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Clare’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 22 Apr 2008

Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

MapIts official - I have been away from the UK for over 6 months and have seen the highest point on earth. As you will see, I have many, many pictures to prove it!

Yes, I have survived a trek in the Everest region - or the Khumbu as everyone calls it here. My two companions, a couple from Manchester - Hannah & Hayden were sadly airlifted before the end of the trek after Hannah got terrible gastro-enteritis, but I trekked on to the highest monastery in the world at Tengboche(actually we later discovered there lots of higher monasteries in Tibet - but there you go).

I was a bit apprehensive as to how it would go seeing as I like walking but haven't really done anything serious for about 10 years and even then only on Exmoor. Plus I was a little bit intimidated to discover that the highest point in the UK - Ben Nevis at 1,600m would barely register as a pimple in the Khumbu where hills are called hills until they are over 6000m high.

As it happened I've obviously gotten quite fit on my travels as it really was okay - in fact I'd go so far as to say that I was actually pretty good. Our guide (Bharat) and porter (Ganga) even referred to my 'good walking' on occasion and I was able to speed about much faster than expected.

We started with a brilliant mountain flight into a teensy-weensy airport at Lukla which wins my prize for the most ridiculous/short runway ever and started up the valley that day. The scenery was stunning from the get-go, massive valley walls surrounded by snowcapped peaks, suspension bridges over the Dudh Kosi river, 5ft high porters carrying ridiculous loads of up to 120kgs in flip-flops putting the day-glow Lycra and Gore-tex clad, Leki stick clutching westerners to shame, and trains of Yaks and Yak/cow cross-breeds called Dzopkio carrying loads up to Base Camp for the Everest Summiting season which starts in May.

The first day was fine and we stopped at our little tea-house for the night - they all have plywood walls seperating little cell-like rooms and shared bathrooms etc. Dinner consists of a varied diet of Potatoes cooked any which way or Dal Bhaat. Dal Bhaat is bascially staple Nepali food and is plate of rice, Dal soup, potato curry, popadom and sometimes some fresh veg like spinach (all changes based on how high you are and whats in the market that day). Its very nice and good wholesome food, but its pretty much all there is on the menus that is edible. After 2 days you really, really don't want it anymore!

Day two was briefed to us like this "2 hours flat walking, then 2 hours up". Amy had warned me that "Nepali flat = little up, little down" however what day 2 actually translated to was 2 hours hard toil doing short but steep ups and downs over rough paths and bridges gradually ascending over 300m, followed by 2 hours lung-bursting scramble up the height of Scafell Pike (at altitude) on a 'path' made mainly of steps cut in the rock but also of gravel, sand, scree and blood, sweat and tears! It was not improved by the fact that the clouds came in and covered what would have been our first view of Everest. We crawled into Namche Bazaar at 3pm and collapsed in our tea-house. Sadly this is where it started to go a bit wrong for Hannah and Hayden who each in turn got ill and needed rest, resulting in them being airlifted out 2 days later. Frustratingly it wasn't the altitude that got them, but the stomach bugs - hey at least they saw Everest from the air though!

We got acclimatised at Namche and walked up to the Sherpa village of Khumjung to see the school and hospital projects Sir Edmund Hilary and his foundation provided. Pretty impressive considering there was previously no school or hospital within a three day walk of these villages. Another point to note - there are no roads up there - not even to the airport we flew into - the nearest road-head is three days walk down the valley towards civlisation from Lukla (4 days from Namche). Everything, but everything is carried up there on the backs of the porters or Dzopkio. Needless to say prices increase accordingly but its amazing to see these guys carrying three 2 and half times their body weight up and down the hills with the loads supported on their backs by a band of sacking suspended across their fore-heads. They carry a t-shaped stick which they slip behind them and rest the basket load on when they stop for a rest.

The rest of the trek was great - I carried onto Tengboche with Bharat and Ganga once Hannah and Hayden had left, the weather cleared after having been a bit cloudy and rainy and we had picture postcard views of Everest and the surrounding peaks for the next few days. I really got into the swing of it and looked forward to the challenge of hitting the trail each day. I definitely want to go back and get a bit closer to Everest. I hear base camp itself is a bit disappointing as you can't actually see the mountain (you are too close) but there is a great trek up to the lake at Gokyo in the next valley where you get amazing views of the Everest massif and thats next on my list! Have to say though - was very happy to get back to Lukla and a hot shower (they are expensive and hard to come by on the trail) and I have to say the airport and village looked like a sprawling metropolis after life on the trails for a week!

So I'm now back in Kathmandu - I met up with Hannah and Hayden again when I got back and we've done some sightseeing and had a lovely dinner at our guide's house (in the suburbs - they don't get westerners out there and we caused quite a to-do!). I also extended my Thangka buying expertise to Hayden who has gone home with a gorgeous Thangka, much better than mine annoyingly! I'm filling some time here before I head off to Thailand next week to meet Amy who's already there. Am toying with the idea of going to Chitwan in the hope of seeing more Tigers or at least Asian Rhino, or going up to the Tibet border area to do some rafting or canyoning... we'll see.

Hope this finds you all happy and looking forward to some Bank holidays - not long now!