As the plane descended into the Kathmandu valley, it appeared to tremble in the air currents the same as did the passengers in anticipation of what lay ahead.
The trekkers making up our group came from Australia (4) England (5) and South Africa (2) and our leader Tashie. Some arrived late in Kathmandu due to flight problems, but those on time visited Pashupatinath where cremations take place on the banks of the holy Bagmati River; and then the Bodnath Stupa where Buddha's eyes look out from one of the biggest Buddhist shrines in the world. That night, the whole group enjoyed a Nepali meal and a display of native dancing in a Thamel restaurant.
Next morning, our early morning flight to Lukla was delayed by engine trouble after we taxied out onto the runway. But eventually we re-boarded and flew up and through the mountain passes to land at Lukla, with superb views of snow covered mountains along the way. The Lukla runway is short, commences on a cliff edge, and runs uphill to finish at a brick wall. An exciting introduction to the Himalayas.
After meeting our guides Mingma, Dawa and PT, as well as our six porters, we set off through the streets of Lukla to commence our trek to the village of Phakding, our first overnight stop. After three hours of slow but consistent trekking, we hungrily devoured lunch in our first tea house. The afternoon was spent reading, resting or writing, until after dinner and drinks, we crawled into our sleeping bags for a well earned sleep.
The following morning we headed off for another three to four hours solid trekking, crossing the Dudh Kosi on another long suspension bridge, and climbing up and down to the village of Monjo. The scenery was again spectacular, including a close up view of 6348 metre high Thamserku Mountain.
The third day's trek commenced crossing two more suspension bridges, until we saw our first distant views of Mount Everest, as well as Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam. By the time we arrived at Namche Bazaar at 3446 metres, some of us were feeling the affects of the thinner air, but were otherwise happy with our achievement. Namche Bazaar is a busy, thriving market town on the main route to Everest and other mountains in the area.
The following day was our rest day for acclimatising in the Altitude Sickness Zone. We spent it climbing up the track to the famed Everest Hotel to enjoy more great views of the distant snow covered mountains. The hotel is renowned as the highest located hotel in the world.
Our final ascending trek day commenced with a steep climb out of the town, and continued for six hours of steady walking to the Thyangboche Monastery at 3875 metres, where we again enjoyed incredible views of the surrounding mountains. At sunset, we had a magnificent view of a snow covered mountain peak glowing through a hole in the clouds.
Bird life was prevalent, but not so much seen as heard. That day, with the aid of powerful binoculars, several of us were fortunate to see a Danfe pheasant, Nepal's national bird. It's a large bird, with a green head, purple back and yellow tail, all glowing in iridescent colours.
After an early morning climb to see the mountains at sunrise, we commenced the return trek to Namche, after observing the monks in the monastery at morning prayers. The following two days saw us retracing our steps down to Phakding and Lukla.
The tracks we covered over the week were usually steep - going up and down, consisting of man made steps, or rocks and tree roots, rough and rocky, dry and dusty, wet and slippery, and always challenging, often narrow, and with a long drop over the edge a pace from where we walked.
But the atmosphere, the scenery, the views ! The thunderous roar of the Dudh Kosi and Bhote Khola Rivers, the waterfalls, the surrounding hills covered in fir and rhododendron trees, undulating and swaying suspension bridges across chasms high above tumbling rapids, and eventually snow capped mountains above. When we asked the name of one of the earliest mountains we saw close up, our guide replied that it wasn't important and didn't have a name.
Apart from the surrounding country, the sights along the track were just as interesting. Porters and yaks carrying heavy loads over the same ground we found tiring carrying just a day pack. On frequent occasions I saw men and boys half my size and weight, carrying loads of 80 to 100 kgs. up the tracks, covering a distance in two days which took us five days to cover. And occasionally there were female porters also.
I saw an elderly porter with a heavy load balanced high over his head walking bare foot over the rough stony track. And I saw boys of 11, 15 and 18 years, also carrying loads up to 50 or 60 kgs, over the same rough steep tracks.
On one occasion, I staggered about three paces trying to balance and carry a load for which a 15 year old porter was responsible. And while we hung on to the side ropes of the swinging suspension bridges for balance, they walked with their arms above or behind them to balance their loads.
We often ascertained the weight of their loads by counting the number of cartons of beer or bags of rice they carried. Five cartons of beer above a sack of rice was not uncommon. These incredible men and boys who work for only several dollars a day, out of which they have to pay for their meals and accommodation, have my utmost respect and admiration. They always agreed when I indicated by displaying my camera, that I would like to take their photo, and smiled happily when I displayed the photo on the digital camera screen. Children along the route were also excited and happy to have their photo taken and displayed, whereas most of the women declined.
Walking around a corner to be confronted by long haired yaks or zopkyo (a cross between a yak and cattle) with their horns spread wide coming towards us was at first disconcerting, but we soon learned these beasts of burden were always placid and nonthreatening. All you had to do was step aside or climb the wall on either side of the track, especially when the track was just wide enough for the animal and its load.
Although the tea houses where we stayed provided only basic accommodation, they also provided us with warm hospitable welcomes and fantastic views of the mountains, village life, and a passing parade of trekkers and porters.
On our last night in Lukla, we offered our porters a selection of donated clothing brought from Australia, along with other gifts and money. The hard working porters and guides were so grateful for what we gave them, that the response of several trekkers was quite emotional.
The night closed with a happy group of trekkers and guides enjoying dining, drinking and dancing. It was interesting to note that most of the tea houses had Australian cask wines available.
An anti-climax to the trip was cancellation of our next morning's flight due to bad weather, but finished up on a positive note when our trek leader suggested that we charter a helicopter for the following day to enable us to get to Kathmandu in time to meet our next scheduled flights. The copter flight was another superb experience, being one of many on this trip.
A couple of nights in an upmarket hotel back in Kathmandu, with time to shop for presents and souvenirs in thriving Thamel, concluded an extremely happy holiday.
I hope to return again next year.
For pictures of the trek, go here.
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