Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Everest Calling - Namche- Acclimatization- Everest View Hotel

19 April 2011

In our itinerary, this day was set aside for acclimatization. We had to allow our body to get used to the atmosphere surrounding us – altitude, oxygen level, pressure, cold, terrain and all. Towards this purpose, we would go for a short trek to some place nearby and return and resume our main program the next day.

Some of them wanted simply to rest and not go through any exertion at all. But our leader was strict and declared that it was a mandate to trek and no one was going to stay back in the hotel.

We had two options.

One, Khumjung village with a Buddhist monastery.
Two, Everest View hotel, which promised a glimpse of the Everest.

The group split into two.

I chose the Everest View Hotel.
Out of pure impulse, I asked if you could really see Everest from the hotel, not realizing that that would become gossip fodder and giggle fodder for some of the men during the rest of the tour.
Men and gossip? Oh yes, of the many things that I learnt during this trip, one was that, Men gossip. A lot.
More on that later...

Up to a certain point, where the highest airstrip of the world was situated, the two groups had a common route to follow, after which we would go separate ways.

It was a cloudy morning.

The picture to our left as we stepped out of the hotel.

Namche, as we started to climb.

After sometime, we found ourselves in a sort of landing where there was a rock at the edge of it – a sort of lesser precipice where the guys practised acrobatics – scrambling on all fours to the top of it as other down shouted asking them to be careful, sitting and standing there and posing for pictures, sliding down it and all...

This was the picture taken after – we were resting against a rock that was opposite the precipice. We are all laughing – don’t remember what the joke was.

We reached the highest airstrip in the world.

There seemed to be a small settlement of people there – as suggested by the jewellery shop on one side of the trail and some LPG cylinders on another.

Some kind of tower...on the hill facing us.

The group became two teams.

Our team proceeded on the runway. What surprised me was that the runway full of rough gravel. This runway was where Fazeel got a new name – One of us mistakenly called him Shakeel. And then on, he became Shakeel, which was soon upgraded to Chota Shakeel.

The climb to hotel Panorama was somewhat effortful. Thats Aparajita, my roomy prithu and I.

The panorama hotel.

But the walk thereon to Everest View hotel was effortless. The overhanging fog and clouds gave a grey coat to all beneath.

We reached the hotel.

On all the walls around, hung framed paintings of the mountain range, of Everest, of trekkers trudging on snow, of Ama Dablam. I wondered what 'Ama Dablam' was in the beginning, was it one mountain or two, but towards the end of our trek, it became the most familiar thing to us wherever we went.

We entered the dining area. Our long table was adjacent to the outer wall, most of which was made of glass panes which made it possible for us to get a view of the outside while being seated at our table, without having to go to the roof or terrace outside. On the terrace outside were two neat rows of spotless white tables with white chairs around them. Beyond this, we saw the valley down. So the hotel must have been standing on the edge of a cliff looking down at the valley below. A glass door led to the roof outside but it was cold and we remained inside.

Eager, eyes wide open, we looked out of the window to get the first glimpse of Everest. What greeted us was a grey blanket, thinning a little here and a little there, showing a patch of snow or a jagged rock but never giving a clue even to where Everest might be.

The declaration of the restaurant proved to be overconfident. The curtain of thick clouds and fog would not lift for us to view the Everest until the next day.

It was a star hotel but we ordered food anyway.

I and roomy Prithu order Veg Chowmien and there was a never ending speculation about what it would be like.

By now, conversion from Nepali to Indian was happening more quickly. Everything cost in 200 and 300 and we were all used to it by now.

Our guide Rabin had carried Nepali bread for all of us, each one wrapped around a lump of cheese (was it yak cheese?). Someone happened to be carrying peanut butter as well. I tried it and found it quite tasty. Tasty or not, it was surely rich.

Seated at the table, Fazeel tried to blow away the clouds with his breath. And I hoped he would succeed.
We were unable even to imagine what the picture beyond was like. We desperately asked many questions of the hotel waiters about Everest as seen from there, so we would at least have some idea. How big was it? Was it at the centre of the picture before us or at the side? What was the shape of it? How far was it from us? Was it like this, like that, asked we, pointing to the pictures hanging on the wall? And if I can recollect correctly, there was not a single picture of Everest as seen from that point. There was, in the dining area, to the left of our table, a model of the entire mountain range in paper pulp or some material like that. Smooth pyramids of various shapes and sizes and heights packed together. We looked at it for a few minutes, figuring our own position, the situation of Everest relative to us...but we didn’t get much out of it. We gave up. Though not fully.

And then it happened.
Snowfall. It was more like hailstorm. Some us could no longer hold ourselves back and we opened the door and stepped out. A chill wind blew. With great difficulty caused by numbing fingers, I clicked pictures and hurried in, only to step out after a few minutes, again. Every one of us was delighted. Some of us were seeing snowfall for the first time. My first time was in 2008 May on Darva Top beyond Doditaal in Uttaranchal, India.
We were happy we had chosen this destination and not the monastery in Khumjung village which our other friends had.
Finally I returned to my table. Every time someone opened the glass door to step out or step in, a chill wind blew in, making us wish that the guys would not keep opening and closing it, though thats what we had been doing a while ago.

After the hailstorm and the rain, the weather started clearing. The neat white tables and benches on the terrace outside and the valley beyond looked absolutely charming. The Devdar trees outside gathered some of the hail and looked like Christmas trees. It was a perfect Christmas picture. Mountains that were brown and green became covered with white flecks. And the mountains closest to us, revealed themselves. Taboche, Amadablam, Thamsherku. All but Everest.

Thats Ama Dablam, with 2 peaks...

The Sun shone bright, and as if by magic, earth and sky, hitherto united by grey, now took pride in their distinct identity and became earth and sky again, taking on separate colours of blue and green.
It was refreshing, as if eyes were seeing colours for the first time. I might as well have been a baby, excitedly looking around me, identifying blue and green and yellow and brown, having just learnt my first lessons in colours.

Somewhere in this picture, slightly to the left, was Everest.

It was time to leave. We literally tore ourselves away from the place. The sun was bright and the sky more or less clear.

Although it was the same trail on the way back, sunlight made the picture entirely different.

I saw a beautiful thing happening. A layer of vapour, one foot thick, was spread over the brown field to my right. The sunshine immediately after rainfall was causing the water soaked by earth to turn into steam and rise from the ground.

Srikant, with the guide

We could see our Namche village in and around that mound.

Sankool and fazeel on the airstrip...

We retraced our steps, walked to the other end of the runway for a short cut down to Namche.

Hotel panorama from below


Namche has a museum. We thought of visiting it but decided to do it on our return from the base camp. That however, was not meant to happen.

The walk back to the hotel seemed never ending.

In the end, my questions 'Can you really see Everest from 'Everest View Hotel' was a valid question. For the answer is 'No', 90% of the time!
So much for all that giggling...