Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Namche Bazaar to Dingboche

October 20, 2012

At 0730 we headed up the steps from the Namche Hotel in Namche Bazaar headed for the Everest View Hotel at an elevation of 3880 meters. There were at least 48 switchbacks along the way. We passed the Syanboche Airport, the highest in the world. After tea on the terrace, in the sun with stunning views of Mt Everest and the rest of the peaks we hiked down through the Rhododendron forests to the village of Khumjung, at an elevation of 3810 meters. After leaving our gear at the Valley View Hotel rooms we gathered for lunch. The hotel had a common toilet, but of the western variety, twin beds and blankets, but we used the sleeping bags anyway since the rooms are unheated. The afternoon weather pattern of clouds soon drove us in from the terrace into the dining room.

After lunch and a brief rest we walked into town and visited the Khumjung Gomba, where for a fee we were allowed to see, but not photo the "Yeti Scalp". We then headed for the Hillary School on the other side of the town, but since it was Saturday, everything was locked up. Hillary died in 2008, but his foundation is still active and other organizations still contribute to expanding the school. By the time we started back from the school the clouds really dropped in, and visibility dropped to a few hundred feet at times. When the sun disappears, the temperature really drops and it is cold. On the way back we watched women hoeing in the potato fields, but they declined to be photographed.

We met our porters again this am when we arrived. Most of the time they pick up the bags while we are breakfast and deliver them to our rooms at our next destination and are gone until the next morning. Not at Khumjung! They sat with us in the dining room and watched soccer on the TV with us after dinner. All three porters are from the Lantang area of Nepal and are "Tamang", not "Sherpa". They work in Lukla during the trekking season and live in a town called Sulleri, a 25 hour walk from Lukla the rest of the year.

As the cloud layer settles into the basin, everyone is putting on layers and stocking hats, even in the dining room, which is heated by a stove fueled by Yak dung. The Sherpa who owns the lodge is Pema Chosang Sherpa and has summited Everest three times, with an Italian, Swiss and Norwegian team, as well as working with Russell Brice who is featured on the Discovery Channel series "Everest – Beyond the Limit".

October 21, 2012

We had a 0630 wakeup call in our rooms with our assistant guide delivering hot cups of tea. Breakfast was at 0700 with departure from the hotel at 0730. We initially descended and then climbed up to 4000 meters to a place called Mong La where we stopped for tea. After a relaxing stop we descended steeply down to the Dudh Khosi river to Phortse Tenga to the Riverview Resort for lunch. Crossing the river we then ascended steeply back up to Phortse Village at an elevation of 3810 meters. The village is situated on a sloping plateau and is a series of houses and fields separated by stone walls. If it was not so brown, it could have been Ireland.

Our lodge this evening is the Tashi Delek Lodge. This is the most basic lodge so far. After our arrival we washed our hair in cold water from a bucket in the sunshine outside, but it was still cold. We had several hours before afternoon tea so Sean joined Paul and Emma in a photo walk around the village. After our afternoon tea we sat around the dining room and enjoyed the warm temperatures since the rooms are unheated and like ice boxes.

Our diet since leaving Kathmandu has consisted mostly of noodle, rice and potatoes, with vegetables, cheese or egg added. We have had little if any meat since refrigeration is non-existent up this high.

Sleep comes quickly since there is not much to do, the high carb meals and the tiring days trekking all put one to sleep.

October 22, 2012

We were up early under sunny but frosty skies and headed out on an initially easy trail that soon turned into the narrowest steepest trail either Sean or I had ever seen. We wrapped around steep rocks and the river bed was at least 2000 feet below us. We finally arrived at the village of Pangboche where we stopped for tea before hiking another 2 hours to Shomare where we had lunch outside in the sunshine. From Shomare we headed up 4 kilometers and 400 meters of elevation to Dingboche at an elevation of 4450 meters, our stop for the night. By the time we arrived at 1530 the wind was blowing and the temperature was cold. Dingboche sits right at the base of Ama Dablam, so the views were stunning. The lodge was full and the dining room crowded, but we had a reserved table for our group and since it was cold, we stayed in the dining room and learned to play a Nepali card game.

October 23, 2012

Dingboche is a rest stop where we spend 2 nights acclimatizing, with a training hike on the rest day to a higher elevation. We headed up the hill shortly after 0900 and reached an elevation of 4880 meters, higher than our next stop. Then it was back down the hill for rest, lunch and getting cleaned up.

There is no cell phone service in Dingboche, but there is purportedly internet service, so if this blog publishes, there is. Pictures will have to wait for better service, probably in one week in Namche Bazaar.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Namche Bazaar Rest Day

Today we took a little (4KM) hike to 3660 meters (12007 feet) and visited a monastery (Nauche), a cultural museum and the Sherpa Museum. We also got out first glimpses of Mt. Everest, Nuptse and Ama Dablam peaks. Mt Everest is 38 KM away, but 5 KM higher than where we took the pictures. Tomorrow we trek to the village of Khumjung at an elevation of 3810 meters (12,500 feet) stopping at the Everest View Hotel for tea in the morning.
Mt Everest in background 38 KM away

Khusum Khangru

Kunde Peak in background

Ama Dablam Peak
Close up of Mt Everest
Lodges get a lot more basic from here on out, with shared toilets and no showers, just sponge baths.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Phakding to Namche Bazaar

Entering Sagarmantha National Park

The morning dawned clear and cold, down in the low forties, but warmed up quickly as the sun began to penetrate the steep valleys. We had a 0630 wakeup and then our pre-ordered breakfast at 0700. By 0730 we were on the trail, crossing a small bridge across the river with Kunde peak on our left and continuing up and down along the river through small settlements and over more suspension bridges before arriving at Monjo, the entrance to Sagarmantha National Park, a World Heritage Site. Here our permits were examined and passes issued. We continued on another kilometer before stopping for lunch at a small café just after crossing the third to last suspension bridge.
After lunch we headed back up the trail, soon arriving at the Dudh Khosi riverbed where we saw the remains of one of the old suspension bridges shortly after crossing the next to last bridge. In the distance we could see the Hillary Bridge, our last bridge before the steep climb up to Namche Bazaar.
Crossing the bridge we were stalled in the middle due to a yak jam at the far end of the bridge. We could also see the work going on for a new wider higher bridge to handle the increased traffic to Namche Bazaar, the major crossroads in the Kumbu Region.
The final 3 kilometers were STEEP! We gained nearly 2000 feet, going up series of stone steps, and most of the groups going up were proceeding at the same slow pace due to the altitude. It took over 2 hours to reach the entrance to the town and the police check before another 20 minute hike to the Namche Hotel at an elevation of 11,300 feet. The hotel was a pleasant surprise, with real beds with sheets and pillows and plenty of hot water. The showers were great. After showering the group met for tea and cookies in the hotel restaurant and ordered dinner. Sean and I went for a short walk around town and Sean purchased some Yak cheese for a snack.
Dinner was simple, by choice. Sean had Sherpa Stew and Patrick Fried Rice. By 8PM we were back in the room doing laundry and by 9PM were both asleep.
Hillary suspension bridge over Dudh Khosi River

Another view of Hillary Bridge

Kathmandu to Phakding

We were picked up from the Hotel Shanker at 1000 and headed for the domestic terminal with our guide Sudar (Sid). The domestic terminal was one large room for check-in and complete chaos, with mounds of trekking equipment covering nearly the entire floor. We were several hours early for our flight and Sudar had us go upstairs and get some tea while we waited. We saw other people from the hotel in the restaurant who were scheduled to leave early in the morning. They were delayed for over three hours due to both the weather and lack of planes since two of the three carriers had stopped service. We began to have a bad feeling as we heard few flight announcements and saw Sudar frantically trying to get us on a flight. Finally, after 3 PM they cancelled the rest of the flights and we had to head back to the hotel, where we asked for a meeting with Narayan. We had an ugly meeting when we found out that we actually had standby tickets and would probably have a repeat performance. Needless to say, this was an unacceptable answer, and after everyone cooled down I gave HGT a range of options to guarantee us flying in the AM, including more expensive tickets, charter aircraft and charter helicopter. The rest of the group consented to the financial costs of the options and we went to dinner while HGT looked to see what was available.
Dinner was at the Kilroy Restaurant in Thamel, several blocks from the office. We sat outside and had mo mo's for appetizers (sort of dumplings with a hot dipping sauce), and then for the main course Sean had Mutter Paneer and Patrick had Chicken Tikka Masala. Dinner was by candlelight since there were scheduled rolling blackouts for power conservation that lasted until 8PM. While at dinner Sudar cane and told us they had charted a Pilatus 430 for the early AM for $200 additional per person by also taking one of their solo clients on the same flight. That was the good news; the bad news was we had to leave the hotel at 4:30 AM in order to be at the head of the line at the airport, which opened at 5:45 AM.
We all walked back to the Hotel Shanker and slept for a few hours before a 3:30 AM wakeup. We met the other client, from Athens, Georgia and headed to the airport where we were very close to the head of the line. This time Sudar got us checked in for our charter, we were finally issued boarding passes and at 7:00 AM were taken by bus to the plane. The duffel bags had already been loaded and we boarded, 8 people and 7 seats, so the guide for the other client sat on the floor on top of a duffel bag.
The flight was about 40 minutes long, with some excitement cresting over the tops of some ridges at 11,500 feet before the steep descent and turn into the Tenzing/Hillary Airport at Lukla, which has an elevation of 9200 feet. We went to a lodge and had breakfast, really good and purchased water for the trek to Phakding, about 8km away. The group headed out at 9:30 AM and set a steady pace of about 2 mph, stopping often for photos and we meandered up and down, more net down, crossing our first suspension bridge and several other bridges. We passed through several small settlements under partly cloudy skies, but warm enough to hike in T-shirts except the last few minutes. The partly cloudy skies obscured many of the peaks, but we got occasional glimpses of several peaks greater than 6500 meters (more than 21000 feet).
The trail was busy, with Yak trains, porters and other trekkers headed in both directions, everyone giving way to the Yaks and most respecting the tradition of always going clockwise around the Buddhist shrines and spinning the prayer wheels in a clockwise direction.
Our charter flight after landing at Lukla

The crew at breakfast in Lukla, Sean Patrick, Emma, Paul and Eduardo

Along the trail to Phakding
By 12:30 PM we were at the Beer Garden Lodge in Phakding, at an elevation of 2658 meters (8720 feet). Since it was lunch time we sat in the dining room and shared a large pot of lemon tea and ordered lunch. Everyone in the group ordered either a noodle or rice dish. We then headed to our rooms, which had ensuite bathrooms, twin beds and even electric lights. The beds have foam mattresses and pillows, but we sleep in our down bags on top of the beds. Unpacking enough from our duffels, we showered under barely lukewarm water and then wandered around the small collection of lodges and teahouses which is Phakding. Across the river we could see tents pitched for trekkers who were camping and were very glad we were in a lodge, even with unheated rooms.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Departure Day From Kathmandu

Durbar Square in front of old palace

Temples in Durbar Square

Monk in Durbar Square

Monkey Temple from Durbar Square

Butchers Cart

Looking up at Monkey Temple with rest of trekking group

Monkey Temple

Prayer Wheels at Monkey Temple

Monkey Temple

Boudhanath Stupa

Mandala Painting

Crematorium on Bagmati River
Yesterday was a guided tour of Kathmandu, which took most of the day due to incredibly heavy traffic and even worse roads. We saw Durbar Square with all the temples. While there we were able to see the child goddess "Kumari", but no photos allowed. We will have to compare notes with Miriam from her visit in 1967on the area when we return.

The next major stop was the "Monkey Temple", or Swayambhunath, high on a hill overlooking the city then on to Boudhanath, a huge stupa,, not as big as the Borobudor in Indonesia, where we also watched artists painting Mandalas. All three sites are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kathmandu. We had lunch there, and I actually had chicken curry. The final stop was the Pashputi Nath where the city cremations are performed alongside the Bagmati River, similar to those alongside the Ganges. Here in Nepal, all except holy men are cremated in the same place, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or athiest, it does not matter, it happens within 24 hours of death.

While we were there, at least 10 cremations were taking place in an area of incredible filth due to the monkeys and cow dung from the sacred cows wandering around freely. The water in the river was gray-brown and filled with garbage and floating flowers from the cremation ceremonies.

Getting back to the hotel we finally met our guide and he confirmed that we leave for Lukla at 1000 local time from the hotel (a 1200 flight). Flying conditions are reputed to be good, but the pucker factor is certainly increasing.

Sean and I have our duffels and day packs filled and weighed, as well as packing the stuff we are leaving behind, which is considerable.

From here until we return to Kathmandu on October 31 we will have only sporadic internet service, so probably no photos until then.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kathmandu Day 2 Cont'd

Last evening we were taken for a welcome dinner at a "traditional" Nepali restaurant with dancers performing both Hindu and Buddhist dances. Before the meal started we had to remove our shoes to enter the dining area, and our foreheads were marked with the red spots. Some of the dancers could have come directly from Bali. We sat on the floor on pads at low tables and were served some powerful rice wine to begin, followed by lentil soup, and an appetizer plate with dumplings, hot stuff and veggies, then a main course of rice with more hot curry type of things, both chicken (mostly bones) and pork, as well as more cooked spicy vegetables, followed by more lentil soup and then some sort of citrus dairy custard which I only tasted. Sean and I also had some Everest beer, which was pretty good. The rice was steaming hot!

Earlier in the day we were issued down bags and jackets. My jacket is bright yellow. The bags and jackets say "North Face", but could well be knockoffs. Both Sean and I have our bags down to the 15 KG weight limit, so we are good to go.

Trying Everest Beer

Nepali Appetizer Plate

Popcorn as an appetizer

Enjoying a mug of Everest Beer
Today is organized sightseeing in Kathmandu with the 3 other member of our trek.  More on that later.

Kathmandu Day 2

Vegetables at locaL market in Thamel District

More Thamel Street Scenes

More Thamel Scenery

Statue on Durbar Marq Square

Some of the horrendous traffic
After a night trying to recover from jet lag when we are nearly 11 hours ahead, we tried the breakfast provided with the room. The breakfast was pretty good, with a selection of both continental and Nepali/Indian dishes.
With a small amount of shopping left Sean and I headed back to Thamel and wandered around for several hours before trying to find Durbar Square on foot. We finally gave up and stopped for lunch at the Nanglo restaurant which offered a selection of Nepali, Indian and Continental cuisine. We then returned to the hotel to get ready for the 3 PM briefing for our group.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Seattle to Kathmandu

The chauffeur limo arrived right on time and by 1545 both Sean and I were through security and into the lounge at the South Terminal.  Arriving at the business class lounge we sampled some Washington red wines before boarding the Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai, Delhi and then onwards to Kathmandu.  The flight departed right on time at 1730. The service is great and Sean and I enjoy fine wines, spirits and food as we head on a polar route north and then south to Dubai, nearly halfway around the world.  As we head North, Sean can see the Aurora Borealis from his window seat.

Emirates business class has nearly lay flat seats with optional mattress pads.  Each passenger has their own 17 inch LCD TV, reading lights and noise cancelling headphones)  After a delicious dinner (I had a seared tuna appetizer and a beef filet followed by a generous cheese platter while Sean had a Mediterranean Meze appetizer and a chicken curry followed by a chocolate dessert) we watched a movie (I fell asleep very quickly and don’t even remember what I was watching) and then slept for a few hours prior to the landing in Dubai.

Update, it is 3 am Seattle time and most people are still asleep.  The cabin is darkened under a starry sky (in the overhead panels).  After a few hours of sleep I woke up and had a snack and coffee, along with a Hershey’s special dark chocolate bar.  The lie flat beds are long, but not really flat, still at a small incline.  The crew puts mattress pads down under you, and one is quite comfortable. 

Update, breakfast was served about 1 ½ hours before landing in Dubai.  Both Sean and I had the full English breakfast which included scrambled eggs, broiled Portobello mushrooms and veal sausage, along with a fruit plate, Greek yogurt and assorted breads.

We landed on schedule at 7:00PM local time and after clearing security headed to the business class lounge to wait for about two hours before boarding the flight to Delhi.

Update; after a pleasant wait in the lounge, with some samples of Halal food, we boarded the Emirates flight to Delhi.  We definitely dropped down a notch in service and aircraft quality, but the flight was only about three hours in length and we landed without incident in Delhi.  Arriving at the international transfers desk at 3 AM local time we were greeted by an employee with our names and baggage claim numbers, ensuring the bags make the transfer.  After clearing security once again we headed for the Jet Airways shared lounge to spend 2 plus hours waiting for the last flight into Kathmandu.  It has now been 25 hours since the chauffeur car arrived at the house to begin the trip.

While in the lounge Sean checked for his visa photos and could not find them.  We were already headed to the gate for boarding and a check of the shops in the airport did not turn up any visa photo places.  Sean was walking by an open door and saw a fellow using a computer printer and we talked him into helping us.  Patrick took a picture of Sean with his iphone and mailed the photo to the fellow using the printer who then printed out several various sized black and white photos on plain paper.  After a mad dash to the airport gate we boarded buses which took us to the plane for the short flight to Kathmandu.  Breakfast on the plane was forgettable.  Landing in Kathmandu we filled out the visa forms and when Sean presented the large black & white photo and explained the situation, the officer just laughed and accepted the piece of paper.

Our bags arrived intact and after Customs we exited the airport, but no one from the company was around.  A few phone calls later we found that traffic had been heavy and he was still on his way.  After just a few minutes we were in the car and headed in heavy traffic to the Hotel Shanker.

Our first impressions of Kathmandu were of a dusty, smoggy, crowded and dirty city.  Narrow streets, often only partially paved, contained an incredible mix of dogs, the occasional cow, bicycle rickshaws, motorcycles and taxis all competing for the same stretch of road, with the pedestrians dodging everything and overlaid with a cacophony of horns.

By 0915 local time we had turned into what looked like an alley, but there instead was the Hotel Shanker, with landscaped front grounds, a pool and an impressive entrance portico.  The room was clean, with twin beds and we had just time to get a quick shower before we headed out on foot the few blocks to the Himalayan Glacier Trekking office in the Thamel District. We were joined by Eduardo from Brazil who had arrived a day earlier and led by one of the HGT guides.   The narrow streets were crowded with shops selling all kinds of trekking gear, food and souvenirs.
Sean at Hotel Shanker

Typical street in Thamel District

After a short meeting with Narayan Regmi, the managing director for HGT, we were issued our trekking duffel bags and a nice synthetic T-Shirt, given some packing tips and went over the schedule for the next several days.  Since the banks are closed on Saturday we also exchanged some money to have local currency.  We will be joined by two people from Canada who arrive later tonight, so will have a group of five trekkers.

With the meeting completed, our guide for the morning showed us where to get replacement visa photos, SIM cards and inexpensive cell phones for use in Nepal.  These phones only cost about 5 rupees  per minute (about 6 cents) rather than AT&T’s $1.99 per minute.

Sean and I headed back to the hotel for a much needed 2 hour nap and a trial packing of the duffels.  We will be leaving more than we expected here in storage to meet the total weight limits in the duffel of 15 kgs.

About 1630 we headed back on foot to the Thamel district to buy bottled water for the next few days and Sean also purchased a Nokia cell phone, which operates great.  By 1800 it was already mostly dark and we headed back to the hotel where we met up with Eduardo for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  By 2030 both Sean and I hit the “wall” from jet lag and headed back to the room for much needed sleep.