Kathmandu - Thamel - Lukla - Namche - Tengboche : Hills, goats and goddesses
03.10.2008 -17 °C
About 180 million years ago the Indian sub-continent broke free of Pangaea. It promptly headed north at a rate of a few centimeters per year and then 65 million years ago began to crash into the Asian main land. This caused quite a stir amongst the native stones, not to mention a great big ole uplift that would later be named the Tibetan Plateau and home to the Himalayan Mountains and the highest point on Earth- Mount Everest.
Had the Indian continent somehow known that quite a few million years later, a ‘wise human’ (Homo sapien) with a gift of bipedal locomotion and an opposable thumb would trudge up the lofty peaks full of redneck wisdom, pantheistic blasphemy and a penchant for red wine and buggery it might have turned around and headed back south. Luckily, it didn’t. So I was fortunate enough to find myself in Kathmandu sometime in the Year Of Our Lord 2007, ready to head for the hills and see what I could see.
Kathmandu is a crossroads for all kinds of travelers. Longhaired freaky people of almost infinite variety traverse its never-ending side streets and alleyways. Some people are there to find themselves. Some people are there to lose themselves. Most people are there to experience something; even if they don’t know what it is they’re after.
You can find good food, pubs, gear shops and various and sundry items almost everywhere you turn in the Thamel area. Vegetable markets, art vendors, snake charmers and sacred cows dot the acrid landscape and make for an interesting afternoon of people gawking.
Also, make note that if you ever find yourself in Kathmandu in need of a pair of socks have no worries. There are plenty of shops selling knock off (North Farce) gear for a fraction of the price you’d pay in a fancy shmancy gear store for the real thing. I got myself 3 pairs of fine wool socks for the trekking I was about to do for US$6 and a windbreaker for another US$8 to boot… I was happier than a pig at a Muslim wedding feast.
Our trek started in the airport. We arrived at the domestic terminal to witness a chaotic scene of Sherpas and tons of bags stacked upon bags for the numerous expeditions up into the hills. We had a bad start as one boy in our group was robbed of US$200 when he opened his wallet to tip his porter. The guy promptly grabbed the money and took off like Usain Bolt never to be seen again. Lesson learned. Never expose the contents of your wallet for the world to see.
Yeti Airlines took us up to Lukla. The twin-engine Otter felt more like an amusement park ride than an airplane. The captain opened up the windows and several folks climbed into the cockpit to take photos. A strange feeling in our post 9/11 ultra-security-aviation world. But the jovial scene unfolded peacefully since none of us really wanted to crash into the side of the mountains.
At 9,380 feet the military airport at Lukla is one of the highest around. It’s quite scary to land into the side of a mountain where you only have a few hundred meters of landing strip to get it right!
From there we trekked a short distance to the Namaste Lodge. We dined on vegetable dumplings and after dinner I was invited to drink raksi- a fermented rice drink that probably has some kind of curative properties that I felt obliged to take advantage of. For medicinal purposes only, mind you.
The next morning we reluctantly rose at 7 a.m. and trudged our way to Namche Bazaar. The trek was pretty grueling, especially if you’re from a tropical climate near sea level in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The weather was perfect, sunny with a slight chill… enough for a long sleeve and pants while walking.
The trek was lined with teahouses selling San Miguel beer, snicker bars, potato chips and rooms for the night if you so desired.
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how the national beer from the Philippines made its way to Lukla and Namche as a main item for sale in every little teahouse. It was a strange sight for me to behold.
Namche Bazaar is a crossroads for trade and has been for quite a long time. We were told that folks from Nepal, Tibet and China had been walking the paths for hundreds of years trading various wares and items on a seasonal basis. We had just missed one of the BIG markets that ended the day before. Oh well, there were still plenty of shops and street vendors to be haggled with.
By this time we were up near 11,000 feet. Not bad.
Namche was full of bakeries with warm fires, latte’s, cappuccino’s, baked chocolate goods and Internet connections. Again, I was puzzled by the diversity of goods on offer. For some reason I had expected it be a bit more local- you know, like a Nepalese village.
But, Nepal and the Everest treks have been a huge tourist destination for quite a while and the industrious locals had figured out that offering some Western delights would capture a certain audience with money to spend. They were right. The café’s were full of trekkers from Europe, America, Japan, Korea and basically any nation with enough wealth that could afford a holiday in the Himalayas.
We spent two nights in Namche to acclimate to the elevation.
The next morning we struck out for the Tengboche Monastery at 14,000 feet, officially the highest I had ever been while trekking.
On the way to Tengboche we spotted the Damphe- a colorful over sized chicken-like bird resembling a big purple peacock on the trail. The bird is spectacular and happens to be the national bird of Nepal. We also saw various mountain goats and raptors along the way. The scenery is indeed world class with waterfalls, mountain peaks and crusty yak poo dotting every conceivable viewpoint.
About halfway to Tengboche my group, consisting of myself and two teenage Japanese students from my school, were greeted by the goddess of the mountains. She didn’t so much walk up to us but it was more like she sprang forth from the scenery. Or somehow effortlessly arose from the stones. I offered her a sip of orange drink from my water bottle, which she took as a peace offering and a humble gesture. She guzzled down my ambrosia offering and as a return favor played a tune on her harmonica. Afterwards she gave a smile that would ease tensions between Israel and Palestine.
The wisdom in her eyes was infinite, her Earthy aura captivating. I was in love with the goddess of the mountain. I couldn’t help it. It was a spell she cast on me. I looked at her one last time. Her irises spoke the secret language that we deities share and let me know she appreciated my admiration and then went merrily on her way. She skipped with ease up the steep slopes that only mountain goats, yaks, Pan and Himalayan goddesses call home.
A few hours later, we rolled into Tengboche monastery weary, drained and enlightened from our encounter on the hill. The uphill treks were pretty gruesome and draining. Noses run rampant from the chilly breeze and sleeping conditions and the ever-pervasive Himalayan Hack.
The Himalayan Hack is a cough brought on by a thousand generations of crusty yak poo trampled to dust by a gazillion longhaired freaky people trekkers, which, you obligingly suck up your nostrils and convert into a frothy veneer coating around your lungs. Once infected you have no choice but to continuously hack, especially in the small hours of the night when you are supposed to be sleeping. It becomes rather charming after a while and since everyone has it… it also leads to group bonding.
However, this is where I would advise a mask or at least a bandana of some sort for covering your breathing apparatus. Which no one in my group had had the good sense to bring.
Once again, the shops at the monastery were selling San Miguel and snicker bars. Now that’s my kind of monastic life!
The views of Everest were growing more intense with every step and sunrise at Tengboche was one of the best we’d seen. Couple that with a morning visit to the monastery and chant by the monks and you’ve got yourself a good start to the day that James Redfield would be proud.
After sunrise chants and a meager but warm and fulfilling breakfast of potatoes, yak cheese, flat bread, peanut butter and coffee we broke camp for a local school. Our mission was to deliver some toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks and a few board games to the students that live full time at 14,000+ feet. We also wanted to learn their school ways and show them a few tricks of our own.
I napped shyly sprawled in the dirt right outside the school basked in warm sunlight while the students played games and exchanged bead necklaces. When I woke up it was time to head back to Tengboche. From there back to Namche and then on to Lukla. A few days later back in Kathmandu and back to Kuala Lumpur via Bangkok.
What a trip! I think everyone should see the Himalayas and Everest at some point in their life. And I would hope that they’d be lucky enough to cavort with over sized purple chickens, mountain goats and yaks, become infected with the Himalayan Hack, digest Yak cheese and Everest Beer and be serenaded by a real life mountain goddesses to boot!
It is a good life.. if you make it out to be.