Impressions of Kathmandu:
I started to realize that I was getting close to Nepal when I was at the Bangkok airport waiting for the flight. The people were different from what I had encountered on the way over. The Kathmandu Airport (KTM) looked like a typical small airport from the sky, however, on the ground I soon realized I was in a completely new country with many different types of people. There were worn buildings, worn vehicles, and a general sense of busyness. As I left the terminal and saw hundreds of people across the barrier waiting, waving, and holding signs with names, I couldn’t help but feel some trepidation. However, as I entered the crowd I soon realized they were polite. Thankfully, they did not try to overwhelm the visitor in their midst.
Nepal was different from most 3rd world countries I have visited. Kathmandu is a city of about 7 million for the entire valley with narrow – almost one-lane – streets, many tiny businesses, signs everywhere, people slowly walking different places, and cars, scooters and motorcycles incessantly beeping. One has to stay on one’s toes! At first the many signs and noises are a little overwhelming. However, I found myself getting into the rhythm. It brought back memories of Mexico, the Philippine Islands, and Hong Kong. Businesses seem to have lots of employees and little automation. It is easy to feel safe here. Kathmandu is an adventure.
Kathmandu to Lukla:
We were scheduled for a 7:30 am flight. I was met at the hotel at 6 am. We picked up Ulyana and Emma at 6:30 am and arrived at the airport at 7. We then started what is a well-known part of the Nepal experience – waiting. The weather, unreliable power, and generally challenging environment can lead to delays. I think an expectation that there WILL be a delay is built into the local psyche.
There appeared to be two sections to the airport – one for flights within Nepal and one for the international flights. We went to the local section. It was crowded with people that looked as if they were there to trek and climb, lots of big expedition bags piled onto carts and trip coordinators running around trying to get their people out.
Although flights have scheduled times, none seem to leave on schedule. We waited and were finally able to leave after several hours. The place was a worn Cessna 206 that was set up to seat 12, with expedition bags piled behind the four rows of seats. Some of the plane hardware (interior lights, for example) did not work.
The plane noisily took off, and everyone filled with excitement knowing we were headed to Lulka: the gateway to trekking and climbing in the areas around Mt Everest. It was a lively ride, as is typical in a small plane, especially when we crossed mountain ridges. We were so close at times, I felt as though I could reach out and touch the mountains.
The Lukla runway, sloping noticeably uphill, is surrounded by mountains and starts at a cliff. I realized when we left that our takeoff direction meant we would leave the runway as we went over the cliff – we better be airborne. The plane headed down with a steep approach and hit the runway very hard, getting tossed into the air a bit and to the right. Everyone’s hearts had to be in their mouths for a moment! Then, we were down and taxiing.
Porters picked up our two expedition bags, we put backpacks on our backs and headed out on the trail to Monjo, a small village with a few homes and a few smaller Teahouses. It was about a 9.6 mile trek and took about 5 hours with the lunch stop. Monjo and Lukla are about the same altitude. However, the undulating trail involved many steep ascents and descents so we gained and lost thousands of feet along the way. We were continually going up or down for the entire trail.
We stopped for lunch at the Sunrise Lodge near Phakding. These trails are the only connection between the small villages and homes along the way, and many are paved with large uneven rocks embedded the dirt. There were long stairs at some places and many swinging bridges – steel cables with metal walkways. It was not uncommon to encounter teams of Yaks, cows, and porters carrying huge loads of goods between villages. Most homes or village buildings were constructed using local rock, hand-hewn to resemble large blocks and stacked with a little cement to tie them together. All have tin roofs of many colors.
We spent the night at a Teahouse (lodge) in Monjo. It was very pleasant. The center of activity for all Teahouses is a large room with many windows, with benches along the walls and tables and chairs. The rooms are decorated with local pictures, often of people associated with Buddhist beliefs, but other times of mountains and climbers.
The Teahouse kitchen is next to this room. This is also where you check in to obtain a room. It is the only room in the teahouse that is heated. In the evening and mornings it has many people sitting in it talking, eating, playing cards and etc. Throughout the day you find a few people in this this Teahouse room because it is pleasant and feels comfortable. The rooms are very basic: just a thin mattress on plywood for a bed and one light. Most have no electric outlets. In the nicer lodges you may find some rooms with a bathroom and an electric outlet. Some of those may even have an electric blanket. The rooms are not heated. In the US you might question the quality or cleanliness, but in the Himalaya they are a warm, pleasant oasis providing protection from the elements.
Monjo to Namche Bazaar:
The trek to Namche was just a few hours it ended with a very steep climb. Namche is the Sherpa people’s capital. We stayed at the Khumbi Lodge. It was step above the last Teahouse and my room had a bathroom with shower, an electric outlet and a mattress heater. The common room was large and pleasant surrounded by windows. The manager seemed educated. Namche has a Starbucks (!), an Irish Pub, about five bakery / coffeeshops and a number of businesses selling trekking and climbing gear. The people here are from all over the world. I’ve met people from Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and other places. We still seem forests and wood is used for heat. In a few thousand feet we will be out of the forests and yak dung is used for heat.
Nepal weather has been significantly impacted by India’s recent Cyclone. It has rained continually for days. There has been significant snow fall above us – one place we are headed, Gokyo, has already received 3 feet of snow. There have been avalanches beyond us and people have died. This disrupted our plan to leave Namche today. Just got word that there is 8 ft of new snow where we are trying to go. Groups of people are being stranded by avalanches. May have to sit out things here for a bit.