Sunday, December 2, 2012

A trip to Nepal -- Part 2

... continued from Part 1
Just want to see the pictures? Follow these...
Our destination for Day 2 was the village of Namche Bazar, at an elevation of 11,286'. We officially entered the Sagarmatha National Park -- I say officially because trekking permits are required, and were checked at the entrance station and periodically along the trail. Sagarmatha is the Nepalese name for Mount Everest; however, that name was only coined in the 1960s to supplant the Tibetan (and Chinese) name Chomolungma which has been in use for several centuries. I've been trying to adopt the practice of referring to places in foreign countries by their "native" names, but saying "Everest" is a hard habit to break... 
The trail spent most of the morning winding along the Dudh Kosi ("Milk River"). A friend of mine was part of the first descent of the Dudh Kosi in 1972; seeing the river firsthand, I'm very impressed and can't help but try to imagine what this area looked like then, and what kind of outrageous adventure it must have been.
Leaving the Dudh Kosi, the trail climbed steeply to Namche Bazar (or Bazaar, but the Nepalese spelling is Bazar). Namche Bazar is a village of some 2000 people; as you might guess from the name, it is the main trading center in the Khumbu region of Nepal, and is also the main gateway for trekkers and climbers going into the Himalayas. Most of the buildings that you see in the pictures of Namche are hotels, restaurants, and shops catering to trekkers. There is also a busy Nepali street market. We stayed at the Hotel Snow Land; Lee and I scored a corner room on the top floor with great views overlooking the village. Alas, only cold running water in the shower; propane-fired hot showers were available in a booth at the back of the hotel for a few hundred rupees (two or three dollars).
Namche Bazar is busy enough to support three tourist bars; I couldn't resist the incongruity of having a beer at the "Irish Pub" in Namche, so several of us met there for cocktail hour. There wasn't anything Irish about the place, and unfortunately Guinness was not on draft. In fact, there weren't any beers on draft, which isn't all that surprising when you consider it all has to be carried to Namche on a porter's back. They did have cans of Guinness for some outrageous price (like $7.00 US) so I settled for a $1.50 San Miguel. 
Our itinerary called for two nights in Namche Bazar, intended to let us acclimate to the altitude. On the layover day, we did a dayhike to the Hotel Everest View, at 12,730' it bills itself as "the highest placed hotel in the world". (I wonder about hotels in Peru and Bolivia though...). There was one Everest viewpoint yesterday on the trail up to Namche Bazar, but the mountains were totally clouded over then. The typical weather pattern for this time of year is clear in the mornings, and clouding up as the day goes on. So, we haven't had any views of Everest yet, until we round a corner on the trail, and wow! Cholatse (20,784'), Taboche Peak (21,309'), Everest (29,029'), Lhotse (27,940'), and Ama Dablam (22,349'). Mount Everest is the one with the cloud coming off the summit block.
As you can see, the weather was perfect. We parked ourselves on the deck at the Hotel Everest View, ordered hot chocolate and snacks, relaxed in the sun, and gloried in the view.
On Day 4, we spent 7 hours walking from Namche Bazar to the smaller village of Tengboche (12,717'). Yes, it was a gentle pace. David Shlim (our travel medicine doc in Jackson, who spent some 15 years in Nepal) had told us that, of anywhere in the Khumbu region, Tengboche has the best views of Everest. Well, on a gray cloudy afternoon, maybe not so much. 
Tengboche is home to an active Tibetan monastery, housing some sixty monks. They were conducting afternoon prayers when we arrived, and the temple was open to visitors. There were perhaps fifteen monks participating in the afternoon prayers, and fifty shoeless trekkers sitting on the floor in the back of the room. Of course I didn't understand a word I heard, and had no clue about the symbolism in the elaborate carvings, paintings, and figurines in the temple; nonetheless, it was interesting to watch and listen for a while.
The lodge in Tengboche was more rustic than our previous accommodations. No ensuite facilities here, but there were two toilet rooms at the end of the hall: one with a Western-style throne toilet and one with the typical Nepal porcelain trench on the floor. Lee and I landed a room on the Everest-facing side of the lodge, and we had high hopes for the morning sunrise views. We were not disappointed...
Yes, that was the view from our room: Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam. It had snowed briefly the previous evening, then cleared off to a nearly full moon and spectacular views of enormous snowy mountains on a clear night. The morning was cold, it was 32F inside our room before we opened the window to take pictures. It wasn't much colder outside, about 25F.
After breakfast and "please just a few more minutes here for pictures", it was time to leave Tengboche and head back down the trail for a few hours.

continued in Part 3 ...

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