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

Namche Bazaar (is the place to find me)

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

Yesterday I played 7-a-side football with my new team Dongguan Raiders F.C. Sporting our bright pink kits we had another victory. Our team has played three games this last week with two wins and one midweek friendly training game against Murray’s F.C. Our team has Chinese, Italian, Serbian, German and Ukrainian players – alongside the token Mancunian. On Saturday, I also joined Murray’s F.C. in our game at Zhuhai against the Guangzhou Phoenix team. We won 8-2. It now means a draw or win against Zhuhai, in Dongguan at the month shall be enough to claim the inaugural Guangdong Super League. Football shall move into the sidelines for me now. I have 88 days to train for my debut Spartan Race. I opted for the killer 13km Super option. That involves 25 obstacles too. It is a challenge. Am I ready? No. Will I be ready? I’ll do my best to be. The trekking in the Himalayas tested me mentally and I feel that anything is possible. The arrival of the next challenge is always welcoming. After that, I’ll need a new challenge. Suggestions please. Of course, I’m still looking back on the time spent in Nepal…


31st January 2019

One week of trekking was to completed today. The walk from Kharikhola, via the Karila Pass (2730m) to Paiya (2730m) started with a reasonably steep climb up towards Bupsa Danda. Here made for a good brew stop and somewhere to enjoy the view. From Kharikhola’s Magar people to panaromic views of valleys and looming landslides, to Sherpa settlements and the Bupsa Danda village itself, heaven could easily have been placed on this spot of Earth. The hilltop is delightful.

From there the trail is up and down, but really gently. In fact it is the closet to a day’s walk being flat on the entire wander so far, and later to come. It feels like deception. At the end of the walk, we settled down a for a night’s sleep in a lodge. Here we met a trekking nurse who volunteers in Nepal, having retired from work in Germany. Her partner and guide, from Nepal spoke German and they were accompanied by several porters. We spoke at great length about porters and guides leaving Nepal for better opportunities. He seemed quite aware that many Nepali people are trapped in Qatar. Political and visa issues have been a problem. He mentioned the reduction in porters has resulted in an explosion in the mule population. The destruction to the pathways in two years was clear to me. A country ravaged by natural disasters, civil war and political turmoil now had to contend with horse-donkey hybrids smashing up a great Himalayan trail.


1st February 2019

Leaving Paiya that morning we headed towards Surke. At Surke, Livia, Srirang and Ishwor went up to Lukla for supplies. We carried on up the pathway to Phakding (2610m) passing waterfalls, frozen streams and increasing numbers of lodges and houses. Around the sacred villages of Ghat, large boulders cast shadows over the pathways beneath. Some sported sproutings of trees and the odd leafless giant. Almost every rock had faces of lichens and bedcovers of moss. Beyond every short mountain towered ridges of snow-capped peaks. Eventually the trail met the main pathway from Lukla towards Everest Base Camp. Here we noted a huge difference in footfall. More people, more often. Now we were in the home straight. The business end of the greatest most popular and well known Himalyan trail. Also, those we passed by on their way up had some similarities. Most looked fresh and clean. Some had minor altitude exhaustion, having arrived a few thousand metres up at the modern and recently legendary Lukla airfield.

Under grey skies we plodded onwards. The pathways seemed to level on this day, and we stopped for lunch at a Sherpa family’s lodge. Reading the family’s walls of certificates and talking to the owners was quite interesting. The owners’ son is a pilot based at Kathmandu – on rescue helicopters. They regularly see him flying overhead. Their daughter is also overseas in Switzerland in the hospitality sector. Mountain people seldom leave the mountains, it seems.

From the moment we passed Surke to the upper levels of Phakding, the numbers of stupas, gompas, murals and mani stones seemed to explode. This region is known as extremely sacred. The Nepal version of the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Many prayer wheels had been turned, so much so that my fingers became dirty from the dust. The clear signs of mules everywhere to be seen. The most obvious being the pathways under repair.

The modern looking Sherpa Guide Lodge was our stay that night in Phakding. We paid 3000NPRs for a shower each, twin room and food wasn’t much more on top. I’d seen this pine-looking wood and clean-cut brick building under construction two years ago. We were the only guests this time. The daughter of the owner was in charge. The next day she was due to head to Kathmandu to see her parents. The walls featured awards and commendations of her father’s achievements, photos of their family lifestyle and traditional prayers from Buddhism. It was a pleasant place to eat Dal Bhat number nine. The views of the near-Alpine looking region sat outside in total darkness. The roar of the river drifted away as I slipped into a deep untroubled sleep.


2nd February 2019

Phakding to Monjo (2835m) wasn’t too far. A few hours to the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Sagarmartha National Park. Having a gander at the monthly tourist record really shows how few people explore outside of the peak seasons (March-April & October-November). It also makes me feel like peak season may be a tad too busy to enjoy the freedom of the great trail.

As you enter the Khumbu subregion it isn’t hard to see why the Lonely Planet guide ranks it as the sixth best region to visit globally. This patch of northeastern Nepal has mountain scenery at every turn. Colourful Danfe birds resemble pheasants. The national bird can be seen amongst a whole host of colourful birds, mountain goats, musk deers, and other wildlife. The colourful guesthouses fell away as we entered the park, having paid our 3000 NPRs and a deposit of 1000 NPRs for a new tracking GPS card. Good idea. Less lost people in the Himalayas. Over one of the Dudi Kosi river’s many footbridges and we pass through Jorsalle (2740m), stopping at the last hut overlooking a river below. Here some yummy foods were required. The final hike upwards after luch would be near brutal. Over another bridge, we crossed down onto the river-accompanying pathway, up to some steep scary steps, and then to the final bridges looking up at the Namche pathway. Up the valley, Everest, Lhotse and a face of mountains hid away in clouds. We wouldn’t be seeing their beauty on this day, but Oasis sang, someday we’ll find a brighter day.

The Dudi Kosi river flows from the Mount Everest massif, just east of Gokyo Lakes and flows south, beneath Namche Bazar before heading west of Lukla. It was the same river heard during a night’s sleep at Phakding. Each bridge over the river seemed to always be occupied by flowing mule caravans. They were a bit pongy.

One last push, up the brow and around into the horsehoe-valley of Namche Bazaar (3441m), some energy was needed. Posters for the last edition of the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon and stickers offering all manner of expedition group, from nations so numerous the writing and logos blurred into a mesh of hieroglyphics. The downhill marathon is held every May 29th. Count me out. The maximum entry is 250. I’ll let those who want it, have a crack.

Over the last few hundred metres of walk, we met Nawang Chhiring Sherpa. He said that his lodge, Mt. Kailash Lodge, was free to stay at as long as we ate our meals there. He wasn’t pushy and seemed quite welcoming. As he guided a Taiwanese couple up the hill, we talked a little with them. Maria now had Mandarin-speaking company. An easy decision, and in hindsight one with zero regret. We would spend a total of two nights there on the way up and one on the way down. We’d recommend it to everyone too. Srirang, Ishwor and Livia joined us for the second night. The room wasn’t too cold too. Dal Bhat TEN was yummy with a crunchy prawn cracker on the side.


3rd February 2019

If ever I run away to get away from it all and not tell anyone where I am heading, then Namche Bazaar is the place to find me. I’d consider it the picture-perfect position to retire too. This morning, after a full belly, we had coffee and hired some thick down jackets. Following that we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the Everest View Hotel. The first of our altitude acclimatisation days was neither taxing nor boring. With lunch at the Everest View Hotel we peered through limited gaps in the clouds at Everest itself, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. To the east the tips of Thamserku (6623m) permeated from the drifting clouds. We’d walked by the sprawling grass runway of a near-silent Syangboche Airport and by yaks patrolling the high pathways. Through snow-lined fields and up a ridge to the mansion-like stairway of the grand hotel.

Thamserku is one of my favourite mountains to observe. Thronged by trees until around the 4000m mark, it was littered with snow and rocks thereafter. It has two almost identical peaks that resemble little horns. It is bulky and broad. With throngs of cloud circling high up, it is very atmospheric.

Excitement seemed to erupt from nowhere. Here I was looking up at vultures! Actual vultures gliding over away from dark cloud, towards gaps in the lighter cloud. Very much like Pterodactyls flying in a Jurassic Park movie, their broad wingspan effortlessly glided into the thickening clouds. Almost as soon as the elation began, it was over. The descent to the Sherpa Life Museum was swift and easy. The museum itself was interesting and full of photos. The colourful way of the Sherpa people is finely illustrated – and it also includes a mountaineering room with photos of those who have scaled summits throughout the region.

The charm of Namche Bazaar is multi-layered. West of the village is Kongde Ri (6187m) and other rolling hills around the basin of the village. Thamserku (6623m) looms to the east. The horseshoe-shaped village sits across many layers. It is almost as if someone carved the land to face the sun at sunset. Through the village centre sits recently renovated water features and statues. The eyes of the stupa face in four directions with helicopter pads in almost every direction. There are buildings of old rock, and timber structures amongst inconspicuous and understated concrete builds. The unobtrusive nature of man in the elements of nature and the rhythm of life is throughout the grounds. Cows and stray dogs walk the narrow passages. The silk road feels more short-gauntlet and less mammoth-journey here. Around 2000 people live here at the busiest point of year, yet during deep to late winter it feels sleepy and at rest. Save for helicopters and freight cargo flights, little sound of machines can be heard. Dal Bhat XI sat in my sleeping belly, ready to power the next new day.

#7 KHARIKHOLA 0900 – PAIYA 1730: ~ 7km.
#8 PAIYA 0900 – PHAKDING 1730: ~ 10km.
#9 PHAKDING 0800 – NAMCHE BAZAAR 1630: ~ 7km.
#10 NAMCHE BAZAAR – EVEREST VIEW HOTEL & GENERAL WANDER: ~ 10km

 

To be continued…

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

 

 

Sagamartha: Realm of wonders

The next morning, I felt energised, I practically skipped back enjoying the wonderful views and stopping more frequent to take it all in. Wonderful. At Khayangjuma I stopped at Three Sisters Lodge for lunch and enjoyed talking with the owner. I bid my farewell and strolled on into the nearby Namche Bazaar. After a struggle finding lodgings, avoiding the Yak Hotel of my previous visit, I found the Kala Patthar Lodge. I checked in. No hot showers due to frozen pipes. I had only showered in Jiri, Sete and Bupsa Danda by that time. 15 days, 3 showers. They did however provide me with a bucket full of hot water. It was bliss. I felt clean again. That evening I talked with two Australian ladies hiking up the trail. I also invested in a new book. I ploughed through Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, inside 24 hours. A very good read.

My hotel didn’t have a recharge point for my phone. I opted for a cappucino, cake and a pot of black tea. The afternoon disappeared pretty fast in Sherpa Barista Bakery. I enjoyed plush leather seats and my book. I was the only customer and the two staff present were very welcoming.

I ate at Cafe de 8848 once and enjoyed good teas alongside wifi access for free. They show the Sherpa movie daily at 3pm. Well worth a gander. Very revealing movie. Lovely views from the balcony bar.

I clambered from my lodge up the pathway to Everest Base Camp. This time I opted for a lefthand spur, towards Khumjung.

Rising over the ridge, the land flattened, a plateau of sorts, with the odd boulder. The cargo airport, Syangboche (3750m/12,303ft) stood to my left. A Russian helicopter, lacking beauty in design, unloaded wood and busy Rai porters dashed back and forwards. Two red-beaked choughs dug soil and fed in the foreground.

I passed along a field resembling a golf course green and approached the Japanese-owned Everest View Hotel (http://www.hoteleverestview.com/). Part James Bond baddy lair, and part paradise, this hotel is state of the art. In 2004, the Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the Highest Placed Hotel in the world. The blurb online says, “With a view of Mt. Everest from every room, visitors can immerse in this mesmerizing scene in luxury.” That is impressive. I had a milky tea and steak sandwich, taking in the view. It truly is an astonishing location with superior unmatchable panoramic views of the region.

The monastery in Khumjung (3780m) was undergoing a refurbishment. The supposed yeti skull inside was not on public showing. My inner skeptic grew. Over the valley floor from the monastery, the Khumjung school was built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1961 stood closed. 350 students share the limited classroom space from pre-school to secondary school. Some have gone on to university and studies overseas. The stone-walled village sits at the base of Mount Khumbu Yül-Lha. This 5761m tall mountain has never been summitted. Said to be a god, it is a fiercesome looking sharp and dry looking gargantuan crag. Bamboo spikes stand festooned in prayer flags honouring the overlooking god.

I trekked on towards Khunde (3840m). Sign posts pointed me to the  Khunde Hospital (founded in 1966 by Sir Edmund Hillary) and the Sir Edmund Hillary view-point. From here I went rock-scrambling down the valley into Phurte before hiking back to Namche Bazaar. Red and blue Himalayan pheasants, vultures, eagles, Himalayan Tahrs and a possible leopard footprint added much nature to a wonderful walk.

I entered Namche Bazaar’s horseshoe-shaped bowl from the western ridge, having climbed from the north-eastern ridge. The masses of mani stones, prayer flags and fading light made for a very spiritually powerful twilight. The following day I read several books and relaxed all day. I chatted with a convalescence group of trekkers. Eight trekkers had fell ill on various stages between Namche Bazaar and Everest Base Camp. Their guide group had sent them back with one porter to spend a few nights at Namche Bazaar’s Kala Patthar Lodge. A Bulgarian, a Costa Rican, a Newzealander and an Australian went into a bar… it was a very international.

With my flight booked from Lukla to Kathmandu for the morning of 23rd, I opted to try and hike the full path to Lukla the morning of the 21st. I managed as far as Thadokoshi, and chose the Everest Summitter Lodge, ran by a Sherpa family. I felt sick on arrival but put it down to hunger, I had skipped lunch, trying to make Lukla in one day. Two days hike in one day was optimistic at best. It would have taken nine solid hours trekking. I was an hour shy as dusk set in. Bunking down was a good idea. I needed food. I ordered food. Spaghetti with cheese and tomato sounded simple. Before the food arrived, I went to the toilet, and vomited several times. Very odd, I just felt tired. Nothing else. I washed my face and returned to the dining lounge. I drank some black tea and tentavily probed the food. I ate a few pieces. I could eat no more. I went to bed at 7 o’clock, devoid of hunger. The middlest of family’s three boys had been in the lodge playing domino-rally with business cards. Entertained in a world where toys are marketed and sold with aggression, by something so simple. He looked happy. I felt guilty of the days when I begged my Mum for the lastest Lego sets or Ghostbusters figures. In talking to him, I learnt he was nine year’s old. In Nepal, children often lose school before they are teenagers. His younger brother slammed a glass window shut and opened it again. He repeated this until it became white noise. Their oldest brother was 15 year’s old. A porter, lifting anything from the airport to whereever it was required.

After a breakfast of porridge, I left Thadokoshi for Lukla. At Lukla, I lodged at Lukla Lodge. I had lunch in the lodge, Yak steak, then explored the village. I stopped at Starbucks Lukla. It was a rip-off branded coffeeshop with a delightful sunroom and a vast array of birdwatching books. I slumped into the leather sofa there and enjoyed a very good cappucino.

I walked around the Sagarmāthā National Park conservation office, eyes on a path marked Red Panda area. Glancing back at Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport below. The short and steep airstrip’s tarmac twinkled in the intense afternoon sunlight. It had held the title of Most Extreme Airport for around twenty years. The 11.7% gradient, and dimensions of 527m (1,729 ft) × 30m (98 ft) and drop into a valley below at the southern runway end. The northern end being a mountain wall.

Friendship Youth Club F.C.’s field had to be explored. I left a bunch of Shenzhen Blues bags, badges and stickers there, with my SZB t-shirt. I donated all but a few of my clothes, supplies and boots to a Sherpa trust charity, figuring the materials will be of more use to local people than me in the sub-tropics of Guangdong. Later in the afternoon, John and Will rolled in from their trek, having reached Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp a few days after we last me. Fair play to them! Their flight was scheduled 30 minutes after mine.

Tara, in Nepali means green goddess, in Hindi it means star, in Catalan or Italian it means defect, in Gaelic it means queen and in Welsh it means goodbye. Flight TA144 sounded a tad omnious for me.

I boarded the Twin Otter on the side area of the runway. Two flights had already departed. Those planes, a Dornier Do 228 and a Let 410, had looked much more modern. My aircraft had a more rustic feel. I guess with 22 aircraft split between 5 domestic airlines, not counting Nepal Airlines, choices are few and far between. Tara airlines have a history of crashes, 4 in less than 6 years. Two of their eight fleet are no more, and sadly 45 people perished in two serious crashes.

Everest rest restaurant

Dropping down the valley to Deboche (3820m), passing a newly built lodge called Rivendell, drifting through low moss-cloaked trees, a plain to the left opened, beyond clumsily-stacked Mani stones. Inside a sign advised of a nunnery. It looked far poorer and less well-maintained than the monk’s residence at Tengboche Monastery. Perhaps this is a clear sign of inequality? The sign Parque del Retiro giving hints it was a home for those of later years?

After Milingga hamlet, I branched up the upper pathway into Upper Pangboche. I’d caught up with John and Will and they opted for the lower road into Lower Pangboche. My pathway swept amongst small Gompa after Gompa and Mani Stone walls, eventually reaching the village of Upper Pangboche (3985m). I passed around the walls of a square monastery, reported to hold a Yeti skull. I wasn’t allowed beyond the hall containing chanting and drumming, standing there admiring haunting sounds, “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ…” (唵嘛呢叭咪吽). The very same phrase being inscribed into Mani stones, prayer wheels, prayer flag streamers,

I passed Pangboche school as built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1963. It stands at 4000m above sea level. Beyond this my path converged with the lower Pangboche pathway at Shomare village. I stopped for Sherpa stew and a sandwich, watching Will and John pass by on the lower pathway. Satisfied with my tomato sandwich, I trundled onwards. Next up, Worshyo, and into the broad and high-mountain surrounded Imja Valley. Rock falls and landslides marking almost barren terrain beneath the imposing beauty of Ama Dablam’s western and northern faces. Through huge empty plains and between mounds of loose rocks, over dirt trails and down a steep crevice, I crossed a bridge. Upwardly, the path became substantially drier and dustier. At the top of a valley-hugging path, the pathway cut inwards amongst debris of many mountains and their violent histories.

In the village of Dingboche, many lodges lined a stone-wall lane as wide as a car, yet without cars possible. Oh, and covered in thick ice. Exposed to the elements and at some stage flooded by flowing water, it marked a slippery pathway through a town. Thankfully the odd rock and patch of barren embankment stood out beneath the neatly placed stone walls (built after farmers simply removed obstacles to ploughing their fields). I walked through the village, noting most lodges as closed. After ten minutes, I heard my name; John and Will had opted for the Solukhumbu Lodge. I greeted them and met the owner, a Khambu Rai, a people from the Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills. He welcomed me and shown me to a plywood room. By now I was used to these sorts of basic rooms. The only luxury was a light switch. I rolled my sleeping bags out, prepared my torch and laid out clothes for the next day. It was only five o’clock in the evening, yet when night came in; light would be limited and the desire to get to sleep early, strong. Almost every night so far had ended in bed by 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

Sat eating pork curry, around a Yak-shit powered stove, with the Solukhumbu Lodge owner answering questions in a kind of politely curious interview of new acquaintances it felt cosy despite extreme cold lapping at the single-glazed windows. He told us how two men, porters, lugged and regularly lugs the slate base of snooker tables from Namche Bazaar (two days hike away). Each porter takes ten minute stints to lift the 150kg load before passing the load onwards. They rotate time and time again. 22km of carrying 150kg between two souls sounds as tortuous as climbing Everest’s peak itself! A sign had boasted “world’s highest billiard hall.” I hadn’t doubted that. They would earn 50NPR per kilogram for every item they lugged from Namche Bazaar to Dingboche. That was the standard rate.

The mule trains are only permitted as far as Namche Bazaar. Some yaks are okay here after, but not so many. Porters, human labour, make the bulk of anything. I ordered a Coca-Cola, priced 200NPR above the manufacturer’s recommended price. To pay five times as much, here, seemed justified. I’d seen people carrying crates of beers, boxes of Red Bull energy drinks, gallons of bottled water. If it was packaged or meat, it came from lower down the valley. Our pork curry’s meat came from a village south of Lukla, where the lodge owner’s family had moved from. They sought the busier tourist routes for their living, renting a lodge for the year and living off the income. His wife, two year’s younger than him, aged 27, sat on one side, breastfeeding their tiny chubby baby, massively-wrapped up in a down jacket and down trousers. The nearest school was Pangboche, 10km away, but they intended to raise their kid until old enough to be taught in Kathmandu, like most kids on the region. The Yak-shit oven crackled as the owner slid the lid open, dropping on dried yak turds. The lower oxygen levels make burning yak pooh quite difficult. It isn’t actually that flammable. Wood fires are not permitted, as they destroy forests – also at this altitude, trees are not present. Following a good natter, I retired to bed, with a 3L thermal flask of ginger tea.

I entered my room. It was freezing. Way below zero. Ice had formed on a sweat-lined ski hat I had left by my bed earlier. I dived into my sleeping bag, pulled up the zip high, placing an extra blanket in the room over my body. I wore my dust-mask and spare ski hat to sleep. Gloves on.

I have never had such a restless sleep. I needed to water the plants too often. I had an unquenchable thirst. Headaches squeezed my skull and seemed to strangle my thoughts. At 9 o’clock in the morning I took some paracetamol. I napped until noon. On entering the lounge dining area, warm sunlight beat through the window panes. John and Will had finished their breakfast and were playing backgammon. They were heading for an acclimatisation walk up to Chhukhung. I was not. My head, as much as I wanted to wander, was not right. My ears hurt, my nose and sinuses seemed clogged and unclearable. If I lay my head flat it felt much more painful.

Had I allowed my body time to adjust to reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure? I thought hiking from Jiri and two nights in Namche Bazaar was enough, having read numerous accounts and heard many pieces of advice. Above sea level, altitude sickness can occur at heights over about 2,500m (8,000 feet). The affects are mild usually. In the severe form, anything above 3,600m (about 12,000 feet) is possible. At 5000m, oxygen is at 50% of the level as found at sea level. I was warned that a loss of appetite and shortness of breath were warning signs. I had neither. I did have a feeling of unsteadiness and like I was going to vomit. But, it wasn’t so bad. I decided to rest. The dizziness of the morning swept away. I read a book and enjoyed the warm dining room, napping on the late afternoon to be awoken by the owner knocking on my door. It was almost seven o’clock when I awoke. I ordered spaghetti and tomato sauce.

The next day was not as bad. My head hurt a little and I would classify myself as having “reduced performance and coordination.” I packed my bag, brushing the thick curtain over the window, “Well, I’ll be damned!” I cursed out loud, to nobody. Two nights of sleep, with the window open. The outside extreme weather had been cuddling my breathing at night. Keeping me company, keeping me dehydrated.

With a slight freshness to my mind, I set off for Lobuche (4410m), determining I could make it. I would be okay. The cold harsh peak of Taboche loomed to my left. I thought, I could turn around if I did not feel better. Armed with excessive flatulation (I later learnt this to be a sign of altitude sickness), I soldiered on. And laboured. Really laboured. Sweating profusely in cold is not comfortable. Sweat freezes fast. I checked my hands for swelling. None. My feet were okay that morning, but now they felt unusually warm. Sudden fatigue, a wave of weakness, swept over my body at Dughla (Thukla). Standing at 4620 metres, my mind argued with itself. Go on? Turn around? The mountain pass suddenly felt a million miles away from life. A small hutted hamlet with little attraction. It was a place to pass through and not stay for more than a night’s sleep. I checked my pulse. It was rapid. Persistently rapid. My breathing had quickened and finding my resting level was proving difficult. In my lightheaded state, I heard the thud of a struggling helicopter coming from towards Gorak Shep. Another rescue helicopter. The fourth, I had seen that day. I was around ten kilometres from Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp.

I decided to turn around. It was emotional. A really, really tough decision. I didn’t want my minor altitude sickness to become the reason for death by high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or Monge’s disease. Kala Patthar would have to wait. My nausea was close to that of wishing to vomit. I hate the feeling of wanting to be sick, but being unable to trigger a splurge. I could feel paresthesia, pins and needles. My body needed more oxygen. Welcome to the world malaise. I about turned. Passing through Nauma, Pheriche, Jamdang, Somsobuk, and Orsho, the path along the Pheriche Pass went almost unnoticed. As I approached Lower Pangboche (3930m), I watched as a helicopter landed, collected a man clutching an oxygen-cylinder on a medical stretcher. Only now, did I feel I made the right choice. Turning around was probably the wisest move of my life. If I didn’t think of loved ones and friends, I probably would have pushed myself. Too far. Having dropped from 4620m to 3860m at Tengboche, I could feel myself relax. The headaches lifted. I lodged once again at the welcoming Tashi Delak lodge. The log stove burnt well, filling a small area with heat and allowing for comforting conversation with Rai and Sherpa porters gathered alongside me. A group of Taiwanese hikers had aimed to go to Everest Base Camp but fell ill at Pangboche. They sat reasonably quietly, immersed in their glowing mobile phone screens. After a large meal of a yak burger, cheese spring rolls and potato chips, I slipped into my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby. All altitude sickness had gone.

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.