Day 2: Namche Bazar

I am woken up around 4 am by muffled voices coming from people talking outside the lodge. It appears that someone, possibly a trekker, is talking to Dorjee. I drift back to sleep, and wake up thinking that the voices I heard were in a dream.

We get ready and go down stairs for breakfast. We find Dorjee standing outside the lodge smoking. Rahul wants to take a photo with him. But before he could make the request, Dorjee is seen wearing his backpack, getting ready to go somewhere. There are two trekkers with him, a young man and a young woman, both Europeans, l guess. They are wearing bright jackets with the hoods draped over their caps for protection against the cold. Dorjee adjusts a part of the jacket that is covering the neck and chin of the young woman. The three head in the direction of Namche Bazar.

Ngima tells us that Dorjee is going on a mission to rescue someone stricken by altitude sickness. The two trekkers with Dorjee are the sick person’s companions who came early in the morning seeking help. Rahul says that he had heard their conversation early in the morning. So the voices I heard were real, not in a dream. Ngima thinks that the sick trekker may be rescued by a helicopter. I wonder why Dorjee would need to go, if it was going to be a helicopter rescue. I am impressed that the two trekkers were able to come down from Namche during the night. This story is not quite accurate as we will learn later.

We start at 8:30 am after a breakfast of omelette, toast and coffee. For me, this is the most dreaded day of the trek because we ascend over 2500 ft today, an ascent greater than that on any other day. My apprehension increases as I learned yesterday that the effort required may far exceed the net ascend itself. Furthermore, today we cross a threshold in elevation, above which we become vulnerable to mountain sickness. Something within tells me that I may not be able to reach Namche. Oddly, I also feel that if I can reach Namche then I will be able to reach Everest Basecamp.

Soon after leaving Phakding we come to a suspension bridge strung across Dudh Koshi. Ngima carries my trekking poles, and cautions me about the sharp wires sticking out  on the steel cables that serve as hand rails. I contemplate the catenary shape of the bridge stretching in front of me, slats of shiny steel suspended from two steel cables held across the river in tension, draped on the cables are colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind. I walk slowly down the bridge. The bridge is swaying slightly, but it is not hard to get balance or to walk across. On the upslope of the catenary the effort increases, however. There is the effort of walking uphill. Also the bridge seems to increase the weight born by my legs when they meet the bridge on its slight up swing.  There are four more suspension bridges to cross today, Ngima tells us.

With every step uphill I console myself that I have one less step to climb. But invariably there is a downhill descend that frustrates me because every step downhill must be made up by a step uphill. I irrationally wish all of the trail were just a steady climb.

We pass through an area where Rhododendron bushes border the trail. Ngima tells us that Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal. Rahul observes that it is our state flower in West Virginia.

We reach the Sagarmatha National Park entrance gate. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name of Mount Everest. When I first saw the word in English text I read it as the Hindi word Mother (matha) Ocean (sagar) and wondered why such a name for a mountain peak. Later I learned that the word meant the Sky’s (sagar) Forehead (matha) in Nepali. The sherpa name for Mount Everest is Jomolungma, which means “Mother of the World”.

As Ngima is getting the entrance permit from the park office located near the gate, we visit a small museum nearby. A display at the museum shows that the number of visitors to Sagarmatha National Park is steadily growing and exceeded 30,000 in 2008 with more than 50% of the visitors coming from the top five countries UK, Germany, USA, Australia, and Japan. A 3D replica at the museum shows the topography of Mount Everest. I learn that GLOF or Glacial Lake Outburst Flood is a potential danger in the Khumbu region.  Glaciers in the region (and elsewhere in Himalaya) are receding, leaving behind glacial lakes, dammed by end moraines. If a moraine dam fails, the water from the glacial lake will burst out, leading to destructive floods and debris flows. GLOF events have been increasing in recent years, presumably because of global warming.

By noon we reach Jorsalle (8990 ft/2740 m) and stop for lunch at River View Terrace Restaurant. We take a 45-minute lunch break and continue the trek. There are no more villages along the trail until we reach Namche Bazaar.

As we approach another suspension bridge, Ngima spies a couple of trekkers across the river who are about to take a wrong turn on the trail. They don’t have a guide. Ngima shouts across the bridge and tells them which way to go. Ngima tells us that the trail they were going to take would have made them walk a longer distance unnecessarily.

We reach a valley strewn with boulders. I recognize this as the place I saw in the TV show, which motivated me for the trek. The trail is flat and the walk is easy. But this is so atypical of the rest of the trail.

We come to the end of the flat trail. Ngima points to a suspension bridge high up in the sky. It is the Hillary suspension bridge, the fifth and final bridge for the day. I tell him I don’t know how I was going to climb that high and reach the bridge. Ngima smiles and says “slowly, slowly.”

HillaryBridge
Hillary suspension bridge is the higher one in this picture.

After an arduous climb we reach the Hillary suspension bridge. Rahul and I triumphantly pose in front of the bridge for a photograph. What I don’t realize is that the climb after the suspension bridge is twice as high as the climb to the bridge.

From now on the climb is steady uphill. I had disliked descends on the way up because the descends must be compensated by equivalent ascends, adding to the effort. Now my wish has come true, but at the expense of climbing “endless steps,” enduring endless grief.

I try not to think about the rest of the day or even the trail immediately ahead. I just keep looking at the four feet in front of me. I try to banish all thoughts about reaching Namche from my mind, consoling myself that every step I take shortens the trail by one step. I am aware of my heavy breath and pounding heart. I ignore the spectacular scenery surrounding me, focusing only on the trail in front of me.

I wonder whether this is mindful walking. I am fully focussed on the present, the essence of mindfulness meditation, practiced in the west, originating from Budha’s teachings. “Mindfulness helps us to come back to the here and now, to be aware of what is going on in the present moment, and to be in touch with the wonders of life” explains Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. Budha must have been familiar with such arduous mountain paths. I wonder whether the physical paths that Budha took influenced the spiritual path he prescribed.

Soon I become very slow in walking. Ngima is eyeing me with concern and asks whether I am ok. I make frequent stops to catch a breath.

To compound the difficulty, the trail is becoming treacherous at places. Literally and figuratively one foot stands between you and a fatal accident. At some places a bulging rock formation narrows the trail, leaving enough space for only one foot. On the right side is the mountain. The left side of the trail borders a precipice that drops off into an abyss. At places the gravel on the trail is loose. I am dog tired. My cognition is perhaps impaired, and I am liable to take short cuts that could turn out to be dangerous. One misstep is all it takes. Ngima becomes vigilant. He is usually in front of me. Now he moves behind me. He shifts his trekking pole from the usual right hand to the left hand. From the side of my eye I can see his trekking pole repeatedly coming between me and the left edge of the trail. I am pleased that Ngima is taking extra caution to protect me.

We get past the treacherous part of the trail. The climb is still steady. I am completely worn out. Ngima offers to carry my backpack, and I gladly hand it over to him. Shedding that eight pounds gives me great relief. Ngima admonishes me for making the pack too heavy. He thinks that I am carrying snacks for the way, which, he says, the porter could have carried. But actually the bag contains my knee braces and a rain jacket, which I brought along as a precaution. I will not carry them tomorrow.

We reach a police check post outside Namche Bazar, and I rest outside on an embankment while Ngima is getting our papers inspected. A few other trekkers are also waiting outside the check post. I overhear one trekker telling his companion, “Tengboche is only four more hours from here. May be we should go all the way to Tengboche today.” I miss the sarcasm in his tone and am impressed that he is able to even entertain such a possibility. I will meet him later on the trek and realize that he was not serious.

After resting near the check post, I recover some of my strength and am able to carry my backpack the rest of the way. We walk further uphill and reach a gate, which Ngima gladly announces as the gate to Namche. But even after reaching the gate nothing in Namche is on a flat terrain; we still have to walk uphill to reach our tea house lodge.

Whatever I dreaded about this day has come true. The “endless steps” really felt endless. I am exhausted. I am already ready to turn back and go home. But fortunately my knees do not pain, my feet do not have blisters, and I do not develop any symptoms of mountain sickness.  That gives me a glimmer of hope that I might be able to reach the base camp.

Eight hours after we left Phakding we reach Hotel Zambala. It is a new hotel, consisting of a two-story building. The front yard is unfinished. We enter the yard from a corner, stepping down several awkwardly piled loose rocks. A dog greets us at the entrance. As Ngima goes inside the hotel, I plump down on a plastic chair kept on the front yard. Ngima comes back and beckons us into the dining room. It is nice and warm inside. Ngima tells us that the owner’s wife is his relative. Her picture with her mother in law, both in traditional Sherpa clothing, is hanging on the dining room wall. Her son, eight- or nine-year old, is lying on a bed at the far end of the dining room, watching a cartoon movie on the TV.

Rahul complains of a headache. We have garlic soup and vegetable momos for dinner. Rahul takes an Advil, and feels better quickly.

Ngima shows us his room and tells us to call him at night, in case there is a problem. Altitude sickness could start in Namche.

We go to bed at 7 pm. Later at night I start getting a headache, and my head starts to spin. I feel that I did not drink enough water. The valve on the hydration pack was not working properly, and I was getting only a trickle as I sucked on the valve. I realize that I might be dehydrated because my urine does not meet the specifications in the astutely stated alliterations “pale and plentiful” or “clear and copious”. I try to rehydrate myself by keeping a water bottle inside my sleeping bag and drinking the water frequently at night. By morning I feel better.

Elevations
Namche Bazar           11,286′ (3440 m)

Fitbit statistics

No of steps Miles walked Calories burned Floors climbed
22,835 10.3 3,178 469
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Day 1: Lukla and Phakding

The hotel lobby calls our room at 5 am and reminds us that we must leave for the airport immediately. Madhav and Ngima are already waiting in the lobby. Rahul and I hurry down to the lobby, and we all leave the hotel at 5:15 am. We experience no delay on the way as the traffic is very light. We reach the airport in about twenty minutes.

As we hurry to check in, Madhav adorns us with marigold garlands, something he intended to — but could not — do yesterday while receiving us at the airport. The airline company does not allow us to carry the garland on the airplane.

The airport is chaotic as a number of morning flights are taking off to various destinations. Travelers prefer early morning flights because the mountain weather is relatively calm in the morning and could unexpectedly turn bad later in the day, causing flight cancellations. Madhav has booked us the first flight to Lukla.

We check in at the Tara Air counter. I am concerned that our unlabeled sleeping bags, loosely tied to the duffel bags may not reach Lukla. Ngima assures me that they would reach. We wait at the terminal for the flight to be announced with other travelers, many of them appearing to be from Europe or America. I eye other travelers with trepidation and spot several in my age group.

The flight is announced, and we board a bus to go to the aircraft. We wait in the bus as the pilot inspects the aircraft and our luggage is loaded.

TaraAirCraft
Tara Air aircraft being readied for the flight to Lukla

The aircraft is a Twin Otter DHC-6/400, a Canadian 19-passenger STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) utility aircraft. It is small, full and cramped with passengers seated in rows of three. The air hostess is friendly and welcoming. She distributes candies, and cotton for plugging the ears.

A friendly Nepali man turns back from the seat in front of us and asks:

You are from India, deep south. Right?
Yes, I am originally from Kerala.
I guessed it from your accent. Are you going all the way to the basecamp or turning back from Namche?
We will try to go all the way to the basecamp.

He has been to the basecamp 30-40 times and shows me a smart phone photo of Mount Everest taken during one of those trips. It’s peeking from behind other mountains and does not measure up to the Mount Everest in my imagination. He asks whether we have a guide. His advice: listen to your guide; take your time, it is not a contest; and drink plenty of water.

The tiny aircraft is flying between and well below towering mountain peaks. Fortunately, the weather is calm. There is no turbulence, and the visibility is good.

About forty-five minutes later, the edge of the runway at the Tensing-Hillary airport in Lukla appears into view suddenly. The aircraft traverses the 1600 ft runway that slopes up at a 12% grade. The pilot successfully makes the ninety degree turn at the end of the runway and brings the aircraft to a stop.

This airport was named as the number one extreme airport in the world by an H2-channel show. The challenges include fog, turbulence, wind shear, short runway, high elevation, proximity of mountain peaks, and a mountain weather prone to unexpected changes. The edge of the runway is about 2000 ft above a valley. Once the pilot decides to land there is no turning back in the thin air, and there is no instrument landing system to assist the pilot. Perhaps because of the suddenly rising fog, an aircraft crashed in 2008 killing 18 people on board, mostly German tourists.

The Lukla airport opened in 1964, realizing a vision of Edmund Hillary, who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach Everest summit. Following that ascent at age 33, Hillary devoted much of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal. It was clear to him that an airstrip would be required for transporting materials needed for the schools he was building for educating Sherpa children. The airstrip was built by Sherpas. They cut shrubs, broke stones, and paved the airstrip during the day. At night around hundred of them, invigorated by sherpa beer, walked up and down the airstrip to tamp down the stones and to flatten the airstrip. The asphalted runway was constructed only in 2001.

The friendly Nepali man tells me that he and his Nepali colleague are taking their friends from US Jackie and Charlie to view the mountains. They will take a helicopter flight from Lukla to a place with a good view of the mountains and return to Kathmandu later in the day. This is part of Jackie and Charlie’s honeymoon trip. Jackie is beaming, good-natured, and visibly excited. Her good nature and excitement seems to spill over to her companions. Charlie is quietly fidgeting with his camera.  When the airplane door opens, Jackie wishes us good luck with our trek and hurries out with her companions to catch their helicopter flight. I wish her well, perhaps silently.

I have the impression that the weather may not be cold in Lukla because Madhav had told us to carry shorts. However, we step out of the aircraft into freezing cold; the temperature is perhaps around 30 oF. We zip up our light jackets and quickly don our caps. We ask Ngima whether we should take out the down jackets from our duffel bags. Ngima assures us that it will warm up as soon as the sun starts shining.

Our flight is a half hour late. On our way to the terminal building we pass passengers that have already formed a line near the runway to board the return flight.

Ngima introduces us to his cousin and our porter Pramod. They have already collected our baggage, including our sleeping bags. The steep climb from the airport to a restaurant nearby foretells what’s to come later in the day. We go to Paradise Lodge & Restaurant for breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast and tea. We compliment the lodge owner’s wife for her good spoken English.

The trek starts around 8:30 am after breakfast. We stop at a bank to convert dollars into Nepalese rupees for expenses on the trek. Our trekking fee covers lodging, breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we must pay for bottled water, soft drinks, beer, snacks, wi-fi, and charging electronic gadgets.

We go past a check post, and report all our electronic gadgets: iPad, iPhones, and GoPros. I ask whether there is a charge for carrying photographic equipment. Ngima tells me that the authorities keep a record of the items, to help them in case an item is reported lost or stolen during the trek. I am unsure how the record will help.

Located next to the check post is the National Luminary Pasang Lhamu Memorial Gate, named after Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who in 1993 became the first Nepalese woman to summit Mount Everest, but perished during her descend as the weather turned bad. (On 16 May 1975, Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman to reach the summit.)

Trek entrance
National luminary Pasang Lhamu memorial gate

Through the gate we enter the Lukla – Everest Base Camp Trekking Trail. My practice walks have not prepared me at all for this trail with its steep up hill climbs, steep down hill descends, and rocks of various sizes strewn all over. I realize that if I am not careful I could twist my ankle and end my trek right then on the first day. I learn not to look beyond four feet in front of me, most of the time. Otherwise, the seemingly endless trail in front of me is disheartening. Also, I am concerned about tripping on the rocks.

I mentally thank whoever recommended a good pair of trekking shoes for that great advice. Also I thank whoever recommended the trekking poles. I am using them for the first time and realize that they are not only knee savers, but also life savers. They are a tremendous help to reduce the stress on the knees, especially while going downhill. They also help propel me up hill. (My left wrist has healed enough that it can bear the weight.) More importantly, I am able to steady myself while walking the trail strewn with rocks and loose gravel. Without their support I could lose my footing and fall off the trail.

The trails are etched on the sides of enormous mountains. The outer edge of the trail could drop off hundreds of feet, making sections of the trail treacherous. When you stand on the trail and look around, there is much to take in. You can at once feel your insignificance as well as your luck being a part of the breath-taking awesomeness that surrounds you:

And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.

― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

After an hour’s walk we reach a chorten in the middle of the trail. Chorten (Tibetan) or stupa (Hindi) is a heap of stones, some of them inscribed with the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. I ask Ngima about the meaning of the mantra. He says wisely that it means Om Namah Sivaya, which he knows that I will understand as a Hindu.  Later I learn that a literal translation of the mantra does not reveal its deeper meaning about the nature of suffering and, as Dalai Lama explains, how the union of compassion and wisdom enables one to transform into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. This is hard to comprehend at first. Then I realize that this is not unlike the mathematical equations I use as a scientist. One equation, for example, contains three terms, and the meaning of each term can be readily stated as the time-derivative of density and so on. But that by itself does not reveal the equation’s meaning that mass is neither created nor destroyed or the even deeper truth that the laws of physics do not change with time itself.

We see many prayer wheels with mantras written on them. Turning the prayer wheel is believed to have the same meritorious effect as chanting the mantras.

Ngima explains that we must always keep the chorten on our right hand side while passing it. I get distracted while listening to Ngima. As I take the next step down, I slip and fall awkwardly and unwisely get up immediately. It is a potentially dangerous fall; I could have twisted my ankle or broken a bone. Fortunately, I am not hurt. Ngima immediately suggests that we take a break. We stop at a teahouse close by, to drink tea.

Soon we see a train of dzopkyo or dzo, a cross-breed between a yak and a cow. In the train there are 8 or 9 dzos, all of them wearing around their necks bells that announce their arrival. The leader dzo knows, which way to go. The others follow it. The herdsman walks behind the train and calls out commands to keep the train moving. Ngima tells us to move to the uphill side of the trail, stop and wait until the train passes. He pushes away the dzos that occasionally come close to us. They have sharp horns and could hurt us, if they take a swing at us.

We encounter more dzo trains and donkey trains on the way. The trains are carrying provisions for people and the teahouse lodges uphill: cooking gas, kerosene, rice, etc. The donkey trains cannot go higher than Namche Bazaar. On uphill climbs, occasionally a donkey would stop for a moment, perhaps to catch a breath. Its beautiful eyes seem to search where to step next to continue the journey.

Porters pass us carrying loads in oversized baskets called doko, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. They carry the doko on their back and support it by a head strap called namlo. They appear to possess superhuman powers for carrying heavy loads that can exceed their body weight. Furthermore, they do this feat on long, steep up hill climbs, at high elevations, where the air is thin. Not surprisingly, they are the most energy-efficient load-carriers in the world, per scientists from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. Part of the reason for the high-efficiency is thought to be their rice diet, which makes the CO2-production to oxygen-consumption ratio low – just below 1. As the porters walk up hill with heavy loads, they bend almost sixty degrees to the vertical, supporting themselves with a short, stout T-shaped walking stick called tokma.

Ngima tells us that many Sherpa names are based on the day of the week the child is born: Ngima is Sunday; Dawa, Monday; Migmar, Tuesday; Lhagpa, Wednesday; Phurba, Thursday; Pasang, Friday;  and Penba, Saturday. There is an Ang in front of Ngima’s name, which he explains is similar to a Bahadur or Singh found at the end of many Nepali or Indian names. The basecamp trail goes through the Solukhumbu District, home to Sherpas. Ngima’s family is originally from lower Solukhumbu. Sherpas migrated from Tibet some six hundred years ago and speak a Tibetic language. Sherpas follow Buddhism, whereas the majority of Nepalese are Hindus. Ngima tells us that Hindus and Buddhists live in harmony.

We see one tourist with a vacant expression on her face going toward Lukla on the back of a mule. A sherpa girl is tending the mule, walking by its side. Ngima thinks that the tourist is probably going back because she could not continue with the trek.

Ngima gets a call on his cell phone. He tells us that the call is from his wife who is working in cypress. I mistake cypress for some company or agency in Kathmandu. No, it is Cypress the country, Ngima clarifies. His wife is a household worker in Cypress, working 24 hours a day, earning €500 per month. Ngima is 32 and she is 30.They have a three-year old daughter, Choten, who lives with Ngima and his parents in Kathmandu. Ngima didn’t seem happy about the situation. “What to do, he says, “the economic conditions are not good in Nepal.” His wife is from Darjeeling in India and studied English there. She was working at a school for small children. When she lost her job, she could not find another one in Nepal. She will be back after three years.

We come to the first suspension bridge on our trek, the Mudslide bridge. The flat trail approaching the bridge is covered by loose, brown dirt. I feel a moment of joy, seeing what appears to be familiar terrain for me. But I trip and fall. Hidden under the loose dirt are ledges, which I did not see. I am not injured as the dirt is soft. The bridge is swaying as we walk across. Ngima helps me cross the bridge. He doesn’t want me to hold the handrails as the sharp ends of the wires wound around them may cut my hand.

Now an arduous up hill trail comes up. I focus only on my next step, not looking further ahead on the trail. It is important to ensure that my next step is sure. I use the trekking poles to find spaces between the rocks for a soft landing and to propel me uphill.

A large group of trekkers, mostly American teens in bright red jackets, talking excitedly, comes behind us. We give way, and the group quickly walks past us, like a fast train.

We take a second break. Phakding is now only one hour away. It’s a steady climb from here on.

We have been walking in parallel to the Dudh Koshi river for a while, but could not see it as it is a short distance away from the trail. But now the river flows almost perpendicular to the trail before turning, becoming parallel to the trail, and we get to see and hear its milky white and blue waters, gurgling through the rocks.

DudhKoshi-Phakding
Dudh Koshi River

About four hours after leaving Lukla, we reach Budha Lodge in Phakding. The climb is more arduous than I had expected, an expectation perhaps based on the fact that Phakding is at a lower elevation than Lukla. I reprove myself for forgetting the thermodynamic principle that work is a path function, which does not depend on the starting and ending states, and depends only on the path between them. There are few straight paths on this mountain trail; it goes up one mountain, down to a valley, up another mountain and so on. My apprehension about tomorrow’s trek increases. If the “easy” trek is this hard, what about trekking on the “endless steps” to Namche Bazaar?

We go to our room, on the second floor, taking a steep staircase that could qualify as a ladder. The amenities in the lodge are limited as expected, but the lodge is cleaner than I had thought. The porter is unloading our bags. We leave our back packs in the room and go down to the dining room for lunch. Ngima brings us the menu and takes the order, writing it down in a notebook. We pick the standard Nepali fare Dal Bhat (lentils and rice) with vegetables and a papadam, which costs about four dollars.

After lunch Rahul goes out for taking pictures and sightseeing. I come back to the room, remove the sweaty clothes, wear shorts and a sweater. The room is cold. The bed and comforter are invitingly clean. I crawl under the comforter, shivering uncontrollably. I worry about the cold at night.

The dinner is served at 6:30 pm. I order garlic soup and fried rice; Rahul, a noodle dish. Ngima tells us that garlic soup is a good antidote for high elevation. After dinner, Ngima brings us grapes and a banana, fruits that he brought with him from Kathmandu. This is going to be a daily practice.

After dinner we pick up a conversation with Ngima and the lodge employee Santosh. An older gentleman man joins the conversation. I had seen him earlier in the day, walking around the lodge with a pair of pliers in his hands, and had taken him to be a handy man. He talks about his trips to Alaska, Boston, Quebec and other places in a good English accent. I am curious about what took him to those places. He says that he trains people for mountain climbing. Then I learn that he is Dorjee Sherpa, who has summited Everest six times, and has appeared in a 1996 IMAX movie about climbing Mount Everest, as a member of the movie crew. On the dining room wall is a framed newspaper article with the headline “Bernard Voyer à l’assaut du sommet du grandiose.” At the bottom of the article is Dorjee’s photo and a tribute to him entitled “un guide émerveillé” (a marvelous guide). Hanging next to the newspaper article is a photo of Mount Everest autographed “to dear friend Dorjee” by Bernard Voyer. Dorjee is originally from Lukla, but built this lodge on his wife’s property located in Phakding. On April 16th he is going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Last April when an avalanche — triggered by the earth quake — struck the basecamp, Dorjee was eating lunch with twenty others in a tent there. The avalanche killed seventeen people at the basecamp (and five people at other locations on the mountain). He and his companions in the tent were unhurt. It was the wind, which came with the avalanche, that knocked down people on the rocks, injuring or killing them. A Peruvian climber from Dorjee’s tent ran out in panic. She was knocked down by the wind and hit the rocks face down. Fortunately, she survived, although with broken front teeth.

Before Dorjee told us this story, I had not heard about the wind that came with the avalanche. Later I read Eric Simonson’s (International Mountain Guides) description in a blog: “The earthquake caused a huge block of ice to fall from the ice cliff in the saddle between Pumori and Lingtren: This saddle is at 6150m and EBC is 5360m, so the difference is 790m (or about 2,591 ft). The tons and tons of falling ice going this vertical distance created a huge aerosol avalanche and accompanying air blast that hit the upper part of Everest BC and blew many tents across the Khumbu Glacier towards the lower Icefall”.

On our way to the room we see Santosh watching on TV a live 20-20 cricket match between New Zealand and India.  New Zealand is batting and the score is 54 runs for three wickets with 11.2 overs remaining. Santosh is hopeful that the Kiwis will be contained within 120 runs. Then Indian batsmen will be able to lead their team to victory. Santosh has confidence in the Indian batsmen Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli.

Santosh studied maths and economics in Kathmandu and is now working in Buddha lodge. He has a good opinion about President Obama’s good interaction with the rest of the world. “How is Prime Minister Modi? Seems all talk and no action,” he asks. “Rising through the BJP ranks and beating Rahul Gandhi is by itself a gift to democracy and India, even if he ends up doing nothing else,” I observe.

My worry about the cold at night is unfounded. We put the sleeping bag on the bed, and cover it with a comforter. And the fleece liner inside the sleeping bag provides another layer of insulation. In a little while after we crawl inside the liner, it becomes comfortably warm. But if you forget that the room is actually very cold and touch anything metallic like an iPad, you are in for a shock.

Elevations
Lukla            8,950′ (2728 m)
Phakding    8,661′ (2640 m)

Fitbit statistics

No of steps Miles walked Calories burned Floors climbed
17,303 7.81 2,766 219