Ripples Following Ripples ~ EVEREST JUST OVER THERE

Making up my mind to do the Everest Region trek, I bought a plane-ticket to Lukla, the starting-point for many trekkers, and changed sufficient money. I also obtained another bamboo staff.

It rained quite heavily in the night before I was to fly, with thunder and lightning, and when it stopped a little yappy-dog opposite the hotel started. I really didn’t want to get up and go, and if I could have cancelled my ticket, I would have done so. But I rose when my alarm went off, and was soon out of the hotel, looking for a taxi. Of course, in my usual way, so afraid of being late, I was at the airport far too early, and while waiting to board the plane, I met a friendly German couple ~ Hans and Rosita ~ who I would meet numerous times along the way.

There was a delayed take-off because of fog ~ something com-mon in Kathmandu ~ and we didn’t leave until about 8:30, taking less than an hour to reach Lukla, where we came down very steeply and with a bump on the very short runway.

On the plane was a Sherpa woman who worked in a hotel at Namche, and I asked her if she could recommend a porter to me, so at Lukla, she introduced me to a young guy named Pasang Dawa. I negotiated with him for R500 per day ~ although he was initially asking R1000 ~ for which he would carry one of my bags; the R500 was inclusive of his expenses, food and accommoda-tion. He was ready to go, but stopped by his home on the way out of town to pick up some stuff and inform his mother that he had been lucky in finding a client that day. (At the airport perimeter, so many hopeful porters were waiting, but no comment was passed, no joke or laugh made as I wound my way through them; quite a contrast to people of the lowlands).

We set out for Phakding, three hours away, where he said we’d spend the night, but he was surprised that we made it in 1½ hours. I was all for pressing on to Namche Bazar, but he advised against it, saying it was going to rain; in fact, there’d been a few spots as we were coming into Phakding, and an hour or so later, it started to fall quite heavily; lucky he’d persuaded me to stay. We stopped at the Peregrine Hotel, with basic rooms for R50, and what turned out to be the only decent toilets on the whole trek. Food-prices were high, but got much higher further up. I got two nice thick blankets and had a nap, and an hour’s meditation.

Descending to the dining-room, I found a group of Aussies and Brits had arrived after me, and surprisingly, there was no smoke ~ quite a change from the lodges on the Jomsom trail.

The rain fell steadily for some hours ~ just how long, I couldn’t tell, as the sound of the nearby stream was stronger. I got a thermos of hot-water for tea/coffee, shave and wash in the morn-ing, for which I was grateful.

The next day dawned clear, and after breakfast, we set off at 7:30. I was soon to wish I’d brought more food-supplies with me; the bread and pastries I’d brought quickly came to an end.

Needless to say, there were no roads along the way, and except for the occasional sound of planes and helicopters, it was quiet and peaceful. It was a pretty tough hike, mainly uphill, especially towards Namche Bazar, where we came to fresh snow from the night before, making the track muddy and treacherous as it melted. We came to a suspension-bridge over the roaring white-water river far below; the boards were wet and slippery, and I crossed it very carefully. Not long after the bridge we caught up with Hans and Rosita and walked slowly with them for a while; they’d been caught in the rain, having left Lukla after us, and had hired a porter-guide at the rate I had told them about.

Between Phakding and Namche, at a place called Monjo, I got my trekking-permit, at a cost of Rs1000, and we reached Namche at 11 o’clock. Checked in the Peregrine Hotel, the same as in Phakding; Pasang probably got commission for bringing guests to these lodges, apart from free lodging and cheaper food himself. I was hungry by then and quickly ordered a plate of chips, after which we went to buy a few things. I was again given two thick blankets for my bed, and was glad of them, as it was cold.

As upon the Muktinath trek, there were many trekkers up and down the trail ~ some friendly, and others not. Beside the hotel was a group camping in tents; some of them were amputees, some in wheelchairs. I didn’t envy them in their tents, but when I spoke with some of them, they said they preferred it, and were not too cold. They were on their way to Everest Base-Camp, and some of them even intended to climb the mountain.

The bathrooms were basic, with no running water; hot water was available by bucket. I used the water from a thermos I got the night before for shaving and washing. The toilets were something I’d not come across in Nepal before ~ a hole in a board over a pit, with a pile of dry leaves in the rear to throw down to cover your droppings afterwards.

I had plenty of time for meditation in my room, though not outside as on the Jomsom trail, so far, as it was much colder there.

Namche Bazar was so called because it was the focal-point for a weekly market, as well as having a considerable number of shops selling various things; there were even internet-cafes and several bakeries. People would come in from quite a distance around to sell things and buy what they needed, and of course, anyone passing up and down the trail had to pass through there. It was muddy because of thawing snow; I hoped there wouldn’t be any more, so the trails would dry out; I’m scared of walking in snow or mud. We spent an extra day in Namche so as to acclimatize, and made a one-day trek to Thani, at not much greater altitude.

It was quite a trek to Thani, and halfway there, we met an Anglo-Pakistani girl from Canada, trekking on her own, which I thought was quite daring. On the way back, we met Hans and Rosita; she complained of headache, often the first sign of altitude-sickness.

Arriving back in Namche, I hired a sleeping-bag for R40 per day. I put a deposit on it, refundable, minus the rent, upon return. We had coffee and donuts in the Everest Bakery, to the sound of old Beatles’ songs, which brought back many fond memories.

Evening in the dining-room was a cacophony of many people talking at the same time, but again, fortunately, no smoke. The Aussies and Brits I’d met in Phakding were there, but as a tour-group, were insulated. I sat in meditation until the food I’d ordered was served. After eating, I retreated to my room; Pasang was nowhere to be seen to bring me my thermos, so I had to go up to ask for it myself. Clouds that had earlier come up thickly before dark dissipated and stars became visible.

Someone coughing loudly and a dog barking non-stop some-where woke me and kept me awake, so I got up to go to the toilet ~ I wasn’t the only one, either ~ around 2 o’clock, and washed my hands with snow afterwards. Then I sat for a while before sleep-ing again; it seemed easy to meditate in the mountains. I got up again around 5 to wash and shave; there was almost no water left after that to make coffee.

The sky was clear, and after breakfast, we set off, but hadn’t gone far when I insisted on taking the sleeping-bag from Pasang, so he wouldn’t have to carry two packs, but from the next day on he strapped it to the top of his pack instead of putting it inside.

It was quite a strenuous trek of 3½ hours to Tengboche, passing and repassing strings of yaks and heavily-laden porters, and the handicapped-expedition, some of whom were carried in chairs on the backs of sure-footed and immensely-strong porters. There was one very muddy stretch which was a bit hard to negotiate.

We reached Tengboche before noon, and I told Pasang to find me a quiet lodge, but this wasn’t possible, as there were so many people on the trail and few lodges. I was surprised that the room-charge in the lodge he chose was R150, and the food-prices cor-respondingly higher, as must be expected. I had a bowl of watery Sherpa-stew ~ vegetarian, of course; no yak or yeti meat ~ for lunch and afterwards had a nap using the sleeping-bag.

Tengboche centers around a monastery, and after visiting it briefly, I climbed to a small cave I’d seen overlooking the settle-ment. It was a bit cold, but had a flooring of dry leaves, and was sheltered from the main blast of the wind (by this time, the moun-tains were obscured by cloud). It had a good feeling about it, and I was sure many people had sat in it over the centuries, just as I was doing then. (Indeed, when I wrote to Rahula and told him about it, he said that it was probably the same cave he’d sat in when he was there). I sat there about an hour, and had several flashes about the nature of being ~ how, by ourselves, we simply do not exist, but have an identity only in dependence upon other people and things. So intricate is our dependence, in fact, that it extends to everyone and everything. I’d seen this before, but high up in the Himalayas, it was reinforced. So many people, living and dead, are with me every step of the way, wherever I go. My sandals gazed up at me, and I thought not only of the man who had brought them from the U.S. to England for me the previous year, but also of the unknown person(s) who had made them, somewhere in China, perhaps. I thought of the porters who are paid a pittance for hauling stuff up the trails, and the lodge-keepers ~ without them, we could not come this way.

Pangboche was only 2 more hours from Tengboche, and I asked Pasang why we didn’t continue on, since we had plenty of time. He was reluctant and said something about altitude-sickness, and indeed, I’d heard of several people coming down with it, but I felt well, so far, and could easily have made it to Pangboche that day, as it was only 70 meters higher than where we were, but to reach it we must descend quite a bit before climbing again. Also, it was not in Pasang’s interest to move too quickly.

The next day, we set off and immediately the trail became icy, as it was in the shade and the sun never reached it; we had to be very careful going down. Even so, I slipped and fell for the first time, but suffered no hurt. We got to Pangboche in 1½ hours and rested for ½ an hour there. An hour later, tired and hungry, we stopped at a lonely house for rice-and-curry, and shortly before one-o’clock, reached Dingboche, at 4,410 meters. Pasang led me to a lodge ~ also a Peregrine ~ and I had a nice nap beneath 2 warm-enough quilts, without needing the sleeping-bag.

Just before we got there a few snowflakes fell and continued after my nap; it didn’t bode well. We would spend two nights here to further acclimatize, as recommended by all guidebooks.

At this lodge I met 2 young guys from North Wales ~ Sean and Paul ~ and had a nice talk with them. Also, an elderly couple from York ~ Martin and Jean ~ but she was rather snooty and cold.

The next morning, I decided to wash some clothes, but the water was ~ not surprisingly ~ icy. Pasang offered to wash my jeans and shirts for me and I accepted. While he was doing it, I felt ashamed and joined him to wash my undies. I had to thaw my hands over the kitchen-stove afterwards. This done, we set off up the valley for Chukhung at 4,730 meters. We had lunch there, and a short nap afterwards before returning to Dingboche. Our clothes were almost dry when we got back. I heard Hans and Rosita in the room next to mine and met them later, by which time it had started to snow lightly again.

The sky next day was clear and bright, and we set out with the Germans, but further up the trail, there was more snow and it had begun to melt, making the paths muddy. It was hard going, espe-cially the second half, from Dughla, where it became very steep, and then we came to much snow and a glacier; luckily, I didn’t slip. I sent Pasang on ahead to secure rooms at Lobuche for us, and this was wise, as the Above-The-Clouds lodge he checked us into got very crowded later, and someone even came to ask if he could share my tiny room, with him; normally, I would have agreed, but there would have been no space for bags.

The battery in my 35 mm camera had died, or wouldn’t work at that altitude, but I saw a suitable one for sale; the hotel-owner ~ a hard and avaricious woman ~ asked R500 for it, but I managed to get it for R400. (at the sleeping-bag shop in Namche, they were priced at R600, but at Gorak Shep, I saw the same battery with a price-tag of only R300 on it).

That was the longest night of my life! My feet were cold in the sleeping-bag, and the single blanket on top didn’t help much. I slept very little, perhaps 10 minutes at a time, and then woke up (this was my first and only symptom of altitude-sickness, although I didn’t know it at the time). There was no electricity, and no point in getting up in the dark; I had to lie there and wait for the dawn.

It had snowed somewhat in the night, but the way up wasn’t as bad as I had feared. It was 2 hours to Gorak Shep, where I had some more tsampa and waited for Hans and Rosita to get there, but in the meantime, I decided that, as the mountains were still surprisingly clear ~ there being no clouds as yet ~ I’d skip going to Base-Camp and go for Kala Patthar instead, and was glad I did. It was very hard going, especially towards the top, where there were patches of snow. I stopped to rest every 3 or 4 min-utes, puffing and panting. We reached the rocky top in 1½ hours, and the vistas were incredible ~ at 5,500 meters above-sea-level, we got a better view of Everest than if we’d gone to Base-Camp – and it was worth all the negativities and hardships so far. There was a group of other people at the top, and for some unfathom-able reason, a number of choughs circling and playing around us (nothing for them to eat there). Euphoric to have made it, I hugged Pasang, and gave him a Rs500 bonus.

We stayed there about 20 minutes and passed the other people on the way down, taking 45 minutes to the hotel. After lunch, I had a brief nap; I’d got quite a nice room, with two quilts, so didn’t need to use my sleeping-bag again. I met Rosita in the ‘sun-room’; Hans was asleep beside her, exhausted; she told me how they’d got only two-thirds of the way to Base-Camp before giving up; they would go to Kala Patthar the next day. I noticed Pasang playing cards with other guides and porters (they are incorrigible gamblers and drinkers, wasting whatever they earn that way).

I spent another long and almost sleepless night, with lots of farts; I’d been constipated most of the way up, and was quite uncom-fortable. The rooms of all these lodges up the trail have thin ply-wood walls, making everything audible to everyone. I was glad when dawn came and I could get up. It hadn’t snowed again, thank goodness, and the sky was clear. I had a big plate of fried potatoes for brekky, and paid my bill of R1000 ~ the highest of all, at the highest lodge of the trek ~ and we set off down the track at 7:00, reaching Lobuche 75 minutes later, but not before I’d soiled my undies with a bit of diarrhea on the way. It was a cold walk, and I used the toilet while Pasang reserved a room for Hans and Rosita for that night, and drank tea ~ boy, did he like tea!

We crossed the glacier and climbed the slopes overlooking Dughla before descending to that place (only 20 minutes down); it took an hour from Lobuche, and we stopped to rest for a while. The group of disabled people were there, on their way up.

Resuming, we got to Dingboche at 10:30, Pasang forging ahead, 3 hours 40 minutes from Gorak Shep. I got the same room I’d had before, with 2 warm quilts for the night, though whether I’d be able to sleep any better remained to be seen; I’d just learned that sleeplessness was one of the symptoms of altitude-sickness, and also stomach-upset; I didn’t have any headaches, however.

Pasang washed clothes while I shaved in cold water (I’d missed 2 days and felt really scruffy). I then had tea and fried-rice followed by a fragmented nap. The dining-room was quite full afterwards, with a camping-group there. I ordered a plate of chips.

After dinner ~ which was slow in coming as they took care of the group first ~ I felt the urge to go, and took off my jacket, forgetting that the key to my room was in it. When I’d done, I discovered that the key was in my room, and had to ask if there was a spare, but though they searched and tried so many, they couldn’t find one; eventually, the owner had to smash the lock off. I under-stood that I would have to pay for it, and although they asked for only Rs50, I gave them Rs100, as it was a large lock.

I slept a bit better, and after breakfast of tsampa and Tibetan bread, set off on my own, leaving Pasang to eat and catch me up later, which I thought he’d quickly do, as my heels were cracked and sore from the day before. Once I got going, however, I fell into my usual stride, and it wasn’t until the other side of Pangbo-che 1½ hours later that he came up with me.

We had again to negotiate the muddy and icy stretch coming up to Tengboche, but it was accomplished without any mishap. It took 2½ hours from Dingboche to here, and I told Pasang I aimed to push on to Namche or further. I left him resting by the stupa while I descended through the forest, but somewhere I took a wrong turn and ended up on a narrow and precipitous little path that almost fell to the river, where, near the only bridge, he caught up with me again. Then followed a steep climb to a place where we stopped for lunch, 3 hours 50 minutes out from Dingboche. My first job was to go to a toilet, having felt ‘loose’ all morning, and was so relieved by the enlightenment. I then ordered fried-rice, and sat in meditation for ½ an hour until it was ready. Having eaten, which didn’t take long, I told Pasang that I wouldn’t stay in Namche but would press on as far as I could, and set off ahead of him. 75 minutes later, just after one-o’clock, he caught up with me on the way into town, but refused to accompany me to the sleeping-bag shop, saying he’d meet me at the Everest Bakery, while he went to the Peregrine Hotel; I think he had his own agenda ~ maybe to collect some commission from my stay there on the way up.

At the shop, I got back my deposit minus 6 days’ hire, and went to the bakery, where Pasang had just arrived. I ordered coffee for us both and a donut for myself; he declined, although just 20 minutes earlier, he’d said he was hungry again. He wasn’t happy with my announced intention to head for Lukla that day. Actually, I’d enjoyed walking alone, and when, shortly out of Namche, he starting making ‘popping’ noises with bubble-gum, I told him to walk ahead or behind me. We left Namche at 1:30, and crossed the wooden bridge which had been wet and slippery on the way up, but which was now dry (the trail down was mainly dry, whereas it had been muddy from snow-melt on the way up).

He was waiting for me at the Monjo checkpoint, having taken a short-cut that I didn’t know, and realizing that I really did mean to get to Lukla; he made all kinds of excuses ~ too far, impossible, curfew in force, etc. It wasn’t too far, and wasn’t impossible, but by the time we got to Phakding, it had begun to rain, so I com-promised and halted for the night. At the same hotel where we’d stayed going up, I paid him his daily R500, but he asked for R200. I thought he wanted smaller change (what he really wanted was something extra to gamble with), so I took back the R500 note and gave him Rs200, at which he was not happy, saying R500 was nothing and that he wasn’t pleased with today’s walk ~ 3 days’ camp in one day, as he put it. I gave him the Rs500 again and reminded him that this was what we’d agreed upon when we met, and that it was standard rate. Also, I said that it was not yet over, meaning that I would pay him more the next day. Maybe he didn’t understand this, and thought he would lose out on pay, as he stormed off, saying he was going to Lukla. Early the next morning, I left on my own, carrying all my stuff, and as I paid my bill, I was told that Pasang was still there, asleep.

Halfway to Lukla, a young guy named Kami ~ himself a trekking-guide ~ fell in beside me; speaking quite good English, he offered to carry one of my bags for me and I accepted. All this time, I’d been expecting Pasang to come up behind me, but he didn’t, and so I never saw him again, much to my sorrow, as I really did want to pay him a bonus; and now he will think that I ran out on him!

We reached the airport shortly before 8:00, and I got a ticket for the first plane back to Kathmandu. I was soon in the air, the only passenger on a Yeti Airlines flight, which took 50 minutes to get there. With no checked-in baggage to retrieve, I was able to walk straight through the terminal to get a taxi, and reached Snow Lion at 9:30 ~ very fast! ~ the Everest Region trek was history. After the quiet of the mountains, Kathmandu seemed extra-noisy, and also quite warm. I’d pushed myself, to see what I could do, and was quite pleased, but maybe I should have stayed away longer.

< Previous  -   Next>

Home  -   Against The Stream  -   As It Is  -   Because I Care  -   Behind The Mask  -   Boleh Tahan -   Just A Thought -   Let Me See  -   Lotus Petals  -   Not This, Not That  -   Parting Shots  -   Ripples Following Ripples  -   So Many Roads  -   This, Too, Will Pass  -   Wait A Minute!  -   Your Questions, My Answers  -   Download  -   Funeral  -   Links  -   Contact