With most Nepalis celebrating the Hindu Dashain festival, all the INF offices have been closed for a few days so we took the opportunity to head to the other end of the country to tick off something from Rob’s bucket list – to see Mt Everest, or Sagamartha as it’s known here.
We left Nepalgunj on a night bus to Kathmandu along a busy highway with many Nepalis heading in both directions to spend the festival with their family. And not only family – many of the buses were also crowded with goats on the roof (the preferred festival meal). Our trip was uneventful and we arrived in Kathmandu the next morning and then had a couple of days of sightseeing and took the opportunity to extend our visas through until December.
We were thrilled to see far more tourists in Kathmandu than when we arrived in August – though still not enough to lift the ailing tourism industry which has suffered this year as a result of April’s earthquakes (read more here). As we walked the crowded streets we saw little to indicate the devastation that was splashed across our TV screens only a few months ago. Life must go on, and so rubble has been removed and neatly stacked – presumably so that bricks can be reused later; signs have been erected at damaged temples and historical buildings with pre and post images and explanations and market stalls are set up amidst the ruins.
And so to the mountains!
The airport at Lukla is consistently listed in the top 10 most dangerous landings in the world, so it was with some trepidation that we (ok, I – Sue) headed off to the airport to begin our trek to Tengboche. Flights have to get away early from Kathmandu heading for Lukla to be sure they can land and get out again before the weather changes and the wind currents are too strong, and we were turned back a couple of times before we’d even boarded, but we eventually got away and 40 minutes or so later we landed safely on the 527m uphill runway of Tenzing-Hillary Airport. As our bags appeared we were greeted by our guide and porter who were to be our support and companions over the next six days and we were whisked away from the airport.
After breakfast at a nearby hotel, we were off on our first day of trekking, heading for the village of Phakding some 6km away.
This was to be the easiest of our days, following high above the Dudh Koshi (Milk) River as it tumbles down the valley, though the pleasure of the long downhill sections was tempered by the knowledge that these would be long uphill sections on our last day. As we started off, the trail was busy with tired trekkers returning from their journeys, porters carrying food supplies, building materials and trekking equipment and many others like us, just setting out.
Arriving at our first hotel was a pleasant surprise, with a large dining room, an extensive menu, a large bedroom with attached bathroom and comfortable beds with warm blankets – much more than we expected! We passed the first afternoon resting (we’d been up since 4am) and a short stroll around the village and were glad we had thermals with us as the evening temperature cooled.
To Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar was a surprise: large and bustling, full of tourists, nestling in a bowl at 3340m, and overshadowed by the stunning ridge of Khongde Ri at over 6000m. As we made our way through to our hotel we were bemused by the Irish Pub, the German bakery, the “we serve Starbucks coffee” sign and the many “free wifi” signs. All this in a remote Himalayan village! It certainly wasn’t what we expected. Namche is clearly growing rapidly, and our hotel was one of the newer ones towards the top of the town; we were very happy to relax with chiya and even happier to find we had our own bathroom with our own hot shower! (Hot showers usually come at an extra charge of 500R to offset the cost of the gas or firewood involved.)
Wandering around Namche later in the afternoon we came across the real Namche Bazaar, away from the tourist shops and hype, where the local people buy their spices, flour and butter much as they have done for years. I’m sure not too many of them would be buying the 600R ($7.50) packet of lollies or the $40 bottles of Banrock Station Shiraz. I wonder what the tourism development in this area really means for local people. Their lives are certainly different, but is different necessarily better?
Two monuments sit atop the viewing area: one to commemorate Tenzing Norgay who together with Sir Edmund Hillary made the first successful summit of Mt Everest on 28 May 1953; the second, much smaller monument displays stones from the Dead Sea as a symbol of friendship between the people from the highest and lowest points on earth.
Day 4 began with a brief visit to the local monastery before heading off to Tengboche – a day of down, down, down to meet the Dudh Koshi River again – followed by a long and steep up, up, up, up to Tengboche. Although sections of the trail have stone steps, unfortunately they weren’t made for people with little legs and Sue found the uphill section particularly challenging. Revived with lunch, we enjoyed the afternoon drinking in the views and the unexpected pleasure of cappuccino, latte and cake at the amazing bakery. Certainly not something we expected to find here!
As we returned to Kathmandu the next morning, Prem our porter was meeting his next group to head to Everest Base Camp.
Kathmandu was unexpectedly cold and wet so we passed our day resting before returning to Nepalgunj on the night bus – not quite such a straightforward journey this time as the fuel shortages meant two lengthy stops waiting for fuel giving us a 17hour trip. We have been fortunate not to have been badly affected by the fuel shortages, but other areas are suffering. This article gives a report on the current situation affecting those in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other parts of the country.
There are more photos from our holiday on our Facebook page.