Lukla is probably the world’s most dangerous airport. The runway is 527 metres long which is essentially two tenths of fuck all in actual real life runway terms and it slopes at a 12% gradient because if it didn’t, shit would crash. There’s no margin for error, you can’t just decide halfway through landing that you don’t want to land any more, you’re committed and the weather needs to be perfect. Aaaand that’s why our flight got cancelled. Twice. Two days we spent sprawled on the dusty floor of Kathmandu Domestic Terminal before being told we might as well piss off back to the hotel. What makes it even more gutting is when the weather is so beautiful in Kathmandu that you can’t imagine it being bad half an hour by tiny plane away. You get your little hopes up only to have them dashed, so now we had to have a chat about our options because every time your flight is cancelled you get pushed back the next day which meant on day three we wouldn’t be scheduled until about 12.30pm. The weather usually rolls in around midday and our chances of flying out by fixed wing were slim to none. We’d have to fork out $350 each for a helicopter if we still wanted to do it which is pretty much a whole two weeks budget for me, and even if we got there by chopper we’d lost two days.
Riiiight then. Hands up who wants to smash a trek that most people do in 14 days, that we were going to attempt in the recommended minimum of 12 days, in a mere 10 days? So that’d be eight of us then. Two of the group would have rather gone to Annapurna Base Camp but the majority had it. We were going to hire a helicopter and smash this shit out. As Christopher pointed out, he’d rather try it and fail but be able to say he had a go rather than say he never went to Everest Base Camp because we never even had a shot. And as Melissa said, in a few months time we won’t even be thinking about the $350, just the awesome helicopter ride through the Himalaya. We all sucked it up, coughed up the cash and the next day we landed in Lukla at 2850 metres. I’m still gutted I never got to land on this runway in a fixed wing but hey, you get a way better view from a helicopter and you’re less likely to leave skid marks on the upholstery.
Everest Base Camp is one of those things I signed up for, handed over a large quantity of money for then proceeded to spend the ensuing months wondering what the actual fuck I’d let myself in for, especially every time I reached the top of a flight of stairs and it felt like everything inside my chest was trying to make a break for it via my rib cage. I’m not the fittest at the best of times and let’s face it, spending five and a half months in India shovelling curry and every different kind of deep fried street food I could get my increasingly greasy paws on into my facehole wasn’t any manner of preparation for trekking to the base of the world’s highest mountain.
But this was a nice way to break us in gently. Our first stop, Phakding, is at 2640 metres so we were mostly trekking downhill past prayer wheels, stupas and rocks called mani stones which have om mani padme hum carved into them. They look amazing and they’re everywhere and we were told from the start that we had to pass them on the left. Always on the left. Prayer wheels have to be spun three times clockwise with your right hand only, they have mantras carved into them as well, usually om mani padme hum, and spinning the wheel is meant to be the same as chanting the mantra several times which is awesome. I could totes get on board with that; who doesn’t love a religion dedicated to saving time? Stupas are objects of worship, you’re not meant to climb on them, no matter how awesome the photo would be, and that goes for the mani stones too. Keep your filthy foreign feet off them.
It’s weird how little I recall about the walk to Phakding ay. I remember it being lovely and warm and I know it was a pretty easy, short walk. There were trains of animals with massive horns, and here’s a fun fact: All those yaks carrying the expedition gear up the hill? At this altitude they’re not yaks. They’re dzopkyos, and as well as being a convenient way to use up those spare Scrabble letters, they’re a ridiculously cute and really docile yak/cow crossbreed used to haul stuff up mountains at altitudes lower than yaks can cope with. You have to keep reminding yourself they’d make a crap pet that’d probably shit all over your sofa and eat all your house plants, otherwise you’d be tempted to kidnap one and smuggle it back to help you carry the weekly shop home. They’re lovely, they just amble past trekkers in single file as everyone tries to get photos of them without accidentally ending up on the business end of their pointy head gear. Yaks are apparently slightly bigger and way hairier and we wouldn’t be seeing them until we were above Namche Bazaar.
Also I remember walking through quite a few villages, it seemed really populated, there were loads of places to get food or a cup of tea and there were plenty of places that’d happily let us use the toilet. Locals seemed friendly and mostly indifferent to the tourists, even the kids which pleased me. In India, as soon as you enter a village that sees a lot of tourists, within seconds you’re surrounded by marauding spawn wanting to relieve you of money, pens or chocolate. The kids here are okay though, they don’t give two fucks about the hoards of foreigners traipsing through their neighbourhood. They kept their snot and drool a safe distance from my being and didn’t demand that I hand over all of my stationary and any confectionery that I may have been in possession of.
Oh, and then there was that suspension bridge. Nat, my sister, is shit scared of heights and Nia wasn’t too keen on having to cross the bridge either but it’s not like you have any choice in the matter. It’s not the last bridge either, in fact there are a fuck tonne of suspension bridges of varying lengths and death heights along the trek. They bounce when there are loads of people on them and good luck if you meet a train of dzopkyos coming the other way. I love that they have prayer flags tied to them though. I love prayer flags. They’re meant to sanctify the air when they blow in the wind but that’d do bollocks all good here with all the foreigners promptly unsanctifying it again as they shuffle across the bridge muttering, “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck…” I don’t mind them, I’ve worked hard to try and eradicate most of my fear of heights, they’re just difficult to walk across because they never bounce in time with your footsteps and I’m not gonna lie, I may have kept a hand on at least one of the sides. Y’know, just in case…
So Phakding, affectionately known by us as Fuckding because British people are freakishly amused by any word even close to anything resembling swearing. I think we were all a bit surprised about how good the accommodation was, even if we were sleeping in rooms off a hallway that looked like something from a fucking horror movie. Thank god for blankets. Everyone knows serial killers are foiled by blankets. But yeah, I was expecting it to be a lot more basic than it was but I guess this trek is just getting more and more popular and locals are rising to the demands of the fragile foreigners who want to attempt the trek but still want to shit in a western bog.
We had loads of time to kill when we got here and Sonam, our lead guide, had told us there was a monastery up this hill so a few of us went to look for it. There’s no monastery. There’s just a hill. Oh, and someone’s house. A small boy, under interrogation from Hugh, advised us that there was no monastery here and this was his home and that the monastery was way over on the other hill. We glanced over. Yeah nah, that wasn’t gonna happen before dinner. We did find a little cascade to chill by for a short while before heading back to town, and we also found a reggae bar with free pool and free popcorn. Ok so I can just about cope with reggae with the promise of free popcorn. But seriously guys, reggae? Is it because you hate me? Do you hate me and want to see me cry?
Phakding, Khumbu, Nepal
Altitude: 2640 metres
Stayed at: Tea house. I utterly failed to note the names of the tea houses we stayed at.
Activity: Trekking with Adventure Club Trek & Expedition