Gokyo Valley, Renjo La Pass, finishing the trek in Lukla, eating a hell of a lot of food in Kathmandu, Burning bodies, Asia's largest stupa, leaving Nepal
07.02.2013 - 18.12.2012 15 °C
Following an epic day making it to Gorak Shep, seeing Everest Base Camp and getting halfway up Kala Pathar then changing the route back I had the worst nights sleep so far (too hot, too cold, going to the toilet, trying to slow my fast breathing, being restless) somehow still managing about 7 hours which for me is more than enough usually but much shorter than the 9+ averaging due to boredom and altitude. I got ready in semi darkness trying not to disturb John too much but when leaving room at 7.50am for breakfast opened the curtain to make sure he started moving. Only taking a couple of short breaks we past Lobuche only 70 minutes later then the memorial area and Thukla shortly afterwards barely having time to drink any water with the wind being quite blustery. Following a steep descent and long stretch over flattish stream filled land we lunched in Pheriche (commonly named Khumbu Lodge) within 3 hours of leaving Gorak Shep getting big portions for a respectable price; fried potatoes best meal in days.
Ignoring another guides advice (bad body language and came across as a bit of a tool) I studied the map and decided it was possible to get all the way to Phortse instead of stopping much sooner. Clearly reluctant, our Sherpa later explained that in all his years of trekking he had never covered such a distance in a single day before; considering he didn't go with us on the acclimatisation climb or EBC itself he had had it quite easy so far helping in my decision. At 1.15pm we were swiftly on the trail soon seeing thick cloud in the lower valleys suggesting chaos at the airfield in Lukla. Partly backtracking we turned up to the right just before Pangboche for an entirely new route that meant two hours amongst the clouds not being able to see more than a hundred yards ahead (or down for that matter) on a never ending path that followed the contours of the mountain side. As saw him struggling for the first time Chhongb joked Phortse was still 'one half hour' away, meaning a post dark arrival, but luckily he has a sense of humour and we were in town shortly, just as sun set and the temperature was dropping.
At Gozumba Guest House, roughly 1400 metres lower than place stayed at last, they were busy making piles of wood for winter so had to open shop just for us as in no way ready for guests. The electricity was turned on and when ready sat near the wood oven drinking a cup of hot lemon tea. Relaxing and intermittently speaking to the old lady I waited over an hour for Nepalese Dal Bhat that was filling but not all that tasty. I stayed in the warmth typing then called it a night about half 8 knowing some easy days ahead. In general I am in good health and besides the scar on my face and unsurprising ache in my legs am feeling fittest in a long long time. Cleanliness is a different story as except for brushing my teeth every day smell bad, hate my rough beard and just want a shower/hair cut...in time I keep telling myself and flat out refusing to pay for a hot shower when in less than a week (sounds gross) should be in Kathmandu enjoying a free one.
Although we were having a late start I couldn't help but wake up ridiculously early and lay there staring into space thinking about home, the trek and future plans till rose out from the thick cover at 8am, got ready and enjoyed more good, thick porridge as read to p.190 in my book where the main protagonists are trying to scale the mountain that has entrapped them for two months so they can try and find rescue for the remaining survivors. A constantly coughing and unwell John made an appearance so didn't leave until 10am when said goodbye to the owner/guide who spends half his time living in Oregon each year working as a landscaper. We followed the path that conveniently began at the end if the property and climbed out of town at a steady rate getting warm easily from using my legs more as going up in altitude once again and always getting pissed off when there was a descent as knew it would soon become even more of an ascent! We stopped at a prominent stupa (not listed on map however) for an amazing view of this 'new' valley we found ourselves in and could easily see the distinct, more popular path the other side; clear from no footmarks on occasional bit of ice that we were only trekkers so far today.
Winding along the slopes there was something new at every turn, be it a frozen waterfall, stone farm buildings, a look up at the snowy peaks or simply to see what there was to negotiate next. I was at the front for a time but when had to wait an age for the other two I opted to stay at the back for the final part of today's hike, reaching Thare (4390m) and the Khang Tekha View Lodge at 1pm. Inside the simple lodge we sat by the window playing multiple games of Rummy, ate a huge plate of fried potatoes with cheese and watched as a cloud rolled up the valley blocking out the sun making it colder than it should be mid afternoon. We changed rooms to one with a curtain, got blankets and chatted as John in much better mood making me think the really high altitude affects him. Hearing the family and Chhongb in the main room I joined them to get warm by the heater to write and draw on the map the route we have taken using 3 marker pens but had to put head torch on as only one tiny, not effective light working in whole place. I had fried rice (put hot green chilli all over it but still didn't burn mouth) then typed blog and watched John try to teach Chhongb how to do the Rubix Cube (I have no idea and refuse to try in case don't get it). It was only 6.30 and I was bored and wished other people to speak to so before long I went to the room and listened to music as something to do.
With the lodge being bitterly cold, seeing my breath in all its glory everytime my lungs exhaled and finding it impossible to warm my hands, recieving a second helping of hot porridge really brigthened my day and my mood. We were walking by 8.30am (always half hour later than planned) in and out of the sun feeling the blister on my left foot rub more than usual under two players of socks till warmed up sufficiently when unexpectedly reached Nha, in middle of the valley between tributaries, only 90 minutes into the day; lodge was closed so would of been a bad gamble (original plan was to stay here). Having carefully negotiated both part frozen sections of water we reached the main trail and went up 200 metres above the glacial flow on what was a perfect day.
The 'first lake' (Langpongo) was barely frozen over, quite small, contained some brown ducks splashing about and most curiously hundreds of tiny stacks of stones put there by human hands taking over every square metre of land near the water as if a spiritual place; blew my mind as never seen anything quite like it so concentrated. Able to see the path up Gokyo Ri I knew our destination was close so kept camera round my neck and zoom lens in one hand taking lots of photos but noticing bare hands really feeling the lower temperatures finding it hard to move fast.
Now behind a Yak train (carrying logs and spectacled owner always shouting to keep them moving in right direction) the very impressive, 80% frozen over, Tabache Tsho Lake appeared. Standing on the edge of 3+ inch thick ice you could easily hear the moans and groans of cracks forming as if made by a living thing (weird and wonderful...sound of desolation). I risked standing on it then kept going to the sharp, turquoise/green area of actual liquid making an amazing contrast with the blue sky and snowy peaks in the distance.
A few minutes further (now with jackets and gloves on again) we were by the main lake, Dudh Pokhari, where Renjo La Pass was at the far end and pretty little Gokyo (4790m) lay on the north eastern side with big mountains covering the south and west. At lovely Namaste Lodge we were put in the 'penthouse' corner room with a panoramic view, carpet, soft bed, lots of space, powerful light and enough heat coming through the windows to make it almost hot. The only issue was the trippy Beijing 2008 wallpaper which made us feel like we should be wearing straight jackets in an insane asylum.
The fact two big groups were leaving and there was a wash basin and western toilet made us glad we were spending nearly two days here. When ready we ordered lunch upstairs in the other building with it arriving promptly and being very pleased with the sweet potato curry on a large, thick chapati that made me full. Not needing to stay (man with a brush sweeping away every grain of dirt) I finished my brilliant and emotional book in the 'comfort' of the room finding out the remaining survivors were all rescued thanks to Nando and Roberto's efforts and what lives they led since their ordeal; incredible and so glad I read it. When the sun hid behind a mountain the ever welcome warmth slowly disappated and I moved under a blanket till sat in a full yak dung heated room of trekkers and guide/porters chatting to three Americans who teach scuba diving in Japan and who are debating whether or not to go over Cho La Pass so gave our insight. Completing possibly the best food day of my trip so far a big plate of spaghetti bolognese (yak meat- quite tangy) came that tasted unique and delicious with me barely able to finish it. We played cards then did I some writing through a mini power cut knowing we had a rest day to look forward to in preparation for the final three days in the Himalayas.
I had a restless night having many vivid dreams but was fully awake by 7.30am to see my good water bottle had frozen solid and that there were ice crystals all over the windows (didn't realise was that cold!). At 9am I rushed to the bathroom (held it in most of night), took a photo of what I now think reminds me of a whaling station in the Arctic and enjoyed muesli with bits of fresh apple for breakfast (poured sugar all over it). I conjured up a good, long and informative Facebook status to put up in Namche Bazar (woohoo only two days!), did a comprehensive 'to-do' list depending on how much time we get in Kathmandu and took an anti-inflammatory to try and lessen the swelling around my cut before estimating the total distance we would of covered at the end (140km approx) by using a piece of string I cut. Deciding we couldn't be arsed doing a two hour round trip to the 'fourth lake' we instead went to the top of the closest ridge for a good viewpoint of the Ngozumba Glacier wearing my down jacket due to overcast windy conditions signalling the first snows are not far away. Following a hearty lunch it grew colder and colder making us huddle under our blankets rest of the afternoon as I typed in my thermal gloves and started to get things ready for the high pass in the morning which wasn't looking forward to. At 6 we went for dinner making most of a hot towel provided by getting some of the dirt out of my beard making the thing turn brown then enjoyed pizza and chips shared with John reminding me of home. I continued being shit at Rummy making me miserable so John played simple and entirely non tactical 'war' which carried on for ages as let food digest. When Chhongb finished his meal we made sure of start time and went to the room to pass out to music.
Just prior to waking up I was having a lovely dream in a supermarket purchasing biscuits/cakes/chocolates then a strawberry Danish for £1 at the checkout so easy to tell what I crave when no alcohol or other distractions around (going to pie out in Namche and Kathmandu). Grey skies suggested a red sky the night before was way off target as stood by heater, paid hefty 2870 rupee bill (worth it) and were on our way out of Gokyo at 8.20am not getting far at all when slipped almost tubmling into the water below as terrible when it comes to balancing on ice. We watched as a fast moving cloud engulfed the valley again as we began the steep zig zag path to Machhermo Glacier (great ice climb to our left that Chhongb explained he could do given right equipment) going slowly with my nose running uncontrollably and face numb. Soon visibility dropped to less than a hundred yards meaning I needed to keep in between Sherpa and John so no one seperated.
It began to snow on the plateau making the temperature drop even further as things started to freeze such as water bottles and droplets caught in my beard making it even more tiring and a mission to go up every metre. Using big, grippy rocks for traction I could finally see the flags marking the high pass itself so shook John's hand as a means of encouragement and used all remaining energy for the final steps hearing Sherpa shouting and screaming announcing he was there. The three of us celebrated and embraced knowing that was the last hard part of our Himalayan trekking over and done! Yay!
To dampen proceedings there was no amazing view of Everest and all the other peaks in the Sagarmatha National Park and beyond leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth that not even my last Snicker's bar could recitfy.
Now with mittens on to help my now painful extremities we bid farewell to the 5360m Renjo La Pass (one third of the famous '3 passes') and began to descend to Antarctic looking Angladumba Tsho Lake (completely white backdrop...no life whatsoever) being glad we wern't going the opposite direction as there was so many stairs that would destroy your legs and will. The gradient made it easier on the knees although my leaner frame meant the walking trousers kept sliding down requiring constant assistance to hold them up. Going into the abyss (fog/cloud) I fell behind as like staying at a certain pace to avoid rolling my weak right ankle or going head over heels. Soon enough we were in Lumde (4380m) and Kangde View Lodge initially unable to locate the owners but when a lady appeared she wasted no time providing hot lemon tea and tomato soup (straight out a packet and waste of money) for us as well as soft, sweet fried potatoes for me as required substance; Sherpa wanted to make it to Thame but we were having none of it. In not particularly clean room 4 I took out cold clothes as watched small snow flurries making for a miserable, glum view of the valley giving me shivers as expecting a hard night sleep. That evening, when the dung heater died a death I tried in vein to get warm in the room but it was no use and I just got frustrated why couldn't already be in the Philippines and why the two weeks spent in the mountains haven't quite lived up to expectations (John felt same and hard to picture any of our friends following in our footsteps especially when after they read this blog). I couldn't bare the thought of taking off my smelly but heated thermal so just added a jumper underneath my goose down jacket, put thermal leggings on and 3 pairs of socks and lay inside a sleeping bag liner and sleeping bag underneath 3 blankets wishing to be let out of my misery- it was only 7.30! Luckily I was actually tired so did eventually leave this land to dream just wanting the next 12 hours to feel like one minute.
Being greeted by sarcastic statements of 'good weather' and me seeing the entire valley covered in white from night long snow falls (first of the winter) was the worst possible start to the day espcially since was now thinking heavily about our impending flight- fuck! Once tried local Tsampa (barley) porridge and thrown the remainder of my funds on the table we stepped outside at 9.15am into a warped 'wonderland' just about able to go at normal pace following Chhongb's footprints with a frozen stream the only obstacle we encountered causing me untold problems but getting over safely on two feet which is more than I could say about John a short while later when he failed to see an ice patch on the path and went flying; lucky not to injure himself. Going through Maralung and Taranga we reached spread out, religious Thame in less than two hours. As the river wound its way into a deep canyon we saw large symbols drawn onto a cliff but hard to pay too much attention to them when a grueling uphill killed our legs allowing us to see further afield now cloud lifted and snow stopped falling (about 3700m now).
We had lunch at cosy Maya Lodge in Thamo (walls covered in Everest marathon certificates) then only 80 minutes later at 3pm the three of us were by the helicopter pad overlooking Namche Bazar feeling more relieved than anything. Unwilling to stay at our Sherpa's recommended hotel due to being too high above town we went with what we knew and sat in Khumbu Lodge sharing details and paying him what was due (plus about $40 tip between us). After a group photo we parted ways from our trusty guide and now friend who has helped a great deal more than just being a bag carrier and so glad chose his services, especially the last couple of days when wouldn't of had a clue without him. I devoured much chocolate and coconut cookies then spent time in Namche Bakery contacting home for first time in 11 days catching up on news and sports and managing to chat to Amy/Anya/Mum. Satisfied with being back online I had a cold sandwich and chips at the hotel, wrote journal and spoke to two of the Gokyo Americans who somehow made it over Cho La narrowly missing a landslide and getting over endless ice only for the snow to 'force' them not to do base camp and end their trip a week early- wtf?! I unwittingly listened to music much later than intended till 11pm so made a classic Tubular Bells tune my last and slept 'only' under blankets and not in sleeping bag- big difference in temperature was sweet.
Both awake early clearly excited to be so close to the end I was pleased to see it was a crisp, clear day with not a cloud in the sky. After watery porridge with bits of apple, staring at a striking Jimmy Carter photo taken in 1985 on Kala Pathar and stocking up on coconut cookies using some of the pocket money John had so kindly given to be I managed to fit everything into my big rucksack (including new bag) and at 9am began the final leg making a fool out of the hellish hill that caused me untold problems two weeks ago by using 'sherpa shortcuts' to reach the bridge in less than an hour despite a constant flow of porters carrying every kind of supply. At one point I was stuck between a rock and a hurt Yak who could bolt at any moment (had nowhere to go) but with the owner turning the rest of his herd about 180 degrees I saw my opportunity and got far enough away only for my waist strap to need adjusting so wouldn't push trousers down (did good at distributing weight however).
Trying to go at a reasonable pace a seemingly endless supply of donkeys kept getting in our way giving us zero patience and pissing us off something chronic culminating in a ten minute wait at one end of a footbridge and one letting off the loudest fart putting us in our place (haha). Finding it ok carrying my life on my back the forgotten uphill sections and stone stairs still took so much energy out of me (found yesterday significantly easier although John argued otherwise) which coupled with the sweat and stench must of made me look amazing! We aimed to lunch at Phakding but as quite dirty, empty and no views we continued on only to find other places shut or nobody about and got so hungry just sat at Sherpa Himalayan Lodge street side in Ghat having more potatoes (cheap at 250) giving shoulders a deserved break. Getting into a good groove and concentrating on only one thing we went from the lowest point in the Khumbu (2590m) to Lukla (2840m) in a ridiculously short time going under the entrance arch marking the Finish Line at 3.45pm shaking hands and feeling elated; last bit was a bitch (wouldn't be right if it wasn't). NO MORE TREKKING!!!
The many bar signs along the way did their job as we enquired at Mera Lodge/Waves Bar for a room and got a decent 200 rupee twin with a view and in the sun (what was left of it). As the manager reconfirmed our flight I couldn't/didn't move a fair while then wisely decided to put my ruined t-shirt in the bin and place rest of stinking stuff in a bag ready for the wash as still had clean bits been resisting to use (need to be fresh on board a tiny plane- just good manners). I 'stole' a towel so could wash face/hair/neck/beard in cold sink making it change to a nice brown then went outside to take dusk photos and spend 25 rupees on 'cheese' crackers. It was time for a celebratory beer and our first of December so sat at the bar with 2 large cans of San Miguel trying to comprehend what we had achieved. Cold due to the door being open most of the time we moved upstairs to the ineffective wood heater, failed on dinner (John's chicken burger had two slices of hard bread and my fried rice straight out a packet- ketchup to help us was bit wrong) then I won 6-3 a Rummy and caught up on things as watched a big group get along well and drink together getting slighty jealous but safe in the knowledge I spent over 50% less than each of them and was with one of my best friends. Now being only one about I was in bed by 10pm praying for clear skies!
My call was answered and despite having the worst breakfast up here and not having the faintest idea who to speak to at the airport the manager from the hotel apppeared (reckon he's got two jobs) and did everything for us meaning we could just wait with our tickets that only stated 'Flight 1'. When called we sped out the door, got on the plane and within seconds were at the top of the runway engines revved to their limit and all of a sudden the brakes let go meaning a rollercoaster ride till gravity weakened and we were airborne.
Half an hour later we were whisked out into a bus straight to the baggage area only to wait the same length of time as the flight for our things leaving me to ponder why we couldnt of just grabbed them same time we got off- nevermind as we were in Kathmandu!
At BagPacker's we were greeted warmly, put in a nice room and given our other bags straight away then it was time for the first shower of the month with it being Saturday 15th December already! I thoroughly rinsed myself for an untold amount of time then looked in the mirror at my skinny body almost not recognising myself and having to add an extra notch to my belt just so my new tight jeans wouldn't fall off me- was a little scary considering been same weight for nearly a decade! This confirmed what I already knew about today: we were going to pig out till bursting at the seams!
We started off with a large portion of fries from BK's (devil dip so spicy) then walked across the road to Black Olive for a sizeable chicken wrap (more fries) which was thus followed by a slice of chocolate pyramid cake and demolishing most of a family pack of glucose biscuits washed down with a carton of fruit juice. I caught up on some internet and organised things into 'leaving/sending/keeping', got John to bring me back a cinammon roll when he was out and in the evening went out to Fire and Ice Pizza. Not having to wait at all for a table we had a big bottle of beer each, shared a focaccia and loved every bite of my Quattro Stagiano wit hsalami, mushrooms, peppers and mushrooms being the 4 toppings. Still not quite done I managed to fit in a muffin on the walk home just because it was sitting in the window. As you can imagine we slept like babies that evening.
Being so used to waking up early there was no lie in for us as we both sat on our laptops till both looked at each other and thought FOOD! I had a nepalese take on an English breakfast for only 99 rupees and a big cream filled doughnut then we explored briefly until I couldn't resist trimming the 48 day old beard making a vast improvement. I worked out how much money to take out without having any of this unchangable currency left at the end, took it out of the bank and then had one of the best, or if not the best haircut from a barber in Thamel Chowk who was a wizard with the scissors plus cracked my neck and gave me a unique head massage. Before getting a taxi to Pashpatinah I needed to eat a vegetable wrap so did exactly that so when seeing dead bodies burning on ghats by a horrible, dirty river and lots of temples I didn't feel hungry.
In all honesty the place was very weird and being a weekend lots of locals were treating it like a day out so coudn't wait to move on and spend about an hour observing the countless monkeys ontop of the hill by Gorakhnath Temple going about everyday business almost uncaring of human eyes only feet away.
On the other side infront of the Hindu Guhyeshwari Temple we crossed a footbridge and made our way past buildings built in the middle of still lush green workable fields.
At Bodnath we paid a reasonable 150 entrance fee and, going in a clockwise direction, circled the base of Asia's largest stupa (many shops and the drone of that same local soothing music being played) then on the plinth where few people were looked on in awe at the colourful lines of flags, 13 levels of the spire (stages humans go through to reach nirvana), whitewashed dome and all seeing eyes of the Buddha.
The SLR picked up the shadows and aftrnoon glow well then we miraculously got a 300 rupee taxi to Thamel (first time price sane as in book) where got a snack, sent messages to friends and picked Yak Restaurant as our dinner spot. I don't think you will find a better place to eat in the city that ticks all the boxes as had a nice atmosphere, booths and an extensive cheap menu containing food from many countries with me sticking to western as had chilli chips and a pizza full of flavour and of course cheese along with a banana lassi only topped by my favourite little cafe in Pushkar, India. I tipped my stomach over the edge with chocolate bourbons from the supermarket and needed to lie flat which was fine as did a blog post finishing gone 2am.
It was John's 28th birthday so snuck out of the room early to find quality badges commemorating our trek together with a slice of cake and a juice box as a mini present. I began the epic process of making an album for Nepal using up battery till midday as load shedding yet again taking place as we bought t shirts with a map of the Khumbu on, printed off boarding tickets and ate at Yak for lunch (Wanton soup, pizza and naan bread). I did a spot of souvenir shopping getting a circle painting thing that all the shops sell, and postcards, then carried on with photos the entire afternoon even when 'What About Bob' was put on and we were both drinking the Captain Morgan bottle John got in duty free. I didn't notice for a while that he was consuming drinks much faster than me and when he stumbled into the bathrrom knew it was going to be a night to forget which resulted in me having nobody to talk to for two hours in Yak (his head on table the whole time) and ultimately leaving on my own when had had enough.
On my final morning of this part of my trip I sat on the roof writing with a big bowl of banana porridge then spent considerable time packing from complete scratch before took some things to the cargo shop I picked out to send home (although unfortunately still waiting so have the dreadful feeling I will never see all the things I brought), had lunch and at 1pm got in a waiting taxi to the aiport for only 400 rupees. Everything went smoothly for our Air Asia X flight (besides John leaving his iPhone at security for about ten minutes) and for a moment thought we might have seats to ourselves onboard the Airbus A330 but dozens of people clearly all part of the same 'first time on a plane' group came and squashed us in. Just about on time and with both thumbs up in the air we took off from Katmandu en route to Kuala Lumpur- I want to come back to Nepal and experience things properly with more time but right now I was just so relieved and happy to be away from the place because of the food poisoning and what we went through in the mountains. PHILIPPINES here we come!