EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 7 : Dingboche – Lobuche

20 Dec : Sunday : Dingboche – Dughla – Lobuche

There are no easy days on the EBC trek. But this today was supposedly one of the easier days. The trek on the terrace that connects Dingboche with Dughla was relatively flat and pleasant. However, the altitude gain coupled with the cold air, dried my lungs pretty fast. I stopped at a few places enroute to make some images. Sumet and his guide overtook us just before Dughla.

We reached Dughla around 11ish. There was a steep climb to Dughla pass that was to be tackled, so lunch was declared at Dughla. I gorged on Dal Bhat, even though I wasn’t too hungry at that time. Carbo loading was necessary.

The climb to Dughla pass was torturous. I took at least 2-3 breaks in between. Once we reached the top of the pass, we were greeted with memorials of climbers who had perished while attempting to climb Everest.

Made the customary pictures, and then Lila and Bibek took off. The valley opened up in front of me. Pumori to the left and Nuptse to the right.

We reached Lobuche around 3PMish… We walked straight into Peak XV lodge. Sujoy had other recommendations. Rakesh had suggested Peak XV. And Lila must have found Peak XV lodge suitable as well. So, he went ahead and checked in. Peak XV is a relatively small lodge, compared to other options in Lobuche.

I unpacked in my room and then went out to photograph sunset. Trekking and photography don’t seem to agree with me. I was feeling cold and fatigued. But I dragged myself out to a small ledge, around 100m from the Peak XV lodge, from where there was a great view of Nuptse, as well as Pumori.

Photographed last light on Nuptse, and then called it quits. Went back to the lodge, ordered Dal Bhat, devoured it, sat by the fire for sometime to warm myself up, and then got out again to photograph the night sky. Orion was up, next to Nuptse. After 15-20 minutes, I felt that I had had enough. Packed up, went back to the lodge and slept fitfully.

 

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 6 : Acclimatisation day at Dingboche

19 Dec : Saturday : Acclimatisation day at Dingboche

I woke up past midnight and I saw that the clouds had gone, and the sky was clear, plenty of stars could be seen from my room… So, I decided that I would go and have a look outside. I picked up my tripod and the 6D with the 17-40mm lens, a new fully charged LP-E6 battery, a timer release, headlamp (all of which I had neatly organised before I went to sleep – yeah, my version of neatly – so that I wouldn’t be searching for them in my half-asleep state when I would wake up, and also to reduce the noise that I would make – remember, paper thin plywood walls ? yeah…) and quietly made my way downstairs and out into the yard. Freedom !!!

It was freezing cold, definitely much below 0 degrees celsius, as the water in the drum in the loo had frozen… But nevertheless, it was nice to be out in the open, under a starry sky.

I tried a few compositions with the silhouette of Ama Dablam, then made 16 high ISO exposures that I would stack later to make a composite image without the noise due to high ISO…

Afterwards, I decided to shoot a time-lapse. All my previous attempts at a (sunset) time-lapse had been clouded out. So, I was not sure if the weather Gods would mess up my starry time lapse too or not… Nevertheless, you can’t fault me for not attempting.

With the camera at work, I went back to my room and set an alarm for 430AM. At 430, I woke up, and went downstairs and packed up my camera and tripod and came back to my room to catch a few hours of sleep.

Dingboche wasn’t suitable for any sunrise shoot (will write a separate post on suitable locations for shooting sunrise and sunset at each of the places that I had stayed at during this trek)

I went back to the dining hall around 7ish, as there is usually a fire in the fireplace in the dining hall, as some trekkers prefer an early start to their trek and while they wait for their breakfast and drinks, they are treated to some warmth from the fireplace.

I met Rakesh and had a chat with him. My plan was to go to Chukhung the next day and stay a night there, go up Chukhung Ri, and also towards the Island Peak base camp (not all the way there, but only till the glacial lake). Rakesh said that if I was not doing the Kongma La, then there wasn’t much point in going to Chukhung, and that the prices there are more expensive. I was gutted, as I was really looking forward to going to Chukhung. Maybe one day I will do the Kongma La and that would mean, I would definitely go to Chukhung 🙂 Dreams and that bloody Mountain Itch…

Lila came and he chimed in that the weather in Nepal turns bad during Christmas every year, clouds, rain, snow etc. and stays bad till the New Year, and we still need to do EBC and Gokyo, so it might make sense to save those 2 days that I was planning to spend at Chukhung.

Sumet was not coping too well with the altitude, he didn’t have any major AMS symptoms, except that he was feeling quite uncomfortable, and he wasn’t eating too well and he was having digestion issues. He too had dropped Kongma La from his plan, so he wouldn’t be going to Chukhung either.

It seems as if everyone was conspiring against I going to Chukhung, so I decided that I would sacrifice my plans for Chukhung…

After breakfast, Lila, Bibek and I went up the Nangkartshang hill. It was hard work. First, we went up to the Gompa from where there were spectacular views of the terrace that we would take the following day, when going to Lobuche, including Cho Oyu in the distance. To the north, we could see a whole range of peaks – Island Peak and Makalu.

As we kept climbing, the view because more and more expansive. Met Sumet and his guide as they were making their way down. Lila, Bibek and I went up till my watch showed 4900m, and then decided that we had had enough. We rested for a while, ate whatever food we had carried with us, and then descended.

Dal Bhat was waiting for us at Good Luck lodge, after which we soaked in the sun in the dining hall. The rest of the trekkers in that lodge too were in the dining hall, and everyone was enjoying their well deserved rest.

Around 330PM, I decided to go up to the Gompa to photograph sunset and hopefully make a time-lapse. Can’t fault me for not trying. The moment I went up to the Gompa, and setup shop, clouds rolled in, as if on cue. Waited for 30 minutes and decided that the weather Gods were not on my side. Packed up and descended to the lodge, had some ginger tea and ordered dinner.

 

 

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 5 : Tengboche – Dingboche

18 Dec : Friday : Tengboche – Devoche – Pangboche – Shomare – Dingboche

After the experience of dealing with the big trekking group in Tengboche, I wanted to avoid them further on. Even their guides were obnoxious. So, I asked Lila to find out where the group would be staying in Dingboche. They were going to stay at Peaceful Lodge. OK, so, that’s the lodge we are not going to stay in.

We set off from Tengboche, even as the sun was taking forever to shine on Tengboche and warm up our bodies on the trail. Within 30 mins of downhill, we reached the scattered lodges of Devoche. I guess that in order to avoid the peak season crowds in Tengboche, Devoche would be an alternative. Photography-wise, it isn’t a great place.

More downhill, until we reached a small bridge over the Imja Khola and we crossed from right to left (East to West) side of the river. What goes down has to come up. So, the uphill trudge began. There were a few interesting photo opportunities as we approached Pangboche. There were a couple of stupas with giant eyes, and I remembered making some images along with the village in the background and Ama Dablam.

When we reached Shomare, we decided to have lunch, take a break, kick off our boots, dry our feet and prepare mentally and physically for the next section of the trek, which would involve a steep climb up towards Dingboche.

The group from G Adventures and their obnoxious guides were finishing lunch already at Sonam Lodge and Restaurant. Lila, Bibek and I settled down outside in the sun, after ordering our dal that and ginger tea. Even as we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, the wind picked up, clouds rolled in, and there was a snow flurry. Oh oh. The weather Gods were really onto something now. I thought “WOW. There will be snow on the trail…” But, alas, the snow flurry didn’t last long. But the clouds blocked all the views around. My grand plan to photograph the changing face of Ama Dablam as we went around it, had to be trashed.

After lunch, we decided not to waste much time and head to Dingboche as soon as possible. And no, we were not going to stay at Peaceful Lodge. For obvious reasons.

The trail wend up and down and kinda went even, as we passed one lodge at Orsho, which was closed. From there, we could see the challenge that lied ahead of us. A steep downhill descent, cross a tiny iron bridge, and then a steep uphill climb, which looked intimidating.

After going down and crossing the bridge, I took out the magic sweets that would give us a sugar boost, to tackle the intimidating climb. Bibek surged ahead at his pace, and Lila and I kept going up at my pace. No conversation. I was synchronizing my breath and my steps. Breath in, Breath in. Breath out, Breath out. Left, right, left right. 1, 1, 2, 2… Anything to keep the bloody mind occupied and not start “what the hell are you doing in this place, when you could be lying down happily in the comfort of your bed ?” Or cravings for coffee at Toast…Or the Dal Makhani at Chakra..

There was no view to distract me either, everything was covered in clouds.

A few more beds, a few more false summits, a few more ridges, and we were finally standing looking at the lodges of Dingboche ahead of us. We were still discussing where we should say, it would be dependent on what lodges were open during this season too.

We say Peaceful Lodge at the entrance of the village to the right. Kept walking through the village, until we reached three quarter way into it. Sujoy had recommended Good Luck lodge, I think Rakesh had recommended too. So, Lila went in to check if there were any rooms available and how much it would cost, and if they had rooms for Lila and Bibek too. He came back with a smile and informed that there were rooms available. I had a good feel even as I walked into the lodge.

I knew Ama Dablam was somewhere to the East but was blocked by clouds. No chance of making any images of sunset. So, I went up to my room and rested for a while, then came down to the dining hall where the fire had already started. I pulled up a chair and started to thaw myself. The cold and the gloomy weather was getting to me. But at least my health was still fine. Other than the occasional bouts of breathlessness that I would encounter from time to time on a steep uphill climb, I was still doing fine. It was something that I was really grateful for.

In the dining hall, I saw Khaled (with whom I had crossed paths enroute to Namche Bazaar) and we met like long lost friends. Khaled was a fantastic guy, and he was trekking all the way from Jiri, and it seemed like he had picked up an injury to his knee during one of the downhill sections. I asked him where Rakesh was, and he laughed and said “I am not sure. He does this disappearing act from time to time :)” Khaled and Rakesh had stayed at Devoche the previous day, looks like its a popular choice as compared to Tengboche. If not for my night photography, I might have stayed at Devoche too…

There were a few other people in the dining hall, Sumet and his guide were there too, and they were all very friendly, unlike the groups from G Adventures the previous day. I was so glad that we managed to find a different lodge from them.

I think I ordered a tomato cheese pizza that night. I asked for my dinner to be served along with Lila and Bibek, and I shared a slice of my pizza to each of them, for variety…

I went out after dinner, it was still clouded out. I went to my room, set an alarm for past midnight (not that I needed one, as I would always wake up once after midnight for the nocturnal visit to the loo) and dozed off.

 

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 4 : Namche bazaar to Tengboche

17 Dec : Thursday : Namche Bazaar – Sanasa – Lawichasa – Phunki Thenga – Tengboche

Had breakfast, paid up and left the Dafe lodge after 830AM. I could see from my room other trekkers starting off earlier from their lodges and making the slow trudge up Namche. Staying at the lodges at the top of Namche is a good idea if you have no intentions of hanging out the cafes down below.

We opted for the lower path that I had seen during the acclimation walk to Everest View hotel the previous day.

Up a gentle incline and a few bends later, came upon a stupa from where there was a grand view of Ama Dablam, all the way to Everest (quite similar to the view you get from the Everest View hotel) and Thamserku and Kusum Kangru to the east.

I saw several trekkers gathered at a spot further ahead and wondered what had happened. Later I would find out that the lama who has supposedly built that section of the trek was sitting there with a donation box. I paid a token sum and moved on…

From there, the path drops gradually to Lawichasa and then down to Phunki Thenga. We declared lunch at one of the lodges, even as I wondered about the uphill climb to Tengboche right afterwards. I have very few memories of this day, after lunch. We crossed a bridge and then the path just went up, up, and up. I remember stopping at couple of places to admire the view of Kangtega (which means horse saddle), even as clouds started rolling in to spoil the party.

We reached Tengboche and Lila went in search of a lodge. Apparently, only two lodges were open – The Trekkers View Lodge and Tashi Delek guesthouse, which is right opposite the Tengboche monastery. Lila came back saying that there were trees all around Trekkers View Lodge and there wasn’t a good view from there. We met someone who was coming from Tashi Delek guesthouse and they said that it was full. While I was evaluating the option of going further down to Devoche (knowing very well that there wouldn’t be a great view from there) or staying at Trekkers View lodge, Lila went in to Tashi Delek and found that there was a room available. I was happy because I had already seen that there was a terrace, and it meant that if the weather cooperated, I could indulge in some night photography…

Went into the dining hall and I had the first taste of what happens when a trekking group invades a lodge. Went to my room, unpacked, and got ready to make some images during sunset. The weather Gods were still sulking. The moment I went and setup my tripods on the terrace, clouds rolled in and obscured the view. Thats when I first met Casey and Pema and we would cross paths again, much later during the trek. They were also looking for a room and luckily they found one in Tashi Delek. Anyways, I decided that there was no point hanging out there in the cold, as the clouds had become more dense, so I packed up and then went to the dining hall. There were two groups of trekkers from G Adventures – 9 and 7 people respectively, and their guides and porters had taken over the dining hall and the fireplace. They had pulled their chairs close to the fireplace and were quite inconsiderate towards others. Even when their dinner arrived, they just turned around with their backs to the fireplace and kept eating. Very noisy and irritating.

By then, I had met Sumet from Thailand and his guide (whom Lila happened to know from a previous trek). Sumet was having difficulty dealing with the altitude and also unable to eat very well. I had dal that, stayed in the dining hall for a while and then went off to my room.

Woke up past midnight, and the sky was absolutely clear. Unfortunately, there was no moon, but I still went ahead to the terrace to look at the night sky, made some images of Tengboche monastery at night, and of the silhouetted mountains. Setup the camera to shoot a time-lapse, and went back to my room to get some sleep. From my room, I could see the camera at work. Woke up at 4AM, went and packed up the camera and came back to my room to get some sleep.

Woke up again at the crack of dawn. There was already a lot of activity in the lodge. I went to the terrace and waited for first light to strike the peaks. Made a few images and went back to my room to pack up, and head for breakfast. Thankfully, the big groups were already on their way out.

Paid my bill, and checked out.

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 3 : Namche Bazaar acclimatisation day

16 Dec. Wednesday : Acclimatization day. Namche bazaar.

Woke up at the crack of dawn, and went out for a morning shoot. I walked up towards the left of the lodge where there was a path and a clearing, looking down towards Namche, and Kogde Ri in the background. I set the 6D with the 17-40mm lens to shoot a time-lapse of the first light on Kongde Ri and then capture the light moving down into Namche. Wasn’t all that spectacular, but it was ok.

Came back, had breakfast and then decided to go for a walk up Syangboche and Khumjung. Since I was already staying at Dafe lodge, which was quite high up the Namche Bazaar village, it saved a fair bit of walking up.

I had noticed that Bibek didn’t quite have the right kind of trekking boots to go up Kala Patthar and Chola pass (he only had a pair of worn out trainers). So, I suggested to Lila that I would buy Bibek a decent pair of boots. Lila and Bibek were off into town but somehow missed each other. Anyways, that was sorted out somehow.

They were back around 1030AM, happy with the purchases. We took off promptly. We first trudged up the ridge from where we could see the Syangboche airstrip. We had taken a detour to the right, and up, and we saw a hotel that I assumed would be the Everest View hotel. But instead, it was some lodge called Sherpa mountain lodge or something. That was the place from where we had the first glorious view of Ama Dablam, Lohtse, Nuptse, and the mighty Everest. I promptly made a video. Quite pleased about it.

After that I decided that we would eat the most expensive cinnamon rolls and donuts (costed NPR1500, that’s like 15 US Dollars !!!) that I had asked Lila to buy from Namche bakery. We sat on a grassy patch with the glorious mountains all around, eating dry cinnamon rolls and donuts. So much for the bragging rights.

After that, we went up to the Everest View hotel, but just walked around it and then descended to Khumjung village.

I loved the feel of Khumjung, though we didn’t walk around much. Just found a place for lunch and enjoyed the very delicious dal bhat.

After that, we decided that we should head back to the viewpoint to shoot sunset. We passed by a school where there were some teenagers playing ball. Slightly further ahead, there was a 6-7 years old boy standing by the side of the path. He kinda ignored as Lila and Bibek passed him. But when I reached the spot where he was standing, he just started walking with me. I didn’t say anything. After a few minutes, I asked his name. He replied “Bibas Rai”. We started walking up the stone stairs together. I was gasping for breath, but he was casually walking up the stone stairs. I asked if he took this route every day from home to school and back. He said yes. I asked if he felt breathless. He said no. Only, if he ran up the stairs, he would feel breathless. We laughed.

I asked what his dad does for a living. He said that his dad was a teacher in a school in Pangboche. And his mom ? He said that she cooks 🙂 Any brothers and sisters ? He has 3 siblings – 2 elder and 1 younger. We had a good conversation going. And I wondered what our connection was. We reached the top of the ridge where the path would split, one going to the right – Syangboche village where Bibas was heading, and one to the left, that would lead us to the Sherpa mountain resort/my viewpoint. Mist had rolled in and my hopes of a sunset had already faded. Bibas said goodbye to me. I asked him to wait, slung my backpack over, took out my box of chocolates that had the Hershey’s kisses. I offered him to take some. He took one. I asked him to take for his siblings. He was gingerly picking up another 2… We head a voice in the distance, in Nepalese. It was her sister “Bibas. What are you doing ? Who are you talking to ?” Bibas replied “I met this dai near the school…” His sister and her friend approached the two of us. I offered the box of chocolates to both of them. They grabbed a handful of chocolates. Both the girls. That was really greedy. They didn’t even know me or attempt to make any conversation. They had absolutely no manners. Spoilt brats. I felt bad that they were setting a bad example to Bibas, who was such a pure, innocent kid.

And oh, by the way, I had asked Bibas what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said he wanted to become a footballer and grinned. Which was his favourite team ? Chelsea !!! Pat, came the answer. He had no favourite footballers as such. But he had a favourite team and he was pretty sure about it 🙂

I narrated the chocolates incident to Lila, and he didn’t have anything nice to say about the girls.

We reached the viewpoint, but there was no view. The clouds/mist had blocked whatever view that was on offer. There was an opening and I got all excited. I setup my tripods thinking I would shoot a timelapse but then clouds rolled in again. Just when I decided that I would pack up and leave, the clouds parted. I got some images of the last night on the mountains and clouds rolled in again. It was crap. The weather Gods were really pissed with me.

I packed up and left. We descended nonstop in darkness and reached Namche in 30 mins. Dal bhat was waiting for us. After dinner, I wanted a signature shot of Namche at night. Bibek and I just walked up to the place from where I had made the sunrise images. Made some images with the moon and the lights of Namche and then I decided that I had had enough.

I was eating well, drinking well, no signs of nausea or headache or dizziness. If not the Weather Gods, at least the Health Gods were looking after me 🙂

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 2 : Monjo to Namche Bazaar

15 Dec : Tuesday. Monjo – Jorsale – Namche bazaar

Woke up at 6, lazed till 7, then decided to trudge to the dining room. Had a breakfast of chapati and vegetable curry. Met Martin. Susan was nowhere to be seen.

Went back to my room. Packed. Left Monjo by 9. It was a bit uphill initially. Reached the Sagarmatha park entrance. Was charged 3390 as entrance fee. 3000 + 390 as Govt tax (13%). Why don’t they calculate all-in-one price, and round it off ? Invariably, the guy at the counter won’t have small change. If he makes 10 bucks off every trekker, imagine how much money he can make on the side. Anyways, I am just being bitter about it, I guess. It’s small money, but it’s a matter of principle to me.

After Monjo, more downhill till we crossed a bridge, right side to left side of the river and then came Jorsale. I wish I had the strength to reach here yesterday. Kept walking on the left side of the river now. After a few minutes, came another bridge. And crossed over to the right side of the river again. And then a relentless climb. Met Susan and all the children from her school who were making their way down. Apparently, Susan had left Monjo very early in the morning and had almost made it to Namche when the rest of their group were making their way down. We spoke for a bit and then said our goodbyes.

More uphill and then came a two tier bridge. The older one below not in use anymore. Photo opportunities. We used the upper bridge and took a break the other side. Now, we were on the left side of the river. And from here, it was just up up and up. Nothing much to write about. Enroute, there’s a viewpoint from where you can see Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse. Stopped there for a break. Obligatory picture taking. Met Rakesh again (we had met first at Thado Khoshi or some place like that, after Lukla, before Phakding), who was guiding Khaled, a trekker from Jordan. They had started all the way from Jiri. We would meet them again in Dingboche…

I was quite undecided about where to stay in Namche. I wanted to stay somewhere high up, maybe suitable for photography OR at least away from the crowds of Namche and all the chatter and noise. I asked Rakesh for recommendations. They were gonna stay at International Footrest guesthouse. I told Lila that we could stay there too as they had a terrace apparently, after checking out its location. Then came 4 trekkers from the US (whom I would keep meeting all the way to Gorakshep) and Khaled decided to join them and they decided to stay at Sakura guesthouse. We were not yet sure where to go. I didn’t want to stay at Zamling. That much I was sure. Zamling was the one to whom I had written if he needed any help for the children’s home that he was managing. The reply had come that they wanted a 56 inch LCD TV !!! Human greed has no limits.

Namche was still an hour away at my pace. We trudged into town around 130pm. I was famished. The oranges and sweets could only do so much for fatigue. We signed at a Checkpost. Again registered TIMS, Sagarmatha entrance ticket and details of cameras carried. After another 10-15 mins, we were in Namche bazaar. Still feeling pretty disorientated, we kept walking up. Rakesh had recommended Moonlight guesthouse or Tashi Delek guesthouse, if we wanted to stay somewhere up and away. Somehow, we decided to go further up. Found a very small home run place. Danfe guesthouse. Initially, I didn’t quite like the feel of it, but Lila seemed to like it. So, decided to stay there. I could always move out after one night. Ordered dal bhat. Wolfed it down when it came, almost an hour later. Drank lots of black tea.

Was thinking what it would be to trek all the way from Phakding. I would have died of exhaustion. I am clearly not fit enough for these adventures. Phakding is not really the ideal place to stay for the first night (unless the flight to Lukla is delayed). Monjo or Jorsale are better options, to make the climb up to Namche a more manageable affair.

Went into my room. No attached bathroom or shower. I would have preferred a bit more luxury in Namche bazaar.

Unpacked, lazed in bed. Wanted to photograph Thamserku for sunset. But clouds and mist rolled in. I was lying in bed and wondering why the weather Gods were pissed with me. First, it was the flight to Lukla that never took off, missed photographing the Geminids, and now the first chance of a decent sunset also ruined.

10 mins before sunset, Lila called out “Thamserku is clear now”. It looked amazing in the sun’s glow. I quickly wore my boots and rushed out. Scrambled over the steps to a clearing. As soon as I setup my tripod, clouds covered Thamserku again. Around 615PM, the clouds cleared a bit. I made a few images of Thamserku and Kusum Kangru, packed up and headed back to the lodge. Met Martin even as he was sprinting down. Apparently, he was timing how much time it would take to get to and from
Syangboche airfield. We exchanged some pleasantries and said our goodbyes.

Dinner was pizza and more tea.

Went back to my room. Read a bit. Made some plans for the next day. Looked for a spare headlamp and spare crampons for Bibek and my headphones. All couldn’t be found. So much for my organization skills.

Slept fitfully. Woke up at midnight. Couldn’t sleep as my mind kept wandering towards the things I couldn’t  find. Didn’t want to make noise and wake up Lila and Bibek, who were sleeping in the room next door. Those paper thin plywood walks. Will only get thinner as we go further up..I need to wait till morning to resume my search.

EBC Gokyo Trek : Day 1 : Onwards to Monjo

14 Dec : Monday. Kathmandu – Lukla – Phakding – Bengkar – Monjo

 

Woke up by 430AM. Taxi came at 5AM. Loaded bags by 515AM. The usual wait till 6AM for the airport gates to open. Checked in at airport. Had coffee and biscuits.

There were a few announcements to Lukla, looked like we were not on the first flight. I was getting nervous, but soon an announcement for our flight was made. I was the last to board the bus that would drive us to the aircraft, from the terminal. The moment they allowed us to get off the bus, I sprinted to the plane. I wanted that first row seat on the left, behind the cockpit. Cheap thrills.

Flight took off around 645-7am. Tara air is good. Their flight is supposedly the fastest. Took lots of photos and videos with my iPhone as well as with my DSLR.

We managed to see the Himalayas in all their glory, and the first glimpse of Everest drew excited cries of “Oh my God. That’s Everest. Oh my God. That’s Everest” from a lady on the flight. Her voice is captured in most of my videos, she was probably the most excited person on the flight.

Made some images through the cockpit window of the landing strip, thats so precariously carved into the mountain. The Nepalese have somehow convinced the whole world that its an airstrip. I don’t even know what to call it.

We landed around 730am. Chaos at Lukla airport. Took some pictures of the planes landing and taking off. Bags collected. Bibek, my porter, was waiting for us. I instantly took a liking for him. At 20, he could have been my son. I needed to look after his wellbeing as much as he was gonna look after me by carrying my 18kgs duffle bag for the next 20 days. Got out of the airport, turned left, and hit the trail.

We had tea and biscuits at Shangrila guesthouse/lodge, right at the end of the runway, while Bibek went somewhere to get his bag. I took some pictures of planes landing and taking off.

I did some repacking of stuff, into my day pack. At 830AM, we left.

It was downhill all the way. Somewhere towards the end of Lukla, we had to register my TIMS and put in details about number of cameras I was carrying etc. Apparently, it helps them identify missing or dead trekkers. Quite a macabre thought.

We reached Phakding around 1130 or so. I could’ve gone another hour to Bengkar. But Lila and Bibek were hungry. Ordered lunch at Trekkers lodge or something like that – dal baht. A simple affair. Loaded up on carbs. Rested till 1pm. Took off at 115pm. Wanted to push as far as I could on this day. Bengkar came and went. Maybe an hour. Took a break. Met Bato and Beto, really nice people from Mexico. Chatted for a while. Plenty of laughs. Then took off. Met a Singaporean family. Mom and Dad. Three kids. They did the Gokyo lakes and climbed Gokyo Ri. So happy to meet my fellow countrymen. Forgot to offer some sweets for their accomplishment.

I don’t enjoy the jungle treks so much. I was getting tired, by the relentless down and up trail. Made a mental note that I would be traversing this section on the way back. The last climb up Monjo took its toll on me. Lila and Bibek were waiting outside the first lodge – Monjo guest house. Sujoy had recommended this one. This was the night of the Geminids. I was looking for a lodge with a rooftop and with a good view. I  didn’t think Monjo offers any view as such, as its down in the valley. If I had managed to catch the earlier day’s flight, I would have reached Namche Bazaar on this day, and I would have definitely attempted to shoot the Geminids. If I had the strength, I would have pushed on to Jorsale on this day, making the next day up Namche a bit easier. But no, I had had enough for my first day on the trail. Brushing all these thoughts aside, I decided that for tonight, Monjo guesthouse it would be.

I asked for a room with attached bathroom. I hadn’t drunk much water all day and I planned to hydrate as much as possible through the night. Which meant the inevitable nocturnal visits to the loo. I didn’t fancy walking out of my room at night to pee. So, that made the decision to get a room with the attached bathroom so much easier.

In the dining area, I met Susan from Tasmania and Martin from HK. Interesting conversations. I would meet Martin several times on the trail.

Went to my room. Showered. And kept shivering for the next 1 hour, even as I dived into my down sleeping bag, wearing my down jacket and trousers. Went to the kitchen for dinner, when Lila came looking for me. Fried rice was tasteless. Tomato soup looked like sweet corn soup. But as least it was freshly made and not some instant powder soup, that I was expecting.

The sky was clouded out. And that made the decision to sneak into my sleeping bag so much easier.

Geminids. You were missed this year.

EBC Gokyo Trek – Flight to Lukla

I was down at the lobby of the Sacred Valley by 445AM. 5AM came and went. No sign of any taxi. I started to get nervous. At 515AM, I asked the owner to call the taxi guy. The taxi guy was sleeping. The idiot said that it was too cold and hence he couldn’t wake up. Essentially, he was not going to come to the hotel to pick me up. I was boiling, but I kept a straight face. This was a bad sign.

Lila came to the rescue. He called up a friend of his, who lived 5 mins from Thamel. The poor guy came within 10 mins. By 530AM, we were rushing to the airport. I gave the taxi chap, a tip of NPR 300 bucks and told him to go and collect NPR 2000 from the hotel owner. I seriously doubt if the owner would have paid this taxi guy the full amount. Everyone is out to make a quick buck from anywhere at every possible opportunity. No ethics whatsoever.

A queue had formed at the airport, as the main door into the domestic airport building was still closed. It opened at 6AM, and the usual ruckus ensued. Guides of big groups have their “connections” inside, their bags get checked in earlier etc. etc.

We checked in our bags too, went through security check, and inside the departure area.

There was a thick layer of fog in Kathmandu airport, and no flights were taking off. I knew it. Bad sign. Bad, bad sign. It has started from that taxi guy who didn’t turn up.u

For the next 8 hours, every time there was an announcement “Krupaya dhyaan den hola…” (Please pay attention), my ears would be flapping. Just say the goddamn words “Tara Air to Lukla, and the gate number”, but it wasn’t meant to be.

In the meantime, Lila went talking to some of the other guides that he had met in the Annapurna region in the past.

Finally, at 230PM, the announcement was made that there would be no flights to Lukla because of bad weather there. I cursed and swore.

Then through the ruckus to get the bags back, and find a taxi back to Sacred Valley. Lila somehow managed to find a shared taxi option, but the other passenger in the car somehow couldn’t come to a conclusion as to where he wanted to go. We went for a joyride in Kathmandu, with my blood boiling with every passing minute.

Went back to Sacred Valley, dumped the bags at the reception, I was in no mood for any conversation, so I just rudely walked out of the hotel, and Lila and I went to Thakali kitchen to hog. An Everest was the need of the hour, and we wolfed down the meal in silence. After that, I went back to the hotel and slept.

Woke up later and we went to Gaia for dinner. I just didn’t have the mood to go anywhere farther, even though I had started to dislike Gaia.

I had had enough for the day. I hoped that the flight to Lukla would take off the next day, as I simply didn’t fancy another day in Kathmandu. It was depressing.

I didn’t bother asking the hotel owner for a taxi the next day. The trust factor had gone. Lila had already informed his friend to pick us up at 515AM.

13 Dec. Thamel – Kathmandu domestic airport – Thamel. What a mis-adventure !!!

EBC Gokyo Trek – Arrival in Kathmandu

12 Dec. From Singapore to KL to Kathmandu to Sacred Valley Inn, in Thamel.

The flight from KL to Kathmandu was pretty much uneventful. Didn’t get any sleep. An hour before landing, I started peering out of the window, trying to locate some familiar mountains. After all these trips, I can finally spot Everest unless its covered in clouds. Cheap thrills.

Oh, for those first timers, make sure that you sit on the starboard side/right side of the plane when flying from Singapore/KL to Kathmandu (you can pre-book or select seat F on Malaysia airlines/SilkAir flights. And likewise, for the return flight from Kathmandu, sit on the port side/left side of the plane, ask for seat A)

Visa on arrival was smooth. Hardly took me 5 minutes.

Baggage collection was a chaotic affair. But my bags finally arrived after 30 minutes or so. Loaded them onto a trolley, went to the pre-paid taxi counter at the airport. The guy said “NPR 1050 to Thamel”. I retorted “Last time I paid NPR 700. Wow. You raised the fare by 50% !!!”. The guy replied “Please tell Mr Narendra Modi to send us fuel from India. We are having a fuel crisis here.’ Without being drawn into a discussion on politics, I decided to go with the flow. My bags were loaded into the car, but I had one stop to make right outside the airport. I had to pick up the Kathmandu – Lukla – Kathmandu flight tickets for myself and Lila, from the travel agent’s office (Home and Away travels). Took me a few minutes to settle the payment and I was off to Sacred Valley Inn.

Checked into Sacred valley. Didn’t have the same feel anymore. I was famished and Lila was still an hour away from Kathmandu. So, I decided to go to Gaia. It didn’t have the same feel anymore either. Their menu is a one-pager now, with hardly any decent options to eat. Had vegetable biryani rice, and honey ginger tea.

Just when I was finishing my meal, Lila appeared. We hugged, talked a bit and then decided to go shopping at Shona’s.

I bought a down jacket for Lila, a fake Nalgene water bottle for him, a pair of crampons for myself, and a water-proof wind-proof trouser that I could wear on top of my trousers in case it rained/snowed, whatever…

We then went to exchange USD to NPR, for our trek. After asking around a bit, I got a rate of NPR 106.5 (not sure if that was a good deal or not, but I was just tired of asking around. Somehow, my time and peace of mind, is more precious than NPR .1 or .2 per dollar)

With that settled, we went back to the hotel and I rested for a while. Lila passed me the TIMS card that he had got for me.

For dinner, I introduced Lila to Thakali kitchen, which promptly became a favourite for him, for the unlimited dal bhat and chicken/mutton curry.

We booked a taxi to pick us up at 5AM the next morning, in time for the 630AM first flight to Lukla. The hotel owner quoted and charged me NPR 2000 for that ride, even as I rolled my eyes in disbelief. That’s a freaking USD20 for a 10 minutes taxi ride !!! Its more than what I would pay in Singapore. Blame it on the fuel crisis, and the political deadlock because of which goods and fuel were not being sent from India. I was already getting tired of listening to these woes, and for the next 3 weeks I would hear the same thing from every Nepali that I would meet.

I went up to my room, showered, and packed my stuff, with some clean clothes in the smaller duffle bag that would be left behind.

Fairly eventful day after landing in Kathmandu, and I couldn’t wait to get out of Kathmandu…

EBC Gokyo Trek – Departure from Singapore

The Malaysia airlines connection from Singapore to KL is at an obscene hour. 630 AM. Alvin wanted to use my car when I would be away, so rather than ask him to send me to the airport at 4AM, I decided that I would go the airport at midnight itself, and allow him to go home and sleep. As such I wouldn’t get any sleep at home for a 4AM wakeup.

I found a quiet corner in the airport and crashed out for couple of hours. Changi airport is busy 24 hours and by 3AM there were a few Filipino tourists who were probably on a 5 or 6AM flight, who started making a ruckus, near where I was lying down. There went my sleep…

I decided to checkin. My two duffle bags weighed 32kgs. What the hell was I carrying ? The two tripods, down sleeping bag, down jacket, down trousers must be the culprit. And the food and medicines. Well, some of that would go into my daypack. And some would be left behind in Kathmandu. I was carrying a pair of Garment boots for Lila, so that would go to him too. I would reduce my duffle bag to 18-20kgs, which the porter would carry on the trek.

The flight took off on time. Arrived in KL. Was desperate for a coffee. Went to Old Town. Coffee and toast. Then went looking for a quiet corner to doze before the flight. Called Lila. He was just leaving Pokhara in a bus. Told him that my flight is on time. And that I would go to the Sacred Valley Inn in Kathmandu, and wait for him.