Everest Teahouse Trek, Nepal
Sunday 28th & Monday 31st October 2007
24 hours of airports and aeroplanes we finally reach Kathmandu. The
airport is our first taste of chaos as no one had bothered to chalk the
flight numbers onto the chalkboards over the baggage carousels. Outside
the air was warm and smelly and the sun was going down through the haze.
In the other direction the tops of the Himalayas could just be seen
through the thick air. We clamber into the minibus that is waiting for us
while our baggage is pushed through the window then we set off into
Tuesday 30th October 2007
a breakfast of vegetable curry and chapatti we set off for a walking tour
of the tourist hot spots. We walked down many crowded streets of rubble
and dust, lined with tiny shops each specialising in one thing or another.
The smells in the air changed with each shop we passed; from spices to raw
meat, to incense then cow poo.
Wednesday 31st October 2007
It was hardly worth going to sleep as we had to be up at 4.45 a.m. to set off for the airport. The little 16-seated aircraft can only make the half hour flight from Kathmandu to Lukla if there is at least 3km of visibility at both ends. We had to wait till about 9 a.m. and then a flurry of small aeroplanes and helicopters started taking off. Our little plane flew up over terraced fields and sparkling rivers, then through gaps in the mountains and along valleys until we turned a corner to see Lukla airstrip running up the side of the mountain. We were still flying upwards as the ground rushed up to meet us but the up hill roll meant we stopped just in time to avoid the brick wall at the end of the strip. There was only parking enough for 4 small aeroplanes so no sooner had we disembarked than others climbed aboard and the little plane rushed back down the short airstrip and out into the abyss.
After cups of sweet milky tea we walked down Lukla main street past its little shops, rocky path and yak poo and down to the monastery. The monks were not much in evidence but a couple of children opened the doors to let us in. Inside, the style was very much like temples we had seen in Thailand with red and gold painted dragons and Buddha. Next-door there was a school where young monks learned how to paint monasteries.
We walked back past ‘the children who know how to say chocolate’ and on up to the hospital where all the unsuccessful climbers end up.
After a fine lunch provided by our guides, we set out for Pakding where we would stay our first night in a teahouse. We had 4 guides to take care of the 9 of us and more must have gone ahead with the Yaks bearing our luggage. The path varied between carefully laid rocks, boulders and rubble, so the going was slow. A steady stream of traffic passed both ways including other trekkers, yaks and porters carrying loads larger than themselves. The porters bore the weight via a strap over their heads. No wonder they are all small.
I have been referring to the pack animals as yaks for convenience but they are actually a cross between a yak and a cow, having shorter hair and backward pointing horns, called a Jockpe or Khainag or Dimjo.
Despite the low cloud the views were wonderful of tree lined valleys containing white water rivers. The trees were mostly pine but with soft needles. We walked over suspension bridges, which seemed wobbly until I realised that fully laden yaks walked over then with ease, so it was probably just me.
After 3 or 4 hours walk we came to ‘Namaste Teahouse’ for our first overnight stop. ‘Namaste’ means ‘good day’ and is the most frequently used word we will hear the entire trip. Like many of the other houses it is built of rough and cut stones with a corrugated steel roof and chunky wooden window frames. Inside it is roughly panelled in wood although some of the panels fall a bit short. There is a brazier in the dining room and a flue that runs up through the hallways past the rooms but there is no other heating. As the cool night air breezes through the cracks we realise why we need 4 season sleeping bags.
Dinner was made by our assistant guides and was a good, simple fare of carrots, fried potato and cabbage, or pok choi seem to be the staple. I went to bed early with a headache, which was probably altitude sickness. This was disappointing because we were only at 2600m.
Thursday 1st November 2007
the morning my
headache was just a dull numbness and I resolved to drink more water. At
breakfast we spoke to some walkers coming down from Everest base camp, who
told us to drink 6 litres per day on the way up. This was disheartening as
I hate drinking plain water but our guides provided boiled water, which
was nicer to drink. I drunk water whenever I felt a headache coming on but
still never managed to finish even 1 litre of plain water a day.
Fortunately I never got a bad headache again anyway.
Friday 2nd November 2007
is hard to prize yourself out of a warm sleeping bag into a cold room,
even if breakfast is waiting for you downstairs. Tikendra (our guide) had
warned us off alcohol whilst we were in high altitude so Tracy had
mentioned the night before that it would be a dry birthday. John, our
resident artist, had heard this and painted a card of a local mountain,
Ama Dablam, which everyone had signed. It made a good start to her
birthday. Today would be an acclimatization day so we would walk up a few
hundred metres and back to stay at the same lodge. Our first walk took us
to a viewpoint where we could just see the peak of Everest between the
local peaks. When we set off it was cold but by the time we got there the
sun had risen above the mountains and warmed the place nicely. The sky was
blue and the air still and it was really, really peaceful just sitting
there, looking at the landscape and listening to the crows craw. Also
camped on this peaceful peak were the Nepalese military with a few
buildings and lots of trenches. It was hard to imagine what they were
defending apart from a mobile phone mast and a satellite dish. One of the
buildings was an interesting museum which we spent some time in before
walking down the hill to see an example of a traditional house with a
prayer room and living room stuffed full of museum artefacts. By the
stairs at the front door was a complete wall made from dried yak-pats,
collected, dried in the sun and stored for fuel.
Saturday 3rd November 2007
were up at 6:30 to pack, eat breakfast and get out on the trail by 8. We
walked through another market part of town, which was crowded even at this
time of day. Occasionally a couple of Yaks would come careering through
the crowd which would part hastily. Just out of town we took a path that
followed the contour of a hill which we had seen the previous day. We
could see the museum with its chorten (religious monument) and prayer
flags flapping in the gentle breeze. The sun began rising in a clear blue
sky and it was the start of another lovely day for trekking, especially as
the going was fairly level. The path was cut into the side of an
extraordinarily steep mountainside so that at times you could look out and
imagine that you were flying down the valley. I had to take care not to
get carried away.
Sunday 4th November 2007
previous evening Tracy had a bad altitude headache and so we decided to
take a rest day instead of the 5 hour trek to see another monastery and
Everest a little bit closer. It was just glorious just sitting in the
sunshine just watching the porters and trekkers come and go. Colourful
little birds sat in the trees nearby and munched on their seeds,
twittering between mouthfuls. Crows cawed lazily in the distance and all
was peaceful. The tranquillity was broken only occasionally by a
helicopter on a rescue mission.
Monday 5th November 2007
every previous day the mornings had greeted us with clear skies so that
the sun warmed the place soon after we started walking. During the
afternoon the clouds would roll in and it would soon cool down. This
morning the clouds were still around from the day before so we
had to walk up through the rhododendron forest to Tengbouche Monastery in
cloud. By the time we got there we were at 3870 metres so it is not
surprising that we were in the clouds. We took a look at the monastery and
the Eco centre before taking the steep path down to the river at 3280
metres, a descent of nearly 600m, much of it down steep stone steps, the
same ones that we had climbed up only 2 days before.
Tuesday 6th November 2007
village was still in clouds when we set out this morning and we climbed
gently to 3850m. With the clouds obscuring the surrounding mountains you
could easily mistake the mountains for the Yorkshire moors. Other pine
covered sloped could be mistaken for the Alps but glimpses of the sheer,
deep rock faces backed by towering mountains gave the game away.
Wednesday 7th November 2007
are on the home stretch today, destination
Lukla, where we would stay the night before taking a morning flight back
to Kathmandu. The walking was much easier but still with many ups and
downs along a path of rocks and boulders. There were many places we
recognised from the way up. It was both sad to be leaving the beauty of
the mountains and happy to finish the relentless trekking and get back to
the easy life we knew. During the afternoon it started raining but I guess
we had been fortunate to have dry weather so far. Finally we started to
see planes leaving the airport and knew that it was not far to go.
Thursday 8th November 2007
being lodged right next to the airport we were still up at 5:30 am to
pack, eat breakfast and be at the airport by 7 am. There was a long queue
at security that was going nowhere. Suddenly we were hurried past the
queue and security to the dismay of the other passengers and bundled onto
our little plane, which had hardly stopped moving. After the shortest ever
taxiing ride to the end of the runway, we plummeted down the hill and off
the end of the runway out into oblivion. Thankfully the wings caught the
thin air and we were off between the peaks. Snow dusted mountains passed
to our right and small farms on the hill tops to our left. As we descended
the hill farms grew in size and number and the terraced fields made the
hills look like layer cake. Further down, the occasional walking path
appeared between the farms but it was quite a bit further before they
became wider and tyre tracks appeared. Even in the outskirts of Kathmandu
all the roads were still dirt tracks.
Friday 9th November 2007
this day we went out to Bhaklapur, 12km east of Kathmandu. Built in the
12th century and substantially restored in recent years with help from
Germany, this place is so much nicer to walk around than Kathmandu. This
is mainly due to the absence of heavy vehicles and
the presence of paved streets. The temples and palaces are adorned with
intricate woodcarvings and the trend seems to have spread to other
buildings in the city. Most buildings look very old and in need of repair
but our guide says that the brickwork is rebuilt about every 50 years. The
woodwork is reused because it is hardwood and will last for a few hundred
Saturday 10th November 2007
I did not feel like writing on Sunday and then just forgot to write up Saturday and Sunday so here are Tracy’s notes instead [Mal].
Today we took a trip to Patan, the oldest city in Nepal famous for its metalwork, woodwork and other fine arts and crafts. Malcolm bought an amazing singing bowl’ for 2000 Nepalese Rupee (NPR). It is decorated with animals and looks like it is made from brass. The man in the shop also gave us a demonstration of the healing properties of a large antique bowl, which he upturned onto Malcolm’s head and tapped with a hammer. This process is supposed to cure headaches! Our bowl can help issues such as high blood pressure. We will try it out on Pat (Malcolm's Mum) when we get home.
Patan is a temple city. We visited Durbar Square, meaning “Royal Square”. A lot goes on in these squares; market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, political broadcasts and trinket sellers. Most of the temples are “Pagoda” in style. We did visit an Indian style temple, home of 9000 Buddha’s.
Today is still part of the 5-day festival of Diwali. On day 1 they worship the crow, day 2 the dog, day 3 the cow, 4 the bull and day 5, brothers. There are lots of people on the streets during the holiday so when we visited the metal ornaments factory there was no one there to demonstrate. Sculptures are fashioned in beeswax before being covered in clay. When the clay is set it is heated and all the wax is drained out before being replaced by molten metal. The process is called “Lost wax casting” which ensures each piece is unique and precludes mass production. Having said that they seemed to have a lot of sculptures in the showroom, which we were carefully guided into.
Back at the hotel I had iced coffee and a cheese sandwich on the roof garden terrace. It is a lovely escape from the crowded city with potted plants and grass but we could not quite escape the tooting car horns, which constantly fill the air. We relaxed on the terrace before walking to “Thamel District” to buy a present for Tikendra’s son. It was his birthday recently.
Then a rest in the hotel before dinner at the Four Seasons. It was a very disappointing last meal. A lot of the food came out cold. Service was really slow. It was frustrating today as we are all quite tired due to a bit of a heavy drinking session the night before. I kept off the alcohol to give myself a break (I can sometimes).
At the hotel Malcolm presented Tikendra with a card and a collection. Most of us gave a little speech summoning up our feelings about the trip and our excellent guide, Tikendra.
Sunday 11th November
This is our last day in Nepal. Everyone is feeling really quite tired and just ready to go home now that we have finished the trekking. Kathmandu is very polluted and my chest has started to get tight and congested. Oh for the fresh air of London.
The morning was spend packing and shopping. Last minute Christmas bargains before heading home. We gave some small notes and coins to disabled beggars on the street. There is no care for them here and their disabilities are severe. One person had left a baby in the middle of the pavement in the full heat of the sun and a collecting tin beside the baby. It’s horrific.
We had lunch at Himalayan Java. It took 1 hour 45 minutes for them to serve us with 7 pizzas. That was bad enough but then they accused us of not paying the whole bill. I had seen everyone go and pay so I stood my ground and argued of course. I won.
As you can see from Malcolm's and I's travelogue it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I will never forget this trip and the people I met. I hope you have enjoyed it with us.