NEPAL: Eat Pray Hike – Life on a Himalayan Trail Part 1.We had arrived in Lukla about lunchtime. Outside our tea-hut were a few Dzopkyo – a cross between a cow and a yak, these beasts of burden are made use of at elevations below 3400m, animals that the Sherpa people consider more valuable than a pure bred Yak. Yet, they weren’t ours to appropriate – we had four personal porters each be lugging two of our 15 kilo bags.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
We had luckily arrived in Lukla about lunchtime after a four hour Kathmandu airport delay. Outside our tea-hut were a few Dzopkyo – a cross between a cow and a yak, these beasts of burden are made use of at elevations below 3400m, animals that the Sherpa people consider more valuable than a pure bred Yak. Yet, they weren’t ours to appropriate – we had four personal porters who would each be lugging two of our 15kilo bags.
Two days earlier plenty of praying wheels where being spun in the hope the bad weather bomb that hit the surrounding villages would clear. It had stranded upwards of 2000 hikers closing the airport for six days. Located at 2800m, Lukla only has a population of about 1500 people but it’s the gateway and exit to and from the eastern Himalaya and the pinnacle of all mountains, Everest.
After lunch we began our trek. Our first camp was about two hours away in the small village of Ghat at 2600m. Here in a small parchment of field were eight bright orange permanently pitched two-man tents, four side-by-side composting toilets, as well as a cozy, kerosene lamp-lit dining and breakfast hut. By 4.30pm a goldeneye of sun was setting behind snow-capped mountains and the scene was one of inspiration and self-indulgent delight.
Our group of eight hardy-souls was accompanied by Yum Yum, our cook, five kitchen hands, a total of 11 porters, three trail guides and Anj, our Sidar (head guide). Beyond a Stupa and prayer wheels, the village’s fields were in crop rotation with small plots of land sprouting organic greens as bok choi, cabbage, radish, spring onions, cauliflower, carrots and potatoes. Our first nights meal consisted of a spicy soup, chicken curry, mixed vegetables, rice and a pineapple desert.
The final end to the meal is then always reserved for pouring boiling water into our drinking bottles – which everyone soon learned were best kept tucked away as hot water bottles in sleeping bags at this altitude.
Each morning started at 6am with a ‘tap, tap’ on our tent flap followed by hot tea poured from a big aluminum kettle. Fifteen minutes later hot water was distributed into a bowls by the tent-flaps – our regular morning, wash and rinse basin. Once our camping gear was packed away, breakfast started about 7am, usually with a hot cordial drink, black tea, a bowl of porridge followed by a cooked breakfast. By 8am we were on the dusty trail, boot-legging it whilst trying to avoiding freshly deposited dung as well as the sharp horns of passing Dzopkyo.
Life on the trail was a constant progress of people and animals progressing to either higher or lower elevations. Porters and old women sitting on crumpling steps talked on mobile phones, satellite dishes rested on the roofs of wooden tea-houses as children played antiquated games in the dirt and dust of time.
We had a daily routine: Eat, Pray, Hike. Most days we woke up, packed our kit, ate breakfast and then hiked most of the morning. In my case I also spun a prayer wheel at every opportunity hoping that the drugs would quickly kick in to fend off my fire-breathing dragon of a toothache.
At our second camp, Monjo, at an altitude 2850m we had an afternoon to ourselves to relax or wander. I wrote notes in between looking up at a glacier that peeled off a jagged mountain peak. Dinner was a feast of French fries, fresh beans and carrots, and chicken with Pita bread – another Master Chef winner from Yum Yum.
Our group consisted of six Australians, one Brit and one Kiwi. Each day as we climbed higher the trail teemed with hikers. On one of our rest stops, Andrew from Hobart remarked, “We’ll need to indicate to get back into the traffic it’s so busy.” We then crossed over three suspension bridges above chalky-white glacial waters that roared and snaked their way over boulders and bends towards the plains of Nepal.
Our lead guide was called Bebe. His favourite saying was, “Rest is best,” as we took adequate opportunity to rest our weary body parts on large river boulders worn as smooth as Tibetan silk. We arrived at Namche Bazar about lunchtime and for added comfort stayed at the Hotel Sherwi Khangba. By this time I was doubled-over with a severe bout of ‘Delhi Belly’ and combined with my toothache, put me straight to bed in pain by late afternoon for 13 hours.
The next morning at 8.45am with another dose of antibiotics and Diastop tablets I was able to hike with the group to the Everest View Hotel. The exception was Maureen who by this point had caught the flu and wisely stayed in and around the village. This was an ideal acclimatization hike to almost 4000m and a great chance to see Everest and some surrounding peaks without a cloud in the sky.
One of the challenges of altitude hiking is to get into a rhythm every morning. Stiff or not, every day for 12-16 days constantly your legs have to support your body and backpack and the best way to do that is to set yourself a pace that suits your physical fitness and age.
Back on the trail the sound of Yak bells jangled as we hiked higher when Sam from the UK casually remarked, “I might have to get the missus one of those bells so I’ll know where she is all the time.” At first the trail was leisurely but soon became steeper and stepped, zigzagging its way higher to where we spotted Himalayan Pheasant (Nepal’s national bird) and in the distance a few Himalayan Tar (Nepal’s craggy mountain goats). My breathing became heavier and heavier with my heart pounding as though about to burst through my rib cage.
At 4037m we stopped for lunch in Mongla, a speckle of tea huts on the ridge of a mountain that was being buffeted by a numbingly cold wind, leaving lines of unfurled prayer flags fluttering in tatters. The ridge was shrouded in cloud. Inside the warmth of the tea house it smelt of smoke and charcoal as we ate lunch: a noodle, spinach and vegetable soup, curried vegetables with tinned sardines in a sauce and Tibetan bread followed by apple pie!
In the early afternoon we descended off the ridge down to 3690m and the small village of Portse Tenga. The campsite was set back from the river on an upper grass terrace with views of the valley along the opaque milky-coloured Dusa Kosi River. Mist soon started to envelop the campsite as the air turned colder and tent flaps began to freeze hard.
During the day I’d developed a slight headache cold and runny nose, enough to send me to my sleeping bag early. I woke after about an hour, had dinner and by 7pm returned to my tent running a fever and added more layers of clothing inside my down bag to keep warm.
Through the flap of my two-man tent I could just see trees that were in autumn hues of deep reds, rusty shades of honey and gun smoke gray in which small birds flitted about. Only the sound of the river was louder that the noise of the birds. At this altitude I woke up regularly tossing and turning as my resting heart beat was interrupted by bouts of oxygen gulping gasps for air with heart thumping furiously.
In the morning the mist had lifted and all around were dry stone walls forming field boundaries. Many were barren or fallow, others held a few yaks. The next phase of the journey would be slower. We’d be gaining altitude and it would get much harder . . . it was what we had come all this way for. To climb our own personal Everest, to summit the peak of Gokyo Ri at 5340m.
Part 2 will be in issue April/May 2012.
Shane Boocock would like to thank World Expeditions in Auckland for the outstanding organisation that went into arranging this Himalayan trek, staying in their purpose built, permanent tented camps and eco-lodges in the Solo Khumbu region of Everest.
World Expeditions is at the forefront of developing permanent tented campsites in the mountain regions of Nepal where they operate. It’s proven to be a far more private experience staying in a permanent tent site than eating and sleeping in a crowded tea-house used by other trekking organisations. By setting a whole range of new standards, there is far less chance of catching infections as they sterilize all their own equipment, plates and cutlery etc. Each campsite has just eight large, head-high standing room two-man tents, each with single raised beds and mattresses. They have also have purpose-built stone huts for use as communal dining/breakfast rooms, composting toilets, use recycled paper and collect tank water for clients use.
Level 2, 35 High Street
T: +64 9 368 4161
Shane Boocock would also like to kindly thank Kathmandu for their generous support and use of their high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment that was supplied for his trip to Nepal. T: 0800 001 234 or visit www.kathmandu.co.nz to find your nearest store.
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.