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Nepal Part Two

17th Feb 2010

Sun 7th Feb - Lukla to Phakding

All suited and booted we pass through the Lukla main street in search of breakfast, the places only cafe that seems open is full, in the end we find a small local place where the kitchen is in the front room where we shall eat. As we sip warming drinks a family of five cook our expansive breakfast. One hour and a minor chip fire later we are served up wholesome delicious food/fuel to power us for the trek ahead.

We leave Lukla in bright sunlight with temperatures akin to a brisk uk spring morning. After buying some vastly inflated mineral water at 100 NPR (88p - it costs 15 NPR in Kathmandu) we register at the checkpoint before starting a downwards descent from Lukla. The mountain views are already spectacular, things apparently get better and better. We pass porters carrying ridiculous loads twice their size whilst Yaks loiter with intent. Every corner is a photo opportunity and its not too long before layers are peeled off. We walk for 2-3 hours with snow capped peaks towering above us, passing more porters zig-zagging with their loads and mule trains. We come across piles of stone prayer slabs and ornately decorated shrines as a bright blue river forths below.

Pausing at a metal bridge, Jung-Ok paddles in the ice cold water while a procession of yaks cross the river. After the pleasant downhill it is now a tougher climb up steps, at one point we get hemmed in by donkeys transporting gas cylinders. We arrive at our first nights destination quicker than expected at 3pm. Phakding is a small village with a splattering of lodges, small shops and houses. We choose the Namaster Lodge which has rooms for 400 NPR (3.50) and a hot shower till 5pm. Mountains loom at us from all sides, whilst snotty nosed children play marbles in the cobbled streets.

The evening is spent drinking the local Chang, a warm rice beer (a bit like a creamy Sake) and eating steamed dumplings with fried rice. Outside the temperature drops to near zero and its early to bed at 8pm.

Monday 8th Feb - Phakding to Namche Bazar

After a good nights sleep and some breakfast, we leave Phakding behind crossing a large suspension bridge. The sun is just starting to peek over the edge of the mountain but it will be an hour or so before we feel its benefit. We pass through Bengkar cutting a path alongside the river. Unfortunately Jung-Ok is not feeling so well so they decide to take it slow and will try and catch us up. As we press on more stunning mountains reveal themselves carving upwards into the bright blue sky. It is the Highlands X10 with a touch of Rocky Mountains and the Alps thrown in for good measure.

We arrive in Jorsale village and the entrance to the Sagamartha National Park where we are required to check in and pay 1000 NPR (8.80) national park fees. We descend down steep steps passing through the other side of Jorsale village stopping to feed on biscuits, nuts, chocolate and water. Andy and Jung-Ok appear, it turns out Jung-Ok is feeling much better and so we will all walk together again.

Climbing over another suspension bridge we walk along the river past large boulders before a steep climb to a high suspension bridge decorated with pretty flags signalling the start of Namche Hill. From here it is apparently a tough 2hr climb to Namche Bazar, we are already quite tired, the altitude making it more tricky to breathe.

We take it slowly, every step becomes a challenge, the further we climb the cooler it gets, a giant mountain reveals itself to our left with frozen waterfalls on its slopes. Porters carrying yet more oversize loads start to pass us citing our physical inadequecies at this altitude. By now, clouds have started to blot out the sun. We pass a french guy who tells us that we have only 30 minutes to go, this spurs us on.

Then we see the first buildings of Namche Bazar, snow covered peaks topped with cloud surround us. After passing the army checkpoint we climb the last few steps into Namche. The place seems deserted with most places boarded up for the winter. In the end it takes me and Jung-Ok over 45 minutes to find suitable lodgings, hotels either being shut or way too expensive. Finally, we settle on the aptly named Yak Hotel with rooms with toilet for 200 NPR (1.60), you pay extra for a hot shower but it still works out cheaper than some  of the other options.

We have dinner in the commonroom warmed by a small electric heater. The Yak steak in pepper sauce is divine and is washed down by an expensive bottle of average french red wine, at this altitude it tastes palatable.

Tuesday 9th Feb - Namche Bazar

I don't get much sleep due to a headache probably brought on by altitude induced deyhration. Outside cloudy skies are yielding a flurry of snowfall. As we eat breakfast the weather starts to deteriorate further. Me and Odie stroll about in the village, the streets now have a light sprinkling of snow, the mountains have vanished behind the clouds. We decide to return to our room to warm up.

I go out again with Andy and Jung-Ok and we climb to the national park HQ where we get a non-view of Everest, just white!. We toast our failure with cheap Brandy that Andy pulls out of his rucksack. By now the snow is thick and moving about becomes a bit tougher on the steps. As we climb down the whole of Namche is covered in a pretty blanket of white partly making up for the non-view of Everest.

The rest of the day is spent inside playing cards and eating, we head to bed early in the hope of better weather tomorrow.

Wednesday 10th Feb - Namche Bazar to Phakding

I awake at 7am and pull back the curtains to blue skies. My eagerness to rush up the mountains goes into overdrive, the others have left a note they headed up their at 6.30. We get kitted up and start up the snowy path, Odie finds the going tough and says she will meet me at the top so she can take it slow.

As I enter the park, I get the first glimpse of Everest, what a feeling! Andy and Jung-Ok are nearby with large grins on their faces. The sun rises over a nearby mountain causing a glittering light show on the snow. It is hard to believe we are looking at the highest point on Earth. Odie makes it up the hill and we take the usual selection of cheesy photos before heading back down for breakfast buzzing.

The walk down from Namche is beautiful, a winter wonderland. The path is slippery but not dangerous, Andy was the first to go over and concedes later he should have bought new boots with better grip. As we make our careful path down, porters spring down in gym shoes with no apparent concern for the snow. We reach the bottom in half the time it took us to go up and rest for a breather.

We retrace our steps and arrive in Phakding and get the same rooms as before. In the evening, after a tasty dinner we get talking to a Korean guy called Kim Hung Su, on an expedition to climb two peaks. He has with him two porters and two sherpas. The oldest sherpa, Ta Shi has climbed Everest twice and tells us that the second time was easy, I'm not sure whether to toally believe him!

We get offered 'local' Chang served in a large teapot with bits of egg floating in it. Snacks of yak meat, raw pickled radish and curried chicken are offered around for all to enjoy. We discover that the porters can carry up to 40kg on their backs and they just balance the loads. As the Chang runs out we all call it a night, the other having a 5am start. Just before bed we are greeted with an amazing night sky where Jupiter, Mars and the Milky Way are all visible.

Thu 11th Feb - Back to Lukla

We set out after breakfast, my legs are now sore from all the walking but the weather is again beautiful as we walk back to Lukla. We need to stop at regular intervals and feed on the remainders of our food supplies. The final climb to Lukla is especially hard and we welcome the distant sound of aircraft signalling our proximity to Lukla.  We take rooms at the Himalayan Lodge overlooking the airstrip and have lunch with fantastic mountain views.

That afternoon we find out that our plane back is grounded with technical problems, we are told to return to the airstrip at 7am tomorrow where they will guarantee we can get on another flight.

Options in Lukla for entertainment are limited and/or expensive, the hotel we are staying at insists we must eat all our meals there or pay twice the room rate, in the end we are so tired we take an early dinner and go to bed at 8pm covered with the worlds most feral blankets.

Fri 12th Feb - Lukla to Kathmandu

As we head down to the airstrip the mountains are still golden in the early morning light. We are moved onto a YETI airlines flight and within 30 minutes we are on our small place. I barely have time to put my seatbelt on as we plunge upwards and off the small landing strip off the mountain. Its a steady flight with lovely Himalayan views to the right, soon, below us khaki patched fields come into view as we enter Kathmandu Valley. We land at about 8.30AM back in Kathmandu on Shiva's birthday still buzzing from our experiences
 


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