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Published: April 5th 2017
Mount EverestAs always with me, the adventure started before the actual adventure even started; but we'll get to that shortly.
What I came all this way to see. Seeing the world's highest mountain got me all giddy and triumphant. It's highest (obvs), pointy one in the middle.
Having spent a few days in Kathmandu
, it was finally time for me to go and do some trekking. You kind-of have to in Nepal; going to Nepal and not trekking is like going to Egypt
and not seeing the Pyramids Of Giza, going to Paris
and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or going to India and not seeing the Taj Mahal
Much as I like trekking however, I wasn't about to put myself through going all the way to Everest Base Camp. I did however, want to catch a glimpse of the world's highest mountain.
While on a bus in Sri Lanka
, I got talking to a Dutch girl on one of my bus journeys who told me that you could see Everest from a town called Namche Bazaar, which is one of the major towns that you have to pass through en route to Everest Base Camp. Most people start their Everest trek from a town called Lukla; but most people fly there from Kathmandu. At about US$180 for a flight, that wasn't something I could do. It would then
These ladies in Kharikhola were very excited to have their photo taken!
take one or two days to hike from Lukla to Namche Bazaar.
Therefore I looked at alternate ways to get there. From my internet research and the advice of a very helpful travel agent, it seemed that I would need to take a jeep to a town called Phaplu - from there it would be 2-3 days walk to Lukla before another 1-2 days onward to Namche Bazaar. The jeep ride itself would take a whole day to get there and a whole day to get back to Kathmandu. Therefore I was looking at a 6-10 day trek with two additional days of travelling; I was hoping to do a mild 3-4 day trek without having to go too high or get too cold, but if I had to stretch that to a week than so be it. The quicker I could do the trek, the better, because I now had about exactly two weeks to get to Phaplu, do the trek, get back to Kathmandu, get out of Kathmandu to Nepal's eastern border with India, and then visit Darjeeling (India) before making my way to Kolkata for my flight to Yangon.
And so it began. I've had some
The monastery with the Himalayas providing the perfect background.
adventures in the past such as this
; here is another one to add to the hall of fame.
It started ominously.
Arriving at the jeep departure point at 5am, I'm the only foreigner at the jeep stand. Perhaps the only one crazy enough to get to the Himalayas by jeep rather than by plane. The guy who sold me my ticket wasn't there as I thought he would be so I showed my ticket - which I couldn't actually read - to some of the other agents who were busy getting passengers into vehicles. I am told to wait by an old man. I do this for about an hour and everyone seems to be trying to call my agent but no-one was getting through. I don't understand Nepali but I have developed a pretty good sixth sense in terms of working out what is going on and it seemed that they didn't have a space for me in any jeep. Well, I wasn't very well going to pay for another ticket! At 7am, it seems I finally have a lift.
Our driver however, was not in a good mood and it looked like the ticket
Looking down onto the village of Nunthala.
man had to cajole him into doing his job. He looked barely out of his teens and was dressed like a third-world gangster and his driving was as reckless as his appearance suggested, as he swerved to avoid potholes - actually, they were more like craters - like a wannabe rally driver with no concern whatsoever as to the comfort or safety of his passengers. While he didn't try to overtake on blind corners like one Colombian driver I had
, he nevertheless approached corners with enough speed to have me thinking about what would happen to my body and belongings should he get it wrong just one time and we go careering off the edge of a cliff into the ravine below. Passing a couple of accidents did not help to allay my fears.
I thought that I might be in a jeep full of budget-minded trekkers heading for the mountains but instead I was riding with locals - fourteen of them in a jeep that should really only fit nine. Squashed up against an old man with bad breath trying to start a conversation with me in Nepali while an old lady with a small child on her lap crushes her elbow
This well-developed village was the original endpoint of my planned hike.
onto my lap while vomiting into a sick bag, you could say that this was a very long twelve hour journey, on winding mountain roads, some of which were just sand, some just rock, and all with more than a few craters in them. Fuck me. Nevertheless, everyone apart from the two women with kids - who appeared to exhibit rather diva-like behaviour - seemed to be in good spirits and indeed some of them even bonded.
But I'll be straight up here; the driver was a f*cking stupid c*nt. When he saw one of the ladies spewing up out the window, he just laughed. Ruthless. It wasn't just corners he was taking sharply though, he wouldn't slow down much for bumps in the road either, sending me flying into the roof on several occasions. Even my fellow passengers were getting disgruntled. At one point he even went up onto the dirt shoulder in a bid to overtake the truck in front of us. Then he inexplicably decided to take a rest stop in get this- the middle of a f*cking river. Desperate to get out of what had now become an oven of a jeep, we then had to
6,782m high peak that you get a great view of on the climb up to Tengboche.
nimbly find dry stones in the water to skip across to dry land. The driver then decides to give the jeep an impromptu wash. He did not give two f*cks about anyone or anything, splashing water onto all the baggage on the roof and taking his own sweet time moving the vehicle out of the way of the road. This was descending into farce.
It then descended into journey-from-hell territory when the jeep broke down. The driver had been having trouble getting the jeep into gear and now the gearbox had finally karked it. No wonder, the way he has been driving it.
The wait outside a small shop while waiting for the jeep to return felt like a turning point. The old man tried to include me in the Nepalese bonhomie that was going on by using his very limited English to talk to me. I could make out that he has seven children and seven grandchildren but also that touchingly, he thanked me for visiting Nepal and bringing money into the country. The locals have been through a lot recently with the earthquake and its consequences, and life is hard here; but the camaraderie on show in
What a view that is!
the jeep - like when the young Japanese Rambo lookalike helped the 19-year old mother change the diapers of her baby son - seemed to me like something you don't see much of in Western society. But then again, it is rare for Westerners to get thrust together into situations like this. The whole thing lifted my spirits somewhat and I could see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, if I thought the breakdown was a turning point - I was wrong. Not more than ten minutes after we got going again, the driver takes a tight corner too wide on a cliff-hugging road and slams into a motorbike coming in the other direction. The motorcyclist was fine but was so lucky he wasn't going too fast - any faster and he would have flown straight off the cliff. With the way our driver was driving, an accident was almost inevitable and the consequences could have been so disastrous. With the old man having had a small bottle of liquor back at the store and now ranting incoherently in my ear, I now just couldn't wait for this journey to end as the police arrived and
Stupa in a small village at the top of a very hard climb.
tried to sort the whole mess out. Even the Buddhist monk in our party was starting to lose patience. By the end of it, at least our young driver looked contrite. I think he knew he was in the wrong.
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, a storm suddenly comes out of nowhere and there's thunder, lightning and driving rain. We stop at a village some 23km from Phaplu and everyone in the jeep scrams. I'm not sure what is going on, but I get myself underneath the nearest shelter. Looking for everyone else, the only person I could find was in a wooden shack restaurant and was you-guessed-it - my old friend the old guy. And he's been joined by the village drunk now and by now I just can't handle it anymore. I have been up since 4.30am for this and I've hardly eaten. No-one around me speaks any English and I haven't a clue what is going on - no-one understands me either. This day has been an absolute disaster from the outset and while I know this will make an amazing story one day, at that exact moment I was at the
Restaurant/Hotel In Siddicharan
Despite my exhausted and exasperated state, I still has the presence of mind to take this photo of this rather ramshackle restaurant at which I ate.
end of my tether. I suspect that the jeep isn't going any further tonight and sure enough, that is what I deciphered from the very few words of English that the old man tells me. While he seems to be the only one really helping me, he is also really repetitive and annoying. So tired, and so hungry, and after everything that has happened today, I just had no patience left to give to the old man. And it seemed no-one else in the place was paying him any attention either - he seemed to be that old guy everyone knows who just speaks nonsense and that no-one listens to, but he was all I had.
The restaurant we eat at doubles as a "hotel" although to give it that title would be pretty generous; it is an absolute shithole - literally, in terms of the shower/toilet (a squatter, naturally), perhaps the worst place I have ever stayed in. I couldn't even bring myself to brush my teeth in that "bathroom" let alone have a cold shower - it was cold enough to sleep in my clothes so that was exactly what I did. It's sad to think that the
There were two things that I really didn't like doing on the trek; climbing hills and crossing suspension bridges.
locals have to live in these conditions though. My dorm was a two-bed one with another local dude - I slept with all my possessions under my two duvets just in case. Apparently we had a ride at 6am the next day the rest of the way to Phaplu, so I just wanted to get to sleep as quick as I could and let this terrible day be over.
It wasn't difficult to get to sleep - well, it wasn't after the old man and his two new old friends had stopped talking - but it turned out the next day that our 6am transport wasn't the jeep but a public bus which cost an extra Rs300. In my mind I thought that the jeep company should reimburse me for it but as the bus snaked up the cliff-edge roads - higher and higher even though it looked like there were wasn't anywhere higher to go - I was glad to have paid the money to be shot of our jeep driver forever. Things definitely seemed to be done on 'Nepali time' here though, with the bus even stopping for a tea break. Reflecting on the previous night, it
On the bus from Siddicharan to Phaplu - a bus I wasn't supposed to take and which like my jeep, also broke down!
was the first time on the whole trip where I had really had my feathers ruffled and thinking back, I was probably looked like an uptight prick. Nepalis always seem to see the funny side of things and seem to laugh through things; they're much friendlier, smile and there is a real sense of community here. I, on the other hand, had a schedule to stick to and I was just keen to finally start trekking.
But would you know it, the bus broke down about 14km from Phaplu. Of course. This was now beyond farcical. I have to say that before Nepal, I had been pretty lucky in terms of breakdowns and I can only recall one on the way to Bogota
. So perhaps my luck was now evening out. I was wondering if I was ever going to get to Phaplu. However, it was a struggle getting to Gorakhpur and then again to Kathmandu, but I made it eventually. I just needed to persevere.
And thankfully it was only an hour before they got the bus going again although maybe it might have been safer to walk! Some of the cliffhanging roads were so narrow and so shifty, it was a
View Of The Himalayas
From my starting point in the town of Phaplu.
miracle we made it through them. I haven't been this nervous since I drove up Bolivia's Death Road
. Goodness knows what we would've done if another bus or truck was coming in the other direction.
I finally got to Phaplu some 20 hours after I was supposed to and after getting my bearings, I finally started trekking. It was a relief to finally have my fate in my own hands again. And the one thing I got to enjoy for the first time on a multi-day trek was being able to progress at my own pace and stop where I want to. With the trekking times between villages stored on my phone, I could then adjust them according to my pace (which is almost always a bit faster than normal) and work out where I can make it to. With a tight schedule, I had to make some fairly brisk tracks so it was disappointing that I only started at 11.30am.
The air is noticeably thinner above 2,500m and this made the going tough at times. I hiked for about 5.5 hours on the first day after which I was knackered given everything that happened just getting to Phaplu. Stopping
View From The Lodge
View from Trekker's Lodge in Tengboche.
in the village of Nunthala for the night, all I had to do now was choose a guesthouse.
Most villages along the trail have guesthouses you can stop at and they're all pretty similar in standard. That is to say, they're pretty basic to say the least. The charge for a room itself is usually peanuts - less than £1 - because all the guesthouses generally make their money off food rather than accommodation.
I never found a guesthouse that had the holy trinity of the basic Western conveniences I'm used to getting at a hostel or at home; a hot shower, a Western-style sit-down toilet and a sink with running water. One guesthouse had two out of three but that was as good as it got. So basically I was roughing it and call me privileged or a princess or whatever, but I really don't enjoy it.
Having taken Imodium back in Kathmandu, you really don't want a squatter when you're constipated. But that was exactly what I got at my first guesthouse. There is a charge for a hot showers, although at some guesthouses, a 'hot shower' is basically just a bucket of freshly boiled water. With the
Colourful prayer wheels inside a temple on the Lukla bypass.
shower room often in an outhouse in the freezing cold, you find yourself freezing your arse off but with the boiling water too hot to wash yourself with, you wait...it was in moments like this that I wondered what the hell I was doing here and why I wasn't still on the steamy beaches of Sri Lanka
None of the guesthouses have any insulation so you sleep in your clothes and thermals. And yeah, it gets freezing inside the lodges. You didn't even want to stay up on your phone because all you wanted to do was get underneath your two duvets. You needed to save phone battery anyway - the guesthouses further up the mountain charge you for charging. Some places didn't even have running water. But the locals just get on with it. I could not live like this.
For dinner on my first night, I had the first of what I would have for dinner every night; dhal bhate
. It basically consists of a watery curry (the dhal), rice and fried curried vegetables with potatoes. Especially since I had spent my last three months in India, I've found Nepali food to be very bland and their national dish was no exception.
Nepal's national dish.
However it is the best value meal you can order as the serving is unlimited - they will keep coming back with more dhal, rice and vegetables until you're full.
You always need to have several teas a night to keep you warm; one good one that I had was a sherpa tea
, which interestingly consists of salt, milk and tea.
On that first night on the trek, I got talking to Dutch girl Coco, South African Peter and Maltese Michael, who were in their way down from base camp. It was good to learn about what lay ahead for me regarding the terrain, trekking times, views and prices - apparently everything gets more expensive the higher you climb - as well as their experience of making it all the way to base camp. No showers for days, your drinking water freezing, altitude sickness - it sounded insane. I'm so glad I'm not going up all the way. It sounded like everything I wanted to avoid.
Peter also gave me some insight into the Nepali mindset; apparently cheating - whether it be at a game of cards or ripping someone off - is seen as a badge of honour
These kids in Kharikhola really reflect the ethnic diversity that exists in Nepal; and in the mountains, no less.
here. It seemed to me just like diving in football - in Latin America and Southern Europe, to dive and try to get something out of the referee is just part of the culture but if anyone does it in let's say for example, the Premier League, then they get vilified for it. There is a code of ethics that exists in Western society that just doesn't exist in others. I feel that one should not cheat because it is just not right. But that is how I have been brought up. And thinking about my interactions with locals this far, what Peter said made total sense. I have noticed also that Nepalis don't seem to care about how their actions affect others; this really annoyed me.
Speaking of the locals, they don't seem to know what to make of me. They will see me and see that I kinda look like them but don't. Nepalis seem to come in all sorts of looks from Chinese looking ones, to Indian looking ones and even a few that look like Pacific Islanders and everything in between.
I made good progress the on the second day though was warned about the
The Mountain Range
View of a mountain range from Tengboche which includes Everest as well as the beautiful Ama Dablam on the right.
climbs I had to do. I was way ahead of the scheduled times until the climb to up to Bupsa, with the sun on your back. It was just up, up and up - really steep up - for a whole hour. It was punishing and pretty much killed me. With Coco only expecting me to get to Bupsa by the end of the day, I was there by 12.30pm. But I didn't know how much I had left in the tank after that climb. And the next leg was almost just as punishing. Hans, a Dutch guy who was at my lodge that morning caught me up and I appreciated his company because it distracted me from the ordeal I was going through. I was done by the time we got to the top of Kari La at 3,000m - a total climb of 1,500m. But I still had about forty minutes to go to get to Paiya; I originally wanted to get to the next village after Paiya but that was now not going to happen. With all the time in the world now to get to Paiya, it still took forever. I stayed with Hans at the
This popular overnight stop is very well developed.
first lodge I came across - I was absolutely spent. I was so exhausted after that second day that I went to bed at 8.30pm which is unheard of. But I really needed the rest.
Day 3 started out pretty easy but there were still a few steep bits. My pace slows to an absolute crawl on anything steep now - they're absolute Struggle Street.
I also noticed that the quiet trails where the only people I'd see were local farmers, had now been replaced by trails full of foreign hikers. Most people fly into Lukla to start the climb to Everest Base Camp and they suddenly started flooding the trails once I got past the Lukla bypass - along with caravans of mules. Villages were no longer rural hamlets but were like Phakding (a popular stop point), which resembled a small backpacker town complete with bars and pool halls. There is even a luxury "comfort resort" in Phakding where you could get all your normal modern amenities for a cool US$150 a night. I think I'll stick with the bucket showers. Although against the spirit of the climb, it was inevitable that you would see such developments for
View From The Trail
View along the trail from Tengboche to Nache Bazaar which follows a ridge.
what is a popular tourist destination.
My stomach seems to always be the first thing to go in terms of any signs of altitude problems and halfway through the third day, I was ridiculously gassy to the point where I had enough pain in my stomach to force me to lie down in order to get the gas out. It also happened to coincide with a moment where I simply hit a wall walking up through the town of Chheplung. I feared that if I was starting to unravel now, then I might not make my overall goal of getting to Namche. Thankfully after a bit of a rest and a snack break, I found my second wind - the right sort of wind this time - and managed to make it to my goal for the day of Monjo, even if the climbs were still painfully slow.
In Monjo, I now faced a choice. I could go past Namche all the way up to Tengboche, for a guaranteed view of Everest and use more of my park permit as a result (you have to pay for a US$30 national park permit once you go past Monjo); or
View along the trail back to Namche Bazaar from Tengboche.
if I could get a decent look at Everest near Namche Bazaar, then I could start coming back down on the same day. An extra free day resulting from coming down the mountain quicker would allow me a more relaxing time in Darjeeling - as well as a contingency day in case Nepali transport lets me down again - and would also mean one day less trekking and a day less of inflated mountain expenses. I decided I would make my decision when I got to the lookouts at Namche the next day.
If I thought the climbing on Day 2 was tough, then I had another 600m climb on Day 4 - two climbs, if decided to carry on to Tengboche, both at altitude. Trying to climb at your normal speed above 3,000m leaves you gasping for breath in two minutes. As such I was literally shuffling up the mountains - shuffling is good, because it means you're not lifting up your legs, using less energy in the process.
I couldn't find the first Everest lookout that was meant to be before Namche - and other trekkers didn't seem to know where it was either - so I
There are a couple like this on the trail between Namche Bazaar and Tengboche.
plugged on to Namche, which was exactly the built-up tourist town I thought it would be. On finding out that the second Everest lookout near Namche was another 2.5 hour walk up a mountain above Namche, my choice was made for me - onto Tengboche I went.
The climb to Tengboche was endless, relentless and ruthless. I was almost getting angry each time I turned a corner only to discover I had even more steps to climb. But you gotta keep persevering and eventually I made it - and it was totally worth the climb. Tengboche is on a plateau of sorts and at the back of the plateau was what I had come all this way and gone through all these hardships for; Everest. I could now definitively say that I have seen the tallest mountain in the world. The rest of the range isn't too shabby either, nor was the view of the mountains to my right on the way up. The monastery on the plateau proved the perfect complement to the scenery I was admiring. I let myself have a celebratory fist pump. OK, it may have been more than just one fist pump...
Rice terraces between Jubhing and Nunthala.
my stomach pain seemingly gone, I wasn't feeling any effects of being 3,800m above sea level in Tengboche, even if some of the other guests in the my rather expensive lodge were. Because I had climbed up slowly, day-by-day rather than flying straight into Lukla at 2,800m, I probably acclimatised better than others who had just flown in. This included a group of Indian trekkers who were able to speak Hindi to the locals and understand the Nepali being spoken back to them. The two languages are very close apparently.
There isn't really much to do in the lodges after dark - there is no (free) wifi and you have to pay to charge your phone - therefore I didn't even get to write any blogs in an effort to save phone battery.
I did eventually get some altitude sickness; my sleep was patchy because it was harder to breathe with the air being thinner. I also had a slight headache. It was also colder up here too and the conditions were more extreme. I was glad to be going back down the next day. The hard pillows and beds - which seem to be everywhere in Nepal - probably
These guys would carry ridiculous amounts up the mountain.
didn't help either.
What I was going through however was just meat and drink for the local sherpas
that live up here. While I was struggling to climb steep paths with my less-than-10kg rucksack, I was passing sherpas on the same climb who were carrying unfathomable amounts on their backs. They were carrying all sorts; food and water supplies, toiletries, gas tanks - things that can only get up to the guesthouses at the very top by foot. With a band around their foreheads attached to their cargo in order to help them carry it up, their efforts are nothing short of heroic and superhuman.
At most guesthouses, I had to write down my own orders - transporting stuff up mountains by foot every day doesn't leave much time or energy to learn to write in English.
Though I was finally now making my way back down, my adventure still wasn't quite over yet. Having accomplished my mission, I now had to get back to Phaplu. Having decided to go to further than planned to Tengboche, I had accepted that I now needed an extra day to get back down. But then looking at the trekking times between
Typical rural, Nepalese, Himalayan village.
points, perhaps I could do it in two days rather than three - apart from three big climbs and some smaller ones here and there, most of the journey back was now downhill, something I excel at. I could do with an extra day in Darjeeling and to not have to rush things - so instead I could rush things now and save myself a day's hiking and its accompanying expenses.
Therefore Day 5 started early and I was walking by 7.30am - and by 8am, I was already in Phenke Tenga; it had taken me two hours to climb up that hill the previous day. I was well on-track. It was a hard pace to keep up all day though and the nature of hiking in the mountains is that the trail is never flat - it frustratingly goes up and down, up and down.
I wanted to stop at a town that I had to pass through which was full of stupas and a monastery but I didn't come across it when expected. Looking over some distance to my right, I then see the town - I had somehow ended up missing a crucial turnoff onto the
Long lines of them would be on the trails and you had to give way to them. At first it was cute; then they became more than just a minor irritation.
right trail and I now had to zig-zag my way through some Nepali farms to get back on track. The diversion cost me thirty minutes and any slim chance I had of making it back to Paiya, my target destination for the day. I now faced three very gruelling climbs the next day and an ambitious amount of walking to get to Phaplu by the end of it.
Stopping in the village of Surke for the night, I knew I couldn't make it to Phaplu in one day when I awoke the next morning. It was too much distance and too much climbing; and after five days of continuous hiking, my legs weren't what they were. Therefore I revised my target destination of the day to Nunthala, where I stayed on my first night. Telling my plan to my guesthouse owner, she thought I was mad. I was, for thinking I could go to Phaplu in two days.
The first couple of times I had to stop to let through a train of mules coming in the opposite direction, they were a cute distraction. By the umpteenth time, they were more than a minor irritation. Generally, these donkeys
Don't let one of these guys stand on your foot. It hurts.
are fairly adept at avoiding you and walk around you; apart from one who came just a bit too close and managed to step on my little toe! These beasts are not small and would weigh far in excess of 100kg, plus all the cargo they were carrying would put their total weight close to 200kg. Now imagine that weight falling into your little toe. I think the donkey's hoof slid on my toe rather than stepping fully on it and thankfully it did as I only came away with a blood blister and was able to keep walking. I was lucky my toe wasn't broken. With all the frustrations and hardships of the day built up, I was so angry that I wanted to give the offending donkey a kick; sadly, the guides leading the donkeys were doing that already and they were treating them pretty badly. Kicks were sometimes followed by whacks with a cane and the screaming and shouting of the guides was incessant and excessive enough to somewhat ruin the lovely surroundings.
As you trek and encounter different terrains, you soon develop your own techniques for dealing with dirt, sand, rocks, donkey shit and human
These are stones with Nepali prayers carved into them.
spit. Mine included the "Rock-Steppa", used when going downhill by jumping from rock to rock for efficient use of gravity and increased speed. There is also the "Sand-Stompa", used also for going downhill, this time on shifty, sandy terrain by taking large strides to maximise speed while hitting the ground in a stomping motion in order to minimise the chances of slipping in the sand - put your hands on your hips for maximum camp and maximum strut. And earlier, I mentioned the "Sand-Shuffle" for going uphill, maximising speed while preserving as much energy as possible.
While walking through the town of Kharikola, I stopped by a group of old ladies. Inspired by my Ukrainian friend Andrii
, I then decided to make good on my intention to take more photos of people. The ladies were more than willing and quite excited to have their photo taken - you should have seen them when I showed the the photo on my camera afterwards. I thought it was a genuinely heartwarming moment between local and tourist; Nepalis have warmed many a foreigner's heart and for a moment, they warmed my cynical one too.
I then made the climb from Jubhing to Nunthala
After six days of climbing at altitude and with your legs almost gone, this is as demotivating a sight as you'll see.
which seemed to never end - it never stopped going up! I was screaming in anger as each new and steep climb revealed itself as I rounded each corner.
"How can this not be over already?" I was thinking. It will be worse tomorrow.
As my legs started to lose their strength and thus my balance, I started getting more and more accident prone. After I finally arrived at a guesthouse in Nunthala and promptly got my finger slammed in a door, I was well and truly just over it.
It seems that I enjoy hiking without knowing it; I always want to finish anything that I start and enjoy the feeling of completing a challenge - it's what keeps me going, because I was suffering. But I know I will feel worse if I abandon something I have set out to do. That feeling of finally achieving a goal - with the accompanying ear of not achieving what you have set out to do - seems to make it all worthwhile.
I don't know how I thought I could make it to Phaplu in two days; for the leg I completed on Day 6, I only made it to
Cooks At The Lodge
Two cooks watch over the fire at my lodge in Paiya.
Nunthala half an hour before dusk so it was lucky I left early(ish) and I now understood why the guesthouse owner in Surke thought it might be a challenge to get here. In fact, if I hadn't had gone as far as I did the day before, I would've been pushing it to get to Phaplu in three days let alone two - so lucky I went as far as I did the day before then!
The good thing about the guesthouses is that they're quite sociable because there are usually less than ten guests at any one guesthouse and because everyone eats in the common room - the bedrooms are too cold to hang out in - everyone gets together and talks about their treks and travels. Or as in the case of my last night (and my first) - play Scum. There were three French girls and two Spaniards in my guesthouse that night and of the French girls, only one of them could speak passable English but two of them could understand Spanish. So we ended up in a situation where I was explaining the game in Spanish, dropping in French words where I could, and
These creatures play a very important role in the lives of rural Nepalis in the mountains.
the two French girls who could understand Spanish then translated the rules to the girl who could only speak French. When two local guides joined in the game, one could speak English, so I explained the game in English to him so he could then relay the information to the other guide in Nepali. And so we had this awesome international situation where French, Spanish, Nepali and English were all being spoken at the card table. None of us could help the lone Japanese guy unfortunately. My Spanish however has become so rusty that I have forgotten basic words that used to come to me instantly. It is regrettable.
The guesthouses are also great place to pick up hiking partners though unfortunately for me, I always seemed to be walking in the opposite direction to everyone else for some reason.
I was glad it was the last day. Had I been trekking for longer, I would've had a rest day by now but had to keep ploughing through. My feet were so sore and my legs so tired. Even my favourite downhillers were painful. The last three hours of my seven-day hike were relatively flat, thank goodness.
Pemba & His Family
Pemba is the guy second from the left and I got talking to him on my last day of trekking. On his left in the centre is his brother (I think), while the two guys on the ends are I believe, his cousins.
last three hours I greeted a local farmer with a "namaste" and got into a bit of a conversation with him. His English was reasonable and he got quite excited when I told him I was from New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hilary of course, was the first man to climb to the top of Mt Everest and he is held in high esteem here by the locals - but not so much for his climbing exploits but for the educational development programmes he set up, of which Pemba, the guy I was talking to, personally benefited. Unbeknownst to me, when Sir Edmund died - greeted with much sadness by Nepalis - the New Zealand government continued to sponsor the programmes Sir Edmund set up and thus there is a special relationship between the two countries and New Zealanders are well received. And indeed I met a couple up on the mountain! I felt proud of my countrymen for a moment but also of myself for opening up to this guy. He invited me in for a cup of tea and I got to talk to Pemba as well as his family. Having been in places like South America and more
One of many I had to cross. Some of them were over 60m high!
recently, India, I normally have my guard up but this guy was obviously not hustling for anything so I decided to try and engage a bit more with the locals here than I normally do. Nepalis have generally been very warm, friendly people and I totally understand why many foreigners leave Nepal with soft spots for them.
To round off my day of mixing with the locals, I stayed at a guesthouse in Phaplu that was less like a trekker's guesthouse and more like bunking in with a local family, screaming toddler and all. The mother and daughter were so nice and friendly though that it was difficult to stay annoyed for long - indeed that is the case with many of the locals. While there are a lot of foreign trekkers on the trails, because I spent most of my time outside of the national parks, I encountered more locals than foreigners; I'd go for hours and sometimes days without seeing anything but locals. It feels like that many a time too in India. Therefore despite their difficulties, India and Nepal have proven to be two of the most immersive places I have visited in terms of local
Big Mani Stone
This was probably the biggest one I saw, between Namche Bazaar and Monjo.
culture and for that I have been grateful.
Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to getting back to Kathmandu and its relative creature comforts; the trek has been challenging in every way and while I will look back on my time here with fond memories, I will not miss the cold, the cold showers, the squat toilets or the steep climbs! Hopefully my journey back to Kathmandu won't be as eventful - it certainly can't get any worse than the journey here!
My next entry will be from India one final time - providing I manage to survive the jeep ride back to Kathmandu and a seventeen hour bus ride to the eastern Indian-Nepalese border!
चाडै भेटौला (Chadai vetaula),
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