Pokhara

We spend three full days in Pokhara (the second largest city in Nepal) and are staying at a hotel on the outskirts of the tourist strip that looks like a Swiss village – it is a very weird sight in comparison to the last 17 days. They do however have hot showers and a Western toilet. As much as I don’t mind the outback dunny it is nice to sit and contemplate the world without fear of falling in or peeing on your shoes.

Pokhara is lovely. It is built around a huge lake and in the distance you can see the Annapurna Range. It is so sereal that is looks fake. The mountains sit above this weird fuzzy fog bank above the clouds that makes them look like they are suspended in air. Then you have bright green rainforest hills underneath the clouds. The photos do not do it justice whatsoever.

Whilst in Pokhara we visit three cave systems, one with a Hindu priest who gives me a blessing and rubs a tikka on my forehead (I am certain he is not a real priest and is taking the piss as he more or less smears it on). Another cave has a waterfall inside which looks very odd and stinks to high heavens, and the other with hundreds of sleeping bats. The caves are all within a short distance of each other but they may as well be worlds apart as they are all so very different. We take a long boat ride on the lake for half an hour and pass the Hindu temple on an island where people voyage across daily to pay their respects.

We visit an aquaduct running from one of the caves which sits on top of a narrow canyn. This is very odd as you just walk off the street and all of a sudden you are standing above a canyon with rushing waterfalls that run underground. We go into the Gurkha Memorial Museum across the street and I am in awe about this history. In 1815, Nepalese soldiers clashed with the British troops in the northern border of India. After a fierce battle they showed respect to those Brave ‘Goorkhas’ by erecting a stone with engravings. Soon they became close friends and the

We also take a paraglide with Kev!

Kevin is an Egyptian Vulture and is trained to take food out of your hand whilst in flight on a tandem paraglide. The company is Frontier Paragliding and I recommend it to anyone. Although I don’t cope well with the vertigo it was a great experience. You have a pouch of meat in front of you and a falconry glove on and when your pilot makes two wistles, Kev comes in, lands on your hand, eats and then dives off into the thermal for another round trip. It is amazing and very, very cool. BECOME KEV’S FACEBOOK FRIEND: Kevin Neophron Pernopterus - they are trying to get Kev 1000 friends before Christmas. He is awesome! The trainer who I flew with, Scott, has a rescue program as these birds are becoming extinct – check it out.

We have some awesome food in Pkhara and one place I recommend is Cafe Concerto. The food is FANTASTIC and some of it the best I have eaten anywhere in the world. We buy so much stuff here we need to buy another pack to bring it all home. Lucky we know how to pack well. When we weight in at the airport on the way out we each have just above 19kg. Lucky we don’t have much more shopping we want to do after this.

In Transit – Lukla

After waiting for two hours as the fog is low in Kathmandu and no flights have arrived yet, we enter the departure area of Lukla airport and the first thing that springs to mind is KAOS. There are piles upon piles of baggage everywhere, some in orderly lines, others dumped in the middle of anywhere and there is barely room for people to stand. Mix that witha  whole bunch of waiting tourists waiting to get home and very disorganised flight desks and you have the picture. Lucky for us the lodge owner (a practicing monk and certified business man) takes care of everything for is while we wait. I call him Buddha man. He is the fattest Nepali we have seen to date, very tall and wears gold rimmed sun glasses, new boots and a top of the range down jacket. He looks the mafia king of Lukla. He’s is fabulous!

He has arranged everything by jumping the queue behind the desk because he knows the guy, gets us our tickets, we all say a very fast goodbye after receiving our farewell scarves and we are in the exit lounge. It is all very fast and after about 45mins we are on an aeroplane heading down the runway of death! The runway is short and on the exit flight we shoot off the end over the valley before anyone can say ‘ we are out of runway’, and surprisingly it is smooth.

In Nepal at the airports men and women are separated at security to be searched, men by men and women by women. It is all very proper. Although I don’t recall opening my bag once and after a frisk search (mainly of your pockets) as long as you say no to carrying a lighter, tape or matches, you are free to go. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take down a plane here, they are all too polite. And I think they feel the same way, it is anything but formal. Brett has a different experience though and he must unpack his bag every time and pull everything out for examination. I guess women are the trustworthy ones?

We wait at Kathmandu airport for an hour before Dolpa arrives to take us to Thamel. I use a nice young strangers phone to call Pasang to check before though to make sure she has not forgotten us as they are usually punctual. He assures me she is on her way and that the traffic is very bad. Nonetheless it is nice to sit and wait and people watch – one of my favourite past-times. Back to the same hotel we head out for a lunch straight away as we are on the 3pm flight to Pokhara – the second biggest town in Nepal and one with topical weather – can’t wait! We eat lunch at Rum Doodle and have the most amazing pizza – wood fired oven baked and mixed with a tonne of cheese – so good. Pizza in the mountains is weird as no one has an oven. Don’t order the pizza until you are in Kathmandu.

Phakding to Lukla – the final leg!

All medicated up and after a terrible apple pancake we head on our final trek to our final stop back to where we started; the crazy death defying runway of doom! Lukla!

The trek is unassuming, wide and has lots of steps. My cough still exists but it has lessened by putting my neck gaitor over my mouth to breath in the warm air, and I have a little more patience today. Heading up the mountain we see over-enthusiastic tourists fresh off the aeroplane. This is obviously how we looked also on day one. Little do they know the trek to Namche Bazaar is tomorrow for them – it is waiting.

We walk through the town of Lukla, it is busy and bustling and I am sure you can buy anything here. You will never guess what we find… Starbucks Coffee! Unbelievable! We arrive at our lodge enhausted, entralled, accomplished. It is a nice lodge even by Western standards at two stars and whilst it is also huge we are one of only three guests staying and all of us are flying out tomorrow back to Kathmandu.

We talk to a Singapore girl over dinner and our meals are sensational. I order a final peppered yak steak with the most amazing coleslaw ever and Brett orders a chicken sizzler – breast chicken on a molten sizzling hot plate with fries. They are fantastic. I am well impressed and sleep like a baby.

Namche to Phakding

18.11.09 – Today I have had enough! My cough is worse and I have been convulse-coughing so much that I think I am starting to develop a six pack. I have no energy and it hurts to move. I am not a happy camper, and after five hours we finally reach our night stop in Phakding. Thank Buddha! The best thing about our room is not only the ensuite but the fact that it has a free hot shower in it with a Western toilet. I love solar! It is the first hot shower we have had in two weeks – in fact it is the ONLY shower we have had in two weeks. And I enjoyed every bit of it – even washed my hair.

Thoughts crossed my mind about pushing a porter over the edge because they don’t pay attention to where they are walking and it was frustrating to play that direction dance with a lot of them. I’ll go this way; no you go that way; ok I’ll go this way, no you go… That and my heightened sense of smell was killing me being in two feet from any of them. No one bathes at altitude and whilst I understand that I don’t recall any foreigners smelling this bad (except for a big fat American man – he was memorable).

I was ready to throw in the towel today but now that I am not only warm but clean I think that I can manage one last day… I wonder how much a pony costs from here to Lukla?

FYI – a pony costs US$400. Yikes!

Khumjung to Namche

17.11.09 – It is a slow start today as we only have a two hour walk back to Namche but we wake to see that it has snowed overnight and everything is covered in two inches of white. On the way through the fog (after a countless stair climb in the snow which is  killing me as I have developed the Khumbu cough – very common) we come across a Swiss man and two Nepalese fixing a broken aeroplane that has had its wings ripped apart during take off as the pilot ran into the trees (no one was injured). He has one month to fix it but the weather is not helping. He has had the army come in to assist in removing the wings and now under his little tent with a generator is stripping the wing to remould the inside steel with pop-rivets. It’s a weird sight in the middle of no and where.

We finally reach Namche and are staying in the same lodge when Brett was ill. And our same room. It feels just like home. I am not feeling the best and am freezing so I curl up in the sleeping bags and blankets and snooze for two hours while Brett finds the cyber cafe. When he comes back we have been invited to have tea with Tandi (another Sherpa and brother of our trip organiser). My new favourite drink is apple tea, one sugar. The lodge he is staying in is huge and full of foreigners. At our lodge, we are again the only guests but I kind of like it this way.

We wander around the markets on our way back up to our home and buy some goodies. We make one man very happy as he has not made a sale in three days because he went to see the Lama. I guess pirorities here are different. After dinner we sit around the wood fuelled pot-belly stove watching Aljazeerra (Intl news) – what’s the big deal with Obama?

Tengboche to Khumjung

On our way down the hill we pass dozens of extended families heading the Tengboche to see the Lama. Today day is the celebration of the half moon and they are heading to be blessed by the Lama. People walk for days to particpate in this ritual.

The climb up the Khumjung is hell! and nearly kills me. A 300m incline over less than 1km. I have developed a bad cough I think from the over exersion. Apparently this is common and is called the Khumbu Cough. We arrive in Khumjung and are staying at a near new lodge owned by a Nepalese lady who married an Italian. You can tell the European influence and this is now the best lodge we have stayed in. Even the toilet looks five stars.

After lunch we visit another monastery, Khumjung Gompa, home of the infamous Yeti scalp. I am intrigued by the yeti. It’s weird cone shaped head and animal type hair, black-red in colour. They are supposed to live only above 5000m and are rarely seen but they leave plenty of footprints to keep the legend alive. I think the story has credit. This scalp came into being as a parting gift between villages in dispute over a festival. After a disagreement of where to hold this festival Thame gave Khunde amd Khumjung this parting gift and it was taken as an insult. They kicked it all the way back to the village. After realising international interest they put it in a glass case and now it makes the monastery money. Blind luck perhaps?

Khumjung is a fantastic place. I could live here. We visit the school on the way back to the lodge and watch the kids at play. The valley is filled with laughter and squeals. The prayer wall is still covered in snow from a few days ago and the world is still yet again.

Gorak Shep to Periche to Tengboche

14.11.09 – Today is my favourite day so far, not only because 95% of it is downhill but because the second half of the track we take feels so isolated I feel like our little wayward family of four is the only one on earth. We see only four people as we take the lower valley path from our lunch stop at Thukla until Periche. It is cold but my layering is effective and I wonder how warm the dozens of yaks we pass must be in their wool coats.

Goind downhill my walking poles have saved me more than once from landing on my backside as have my boots saved me from almost certain breakages. The thing about going downhill is that moment when you slip on some lose gravel and your body shoots a shot of adrenalin through you. In the Himalaya this just makes you shiver.

Periche’s Snow Land Lodge is a fabulous place to stay; great pillows, clean room, good food and nice people – what more could you ask for. We even tapped into the internet next door for 20mins. In the morning we are greeted by two ponies eating cardboard. There are some strange regularities here.

15.11.09 – A long hard slog up a hill almost ruined the leisurely stroll we had in the morning. I should have know as most villages are on top of a ridge. Tengboche is no different. This is the place with the monastery and after we arrive and dump our stuff we go for a visit. After about an hour a ceremony is starting and we enter the prayer hall to watch the Lama and about 50 monks pray. It is mesmerising with the sound of all the monks singing, drumming and humming. I was near one young monk ( a very cheeky one) who was trying for the whole hour to make his friends laugh, to the disgust of the old monk in front who kept turning around to scold with his eyes.

Interestingly, Lama’s are reborn, like the Dalai Lama after the existing one dies. Only in Tibet is he reborn and only to a man. Apparently when the boy is three or four years old he will begin to speak and announce he is the reborn Lama or Dalai Lama. He is tested for truth and his posessions and the other monks decide if it is true. If so he resumes the life of a Lama. The Lama we saw is said to be seven centuries old (the Dalai Lama is 60 centuries old).

After the ceremony we sit in our lodge dining room and shoot the breeze with two young American guys. They are funny. We are ushered to bed at 9.30pm by the Sherpas who will sleep in the dining room. This is the best night sleep I have had and am enjoying the scenery more.

Everest Base Camp

My head still aches and I am wondering if today is a good day to stay in bed. But the day outside is brilliant and clear and warm and there is not a cloud in sight. If ever I was going to go to EBC, today is the day. After a bowl of hot over-powdered custard we set off across the flat, past the frozen over lakes and head up the rocky snow covered path towards EBC. My headache has eased and after 1.5hours the trak has flattened and runs along the top of a ridge.

We are surrounded by snow and animal footprints from the nights escapades. It glistens in the sunlight and the snow covered mountains are calm. Apart from a slight breeze, the world is still. Every now and then we hear an avalanche out of sight and the ice cracks in the distance somewhere from the warmth of the day. As we end the ridge down into the valley, we see Everest Base Camp. There are few people left at EBC as the season is over and it displays only a half a dozen yellow and blue tents. I decide not to go any further partly because of my headache but secondly to leave the charm. Everything is in perspective here. I can see the camp and the little people going about their business next to the masive snow drift (which gives us an avalanche), next to the rocky debris from the mountain they call popcorn, and in the shadow of Everest which has the only ominous cloud circling the very peak. Any closer and I would lose this picture. It is amazing!

Brett and Tendi walk a little further on to the gateway of EBC whilst Lucky and I sit and take in the splendour. The world is at peace here. I start to head backto the lodge slowly stopping frequently to take photos and absorb the scenery. The boys catch up to us after 30mins and we pose for a group photo. After this my head splits in two again and I cannot walk very fast at all. I fall over once from the pain and misbalance on a rock as my brain bounces around in my head. As soon as we reach the lodge I visit the bathroom and after three days of waiting, success. And my headache is gone!

I go to the dining room and have a spam and cheese toasted (well warmed) sandwich with tomato soup. When I come out Brett is being sick again on the rocks. He does not like physical exersion at altitude and he is probably starving as he only ever eats half his breakfast. He goes in to attempt a sherpa stew.

The sun is so hot right now that nearly everyone is outside enjoying the sunshine. The air is still and you can hear the ravens (which are numerous) fight over some morsel of food. Tomorrow we head back the way we came but will stay in the alternate loop of villages for a change of scenery. After trekkin guphill over 5300m, it seems as if we will be going all downhill. Whilst this is true there are so many hills here, what goes down always goes up!. After looking at my calf muscles it will be nice to balance out my manly looking legs.

Lobuche to Gorak Shep

After speaking with a German man (a doctor from Colon, Germany) for over two hours last night I come to realise I do not even know his name. In fact this is a common thing here in the mountains, that names are not important, only if you are going up or down and what you can recommend to everyone else.

I woke at 4.30am with a splitting headache at the base of my skull. Some say first sign of altitude sickness, I say I miss my pillow. The pillows up here are like concrete! I manage only to doze until 6.30am when we resume the quick dress and pack the porter bag. The second we appear Lucky is off with it. We stay for breakfast: chapatti and vegemite and hot lemon and head off.

The track, if you can call it that, is prblematic and like walking, hopping anf jumping, through a rocky river bed. The rocks range from slippery pebbles to soccer size balls to boulders. It is treacherous and I am happy to say for walking purpose that I hate rocks! The weather is cold and as we climb we start to see walls of dirt covered ice. They are glaciers covered in earth and will slowly make their way down the valley. Three quarters of the way there we start to get a few flakes of snow and as we round our last hurdle we see the EBC glacier and first and foremose, Gorak Shep, home for the next two nights. We have made it.

Gorak Shep is about three to four large lodges built on the edge of the valley and in front of what looks like a football sized sandy beach. It’s a weird site. We have lunch and unpack in our very un-spacious room and have a nap. When I wake I can no longer see the mountain range because it is snowing. It is like a dream sequence from a movie. Everything is still and slowly becomes a frosty white. A little pink bird flutters and flits in between the snow flakes and two ponies wander up a hill.

If the weather continues like this we will not be going anywhere. Whilst sitting in the dining room with about 40 other trekkers a group of about eight walk in after dark covered in snow. They have walked in the dark to get here in the blizzard and they are greeted like heroes. My headache splits my brain some more even though I have taken a truck load of pain killers. So I go to bed. I wake at 10pm in desperate need of the bathroom and as Brett has set the precedence for midnight peeing into a bottle (and it is still snowing) I decide to do the same. In very lady like fashion with my head lamp on I squat over the emergency pee bottle and pee. I feel like it is never ending and taking a look at how ridiculous I must seem begin to laugh. Fortunately I am a good aim and 500ml later I crawl back into bed shameless and humoured.

Dingboche to Lobuche

The thing about cold weather is that your snot freezes! When you blow your nose, because the anot has crystalised inside your nose, it tears the blood vessels. This either causes your nose to bleed like you have been punched by Mike Tyson (like Brett’s); or the next time you blow your nose you blow out blood clots the size of marbles and think your brain is falling out (like me).

One of my favourite and frequent hot drinks in Nepal is hot lemon. It is two teaspoons of lemon drink powder stirred in boiling water but it tastes just like a lemondae icy pole. It is fantastic!

The temperature registers again today at 4*C inside our room but it is the first day we have not had sunshine so outside it is much colder. It takes me so long to warm up today and my breathing is strained; it is fortunate the first leg of today is relatively flat terrain across the yak grazing plains. The gully vreeks have frozen over and we hop scotch across icy rocks to pass over. We encounter half a dozen yaks sleeping near the path and the bull, which is a caramel colour, is absolutely massive! They don’t seem to mind us within a few feet of them to take their photos so we do and move on.

On our descent into the next valley of Thukla, we see Cho La Lake between the next few mountains. It is crystal blue and I am sure freezing (some crazy Japanese man jumped in naked a few years ago to make a record – stupid). We cross a fast flowing semi frozen river on an ‘I am going to die any second’ wooden bridge and we rest for 10mins o the other side. I decide not to rest too long and let my muscles freeze so I begin the mammoth task of climbing a 2km, rocky as all hell, 30-degree incline, mother of a mountain side. There is only one way over – this way. I slot in behiond a pack of porters again and head on up. The only thing my body can process at this point other than moving my feet and breathing is: ‘clever hobbits to climb so high’! Over and over and over and over… your mind thinks of some crazy things when under duress.

I wait at the top for 30mins for Tendi and Brett. While I wait I chat with a funny young porter who jokes about why I would want to take his picture because he is dirty and indicates he is much lower class than me by sleeping on the floor. I merely answer because he is interesting, he is different to me and he is a person. He translates to his friends, they laugh and they pack up and say goodbye.

Brett and Tendi arrives. Brett has been sick again but due to over exersion. The top of the hill is a welcome stop for everyone. It is covered with memorial stones for those who have died on the mountains. It is also covered in prayer flags and cairns which sit around a large empty space like a field. After we rug up some more (it is much colder now) and Brett has been sick one more time, we move on to the track beside a creek which leads all the way into Lobuche. The village could not have come sooner. I have developed a painful headache and slight vertigo. At 4680m it is slight altitude sickness. I am wearing five layers of clothing and about six kgs of pack which also doesn’t help the weight on my shoulders and neck.

Lucky left before us this morning and I am pleased to see him when he steps in front of me. He has been waiting for us for an hour and he has already checked our pack into a double room at a lodge, Above the Clouds, Lobuche. His real name (I find) is Lachinram, so calling him Lucky is not so far from the truth. Even Tendi is calling him Lucky now. He is happy to see us and I him. That gaping smile just makes me laugh and he has such a funny laugh we are all in histerics.

There are a dozen or so tourists at the lodge we are staying at (even a family with a 10 year old, 13 year old and 15 year old kids). We are all in the dining room penning a journal or reading a book. It is nice to have European company, as much as I like the porters, they over-ran us last night at the lodge and they all smell funky! I mean REALLY bad.

Tomorrow is our last leg before we visit EBC. All things working out well will mean we can stay at Gorak Shep two nights and make day trips. If we don’t manage well with altitude we will come down the next day. It is a pretty arid and desolate place up here but there are always smiles and yaks, people and ponies to keep us amused as we sit in the shadow of a few very large large snow covered mountains, feeling very small.