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.