Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Treck to Kallar patar, everest base camp

Now I wait here in Katmandu, for my Indian visa whilst pollution builds up once again in my lungs, just two more days in Katmandu and I think I will be dead, suffocating on the infected fluids of my own lung lining, but just a bit longer then we are out of here. I cannot wait to get going the pollution here is the worst I have come across. I look down from a temple high up above the city, a sprawling mass of concrete for as far as I can see, a 360 degree sea of noise, filth and fumes.
I plan to go to Jiri which is the starting point to a trek to Everest base camp, it follows the original route that the first explorers used on their attempts on Everest.
I feel lucky to have made it this far already and feel now that this was bonus material. I actually get to walk to Sagamartha, the roof of the world. I spent much time in the Pyrenees last summer and winter which re kindled and old flame of mine from earlier times in England. I used to love getting out and walking amongst nature, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District and many places in the dramatic landscapes of Wales. Now I was going to be in one of the most dramatic, highest places on earth. I paused for reflection, what a truly interesting world it is.
I arranged my Indian visa prior to the walk so that on the return journey south from base camp I could take a 4 or 5 day detour towards the south east, through some remote places to be not far away from the Indian border, where from there I hoped to find a jeep, a bus, donkey, yak, dog or a small, strong child to carry me to the border, and cross over into India where a good friend of mine was living not far away and was waiting for my arrival.
People said it would take three weeks to walk this route, but I needed to do it in much less time as I had no room on my Nepal visa for getting lost or tired.
The last few days whilst waiting for my Visa I had kept myself off the polluted streets and taken some yoga lessons with the idea of getting a little more conditioned and supple than I was. My teacher was an Indian guy with bleached hair that had turned it a kind of ginger color, it was hard to say how old he was as he had one of those ageless complexions that could have been anywhere between 33 and 103. He explained the first day would be very simple exercises to cleanse and prepare the body for later on in the program. We went through some simple routines going over each part of the body, stretching, breathing, nothing that was meant to cause any discomfort, then we did a couple of exercises that he said would massage your internal organs, this involved pressing parts of your hands into your gut whilst letting out all your breath out slowly, crunching up into a fetal position until you were about to pass out. I think this was the one that loosened something inside. I felt good immediately afterwards but later that night some strange, terrible reaction happened. I was producing the most incredible amount of methane, far more than any daal baat that I had eaten or baked bean, strong beer and closing time kebab could ever produce, it was just not possible how much gas was being produced, and where it was coming from? maybe the contractions of the exercise had produced a very tiny rupture from within my gut and had collapsed to form a small rift in the space time continuum, volatile matter was now flooding into my intestines from the far reaches of the opposite side of the cosmos? I had not eaten anything that dangerous to explain it any other way.
It was amusing me at first, you know this juvenile sort of toilet humor that is to most men, very very funny for the duration of their immaturity and remainder of their adult life, but then it got beyond a joke. I actually became disgusted and a little worried with myself, it just would not stop in fact the frequency and volume was building up to some sort of grand finale. I could feel it start to gurgle in small familiar fluctuations, and then a barrage of detonators started systematically firing as though to induce an avalanche, then suddenly I felt it. It was like a small earthquake deep inside my gut. I froze, clenched slightly, then made a nano second decision to sprint towards the toilet, somehow managing to remove the necessary clothes just in time to land arse firmly wedged within the toilet bowl holding on for dear life,
“Euston we have ignition, all systems are go for launch”
what followed was as though the entire contents and the lining of my intestines came out under high methane, rocket fuelled pressure..
Jeeeeeeeeeeesus Christ!
I claimed out loud and sat their for a while like a rabbit that had been momentarily caught in the headlamps of a large truck……dazed, confused, shocked and very very empty, drained ....... whatever it was, felt like a bloody big truck and had just ran over my soul. I shuddered, I felt like all the life force had just been squeezed out of me and promptly crawled over to my bed to lay down. I tried to think if I had eaten anything unusual that could produce such a reaction and smell like Satan`s private collection of inhuman toxic waste matter. I watched my old hiking socks shiver and cower away in disgust, retreating to a dark corner of the room, defeated that they now longer was the most toxic thing known to man.
All night became relay race back and forward to that bloody toilet. I had already lost some weight from the weeks before and now I felt completely hollow, drained and weak.
I tried to take my mind off things and the smell, so drifted back to a few days ago when I met a guy from one of the many trekking agencies, who immediately pounced on me when I arrived, but seemed not too pushy, so I gave him my time. After going through a few things I let him arrange my trekking permits, my Indian visa, a cheap room for me, and obviously he was your best friend, so he invited and took me out to drink in his local part of the town to participate in a bit of a local Chang and Tongba bonding session.
Tongba was a local brew, which I particularly like, it is brewed from millet and other `secret` ingredients. The grain is fermented then packed into a large wooden jug and hot water poured over to cover it. It`s a mild, slightly alcoholic, with maybe a trace of hallucinogenic additives and herbs that most witchdoctors and black magicians would not admit to using, but it`s a good, long enjoyable drink which you can keep topping up with hot water producing a good brew, especially after a long days walk, the weak alcohol relaxes the muscles and the large quantity of water re hydrates your body, so its great but you don`t quite know if you are drunk or not or indeed tripping on the astral plane with delirium tremmons in your brain, until you try to do something technical that is, like putting a key in a keyhole.
We drunk the Chang then the Tongba then went to meet his family and all sang and joked the night away until I passed out and woke in the morning wishing I had not, “oh no, not again feeling”
 in strange place, dark faces, children staring at me, uh! Where am? I what happened? Aha! yes you got drunk didn`t you! Dam it! that Chang was strong this time, it had crept right up on me then….. wham! in the back of the head, “that`s it” I prophecised no more of this stuff. I was in a battle with myself of trying to be a yogi reaching dizzy heights of enlightenment, but instead I was fighting my western habits, weaknesses whilst wanting to climb the highest peak possible, yet nights like these as fun as they are and certainly colourful memories to recount, always left me disappointed with myself the next day.
I regularly went round to see him at his work place after that and to talk and to drink chai and pass the time away, he was an interesting, enthusiastic guy nothing too much trouble and loved to talk and to know everything about your world, this particular morning we changed from subject to subject and it became clear he was the man that could arrange anything, get anything, or if he couldn`t his uncles, sister, brothers, sisters cousin could. Visas, souvenirs, transport, marriage, prostitutes, 18 year old virgins….what! I spat a little tea out by the casual way he went through his list of available merchandise and services, as I looked up back up at him, but this time my imagination had transformed him into Borat, the Kazakistani character, dressed in a highly unfashionable bright blue suit, grinning wildly, looking very pleased with himself and speaking through a thick caterpillar moustache, “yeah sure, you know I get you a good a virgin from ma village, she a very good you know, and er vagin work a velly well, you have a great a sexy time with her, yeah” I chuckled to myself, as he really did look like Borat I had not noticed before but his suit, the moustache, yes it was Borat, ha! “OK then” I said I find you a good French girlfriend, cant promise you any virgins, but you know good visa for you, hoping this would diffuse his train of thought and the impending marriage arrangements that I felt were sure to follow, but instead his eyes lit up and said "ah yes, yes, we all have a good a sexy time, boom boom” oh God he got exicted now so I humored him a little more knowing I could not fulfill my side of the deal, and then suddenly Borat disappeared.
I walked around the streets of Katmandu that night amused by the sprawling mass of people and narrow tall buildings, just a mass of visual detail and movement, sometimes your eyes did not know what they wanted to rest upon as there is simply too much going on. Music, bright lights, shops, restaurants and bars of course, buzzing, then suddenly nothing. The regular eight o clock power cut turned everything off, then slowly one by one , flickering yellow lights appeared like stars coming out at night, it was beautifull, a sudden transformation that revealed an underlying structure of calm. Instantly everything changed, there was a silence, no, there was a lot of noise but all the electrical noise had stopped and you could hear people living. I could hear the voices of people now which coincided with the puppetry of shadows that danced across the streets; in the corners of shops; windows projected elongated faces tonight was a spectacle of dance, light and shadow. Electricity and all its gadgets was such pollution it distracts us from seeing the simple things in life that are often very stimulating. I thought about this and it was true we have so used now to all this invasion of noise and disturbance, invisible noise also, the amount of wireless frequencies that must be flying around and cooking the softer more sensitive areas of our body and mind. No wonder we get headaches and cannot focus and concentrate, and why we feel so clear and uncluttered when we are on the top of a mountain or in the nature on long walks, by the ocean, there is too much of everything even of the things we cannot see.
I continue along the streets away from the main tourist areas into tiny back streets, dark faces everywhere peering back at me, I imagined doing this in Manchester or one of a thousand built up inner city areas back in the civilized world, where there really would be a risk of being shot, mugged or beaten up just for the fun of it. I never feel threatened here, there does not seem to be same kind of crime in the hearts of these people, sure there is crime, but the attitude is so different they would all prefer to work than to steal, and my God do they work hard and long hours for almost nothing, if they get to feed themselves they are doing well, they all seem so together, maybe its to do with their beliefs, that they do believe in something bigger than themselves that this is only temporary and to just do the best you can. I like these people. I love Asia.
There are many street children here, lots of begging, targeting the huge influx of foreign tourists heading out into the mountains. Sometimes it does get very tiring having to keep saying no, even just not saying anything at all is draining. Today I quickly dismissed a young lad that was tugging on my arm waving bits of paper at me, “oh no, not this again” but there were no Chinese beaurocracy here behind the bits of paper. I was hot, tired and a little short tempered so I snapped at him to leave me alone and away he fled, but then I saw in my minds eye a glimpse of what was on the paper and what he was obviously trying to sell me. I felt guilty then as I recollected a badly drawn image of Buddha. This young street lad maybe 8 had been drawing pictures on bits of crumpled paper that he must have found, of Buddha and other popular things that tourists might buy, maybe by copying things he had seen being sold in the shops, so in fact he had the initiative to start his own little business enterprise, he had cut out the middle man and produced a healthy pile of these drawings, instead of begging he was genuinely trying to do something, anything he could, to earn an honest rupee, wow! I realized this and I looked around for him to buy one or two but he was gone. I was too quick to judge.

Jiri to Everest base
camp Jiri - Everest base camp  Day 1
After spending too long in the frantic maze of people, pollution and chaos of that, which is called
Katmandu. I was finally on my way to breath the cleaner air of the Hymalayas.
I had finally got my Indian visa. Not a moment too soon, any longer in that place and I think I would be dead, my lungs actually ached and I started to hack and cough along with the dawn chorus of everyone else in this place. I felt sorry for these people having to live here grasping on to some thin thread of hope that a tourist tsunami would come along and liberate them all, it won`t, the more they get, the more they want, the bigger it all gets, the bigger it expands, the harder it is to look after it all and suffocates itself in a dense cloud of fumes and phlegm. They are better off going back to the jungles where they will be richer by farming and providing what they need from the natural resources around them.

Karikola, a misty morning, Nepalese hills

It seems to be the less people have the more they want to share the little they have with you. The more people have, the more they fear losing it and less they want to share.
After a long bus ride we arrived in Jiri, to be pounced upon by hopefull hotel and guest house owners. All friendly enough but really did not understand I wanted to get walking today, as it was getting late in the afternoon, with about three to four hours of light left. With that in mind I quickly marched out of there to find the start of the trail, which started at the far end of the market. I felt instantly relieved to be following a trail now that would take me for many days of freedom and to be in the arms of mother nature again, just me and her. I was also happy to see that they had not developed Mc Donalds and pizza huts here yet, I had mentally prepared myself for this western invasion not being sure of how much development tourism had effected this area. Most people fly from Katmandu to Lukla, which is much higher up and much closer to the big mountains, so here was relatively unpopular and quiet. It would be a good week walking from where I was to get conditioned and more importantly to acclimatize.
I finished the day feeling very lazy though as I had only walked a few hours but I felt it already, my body was wanting to slow down and to stop all the time with my stomach also complaining that it was not getting fed enough, and my lungs still ached and felt like I had half the capacity than what I should. I was still weak from the big nuclear clear out, so I allowed for that and came to rest just as the light started to fade. There was a beautiful red sky that evening, with a biting chill in the air as the sun sank lower. I set up my tent up and called it a day, just 1km from Kinja.

KInja – Junbesi 9 hours - Day 2

A long hard climb this morning starting from 1650m up to 3550m nearly 2000m climb, five and a half hour slog to finally level out then following a contour to a pass at 3550m, then a long descent down into Junbesi, where the up muscles were given a rest but the dozing down muscles got rudely woken up.
The way from Jiri was from west to east which meant crossing many rivers that flowed down from the Himalayas, this also meant that we would be climbing up and then down for the duration, as we crossed these valleys, it was going to be a strenuous route. Darkness finally closing again as I turn the final corner to head north. A small village below me with a large monastery overlooking the valley was very atmospheric. I make camp at this special vantage point and set my tent up in a good position for the sun to come and wake me up in the early morning. I walk over to a source of crystal clear, fresh Himalayan water and fill my bottle up thinking of all the rows of this stuff in the supermarkets with their advertising catch phrases, hand picked by Tibetan Llamas high up in the purity of the Himalayas well I was no Llama but I was actually hand picking my own Himalayan water.
I stop to drink tea and eat biscuits in one of the little shacks along the way and it is starting to become unthinkable, what use to be a simple pleasure to be able to sit, re cooperate a little and drink a few cups of good Chai is getting too expensive, they are seriously exploiting the high traffic of tourism here, money, greed, the spirit of things get lost and perverted. The children now are becoming more and more intrusive, where instead of being able to have a laugh and joke with them they have only one thing on their minds, rupee, rupee, bon, bon. We have created an image for them of walking wallets and gifts and that`s a shame to have this barrier.

Junbesi-Jubhing 9 hours-Day 3
Today was the first sighting of the big boys. Just after climbing 2 hours I turned a corner to head northwards to be greeted with a crystal clear view of the jagged Himalayan backdrop, Everest, Mira and some other smaller peaks (6000m 7000m hardly small) but certainly dwarfed by its towering neighbors, it had a surreal appearance to it all, so clear and so big words are too restrictive to give it justice, but it was like some well painted theatre backdrop unreal but I felt as though I could just reach out and touch it all.
There was such a noticeable difference in temperature now as I were mainly above 3500m the sun by day was strong and kept you very warm but as soon as it dipped behind one of the many rocky obstacles, it quickly dropped to well below freezing.

Jubhing-Lukla 10 hours Day 4

It was a hard day today I had not slept well because of a sneezing fit all night and battling with mopping up torrents of snot everywhere, looks like I had caught a chill, so it was a heavy start to the day with another long 2000m climb up a steep trail, 5 hours of stumbling on the loose rocky surface with this and snot constantly cascading down my face I was finding it very hard, but not as hard as the many locals I saw along the way, a long line of ant like characters, ferrying supplies up and down this bloody long climb. They were carrying huge loads on their backs, could not believe what they were carrying. I will never complain again how heavy mine is. I tried to do a quick calculation of maybe 120 kilos, one had nine 1 gallon containers of oil, plus a large crate of beer, noodles and everything else that could be possibly tied strapped or hung off his wicker basket, a strap went around and up over his head so that the weight will be on his head and neck, I could not imagine lifting this let alone walking up what I had just struggled to get up with my 18 kilos with modern equipment.
I find a place to set camp and it is a relief to stop, did not quite managed to get to Lukla like I had hoped, but I think is not far from here, there is a market on in the morning and I hope to pick up some food supplies.

Lukla-Namche Bazaar 9 hours Day 5

Another long tiring day my system is still at a low with this dam cold and I am getting frustrated as I can feel it is holding me back. I want to feel good again and enjoy the walking rather than it being a battle against my ailments.
From here things suddenly changed I saw many hotels, guest houses, and even bars to meet the demands of all the tourists that fly here into Lukla.

Namchee Bazaar- Orsho 8 hours Day 6

Again a hard climb, seems to be no where that is flat in Nepal, at around 4.00pm I decide to stop early and rest up, I had nothing left anymore to give and I was starting to feel the altitude a little which seemed to add a few extra kilos to every step. I was happy with the progress though, just 2 days now and I should be at the base camp. I hoped my energy would be fully restored soon.

Orsho-Lobuche 7 hours Day 7

Another bad nights sleep for some reason I had a bad stomach again and had to keep dashing outside, which you really do not like to do when you are nice and warm inside a sleeping bag, to face the sub zero temperature outside to drop a crap, this I really did not need and I woke in the morning feeling completely drained and pale.
I took it easy for the rest of the day, and settled down into a very slow pace, which became very enjoyable and I felt a new surge of life coming back. I felt so light inside, obviously from all the gastric problems from Katmandu, my body already flushed out, eating very light food since then and also last night. I felt surprisingly good, just a little tiredness from not enough sleep but physically I felt different, light, good. I enjoyed the days walk, the trail climbed steadily up and became more dusty, desolate and definitely colder. I arrived at Lobuche 3.00pm it looked like a forgotten outpost of corrugated tin and wooden huts, so I found a quiet spot to set up my tent. It became very windy and suddenly a blast came out of no where sending a cloud of fine dust into my tent, into my noodles that I was cooking, into my sleeping bag, my eyes, nostrils. I couldn`t believe it, it was like a mini tornado inside my tent came in, promptly slapped me around the face a little then left just as quickly as it started. I sat there in disbelief, disgusted, everything covered in a heavy layer of dust. I took everything out cleaned and then returned it, listening and waiting for another surprise attack. I tried to block up all the holes I could, when suddenly again it blasted my tent. I tried to pin myself up against the vents and holes with feet, hands, head, ass, anything I could but fine dust just came flooding in again from somewhere else, this time I let it win, yes mother nature I know you are there but you don`t have to keep reminding me though. Now silent again, nothing not a breath of wind she said what she wanted to and left.
I feel much better now, acclimatized at nearly 5000m I feel twice as good as what I did in China at the same height, no dizziness, no headaches, but still hard work and no accounting for the 50 percent shortage of oxygen in the air. Yes I reach my destination tomorrow, I will leave my tent here already set up and save as much weight as I can, it will be so enjoyable for once not having so much to carry.
The many prayer flags and chortens I see all along this way all serve to appease the spirits and the mountains so as to grant the sherpas safe passage. The flags are printed with holy Buddhist invocations
Ohm mani padmi hum
There is not a single aspect of the eighty-four thousand sections of the Buddha's teachings which is not contained in this six syllable mantra so translation is impossible into western language and thinking.
But for visualization purposes it is described as `The jewel in the lotus`

Purifies Samsaric Realm
Om bliss / pride gods
Ma jealousy /
lust for entertainment jealous gods
Ni passion / desire human
Pe stupidity / prejudice animal
Me poverty /
possessiveness hungry ghost
Hung aggression / hatred hell

Often there is a winged horse printed on the flags which are sacred creatures to the Sherpas and are believed to carry the prayers heavenly with great speed. The Sherpa term for prayer flags is `lung taa` which means winged horse.

Labouche-Kallar Pattar Day 8

-8 inside my tent this morning my watch reads 6.30 I quickly get up to put on my layers before I get too cold, a blast of icy air takes my breath away as I unzip myself out into the world once more, but it was a different sort of cold that I had experienced any where else, a very dry cold, there was no moisture in the air at all and your lips cracked very easily, you can understand now the leathery complexion to all these Tibetans and Nepalese.
It was a joy to walk today with a light bag and all my bodily functions behaving themselves at last, it felt as though the closer I was getting to my goal the better I was feeling and I was, there was a definite spring in my step today although we were still high over 5000m and still climbing, I had been catching up with and overtaking lots of other people who we all looking a bit worse for wear, doubled over at times, or flat on their backs on the floor rasping at the thin air, one was even carrying a big red medical pack from one of the local altitude sickness centers, this was the trouble of so many people who had flown into Lukla from 1000m straight up to 4000m then tried to walk up to the base camp at 5400m, without any acclimatization. Things were sure to get uncomfortable. I bounced along past them happily, thinking `you get out of life what you are prepared put into life`
The trail eventually reached the edge of a huge glacier and the trail snaked through large imposing boulders for about an hour to finally reach Gorak Shep, the last outpost before base camp, another jumble of shacks and a couple of restaraunt.! I walked straight past over the helicopter pad and then started to climb Kalar Pattar at 9.00am, which is a little peak which boasts a great view of Everest.
It was a steep climb and I could feel the atmosphere was getting thinner and thinner by the step, cold, crisp air bit at the inside of my throat as I gasped for air. I could not keep up a continuous rhythm no matter how slow I tried to walk, after about every twelve paces it left me gasping again, with this process it took nearly 2 hours to finally reach the top. I resisted to turn around to look until I was right at the top as I wanted full impact of the elevation and vantage point to which the best view of Everest could be seen.
I stopped, rasped at the air again until I felt relaxed enough, then slowly turned around. The sky was completely blue not one cloud. I gazed speechless at the huge expanse of rugged terrain around me, it was hard to judge just how big this place was but I knew and I felt very, very small indeed. Then I saw her, a dark black pyramid piercing the upper stratosphere, Sagamartha, there you are, you are indeed very, very beautiful. I looked at her with respect and awe and she looked back at me to say “you silly little man, you so tiny” I thanked her anyway and just to be here at the roof of the world and to have been given the strength and safe passage so far to be here, it was a truly beautifull moment that I hold deep in my soul forever. I stood there a while longer trying to comprehend all the history of this place, this mountain, all the attempts to climb her nearly another 4000m higher and people have done it without the aid of oxygen, -70 below, old heavy equipment it was beyond my comprehension.

That was it ........my journey had reached its peak, literally. I got to the highest place I could. I paid my respects to Sagamartha and headed back to my little base camp. I reflected upon my journey so far. All those weeks ago starting from Thailand, the warmth of their smiles and the heat of the fresh chilies seemed far, far away in the past where I had started from sitting on that train waiting for it all to start. The land of smiles then on into Laos, full of innocence and simple life to cross over into China, strange signs I cant read and even stranger orange chickens, then Shangri La, Chormas smiles, humble Christmas pie with stables and donkeys under a starry, starry night. Off on the forbidden road, crazy Frank Zappa death ride to freezing oblivion, shit! there I was thought I was going to die many times, -20 frosty testicles, I got no ticket to ride but I`m going to go anyway, got busted by Mr. Plod a paper chase of hell out of Tibet, get out don`t pass go and go directly to Nepal, paid my dues, lost my face but paid my respects in Lhasa, where I tied my flags and tied my vows to leave freedom an ideology blowing in the wind. Nepali Thali, curry and spice made me empty deep inside. I got nothing left now so I went to climb the biggest mountain I could find, Sagamartha, Everest she was so kind and I felt a piece of love stay inside.

All these memories all these places, faces, sights, sounds, sensations I have a huge palette now to play with for the rest of my days, a truly amazing world. Yet we are all travellers at the end of the day all navigating and trying to make the right decisions, choices and change of direction, sailing upon the surface of a rich tapestry upon the blue prints of life.

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