Exploring Old Kathmandu

Back into the craziness Kathmandu and it wasnt long before I was wishing I was still high in the mountains where it was a bit cooler and quieter! Kathmandu is a dusty, hot jumble of people, motorbikes and stray dogs. After being in a car-free environment for almost two weeks, it was a bit of shock to be launched back into the busy streets of Thamel. However the access to a hot shower, comfy beds and decent food was happily welcomed! 

Enjoying a rooftop sunset at the Traditional Comfort

There was a few people in the group that were sticking around Kathmandu for a couple of days after we returned so we took delight in celebrating with very Western food and lots of it! After a relaxing day in our swanky final hotel of the trip (Traditional Comfort, if you ever want to lash out in Kathmandu, this place it where to go!) a group of us headed into Old Kathmandu for a wander. Opting against getting a guide, we made our own way into the old city centre, venturing towards Durbar Square, albeit very slowly!

Old Kathmandu and Durbar Square is a busy quarter of the city, were family dwellings of all shapes and sizes (and homemade-extension types) knock out the sunlight, shop fronts spill out onto the street and street stalls selling everything from vegetables to motorbike parts clog the walkway. The old city is constructed on a fundamental building called bahal – which is a set of buildings joined at right angles around a central courtyard. This building style honeycombs the entire city, joining almost everyone together. Many of these bahal’s were originally Buddhist monasteries but have now been reverted for residential use. The streets were lined with a tangle of black power lines, some hanging so low you had to duck. Being an electrician in this country would be a nightmare! The effect of the 2015 earthquake was still very present here, buildings were crumbling at the edges and constructions sites were everywhere – most looked like they’d been classed as ‘too hard’ and just left to sit and disintegrate. 

Chaotic streets of Old Kathmandu

These guys actually sleep in their rickshaws – always waiting for the next ride
Remnants of the 2015 earthquake are sadly still present everywhere

We spent a good majority of our time wandering up  and down dusty streets, getting lost amongst the bahal and dodging rickshaws. As the only Westerners around, we were in the spotlight and locals stared at us from windows, shop fronts and even on passing motorbikes. The streets were tiny lanes, jam packed full of different shops and people. It was an ‘every man for themself’ situation. With locals pushing and shoving to get on their way, we had to do the same. Being tall and blonde had it perks, as locals stopped to stare they created an opening for me to duck through and be on my way. 

Wandering for a couple of hours we finally came across Durbar Square. Hunger took over our need to explore and we found a rooftop cafe in the corner of Durbar Square to munch down some veggie burgers before exploring on. To enter Durbar Square and the surrounds it cost 1000 rupees (about AUD$13) which was quite expensive to see the centre of the old town. This money was supposed to go to earthquake reconstruction funds, however the lack of reconstructing going on, it was hard to believe that was the case. Nonetheless, we paid for our ticket and headed in.

Durbar Square
Anyone need a dentist?


Without a guide we wandered around trying to give ourselves a self guided tour from a Lonely Planet book. As it was the middle of the day, it was hot and not ideal to be playing tourist in so we headed to the shady street (in more ways than one) known more commonly as Freak Street. This street was infamous in the 60’s and 70’s where it was a highlight on the backpacker hippie trail. The draw card to this particular street was the government-run hashish shops. Hippies from all over the world flocked to Freak Street for easily accessible cannabis and hash and it became a hippie nirvana until the early 1970s when the government decided to clean up of the area. Nowadays the hash and cannabis has been replaced by trekking and cultural tourism and hippies have been replaced by hikers and more spiritually inclined. As we wandered down the street, there was little renmant of this so-called hippie nirvana, bar one or two cannabis stores. It was fascinating to think that this part of the city, who now goes to bed early, was once a major pot-fest. We passed one or two dreadlocked, wrinkly old Westerners sat on shop front stairs covered in tie-dye and a glazed look out their eyes but mostly it was Chinese tourists taking photos. I’m sure those guys had a few wild stories to tell – if they could remember it!

Freak Street – a far cry from its marijuana-smoking hey day

With the heat getting to us a little, we found refuge in a rooftop cafe and ordered iced coffees to perk us up. Below us, the bustle of the old city never stopped. Between locals trying to sell their goods, to bus loads of tourists being suckered into buying them – it was in a constant state of motion. You could sit and watch all day and never get bored. We were waiting until 4:15pm when nearby a living goddess would be showing her face from her balcony. A tourist ploy, perhaps? But we were going to wait and find out.

In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy in Hindu religious traditions. The Kumari – as she is called – is a young girl selected from the Newari community in Nepal. While we were first told there is only one living goddess Kumari, it turns out there’s actually a few around the country. However we were seeing the Royal Kumari who apparently was the most important. As the Kumari has to be a pre-pubescent girl, she changes quite regularly due to the girls growing up. There has been 14 Royal Kumaris since the 1920’s, each who have passed the vigourious selection process.

Potential Kumaris must be in excellent health, have never shed blood, been affiliating with any diseases, possess certain physical qualities such as a body like a bayan tree and eyelashes like a cow. She must have very black hair and eyes, dainty hands and feet and show signs of fearlessness and serenity. If she passes all that, then the candidate must go through tests, such as showing no fear in a candlelit room full of heads of animals sacrificed in her honour and spend a night alone with them. If the candidate gets through this far, she then has to correctly pick out the belongings of the previous Kumari. If she is unsuccessful, the whole process is done again until the new Kumari is found. Can I just add that the candidates could be as young as 3 years old..

It all seemed a little airy fairy for me but I went along for the spectacle simply to say I’ve witnessed a living goddess. We were in good company too as the small courtyard from which the Kumari’s balcony is situated was jam-packed full of people. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even just a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. I was hoping they were right because I could really do with a good fortune right about now, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be throwing money out her balcony window. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kumari so I won’t even have proof of the time I saw a living goddess.

The top middle window is where the Kumari made her brief appearance

4pm rolled around and myself and about one hundred other people squashed into the tiny courtyard waiting for the divine Kumari to appear. Being on time clearly wasnt a prerequisite for being a living goddess as it was another few minutes before she showed her face. Finally a young girl appeared in a red and gold dress, her face pale with make-up and eyes heavily painted with eyeliner. She stared at us for moments, directly staring us three Aussie girls mainly – a trio of Caucasians in a room full of Chinese – before disappearing back into the darkness. It was a fleeting visit and the only thing I could think of was how sad she looked, staring out at a room full of tourists. I didn’t blame her though, she would do the same thing everyday. Same room, different people. Even a living goddess can’t escape the mundane parts of a job.

We left the Old Town, feeling not quite like we’d been blessed with good fortune but time will tell. We headed back into Thamel where we split up to refresh ourselves before meeting again for dinner at possibly the best, albeit most touristy restaurant in town, OR2K.

OR2K is an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant, which serves up delicious food and more importantly, vegetables! I have been craving fresh veggies since the trek were white potato and cabbage were the best I could come up with. We gorged ourselves on falafel platters and hummus, before topping it all off with a hot chocolate soufflé pudding which actually may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! Oh and espresso martinis! Yes they had delicious espresso martinis for less than AUD$4! I was in love with this place! Definitely coming back here. I hadn’t eaten that much food in one sitting since Christmas and felt like I had to be rolled out of the joint, we definitely outdid ourselves on the food front but it was absolutely delicious.

Hummus, falafel, naan bread. HEAVEN!

Tomorrow C, B and myself are heading out of the city to explore Kathmandu valley. But now its time for a hummus-induced food coma to commence!

J. X

Better than EBC – The hike to Kala Patthar

Before we left for Base Camp, our lead guide Dawa had said that reaching Base Camp would change your life. He hadn’t elaborated much on it, but his words lingered on my mind as we hiked back to Gorak Shep from Base Camp. Had it changed my life? Not yet I didn’t think. I was half expecting Ghandi or Buddha or even the Dalai Lama – some sort of spiritual presence to appear to tell me how to live this new existence I had hiked toward. For me, Base Camp was a bit of a bore after the incredible hike we had completed over the 8 days, that I think the only thing that had changed about me was my tolerance level towards body odour. However I was unaware from tomorrow was bringing me and that, my friends, definitely changed me..

After my dinner of tomato soup it wasn’t long before the five of us hiking to Kala Patthar headed for bed. I’d had a strange feeling in my tummy pretty much straight after dinner but put it down as altitude and tried to ignore it. I fell asleep at 7:30pm while it was still light outside, ready to be woken at 3:50am. However about two hours later I woke up to searing pains in my stomach. Either I was having a very late case of altitude sickness or something I ate didn’t agree with me. I won’t go into vast detail here, no-one wants to hear about trying to negotiate stomach issues with a hole-in-the-ground toilet BUT it wasn’t my finest moment, I’ll tell you that much. I had about an hours sleep that night and went back on forth about my decision to hike Kala Patthar or not.

3:50am rolled around and my alarm started going off.  I’d popped an Imodium a few hours earlier and felt the tiniest bit better albeit very empty! I lay there for a moment, thinking I could just stay in bed and sleep but I didn’t want to miss out on this last chance to see Everest. Base Camp had been such an anti-climax, I needed something else to feel like this hike was definitely worth it. My stubbornness got the best of me and I slowly got out of bed and tied up my hiking boots for the last time in this altitude. 

I met the rest of the group in the hallway and by 4:05am we were outside, ready to tackle this last viewpoint. The five of us plus two of our guides Krishna & Dipak (Lead guide Dawa had the privilege of sleeping in!) all looked worn out and un-enthusiastic. I said to C & B, the two other Aussie girls that I’d had a dreadful night sleep and C said she’d gone through the same drama. We must of been playing tag with the bathroom and she looked like how I felt. Pale, drained and not wanting to be there.

Nonetheless, we set off behind Dipak with our feet dragging and bodies wrapped in many layers of clothes. It was the coldest it had been on the trek, but the chilly morning air was a nice change from the stuffy lodge. Being up this high, we were breathing in probably the cleanest air in the world so even though my stomach hated me, my lungs should be happy at least. The hike to Kala Patthar was about 400m higher in altitude and pretty much uphill the whole way. It was still dark so led by our head torches, we slowly made our way up step by step. 

I was moving at glacial pace (pun intended) Between gasping for air every two steps and unsure whether I was going projectile my insides everywhere, I was not in good shape. Dropping behind the group I shuffled forward slowly. Poor Krishna who had to remain at the back of the group just stood still for awhile to let me get ahead a bit. The upside to this whole experience was the view. Dawn was starting to wash away the night sky and expose us to our surroundings. We couldn’t have picked a clearer day and as the mountains came into the light, Krishna pointed out which one was which. Including Mt Everest, who finally, FINALLY showed her face! This was the best view of Everest we’d get in Nepal. I’d have to bounce over to Tibet for a more grand view.

Sunrise – Mt Everest in the one in the back

I sat down and set up my cameras as the sunrise brought on an epic light show. I felt so crook that I didn’t even care about going to the top of Kala Patthar. I’d gone about halfway, seen Everest in clear view and I was done. My stomach wanted to punish me for eating white rice and white potatoes for a week and I was willing to accept what it was going to throw at me. I told the group to keep going and that i wanted to shoot a time-lapse of the sunrise, when actually I just wanted to curl up in the dirt and nurse my aching stomach. Krishna was hesitant to leave one of the group behind but I said I’d sit there and wait until they came back done. This little black duck was staying put.

Photos couldn’t do this place justice

The sunrise was fabulous, the sky shone colours I didnt think it could and again I was swept away with mountain madness. These snowy peaks could stare down at me alllllllllll day. As daylight seeped in past the mountain and the sky faded to blue, the sunrise was over and I was suddenly sitting alone as everyone else had hiked on. I had a sudden urge to keep walking. The little voice inside my head who tells me to harden up whenever I get tired or out of breath was back and she was in a right proper mood. Before I could protest, she was pulling out all stops – I’d come so far, I’d paid all this money, there was a 50 year man who was ahead of me – this little voice was downright pushy! She finally talked me into going to the top so I pulled my backpack on and started the slow trek to the top of Kala Patthar. 

Cursing the little voice in my head as I hiked uphill, I knew she would be right, she always bloody was! It was here I discovered an awful habit that I have. I hate going slow. I should have realised this earlier in life but as Dawa said, Base Camp will change your life – even if this means discovering things about yourself. I’m one of those people that watch what level the person next to me on the treadmill is on so I can run faster. When I swim laps I race the person in the lane beside me. Slow walkers are a pet hate and I’ve never stuck with yoga because everything about it is so slow! This habit had subsided for most of the trek, I’d bounce ahead at times but wanting to stay with my group, I would steady my pace by falling in behind someone. It’s not to say that sometimes I physically cannot go any pace but slow, I’m not super fit. But being beaten by someone is what drives me to go faster and I do it without even realising. Here I was standing about 5,300m above sea level, with minimal air and I was still trying to race. Without someone in front of me steadying my pace, I would take 10 steps really quickly before having to stop, hunch over panting like an unfit racehorse for a minute before starting the vicious cycle again. With my group well ahead of me, I was on a time restraint to get to the top. A time restraint that only I had inflicted upon myself. 

It wasn’t long before I’d caught up to Krishna (I think he’d just sat down for awhile) and about forty minutes later I could see the tip of Kala Patthar and my group staggering towards the top. Two of the group had already made it but there were still two not far from me now. With my pattern of taking five quick steps and then stopping for air for a minute, I was only fifty or so metres from the top of Kala Patthar but I seemed to be getting nowhere. To get to the top wouldn’t just require walking though. It was pretty much a precariously stacked pile of rocks, covered in prayer flags and early morning frost. If I thought the view was good before, I was shook by the landscape now. 


If only I could give this landscape the justice it deserves!

As I climbed higher on the rocks (yes actually climb, this was far more intense than I had bargained for) I was welcome by 360 degrees of spectacular views. From the Everest mountain range, to glacial pools glowing below, to an extremely sharp drop down a glacier on one side – I now understood why Kala Patthar was such a highlight. The view was ridiculous! I negotiated myself to the very top that stood at 5612m above sea level and felt like I was on top of the world! This was the highest I’d ever been (probably the highest I’ll ever be!) and the sick feeling I was feeling early was like a distant memory. I carefully took my photos – we’ve all been warned about people dying trying to take selfies on mountain edges – and breathed in the cleanest air I ever have. The adrenaline was running through my veins and this endorphin rush had blown away my sickness and replaced it with absolute euphoria. Life was good!

Made it! Everest is behind me!

As I had taken a billion years to reach the top, I was only at the top of Kala Patthar for 15 minutes for so before it was time to head back to Gorak Shep. This was the only downfall of going with an organised tour – deadlines are everything. I slowly made my way off the lookout point by gracefully (not!) sliding down the icy rocks until I was in a safer place. The clouds had rolled in and created a layer between us and Gorak Shep – yep, we were so high that we were above the clouds!. The hike back down took about an hour and we were in Gorak Shep before 8am.We were in dining room before the others and they couldn’t believe we’d already been and gone to Kala Patthar. We showed them pictures and I felt slightly superior that I’d been tough enough to be one of the few to make it all the way. Plus all three of us Aussie girls made it, proving that girl power is really a thing!

Back we go…

This was in darkness on the way up – plus I was too sick to notice it!

After breakfast – which I gingerly ate, I felt better but still worried about what my stomach might do – we began the hike home. It was going to take four days to reach Lukla and now that we’d done what we’d come to do, I had no motivation left. I was in good company too, everyone struggled to find the will to hike. We tried to justify lashing out on a helicopter ride back but in the end put our headphones in and hiked silently back down. There’s a lot to be said about willpower on this trek. It’s absolutely essential to be strong on the way to Base Camp but I think it’s more important on the way back down. With nothing to hike towards except a hot shower and a good meal, every step hurt just a little bit more. 

More animal friends on the way back down. . I think I patted every single dog I saw 😀

The four days dragged on a bit but we finally made it back to Lukla for one last scary ride to Kathmandu. Base Camp had been an amazing experience and I’m so happy I got to share it with these fantastic group of people. When the random thought of hiking to Base Camp crossed my mind at the start of the year, I thought it would be pushed back into the ‘too hard’ pile in my head. However every other plan I made or trip I researched just didnt sound as appealing so I stuck with visiting Nepal and here I am, having just climbed to the base of the highest mountain in the world. That little voice in my head was right again and even though I’m smelly with greasy hair and sore feet, I couldnt be happier!

Now for a couple of weeks to explore the rest of Nepal!

J. X

EBC Trek – BASE CAMP DAY!!!!

Today is the day! The big one! The one we have all been waiting for – BASE CAMP DAY!

It was a little bittersweet to be honest, we’d come so far not just physically but mentally and now the whole reason was that we were here was finally upon us. I kind of wanted it to not to happen so I could keep hanging out with this great bunch of people in this beautiful landscape, but I also kind of wanted a shower and something to eat other than rice and Dal Bat.

We woke up for a 5am brekkie and 5:30am departure. Everyone was quiet this morning, mainly because of the early start. It was a 3 hour hike to Gorak Shep, where we would stop for food and to drop off any belongings we didn’t need to take to Base Camp and then hike on for another two hours to Base Camp. We were leaving so early because we would potentially also be hiking to Kala Patthar to watch the sunset, pending on the weather. If I could knock out these three hikes today, I think I may just be Superwoman.

The hike to Gorak Shep wasn’t too difficult in regards to the trail – it was ‘Nepali Flat’ for the most part – but the early morning chill and the thin air made for a very silent hike. Our lead guide Dawa asked us to stick together for this stretch because landslides in the past have made the path difficult to find. This proved painful and annoying for the majority of the group who walked at around the same pace and had to wait for the few slowest hikers. It was good for the increasing altitude though, giving our bodies time to adjust. We were just eager to get to Gorak Shep so the waiting was kind of driving us mad!

The hike to Gorak Shep – like walking on the moon!
One of the many rescue choppers we saw over the last week

Our surroundings had completely morphed into a moon-like landscape, with absolutely no vegetation and millions of grey and white pebbles at our feet. It was a sparse and lonely area, with the only thing around us being yaks and a few other hikers. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone, the desolate landscape was kind of spooky. If you took a wrong turn, you could disappear into the mountains forever.

The final climb into Gorak Shep was up and down and across small glacial rivers. There seemed to be no specific path, Krishna, who was leading the way, just seemed to know where Gorak Shep was and went in that general vicinity. We had collected a small herd of dogs from Lobuche who followed us to Gorak Shep and become quite loyal to us. I think one of the boys was feeding them beef jerky though!

Finally we reached Gorak Shep and put our stuff away at our lodge. This tiny village did not look appealing in the slightest. Like a bunch of containers had just been dropped from the sky, this little town was the starting point for those climbing the summit. Personally I wouldn’t want to stay here any longer than we were, between the high altitude and the lack of hygienic facilities, Gorak Shep definitely wasn’t one of my favourite villages.

The Buddha Lodge – our accommodation in Gorak Shep

We had a ‘second breakfast’ (fuel for hiking) before setting out for Base Camp. The mood was hard to pick. We were all exhausted from the altitude and the past week of hiking, yet excited to finally get there. Some of the front runners of the entire trip had worn themselves out and were now struggling severely. The Super Six appeared to be in good spirits, we’d been taking it nice and easy the whole way and watchful of each other. I was glad to be apart of our little group. I’d developed a headache not long after arriving at Gorak Shep but after popping a Panadol and guzzling more water, it seemed to have resided for now.

We were at 5,100m above level and had to climb to about 5,300m. The final stretch to Base Camp wasn’t too difficult. I keep saying this but honestly now that I’ve done it, the pain I felt at the time seemed insignificant to how I felt being surrounded by the stunning landscape. I was so blown away by the mountains that it erased all my memory of hard hiking. It was hard, I wont lie, but it wasn’t impossible and definitely a mind over matter situation. We reached the top of the final climb before Base Camp and could see the colourful prayer flags swaying in the wind. Only minutes away from our destination, I had a new wave of energy.

Base Camp bound
So many glacial ponds along the way

Walking carefully amongst the pebbly floor, I rushed to Base Camp where the faster people in our group already were. Now I’m going to be completely honest here. . . Base Camp was a bit underwhelming. I feel like such a bad person for saying this but honestly, had I known beforehand that we’d walked this entire way – about 70km or so – for a rock covered in prayer flags, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort. I understand the significance of it all and wouldn’t take it back for a second but to be greeted by an icy rock covered in flags was a little, well … disappointing. 

Ze German’s and their celebratory cigars!
The Super Six! We made it!
BASE CAMP! Looking more excited than I felt haha

In saying this, we were there in low season so the place was quite bare. Apparently in high season Base Camp is buzzing with hikers attempting the summit, with their tents sprouted all over the rocky terrain. Thankfully i wasn’t the only one with the same feeling. Most of the group were a bit dismayed by the actual Base Camp. But to achieve this end point with this group of people was definitely something I don’t regret!

I walked past Base Camp and suddenly wasn’t so disappointed. In front of me stood the infamous Khumbu icefall, the first real challenge of making it to Summit. I was in awe of this glacial creation. It felt like I’d been transported to Antarctica. With two others B and G, we made our way down to the Icefall to have an explore. The ice sculptures glowed white and turquoise and there as a rushing stream with bitterly cold, glacial water. Whatever disappointment I felt about Base Camp evaporated and I was so excited to be amongst this incredible glacier. Not wanting to leave I raced around taking as many photos as I could, touching the ice – terrified it might melt in front of me but eager to explore deeper. 


Unfortunately the afternoon had brought with it heavy clouds and our hopes of hiking to Kala Patthar washed away in the glacial stream. It looks like we were waking up early for the sunrise! There was a positive though, we now weren’t in a rush to get back to Gorak Shep because there was nothing to do for the afternoon. Taking this opportunity to spend more time exploring the icefall and enjoy being at the base of the highest mountain in the world, we didnt start the hike back to Gorak Shep for another couple of hours.

Back at Gorak Shep by 4pm-ish, we had a couple of hours until dinner and then those of us braving Kala Patthar were off to bed. It was much warmer in the dining area than our rooms so most of us sat in around the large tables, comparing photos and energy levels. Dinner was a bit quiet, we were all bloody knackered. I downed by tomato soup (straight from a tin – yummo! :/ ) and headed to bed. There were only five of us attempting Kala Patthar tomorrow morning as the rest of the group bowed out – either struck down by altitude sickness or just plain exhausted. However Dawa and Krishna promised us the clearest view of Everest yet and I couldn’t pass that opportunity! I was in bed at 7:30pm with my alarm set for 3:50am. Sunrise here we come!

J. X

EBC Trek – Dingboche to Lobuche

After a relaxing day yesterday we were ready and firing to go to Lobuche. It had been a long afternoon yesterday and most of us were just eager to get even further into the trek. We left Dingboche around 8am and headed off the same direction as yesterday – up.

Once we climbed a little we walked into a huge valley which appeared to be a massive wind tunnel. The fierce gales of wind were enough to blow you into Tibet. We settled into single file and hiked in silence with our heads down, suddenly wishing we were back in the cosy lodge in Dingboche. The views around us were simply stunning (I didn’t want the day to come where I became blasé about these mountains) but the vicious winds meant keeping my head down and pushing onwards. We hiked this way for about two hours and by the time we were out of the windy valley I was exhausted. We crossed a very hairy looking bridge and had a break in a small village wedged into the mountain, safely out of the wind.

                        

It’s called fashuuuuuun darling. Look it up
Beginning the hike towards Lobuche
Finally out of the wind. Only uphill to go now..

Staying here for an hour, Krishna allowed us to go on while he waited for the final members of the group to arrive. The six of us who had been sticking together the whole time (the Super Six, thank you very much!) marched off ready to tackle the next part of the trail – a brutal uphill climb to Chukla Lare where there is a memorial for all those who never made it off the mountain. The uphill stretch was tough as per usual but once it was done, the beautiful views took my mind off my aching legs. it was another perfect, clear day and the mountains around us looked spectacular!

Once we reached the top  at Chukla Lare, we took a break to pay our respects to those who have died attempting to climb Mt Everest. Here lay stone memorials and prayer flags recognising the fallen. It was a sobering moment – here we were thinking we were doing something brave and heroic hiking to Base Camp – yet these unbelievable humans had gone even further and reached (or almost reached) the roof of the world. Reading the headstones, the fact that these people once stood where I stood really hit home. One headstone in particular stuck out to me of a young woman climber. I’m not sure whether it was because it was the only headstone for a woman I could see, or the fact that she had actually summitted Everest and had passed away on the way back down but it stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. I’d come into this trek with not much knowledge about the mountain, other than it was the highest in the world and to learn so many people had lost their lives was extremely sad. There is so much respect to be had to these trekkers and their dedication to climbing. They devote their whole life to trekking and it return the mightiest of mountains takes their dedication away. It made me realise not only how hard trekking and climbing actually can be and it doesn’t matter how passionate you are about it, the mountains always have the last say.

An hour uphill – we’re at the top!

We stayed there for awhile before deciding to head on to Lobuche. We walked again in single file, immersed in our own thoughts. I think I wasn’t the only one affected by the memorial. The last stretch to Lobuche was not a good time. While it was only ‘Nepali Flat’ (small hills) I couldn’t find the energy to keep walking. It was hard because Lobuche was nowhere in sight and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Every step was a battle and I felt like I was hungover (except 10x worse) Was this the beginning of altitude sickness? I hoped not, but slowly made my way to Lobuche along with the others.

 We’d long left the green, forest coated mountains and were now amongst the monochromatic colours of wind-blown rocks and ice. Like we’d stepped on another planet, the hundreds of thousands of stones had made for an ankle-breaking walk but provided a more dramatic and unique view than what we’d been seeing for the past few days. It was definitely starting to feel like we were high in the Himalayas.

After about two hours we came around a corner and finally, finally Lobuche came into sight! At 4930m above sea level I’d never been happier to see a small dingy village! We found our lodge and ordered lunch straight away. My mood was turned around instantly when i discovered they had peanut butter on the menu! I ordered vegetable soup and peanut butter on toast. The other two Aussie girls went crazy for the peanut butter as well, much to the confusion of the Brits and the Germans! Feeling a tonne better after eating, I was more positive about the rest of the hike.

It was another early night for the group. Tomorrow we had an early start to hike to Gorak Shep and then on to BASE CAMP! Now the fun begins!

J. X

EBC Trek – Dingboche 

Our time in Dingboche was mainly to acclimatise so we had an extra day here relax and find some extra red blood cells to keep us oxgenated up higher! There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Dingboche so we spent most of our time reading, washing clothes or playing UNO. The morning after we first arrived however we had to go on an acclimatisation hike, which was definitely a highlight of they stay.

Dingboche – 4410m in altitude

We left about 8am and pretty much walked out the front door of the lodge and up the huge hill that stood outside. It took about an hour to reach the view point and we climbed up to about 4,700m in altitude. It wasn’t a super hard hike, just hard to breathe from the thin air. Every couple of steps required a break and gasping for air was becoming the norm. But slowly and steadily we made it up. The view point was definitely worth the walk! As it was still quite early in the morning, the sky was clear and the mountain range around us stood magnificently in front of us. Lhotse and Nuptse were the show-offs yet again, their dramatic peaks stood boldly against the blue sky. Everest sat behind in their shadow, leaving us wanting more. I guessed she thought we had to work harder for a proper view, not just hike up a hill. We still had two days until Base Camp so perhaps she was holding out until then.

Note – not my hiking stick (I’m not that pro!)
Mt Everest hiding to the very left
The only thing getting my through the day’s hikes!
Stunning peaks!

Behind us stood Ama Dablam, Taweche, Cholatste and Island Peak were just some of the peaks that stood around us. With 360 degrees of mountains around us, it wasn’t hard to believe that some of these peaks haven’t been named yet – there were just so many! We stayed at the view point for about two hours, taking in the thin air and letting our bodies adjust to the higher altitude. It was already starting to affect some of the others in the group who reported lethargy, headaches and dizziness. Thankfully I wasn’t feeling too bad, but I felt for the others who were feeling sick. 4,700m high and in the middle of nowhere wasn’t the ideal place to not be feeling 100%. 


We hiked down around 10:30am and had lunch not long after. I even treated myself to a hot shower for $6AUD because it had been six days without one. While it wasn’t the greatest shower, it felt incredible to have clean hair! Especially after using talcum powder for six days to dry out the greasiness! Ahhhh the hikers life! The rest of the day was spent relaxing and basically waiting for tomorrow to come. We only had 18km until Base Camp and anticipation was starting to building!

Tomorrow we leave for Lobuche and climb about 600m higher! Joy!

J. X

EBC Trek – Tengboche to Dingboche

Wow, today was the most incredible day! For many reasons!

Firstly, before breakfast I had a little wander around the village. The early morning had brought on clear skies and revealed what we had missed out on yesterday when we arrived. It turns out we had been surrounded by more mountains the whole time! Knowing this yesterday would have made the hike up to Tengboche so much easier! I wandered around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning and making friends with some of the village animals. After awhile I headed back inside to join everyone for breakfast.

Our accommodation in Tengboche – check out the mountains!
Forever making new animal friends
 

Secondly, at breakfast I actually had a real coffee! They had an big, fancy coffee machine (god knows how it got here!) and were pouring out delicious coffee all day. I lashed out and ordered a mocha and was stoked that it actually tasted like at home! It cost about $5 but the caffeine hit was more than worth it!

We began the hike to Dingboche and I’m not sure whether it was the caffeine or the stunning view but I felt particularly good today. The first hour of the hike was lovely, through lush green forests along a flowing river. The water in the river almost glowed an aquamarine colour. It was quite warm still and the temptation to jump in for a swim was still there.

Leaving Tengboche

As we hiked through small villages, past porters of all ages carrying loads of all weights, it was again lovely to just hike in silence and enjoy the view. There was a short uphill stint before reaching the village where we were having a break. Again, we were sat here for ages waiting for the final members of the group to arrive. As we were a diverse group, we all had different walking styles. Some people had raced ahead and had been at the meeting spot for an hour whereas the slower members of the group were still good hour or two behind us. Krishna gave us the go-ahead to keep walking but like yesterday, the long break had evaporated our motivation to hike on.

It was a short uphill stint again but at the top we were rewarded with the most incredible view! Lhotse and Nuptse, Mt Everest’s next door neighbours  stood before us while Everest herself, hid behind the cloud. Surrounding us was the most spectacular mountain range. I was in Himalayan heaven! Energised by the stunning view, the six of us who had formed a little hiking group were enthusiastic about the rest of the hike. We walked through a valley at about 4100m, heading towards the Everest mountain range. I felt like I was in Frodo in Lord of the Rings, going on an adventure! We were tiny specks of scenery compared to the vast land mass around us. The mountains that had looked so far away just a couple of days ago, were now dwarfing us in the valley. The landscape had started to change and the dense, green forest transformed into sparse, desolate rocky plains. Only the toughest of plants can survive in the thin air and it was clear that there wasn’t many that could.

B admiring Lhotse
On the way!
Cheering about the stunning view!
One of the many porters carrying massive loads.
Hello Dingboche!
 

We walked through the valley for about an hour, enjoying the lovely mountainous hike until the inevitable uphill began. It was nowhere near as bad as yesterday, maybe because of the clear skies giving us motivation to keep walking or the remnants of the caffiene were still working. It took about an hour or so to hike up the path and around the bend into Dingboche. This little village was situated in a small valley, surrounded by some of the most famous mountains in the world. We were here for two days to acclimatise and with the view as good as this, I wasn’t complaining! Tomorrow is a rest day with just another acclimisation hike about 400m higher.

J. X

EBC Trek – Namche to Tengboche

After a pleasant “rest day” yesterday it was time to get back into hiking higher towards Base Camp. This morning brought another magical view from my windows. The mornings were so crisp and clear that all the mountain peaks surrounding Namche were in full view. Whilst my sleep routine was so out of whack, I was thankful that I was waking up early to witness this amazig sight. Usually by mid-morning the clouds settle in and cover up most of the mountains. 

Today’s destination was Tengboche, a small village of the top of a huge mountain at 3875m. In the village there is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which is the major money maker for the small village. In 1989 this monastery was destroyed by a fire so thanks to financial aid for volunteers all around the world, the monastery was rebuilt and a ‘Master Plan’ was made. this included building a water supply system for clean drinking water, an Eco-tourism centre to promote more sustainstable tourism, improving school and education systems for the local people, establishment of sacred land for high altitude medicinal herb plantation, a hydropower station for assured electricity in the village and better facilities for the porters. Without the help of this financial aid, the Tengboche Monastary might not be here today.

Our hike began the same way as yesterday and feeling slightly more energetic from the influx of red blood cells I bounced up the steep track. The path flattened out after half hour and it was a beautiful stroll along the edge of the mountain. We were walking towards the same view as yesterday but as usual Everest was hidden by cloud and Lhotse was claiming all the glory! . I was starting to think that Mt Everest was just a very clever marketing ploy by Nepal Tourism – or its the world’s best mountain at hiding! It was still surreal to think that I was walking along the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal. Just a week or two ago I was working in a office, now I was here! 


The path was built into the side of the mountain and with no guard rail to keep us in, one wrong step could mean a very long fall into the valley below us. Our group had formed its own little mini-groups, measured by walking pace. Three guys zooming ahead at the front, our group of six with us three Aussie girls, two Scots and one of the Germans. Behind us were the trailing Germans and the Americans taking it nice and easy. We mostly walked in silence enjoying the scenery, leaving conversation for break times where we spent most of the time discussing the scenery! One may say we were a little one-track minded! 

We walked along the path for an hour or so before we started to descend into the valley. It appeared we had to walk down to the river to cross it before making our way back up again to reach Tengboche. Undoing all our hard work from yesterday we dodged donkeys and yaks as we stepped our way down to the river. I could feel the pressure in my knees already from walking down steps. If they could last the whole trip, it would be a miracle! 

Stopping for a lunch break (at 10:30am) we sat in the sun at a little cafe by the flowing river and waited for the last of the group to arrive. This little break turned into a massive two hour one and by the time our guide Krishna told us to ‘Jam jam’ (Let’s go) we were all drowsy from the sun and not in the mood to hike up to Tengboche. Nonetheless we put our backpacks back on and walked across the suspension bridge that would start our hike uphill.


This hike uphill wasn’t fun to say the least. The constant steps, thinning air and moody weather made the hike uncomfortable and it was slightly frustrating that we were higher only just a bit higher than we were yesterday. If only we didnt have to go down to the river to cross it! As the heavy clouds set in for the afternoon, there wasn’t even the stunning mountainous views to look out to. Pink wildflowers dotted the path but apart from that we were still in quite a forestry, green area. The temperature dropped dramatically with the clouds and it was getting chilly, especially in our sweaty clothes. Thankfully there was the six of us hiking together so we all were in the same boat, happy to stop regularly and dream about a warm cup of tea and clean socks!

The porters carrying loads of up to 140kg were always a remember not to complain about your own backpack

Finally we reached Tengboche and as per usual, the last two hours were erased from my memory. It seems I was suffered from short term memory loss when it came it hiking. Once I reached the destination and become enthralled in it, the pain of hiking uphill disappeared. I wont lie, its quite a good problem to have!         

We walked into our lodge, thankful to be out of the cold and starving hungry. Thankfully the lodge knew we were coming and were quick to get food and drink out to us. After lunch we had a little rest before visiting the monastery to watch the monks perform one of their sermons. Our guide Dawa warned us it would be long and loud and to feel free to leave at any time but I was intrigued to see what goes on behind monastery walls, it seems like such a sacred and secretive place.

The monastery had a strong Chinese influence to its architecture. We walked through the huge ornate gate, elaborately designed with gold painted ornaments and walked up the stairs to the entrance. We had to wait for the monks to enter before we could go in and the whole thing felt a like cult like. As we walked in I was gobsmacked by the interior of the room. For a building that sort of looks like a large dormitory on the outside, it was so beautifully decorated on the inside. The Chinese influence (I guess its Chinese? Could be Buddhist?) flowed through the room, with more ornate carvings on the walls and roof.  Incense burned and candles were lit, creating a very zen-like atmosphere. There were four rows of long raised wooden boxes that the monks sat cross-legged on top of. Long, gold instruments sat at the two front corners of the room and several monks sat behind them, ready to play when told to. At the front of the room sat a statue of very large gold Buddha, the siza of the whole wall! I felt sorry for the poor sucker who had to lug this massive statue up the mountain, it was bigger than an elephant! His huge presence loomed over us and we sat on the hard wooden floor, pretending to not be there. I wish I could have taken a photo but were were forbidden to bring cameras inside.

Dogs of Tengboche
A monk waiting to begin his afternoon ritual

We sat waiting to see how the sermon unfolded but didn’t have to wait long as the monks opened their scripts and began to chant. There was a lead monk who ran the chants and the others followed. His voice was raspy and at times he seemed to just be making noise, but the others followed suit so I can only imagine it was part of the mantra. They added the musical instruments to their chants and the large horns scared the crap out of us sitting close to them, as the monks blew them without warning. I stifled a laugh, our dirty, tired, smelly group couldn’t be more out of place in this sacred building.

The chanting went on and on. They stopped at times and then began up with a different chant or a new blow of the horn. It was mesmerising to watch in a way that you could almost fall into a trance,  but after an hour the hard wooden floor was making my backside numb and some of us in the group were giving each other side eyes to see who would get up and leave first. 

Thankfully the Germans left first, making way for the rest of us to slowly file out and head back to the lodge. It was almost dark by this time and dinner wasn’t far away. They had lit the fire in the dining room of the lodge so it was toasty warm for our return. After dinner we had another UNO competition go down. I have to say, not having access to technology has been pretty great. I feel like we’re closer as a group because we haven’t spent all our times in front of our mobiles. It was another early bedtime as we were knackered from today’s efforts and knew tomorrow was going to be another big one.

J. X