Day 14: Back in Kathmandu

We get up at 4:30 am and get ready to go to the airport. Through the window I see that it is raining cats and dogs. That is not a good sign. It is very unlikely that our flight will take off in this rain. Ngima comes to our room around 5 am and tells us that the first flight has been cancelled. He tells us to go back to bed; he will wake us up, if the rain stops and a flight is scheduled later in the day. We go back to bed. I am worried whether we will be able to fly out of Lukla today.

Perhaps we misunderstood what Ngima told us. At 5:48 am he comes back and frantically knocks at our door. I stagger out of the sleeping bag and open the door. He tells me that the rain has stopped and that he just got word that a flight is leaving soon. We must get to the airport by 6:00 am. He is a good crisis manager: He quickly helps us pack our bags. He tells us to have a quick breakfast, which he will order. He and Pramod will go to the airport with our bags.

We run downstairs to the dining room, quickly eat the breakfast kept ready for us, and run to the airport. Fortunately, at this lower elevation we are able to move fast. And, the airport is conveniently located next to the lodge. At 6:15 am Ngima checks us in, even before we reach the airport. When we reach the airport, the security asks us to open the luggage for examination. Finally, we enter the waiting hall of the airport. The first flight from Kathmandu has still not arrived. We wait in the lobby with several other passengers.

At 6:45 am a Tara Air plane lands, and the passengers of the first flight are called to board the plane. At 6:54 am we are seated inside the airplane, barely one hour after we were woken up. It appears that the plane will take off even earlier than the schedule time of 7:40 am. I can’t believe our luck. I was resigned to the possibility that we might be stuck in Lukla for another day.

The plane takes off, flying initially between mountain ridges on either side of its path. Their dark outlines look ominous, seen against the sky lit by sun’s early rays. About ten minutes into the flight, our plane gets completely immersed in a white cloud, which makes everything around us invisible. I hope the pilot knows the location of the dark ridges, which cannot be that far.

Slowly, the cloud disappears. And it is clear again. Soon, I can see distant mountains and the zig-zagging trails etched on their sides. There are small communities scattered all over the trails. I marvel at the force that drives humans to seek and occupy such remote parts of the planet. Survival and economics seems too simplistic an explanation for that force. The trails are the only way to reach those communities. Previously, I would have watched the trails from the air plane with curiosity, but with no other feeling. Now, I look at the trails with some trepidation; I know that those lines may look faint, but they inflict real pain on the hikers.

At last, I spot a paved road winding down a mountainside. A tiny white dot, a vehicle of some sort, seems to flit as it moves down the road through the woods. Kathmandu comes into view, looking dusty, buildings up to five stories tall, scattered all over. There is little traffic on the roads this early in the morning.

Our airplane lands smoothly and speeds past the large aircrafts of Oman Air and Nepal Airlines parked on the tarmac. As we taxi toward our gate, I notice Nepalese army trainees, mostly men and a few women, exercising near the tarmac.

We take a taxi to our hotel. With our unkempt appearance, we must have looked out of place in the posh hotel lobby. An elegantly dressed receptionist checks us in. Ngima tells us to take rest the remainder of the day. Tomorrow Madhav will take us on a tour of Kathmandu and later to a farewell dinner. I ask Ngima whether he will join us for the farewell dinner, and he says no. We bid Ngima farewell. He says goodbye and leaves the hotel lobby, carrying our rented sleeping bags, which he will return at the rental shop. The two weeks of companionship with him comes to an end abruptly, indicating the end of our trekking trip as well.

durbarsquare
Kathmandu Darbar Square in front of the old royal palace of the former Kathmandu Kingdom

We go to our clean, modern room. Finally, we get to take a hot shower, such a sweet relief. We give our sweat-soaked clothes for dry cleaning. A woman from laudry service carefully counts and records the items of clothing. She tells us that they can also clean the trekking boots. I am glad to hear that as I was wondering how to clean the boots with yak-dung stuck to their soles.

After relaxing in the lobby for a little while, we decide to go for lunch. We search the Internet and find a place called Rosemary Kitchen & Coffee Shop off of Thamel Marg. The restaurant has a high rating on Trip Advisor, a rating based on input from a large number of customers. We find the restaurant on GoogleMap. We walk through crowded streets lined by shops on either side. We stop at some shops to buy gifts. When we reach the restaurant, we notice that most of the customers are western, and the menu seems designed to cater to them. The food is good, and it feels good to have a relaxed meal.

After lunch we walk toward our hotel and decide to go to the nearby Hotel Yak and Yeti for a coffee. We sit in the spacious hotel lounge slowly sipping coffee. Waiters are walking around catering to the many customers sitting in the lounge. A boastful, middle-aged Nepali businessman is sitting at the next table with two South Korean businessmen. They seem to be in the construction business and meeting to make a business deal. The Nepali businessman talks almost nonstop; the South Koreans listen and occasionally make a brief remark.The Nepali businessman gives the impression that he knows the Prime Minister well and tells that he has gold frequent flyer status in Thai Airlines because of his frequent international travels.

A greying American healthcare professional is talking to a woman from Australia, whom he met in the lounge. He has been here for attending a medical conference. He enjoyed his two weeks of stay here and is returning home tomorrow. He says that he is struck most by the diversity he finds in Kathmandu.

Through the tall, large glass windows of the lounge we can see the green lawn outside. There are tables and plastic chairs set out on the lawn. But nobody is sitting there now. Suddenly, violent winds start to blow. They send dust, bits of paper and leaves swirling up into the air, obscuring the view through the window. They topple some of the chairs and tables on the lawn. A lawn umbrella flies through the air, crashes into a lounge window, and falls down with a loud thud. The window is not broken, fortunately. Just as suddenly as they started, they subside suddenly. The hotel staff walk around the lawn, straightening the chairs and tables. One staff member inspects the damage done by the umbrella.

I want to get a haircut. I leave Rahul in the lounge and go looking for a salon. I find that the salon in the hotel is closed now. I walk out into the city and find the Sherpa Mall nearby, which features a number of shops. The mall is not very big or crowded. Walking around, I am able to find a salon. The manger is a pleasant young woman in her late twenties. She speaks good English and has a slightly surprised look seeing me. There are no other customers. She finds me a barber. He is also in his twenties, Indian-looking, and speaks to me in Hindi. He is probably not very experienced and seems proud to have a customer.

After the haircut I return to join Rahul, who is still sitting in the hotel lounge. We decide to go for a massage. We would like to get Shiatsu massage. But there is only one Shiatsu masseuse. The other masseuse knows only Swedish massage. We decide that one person will get Shiatsu and the other, Swedish, so that we can get the massages done at the same time.

I do Swedish massage. The masseuse is Suman, who is Nepalese, but born in Amritsar, India. She prefers to talk in Hindi, although she understands a little English. She tells me an endless tale of woes in Hindi: She is 37, widowed, and have two children. She is poorly paid and finds it hard to make ends meet. Her brother, a policeman, is in a hospital in Allahabad, India. His leg is fractured. Once, when she was doing the massage for a customer, an earth quake started. Her scantily clad customer got up and ran and urged her to run as well. When she tried to run behind him, the door got shut and locked, and she could not get out of the room. She was saved only later… As she keep talking, I get the feeling that many of her stories are simply made up.

We decide to eat dinner at a middle eastern vegetarian restaurant called OR2K, located about a mile from our hotel. We leave Hotel Yak and Yeti and walk toward OR2K. The sun has set, it is getting dark, and the streets are becoming less crowded. We remove our shoes and enter the dining hall of OR2K with its distinctive decor. Low tables are set out on either side of the dining hall. The tables are surrounded by cushions set on the floor. We sit on the cushions and stretch our legs under the table. The restaurant is crowded; almost everyone other than us and the waiters are of western descent. The name of the restaurant is derived from the word OR, which means “light” in Hebrew, and 2K, which stands for year 2000, the year when the restaurant was started. The menu is in English, but has a few notes written in Hebrew. The menu is highlighted at places with coloring that glows in the black light. We eat potato and cheese buerre, which tastes good.

After dinner, we walk back to our hotel. It is past 9 pm. An occasional car or motor cycle zips past us. The streets are mostly deserted. The city has become quiet and is ready to go to sleep.

Fitbit statistics

No of steps Miles walked Calories burned Floors climbed
14,522 6.55 2,636 161
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Day 13: Lukla

We get up at a leisurely pace. Today, on the final day of trekking, we have a relatively short trek. First, I drain the blister on my right foot and dress it with moleskin and bandage. Fortunately, this is the first and only time I needed moleskin on this trek. Also, we didn’t need any of the medications we brought with us, except Diamox, which we used during the last two days of the ascend.

At breakfast time we see Dorjee in the dining room. We ask him about his rescue mission, which we had heard from Ngima when we were on our way to the basecamp. He tells us that the Trekker was in a lodge at Phakding, not at Namche as we had thought. She had a heart problem, and Dorjee carried her on a stretcher to a hospital in Lukla. It took him an hour and a half for the trip. Twelve days later, she is still in the hospital, recovering. We pose for a photograph with Dorjee, bid him farewell and leave the lodge around 9 am.

I try to keep up with Ngima and Rahul. But my efforts fail after the first twenty minutes of the trek. At the first uphill climb, they forge ahead. Again, Ngima helps when the steps are too steep, going downhill.

terracedfieldsnearlukla
Terraced fields near Lukla

When we reach the outskirts of Lukla we find terraced farms and residences at a distance. Finally, we reach the gate at Lukla, three and a half hours after we left Phakding. Around ten trekkers are standing in line at the check post, getting their papers checked before entering the trail.

We go straight to Everest Lodge Restaurant and Bar, located near Lukla airport. Ngima is going to spend the rest of the day with his sister, who lives in Lukla. Pramod will be our acting guide during Ngima’s absence.Rahul and I eat lunch and leave the lodge to look around Lukla.

Most of Lukla is located around a half-mile stretch of the trail that goes from Tenzing-Hillary airport to the National Luminary Pasan Lhamu Memorial Gate. The trail here is wide and well-paved. Numerous cafe’s, restaurants, lodges, and gift shops are located by the sides of the trail. There are no vehicles of any kind on the trail, of course. We can hear the chatter of children playing nearby. It is cold and drizzling. Rahul spots a Starbucks, and we decide to go there for coffee. It is a well stocked and modern coffeeshop that offers free Wifi, although it does not look like an authentic Starbucks coffeeshop. Two young women in their early thirties manage the counter. The stern looking one might be the owner, I guess. We order cappuccino and cafe Americano.

lukla
Lukla

Two young German men are the only other customers in the shop. Four lamas in ochre robe are sitting at the far end of the room, performing a ceremony by reciting scripture. It appears that they are the owner’s guests. After a while she brings them food, traditional local food, not coffeeshop food. After eating the food, the lamas continue to recite scripture. One of the Germans, perhaps a photographer, moves closer to the lamas, sits on the floor and starts taking their photographs. Soon the owner comes back with a baby, presumably hers.  The main lama blesses the owner and her baby. He uses a large wooden contraption for blessing them. We get second cups of coffee and continue to sit in the coffeeshop. We have nothing else to do. We cannot walk around because it is drizzling and it is cold. Two other customers walk in. They are also Germans. After a while, we leave the coffeeshop. We walk slowly back to our lodge, occasionally looking at things kept for sale in the shops by the sides of the trail.

In the evening, we go down to the dining hall. Pramod is in charge of ordering the food for us. We decide to order non-vegetarian food, which we haven’t eaten since we started on the trek. Rahul orders a yak sizzler, and I order a chicken sizzler. Rahul decides to have a beer and offers one to Pramod. He says “no” at first, but accepts the offer eventually. In a while, the sizzlers are served, and they taste good. Pramod talks to us about his life. He had gone to Malaysia looking for work. He didn’t have much luck there and returned to Nepal a few years back. He has been working as a porter ever since. This is not a well paying job, and he would like to move on. We tell him that he will do well as he is smart and personable. After all the trekking company owner Madhav also started out as a porter, we tell him. He smiles and says that it is not that easy. After dinner, when he is ready to take leave, we thank him and hand him his tip with a thank-you note. He gets up from his seat and profusely thanks us. Just then Ngima returns and joins us. He asks Pramod why he had to drink beer. Pramod smiles and bids us farewell. Ngima explains the plans for tomorrow morning. We need to leave the lodge by 5 am to catch the first flight. The later flights are unreliable. We go back to our room.

Fitbit statistics

No of steps Miles walked Calories burned Floors climbed
18,540 8.36 2,791 2655

Day 12: Back to Phakding

amadablam
View of Mt. Ama Dablam from Kyangjuma

We leave Lawi Schyasa in the morning after breakfast, around 8:15 am. After an hour we reach Kyangjuma. Here the trail is wide and well-paved for a short distance. There are a few restaurants and shops and a bar near the trail. A large colorful prayer wheel is located on the trail. Jewelry and handicrafts are displayed for sale on a sheet laid out on top of a low wall next to the trail. A lonely Sherpa sits on the opposite side of the trail waiting for customers. We stop at the Mountain High Bakery & Cafe for tea. We drink tea, sitting outside on the terrace with a good view of Mount Ama Dablam.

After some time we reach a relatively flat trail going to Namche. We hear a loud boom, as if an artillery shell was set off. Ngima stops and looks around. Is it a rockfall, he wonders. No, he concludes that the Nepalese army must have fired an artillery shell.

We take a shortcut, bypassing the center of Namche Bazar and pass through a small, dusty market, built on the mountainside. Merchants, men and women, are sitting by the side of the trail, to sell their goods: food items stored in bags, baskets, and cardboard boxes kept on the ground; incense packages and small boxes and bags laid out on a sheet covering a ledge. Further down, we go past a regular shop, where customers are standing in line for buying 25 kg bags of rice, Sona Masoori rice. I wonder whether it is a ration shop. A couple of girls are among the customers. Each of them buys a rice-bag and appears to effortlessly carry it on their back.

market-in-namche
A market in Namche Bazar

A short distance from the market a middle aged Sherpani and three girls come against us. The older woman has a mischievous smile on her face and says something to the girls and they all laugh. Ngima joins in the fun, and they all laugh loudly at his joke.

Now, we reach the part of the trail where the “endless steps” begin. This time we are, of course, going down hill. But the steep flights of steps give me pause. Occasionally, I hesitate on top of a flight of steps. And Ngima holds my hand to help me out. We go down the steps faster than I am able to do by myself, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. Going downhill has been tough on my feet as well. I have a big blister on my right foot.

We cross the Hillary bridge, and soon reach a relatively flat area. We stop at the Riverview Terrace Restaurant in Jorsalle for lunch around 2 pm. We had stopped here on our way up as well.

We have reached a relatively flat part of the trail. At places, the trail seems to be going through people’s front yards. At one point, I walk between two Sherpas, who are standing on either side of the trail talking. I mutter “Excuse me” as I cross them, but they don’t pay any attention to me and continue talking.

We have been walking for a long time after lunch. Rahul and Ngima as usual are way ahead of me. I see them entering a lodge by the side of the trail. I am relieved that we have reached Phakding, our destination. When I too reach the lodge, I am surprised to find that the sign in front says Toktok, not Phakding. I wonder why Ngima decided to stop early… Perhaps like yesterday, he thinks that I cannot walk the rest of the way to Phakding. In front of the door, I find a Sherpa standing with folded arms, blocking my way. I am slightly annoyed that he wouldn’t move aside and let me in. I tell him that my companions have already gone in. I am not sure that he understood what I told him. Nevertheless, he reluctantly steps aside. I go inside the lodge and look around. It is a bit dark inside, and I don’t see a single soul inside. I am confused: where did Rahul and Ngima disappear so suddenly? After a few minutes, I step outside. Now, I see Rahul and Ngima coming back on the trail, looking for me. When I explained what happened, Ngima laughs, “Altitude problem, Sir!”.

We resume walking. After a while we cross Dudh Koshi river one last time and see the familiar signs of Phakding. We reach Buddha lodge, nine hours after leaving Lawi Schyasa.

The Fitbit is again out of charge.

Day 11: Lawi Schyasa

We leave Pheriche in the morning around 8:30 am. Ngima proposes that we go as far down as Namche Bazar today and stay in the same teahouse lodge where we stayed on our way up. We are happy to go as far down as possible.

On our way down, I see large groups of Trekkers going in the opposite direction, toward the basecamp. On our way up, I didn’t see this many trekkers; it seems the number of trekkers has increased. On our way up, I eyed the Trekkers returning from the basecamp with admiration. Now, I can be a bit smug, smiling at the Trekkers on their way to the basecamp. For all I know, the smugness might be unwarranted as some of them might be climbers on their way to the summit yet another time!

Around 9:30 am we stop for tea at Pasang Lodge and Restaurant in Showmare. We sip tea, sitting on the terrace, watching the beautiful view of snow covered peaks.

shomare
At restaurant in Showmare

Further down the trail, near Panboche we cross a culvert and find a group of Trekkers standing by the side of the trail. They are watching and cheering a rescue effort going on in the nearby stream. A dzopkyo has fallen into the stream. It is sitting in the shallow waters and doesn’t want to get up. Seven men are coaxing it to stand up; it repeatedly tries to stand up, but sits down again. The men keep trying … Finally, the dzopkyo stands up, reluctantly, and is able to continue to stand. All of us Trekkers clap our hands and resume trekking.

On a relatively flat part of the trail, a group of men comes against us. Their faces light up seeing Ngima. They stop and greet Ngima and chat and laugh with him. After a brief conversation, they say goodbye and go on their way. Ngima tells us that they are his relatives, who are on the way to their work at the basecamp or the camps higher up.

We get down a flight of stairs and pass in front of a row of small houses. The houses block the sunlight, making the trail in front relatively dark. An eight or nine year old boy stops me, stands blocking my way, and says in English, “Give me chocolate.” I tell him I have none. Then he says, “Give me money.” This is the first and only instance of begging I encountered on this trek. Although Nepal is not a developed country, I have not seen any abject poverty here, unlike other developing (and even developed) countries.

I am too tired and am lagging way behind Ngima and Rahul. Ngima asks me whether I am feeling ok and whether I would like to stop. I tell him that I can keep on going, admittedly at a slow pace. I feel like the Energizer Bunny in the TV commercials: I can keep going and going and going …

After a while, Ngima senses that I am too tired and takes the backpack from me. Even the shedding of that bit of weight makes me feel better. We have been trekking for about eight hours. Ngima feels that it will be difficult for us to reach Namche Bazar today, before it gets too dark. So he decides to stop in Lawi Schyasa. We stay at the Green Valley Lodge and Restaurant, which is by the side of the trail. A short flight of stone-steps takes us to the terrace in front of the restaurant.From there a steep flight of stone-steps takes us to the sleeping quarters. We are the only customers at this lodge, which has around twelve bed rooms.

After dropping our bags in the room, we go down to the dining room for dinner. We are the only customers in the restaurant. The cook — a dark, slight man — does not look like a typical Sherpa. He makes us fresh food, pasta for Rahul and fried rice for me. After dinner we stay in the dining room for some time, talking to him. He talks in reasonable English and is well informed. He has a good opinion about U.S. President Obama. But he does not have a favorable opinion about Indian Prime Minister Modi. He feels that India is meddling in Nepal’s affairs: A new Constitution came into effect in September 2015, converting Nepal from a 240-year old monarchy to a federal republic. Many people in Nepal are happy about the constitution, but some communities are unhappy. One such community is the Madhesis, who are ethnically and socially close to Indians just across the border to the south. They do not like the provision in the constitution that the father has to be a Nepali for his children to get Nepali citizenship, putting the children of Nepali women married to a foreigner at a disadvantage. The cook feels that India demanded changes in the constitution, advocating on behalf of Madhesis.

No Fitbit statistics today as it is out of charge.