It was cloudy when we rocked up to Namche Bazaar and you do kinda forget where you are when it’s cloudy then this morning we woke up to this view. Oh hello, gorgeous tiny mountain town! Namche is pretty much the last place you can get cash out, change money, or eat meat without the risk of contracting a shiny new parasite to keep you company on your trek up the hill. It also consists entirely of steps. At 3440 metres, this is the work of demons. Today was acclimatisation day which is is basically where you walk up a big fucking hill. Then walk back down it again. And as we were doing this from Namche we were treated to about a million steps to a prayer wheel at the bottom of this aforementioned hill where I prayed that the NHS would be understanding when I arrived back in the UK begging for a full body transplant.
This is just another upwards shuffle, bistarai bistarai, slowly slowly, starting right after breakfast so we had a chance to catch some views before the clouds rolled in, stopping for the usual breaks and the odd group photo, because shit guys, it’s stunning up here! Turns out that when you get this close to mountains for the first time you physically can’t stop taking photos of them, it’s like photography tourettes or some shit.
There are a surprising amount of stray dogs up here too and at a glance they look like fluffy, robust, healthy animals. But as soon as you get close and pet them you can feel every single bone in their scrawny bodies. It’s sad but what can you do? They stalk trekkers up the hill in the hope of guilt tripping them into handing over all of their snack bar rations for the day and I love dogs, I really do, but as it turns out I love snack bars way more.
Goal number one today aside from trying to convince your body that it can function at altitude was hopefully to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. Me and Olly went ahead of the rest of the group. Olly, because he was worried about the clouds that had started to appear, me because I was dying for a shit. We’re talking turtle’s head. So I bolted as much as one can bolt when you feel like you’re breathing through a straw to the nearest building that looked like it might house facilities to drop the kids off at the pool. Once I emerged I located Olly and we stood together and stared at the mountains. It’s awesome. I had no idea which of the mountains was Everest though so I just snapped photos indiscriminately until someone pointed it out. See the pretty double peak? It’s not that one. That’s Lhotse. It’s the slightly less attractive peak to the left of that. The whole scene is stunning though, it’d have taken my breath away if the fucking altitude hadn’t already done that for me.
It’s not just the mountains that get you all trigger happy in the Himalaya either. Look at all that cloudporn. Apparently on the Internet you’re allowed to put the word “porn” next to words like “sky” or “cloud” or “food” and no one will think you’re a pervert. Maybe don’t try the same with “donkey” or “midget” though. And I’m not sure if I’m even permitted to use such a term on account of being over thirty, but hey. I also appear to have possibly developed a minor addiction to taking photos of prayer flags in front of mountains. Nothing too serious just yet, we’re not talking twelve step program or anything. Not like that time they found me curled up in the corner surrounded by chocolate wrappers trying to inject a Curly Wurly into my eyeball.
The highest point of today’s little jaunt would be the flash looking Everest View Hotel, sat atop a hill at 3880 metres. As in, literally the highest point, not the actual highlight. That honour belonged to wrapping our eyeballs around Everest. It’s the kind of place where they’d offer you an airport pick up in a fucking helicopter or something and their tea prices matched so I opted not to have a cuppa. I refuse to pay more than Brighton prices for dried leaves diffused in water because I’m a tight arsed bastard like that. This was where Melissa nearly gave up, she was feeling fucking awful. She was stomach-sick anyway, plus the altitude was starting to get to her. She wasn’t a happy bunny so she headed back to Namche with Kali, one of the assistant guides, talking about maybe hanging out there for the next few days whilst the rest of us got on with it. Noooo! I had my little heart set on the whole group finishing together!
But after the others had indulged in a light beverage, we started our little descent into Khumjung Valley where we’d be having lunch. Clouds had pretty much rolled in now, by 10am you couldn’t see any of the mountains over yonder. It’s insane how quickly the weather changes; one minute you’re strolling along, sacrificing the top layer of your skin to the blazing sunlight and the next you’re checking that you remembered to bring your waterproofs as you layer up in hats and thermals. Seriously, mountains. Pick a climate and stick to it. Preferably a nice, moderate one perfect for trekking, with clear skies and no threat of rain or snow. Thanks.
Anyway. Lunch time and more dal bhat occurred. God I love this stuff. I’d learned to eat rice with my hands in India and this skill (and it is a fucking skill when you’ve been using cutlery to shovel food into your chops your whole life) transferred nicely to Nepali food, but probably not right now. There was probably enough filth on my mitts to grow vegetables, that anti-bacterial stuff pretty much just moves dirt around and I didn’t want to wash my hands in water because I didn’t want all the fluid in my cells to freeze. I stuck to scoffing food the European way. So right here in Khumjung, locked away in the monastery, or gompa, is a local treasure that requires a small donation if you want to see it. A caretaker waited for us all to slip notes into the donation box before he unlocked the cupboard so that we may behold the wonder that laid within… The skull of the legendary… Yeti.
So it takes you a while to work out what’s going on. There’s this glass box, then inside the box there’s a conical, hairy… thing… I don’t even know. If you read the description above the box it tells you the story of how they ended up in possession of this artifact. Basically, back in the day, and we’re talking generations ago, the people of Thame, Namche, Khunde and Khumjung celebrated a festival at Thame every year. One day they started falling out over how shit went down and three of the villages fucked off and left the fourth, Thame, to play by themselves because they were going to go party in Khumjung. For reasons I can’t fathom, Khumjung expected some manner of gift from Thame despite the fact they were abandoning them and not inviting them to their party and were most insulted to receive this Yeti skull instead of the prayer flags or ritual instruments they were expecting. They were so pissed off they kicked it all the way home. It’s only because Western scientists, tourists and the like started showing an interest that they put it in a box and got a bit proud of it and now get people to donate money to gawp at it in mild confusion.
But it didn’t matter how much I stared at it or tilted my head in the appropriate manner, I couldn’t make it look like any manner of skull until I fully read the description. “Sherpa accounts say the yeti’s height is approx. 6-8 feet with a conical scalp, pointed ears, hairless chest area and a human-like face.” Ohhhhh! Conical scalp! It’s just meant to be the top of the yeti’s head! Now I getcha. What they do fail to mention though is that Sir Edmund Hillary and a local village leader, Konchok Chumbi, sent the scalp to the States for analysis and it turns out that it’s actually made from the skin of a serow which is a kind of antelope. Shall I wait whilst you contain your obvious disappointment? The monastery itself is a typical affair with a huge Buddha at the front, other deities, offerings, flags. The usual. But they also have all these boxes. This is where I wish I’d paid more attention because I can’t for the bloody life of me remember what these boxes are for. Something to do with books perhaps. No idea. Crashing on. And it was fucking hailing. Shiiiiit. We all pulled on waterproofs and continued back towards Namche Bazaar. It’s still a gorgeous walk, even if the weather is doing everything it can to upset you.
Our favourite part of Namche Bazaar, apart from our awesome lodge with the best shyakpa stew in the whole actual world, is probably Liquid Bar. Free WiFi, free phone charging, free happy hour popcorn and a darts board so I could highlight my complete ineptness when it comes to throwing little pointy things at a circle on the wall. It’s a really nice little place to chill and they show movies in the afternoons. It’s altitude prices, clearly, but the guy who works there is so lovely.
And this shyakpa stew, also known as Sherpa stew in other lodges. It’s like a vegetable stew and it’s really tasty and warming, perfect for when it’s so cold you’re about to take out half the village with your nipples. And this lodge did the best, they even put in these little dough balls conjured from awesomeness and joy. We hoped we were staying here on the way back down too, just for the dough balls. We’d been told that garlic helped with altitude sickness, Melissa had been given strong garlic soup when she’d gotten back with Kali and by the time we’d returned she was a new woman and well keen to get trekking again tomorrow. So we asked for a lot of garlic to be added to all of our food, regardless of what we were eating that night and they obliged. I’m not even shitting you, they must have pumped half a fucking field’s worth into our grub, it was amazing. We’re gonna be the prettiest smelling group on the whole damn mountain.
Phakding, Khumbu, Nepal
Altitude: 3440 metres
Stayed at: A tea house which came to be known only as “the place with the dough balls”.
Activity: Trekking with Adventure Club Trek & Expedition