Friday, August 12, 2011
Everest Calling - Phakding To Namche
18th April 2011.
Few things in life could be more painful than waking up at 6:30 AM on a cold Himalayan morning. That is also the time and place when hot water becomes worth its weight in gold. And that is the time and place when every soul thinks of the Sahara desert with a wistful yearning. That cold Himalayan morning is a very powerful context.
Breakfast in Phakding was two slices of bread with boiled potato sauté with turmeric, salt and some green leaves. Honey and mixed fruit jam were available too. Everywhere we went, throughout the tour, honey and a variety of jams and marmalades were available.
We were set to start our march to our next destination – Namche Bazaar – the distance we had to cover was one among the longest distances we would cover in a day during the trek.
I bought a contour map for Rs 200 INR from the counter, hoping to refer to it as I trekked to figure out the names of rivers and peaks that appeared by our trail. I did not make any use of it.
The first things we saw when we stepped out.
It was sunny fortunately. For photography.
Our trail was by the Dudhkoshi river.
I think this is the Taboche peak considered holy. So people don’t climb the mountain. They believe if you climb it, villages at the foothills and surroundings face trouble – natural calamities and all...
Cherry blossom, we were told...
An old porter carrying his karma…
This was the entrance to the Sagarmatha national park. Mt. Everest is called Sagarmatha in the locality.
The ornamentation at the entrance.
Every hanging bridge was a thrill.
A picture taken from the shaking trembling bridge. Even one person walking on it at the far end would set it bouncing up and down.
We stopped for lunch in a place called Jorsalle.
Swami’s pedometer recorded 13.5 kilometers from the first hanging bridge after Phakding to Jorsalle – must be inaccurate – for we covered it between 7:15 AM to 10:30 AM.
We were 29 of us and we realized soon that we were not to trek together as one group. Some walked fast, some slow, some needed rest, some didn’t, some stopped too many times for photos, some didn’t. so we walked in smaller groups and sometimes alone.
When I reached Jorsalle, some of them had already reached. They cheered and clapped for me. We all cheered and clapped for everyone who arrived and this continued throughout the expedition.
We had lunch in two batches and after a few minutes of rest started again.
At one point we came really close to the Dudhkoshi river that tempted us to jump.
Porters resting. Boys from 17 to 21.
Announcing their arrival with clinging bells, horses came in a procession. Trekkers quickly moved to the mountain side of the trail and waited patiently. I needed some practice since I have this instinct to move to the valley side of the trail.
As we climbed, the valley below became more beautiful. Distance hid from view reeds and weeds and thorny dry shrubs, jagged cliffs and precipices became smooth, green remained while the browns and grays retreated, the roar of the river turned into a distant drone and silence descended from the skies.
It was getting cloudy.
Porters and trekkers on the trail who had earphones on and were listening to music, would you not listen to the music of the mountain and to it’s silence instead of film music?
Breadth, depth and height. That picture is the most special of all.
It started raining. Then it started raining hails. My jacket was in the baggage that the porter had carried away. I put on my hat. I remembered I had forgotten to pack my umbrella.
I got a little wet but did not care.
Arnab removed two small plastic covers containing what looked like handkerchiefs of silver. We started opening it. Fold after fold, fold after fold we unfolded it until it was the size of a blanket. I believe it protected 90% of body heat. I wrapped it around myself, all excited. It crackled like thin metal every time I moved an inch but it was cool!
Arnab put on his space suit, I mean his rain suit and minutes later, it stopped raining. Just when I smiled thinking that Murphy’s laws work at high altitudes too, it started raining again and that redeemed his effort.
When it stopped raining I had to remove the silver wrap around me and fold it. With help from a French guy who was passing by me, I folded it and no matter how much I tried, I could not reduce it to the size of a handkerchief.
All of them were pine trees. How I wish they were Devdar. How much fragrance they would have effused into the air! I thought of my stay in Gangothri, in the Indian Himalayas. It was surrounded by gardens and forests of Devdar and the whole place smelled of incense. If heaven had a smell, it had to be the smell of Devdar. I and Ranjana had woken up in the morning to the smell that had become suddenly strong. We stepped out of the room to find out that they were burning twigs of Devdar wood to het water for us!
For now, I had to be content with the scent of rain-kissed earth.
Drops of water at the end of every pine needle. Little bulbs.
After it rained the fog cleared, revealing to us three snow covered peaks rising from the tops of pine trees. A closer look revealed the colour of snow to be fluorescent blue at the tip of these peaks.
Namche. We expected it to be around the next corner and it turned out to be elusive.
But when we saw terraces with dwellings in their middle, we knew it would be anytime soon.
Trust me, this is how these peaks really looked. Like jewels. I do not believe in editing my pictures.
Sunlight, clear, sharp and unobstructed by clouds in a clear afternoon sky after rain was on these peaks and the snow reflected the light.
When we finally arrived, what met our eyes seemed worth the effort. Neat dwellings on terraces that gave you a view of the whole village and hid nothing, wayside shops selling colourful jewelry, trinket, shawls, sweaters, hats, bakery, pubs, Buddhist assortments… it was really a titanic amphitheatre embellished with life itself.
We walked in narrow busy lanes, wet and dry, and finally reached Himalayan Hotel.