Trek 1: The warm up
Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
42Trip End Jul 2005
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It is extraordinary how much has changed in Nepal since I was last here in december 1999. The main tourist suburb in Kathmandu, Thamel, has had its streets paved. There are powerlines out to the towns in the lower mountains. And many, many more pointless army checkpoints. Vast improvements have been made, such as not letting hotel and taxi pushers hassle arrivals at the airport. It is hard to believe that this has happened despite the steady decline in tourist numbers in the last 5 years. There are heaps of Israelis though. I guess they're the only people who know that CNN is full of crap. Lots of hippy freaks too. Guess that'll never change.
However, our exploration of the Kathmandu was limited, because with only a day under our belts we had been talked into doing a moderate trek, in order to prepare ourselves for our prebooked two week sojourn to Everest base camp and back
We paid a ridiculously small amount for the trek- $250 each for a week where all our food and drink, accomodation, transport, a guide (Tilak) and porter (Pherwa) were provided. Compared with the cost of booking at home it was chicken feed, but there is a serious shortage of tourists in Kathmandu (this is high season and all the bars and restaurants are empty). Thus we were confident that anyone we booked with would go out of their way to make sure we would return in at least a semi-fit state to book another trek.
We headed off on a day-long bus ride to the town of Dunche (1950m above sea level). The roads in Nepal have not improved at all in 5 years- they are steep, narrow, ungraded roads whith vertical drops on one side. A trip of 100km took 7 hours of jolting. I'm sure that one day suspension will be introduced to this country, but not just yet.
Our first morning we woke to beautiful scenery, chilly air and the prospect of our first 6 hours of walking. It was a fairly easy day, but we were unconditioned and felt every little incline. We finished the day in Syabru (2130m) and it was here that our adventure really began, for this was the first night with no shower.
The discomfort of not showering soon wore off, and by the end of the trek we truly enjoyed the liberation that can only come from being able to pee behind the nearest tree, brush your teeth only occasionally and completely stop shaving
We continued the next day towards Singompa (3350m) and it was then that the trail really began to hurt. I learnt my lesson, and slowed down in order to plod along at Tilak's rate. While it seemed that we were going slowly, our pace was such that we needed very few breaks in the 6-7 hours a day we walked, and thus overtook all the trekkers we met.
Pherwa was proving himself to be the stereotypical Sherpa. He could outwalk us all, carrying the group's 20kg main pack, and at the end spend his time ensuring that our every need was attended to. It's very easy to get used to the idea of a servant. In Nepal the English have left behind a fantastic legacy in terms of tea and of service- so very civilised. In comparison, the French legacy in Indochina is bread, coffee and rude waiters.
Day 4 was the toughest of the lot. We were climbing in snow up gradients that would have stopped us 2 days before. The mountain was surrounded in fog, and it was easy to imagine that the rest of the world had disappeared. Except of course for the dozens of trekkers on the mountain. I swear that there were more tourists on the trail than in Kathmandu. I'd hate to see how crowded the treks get when the tourist season is good!
It was cold, windy and I began to get a throbbing headache at 4000m, which is a sign of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which is a Very Bad Thing, but there are pills you can take
I woke up in the morning with a clear head and we set off for the pass over the mountain (4600m) which would mark the beginning of our descent down the other side. It was a beautiful day, we were walking through snow and so Tilak and Pherwa were forced to revise their plans for a day of fast walking. They should have expected it, just like they should have expected the snowballs. Snow simply made us lose the little maturity we pretend that we have.
We finally managed to leave the snowfields, and though it was downhill, the last three days were the most damaging to our bodies. By the end my ankles and Joe's knees were making us rethink Everest. It didn't help that on our arrival in Kathmandu we learnt that the body of an Iranian trekker who died from ignoring AMS symptoms was being flown back from Everest base camp (5300m). Unfortunately we can't get even a partial refund, so we're just going to brave it as far as we can and take enormous (and petty) pleasure in slowing the group down. Still, we are far more conditioned, both mentally and physically, than we were before.
Our return was fantastic. Though spring is here, and thus flowers and young animals adorn the picturesque mountainsides, and despite discovering that the Nepalese make a very similar wine to rice wine from millet, the comforts of Kathmandu (1000m) called. Clean sheets. Hot showers. Steak. Decent booze. Yeah.