Or, Nepal: Vegan Hiker's Heaven.
10.10.2014 - 08.11.2014 0 °C
Namaste, friends, from Pokhara, Nepal. Starting this entry has already been interrupted several times- by a visit to ma man across the road who sits by the lake and supplies me with crispy pyramids of samosa goodness, by the whoops of a paraglider soaring overhead, by the colours of the sunset, and finally by the falling dusk (well too engrossed in the aforementioned sunset). With some strong Himalayan-grown coffee by my side (carried my addiction across the world as per usual) and fairy lights strung across the roof lattice that also accommodates fluttering prayer flags, here goes take two. Or seven. Whatever. As the Nepali say, as I stumble my way through their country, wisdom imparted with a gentle shake of the head- 'slowly, slowly.' The tales of Pokhara will keep for another day- this entry is all about the Khumbu region and stumbles within.
My first three or so weeks here were spent in hiking boots paying homage to the great Himalaya. Joined by a partner-in-crime of New Zealand summer fame, Ali, we set off to see what this whole Everest-region thing was all about. Well, we tried to- flights from Kathmandu to Lukla (gateway for most trekkers) are notorious for being cancelled more often that not. Due to Lukla's precarious perch on the side of a mountain at 2840m elevation, if there's rain, or over ten knots of wind, or cloud, or if Kathmandu is foggy, no flights can take off or land. The first time we tried to fly, we made it as far as boarding, stuffing the complimentary cotton wool in our ears, before being told that Lukla was closed and to watch our heads on the low door as we exited the plane. That heralded the beginning of unseasonably bad weather across the whole Himalaya- I'm sure many of you read of the tragic deaths the ensuing blizzards brought in the Annapurna Region. Kathmandu itself was also thrashed by storms- thankfully merely comfortably watched from a roof top and not experience out in the open while trekking like many unlucky others. A few days later the weather gods smiled in our direction and off to Lukla we went- in a maybe-dozen-at-a-squeeze seater plane. Flying both into and out of Lukla was a nerve-wracking experience (well for some of us- while I shredded my complimentary cotton wool, tension radiating from my entire body, Ali couldn't have looked more relaxed if he was lounging by a pool. Hasn't he read the statistics crowning this the world's most dangerous airport?! Doesn't he know the pilots are navigating manually, and half these safety instructions are in Nepali?!). I blame my still shaking legs for my first literal stumble in the Himalaya- walking through the airport door I lost my footing on the metal grate- loaded with my pack as a I was, and despite clutching poles to ward against this sort of incident, I fell heavily and took a large chunk out of my shin... In front of a huge crowd of Nepali, touting guide and porter services, a crowd we moved through surprisingly unmolested (I guess after that display of grace no-one wanted the responsibility of getting my elephantine-self safely through the Himalaya).
Despite this inauspicious start, we trundled happily into the wild- well, while the track from Lukla is hardly wild and contained far too many steps for my taste, sure cares are easily forgotten in the shadow of the majestic mountains that cradle the valley. As are chunks-out-of-shins. Woes that are not so easily forgotten though are stomach bugs- as the days and kilometres disappeared behind us, so, sadly, did my health- the triple whammy of tummy ills, your average common cold (and the ensuing asthma), and the altitude, did a solid number on me and as my appetite continued to elude me (First. Time. Ever) and what little food I could manage wouldn't stick in my stomach, life started to get pretty teary. At Debuche (3840m) I called a rest day, took some antibiotics, lots of electrolytes, even some good old iron tablets (desperate times) and hoped this cocktail would work some medical magic. A pretty forlorn Lucy was found decidedly more chipper come evening, and the next day while certainly not raring to go, I certainly felt like I'd turned a corner. The next few days saw my appetite return with a vengeance, hand in hand with my energy and my smile. Here are some pictures from the intervening days to lighten the mood a bit:
The view from my rest-bed in Debuche:
(yak dung patties being dried for fuel)
In the early days the trail and lodges were quite choked with yak trains, donkey trains, Russian-tour group trains, but once we veered off towards Chhukung (4730m), we were left with just our yak friends and a much-reduced glut of fellow hikers. I was surprised how few other independent trekkers we saw- if people weren't hiking with an organised group, most still had guides and or porters. Everyday we saw ridiculously laden porters- while I felt my 15kg pack to be well heavy enough, these Nepali guys were hauling at least 2 or 3 times that.
Our highest point throughout the trek was the summit of Chhukung- a climb up to 5835m- which afforded us beautiful views over the Everest massif and back towards Island Peak and Ama Dablam.
Weather led to us forgoing a push over Kongma La pass for a dash back down the valley to follow another valley to the sacred lakes of Gokyo (4800m). The small cluster of lodges that make up Gokyo was a breathtaking place to spend a couple of days- we rocked up at 6:30pm after a 10.5 hour day which started with stunning first pinkredorange light on the mountains and finished with head torches. Gokyo was, while gobsmackingly gorgeous, also freakin cold. Despite my -12 degree sleeping bag and silk liner, I found sleep hard to come by- and feeling in my toes and feet! I practically crawled into the yak-dung-fueled heater every night and ate copious amounts of dal bhaat to counter this but returning to our room at night was always a pretty chill experience. (In the summer-esque heat of Pokhara, where I'm writing this in my lightest clothing even at night, the nights spent huddling in my down jacket inside my sleeping bag of Gokyo seems a whole universe away). But just look at the views- who needs feeling in fingers and toes anyway?
Looking back to Porche, mid-morning.
We finished our 19 day trek with another huge day pushing over the Renjo La pass (5350m)- I had a good couple of tumbles on the icey-snow coming down but again dal bhaat cured all and after eating enough to have food-quintuplets, we trundled all the way to Thame (3800m) and found it practically balmy, immediately de-layering and kicking off stinky hiking boots to wander sandle-shod, much to the raised eyebrows of trekkers on their way up feeling the mountain chill. Over the next few days we rambled back through the picturesque Namche Bazaar (3440m), always thronging with hikers going hither and thither, and then all the way back to Lukla, looking forward to hot showers and a brief respite from dal bhaat... though also planning a speedy return to clamber up more challenging peaks.
Renjo La Pass:
We had many more hours waiting at Lukla airport to fly out, but luckily security let us leave to gather emergency rations (read: samosas) which made waiting until 3pm for our 9am flight much more palatable. A word on food- despite being warned of the lack of variety of food while trekking, I was in foodie heaven (once my tummy bug was straightened out)- the oft-mentioned dal bhaat (as-much-as-you-can-eat of dal (lentil soup) bhaat (rice), veg curry and often some greens of some description), and the samosas and momos (dumplings) of lower altitudes as well as oreos costing only 90rs (less than a dollar) a packet make for one happy Lucy.
The over-whelming chaos of Kathmandu, while accompanied by warmth, hot showers and cheap cheap food, was not really a welcome change from the complete peace of the mountains, and when Ali flew home I hightailed it to my current haunt of Pokhara (on a bus journey that probably took about as long as it took him to fly to Aus), where I donned my yoga threads (/rolled up my hiking pants) and commenced to fill my days with yoga, meditation and food sweet food. And also an open air cinema that shows Star Wars.
Sunset from my balcony:
I'll write again of the sights and sounds here. Until then, peace.