Two years ago today: Walking the Everest Base Camp Trail: I creep into Kathmandu in the small hours when only giant mountain dogs and stray donkeys roam the streets. After two nights at the wondrous Himalayan Traveller’s Inn, Thamel (now the Hotel Sapana Gardens), I creep out again in the dawn to fly to Lukla. It is the best of times. The twin-prop alights like a butterfly on a rhododendron blossom on the steeply sloping runway at this, the ‘most dangerous airport in the world’. Of a sudden you are in a Middle Ages overlain with 1950’s holiday camp. It is simply awesome, as are the dizzying vistas. This is clearly not the First World. If you are not proofed against Rabies, Hepatitis, Cholera, Encephalitis, Meningitis, Typhoid…the juxtaposition of the First and Third World, stay home.
Garden Restaurant, Himalayan Travellers Inn, Thamel, Kathmandu.
Early morning at Kathmandu airport: the smog completely obliterates the vast Himalayas which otherwise tower over this 5 million + city.
Our plane abandoning us in Lukla, falls off the mountainside.
I have a day waiting for my friend Steve (Tully) Hutcheson to arrive. I leave Lukla for a walk, first towards Bom, delightfully pronounced ‘bum’. If I had my druthers I would exclusively walk such backcountry trails and eschew the EBC altogether. There is so much peace and quiet, and no doubt the ‘real’ Nepal. Just outside Lukla these Himalayan pigs are clearly worshipping the Buddha in the westering light as they await further reincarnations. Further on I encounter another reality of the Third World in the raw. Two beautiful pre-teen girls were just returning to their makeshift mud floored home with teetering baskets of firewood twigs to unchill their leaky abode. Their goats always happy with this life played on the roof. A tricky power cable snakes through the thatch. They were also connected to satellite, their feet in the dust and their heads in the stars.
Dogs awaiting reincarnation contemplate the Buddha.
Quaint accommodation perhaps, but I am glad too of our own modest home at Jeeralang Junction built also from the local earth and entirely with our own hands.
Close up. To underline that culture is humanity’s primary ‘need’, NB that a woman’s flowers bloom in pride of place even amidst this humble dwelling. The clothes are washed; the children clean.
Further down the valley I visit the local power station and the power station worker’s abode. Clearly no militant trade unions here! In Lukla I stay at the Lama Lodge in the main street http://www.booking.com/hotel/np/lama-lodge-and-restaurant-lukla.html. It has the virtue that you can book online and safely leave a bag for your return, which I did. The food is also excellent and the owners cheerful and delightful. Net it is as cheap as anywhere.
The immense physical effort of creating and linking these micro-hydro projects all over Nepal with sheer muscle power is astonishing.
Our CFMEU (union) would have the workers ‘out’ if forced to live and work in such accommodation…they do have power and satellite however!
My cosy room at the Lama Lodge.
In the afternoon I climb the hill behind the town into the rhododendron forests to gain some extra altitude acclimatisation. This is our strategy here: ‘Climb high, sleep low’, climb higher. You must also add in a ‘rest’ day where you sleep at the same altitude twice every 500 metres’ increase in elevation. I added ½ tab of Diamox twice daily to this regime (on my doctor’s advice) to prevent altitude sickness. All are excellent stratagems.
View from the tarmac (Lukla).
Climb up into the rhododendron forests above and you can see the town laid out below you.
Lukla is a pretty town perched high on a flattish space on the side of a mountain at 2800 metres. It has a modern high school accommodating 400 students. The Nepalis are busily pulling themselves up by their own bootlaces. There are many shops selling practically everything imaginable. NB: If you arrived here to start the EBC in just your shorts and thongs, providing you had a wallet full of money you could purchase all you need along the way. It would no doubt be even chaper than purchasing your supplies elsewhere. Right here in the main street a seamstress crafts perfect copies of North Face, Columbia & etc. Each town and village you pass is cluttered with goods and folks eager to sell them to you.
The High School nestled below the forest.
Part of the main street. The shops stretch this for hundreds of metres.
Donkeys and oxen are everywhere.
Next morning I meet Steve at the airport. We ‘do’ a quick tour of the town (Lukla), have some breakfast then are away on our EBC hike. Right at the edge of town the path begins. Throughout it is ‘constructed’ of irregular broken stone, requiring a peripatetic step-up, step down, step carefully…avoid the dizzying abysses. Cleave to the inside edge. Give way to yaks and porters wielding heavy loads…
Steve arrives and begins immediately to get into the spirit of things, contemplating his navel, etc.
The path goes ever on and on… To be continued.