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.