prescription and all drugstores in Thamel (see that entry in this journal) would eventually offer it once they find out the customer is about to take an altitude trek.Eventually I didn’t use it, but I had the knowledge that if AMS signs appeared I would be able to artificially increase the rate of my breath – that’s what this drug performs – and thus gain some extra time. Accordingly, I climbed directly from the Pyramid to Kala Pattar – about 600 meters – without the additional acclimatization day I needed for the 5000m mark. Near Kala Pattar, mild altitude sickness symptoms appeared. Moreover my face and fingers swelled up – but I made it. A few hours later, when I was back at the Pyramid – and after a well earned pot of tea – the symptoms disappeared.In my way down, the storm began and the paths were sealed until the spring.
by SeenThat on November 4, 2011
The lower parts of the Everest trek pass through rather humid parts of the land. Vegetation and fog abound there, creating a haven for leeches; passing trekkers transform this haven into a real heaven for these obnoxious creatures: pleasant climate and easy meals. Knowing how they work and what can be done is essential for ensuring a safe and satisfying trek.In two different occasions I fed leeches. The first was near Lamjura Pass and by far was the most dramatic. Despite the fog and the altitude, it was a rather hot day, thus I let my T-shirt over my belt so that sweat would evaporate more easily. My two backpacks left very few evaporation spots available and I was determined to use every available inch; climbing up was truly exhausting. I was too new to the scene to understand my error. My action had left a very comfortable opening for a leech. Expectedly, one of them found a comfortable spot on my stomach. Unable to see the parasite, I wasn’t aware of the event. The leech detached itself after the meal was over and I never saw it.That’s one of the peculiarities of these beasts. Leeches release an anesthetic to prevent the trekker from feeling its biting jaws, so if they attach themselves on a spot which cannot be seen by the victim, they’ll enjoy a quiet and prolonged meal. Once attached, they secrete an anti-clotting enzyme, hirudin, so that the wound continues bleeding, allowing it to suck the blood easily. The effect of this anticoagulant can last several hours, which in certain cases can be worrying.Later – and for obvious reasons I cannot be specific on the time - I entered a teahouse for a short break. After putting my backpacks on the ground, I found the lower part of the T-shirt was red with blood and that I had an open wound on my stomach. Since the stomach moves while walking, the wound couldn’t close; that happened only after I pressed on it for a while sipping my tea. The only thing to do after the bleeding stops was disinfecting the area and bandaging it lightly; the place healed in a few days and left no marks.The second occasion was more visual in nature. Near Kharikhola I found a leech on the inner side of my right wrist, it was on the process of attaching itself. I shook my hand and the mighty predator was left on the ground, where it began a hysteric attempt to run away from me. Yet, we shared the same blood; thus sparing it was the only viable solutionMy shaking it away is not a standard way of detaching a leech; it worked only because the jaws weren’t still properly attached. The wound hardly bled this time and in a few minutes there it was difficult to even see the spot. Those facing such an event for the first time may be tempted into pulling away the fat worm; however, that’s an error. Its jaws will break apart and that may break the host’s skin in an unclean way (in contrast, regular jaw-cuts look surgical). Such irregular cuts may cause an infection since leeches can carry a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites from previous blood sources; these can survive within a leech for months, and may infect subsequent hosts. In order to avoid that, the most popular way of detaching them is with the help of salt. Just pour a few grains next to the jaws, and the beast would jump away in disgust (apparently they worry about their blood pressure…).
by SeenThat on November 23, 2009
Correct water administration is essential for the success of the trek. The issue is complex: tap water and shiny faucets would not be seen along the trek. Part of the topic is related to the trekker’s behavior while on the path; the rest on making sure the denizens at the teahouses and guesthouses behave in a responsible way.How much water to drink? Which water is safe? How much water should I carry around? What is the best way of carrying water around? Each one of these questions has the potential to become – or to prevent – a disaster; literally, this is not an overstatement or dramatization effort.The amount of water to drink varies with the weather, effort level and altitude. It is difficult to give a simple answer regarding how much to consume, except for providing a general guideline and a simple test for the dehydration level. For as long as walking under the sun on a rough terrain, keep drinking a liter of water per hour; it’s a lot, but the body needs that. A way of making the task easier is to add some flavor to it; the variations here are endless, flavor sachets should be brought from Kathmandu. The problem to avoid here is dehydration which can ruin the whole trip and demand afterwards a complicated treatment. A way of monitoring its level is looking at the urine’s color; if it’s clear, then everything is OK. If not, the solution is easy, drink lots of water and rest for a while, and don’t wait until arriving at the nearest teahouse. It is important to be able to differentiate between the symptoms of dehydration and altitude sickness – especially since there is some overlapping. See the Altitude Trekking entry in this journal for details on altitude sickness.Idyllic views. Mountains, snow and clear skies. How bad can the water be? Are those eagles looking at me? Actually, the water in the streams can be very bad. Wherever humans walk in the region, there are animals nearby. Their excrements pollute every stream and source of water, regardless its appearance. Crystalline looking water can be infected with dangerous bacteria. Drinking such water is a sure way of getting sick. Since the trekker depends on local water sources, an efficient and simple method of purification should be used. The simplest one relays on iodine pills. These can be bought in Thamel, Kathmandu. The method of use is simple. One pill purifies one liter of water in about thirty minutes. Put water and a pill in a bottle, shake it and wait. There is some residual taste, but it can be masquerade with some flavor. This is a good purification method while walking in the wilderness since it allows using any water source and it doesn’t demand heavy or cumbersome equipment as more sophisticated filters do. The second method is boiling water at the teahouses and guesthouses. The first would appear every hour or two along the path; all of them sell boiled water. They have been specifically trained and their product is completely safe. However, it demands a lot of wood and damages the local forests. After seeing a few devastated rhododendron forests, most trekkers would stop using this handy source.The next issue is how much water to carry around and how to do it. In Thamel, I bought two bottles of one liter each with an insulating sleeve for each. After two days on the path, I realized I was moving around with an extra kilogram of weight. If having iodine pills there is no point in carrying more than one liter of water. The insulated sleeve is handy if loading the bottle with hot chai before leaving the guesthouse in the morning.Can I get the chai pumpkin flavored and with whipped drink at the teahouse? Few beverages are more varied in their preparation, or more confused to the English speaking world than chai. Without repeating common errors, "chai" means just tea (it is derived from the Chinese "cha"); the spiced version originating in India should be called "masala chai" (literally "spiced tea"). Nepal is next to India and uses similar definitions. Most teahouses along the way would serve brewed black tea when asked for chai; the tea leaves are boiled for long time – they are just added to the kettle atop the previous batch – thus the result is quite strong. Masala chai is not popular in this area, probably due to the scarcity of resources. Milk should be avoided, or at least consumed with extreme care the first time. It may originate on various animals and for sure it hasn’t been pasteurized. Herbal tea prepared from local plants can be found mainly at the largest settlements where many trekkers pass through; Namche Bazaar is especially notable for this. It is possible to buy them in bags for the way, but they demand boiling water for the preparation, and that’s not always handy.
On Suspension Bridges and YaksThey looked fragile. Most of them turned out being solid steel structures; besides, there was no other choice but moving ahead and upwards. At first I would let porters cross and wait until the bridge was clear, later, I gained confidence and began enjoying the swaying path.As I got closer to the Everest, the terrain got higher; rivers and streams had carved deep valleys. Crossing those streams by walking down into them and then climbing back on the other side was not possible or extremely difficult. Luckily, I found an astounding amount of suspension bridges. The importance of foreign tourism to the local economy could be cited as the source of this phenomenom, but suspension bridges are not strange to Nepal. These bridges were invented nearby, across the Himalayas in China. There, simple suspension bridges with a planks decking resting on two cables date back at least to 285 AC, similar bridges are recorded in Tibet. Buddhist monks brought them from there to Nepal.Many of these bridges – especially those near monasteries – are laden with colorful prayer flags. The longer ones feature also side supporting lines that keep them from oscillating horizontally; vertical support lines are not seen in this area due to the often extreme height gap between the bridge and the ground below. Keeping hands at the rails at all times is recommended though the chances of dangerous oscillations are minimal; loose planks are possible in older bridges and should be looked for. The bridges are narrow; most of them would not allow more than one person or yak walking in parallel. Some may attempt to cross even if there is somebody on the bridge approaching from the opposite direction. That’s because most newcomers would assume it is possible passing side by side. However most people carry heavy backpacks or bulky baskets on their backs, their side is wider than their front and thus passing each other sideways is not possible.Sometimes, two bridges can be seen over the same stream. Different paths lead to each of them. Invariably, one of them is old, while the second’s steel is still shiny. Avoiding the old one is recommended since they are not serviced anymore and their technical condition is unsure.Once in the Sagarmatha Park, the main stream the trekker will find is the Dudh Kosi (pronounce "koo-shi"), which crosses the entire park from the area of the Khumbu Glacier and Gokyo Lakes to the exit and then continues to Lukla. The name means "Milk River" and makes reference to its being a white water stream due to the large amount of rocky sediments it carries. This river is crossed by a 120m suspension bridge which provides some of the most amazing views during the trek, but the trekker will find many other bridges along the path. A related stream is the Imja River (which gave the Nepali name to the Island Peak – see the Everest entry of this journal), which can be seen near Dingboche.Shallow streams are a bigger problem than deep rivers barely visible at the bottom of an extra-narrow valley since less care was given to the bridges spanning them. Usually there would be a few wood planks with no rails; close to the water level, they are often wet and slippery. Before crossing them, attach the backpack strongly so that balance can be kept.In one scary spot the bridge was just a wet trunk. The walking stick became crucial while crossing it; I stuck it at the stream’s center and used it like for a slow motion pole vault but without the jump. That leads to the issue of walking sticks. In Kathmandu it is possible to find the latest models built using the most sophisticated alloys, yet that’s not a good approach. First, there is always the danger of losing the expensive gadget; there is no chance of replacing it once in the mountains. Then, it is possible to purchase traditional walking sticks from the local once in the trekking area and to contribute even more to the local economy.Due to these types of events it is important to have good trekking shoes. Two types can be found in Thamel, imported European brands and Chinese shoes. The first are substantially more expensive than at Europe or the US. I tried the best item of the second category and found it good only for one trek. Another relevant point is that the over-advertized water-resistant inner coating is good only for short periods of time and – of course – doesn’t protect from water entering into the shoe from above. Some dangers are of a completely unexpected nature. Meeting a yak on the path can be worrying. They do not make room for other creatures and just keep moving ahead; they can throw the trekkker off the path. Once yaks are heard – usually that happens before they are seen since they are equipped with bells exactly for this purpose – the trekker knows to climb above the path (moving downwards can be dangerous) and wait until the hairy caravan passes. Meeting a caravan on the bridge can lead to an unpleasant chase. Thus – especially before crossing a long bridge – make sure the "talang-talang" is not in the air.
by SeenThat on April 18, 2012
Choosing clothes for a long trek is a complicated affair. One must take suitable clothes for the season and the terrain, and enough of them to be comfortable. Yet, if bringing too much clothes, one would need a porter or two, diminishing the joy of walking in complete freedom. Thus, any comment on the issue must start by defining the path parameters. This entry is good for walks along the Everest long trek path (Jiri to Kalla Pattar) during the autumn. I arrived to the area when it was hot and humid and left it during the first snow storm feeling comfortable with my dressing choices.Seeing the shiny merchandise displayed in Thamel, Kathmandu, it is easy to be tempted into buying special breathing fabrics that will transform one into a fashionable astronaut, while promising complete insulation from what one came to see. These space-era outfits are not necessary. The best approach is to plan for protective clothes that are not restrictive. One must take into account that replacements along the way would probably be necessary; in such a case, sturdy, simple clothes would be easier to find. Thus, why don’t start with them from the beginning?Luckily, several characteristics of the area converge into common sense choices. Nepal is a rather conservative culture, hence, plan for long trousers and sensible shirts. Then, they must also protect from a sometimes hostile nature; this means mainly from leeches and water. I commented on trekking boots in another entry of this rather long journal, thus I’ll skip them here and begin right away with the socks. Take as many pairs as possible of sturdy socks with as little synthetic fabrics in them as possible. Wool socks are perfect and readily available. This is critical; dry socks are worth more than gold while stopping for a tea break after a sudden shower.Trousers are also very important. They must be strong and not restricting. Bend your knees while trying them in the shop; if you feel the fabric pressing the knees tightly, then they are too small. Avoid synthetic products; thick cotton is perfect for the task. Now we reach a delicate area. I had described my encounters with leeches in a separate entry. Despite their being a little nothing, avoiding close encounters with them is recommended. The best is to deny them access to exposed skin, which is an easy task in conservative Nepal. A simple solution is to cover the lower part of the trousers with the socks. Yet, despite a trek not being a catwalk, nobody wants to look like that. Autumn is a tricky time. Weather changes rapidly and sharply; especially in the higher parts of the path. A thin pair of longjohns is perfect to insulate the body from the cold, and also helps against leeches. Cover their lower end with the socks, cover them with the trousers, and your legs will be safe.Another significant point is the waist. Make sure your T-shirt is covered by the trousers and that the area is sealed with a properly fitted belt. I made a mistake while letting the T-shirt free to allow some airing; minutes later a fast leech was feasting on my belly. We both survived.An efficient way of dealing with changing temperatures is wearing several layers of thin clothes, putting them on or taking them off according to the conditions. A T-shirt and a fleece top are a perfect combination. Fleece is perfect here because it dries fast and folds tightly.Sunglasses, a sun hat, light fleece gloves and a small towel complete the list. The towel is great for covering the top of the backpack while walking, so that casual water drops won’t enter it. If drizzling, the towel is then perfect for covering your head while searching for the nearest teahouse.That’s not all. Pack everything wildly in a backpack and sooner or later you’ll find a wet surprise inside. Pack each item in a separate plastic bag, so that you’ll always have dry clothes to enjoy while sipping that well-earned cup of coffee at the end of the day.
Trekking poles can be useful in stiff descents on rough terrain, especially if carrying around a heavy backpack. The problem is their size and shape; few travelers would seriously consider bringing them from abroad, even if they fold tightly. Accordingly, this was one of the items I shopped around for while in Kathmandu. The first question to answer was: One or two? Trekkers vary on their opinions on this; I definitely support one. Two are for those planning to ski; it makes the issue of carrying them around even more acute.If agreeing on one, a popular solution is carrying around an umbrella. This is the favorite of Buddhist monks living in the area. It not only looks ridiculous—that explains their embarrassed looks—but it is also cumbersome when it rains and the ground becomes slippery. Then, one needs to choose between protection from the rain or support on the ground. I could not agree to such a compromise. The shops offered a wide variety of models and qualities. The best were made from light alloys and had comfy handles made of composite materials. They cost well over $100 per unit. They were designed as concentric units that could collapse into a tight stick. They were so awesome that they forced me to face reality. I was to trek in unspoiled nature; a space-era pole fir for trekking on the moon seemed a bit overboard.Still pondering on the issue, I found in one of the shops a large wooden barrel filled with long tree branches, which had been meticulously cleaned. The vendor saw me studying them and took one of them out of the barrel. He took it out of the shop to the sidewalk and placed the sturdy contraption firmly on the ground. "Thung," the stick exclaimed confidently. It was roughly my height and about a head taller than the vendor. It was thicker than my wrist.Stretching his hands up, the vendor picked the stick’s top end and jumped on the air, supporting his entire weight—it couldn’t be much—on this low-tech trekking pole."Strong," he said, showing me his all his remaining teeth.People were staring at us. I was smiling. Seeing his effect, the vendor repeated the antique several times. It was a tempting option. I was sure the stick could survive everything I would. Yet, it was big and heavy. Seeing my hesitation, the vendor said:"100 Rupees, special price for you my friend!" At that time, the price equaled $1.25. I needed to decide fast. Could I take the stick into the bust to Jiri, the trek departure point? I didn’t know."No, sorry," I said and kept walking. Yet, the show had brought new customers to the shop. The vendor smiled at me in clear joy.Next day I left for Jiri without a walking tick. My choice had been a good one; I couldn’t have boarded the bus even if I had picked a pencil for the task, so crowded it was.On the fourth day of the trek (counting from Kathmandu), I left Bandar in the morning, and was supposed to reach Kenja in the afternoon. The morning was foggy and wet; the sun was hidden behind a thick cover of clouds. The ground was almost slippery; a whiff of grass separated my shoes from the wet earth. I could walk without problems, but realized a stick will be soon necessary. The weather could change sharply in the late autumn, and storms were expected. Still meditating on this, while enjoying the pastoral views, I began slowly exiting the small village. The distance between the houses was steadily increasing. I could make a walking stick. I had a pocket knife and branches abounded. Could I match MacGyver? Suddenly, one of the doors opened. An agitated girl came out running towards me as if I could disappear any moment. "Want stick? Want stick?" she screamed in my direction, waving a few sticks while still running.Probably I was the first trekker passing through this path this week. Most trekkers arrived here already with a walking stick, thus I was almost a miracle.I took a look at them. They were perfect for walking and had been carefully cleaned. I would just need to wrap some tape on one end to create a handle. Even a minor MacGyver could deal with that. "15 Rupees, 15 Rupees!" she said after she was sure I liked the item.I paid and she ran back, screaming the news in joy to her family.Picking it carefully, I placed it firmly on the ground and performed a first great step for humanity.
by SeenThat on September 5, 2007
The DiscoveryWhile checking out used bookstores in Bangkok, I found an old guide of Nepal; through it I was exposed to the idea of trekking on the Himalayas. It looked as the perfect escape adventure; walking day after day in the open nature, neither buses nor technology would bother me there. A few days later, I landed in Kathmandu.Cultures ClashNepal provided another point of interest. The rich culture of South East Asia was the result of the adoption of the Buddhism brought by monks from Sri Lanka by a population that has been displaced from China many centuries ago. This mixture evolved into new and fascinating cultures. Nepal was placed in another point of contact between the Chinese and Indian cultures, creating thus an exciting point for comparisons. However, in Nepal the result was different; each one of the many ethnic groups kept its personal characteristics and culture without mixing with the others. Tibetans rolled their prayer wheels and placed Buddhist prayer flags while Newaris carved wonderful wood windows and worshipped colourful Hindu gods. Trekking in the Everest RegionThe trekking season in Nepal is limited due to climate conditions, therefore there is a choice to be taken among the four main trekking areas as not everything can be covered in one season.Annapouna, touching the western side of the country, is the most popular trekking area and is considered to be a relatively easy trek. It promised hordes of western tourists, hence this option was scrapped. Lantang was more appealing since it was just a few kilometers north of Kathmandu and was the least visited trekking area, but it was too small for a long trek. Mustang touches the Tibetan Plateau, just north of Annapouna, but a compulsory guide was imposed by the authorities, diminishing thus its attractiveness. The last option was the Everest, which is widely considered to be the hardest trek in Nepal; I expected the path to be relatively abandoned. Additional advantages were a close sight of the Everest Mountain and several paths to choose from.The Everest TrekMy choice within the many possibilities of this path was to make the long, historical version of the Everest route. I began from the village of Jiri and ended in Kalla Pattar, the "Black Rock," at 5545m above the sea level, just above of the Everest Base Camp on the Solukhumbu glacier. The similitude between the Nepali "Pattar" (rock) and the Indo-European variations of the name Peter was a fascinating reminder of the shared roots of those languages. Many years ago, following the first conquests of the Everest, a short runway for small aircraft was built in Lukla, much closer to the Everest than Jiri, causing the long way between Jiri and Lukla to be abandoned by most trekkers. Nevertheless, I had the time, wanted to be thoroughly acclimatized to the heights, and generally loved the idea of an abandoned route, used mainly by the local porters carrying rice and other products to the isolated villages of the area.I reached Kalla Pattar in eighteen days; only then, while looking at the imposing Everest summit, which was still more than three kilometres over my head, I began appreciating the monstrous size of the highest mountain on earth.The first part of the trip, from Jiri to Kharikhola, crossed three mountain ridges, since the mountain ridges flow here from north to south; it was an excruciating experience of climbing up and then down, again and again; it was done mostly under the rain. The second part of the trip consisted of a straight path northwards, which is usually called the Everest Highway. It ends at the Everest Base Camp from where the climb to the mountain’s summit begins. I reached it at the beginning of a snow storm and returned surrounded by a cold, white landscape.SeasonsThe trekking season in Nepal is limited due to climate conditions, the summer is hot and humid and the winter is freezing cold above the 4000m line; thus it is recommended to time the trek with the spring or the autumn. The autumn offers the added value of hosting the Indra Jatra festival, and it was my choice; I enjoyed the festival in Kathmandu and then left for the trek at the following morning.The GuideA good book or a detailed map is imperative in order to make the trek without a local guide. Those guides are hard to find outside Nepal, but once in Kathmandu they are readily available in the used books stores of Thamel. I strongly recommend the Trekking in the Everest Region by Jamie McGuiness. The PermitA permit issued by the Nepali government is needed to enter the Sagarmatha Reserve. The trekking permit can be issued in Kathmandu or at the entrance to the Sagarmatha Reserve, and since the costs are equal (1000NRP) in both cases the later option is the best so that it wouldn’t get lost in the way.Other Costs and NeedsOnce on the trail exchanging money or breaking down large notes is impossible, thus I prepared a large enough sum of money (at least 500NRP for planned day) in notes not bigger than 100NRP. The first days were cheaper, but as I got higher on the trail, the prices climbed up accordingly.Iodine pills to purify the drinking water are not essential, but buying boiled water from the locals gets expensive on the higher zones, thus they are strongly recommended.Regarding the rest of the equipment, the single most important article in the list are the shoes, a good pair of trekking shoes is essential.Leaving Kathmandu: from Kathmandu (1350m) to Jiri (1935m)I took a cyclo from Thamel to the Jiri’s bus terminal, just next to the Clock Tower. The old Tata bus left at 6:30am, but I arrived half an hour earlier because I wanted a good place. The ticket cost 250NPR and after buying it at the counter, I entered the bus with my luggage; I didn’t want a sudden rain to spoil it.A seat by a left side window provided me with awesome views along the way, especially of the Lantang Range as soon as we left the Kathmandu Valley. The snacks I brought turned out to be a good idea since the terrain was difficult for the bus. It moved slowly and from time to time it did emergency stops to avoid collisions, sometimes travelling backward and forward to let other cars pass. As we climbed, the houses changed construction's materials from the regular, small red bricks in the Kathmandu Valley to irregular grey and big ones; the houses hang over dangerous slopes among rice and banana's fields. When it began to rain the driver stopped to coat the bus with a nylon sheet. The bus reached Jiri just before sunset.Reaching JiriJiri is a small village, just a few wood houses around a single paved road with a basic bus station at the end of the road; from there on there are no paved roads. Once there, after registering at the police booth just before the village, finding a guesthouse was my first task. There weren’t many to choose from and all of them offered similar conditions. That was typical for the rest of the trek: I paid only ten rupees for a very basic room, but I was supposed to eat there; a shower cost extra. Since the villages were extremely small, usually just a few huts, the eating limitation was of significance.After finding a guesthouse, I used the last lights to check out the right entry point to the walking path because there were two eastward exits from the small bus parking lot. The lower one was a path for heavy vehicles travelling to a nearby village; the upper lead to the village of Shivalaya, my destination for the next day.
Day 2: from Jiri (1935m) to Shivalaya (1800m)The first walking day was one of the hardest since I was adjusting my equipment. Looking at the exit point and arrival points altitudes, the way did not seem impressive, but along the way was a small mountain pass at 2400m and the terrain was very wet and slippery after a rainy night. It was the only day I began carrying two liters of boiled water; afterwards I preferred taking one and purifying water along the way with iodine tablets.I left at 6:30am after a big breakfast and following an easy climb through a thick forest I reached the Kharubas Pass at 8:30am. The heat prevented using a raincoat during the climb, thus I arranged a towel around my head. I had two backpacks, one on my back and the second over the chest; locals told me along the way that I was carrying too much weight. Around eleven I arrived at Shivalaya (literally "Home of Shiva") after crossing a beautiful hanging bridge leading to the compact village. The blue bridge, the stones and wood houses and the handsome stone paths located by a strong, wide stream, all against a dark green forest created a magical image.Wet with sweat and rain, I took a seat in the first restaurant-guesthouse I saw, the New Sherpa Guide Lodge, just after the bridge. Sitting there and drinking a hot and sweet tea, I took off my wet shoes and socks, put them to dry and changed into a dry shirt. Sipping my tea, I watched with interest two heavily loaded female porters approaching the path towards the bridge from the village’s center. Curious at the pale competitor, they took a break in front of me by letting the big baskets (attached to their backs and supported with a rope passing around their foreheads) to rest over their walking sticks, improvising thus skeletal chairs. The older, who couldn’t have been more than sixteen, was calmly staring at me. I quickly pointed my digital camera at her and took a picture, disguising the movement by keeping the camera far from my face. She wasn’t aware of the camera’s back-screen, thus she was serene, giving me one of the trek’s better pictures.Porters were ubiquitous along the path; they carried two bags of rice (90kg), much more than their own weight, walking barefoot or with light sandals. The rice was carried from Jiri to Namche (the last town before the Everest) in three weeks. A peculiar characteristic of their routes is their ignoring the slopes’ steepness by connecting two points with the shortest line. Thus, their mountain paths, which were the only ones well-marked, were quite difficult to cross.After a few minutes, a man with his son and daughter entered and bought a big pack of batteries. He drank tea and ordered Dal Baht for the children, a staple dish made of lentil soup, rice and pickles. When the boy was looking away, his sister put half of her rice and lentils soup in his plate – taking care her father would notice.For dinner I had a meal of small potatoes with yak cheese, eggs and green vegetables while the owner tried convincing me of spending next night at his sister's place, Ang Nima, in Bandar. "She is just ten minutes after you start descending into the village," he told me. It rained continuously from 18:00 and in the morning my clothes were still wet. Day 3: from Shivalaya (1800m) to Bandar (2200m)Next morning was dry and cloudy, providing excellent conditions for the very steep climb to Sangbadanda. One hour after the departure I reached it, breathless after a though climbing, and stopped there for a black tea. I shortened the delay to a minimum and so avoided cooling down. After the tea, I continued walking up towards the village of Buludanda, at 2500m. Around ten thirty I reached the first house of Deorali which is next to the Deorali Pass. At 2705m, that was the second of the four passes in the route eastwards. I stopped there for a lunch and a rest at Highland Sherpa Deorali guesthouse 4, just left of the Mani Wall dividing the village. Mani walls are low and long rectangular structures, bearing at their sides and tops black rocks with sculpted Buddhist prayers on them. Mahayana Buddhism (Big Vehicle Buddhism) aims to a worldwide enlightenment and believes that prayers on Manis or flags are carried away by the winds.Although as promised yesterday the first houses of Bandar were only fifteen minutes down from the pass, the center of Bandar was far away, five hundred meters below the pass and I arrived at Ang Dawa guesthouse, at the low end of the village only after an additional forty five minutes walk. Nima’s sister was waiting outside, and when I commented he told me that she was only fifteen minutes from the pass I got a complimentary apple to silence me. Ang lives with her two daughters, while her son lives in a boarding school in Kathmandu; various pictures in her home tell the story of her husband death while climbing the Everest.Day 4: from Bandar (2200m) to Kenja (1640m)There were two feasible options for this day: one was to force myself halfway up to Sete or even to the Lamjura Pass (at 3530m) in one day or to take it easy by stopping halfway at Kenja. This is the first settlement in the Solukhumbu district, which encompasses the Everest area. The pass being a staggering 1900m above Kenja, I decided to make this day a short one. Just after a late and lazy beginning at nine, a girl run out of her house at Bandar’s outskirts holding several walking sticks; after a short bargaining she sold me one and changed for good the quality of my walking. The way was beautiful, along a gentle slope down along a narrow river and a cultivated valley delimited by a wild forest. Women made laundry by the shallow current using adjacent rocks as a drying surface; porters walked in both directions at high speeds, taking advantage of the comfortable terrain.A new path exchanged the one marked in the guides; finding it was easy since it closely followed the western riverside; the island-like settlement of Kenja was just visible in the distance. Little after noon, I crossed three hanging bridges and entered that crowded village, built in a small area between the mountains and the river. Other trekkers I saw during the day had decided to continue to Sete. Since it began raining at noon and it did not stop until much after it was dark that was a bad decision; it meant they reached the freezing Lamjura Pass completely wet. An important lesson today was that a late leaving allows the moisture to dry up, making a descending way easier, less slippery. Today I succeeded to match the personal timetable in the book while moving down, but in the way up I matched only "the group time," apparently because I was carrying too much weight. The family at the guesthouse was warm, welcoming and happy. Their children were delighted with my digital camera, specially the youngest girl, who giggled happily each time she saw her picture. Day 5: from Kenja (1640m) to Sete (2575m)Seeing that all the way planned for today was up, I started early to avoid the sun. After two very steep stretches, which took every bit of oxygen out of me, Sete was conquered a little after ten. Despite the big temptation of continuing to the pass today, the rain that started pouring a few minutes after my arrival was too strong to make the attempt comfortable and I gave up for the sake of a hot tea at the guesthouse. The main sign to the gain in altitude were the vanishing of the rice fields and the appearance of forests. Proudly showing altitude crops, the houses kept garlic’s bouquets drying from the ceilings. Garlic’s soup is here considered as a wonder medicine to all ailments. At the Sherpa Guide Lodge at the village’s northern edge, I found two Dutch trekkers that were in their way to the Mera Peak, a popular Trekking Peak. "Trekking Peak" is a Nepali definition to relatively low mountains that do not require advanced equipment or professional climbing knowledge, although a local guide, porters and a special permit are required. Much later, while I was resting from the trek in Kathmandu, I met them again at the Pumpernickel Bakery and found that only one of the made it to the top; the other got mild symptoms of altitude sickness and stayed midway.
by SeenThat on September 6, 2007
Day 6: from Sete (2575m) to Junbesi (2700m)Eager to finally cross the Lamjura Pass (3530m), the biggest obstacle on the eastwards part of the trek, I left early. After a long, wet way up and several false peaks, I reached the pass shortly before eleven. It was marked by two decrepit Stupas; the colored Buddhist flags on them seemed to be their main support. The temperature drop and the strong and wildly cold winds were another clear of this place’s nature. It was my first cross over 3500m; it was rainy, windy and freezing, but I was happy.The rhododendron trees delimited the road up and the beginning of the descent, but later the trees were cut for wood, leaving ugly empty spaces at the mountain flank. At noon I broke the descent with a light snack at the Thag Tok Tea House.It rained all day, especially inside the slippery rain forest and the advance was slow, since the rain dictated a serene pace, a cautious movement on the slippery slopes. Under the heavy rain, I reached Junbesi around three, and following a quick survey I settled at Apple Garden Guesthouse.A Day in JunbesiThe following day I stayed at Junbesi since the clothes left at night by the oven, including the shoes, were still wet.In the area there were a few attractions: a Tibetan refugees camp with three thousand people half an hour from the town, further away and up was the famous Thubten Choling Monastery, and there were two more temples, one just above the village and one inside it. I visited the Junbesi Gompa, an old temple with beautiful wood carvings in its interior. Junbesi being at the entrance to the apples growing zone of Nepal, I had an excellent fried apple pie for dinner.Day 8: from Junbesi (2700m) to Nuntala (2350m) – the Two Passes DayThe driving force today was the Everest View at 3100m, the first place from where this mountain was visible. Henceforth, I left very early and arrived there around eight. However, the weather was foggy and the local guesthouse was overcharging the coffee, so I continued without waiting for the sight.Later I stopped at Ringmo for a fresh apple pie and performed a wet climb to the Trakshindo-La Pass at 3071m. Nuntala, my final destination for the day was reached soon afterwards.At the Moon Light Lodge I could appreciate a working Khu Kuri water heater. Those heaters heat water for the shower through pipes passing through the kitchen stove. This allows a more efficient use of energy and saves local woods; places using them charge less for a shower and are more generous with the water quantities supplied.Since it rained all the afternoon there was no point to attempt the dangerous descent to Jubing, which passes through a slippery landslide area. It meant that the next day it would not be possible to start early, because before the sun heats up the ground everything is very wet; but at least the "Two Passes" day was over.Day 9: from Nuntala/Manidingma (2350m) to Kharikhola (2050m) I left late and following two hours of walking under a strong sun that dried the way very quickly, the first bridge over the Dudh Kosi River appeared. This river originates at the Solukhumbu Glacierand its name means "milky river" because of the white powdered rock it carries. This was the turning point of the journey from a walk eastwards to a walk northward into the Everest, in a path parallel to the riverbed. Close to the village of Jubing, (populated by Rai people instead of the usual Sherpas) another trekker coming downwards told me that it was snowing above 4500m with and that the Cho-La pass leading to the Gokyo Ri Lakes was closed. That meant if the storm would continue I may not be able to reach Kalla Pattar. Today it was especially hard to believe that, since everything was very green with lots of flowers and huge quantities of colorful butterflies. Once in Kharikhola I settled down in the Tashi Delek Guesthouse. Despite its Tibetan name, the family operating it is Sherpa. The friendly owner, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa let me take a picture while she was operating the tea machine, a kind of long piston of over a meter length filled with nak milk and butter, salt and black tea. Nak is the name of the yak's female, an animal that would appear later along the track, at higher altitudes.Day 10: from Kharikhola (2050m) to Puiyan (2780m) From Kharikhola the way continued north, roughly parallel to the Dudh Kosi River and mostly ascending, while the paths went along a ridge and not across it, a blessed improvement upon the previous days.The arrival point of the path from Kharikhola to the mountain ridge was at the village of Bupsa, which was far above and to the left, just before the ridge did a sharp turn and disappeared. In preparation to the long climb, I left early and one hour later, I was at Bupsa with a sweat smoking T-shirt, since the strong evaporation rate did a rather graphical work on me.The way from there was a gentle descent with the ridge, before a final and estimated easy climb to the Khari La Pass, at 2850m. The sun appeared in the middle of the walk and did it somewhat unpleasant.In a short stop, one of those five minutes I took out of every walking hour, a leech attached itself to my right wrist and I managed to get a good photo of it before letting it continue its own path. Pulling out a leech is dangerous, since the place can develop an infection later; it is better to let them finish their meal or to put some salt on them. This last option causes them to leave quickly and peacefully.Shortly before the Khari La Pass, I found a new way cut through the mountain, a new path that passes just below the pass itself, avoiding thus the need to climb to the ridge’s top. It was the first deviation of the Nepalese straight lines’ walks policy I saw; were they becoming decadent? Shortly after noon, I arrived at Puiyan, 2780m, where locals were slaughtering a buffalo by the village entrance. At the colorful Bee Hive Guesthouse, I used the opportunity to do laundry, mainly the socks and T-shirts and put them to dry by the main stove. The decision to sleep here was the result of the local altitude, allowing me gaining another high night, since the other candidate, the next village of Surke was only 2300m high. The place was quite comfortable with several rooms in three buildings built around a central yard, which in the late afternoon was occupied by a camping group. The porters staying at the place dinned with us, although they all ate Dhedo, a chocolate-like paste made of millet that the owner refused to let me taste. They roll it in the fingers like if it was sticky-rice and dip it in lentils' soupDay 11: from Puiyan (2780m) to Phakding (2640m)One hour after leaving, I heard for the first time in days a plane and shortly afterwards saw it landing on the Lukla plateau, thus revealing the location of the still hidden town.The early start allowed reaching Surke through the shadowed side of the mountain and left only a half-day walk under the sun; after a healthy breakfast at Namaste Lodge.Shortly after noon, I arrived at the junction leading to Lukla, but I skipped the steep climb to the town and continued north. From now on, I was officially on the "Everest Highway." The name refers to the many tourists literally running towards the colossus at its end. On the way I spotted for the first time groups of three to eight yak-cows hybrids, a kind of animal that is sterile after the second generation. It is the favorite carrier at these altitudes, closing gaps between the physical capabilities of the pure breeds. Two hours later, at the ‘Snowland Lodge and Sherpa’ I took a well-needed hot shower from their Khu Kuri stove. At the backyard, they have a tree nursery, mainly with pines, intended to reverse the intense deforestation of the area. This day was another short one, nevertheless the next stop, Namche Bazaar, was still far ahead and reaching it today would have transformed the way into a punishment. I preferred enjoying the adventure.
by SeenThat on September 7, 2007
Day 12: from Phakding (2640m) to Namche Bazaar (3450m)Early in the morning, I crossed two long hanging bridges over the Dudh Kosi. The second and longer one took two minutes and ten seconds while walking at regular speed. At nine I arrived at the gate of the Sagarmatha National Park (Sagarmatha is the local name of the Everest). Since I bought the entrance ticket in Kathmandu, I only registered while watching a professionally equipped couple buying theirs. I soon discovered they have started their trek from Lukla’s Airport and thus they were not acclimatized. Full of vigor, they began running as soon as they entered the park, advancing two times faster than I did. I lost their sight quickly and was left with a sad feeling that my previous walking did not help at all to gain any acclimatization.Inside the park, on a casual rock between hanging bridges, there was a painting in red color of a farmer working the land, a clear Maoist sign, similar to others I saw earlier; however, this one was in an area supposed to be controlled by the army.On one of the bridges along the way, a big group of yaks carrying big stacks of dry grass caused a delay while they balanced themselves slowly over it; surprisingly the bridge held up. After the last bridge was behind, on the long way up to Namche, I got my first glimpse of the dark pyramidal shape of the Everest while dangerously leaning my weight on the upper part of a tree growing on the steep northern side of the way. I felt to have accomplished the first target of the trip.At noon, I arrived at Namche Bazaar. Shortly before the entrance, I spotted a couple of tourists crawling up very slowly. When I got near them, I recognized the couple I met at the park entrance. Feeling the lack of oxygen, they moved at a snail’s pace; they breathed loudly. The effect of this sight on me was as of an adrenaline shot, greeting them politely I literally run toward Namche’s Gate, now openly enjoying the results of my long acclimatization process.Namche Bazzar is built in an amphitheater’s shape around a shallow stream, with a green cliff at its back. Along the stream were automatic praying wheels, endlessly turning around with the force supplied by the stream. The last town before the Everest, Namche has many shops with anything a trekker thinks he may need, including several gompas (temples). At the upper limit of the town, I found the Moonlight Lodge, by far the cleanest place I have seen in the village. The dining room was shining with varnished wood and the owner served a tasty meal just after a few minutes of my arrival.Having arrived after being two weeks on a strictly vegetarian diet within a population in a similar condition, I was surprised from the sharp and sour smell of the people in Namche. It was the smell of butyric acid (similar to the one of spoiled butter) a characteristic smell shared by all of us meat eaters, and usually ignored by our noses. Yak Steak is a popular dish here, though actually it is just buffalo meat brought from lower places; killing animals within the reserve is forbidden and the yaks live at altitudes that are all within the reserve limits.I got an extraordinary picture of the Mt Kang Tega just before the sunset. Two minutes after taking the picture, a heavy fog covered everything beyond the closest buildings. A cow lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets enclosed within low stone walls, sadly called for help until the owner guided her back to safety. Day 13: Namche BazaarI took a day off today, to allow further acclimatization; that was an excellent excuse to indulge in visits to coffee shops and shopping. Finally recognizing I was carting too much weight, I decided to leave much of it at the guesthouse; they accepted to store my big backpack for no extra charge, under the condition that I will sleep there in the way back. As well, I rented a sleeping bag for seventy rupees per day. In the grocery shop, it was amazing to see food bags inflated as balloons, since they were packed at normal pressure and the pressure here was less than 70% of that. The Herman Helmers Bakery offered excellent pastries oriented towards the German taste and it turned out to be an excellent place for spending a pleasant afternoon.Namche Bazaar, as Lukla, is under curfew after sunset and big searching lights on the top of the nearby hills eerily illuminate it at night. During the curfew hours, the Moonlight Lodge offered a movie about an Everest expedition; it was the perfect prelude for the last part of the trek.Day 14: from Namche Bazaar (3450m) to Tengboche (3860m)After improving my walking stick with a big long plaster at the top to prevent more blisters, I left around seven. I feared a snowstorm would block the Cho-La Pass, thus at the Gokyo-Tingboche junction I chose the last option, sealing thus my decision to skip the Gokyo Lakes. A few minutes later appeared an isolated, snowed mountain with one wide shoulder: the Ama Dablam, which by many is considered the most beautiful mountain in the world. In the next day I walked around it until the shoulder disappeared, leaving an almost perfect cone. This first part of the day was an easy and scenic descent.The second part, climbing to Tengboche started through a steep and dense forest and continued on an easy but narrow slope. Some busy yaks asked for a readily granted priority on the trail; these animals are extremely docile but once they start walking they do not yield way to anyone, thus they have bells attached to their necks to tell the news of their arrival before it is too late to move away.At eleven, I was in Tengboche where the Kang Tega and Thamserku mountains joined the Ama Dablam to create a breathtaking view of the world’s roof. All the guesthouses in the small settlement belong to the big and famous Tengboche Gompa, which generates in such a way incomes for its maintenance. Being a Tibetan monastery, I had here for lunch a thick and excellent thukpa soup. The monk running the place was dressed in purple. When I asked him do they use different colors as compared with South East Asian monks, he gave a Zen-like answer that in the mountains it is very cold so they need a dark color that does not get dirty, saving so the need of making excessive laundry. At 3pm, I attended a service at the monastery. For an hour, the monks chanted pleasantly, monotonously playing their musical instruments. The youngest monk was serving the chanters hot tea periodically while the tourists watched them from comfortable carpets by the walls.Day 15: from Tengboche (3860m) to Dingboche (4350m)I descended to Deboche, at 3770m, through a beautiful, full of life, rhododendron forest. Since it was cold, I started the way for the first time with a long sleeves shirt, but took it off quickly.At Pangboche I crossed for the first time the four thousand meters line and celebrated it with a milk tea heated on dried yak dung at the Exodus-Highland Sherpa Lodge. Today the Ama Dablam appeared from its other side showing an almost "single peak view," with only a trace of its shoulder.The trees disappeared during the day. Although while walking it was hot, whenever I stopped, I felt cold; it was another sign of the gained altitude. Before noon, I arrived at Dingboche and crossed the entire village searching for a place to charge my camera’s battery. Unfortunately, although there were solar panels everywhere, nobody could supply the right connection. Finally, I picked up a room at the Peak Island View Lodge that in accordance to its name provided a view to the mentioned place (6173m), a popular trekking peak. In the guesthouse backyard, they were growing vegetables under cut open, wide spread rice bags. Except for some sad yellow leaves, the vegetables looked quite happy.The guesthouse was cold and the blowing wind could be heard at all times, defeating even the Dudh Kosi River’s deafening sound, which accompanied me during the last days. A trekker told me that she was trying to reach Kalla Pattar for a second time, since the year before she failed at Tukla, my target for tomorrow, due to altitude sickness.She was using the narrow and almost flat valley leading from here to the Peak Island as a further acclimatizing walk before continuing to the Everest, but the rumors of an approaching storm prevented me of taking that approach. Stormy weather or not, I wouldn’t give up so close to the end.
Day 16: from Dingboche (4350m) to Lobuche (4940m)I left early and shortly after saw below me the village of Periche, sitting next to a teeth-shaped ridge; walking quickly along the oddly beautiful and sharp ridge I reached Thukla (4620m) in ninety minutes. The landscape was completely barren, neither trees nor animals could be seen. Thukla was across two bridges that spanned a wild stream; the second one was just an old, shaky, half-rotten trunk. The village included only three houses generously spread out on a desolated slope; two of them were guesthouses. By now, the sun radiation was very bothering and I used my sunglasses constantly; despite that, it was cold even under the sun direct rays. Yaks were eating the brown low grass on the slope above the place; I accompanied them with a big plate of Dal Baht.While enjoying the sun, a helicopter passed over me, meaning it was flying well above 4620m, a significant accomplishment for such an aircraft. Later I found that it came to rescue a triathlon professional, suffering from serious altitude sickness in Gorak Shep.In order to avoid altitude sickness, the daily gain in altitude must be moderated according to certain tables; therefore, the walking days in high altitudes are short. Getting bored, ignoring the beauty of the area and concentrating on the ritual picture at their final target, many trekkers overdue their efforts and are forced afterwards to descend prematurely, sometimes packed within pressurized oxygen bags.The self-monitoring for altitude sickness symptoms is a complex and delicate task, since part of the symptoms are of dizziness, disorientation and a decrease of the same judgment capabilities that we need to perform the tests themselves. A failure to diagnose the symptoms’ beginning leads to an inability of diagnosing further deterioration. After the meal I continued to Lobuche, though the daily altitude gain would be slightly more than the recommended. However, I was counting on a rest day at around five thousand meters to compensate for the loss and I wanted to take advantage of the good weather.Following a though climbing, I arrived at the Memorials (4840m), where small piles of stones commemorate each one of the persons who died attempting to climb the Everest. From there it was an easy walk to Lobuche; the place was extremely small with only four lodges. The one placed over the river was much more expensive than the others, apparently because they have placed a sign "Eco" and nice carpets. Neither one of the guesthouses allowed charging my camera’s battery. There was a small lodge catering only for porters. I chose the highest guesthouse, called the Sagarmatha Lobuje Lodge, where a poster in Spanish claimed: "A man is the size of his dreams". The floor in the dining room was made there of rectangular dry patches of grass cut from the backyard. During the afternoon began snowing lightly, but despite that, I decided to visit the Pyramid, just twenty minutes away, to search for a better room and electric sockets for my camera. They were full but promised to reserve a bed for tomorrow. Between the locations there were wild dogs walking.Day 17: from Lobuche (4940m) to Pyramid (5050m)At the morning, I moved my things to the "Pyramid Hotel 8000 Inn." On the edge of the small currents along the way, there was ice that cracked when I hit it with my stick. A white thick layer of ice covered the surrounding grass and an unconcerned skinny dog slept on it. The Pyramid turned out to be a silvery and pyramidal building, hosting an Italian climate research facility, the local rescue center and a guesthouse. In front of it there was an impressive glacier’s vertical wall, half hidden behind a low cloud. The place offered a cosy dinning room, pleasant beds in well-isolated rooms with electric sockets and running hot water (that did not work at the time of my visit). At five hundred Nepali rupees per night, this was by far the most expensive guesthouse in the trek, fifty times more expensive than most of the others, but it was worth any rupee. The weather station gave important information for the last part of the trek; they informed that a snowstorm was quickly approaching. That meant that any attempt for a longer acclimatization would put in danger the final goal. The wild Himalayan winter was arriving.Thus, the next day would be my unique opportunity for reaching Kalla Pattar; without making a night stop at Gorak Shep. A climb of five hundred meters in one day was almost twice the recommended for these altitudes, but I was counting on the last two nights at around 5000m to be enough.How to make a fire at 5000 meters:Put a few chips of wood in the stove.Cover generously with dried yak-dung.Add some papers.Wash everything with gasoline and throw a match.Day 18: from Pyramid (5050m) to Kalla Pattar (5545m)I left the Pyramid a few minutes before six given that I wanted to reach the summit before the snowstorm would get worse. It had snowed for a few minutes after my departure and the path had a soft and pleasant cover over it. Unable to see the path, I walked up and down, guessed right or left, crossed the slippery Solukhumbu Glacier and after one hundred minutes arrived at Gorak Shep (5200m), a temporary settlement of two guesthouses just below Kalla Pattar and downstream the glacier from the Everest Base Camp. Gorak Shep is open only during the two climbing seasons; the highest year-round populated villages are one thousand meters lower where there is enough vegetation to support animal life.On the way, I got great views of the Pumari Mountain and saw a glorious sunrise over the Nuptse. The low brown vegetation arranged itself in compact patches among the rocky terrain, supplying tasty snacks to the yaks. I stopped there for a milk coffee, the sweetest ever, at Snowland Inn. There, a three years old boy was frightening an impressive grown up yak. At this altitude only real yaks, big, hunchbacked and thick furred, could survive; the crossbreeds had disappeared above the 4000m. At ten, I got to the top of Kalla Pattar, the Black Rock, after crossing two discouraging false peaks. The last 50m were just a pile of big rocks, which together with the lack of air make the climbing a hard experience.The last stretch from Gorak Shep upwards, took me almost two hours of painful walk, stopping every few steps for air. The air pressure at 5500m is less than half the normal one at sea level and my acclimatization wasn’t complete. My fingers were completely swollen, the base of my nails was blue and I could hardly scribble my notes in a corrupted handwriting, but the Everest was gloriously clear.After walking for so many days, its summit was still more than three kilometers above my head; only then I realized its gigantic size. The Pumari behind me, reaching more than 7000m, looked as a small hill when compared to it. Below Kalla Pattar, the Everest Base Camp was hidden behind a glacier’s curve. While there, it began snowing and I decided to begin the descent. Later, during my lunch at the Pyramid, the Italian manager came to greet some Italian trekkers and exclaimed: "Some day the sea will come here." The Way BackI returned to Lukla through the same way I climbed back; however, this time running away as fast as I could from the snowstorm raging behind me.There, I bought an air ticket to Kathmandu. This flight was interesting since the runway was only seventy meters long and placed on a steep slope. On one side, it ended on a vertical stone wall and on the other it dropped into a deep valley. Arriving planes must stop before the vertical rock wall and departing ones almost drop from the cliff before they can gain any significant lifting force. Either case provides an unforgettable experience.Kathmandu awaited me, as attractive as ever. Having seen the Colossus created a new dream for me; climbing the Everest became a new goal.
Namche Bazaar is beautifully built in an amphitheater's shape around a shallow stream, with a green cliff at its back. Along the stream are automatic praying wheels, endlessly turning around with the force supplied by the stream. This idyllic reality hides a surprising fact: this is the wealthiest village in Nepal; much wealthier than Kathmandu.Turning PointMore than any other spot along the Everest Base camp Trek, Namche Bazaar is a turning point. Several factors contribute to that. First, it is roughly the point where those making the long trek (from Jiri) meet those making the short one (from Lukla), creating a confluence of trekking trails. Second, it is the first significant settlement within the Sagarmatha Park, giving the trekker a very clear feeling the Everest is getting closer. Third, there is a definite change in the human landscape before (below) and after (over) Namche. Before Namche the conditions and prices are similar everywhere since all the towns and villages are along the path used by porters bringing food to Namche, the major settlement in the area and a favored departing point for large expeditions. Moreover, most settlements are at similar – and reasonable – heights. Above Namche, is the trekkers and climbers territory; porters use it to serve their needs, settlements exist there only due to the intrepid visitors. There, the ground climbs quickly, and with it the services’ prices. There, acclimatization becomes as important as life itself. Meanwhile, here – in Namche – trekkers eat, drink and acclimatize as if tomorrow they weren’t about to move upwards, towards the Vertical End of the World, towards the Ultimate Stuppa.AltitudeNamche Bazaar is not very high. The entrance of the village – which features a well decorated gate – is at 3440m, meaning less than downtown La Paz and 600m less than downtown El Alto. Yet, being above 3000, it demands a short acclimatization process; two nights is the recommended period. This should be taken seriously, as it would facilitate the later stages of the trek. The best is walking slowly at a set altitude, and making sure the body is properly hydrated.A recommended walk passes through the various gompas (temples) along the upper limit of the town. Due to the town’s shape, they are all visible and allow seeing the village center; getting lost is not an option.Where is the Bazaar?Despite its importance and of being substantially larger than any other settlement in the area, Namche Bazaar is small. Around two thousand people live there in about four hundred houses. It looks bigger since most houses are in plain sight from anywhere in town; this is the result of the town being placed in an amphitheatre fashion on a hillside, a thousand times downscaled version of La Paz. Namche was the traditional commerce center of the area; it still features a weekly market during weekends. This importance is the result of its height. Roughly, this is the lowest altitude yaks can live. Nearby, when the ground rises above 4000m there is no agricultural production to speak of. Hence Namche is at a suitable altitude for trading cheese and butter produced by the nak (a female yak) for agricultural products produced in the lowlands.A point to pay attention is the many Chinese products: bringing them across the Himalayas is easier than from Kathmandu. Coca Cola cans written with Chinese characters are the norm here. Beyond the traditional market, the central area of the village is a huge bazaar dedicated to the trekkers. Trekking equipment accounts for the bulk of the trade, though Tibetan souvenirs – there is a large population of Tibetan refugees in all the area – are also very popular. Most of these items are available in Kathmandu at better prices.Souvenirs should be bought in the way down. Items to be bought in the way up – except of the obvious trekking equipment – include energy snacks and nak-cheese which makes a nutritive and tasty snack for the long way up. On Yak Steaks and Nak TeaAn imperative requisite of any good acclimatization stopover is the capability to provide good food. That’s difficult at high altitudes. Namche is the best such stop all along the trek. Many of the restaurants advertise yak steaks and do manage to tempt most travelers. A thing to keep in mind is that yak meat is available only as a leftover after an expedition departed. There are no enough visitors to justify the slaughtering of these animals otherwise. So, what’s the meat they serve? It can’t be cow meat; killing cows is a crime in Nepal. The obvious answer is water-buffalos.Another delicacy typical of the area is milk-tea. Though the drink is readily available in the surrounding villages, people in Namche are a bit reluctant of serving the real item to trekkers. The tea is prepared within a long piston filled with nak milk, butter, salt and black tea. Nak is the yak's female. The result is salty with a taste and smell of rancid butter. After defining it as a soup instead of a tea, I found it agreeable.After visiting Thamel in Kathmandu, Namche Bazaar seemed to be a downscaled version of the last, with a heavy emphasis on restaurants and shops catering for German trekkers, who are a substantial part of the trekkers’ population. Luckily, that means excellent pastries and astounding breads. The Herman Helmers Bakery is such a place. The main products of the local bakeries include apple pies, chocolate cakes and pizzas; cappuccinos, espressos and lattes happily accompany them. Namche is at the heart of the Sherpa region; their cuisine is worth a careful look. The most popular Sherpa dish served in the area is the Sherpa Soup, a nutritive soup enriched with a kind of tiny, unfilled, potato dumplings; some restaurants market it as "Mount Everest Soup." Thukpa is a thick soup, prepared with noodles and vegetables. Tzen is a paste of spiced millet. Potatoes from the Andean Plateau acclimatized well here and became the main staple food of the yaks; occasionally it is served also to humans as riki kul, a potato pancake covered with nak butter and cheese. The ubiquitous Nepali dahl – a lentils stew – is also available here.Herbal teas made from Khumbu wild flowers are available and recommended. Packets can be purchased at the Tibetan Healing Centre. On Butyric AcidHaving arrived after being two weeks on a strictly vegetarian diet within a population in a similar condition, I was surprised from the sharp and sour smell of the people in Namche. It was the smell of butyric acid (similar to the one of spoiled butter) a characteristic smell shared by all of us meat eaters, and usually ignored by our noses. MoneyNamche Bazaar and Lukla are the only settlements along the trek offering basic banking and money exchange services. The last are given at atrocious rates. The best is to leave Kathmandu with enough Nepali Rupees for the whole trip in small denomination notes.Prices in Namche are high. Above Namche they become even higher, thus the best strategy is to bring everything for the trek from Kathmandu or abroad. There are enough culinary temptations in Namche; extra-money is better kept for them.The ViewsQuite deep between the Kongde Ri (6187m) at the west and the Thamserku (6623m) at the east, Namche itself doesn’t provide many views of mountains. Though, if climbing to the town’s upper edge, the Kang Tega mount can be viewed; this is worthy especially before sunset. Soon after leaving Namche towards the Everest, the Ama Dablam (6856) appears. Many consider this spiky mountain and its moody shoulder as the most beautiful mountain in the world.CommunicationsNamche is not connected to overland telephone or internet lines. All the connections are via satellite and quite expensive.AccommodationsSince there are no direct phones, making reservations for hotels is almost impossible. The best approach is just walking around the little village and checking out the rooms until a suitable one is found. For those performing the short trek this is probably the first meeting with a local hotel – unless a night was spent in Lukla. It is important to ask if hot water is available and if it is included in the price of the room. Moreover, if the price of the room is low, it means the owners expect the guest to eat at the hotel – all the hotels and guesthouses in the area feature attached restaurants. The meals are not overpriced.Yuppie NamcheSo, the main catering point for unsophisticated – often even dirty – trekkers is the main yuppie location in Nepal. Where else in the world can a walker with a simple wooden walking stick feel like a king?
by SeenThat on November 19, 2009
As the ground gets higher the landscape changes, hills become steeper and later mountains. Paddy fields give way to forests; later the trees get smaller until it’s too high even for them. Snow appears on the peaks, glimpses of the Ultimate Stuppa. Despite these changes the human landscape is rather constant. Colorful prayer flags adorn high points, mani stones carved with the "Om Mani" prayer, streams turn around prayer wheels. Om Mani Padma Hum is in the air. Small villages without electricity, phones or water; porters walk among them. Occasionally a turbine atop a shallow stream adds a touch of modernity.Tengboche is different. The spiky structure at its center gives a clear sign of that. Even to those unaware of the place and its nature, approaching it is exciting due to its location near a major altitude mark on the trek. At 3870m it provides the last night below 4000m. for those walking the short trek (from Lukla) this is an imperative acclimatization stop.Even more than Namche Bazaar, Tengboche allows appreciating the unequal results of tourism. Next to it – a few minutes walk through a rhododendron forest and a shallow stream is Devoche. Yet, most the trekkers stay at Tengboche. Thus the last is a very rich monastery, while Devoche remains an utterly poor village. The difference is even more impressive when considering the monastery is new. It was established in 1916 by Tibetan monks with strong ties with the Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet. In 1934 the original structure was heavily damaged by an earthquake. In 1989 the monastery burnt to the ground. The modern structure was inaugurated in 1993 and is still unfinished, but clearly wealthy.A view of Shangri-La. A lumpy structure ending in a spiky yellow pagoda. Very steep, green mountains surround it. When the fog clears, snow can be seen. Low structures surround the central temple; these serve the trekkers and include guesthouses, toilets and even a satellite telephone.FacilitiesTengboche is remarkable for its facilities. They include a complex water system providing water at all times, a turbine allowing electric cooking (which is essential for saving the local forests) and a relatively developed system of pit latrines. An incinerator is used for daily clearing of solid waste. This is one of the last points before the Everest allowing to charge batteries of cameras and gadgets. It is recommended to bring additional batteries and to charge them here.AccommodationsFive basic lodges surround the monastery and are managed by its staff. Simple rooms and shared dormitories are available. Nearby, Devoche features another two lodges. Groups can camp on the monastery grounds.PhoneDespite its price, most of the trekkers passing through Tengboche waited for their opportunity to make a phone call. Not listening to what was being said was difficult. I expected to hear descriptions of the awesome landscape; instead most people were concerned about the altitude and its symptoms. After a few minutes, I abandoned the depressing scene and walked to the monastery.MonasteryThe monastery is the compound’s center; visiting at least one ceremony is essential for fully experiencing the place. Those can be enjoyed during the morning and early afternoon; any monk can provide the specific details of their timing. As a rule, trekkers can enter the temple and sit along the walls, while the monks carry out the service at the room’s center. Monks at the entrance guide and explain the rules. Taking photographs is not allowed.However, there are other ways of witnessing Buddhist ceremonies. Every year, after the climbing season ends – in October or November – the Mani Rimdu Festival takes place. It consists several days of meditation, puja (merit acts) ceremonies and a blessing ceremony with mask dances. But most trekkers would miss the event.Groups with a translator can meet the abbot and get a class in Buddhism. Other events can be arranged in exchange for donations. Those include lighting butter lamps on behalf of others, sponsoring tea for the monks or asking for a special ceremony to be performed. The last option is the most expensive and costs $150. The monastery encourages sponsoring a monk or a nun for a year or offering the cost of the monks’ food for a day.Sacred Land Eco CenterNext to the monastery is the Sacred Land Eco Center. It offers an exhibition of the Sherpa culture, a gift shop and a movie about the Sherpa and the Tengboche Monastery which is shown every thirty minutes. The shop sells the Tengboche film, T-shirts, books, prayer flags, Mani stones and incense.ViewsTengboche is the point in the trek where the views begin getting truly exciting. First, the access path to the monastery is spectacular; a nearby and almost vertical mountainside covered with lush vegetation is unforgettable. Second, truly high mountains can be seen from its surroundings. The Everest can be seen on clear days. Ama Dablam (6812m), Nuptse (7855m), Lhotse (8516m), Thamserku (6623m) and Kantega (6,779m) are also visible. The glacier of the last provides the drinking water for the monastery, while the Ama Dablam is considered by many to be the most beautiful mountain on earth. The Nuptse and Lhotse are next to the Everest and would be met by the trekker near Gorak Shep and Kala Pattar.FoodThe lodges serve simple meals, mainly of the Tibetan and Nepali cuisines. They also hold limited quantities of basic necessities, though at steep prices. A bakery serves pizzas and coffee. It’s claim of being the highest bakery in the world is not true: El Alto and Potosi in Bolivia feature many bakeries well above the 4000m meters mark while Tengboche is lower than that. LunchI had a thukpa soup for lunch. The dining room was empty; a reminder the one of the altitude sickness minor symptoms is losing appetite. Monks walked back and forth in a futile attempt to mimic trekkers. All of them were dressed in purple robes, a reminder of them being Mahayana Buddhists; Theravada Buddhists in Thailand wear orange or saffron robes. To be more exact, Tengboche belongs to the Vajrayana – or Tantric – school of Buddhism, which is sometimes considered as a subset of Mahayana Buddhism.Always happy to hear theological explanations, I approached one of them and asked for the reason of the robes’ color. I expected a long explanation about the Big Vehicle type of Buddhism."It’s cold" the monk said, leaving me without words. After my silence was interpreted as an invitation to elaborate, he added:"It’s cold and humid here. It takes a long time for the clothes to dry up after we wash them. Dark colors keep clean longer."I asked for a pot of tea and returned to my notes.
by SeenThat on November 20, 2009
A Strange Name for a Strange PlaceI admit my testimony may be biased. I visited Gorak Shep on what became the last day of the trekking season. A snow storm blocked the paths on the same day. It was freezing cold and wet. Yet, after crossing the 4500m line I saw very little life, except for those in the settlements or walking in between them. Yaks were the lightest animals I saw. No birds could be seen and that had a good reason: there were no food resources for them in the area. Despite that, "Gorak Shep" is Sherpa for "Dead Ravens." Maybe it refers to the fact they were absent, but that was true for any single species of birds in the world.The last stop in the trek is the strangest one. On the shores of a flowing glacier and along the narrow valley leading to the Everest Base Camp, two small guesthouses cuddle together in a misplaced attempt to create an illusion of civilization. The frozen surface is uneven, the snow covering it makes deciding the exact spot of the next step difficult. This is part of the Khumbu Glacier, which shortly afterwards transforms into the dangerous icefall, the first serious obstacle in the way to the highest summit. It had claimed many lives. Walking atop it gives a feeling of being part of that adventure. Enclosed between the Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori and Kala Pattar, the small valley offers unforgettable views, the tiny structures at its southern end only making them more dramatic.The structures were surrounded by a low wall featuring a gap at one point. Guests enter freely and there were no other living entities in the area, except for a single yak that obviously belonged to the place. Its munching tiny potatoes placed within a 5l plastic can cut in half testified of that. Was the wall a claim over territory? Was it designed to deter any potential usurpers? It could hardly be so; the nearest settlement was far away and except for the trekking and climbing seasons the establishment is closed because of the climate conditions. The wall remained unexplained, an unusual ornament of the planet highest spot. Next to its gate, a little kid – 3 or 4 years old – approached the yak. Worried, it abandoned the potatoes.On Human LandscapeA surprising point is the level of human activity in the area; it is limited to relatively low altitudes. Significant vegetation disappears around 4000m, and with it all significant settlements. Yet, the twin cities of La Paz and El Alto in Bolivia feature a combined population of 1.5 million. Downtown El Alto is well above 4000m, the city outskirts near the Huayna Potosi and Chacaltaya mountains are over 4200m; yet, this is the fastest growing city in the country. Potosi – once the largest city in the Americas – is at the same altitude as El Alto. The Andean Plateau provides a more comfortable surface for building a city, but otherwise its conditions are similar to those of the Nepali Himalayas. The answer may be related to the differences in commerce. La Paz and El Alto are located along an historically important route of commerce, while Potosi had the largest silver mines in the continent. They enjoyed the conditions needed for economic viability of large cities. However, in the Himalayas the situation is dramatically different. The routes between Nepal and Tibet are almost inaccessible, and even if open the chances of seeing camels carrying spices over Himalayan passes are slim. The geographical and climatical barriers are harsher here than in the Andes.ViewsRocky on the verge of bouldery, Kala Pattar is located in front of Gorak Shep and is clearly visible from there. Next to Gorak Shep is a flat of sand used for helicopter landings. The Nuptse is just behind Gorak Shep, and despite being a very impressive mountain before seeing the Everest, the last and Lhotse dwarf it. The Everest Base Camp is out of view behind a sharp curve of the narrow valley. Highest TeahouseOften, Gorak Shep is advertised as the highest teahouse in the world. At 5164m above the sea level that’s an easy claim to believe. Yet, I have had a coffee at 5300m; again, the record belongs to Bolivia. Some credit should be given to Gorak Shep; it is the last settlement on the way to the Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar. The difference between these two locations is huge: in Bolivia, the coffeeshop can be reached by car, while the Nepali teahouse can be reached only after a walk of several days.The result of this situation is that the prices in Gorak Shep are steep. Four and five dollars – a small fortune in Nepal – can be exchanged for a single drink or snack. The last would be consumed in a cozy room with a simple but warm setup. The excitement of the customers is visible, despite the Everest not being seen from the windows. That’s maybe why they are covered with curtains.The teahouse can be used in a variety of ways. If time presses, then it would be a convenient stopover between the Pyramid and Kala Pattar, or the place for a Tea of Champions after the last was conquered. If arriving with time, Gorak Shep can be used as a base for visiting Kala Pattar and the Base Camp after staying there overnight. The accommodations are very basic, yet the trekking permit does not allow staying overnight at the Base Camp.
Why Kala Pattar?The trek from Jiri (in its long version) or Lukla (short) along the way leading to the Everest summit is known as the "Everest Base Camp Trek," or the "Everest Highway" in its last leg. Yet after a very long effort I gave up the Base Camp and climbed Kala Pattar, as most trekkers do. Didn’t that mean giving up the glory of touching the Everest at the last minute and exchanging it for a peak nobody heard of?Hearing the name "Everest" attached to a site, most people would assume that site is extremely high; probably higher than any other spot in the area. Truth is different. The Everest Base Camp is just below the colossus and doesn’t allow any good views of the mountain that gave it its name, or of any other mountain since it is located behind a sharp curve. Kala Pattar is a mountain – though due to its location amidst the earth highest mountains it doesn’t look like one. East of it is the Everest and north of it the Pumori. It is located above the modern Base Camp and allows great views from the Base Camp to the Everest summit, as well as of the Lhotse and Nuptse mountains.If arriving with time, both – Kala Pattar and the Base Camp - can be easily visited; otherwise, Kala Pattar should be given priority.How High is Kala Pattar?A recurring problem while in Nepal is the inexactitude of altitude measurements. Most towns and peaks appear as being at different heights in different sources.In old maps – including many of those sold in Thamel – Kala Pattar’s height appears as 5545m, though usually it is accompanied by a question mark. Recent GPS measurements put its height at 5645m.It is obviously higher than Gorak Shep; the last is a teahouse and guesthouse that was the site of the original Base Camp and is located at 5164m, it can be seen clearly from Kala Pattar. Nearby, the spiky Pumori reaches 7161m and is much higher than Kala Pattar. Thus, from an intuitive point of view, both numbers make sense; an educated guess is that the recent GPS measurements are more accurate.When is the best season for visiting Kala Pattar?Kalla Pattar is the crux of the matter in this trek: only this spot provides magnificent views of the Everest – from Base Camp to summit – the Pumori, Nuptse, Lhotse and many other mountains surrounding the Roof of the World. Hence, making sure one arrives when those are clearly visible is important. The points to keep in mind is that during the winter there is no access to the area due to its extreme conditions and during the summer the air-humidity and mist would create foggy views of the wonders. Thus, the climbing seasons are limited to the spring and autumn. The spring allows some degrees of freedom since at the worst case there is no problem staying a few more days until a clear one occurs. Moreover, the transition from the autumn to the winter is very sharp – as I found out – meaning that the paths become almost at once inaccessible.When is the best time for trekking up?The arrival time is very important for the experience. The best would be seeing the sunrise from the summit. That would mean staying overnight at Gorak Shep, adding another night to the trek. If leaving from lower Lobuche as soon as the path can be seen, it is not possible to reach Kala Pattar before sunrise. Leaving Lobuche while still dark and advancing with torches is not recommended to inexperienced trekkers since the path crosses slippery icy areas and is not well marked. Thus the timing decision depends partially on how much time does the trekker have.Why Does the Name Sound Familiar?Many of the languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent belong to the Indo-European family of languages, sharing many roots and characteristics with European languages. That’s the case with Sanskrit. "Kala Pattar" means "Black Rock" in that language. Jesus referred to Apostle Peter as a rock. Moreover, "Peter" means "rock." "Pattar" is "Peter," and that’s "Petrus"-solid, a "petra" of linguistic research.Trekker, Be Strong!I described the way up from Gorak Shep to Kala Pattar in the Trek section of this journal. The path is clear, but several false summits may plant despair in the heart of the bravest. Finally, when the real summit is seen, the trekker must overcome a very stony path – quite a feature at 5600m. Trekker, be strong!Summit!The cairn at the summit is adorned with colorful Mahayana Buddhist prayer flags, which add to the happiness of the moment. North and west of the summit there are steep slopes; do not attempt to stand at the summit if it is windy.A long way through rocky and icy paths, simple food and uncomfortable beds in huts belonging to prehistoric times, worrying about unstoppable yaks and frail-looking hanging bridges, was it worth it? One look at the Ultimate Stuppa and the colossal mountains surrounding it provided a very clear answer.
Prelude: Blessed IgnoranceI first saw Lukla from below, since I had walked all the way from Jiri. Only hints of buildings could be seen atop the mesa raising high above the path to the Sagarmatha Park, though I saw a plane landing and could guess the location of the airport. A few days later, I ran down from Kala Pattar’s summit as fast as I could, trying to get away from the storm that ended the trekking season. Once in Namche, I was definitely tired of the whole scene. I picked up the luggage I left at the guesthouse, gave back my sleeping bag to the shop and decided to walk all the way to Lukla in one day. Next day, I began walking early and entered Lukla with sunset after having descended from the Sagarmatha Park and climbed up the Lukla Mesa in what became the longest walking day of the adventure. My priority was getting a good night sleep; I still had no idea one of the most exciting experiences of the trek was ahead of me.Chapter 1: Too TiredHence, the first look I had from the town was irrelevant. One street overcrowded with hotels, travel agencies, bakeries and restaurants. I had had enough of that in Kathmandu and Namche. First all, I bought an air ticket for Kathmandu, scheduled for the next day. That proved tricky, since there were a large number of trekkers shopping around for the same merchandise. The travel agency warned me that a large number of Nepalese would be waiting for tickets at the airport itself. Since foreigners pay four times the fee locals do, they have priority in access to seats, thus the denizens best chance was to get the seat of a passenger that didn’t show up for the flight. Yet, even a ticket is not enough. Many travelers are moved from one flight to another and even delayed a day or two. The best is to plan for some flexibility in the schedule. Too tired for anything else, I just got a basic dinner and went to sleep in the first guesthouse I found. Interlude: Wild and WilderThe village was of interest due to its history. After the Everest summit was reached for the first time in 1953, climbing it and trekking to it became very popular. In those days, the only access was through the long trek from Jiri described in this journal. In the 1960s it was decided to build an airport at a higher altitude, so that the access route would be shortened. The idea was wild: the whole are is highly mountainous with no long enough flat ground for a landing strip. The solution was even wilder. Lukla was chosen. The town is located upon a mesa at 2800m, which ends abruptly on a vertical cliff. A few days before, I had just passed below it. A 350 meters long strip was paved on it, at one side a cliff and at the other a vertical wall of solid rock. The strip rises thirty meters from the cliff side to the rock wall.Chapter 2: Next MorningNext morning, I explored the town. Buying souvenirs was out of question; soon Kathmandu would offer me better and cheaper items. However, it was good to see the city provided basic banking and exchange services, the only village in the area doing so, except for Namche Bazaar.The former evening, the town had looked just as a small village. Yet, in the brisk morning the town had filled up with yaks, porters, climbers and humble trekkers; all of them having business in the immediate surroundings of the airport. It was a reminder that the vast majority of trekkers and climbers access the Everest through the short route, the infamous "Everest Highway." Regretting not being in a less crowded spot – let’s say New York’s Wall Street - I pushed myself into the airport.Epilogue: WildestAnyone having visited an airport knows that this is not the way a runway looks. The idea here is that the landing aircraft is slowed by climbing the runway. Hopefully, it manages to stop before hitting the wall. While departing, the trick works the other way around. The slope speeds up the aircraft which falls out the cliff. Hopefully, it manages to stabilize in the air before it hits the ground; on the same opportunity, the pilot must perform a sharp turn so that it doesn’t hit the mountain across the valley. These constrains mean only small aircrafts can use it. The flights depart during the morning hours (they arrive from Kathmandu and return there, no aircraft can be housed in this tiny airport) and take about thirty minutes.After checking in, I kept looking at the short runaway and the nearby tarmac from the waiting room. I knew my best chance to get a seat would be to move fast one the aircraft reached the tarmac.Suddenly, I could hear an approaching aircraft. Then, out of nowhere, a tiny plane touched the runaway and began moving at a worrying speed toward the rock wall. Amazingly, it stopped just a meter or two before it and then approached the tarmac. Within minutes everybody and everything was evacuated from it, while prospect passengers waited next to the aircraft door. Nobody wanted to miss the flight. In no time, I found myself seating next to a window. The engines were turned on and the aircraft moved gently toward the rock wall. There, it turned around, the engines increased their rhythm and we where moving toward the worryingly close end of the world. And we jumped into the void.
The crux of a trek in the Everest Region is the peaks along the way. Nowhere on earth would higher mounts be seen. The amount of mountains along the way make identifying them a herculean task — during the last steps of this trek the trekker would literally see a sea of peaks — but describing the most prominent peaks along the way is easy.Ama DablamAma Dablam appears just after leaving Tengboche and becomes a fixture along the way for the next couple of days, when the trekker slowly bypasses it drawing a curve northwards along its flanks. Its shape is unmistakable, with a squarish main peak and a significant shoulder; many consider it as the most beautiful mountain on earth. Its summit reaches 6812m, while the shoulder is 5563m. Being much higher than its surroundings, the mountain can be enjoyed without obstructions. The name means "Mother and Pearl Necklace." The "Pearl Necklace" (Dablam) part of the name refers to the shape of its frozen glacier.NuptseMeaning "West Peak," the Nuptse is the western side of the Lhotse-Nuptse massif, being just two kilometers west-south-west of the Everest. A ridge more than a mountain, the Nuptse features seven peaks, the highest being 7861m. Along the way from the Pyramid to Gorak Shep and Kala Pattar, the Nuptse is an impressive mount and provides magnificent sunrises in the way to Gorak Shep. However, once the massive Lhotse and Everest come into sight, it becomes insignificant.LhotseFew sights compare to the first glimpse of the Lhotse. The fact it is the fourth highest mountain on earth (8516m) is of little relevance, since the Everest – which is higher – is nearby and in fact connected to the Lhotse via the South Col. The source of the charm is on its southern face that raises 3200m along a bit over two kilometers, creating a steep wall of rock and ice. Moreover, it is connected also to the Nuptse along a massive wall. The name means "South Peak" in Tibetan. Why "South Peak?" Since the Everest and the Lhotse are connected through a 7600m ridge, then this mountain is the southern peak of the colossal duo.PumoriReaching just 7161m, the Pumori is a dwarf near the Everest, which is just eight kilometers eastwards. Yet it is isolated from other mountains, providing attractive views, especially from Kala Pattar. Its name is in Sherpa and means "Unmarried Daughter."Island PeakFor those planning to return to the area, the Island Peak is a worthy sight during their first trip and a good idea for the second one. On the final steps of the trek is the tiny village of Dingboche sitting on a major crossroad. Here the path splits into one leading to the Everest – the Everest Highway – and a secondary one running through a narrow valley and reaching the Island Peak.At 6189m, this is a mere hill among the giants surrounding it, but it enjoys a superb location. The valley leading to its base is snowed — as all the area is — thus the mountain raising from this white sea looks like an island, that’s the reason for the name. It is classified as a Trekking Peak, meaning only little mountaineering experience is needed, though a special permit and a local guide are imperative. Experienced climbers may combine it with the nearby Mera Peak (6476m). However, climbing to the summit isn’t everything. Those wanting to gain an acclimatization day at this altitude can walk from Dingboche along the snowy valley until the mountain base is reached.This peak crosses the 6000m, meaning getting to the summit is complicated even if well acclimatized. I met a team of two climbers on the way there, and afterwards met them again in Kathmandu. They were experienced climbers, yet only one made it to the top, the second got altitude sickness and stopped climbing at the High Camp (5600m).Mount EverestThe star of this trek is Mount Everest — the highest mountain on earth — reaching 8848m. The popularized height includes some 3.5m of snow and ice. Careful measurements put the rock summit at 8844.4m.Its name was the result of the English surveyors inability to enter Nepal or Tibet during the second half of the 19th century – the peak’s height was measured from India with special theodolites. In Nepal it is known now as Sagarmatha — as the name of the park surrounding it — while in Sherpa and Tibetan is known as Qomolangma (this pinyin "q" sounds like a "ch" in "cheers") meaning "Saint Mother."A reminder of its attraction and dangers are the "Memorials," a site located below the Pyramid where memorials to the climbers that died while climbing the Everest were constructed. But climbing is restricted to rich climbers (the permit, equipment and guides are expensive) with a substantial climbing experience.Related to the mountain is the Rongbuk Monastery mentioned in this journal as having founded the Tengboche Monastery; it is located on the northern side of the Everest, in Tibet. At 5100, it is the highest monastery in the world.The view of the Everest is astounding. After walking for so many days, its summit is still more than three kilometers above the trekker’s head. But that’s not the most impressive point. All around the trekker are snowed peaks, in the day I was there even all the way down got white after it began snowing; but the Everest is different. As the Ama Dablam, the mount features a shoulder, though in this case it is pyramidal like the mountain itself. Two triangles, the lower one snowed, but the higher one clean. The mount is so high that fierce winds at its summit do not allow snow to stick there. A plume of snow drifts away from the summit. Among a sea of white peaks, a colossus raises in black contrast, clearly marking the Ultimate Stuppa.
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