Kathmandu shopping and back to Delhi

I wake up late, with a bit of a hangover. The breakfast at the hotel perks me up. I manage to dissuade Cheekala and Sudhir from going to the Pashupati temple, instead we roam the streets of Thamel and do some very fast, very desperate last minute shopping. Tons of Yak-Yeti-Yak, and Yakk-Yakk-Yakk t-shirts, some mountaineering books, fridge magnets, CD’s, maps of the EBC trek – we get back barely in time ( or so we thought) to the hotel, and I hastily stuffed all my things into the backpack. We went down and realized nobody else was around. A quick lunch, and back again, and still Ali Bhai and the others are not to be seen. Just when I’d decided to take a taxi and leave, they show up.

We reach the airport, and I get separated from the others at security. I feel a little lonely after having spent some great time with all the folks. I catch up with them at Delhi airport where their flight lands a half hour after mine, say Goodbye and head back to “Life as we know it”.

End of Everest Base camp trek and flight to Kathmandu

It is over. The 12 glorious days of doing nothing but gearing up and walking into the mountains is over.

We climb into the plane at Lukla, greeted by the same non-smiling cotton-buds dispersing stewardess. I am sure I am going to puke as my food is still not digested from last night, and to top it all, I had added plenty of alcohol into my system.The guy sitting next to me is in serious danger of having yesterday’s food strewn on his lap.

The plane flies by the snow-capped mountains. For a little while, the peak of Thamserku appeared – that mountain which has a special place in Cheekala’s heart. He’s sure he’s coming back to climb it sometime. We are all in different states of mind I can make out – some are eager to get back to life as it was, some want to hold back. Me? I want life here in the mountains – with Appa and Nika near me. I want it all, don’t I?

The plane lands in Kathmandu, and we are whisked off to Marshyangdi hotel. Padmaja and I spend 4 hours lazing in bed, watching very bad horror movies on TV one after the other. At around 2, we manage to rouse ourselves, and, contrary to what I would believe myself capable of doing, go to watch Kites movie at a mall in Kathmandu. To be frank, the whole experience was fun. We shopped at the mall, and watched the movie, complete with popcorns and coke, and emerged in the evening to the rush hour of Kathmandu traffic.

Headed straight to the hotel room, and finished the bottle of Chianti that I had picked up at the mall. Then set out for an evening in town, starting with the trancy Buddha Bar ( how many Buddha bars are packed into this little country?), followed by dancing at Insomnia. It was pretty much like any lounge/dance place in India, except that the music was mostly electronica. We managed to dance nevertheless. Thanks to Abhishek’s navigational skills, we actually even managed to get back to our Hotel after mid-night, through mazes of streets filled with party-goers.

It was a fun evening, and I have been drinking three days in a row now.  ABout time I stopped.

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 12: Phakding to Lukla

Phakding ( 2610m) down to Lukla

Today we walk even more slowly than we did yesterday, if that is even possible. So slowly in fact, that it took us more than 4 hours to cover the distance from Phakding to Lukla, taking about the same time as we had while coming uphill.

The sun had finally come out, and as we watched the flights coming into and flying out of Lukla we were relieved. We would perhaps fly tomorrow after all.

My camera batteries are out and I did not bring spares. So I borrow Sudhir’s camera and use my lens, thinking I’ll do plenty of bird-photography. And in fact, we could hear bird chirps and songs all along the way, but strangely I could not actually spot many. So instead, I photographed people and scenery.

The road to Lukla from Phakding

At around 1 in the afternoon we were back in the township of Lukla. We headed straight for the Buddha Lodge, from where we had started our trek 10 days back. The Buddha Lodge shares a boundary wall with the airport and offered us a great view of the frantic goings-on in the airport as the last passengers were packed into the little planes. We sipped our hot chocolates and basked in the glorious sunlight.

I overate at lunch, picking off everybody’s food while also finishing my own. This was not a problem during the trip as right after lunch we would have a steep hill to climb and the food would be digested – today however I only lay down for a lazy afternoon nap. By 4 o’clock I was desperate for a walk, and once again dragged Padmaja, Sudhir, Cheekala and Aditya off for coffee. By the time we reached the Starbucks ( this has to be the highest in the world), I was still not in a mood for coffee, so I spent the time photographing the others in the dim light of the coffee shop.

The highest starbucks in the world?

In the evening, there was an impromptu dance session, prompted perhaps by the need to keep moving those overworked muscles. We had a great time, Cheekala, Padmaja, Sudhir, Aditya and I – it was even more fun when Om Bahadur Ji joined in the party. There was also a Johnny Walker session with Kiran, Om Bahadur Ji and Mr. Thapa who is in charge of Himex operations in the area. All in all, a great way to end what was one of the most memorable treks I have ever done.

Tomorrow we fly out of Lukla and have to say goodbye to the mountains. I am actually pretty sad.

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 11: Namche to Phakding

Namche (3440m) to Phakding (2610m)

I woke up late, as I wanted to, refreshed and feeling very comfortable and warm. We had plans to shop for hiking gear at Namche today; I was quite excited by this as Namche looked very promising as a shopping destination. Maybe even better than the Thamel area in Kathmandu where the shops were dingy and some of the stuff looked old and worn out. Here the jackets, with Marmots and NorthFace written on them, looked as though they actually were Marmot and Northface originals. It is even possible that some of them are – a lot of these goods come as export rejects from China through Tibet and across the pass to Nepal following one of the old trading routes that connect the plains of India to the mountains and across.

The group went crazy; hiking poles and jackets were bought by the dozens.

With our shopping bags at Namche Bazaar

At Phakding, we celebrate the return to civilization by watching inane programs on TV at the Buddha Lodge, including a terrible Hindi movie “Dulha mil gaya”. I watched the entire movie – just goes to show how low you can stoop if you are deprived enough.

Kiran then brought in a bottle of local wine. Called Rakshi is a clear wine and did not seem too strong so before long we had finished two coca-cola bottles of Rakshi. Sudhir really seemed to love it, and was gulping it down fast from the little ceramic cups. I enjoyed chatting with Kiran while sharing the wine.

There is a light drizzle outside – Cheekala is enjoying the rain and the solitude outside.

It is anybody’s guess whether our flight will take off on schedule from Lukla the day after tomorrow. For three days now flights have been cancelled. Strangely, I find myself being calm about this. Maybe the serenity of the mountains is having some effect on me, I am not rushing about trying to make alternate plans. Yet.

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 10: Pheriche to Namche Bazaar

Pheriche ( 4240 m) to Namche Bazaar ( 3440 m)

Vignette of a river valley – journal entry on Day 10 outside the lodge at Pheriche:

The river gushes through  its rocky bed; its valley is wide and green. Juniper bushes grow in clumps here and there, and birds chirp perched on these bushes. The human settlements are neat; stone walls mark the perimeter of each yak herder’s property, his animals are grazing inside these enclosures. The houses too are made of stone. A single dirt road goes all the way down the valley, following the river, while snow-capped mountains stand guard. The climate is more sublime than the higher reaches. A yak train goes by, led by the whistles and shouts of its herder, a woman, dressed in sweat pants and jacket. The lodges are clustered together at one end of the valley. The sun is rising, spreading its warmth. The valley is waking up to another spring day.

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The day has started well as Ali Bhai has done a miraculous recovery – the man never ceases to amaze me.

We get together for a group photo outside the lodge, and start off. The order of walking has changed on the downhill; Ramesh and Shweta are leading the pack all throughout and seem eager to get back to Lukla, Javed Bhai, Ali Bhai and Sachin are walking fast ahead of us ( invigorated by the abundant oxygen), Abhishek is somewhere in between and Cheekala, Sudhir, Aditya, Padmaja and I, accompanied by Kiran, are walking really slow; almost as though we don’t want to leave.

A long walk bring us to Debuche, and my very own natural garden full of rhododendrons. We decide to lie down on the grassy meadow and just stare at the skies – as we have done many times on our way up. This time though its not because we needed a rest but because we wanted to enjoy the place before we moved on.

Just as we are about to start the walk up to Tengboche monastery along comes a jaunty teenager with Tibetan music playing on his phone. I love the music; in fact, I ask the boy to walk with me so I can listen to the music while I walk up. It feels great listening to this music and walking to its rhythm. He comes with us all the way to Namche, and in fact, turns out he is the son of the owner at the Kamal lodge where we were going to stay the night.

Lunch is a quick affair at Phungi-Thanga – after which we hurry up the hill, eager to reach Namche Bazaar. Cheekala, Sudhir, Aditya and I decide that our first stop at Namche would be the Everest Bakery. This motivates us for a while, but then we seemed to be walking forever with no destination in sight. Thick clouds blanketed the valley at places, and it seemed as though we would be walking off the edge any minute.

Cloud cover in the valley

We kept looking out for landmarks, and haranguing poor Kiran who had to keep answering inane questions from us. How much longer? How many hours? How many kms? – and so on and so forth.

At long last, after many a stop, Namche came into sight. We would have sprinted to Everest bakery were it not for the fact that the last km or so was all steep steps down-hill. Aaah.. the cozy comfort of a warm bakery with the wafting aromas of baked goodies. We were a sight as we wolfed down everything we could think of – apple pie, pizza, coffee, french fries, chocolate brownie, I think pretty much in this order. The apple pie, which was the first to arrive, suffered the fate of meat thrown into a pond-ful of piranhas. It felt good to indulge after living on daal-bhaat-aloo for 10 days.

The chocolate brownie's short-lived life

Back at the hotel I have my first hot shower in 10 days. Yes, I am filthy!

This luxury is followed by another – local beer ( Tongba) which we all share from a huge metal jar full of fermenting millet, and which I have the happy job of refilling with hot water.

I plan to sleep in late tomorrow – the hot shower, beer and weariness all make for deep sleep.

Everest Base Camp Day 9: Gorakshep to Kalapattar, down to Pheriche

From Gorakshep at 5140m to Kalapattar peak at 5500m, and down to Pheriche

I wake up, as usual, way before the others have stirred from the comforting cocoons of their sleeping bags. I am very demotivated today; its a feeling that I am not accustomed to, and I wonder why. Perhaps its the feeling of having accomplished what I came to do, but instead of a heady elation, I felt tired and worn out and not wanting to climb yet another steep hill.

Its funny how your mind does all the work for you when you think your muscles can’t take it anymore. And when it decides its had enough, then your muscles will not move try as you might.

Putting these strange feelings aside ( but not before voicing them to Cheekala, who later writes in his blog that it was partially due to this that he did not get to the top of Kalapattar), I start off. The walking stick comes very handy as I suddenly seem to need all the energy I can  muster.

This time it is only Sudhir keeping me company throughout the climb. We see the others drop back, wait for Cheekala and Aditya, and when they are not to be seen, continue on. Om Bahadur Ji is at the lead. We climb and climb for close to 2.5 hours, and as we climb we see more and more of Everest. Its around 8 in the morning, and by 10:30 we are at the summit of Kalapattar. which, for some, is the final destination of the Everest Base Camp trek.

At the Kalapattar peak with Pumo Ri in the background
At the Kalapattar peak with Pumo Ri in the background

The summit is a huge rock, which we clamber over. We are joined by other trekkers. I spend some time taking in the closeness of Everest and Lhotse, and the Pumo Ri mountain that looms behind us at 6600m.This is it – we have reached the highest point that we would reach in this trek, and that most of us have reached in our lives. Its a heady feeling. I absorb it as much as I can, store it in my bloodstream alongwith the extra RBC’s.

We walk down in an even more despondent mood. Sudhir, the guy who hardly ever complains, is finally complaining of something or the other.

Back at the hotel, we have lunch, and then starts a very long walk back to Pheriche, retracing our steps from Gorakshep to Lobuche, back to Thokla and down to the village of Pheriche. The last hour of the trek is special. After a long walk down to Thukla where we had a quick cup of hot chocolate to revive ourselves, we were prepared for two more hours of drudgery when we suddenly came upon this beautiful sight. We were walking down the mountain and looking down into a river valley.

With clouds hanging low over the river, little shrubs and bushes with birds chirping, it took our breath away. It was a sight that I won’t forget for a while.

Walking to Pheriche in the twilight

At twilight we hurried through the last few kms to reach our lodge at Pheriche, crossing yak herder settlements on the way.

Once there, we found Cheekala and Javed Bhai who had started ahead of us – Javed Bhai was sitting like a worried father at the entrance of the hotel, waiting for everybody else to show up. Padmaja, Ali Bhai and Sachin walked in the dark for the last hour.

Ali Bhai was practically carried back to the hotel by Om Bahadur Ji – he was in very bad shape, having vomitted many times in the day. He was severely dehydrated, and I was extremely worried for him, our differences nothwithstanding. I woke up many times at night and thought of checking on him, then went back to bed since I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate. It was the first time I was having a disturbed sleep in the entire trek.

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 8: Lobuche to Gorakshep and Base Camp

From Lobuche at 4910m to Gorakshep at 5140m, and onto Everest Base Camp at 5340 m

Today we reach the Everest Base Camp, the finish line for us, and the starting line for the summiteers of Everest!

Yes, we are close to the Everest Base Camp

Its freezing in the morning at Lobuche, and I wait around impatiently for my morning tea. I can’t wait to start the day. Our usual breakfast routine over, we set off once more at a brisk pace, with Om Bahadur Ji leading the way. The rock-strewn path to Gorakshep is not steep, but it is slippery at places, and not as well kept as the trail we had been walking on. The path follows the Khumbu Glacier, which, when I look at the map is Huge, in fact it looks like one of the largest in the Everest Area. We follow this glacier all the way to Gorakshep. There is hardly any greenery at this altitude, only rocks and scree. The weather being warm there is no snow along the way, and the stream we are following is not frozen. We keep up a steady pace and by 11 are at Gorakshep, checking into our hotel where we’d stay the night.

I try to persuade Cheekala, Sudhir, Aditya and ABhishek to leave early – by 12:30 maybe, even if the rest of the group does not reach. I am very concerned that the weather in the late afternoon would turn cold and windy and that we’d have to walk in the dark with the snow and wind biting on our skin. Call me paranoid, coz thats what I am!

So I practically dragged these 4 with me out of the cozy lodge. Thankfully my fears were unfounded – it did snow a bit when we reached the Base Camp, but not much, and then the sun came out in the late afternoon making it a great day for us.

We could occasionally spot the blues, yellows and oranges of the expedition tents at the base camp as we made our way through the rocky path. I could see walls of blue ice over which dirt was packed, and it occurred to me that we may be walking over packed ice too. At long last, a little weary, we reached the plain ground on which the expedition camps were pitched. It stretched out over a huge area, and by some estimates, there were close to 50 expeditions waiting to summit Everest. Mt. Everest is a busy place nowadays – a far cry I’m sure from 1953 when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed to the summit.

The highlight at the base camp for me was to see the expedition camps up close, to see the prayer chorten where the Sherpas make offerings before heading up into Chomolungma, and meeting Mamta Souda, who, a few days after, summitted Everest. It was on the same day when Arjun Bajpayee became the youngest, at 16, to climb everest ( a title that was taken away from him shortly when another boy of 13 climbed Everest) .

Talking to Mamta near the stone which marked the “Everest Base Camp” was a great experience.An unforgettable one – she was the second Everester I’ve met, after Satyabrata Dam, who I’d met at the Club Mahindra Retreat in Mashobra. Sudhir, me and Cheekala ( who disappeared for some quiet reflection) are all a little affected by the climbing bug. Maybe more than a little – but more about that later.

With Mamta ( who summitted everest) and her liasion officer for the expedition

Meanwhile, we explored the rocky area where the base camps are pitched. Ice blue glaciers and frozen pools, as well as walls of ice beside which we walked made the whole place peculiar and memorable. In front of us was the famous(in) Khumbu Ice Wall, responsible for many of the .. deaths in Everest. We didn’t get that far.

Frozen lake near the Base Camp

So after lingering and chatting with Mamta and her Nepali liasion officer, we headed back, this time very very weary.

It’s the weariness of having completed something big, and the feeling that its, you know, over.