Dienstag, 14. Dezember 2010

Himalaya reloaded: 2nd trek day - Toktok to Namche Bazaar

2nd day of trek, December the 14th, 2010,
Toktok (2.710 m) to Namche Bazaar (3.440 m)
5 hours walking, 730 m ascent

When you enjoy the company of a Sherpa family you have to expect having some children around you :-) We were three ”white people” yesterday in their lodge and after the owner made some fire in the dinning room – without asking for fire, I could stay that night without fire - we also were "invaded" by 2 children (I hope I do no harm about publishing their picture). A girl about six or seven, and a little boy no older than 3 y.o., wearing a dawn jacket. Oh yes, the fact that all locals are nowadays wearing dawn jackets looks so strange for us actually. Two years ago I saw not a single local on the trail having a dawn jacket and now I see babies and old people wearing it. The label is from North Face, but there are not original pieces from North Face. These products are manufactured actually in Nepal and they only put on it the label of a loved brand. A manufacturer who sold mountaineering equipment in Thamel said: ”I make the jackets and then I put the label of North Face on it because the tourists love North Face and they buy it.”
So, no regulations or restrictions, I have no idea about the position of North Face company. In fact, the products are fakes and it is really very difficult to know which one could be an original and which one is a fake. I bought dawn slippers and gloves from ”mammuth”. I have no idea if there are original products, for sure not, but in this case there are no risks, so not so important for me so far I get it for a convenient price. I only climbed over 5.500 m and I only had minus 20 degrees Celsius, so the slippers and the gloves proved their full qualities and kept me warm. But problems can occur in case of sleeping bags, that is a serious issue actually, as you have no chance to protect yourself over nights and a good, warm keeping sleeping bag can become vital for a long trek. The boots are anyway an important issue and so on.
 The both children were …. just children :-)) The older one felt important and protective about her little brother, as I was alone in the dinning room for about one hour she just foolished around there, all the time talking and talking, then she just took my pot of lemon tea and put it in two cups, for her and for her brother. Then she came with a note book and started to write some exercices in English, the numbers. One moment, the little boy, who moved not so easy in his big dawn jacket, started to cry, he was to warm and couldn’t get the jacket of by himself, so I helped him.
 Here and in Lukla too I was astonished to see how small and in the same time how independent the children are. A child of only 2 years old, wrapped in a puffy dawn jacket, can manage to eat by himself and to bring the empy plate to the mother in order to get some more or to show he is finished, he ate all and wants a glass of water. 
 Yesterday evening in Tok Tok I left the dinning room, where the fire offered a nice warm if you stayed close to the stove, at about 8 o’clock and crossing the road for entering the building where the rooms were I had a feeling of being quite pleasant outside, not so very cold actually. Of course pitch dark, but pleasant to stay outdoor for a couple of minutes. The Turkish-style toilet was very clean and the customary bucket of water and the cleaning brush were there, which is not quite usual in Himalaya. I got directly in my sleeping bag, having only the thin bike treasures, the T-shirts – one short arms and the second long arms - and a thick pair of socks on, which I removed after five minutes. The thick hat I’ve bought in Kathmandu (and which I love it) became a sort of second head skin (for the following days and almost for the entire duration of the trek), I have to admit this. After a while I put on the thick blue flies jumper and I’ve had a very pleasant and warm night in my sleeping bag.
 I woke up this morning at 7, before watch alarm rang. The plan was to leave Tok Tok not later as 9 a.m. and the packing of my backpack it always take at least half an hour. At 8 I was ready in the dining room. Although I ordered my breakfast in the evening before, this was brought only after 20 minutes waiting, which is not a reason to be angry. When you come here, you just have to ignore the facts about measuring time, even is a very important individual issue on a trek. But expecting to be served in time or things like that …. Please don’t do it, it is waste of time and energy. Time almost does not exists and after a while you learn to manage your entire day and nights just after feeling the light of the coming ar dissapearing sun or moon. And all your senses will be in harmony with it. Just thinking back at the fact I could not sleep for about 14 nights, but during the days I had an excelent state in those circumstances. This is an amazing thing. Try to survive 2 weeks in the city, doing all the things you normally do, without any sleep during the nights and tell me about your experience! 
But, I have to say that even me I was very disappointed about the breakfast, really. I am sorry to say this. The “apple pie” was actually a pancake with probably some apple in, but it was pretty burned on one side, in the middle was raw, not well done, so I had very little from it, it was actually a piece of dough, which normally I cannot eat. The second pancake with the omelette were so thin, that I was really hungry after that breakfast, but not in the mood and money to order something new. And it was the only place during one month where the omelette was made from one single egg. So, from the point of view of the breakfast, the most important meal at the beginning of a trekking day, I do not recommend the Amadablam Lodge in Tok Tok for a stop. Or you ask at the moment of your order how the things will be and discuss with the owner. The family is very nice, the wife understand very little English, but her husband speak an excellent English. But that morning he didn’t appear.
I could leave Tok Tok only at 9,20, too long time for getting a secure backpack – I mean, all things have to be very stabile on it, in case you fall or a strong wind is starting, you can lose some. A long day awaited me, only going up, at least 6 hours of steepy climb to Namche Bazaar. For drinking on the way I took one liter and half, some hot lemon and water with energy tablets on it. Good idea. The camel bag has no place inside the backpack, so I hung it out on the rucksack. The winter camel bag is actually very usefull until you start to trek higher that 3.800-4.000 meters. Then, it becomes only an extra luggage which you have to carry on, empty. When you travel at least 2 persons, you can let your camel bag home, because it will be always somebody to give your bottle from the pocket of your backpack, without taking off your backpack, this is the point.   
 The trek started on almost flat ground. You pass by a lodge named “Waterfall View” or so, because it is a waterfall on the left side, but that day the water was shopping probably …. No water, no waterfall, only the image of a possible waterfall and I imagine that during the summer that small place can be very idyllic, it looks very nice. A short distance beyond the waterfall there is an excellent view to the east of the Peak of Thamserku (6.608 m alt.) and as you are steel on some green ground, the contradictions of the strong colors of mother-nature give a fascinating picture. These are reason why I cannot stop myself …….
After short time, about 20 minutes, I reached the lodge in Bengkar, another place where you can stay over night. Here it was a big group of porters, taking a rest. One of them expressed himself very ostentatiously to me with a “hello!!”, then he commented something and the others laughed like true idiots behind me. I just ignored that, wishing some other people would appear in the next seconds.

A short distance beyond Benkar the trail crosses the Dudh Kosi River again to its east bank on a suspension long bridge. Then it follows the route just along-side the river for about 20-30 minutes. Here is the sunny side of the trek, after this you start to climb and the next villages are interspersed with forests of rhododendron, magnolia and giant firs. As my second experience in Himalaya was also in winter time, I can only imagine how all these plants with their blooming flowers are perfurming everything around them and stealing your senses and heart!
You climb through terrible dry scenery and a lot of finest dust to Chomoa, then the trail descends quite steeply into a big valley below Thamserku, crosses the Kyashar Khola River and climbs  out of the valley to Monjo (2.840 m). It took me 2 hours until Monjo. From here, somewhere on the right side, a path leads to Thamserku Mountain (6.608 m).
Beyond Monjo I reached the gate of entrance into Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park. The big building appears there down on the trail in a very unexpected way. The entrance station is guarded by machine-gun-toting army personnel and your trekking permit will be checked. Here you have to pay the National Park fee for 1.000 NRP (14 USD / 11 EUR) and your permit will be registered very carefully in a logbook. When you leave SNE, they look for you in their logbook after your entering date and note there that you left the area. They note your country, gender, age, nationality, if individual or belonging to a group. As no tourists at that moment, I stayed not long for the formalities.
Inside the building is also a sort of information point for the tourists, with some statistics, pictures and a big model of the major mountains peaks. SNP was established in 1976 to protect a 1.148 sq km area surrounding Mount Everest (called Sagarmatha by Nepalis). Advisers from New Zealand assisted with the park development and trained the first Nepali wardens. Although the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation manages the area, most of the enforcement activities are carried out by a large contingent of the Nepal Army that is based in a compound above Namche Bazaar. The park was declared a Unesco World Heritage sie in 1979.
Park rules prohibit trekkers from buying fuel wood from local people or removing any wood materials from the forest. In 1998 the park administration banned glass bottles. Nepali beer is available in cans, but if you want a soft drink, you’ll have to rely on Chinese drinks that have been transported over Nangpa La from Tibet. Park regulations also prohibit mountain biking, climbing any mountain without proper permission and littering.
 The Sagarmatha National Park includes the highest point of the Earth's surface, Mount Everest (Sagarmatha). The park is also of major religious and cultural significance in Nepal as it abounds in holy places such as the Thyangboche and also is the homeland of the Sherpas whose way of life is unique, compared with other high-altitude dwellers.
The park encompasses the upper catchments of the Dudh Kosi River system, which is fan-shaped and forms a distinct geographical unit enclosed on all sides by high mountain ranges. The northern boundary is defined by the main divide of the Great Himalayan Range, which follows the international border with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. In the south, the boundary extends almost as far as Monjo.
This is a dramatic area of high, geologically young mountains and glaciers. The deeply-incised valleys cut through sedimentary rocks and underlying granites to drain southwards into the Dudh Kosi and its tributaries, which form part of the Ganges River system. The upper catchments of these rivers are fed by glaciers at the head of four main valleys, Chhukhung, Khumbu, Gokyo and Nangpa La. Lakes occur in the upper reaches, notably in the Gokyo Valley, where a number are impounded by the lateral moraine of the Ngozumpa Glacier (at 20 km the longest glacier in the park). There are seven peaks over 7,000 m. The mountains have a granite core flanked by metamorphosed sediments and owe their dominating height to two consecutive phases of upthrust. The main uplift occurred during human history, some 500,000-800,000 years ago. Evidence indicates that the uplift is still continuing at a slower rate, but natural erosion processes counteract this to an unknown degree.
In the region there are six altitudinal vegetation classed, from oak forests at the lowest elevations to lichens and mosses at the highest elevations. The Himalayan zone provides the barrier between the Palaearctic realm and the Indomalayan realm.
Most of the park (69%) comprises barren land above 5,000 m, 28% is grazing land and about 3% is forested. Six of the 11 vegetation zones in the Nepal Himalaya are represented in the park: lower subalpine; upper subalpine; lower alpine; upper alpine; and subnival zone. Oak used to be the dominant species in the upper montane zone but former stands of this species.
In common with the rest of the Nepal Himalaya, the park has a comparatively low number of mammalian species, apparently due to the geologically recent origin of the Himalaya and other evolutionary factors. The low density of mammal populations is almost certainly the result of human activities. Larger mammals include common langur, jackal, a small number of wolf, Himalayan black bear, red panda, yellow-throated marten, Himalayan weasel, masked palm civet, snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer, Indian muntjac, serow, Himalayan tahr and goral. Sambar has also been recorded. Smaller mammals include short-tailed mol, Tibetan water shrew, Himalayan water shrew; marmot, woolly hare, rat and house mouse.
Inskipp lists 152 species of bird, 36 of which are breeding species for which Nepal may hold internationally significant populations. The park is important for a number of species breeding at high altitudes. The park's small lakes, especially those at Gokyo, are used as staging points for migrants. A total of six amphibians and seven reptiles occur or probably occur in the park.
There are approximately 2,500 Sherpa people living within the park. The people are primarily Tibetan Buddhists. Their activities are primarily agricultural or trade based. Their properties have been excluded from the park by legal definition. There is and will continue to be an influence on the people by the park and vice versa. The Sherpas are of great cultural interest, having originated from Salmo Gang in the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, some 2,000 km from their present homeland. They probably left their original home in the late 1400s or early 1500s, to escape political and military pressures, and later crossed the Nangpa La into Nepal in the early 1530s. They separated into two groups, some settling in Khumbu and others proceeding to Solu. The two clans (Minyagpa and Thimmi) remaining in Khumbu are divided into 12 subclans. Both the population and the growth of the monasteries took a dramatic upturn soon after that time. The Sherpas belong to the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which was founded by the revered Guru Rimpoche who was legendarily born of a lotus in the middle of a lake. There are several monasteries in the park, the most important being Tengpoche.
(Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/120)
It was sunny, warm, I was on trail and I was incredible happy. I knew somehow I want to go closer to the Everest Mountain, but I have planed this trip eventually for 2012 …. So being here NOW was much more fascinating as I could percepe.
The trail makes a steep rocky descent to a large farm, passing by a big rock painted in black and inscriptioned with white written mantras. It is a shadow segment and you feel cold. I crossed the Dudh Kosi River on a high 120 m-long Swiss-built suspension bridge and followed the west bank. A short distance up the river is Jorsale at 2.830 m. Several sunny lodges could be a very nice moment to have lunch and I actually met here again the british couple, Claire and Andi. They already had eaten, so I thought it is to late for me for a lunch (it was 12 o’clock), as I am too slow and the climb, the long steep climb to Namche even starts. So I skiped my lunch today, saving also some money (at least 500 NRP).
The trail follows the river for a while, then cross again the Dudh Kosi River, follows along the river bank and after a few ups und downs makes a steep climb near the confluence of two rivers.
   I could see very high and away in front of me the long bridge which I supposed I have to cross.  But reaching the bridge meant first a very steep long climb and behind me was approaching a caravan of about ten donkeys loaded with products. As usual, I gave them priority on the trail. I do this from a inner common sense and a sort of big respect, really! Even if there are situations when you have to rush because you are tired or sick and wish to reach your destination, I never forgot that it is much more important for them to go ahead as for myself. And the donkeys …. Have such a human look, when they are tired and stop looking in your eyes ….. uuuuffff
After they pass by me I continued my climb, but behind me came another caravane about 7 donkeys. I had no space to stop and to let them the path free, so there were some moments or maybe two minutes as I was blocked between the both caravanes, alone, on a crazy and dusty climb through the forest.
Reaching the bridge, I waited until all donkeys crossed it, taking some nice pictures. At the end of the bridge is a set of steep, crooked concrete stairs and the place can become easily very problematic. In the busy season a local person uses a police whistle to direct “the traffic”, as it can be dangerous.
After the bridge was absolutely clear, I crossed the Dudh Kosi River. What a dizzying height above the river! 
In this area I’ve got lost of the two Holland guys. The fact is that about one hour before Rick said to me, they are going faster to Namche and if they don’t solve their financial problem, they will stay in Namche only one night, climbing further for maximum 2 days and then returning to Kathmandu. So it was a sort of “good bye!” and although I felt suddenly very lonely, I accepted the situation.
From that moment I did not care about them anymore and I stopped to worry about them. The girl was too distant and cold, so if they are going faster, it is no problem. The funny thing is that I left them behind me and they reached Namche only 2 hours later than me (I heared this after about one week, as we shortly met on the trail, in Dingboche).
I coudn't download it here, some technical problems. You can see how strong was the wind and how steep the stairs at the end of the bridge

The ”walk” (”climb” would be more suitable) to Namche Bazar is long and leads you from a safe altitude to one in which altitude sickness can be a real danger, so the most important thing is to walk as slowly as possible and do not get exhausted.
I climbed for 2 hours and 40 minutes, the British couple reached me and we entered Namche Bazar all three together, at 2:40 p.m. I was really exhausted and hungry. Probably because at this stage you are not acclimatised and trained, this day stay in your memory along the entire trek to Everest as one of the toughest and longest.
Entering Namche Bazar at 3.440 m you have to stop for the check of your trekking/climbing permit, it is the 3rd checking point for today.
After a few minutes I felt as new and after some more steps I understood the name of Namche Bazaar, being surprised to see so many things, people and so much dirt. It was Tuesday, but the open air bazaar was over crowded. It is really a strange picture, when you see it for the first time ….
The settlement is shaped as a teardrope with the narrow part on the bottom of the valley. Is just like a big amphitheatre. You walk through the archwayentrance and immediately it follows a large stupa and the prayer walls. Behind the walls, crauched like in a big human palm, there is a large vacant lot of ground where the bazaar is actually happening.
First feeling? Honestly? So dirty! So chaotic! So colorfull! So cold! So dirty! And so cold ....
Each Saturday there is an important weekly “haat” or market. Established in 1965, it offers a venue for lowland people to sell com, rice, eggs, vegetables and other items not grown in Khumbu. The bazaar is an important social event, as ell as the focus for the region’s trade. Sherpas from all the neighbouring villages come to purchase food and socialize and the place becomes a crowded rumpus of Sherpas, government officials, porters, guides, Tibetan and tourists.
The fields at the foot of N.B. have been taken over by Tibetan traders selling Chinese goods. These colourful sheepskin-clad men bring trains of huge Tibetan yaks laden with clothing, soft drinks and household goods from the Tibetan town of Tingri over the 5.740 m Nangpa La into Khumbu. They camp in N.B. and make trading excursions as far south as Lukla. There’s nothing much to buy of interest to trekkers, but the Tibet bazaar is certainly worth visiting. These traders return to Tibet once they have sold their wares. You may also encounter Tibetan refugees who have crossed Nangpa La and are headed for Dharamsala in India, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet government in exile.
Historically, Sherpas were herders and traders. Namche Bazaar was the staging point for expeditions over Nangpa La into Tibet with loads of manufactured goods from India. On the return trip they brought wool, yaks and salt. Today, Sherpas raise barley, potatoes and a few vegetables in the barren fields of Khumbu, but their economy relied on trading until trekking boosted their income. Most Khumbu Sherpas have capitalised on the influx of trekkers and mountaineers and have become quite well-to-do, maintaining a winter residence in Kathmandu and sending their children to expensive schools in the capital (or even to the United States, I later was told from several lodges' owners).
Almost everyone trekking in the Khumbu region visit N.B., as it is the gateway to the high Himalaya and the visitors are adviced to spend here at least 2 nights and moving around during the day, in order to get acclimatized. Starting on the right side you reach the area of lodges, hotels, restaurants and shops. You can find here, for higher amounts than in Kathmandu, of course, anything you need for trekking or climbing.
It is amazing to find here everything you could need: internet, even wireless in some lodges (you have to pay for it), local air companies offices (Yeti Airlines is just selling, but not booking, don’t ask me how it works that!), phone services, hot shower (about 300 NRP / 10 minutes), expensive wines, power day and night (even if you have to pay for charging, but if you need some light during the night, you just switch the light in the room and you can see something).

I just followed the British couple who tried to remember about the place they had accommodation seven years ago, when they did this trek. So we reached a huge lodge, Khumbu Lodge. I was impressed about the main dinning room: very big and full of warm colors, typicall design, beautiful place. In the middle of the space, a lot of colorful pillows which I just adore, remember about the childhood in a way, as we had at home in a traditionally way a lot of pillows, belonging to a “Turkish room” in the house of my grand parents before the 2nd WW. I still keep two of them in my living space, but those times based on such of precious work are over long time ago.
I was afraid the accommodation price could be to high for me, so I asked to see the room. They asked for the same amount as for a doble room, 200 rupies. So, 2 people are paying 200 rupies and me the same amount? I can understand this logic when the lodge is full of tourists, so during the high season, but now, when so few tourists are coming up to here? So, I had the right feeling the owner is not willing to negotiate and I wanted to leave the lodge. He said, 200 rupies is the lowest price he can offer. Then, as he saw I leave and I said to him about my reasoning, he said about one room for 100 rupies. A very small room and very dark. The sun is never coming here. Ugly room, the ugliest I saw in Himalaya. A dark corner of such a huge and well-named lodge in the entire Namche. I took that room, two nights shouldn’t be a vital problem to sleep there.
So, generally speaking about this lodge: very small portions of meals, expensive – but I experienced a lower standard lodge having higher prices for the food and beverages -, the owner are too “europeanised” for my taste, clean, cold, very big kitchen, a second dinning room, simpler and much smaller, a rude employee (because of him I did not let any tipp here. Anyway, the meals were expensive enough and they take care of having their profit, I have no doubts.). I ordered a tomato noodle egg soup (they forgot the egg drop) and a simple dal bhat (which was terrible small portion!!).
They did fire in the small, not so nice dinning room and that rude employee did not allow me to stay in the big dinning room, which I enjoyed very much, even cold inside. But the view over N.B. was much more appealing for me, really. So, at 6 p.m. I went to my ugly room, into my sleeping bag. I felt strong headaches and actually I was very tired. And a little bit hungry. I read for a while, then I tried to fall asleep. This was the biggest issue for the entire night.

COSTS OF THE DAY:  1.115 NRP (16 USD / 12 EUR)
Breakfast in TokTok:   350
1 liter hot lemon:         150
Dinner in N.B.:             455
1 liter hot water:              60
1 night:                          100
My advice for such of trekking trips in Himalaya: 
Buy the services of a local travel agency. 
If your backpack is over 12 kg, hire a porter. 
Think about hiring a local guide.  

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