Nepal Trekking Days 1-3: Kathmandu to Namche Bazaar

To start with, this trek was anything but the epitome of organisation! Right up until leaving the three of us were tossing up between going to the Annapurna or the Everest regions, and really only decided on the plane to head in the Everest direction. We also decided to attempt the three-passes trek, which essentially skirts along the sides of famous Everest base-camp trek, avoiding most of the crowds and adding a bit more climbing effort.

We were also undecided as to whether we'd hire a guide or porter; in the end we spoke to the travel agent attached to our hotel in Kathmandu about flights to Lukla and they also "just gave us some information on packages". Eventually we made a snap decision to go with their recommendation of a guide and two porters. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we could have made; I think everyone had their doubts in some form, but we couldn't have asked for a better guide (email me if you are going and would like his details).

So, a couple of days later we flew to Lukla to start the trek (you can take a bus to Jiri then walk in, but this adds about six days to the start). The flight, and particularly the landing, is just as spectacular and tense as you may have heard! Flying out of Kathmandu in a tiny plane the scenery below gets more and more mountainous, with little villages clinging to the sides and fields terraced on, until eventually as you start to approach Lukla you are actually flying below the peaks and not, it seems, too far from the sides either. The actual landing strip is on a twelve degree incline at the edge of a precipice, with a small landing area at the top... terminated with a wall if the pilot doesn't brake in time! The chatter in the plane is quite entertaining too: the talk starts off with forced frivolity, getting more and more tense during the approach, before people either hold their breathes or scream during the landing, before everyone breaks into applause. Watch for yourself:

After surviving we met our two porters (our guide flew with us) who promptly loaded most of our baggage and took off ahead, had lunch and walked to the first stop at (the ammusing-named for everyone) Phakding. This is actually a decrease in altitude, from about 2800m in Lukla to 2600m, which needless to say was not a portent of things to come. Phakding was really nice; small, quiet, and pretty, surrouned by green with white-capped mountains visible. Being our first night on the trail we weren't quite sure what to expect, so I think everyone found the accomodation quite luxurious! (read: a room for the three of us, and beds off the floor). We also discovered that we were now down to just one porter, with the remaining one (Shyam) having taken a double rate to carry everything.

In the morning we were woken with the soft bells as cattle hit the trail early. The next day is the real start of the trek, on the way to Namche Bazaar. The route follows a river for a while, before crossing a large suspension bridge and immediately doing the first sustained climb. People were already suffering on this, but we found that thanks to the relaxed pace set by our guide we never needed to rest and actually passed everyone. Up the top, if you peer through the trees, you can get your first glimpse of Everest.

Namche Bazaar is quite a buzzing town. It's the starting point for nearly all the treks in the Everest region, and of course the finishing point so there are plenty of pubs, bakeries, and gear shops to stock up or try and offload on your way home. It has a kind of horse-shoe shape, and is right on the edge of a sheer valley with a huge wall rising opposite. We had our first rest/acclimatisation day here: "rest" of course means a five-hour trek and several hundred metres of climbing, very much feeling the effects of altitude by this point! The weather was quite overcast for the most part, but we did see the world's second highest air-strip (little more than a bit of gravel), and actually witnessed a plane land and take off, dropping off the Indian ambassador. The first stop was a luxury hotel, the Everest View, popular with Japanese tourists who get helicopter-ed in, met with oxygen to escort them to their rooms, before flying out again the next day. It does, as you might guess, have views of Everest and we had tea there, although said views were mostly clouded over. After this we visited two very picturesque Sherpa villages, Khumjung and Khunde.

The next morning was brilliantly clear, so we rushed up to the lookout above the town to grab some photos before breakfast and hitting the road again.

Mark Hepburn 27 December 2010
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