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 Bazaar
I 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.