After a short break for breakfast we had a quick look around Lukla which was full of porters and yaks looking for work, tea shops,children and chickens everywhere. At last we put on our rucksacks and the trek had begun.
The lower valleys of the Khumbu are lush and full of rich vegetation. This is farming land where potatoes, cabbages, maize, corn, peas and beans are all grown. The trail meanders through the valley gradually rising all the time. The going is quite rough in places and you need to keep your eyes open so as not to trip, that is if you can keep them away from taking in the extraordinary scenery that now unfolds as you begin climbing up the Khumbu valley. The scale is just magnificent with the snow covered higher peaks of the Himalayas just beginning to come into view. Passing through small villages you begin to realise just how basic and simple every day life is. Very simple lifestyles which dictate that nothing can be done for about 2-3 months in the depths of the winter. Food is stored under the houses for both humans and the animals. Schools close, no roads and so the only way to travel is by the mountain trails. The people are all very friendly and like to talk, they all smile and greet you with the words ‘Namastay’.
The first thing that strikes you whilst on the trail is the amount of traffic going in either direction. Porters carrying the heaviest loads that you could imagine go scurrying past wearing worn out old flip flops on their feet whilst you stand there in your special £100 trekking boots. Yak trains meander past, each yak with the Nepalese version of cow bells around their neck, a very evocative sound in that wonderful setting.
Your resolve is tested from time to time with the need to cross the raging river below by way of one of those suspension bridges. Most of the rickety old wooden ones, much beloved in Hollywood films, have gone and the days where the hero and heroine are being chased by the baddies and the bridge is about to fall to pieces or burn to the ground have gone with them. They have all been replaced with rickety new steel ones which sway from side to side and bounce up and down as you cross and it seems almost without exception that whenever you cross someone carrying a huge load or even a number of yaks will be crossing in the opposite direction causing you to have to stop mid way and actually lean over to allow them to pass. Not for the faint hearted.
At the end of each day, our tents had been erected and a brew of Nepalese sweet and milky tea was on the go. The evening meals usually started with a soup followed by variations on how to cook spam. The food was usually heavily flavoured with garlic which is good for your health at altitude. Dinner started at about 6.30 and after chat and tea or coffee we would normally retire to our tents by around 8.30. It would be nice to say that this was followed by deep enriching sleep but I am afraid the combination of altitude, breathlessness, and cold meant that for 5 consecutive nights I didn’t get one moment of blissful slumber. Lying in your sleeping bag unable to sleep in a tent, in freezing cold weather for 10 hours is not to be recommended I can assure you. The toilets consisted of a very crude hole in the ground which some poor bugger had to dig out every evening and fill in every morning. To use this facility meant a very delicate balancing act and a lot of self belief. This particularly concentrated the mind at night when trying to relieve oneself in the pitch dark whilst trying to find somewhere to hold the torch!
The Sherpas came round to each tent at approximately 6.30 each morning with a warm bowl of water and a cup of tea. The trick was to wash your teeth in the water first before applying soap. Breakfast consisted of porridge and some form of egg, maybe boiled or in the form of an omelette plus of course tea or coffee. Breakfast over its down to packing up your kit bag, sorting out your travel stuff for the day and waiting for that moment when you put on your rucksack.
After a number of days climbing we eventually arrived at a place called Namche Bazaar which is a crossroads for the Nepalese and the Tibetans who come down from the high passes and over the border to sell their Chinese made goods or barter their livestock. Nestling in a natural horseshoe and at quite high altitude, it is full of monasteries, shops and hustle and bustle. This is the Sherpa capital and the overall feeling is one of a medieval Community.
Arriving at Namche allowed me my very first clear view of Everest itself. My first glimpse was on a perfect morning with bright blue skies and a superb light. I didn’t need anyone to point it out, this was the sight that I had dreamed of and I would have to say it was quite an emotional experience. The sheer scale and magnificence of the peaks which surround you was just breath taking. Amu Dhablim, Nuptse, Lhotse and then Everest itself. To look at this sight was very humbling and I was in awe of all those brave mountaineers who had stood where I was standing and then went on, suffering incredible hardships, to conquer all that was before them. You are indeed in The Land of the Gods
The trek passed further on up the Khumbu valley getting ever closer to Mount Everest itself. En route we had the privilege of visiting the mountain school at Khumjung which Sir Edmund Hilary had set up and actually help build. We also visited the Hospital that he established in nearby Khunde village. Edmund Hilary is talked about in God like terms and this is not surprising given the unending support he provided for Nepal throughout his life.
The trek continued high into the Himalayas to Base camp with simply jaw dropping views and jaw freezing temperatures. My lifelong ambition had been accomplished and I had stood before Everest itself. Although it has taken 55 years to achieve, it had been well worth the wait.
The trip has given me such a rich experience of life, culture and that magnificent breathtaking scenery. Nepal is a truly remarkable country with wonderfully warm and welcoming people. A lifelong ambition achieved, now let me check where number two on my bucket list will take me.
Thanks David for taking the time to write such an interesting post and thanks for being our artist of the week!!