We repack our duffel bags, and go down to the dining room for breakfast. The cook at Hotel Zambala is creative and has newly introduced an apple pancake in the menu. I choose the pancake instead of the usual omelette and toast. I am served a large, thick, dry pancake. And there is no syrup. I swallow bits of the pancake with some difficulty.
The weather is clear as we walk out of the lodge. My head starts spinning as I walk. I hope it is because of spending too much time on the bed yesterday, and not a sign of altitude sickness.
From Namche first there is a steady climb. Twenty minutes into the climb I feel like giving up and going back to the lodge. I have recognized this as a trick that the body plays from experience. Some days during the long walks back home, I used to get the urge to stop and turn back about twenty minutes into the walk. But through persistence I used to overcome that urge. I persist here as well, and the feeling eventually goes away. Soon my head also stops spinning.
Ngima tells us about the effect of climate change on the Himalaya. Sometimes snow disappears from some of the mountains. He seems to be concerned about its effect on the region.
Finally, the climb brings us to a trail high up. On our way to Namche we had seen this trail and the Hillary suspension bridge high up in the sky. Now at a great distance down below we can see the Hillary suspension bridge. What had appeared to be up in the sky, now appears way down below.
This is a relatively straight trail, easy to walk. There is a great view of Mount Everest from the trail. We stop near a stupa on the trail, to rest and take photos. A few other trekkers are also taking a break. Two young Russian women are asking about the way to some place. They ask someone else’s guide as they don’t have a guide of their own.
Ngima notices that my nose is bleeding. I clean up and hope it is caused by a dry nose.
Presently we start to descend. It seems such a waste of effort to have come up all this way only to go down, and then climb back up again. Ngima points out a trail winding up hill in the distance, which we are to take after lunch. Four hours after we left Namche we reach Phungi Thenga and stop for lunch. We order our standard fare, Dal Bhat.
There is one other customer in the dining room, a small built woman in her mid thirties. She came before us and has finished eating lunch. She is from Kolkata, India where she owns a business in manufacturing ball-point pens for export. She is an experienced trekker. She likes to trek alone, not with a group. It is a spiritual journey for her, and she believes that mountains should not be disrespected by drinking and partying, which often happen in large groups. The only time she went with a group was for Kailash Parikrama — trekking at elevations ranging from 16,142′ to 18,373′ around Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Siva of Hindu trinity — because China, where the mountain is located, issues visa only for groups of tourists, not for individuals. She has trekked in Tibet and Ladakh. The trails she saw is Tibet are much less developed than the Everest base camp trail. In Ladakh she spent 45 days completely cut off from the civilization. Because of her status as a single, Indian woman she received permission from Indian government to visit places that are inaccessible even to journalists from the National Geographic. She also visited Khardung La or Khardung pass, which is at the same altitude as the base camp, but can be reached by a two-hour car drive from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. I don’t understand why it takes eight days of acclimatization to reach basecamp, but only two hours to Khardung La. Later I learn that people that go to Khardung La by car stay there for less than a half-hour and then drive back to a lower altitude. Even then some people need to take diamox tablets.
She asks me: “You have no prior experience, and you start with the mother of all treks?” I tell her that my daughter asked me a similar question. My reasoning is that I would rather try this trek and fail than try something simpler and become discouraged from attempting this trek later. My interest is in trekking to Everest base camp, not in trekking itself.
She tells me that she can’t imagine how she is going to go down after she reaches the base camp. Perhaps she will fake illness and get a helicopter ride down, she jokes. I tell her that I am not thinking of anything other than the four feet of trail in front of me. I will think about the return journey also four feet at a time as I descend. She bids us good luck and leaves with her guide. After about five minutes I see her crossing a suspension bridge near the lodge.
Before leaving the lodge I visit the toilet, which is basically a hole on the wooden floor with a heap of mulch four feet below it. Perhaps the waste is disposed off by burning the soiled mulch.
The next four hours we steadily climb uphill. This trail is a bit less difficult than the trail to Namche. But the altitude has a telling effect. I am walking in slow motion, taking one step at a time and breathing heavily. I have to take frequent stops to catch a breath and calm down my pounding heart.
A young Sherpa woman in denims and a light jacket runs past us downhill. Her doko (basket) is empty. She is going back to Namche after delivering goods higher up on the trail. Her music device is playing deewangi, deewangi, deewangi hai (obsession, obsession, it is obsession), the refrain from a Vishal-Shekhar song in the film Om Shanti Om, a song to which Shah Rukh Khan dances with many old and new Bollywood stars. The petite Sherpa woman is joyously skipping down the hill, as if dancing to the rhythm of the song, like Julie Andrews in the film Sound of Music. Within minutes I see her on the trail way down the hill.
I see Ngima effortlessly walking in front of me. I see Promod effortlessly carrying seventy pounds up hill at this high altitude, unaided by trekking poles. It is clear that the uphill climb is easy for them as they are talking loudly and laughing. If they are doing all the hard work, what’s the big deal with this trek? Is it too hyped up? Some people have raised such questions, and at times I have had such doubts as well. Now that I am experiencing the hard climb, heavy breathing, pounding heart and lurking dangers, I realize that it is indeed a big deal for me, in spite of the able assistance provided by Ngima and Pramod.
A group of fifteen to twenty South Korean trekkers pass us on their way down hill and greet us with a Namaste.
Ngima tells me that he wants to move on from the guide’s job. He has experience working as a factory floor supervisor in Nepal. But that job did not pay well. He has also worked in Malaysia. Many of his friends have moved on to Japan and America. He has considered various options such as working as a Gurkha Guard or as an Indian cook. He knows how to cook Indian dishes such as Chicken Tandoori. I understand his motivation to find new opportunities and know that he will do well in any job. Had he been born in America surely he would have flourished, perhaps in the middle management. But I am not sure that his personal quality of life will improve, if he moves out of this area, where he seems to have so much fun talking and laughing with his relatives, friends, and acquaintances all along the way.
As we approach Tengboche clouds start to descend on the trail. We stop for rest. Fernando’s group comes soon after us and stops to take rest. When we started the ascend from Phungi Thenga we saw a sign that said “Tengboche — 2 hours.” We have trekked for two hours, and Tengboche is nowhere in sight. Fernando says that they must be lying about the time. I joke that the board must be written in Sherpa time. “Yes,” he agrees, “two hours for the Sherpas and six hours for everyone else!”
We reach Tengboche and continue on to Deboche, which is at a lower elevation. We reach Paradise Lodge, Deboche 7.5 hours after we left Namche. Rahul has a fuzzy feeling in his head. Ngima suggests that perhaps he should take half a diamox tablet (125 mg). But we decide to wait until he eats dinner.
The common area has a warm stove at the center with four benches around it. It feels very nice to sit in front of it after the long day of trekking. Everywhere else it is bitterly cold. Vapors of sweat rise from our clothes. Some trekkers are drying their wet socks and clothes drenched in sweat.
In the teahouse lodges in Phakding and Namche, it appeared that we were the only clients. In Deboche there are many clients, and the dining room is nearly full. There is one group of nine trekkers and three guides. Two Aussies, three Brits and four Americans, one of their guides tells us. There are five men and four women, including two couples. One trekker from Cambridge, U.K. is playing a game of chess with a guide. He is a bit irritated as another guide, watching the game, makes suggestions about possible moves. Four trekkers are playing a card game. One woman is arranging for a hot shower, which costs $5. Others are reading or checking their phones. An American trekker from the group says that his wife is unhappy that he came alone and would want him to come back again with her. But he will try to convince her to go on the Annapurna base camp trek, rather than redo this trek. The trekker asks his guide, who looks like a boy, whether he could again be the trekker’s guide on the Annapurna trek. “Sure,” says the boy-guide, “Make the request to the trekking company.”
The boy-guide wants to know how Rahul and I are related. He is my son I tell him. “How is trekking with your Dad?” he asks Rahul with a mischievous smile. “It’s ok,” Rahul replies with a smile. The boy-guide used to work with his dad on the same trekking expeditions, but now he does not prefer to be on the same trekking expedition as his dad. This way he has more freedom.
Two men, who don’t have a guide, are sitting silently in one corner of the dining room and observing the whole scene. One woman trekker is sitting on a nearby seat with her guide.
The couple who owns the lodge are standing at a counter near the entrance to the dining hall, busy helping customers. Several items are kept in shelves at the counter for sale: Pringles, chocolates, pop, handicrafts and so on. The woman is wearing colorful Sherpa clothes and a head band made of yak wool. She is also wearing a down jacket like almost everyone else around here.
We have vegetable fried rice and fried eggs for dinner and ginger tea to drink. After dinner Ngima brings us fruits, apple and tangerine slices. Rahul’s head clears up after dinner. Perhaps his head was fuzzy because of hunger. I am relieved that he doesn’t need diamox.
The trekkers slowly retire to their rooms. A Sherpa guide pours a small bottle of rum equally into four glasses. He then pours an equal amount of hot water into the glasses. Perhaps they will party after their clients retire, I imagine.
We charge our electronic devices. Here the charging costs $2 per hour.
We retire to our rooms. It is bitterly cold. I manage to get into the sleeping bag, huffing and puffing. The effort leaves me panting for a while. Once inside the sleeping bag my body slowly warms up, and I fall asleep.
Going to the restroom at night is a real chore. I wait until I must absolutely go. I unzip my sleeping bag and grab the down jacket kept on top of the comforter near my feet. The jacket feels wet and dirty to touch; the moisture from our breath has condensed on the jacket (as well as on other surfaces such as the window pane). I put on the headlamp and look for my slippers. They are frozen stiff. I open the door and stagger toward the common restroom.
Deboche 12,369′ (3,770 m)
Tengboche 12,687′ (3,867 m)
|No of steps||Miles walked||Calories burned||Floors climbed|