The Great Pyramid of Nepal?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

It could be argued that too much looking back is bad for the soul. Well my mind is also investigating a possible wander to Détiān pùbù, Bǎnyuē pùbù [板約瀑布, 德天瀑布]. This is located the Daxin County, Guangxi and Vietnam. The Lanning Nandong station may be a useful starting point. The Green City awaits. Then there is Zhēnzhū Tān Pùb [珍珠滩瀑布] too. Oh and Huáng Guǒshù Pùbù [黄果树瀑布]. Anyway they all need further research, and now I can carry on telling the tale of this year’s trek in Nepal.


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4th February 2019

The early morning pathway from Namche Bazaar is wonderful. However, we set off at 1130am, touching the afternoon. Having sat in Namche Bakery eating apple strudel and celebrating Ishwor’s Not-Birthday. Srirang and Livia had checked Facebook and assumed the date of birth he had published was his birthday. Turned out it wasn’t. Not that a candle in some chocolate cake wasn’t fun. We sweet off late having shared a fun morning with a birthday party that wasn’t quite right. We walked for a short time and enjoyed lunch at Kyangjuma in a lodge’s garden that I’d previously ate at two years ago. Thamserku was in clear sight and Ama Dablam lay dead ahead on the trail just beyond the Tyangbuche (3860m) brow and the huge monastery.

The owner of the lodge talked with me about how his dog, that I met two years ago, had been eaten by a snow leopard – and the two similar dogs were that dog’s offspring. We talked about the New Year celebrations in Sherpa culture, his hair being died and general local information. Stupas were soon, once again being passed on the left, as we bid our farewells and descended downwards to a river crossing.

We passed Thunki Tanga, which like everywhere seemed to have many variants of spelling. Funky Thanga seemed the best name. Completing the checkpoint registration, we began the slog of a climb up to Tyangbuche. Here we met Albert from Spain, who had walked from Thame. We also met a Sherpa man who had climbed Everest on several occasions when he was a few years younger. He’d walked from Lukla that day and would head as far as Pangboche. One hell of a jaunt! Our destination would be Deboche – and ideally at the Everest Lodge.

May people refer to this part of the trail as ‘Nepal Flat’. You really speaking only gain about 330 metres of altitude. There are woods galore, steep valleys and on this day the bright sunshine gave lovely sweeping clear views. Everest and Lhotse had been dead ahead for some time, until we sank down to Phunkitenga (see, another spelling!) – and here it was all up for a few hours.

On arriving in a darkened Deboche we checked into Paradise Lodge. I have a few tiny criticisms of the name. It was too cold to consider as a place of nirvana, but the warm log fireplace gave glory, I guess. The twelfth Dal Bhat was adequate for filling the belly.


5th February 2019

Today’s walk bid farewell to trees somewhere just beyond Pangboche and touching Otso village. The trail is the first day of true discomfort. You adjust and pace yourself with much more care now. The air is getting noticeably thinner. You concentrate on slowing your pulse and breathing with more effectiveness. There is touch of anxiety about me. This is where in 2017, I reached. And not much higher.

Deboche to Pangboche and finally Dingboche (4410m) is a photographer’s dream. There are gompas, vast valleys, huge rockfalls, streams and views of Ama Dablam up close. Then, as you climb into the valley that holds Dingboche, you see the mountainous borders of China with Island Peak, and Nangkartshang looming overhead.

My sleep that night wasn’t bad. No headaches and a confidence that this would be the year. Maria wanted to go on today. I insisted that we acclimatise. Over-confidence can be your downfall. Breathing normally is on the cards for tomorrow. Dal Bhat the 13th, was certainly no nightmare. It would assist on the battle against altitude-related doom.


6th February 2019

Coaxing the morning breaths into a steady rhythm, I tucked away breakfast. Last night we met Rhys and Al, who had travelled from Wales to climb to Everest Base Camp for charity. This morning we set off together to go up the neighbouring mountain. Nangkartshang is an unwelcoming rocky mountain lined with grass at first sight. The walk started vigorously. Our bodies would need the climb up, feel the strain and then sleep low. Every step would soon be an exertion and the higher we went, the harder it felt. On reaching the summit and ledges, the views are out-of-this-world yet remind us that we are on this world and we’re quite small. The cold air and clash of bright warm light make for an up and down body temperature. I regret wearing the down jacket – yet later, I was thankful for this piece of clothing.

As we descend the valleys beneath us fill with cloud. It filters from many directions and eventually covers the sky blotting out the fading evening sun. Winter is coming, so they say and the next day we will wake to fine flakes of snow. Everyone at the lodge talks in whispers of a big snow storm in the region over the next three days. A couple, from China, who are descending talk about a Pyramid lodge to stay at. We take the details and set that as tomorrow’s aim. But will the snow be too much? At least the fourteenth helping of Dal Bhat would surely help get me there.


7th February 2019

Dingboche to Thukla started in light snow. The snow eventually faded yet the sky remained jaded. My cynical mind remained open to further snowfall. The great sweeping plains above Dingboche, lay beneath mountains to the right shoulder, and beneath my left shoulder, a drop down to the river valley below. The left side view of Taboche (6495m) and Cholatse (6440m) gave a dramatic slant to the world. Cho (lake), la (pass), tse (peak) are Tibetan words. They’re impressive peaks and highly photogenic. The ravine of the Khumbu glacier folds away as we ascend to Thukla (spelt in numerous ways, as always) and onwards to Lobuche. The climb is gradual and striking. There are remarkable pathways cutting through the snow. But, before the bigger climbs, we stop for lunch at Thukla.

Upwardly walking in clouds and snow is unearthly. It heightens your senses and brings the imagination out. Beyond the cloud could be a sunny day, Godzilla or the Manchester City reserve team. You have very little way of knowing. To quote Meat Loaf, ‘what you see, is what you get’.

The cloud lifted and a strange black square shape could be seen. From this parapet a stream of colourful flags fluttered down. They formed a line stretching to a shrouded stockade to my upper right side. These ramparts appeared to be stones stocked one upon another and squared off with rough edges. The first two stupas formed a gateway from the pathway leading up from Dughla.

To my left, the flag of New Zealand fluttered. Rob Hall, of the famous Adventure Colsuntants was marked here. From the 1996 climbing disaster on Everest was the Mountain Madness Everest Expedition leader Scott Fischer. Both bodies of these remain on the South Summit of Mount Everest. There are others from this and groups of other deadly climb attempts. There are touching tributes, grand notes and plaques. I tried to read as many as I could. I was spellbound. It was sad but also life-affirming. It made me ask questions and think things that I seldom think or have never thought. The cloud drifted out to reveal lines of cairns and stupas. Suddenly, I was in a living graveyard. I felt that I was in a dizzying field of tombs, like the iconic Sad Hill Mexican standoff (which was filmed in Spain) in the the movie The Good, The Bay & The Ugly. Dizzying is a word that I have used lightly before. On this occasion, it felt apt for my vertiginous and flighty state of mind. I thanked the Gods (all of them, that others respect and worship) for people remembering the fallen, doing the thing that loved the most. But, does anyone really want to die doing the things that they love?

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More than 290 people have died attempting the Everest peak – or assisting those who climb it. Official statistics of deaths amongst the trekking population, that go to see Everest, are unknown. It is expected to be around 4-5 people a year, from altitude sickness. Crevasses, mountain sickness, being struck my your own icepick as you fall, avalanches, exhaustion, death by Serac, disappearance, falls, drowning, heart attacks, blood clotting, exposure to the elements, rope accidents, and others reasons for not wanting to climb Everest may have deterred me. For climbers, they must climb. Those lucky enough get to trek and explore wonderful places with blotched histories and wonderful moments. This is the spirit of nature. It takes and it gives.

On reaching Lobuche we step into the Oxigen Lodge and have a brew. We decide the snow is lighter and crack on for Pyramid. It should be around an hour away. Lobuche is a near barren wasteland. It is unwelcoming and borderline unfunctional. This town is notorious with early trekkers and climbers as being the place where everyone inhaled yak shit dust from early fireplaces. It has improved dramatically in recent years but still has a feel of drabness. The frozen toilets, a stream full of ice and a pocket in the snow with a dozen stray puppies gave an air of menace. Here you are expected to tolerate the simplest of simple accommodation – complete with ice. The trite options surrounded by inclines mark the start of the really, really dangerous glaciers – so we didn’t hang around too long.

After about 30 minutes we reached a ginnel, a short passageway to our left. Two clear signs pointed towards EvK2CNR and SHARE. It is possibly mothballed by the Italians, but it seems active. We walk the pathway for about 10 minutes. We had to cut through the reasonably deep snow. On arriving the squat brick building with a glass pyramid looked lifeless. On opening the door, it was far from lifeless. A dozen or so noisy Chinese voices mixed with a few western accents. We met Spanish Albert, Al and Rhys once again. Amongst the crowd were many friendly porters and guides. The lodge manager pointed us to the warmest room on the entire trail and apologised that the solar panels were too deep under snow, so the internal heaters were not working. It was more than comfortable. A bucket shower and all meals were inclusive – for 4000 NPRs per person, per night. That’s £26GBP or there abouts. Luxury in an amazing setting.

The Pyramid International Laboratory/Observatory is a high-altitude research centre. It has the aims of promoting sustainable development within mountainous areas. It is there to safeguard high altitude ecosystems. These areas for some of the most fragile in the changing world. There are works on the wall. I sit reading through them on eating Dal Bhat 15 and trying to find City’s score versus Everton away. The score flashes up. City’s title battle continues. Spanish Albert is also happy. His Barca team avoided defeat against Real Madrid.

#12 DEBOCHE 0830 – DINGBOCHE 1530 ~ 10km
#11 NAMCHE BAZAAR 1130 – DEBOCHE 1800 ~ 12km
#13 DINGBOCHE: Nangkartshang & back ~ 5km
#14 DINGBOCHE 0800 – PYRAMID ~ 11km

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Edmund Hilary, “Being comfortable at being uncomfortable.”

The lodge in Jorsalle’s dining room was long and rectangular. Freshly polished wood and paintwork leapt out at the eyes. In the centre at the foot of the dining room, a Buddhist monk sat. He sat all dressed in a maroon robe, and hat. An extra scarf and gloves, all maroon added to his complete maroon outfit.

The bedroom was ample and surprisingly spacious with a quaint window frame offering views of the river beneath. A solitary light switch again being the only technological advancement on offer. I didn’t mind.

After a short climb, fuelled by apple porridge, to Larja Dobham (2830m), I crossed a huge sweeping suspension bridge festooned by Buddhist prayer flags. Up the valley, snow-capped peaks of Lhotse and Sagarmatha towered above bands of yellow on brown sedimentary cliff faces. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for the once named Peak XV. Deodungha is one of many local names, like Qomolangma (Tibetan name). Most mean “holy mother mountain” or in Chinese, Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng (珠穆朗玛峰). Sadly, some British folk, around 1857, decided to name the peak after a Welsh surveyor Sir George Everest, who actually objected to his name being used. It cannot be pronounced with ease by many native Hindi speakers of Nepal and nor could it be written. The name stuck. In fact, nobody pronounces Everest properly; it should be EEV-rist /ˈiːvrᵻst/ and not /ɛvᵊrᵻst/! This was the beauty of the English language evolution in action.

Clambering up a staircase of boulders, treading lightly so as not to disturb and possible wildlife, I spied many grazing Himalayan Tahr. These beastly-sized wild goats, of the order Artiodactyla, clambered beneath me foraging from the steep-banked grasslands on ledges not suitable for my weight. The males, much stockier, around 70kg and the females around half of that, moved with agility akin to a Kung Fu master. Following a period of calm relaxation observing the herd, I moved on, crossing the most dramatic of suspension bridges, draped in prayer flags and looking up valley on Mount Everest and her neighbouring peaks. Here two ladies touted me to invest in fruit. I paid 300NPR for a couple of near-frozen oranges and enjoyed the majestic views of Everest and the Khumbu region. As I waited, I once again met Will and John. We cantered up the steep and strenuous climb into Namche Bazaar.

I joined Will and John for a wander, dropping off my laundry at a nearby laundry-house. A miracle considering no flowing water in the Yak Hotel prevented showers and sink water. After lunch in Everest Bakery, sampling Yak steak and eating pizza, I wandered the basin of the U-shaped magnet town.

A late breakfast of apple strudel and my first cappuccino of the year in Namche Bakery were followed up mostly by rest and relaxation. No walking. I acclimatised with ease to the altitude but sought some time to read and enjoy the sunlight. Hiring a down jacket proven to be the most exercise I had that day. Cafe 8848 was a pleasant place to sit and write for a few hours.

The Yak Hotel, complete with a marauding Yak-cow hybrid outside, as if for display, was lovely and warm. No heating, just great insulation. Power points in the room allowed me to recharge my phone. The 500NPR Wi-Fi service and lack of showers (frozen) were luxuries I opted against. The first night, I ate in the dining lounge. Tough meat in the Sherpa stew ruined an okay dish, accompanied by a good potato rosti. I was told the room would be 100NPR per night, and found that 300NPR per night was charged for my two nights. The breakfast was basic and the staff, a mixture of good (one Sherpa man) and rude or disinterested (one Rai man). I came back to Namche Bazaar on the way back but opted not to stay at the Yak Hotel again.

Namche Bakery was recommended for good cakes. I sampled the apple strudel on three occasions. It could be argued that they make the best apple strudel outside of Europe. The cappuccinos are also very good. The sun-kissed windows look out onto an amazing picturesque view that could make your jaw drop.

On my first visit to the Everest Bakery, I had a sizzling yak steak and shared pizza with friends. A wonderful pot of black tea was supped. I returned to try it again, opting for a different pizza and a cake. Very good food indeed, with interesting walls coated in sports team memorabilia from Norway, the UK and beyond.

One night in Namche, I wanted to message some special friends and family. I was in a far-off place, they deserve assurance – and I craved a familiar vice. The hotel’s Wi-Fi was off.  I went towards other end of village to see if two open bars had Wi-Fi, but two stray dogs snapped at me. I thought that they wanted to play, but in dark, I can’t risk getting bitten. I retreated. Then I had to dart between free-roaming yaks in the narrow village pathways.  They scared the now snarling dogs away. I arrived back in hotel, safely out of the cold too (-15C outside).

 

My acclimatisation was going well. Signs of altitude sickness include a loss of appetite (I’m famished an hour after eating), and breathlessness (my recovery rate is actually impressive). I avoided overexertion (my planned routes are a day behind and I’m monitoring the distance and time trekking), drinking more than I usually would too, going higher each day, but sleeping lower. I was without facial or hand swellings, no headaches, which was odd because I nutted a door in the night going to the toilet, in Sete. I bled a bit.

Happy to be free of the Yak Hotel, whilst warm and comfortable, the food was terrible and the service equally poor. On amending my bill to something akin to proper and not the figures they quoted, I skipped on. Darting sluggishly between ice-covered staircases and sloping pathways, I reached the top of Namche Bazaar. An army helicopter thundered as it lifted off, coating all around in a thick matting of dust. I covered my eyes and throat to protect them from obliterating dust. Soon it passed. I was back on the trekking trail. Here were views of the 6,812m tall Amal Dabble, meaning “Mother’s necklace.” As beautiful mountains go, this is one of the most scenic peaks I have ever encountered. Pure artwork in nature.

Lhotse Shar, Taboche, Kang Talge, Selawa village, Phunke Tenga’s prayer water wheels, Tengboche Monastery and a panorama liked no other on arriving at Tengboche (3860m). . On the ascent upwards, I really needed to urinate. So, finding a quiet point, I darted behind a tall recycling bin, whipping out the necessary body part to eject the toxic yellow fluid I needed to expel. That surprised the young South Korean girl squatting behind there, doing the same. I almost hit her. I missed. The pressures made us wee in unison and avoid eye contact in embarrassment. I finished, glanced her way, said sorry and bid her a good day.

I clambered up the steep zig-zagging dusty footpath, opting for a rest at a tree that inspired a climb and held a natural seat-like branch. Here, I ran into John and Will again. We pushed on the final ascent to Tengboche, before sharing dinner and tales of this amazing trekking route. The largest Gompa in the Khumbu region stood bold amongst the village reflecting the beautiful moonlight of the night.

Tengboche Monastery has been rebuilt several times. Lightning strikes and multiple earthquakes haven’t managed to end its long history. At the top of a juniper-filled valley, it sits on a dusty plain with roaming yak-cow hybrids called… Possibly stray dogs sleep in the sunlight of the morning. The monastery looks almost mediaeval. It was actually built in 1923. I don’t know why they chose the jutting flank of land teetering over the Imja Khola River but they in essence selected one of the greatest Himalayan panoramic views in doing so. The Lhotse ridge, Ama Dablam, Everest and many more mountains star in a 360-degree view of brilliantly unique picturesqueness. Littered by wintering rhododendrons, bare of flower, and patches of ice it certainly had a feel of magic.