Day 149 to 180, Monday 29.09. to Thursday 30.10.2014 – About madness, chaos, unique nature, altitude sickness and Dal Bhat power 24 hour
Nepal, Kathmandu & Everest Base Camp Trek: How much more exciting the second part of my journey could possibly start?
A promising start: my flight to Kathmandu got cancelled and I stuck 24 hours at the airport in Frankfurt. Luckily, the European Union regulated that an airline has to care for their passengers in case of cancelations and so we got checked-in at the airport Sheraton. They even had to open at around midnight the kitchen and the bar for us again – totally on costs of the airline of course! I can life with that!
With one day delay I eventually arrived in Kathmandu International, whereas International nothing says about the seize of the airport. It was build for 10 international flights per day and now has to handle 50 or more. And you feel it. The queue at the visa counter is endless, three hours waiting guaranteed for all who decided to save a few bugs and use the visa on arrival option. Luckily, my guide advised to apply for a visa upfront. Never was happier for spending a few extra Euros.
Outside the airport waited more or less 1.000 people, all owners of independent taxi companies. And literally all say they offer the cheapest price for a ride to Thamel, the Trekkers home base in Kathmandu. After randomly selecting one of the cabs and loading my pack I wondered during the first 5 minutes of our ride whether they drive in Nepal on the right or left side of the street. A clear concept can’t be recognized. Cars and motorbikes just drive in the middle, head directly towards each other and seconds before a crash they slow down and pass each other. Holy crap! I am scared and want to fasten the seatbelt…the seatbelt? Where is the seatbelt? There is non…maybe sport package for saving weight. On the main road, which still has no asphalt but at least two separate lines, I become sure that officially you should drive on the left side. But that’s just a rule and it certainly doesn’t apply for taxis drivers. Surprisingly, I haven’t witnessed a single accident during my whole stay in Nepal. They drive chaotic, but pay attention for others, even for pedestrians. Unfortunately, not for the ears of pedestrians. The most used equipment of the car is neither the brake nor the steering wheel: it is the horn! In most cars it is the only application with properly function. Taximeters never work (of course they don’t), mirrors sometimes are there, hardly a cab has seat belts, instruments do not work and wipers do basically not exist – it hardly rains, why bother with wipers. At least at the moment, the monsoon is over. Hilarious!
The second thing I immediately recognize are the highly professional installed electricity cables. I cannot describe the chaos of cables that dangles above our heads, sometimes only a few centimeters. But why a Nepali would care, in general he is a little smaller than the average European! Seriously, how will one have control over such a chaos. I guess whenever electricity breaks down they just install a new cable and leave the old one hanging there. As a structured German, I of course wonder how the electricity company does their cost charging. Certainly, they can’t just send out emails with the request to enter the current figures of the electric meter online. I suspect they even haven’t electric meters. But it works, at least most of the hours a day. Rain could of course cause an immediate breakdown – but again, it’s not rain season so why do I bother.
Buddhism and Hinduism – Beautiful sights and cultural experiences in Kathmandu
The Stupa in Boudnath is one of the most important destinations for buddhism pilgrims. It is really massive compared to all other stupas I have seen during my travels. Maybe 30 meters diameter and 40 metes high with thousands of prayer flags in the typical 5 colors. Around the stupa are hundreds of prayer wheels, which pilgrims as well as tourists turn while walking around the stupa. Most impressive are the monks in their reddish ropes and silent prayings. The second buddhism sight we visited was the Stupa in Swayambhunath. It is much smaller but around the stupa a numerous Hindu temples. The coexistence and closeness of buddism and hindu holy places is impressive. Both religions are probably the most tolerant and friendly I so far know. From the monkey temple, as Swayambhunath is also called, we had an amazing view over Kathmandu. Entertaining for my friends was my fight with a monkey about my bottle of water. This little bastard followed me 20 minutes always waiting for his chance to grab my water. Twice, when i didn’t pay attention, he jumped at me with both arms aiming the precious target. And those little comrades have teeth bigger than my sisters dog!
A unique experience of Hinduism was the visit of Pashupatinath, a big complex of temples. The main temple is only open for Hindus but even from the outside it looks impressive. Moreover, we attended typically Hindu funerals at the sacred river Bagmati and visited Sadhus – Hindu priests but for me totally crazy people (in a positive way). Funerals in Nepal are totally different from our Christian way of saying goodbye to dead people. In Pashupatinath is probably the most famous place for Hindu funerals. The dead bodies are sheeted in lots of layers of fine clothes and scarves, mostly yellow. Then they are placed on a funeral pyre, where the family and friends say goodbye by walking around the pyre and sprinkle wanter of the holy river on the body. Afterwards the fire gets slowly lighted and the body covered with wet straw. After 4 hours the body is burned and the remains are given to the Bagmati. Fascinating was not only the ceremony itself, but also the what happened around it. Tourists with guides stood close to the funeral and explained the process, other tourist stood on a balcony directly above and took pictures and locals sold cold beverages, chocolate bars and cigarettes for the viewing crowds. It was normal though, nobody complained. After that, we visited the crazy Sadhus. They dedicate their life to religion and live a strictly ascetic life and renounce wordly customs and things. They permanently stay in the temples, pray and mediate. They also have at least one obsession to show their religious dedication, e.g. one of them does not cut his hair, another one always is naked and a third one does fix a 20 kilo stone around his balls and does knee bends! Craaaaaazy! In catholicism I would connect it to torture in times of the holy inquisition. The only worldly thing the Sadhus regularly use is Marihuana, as it helps them to meditate (and probably forget the pains in the balls). If I consider all those characteristics, some of my German acquaintances could also be Sadhus: they totally renounce typical worldly things like work or showering, live on social welfare and dedicate their lives to Haschisch. Maybe they should start the German Sadhu Chapter!
Mount Everest Base Camp Trek (Deutsche version – klick hier)
However, the main reason for having Nepal on my bucket list was a Trekking Tour in the Himalaya. IT IS AMAZING. Never saw such a beautiful and divers landscape before. From pinewood forests along a river, over brownish steppen and rocky areas up to snow covered mountains and glaciers. Incredible.
The tour already started with utter madness, as we took a flight to one of the worlds most dangerous airports: Lukla, Himalaya. The runway has an ankle of 12 degrees to support the process of breaking – which is highly necessary, as at the end of the runway a massive mountain awaits you. Touch-and-go is out of question, the first approach has to succeed – it mostly does though!
Our Sherpa Porters already waited at the airport and completed our group of 8 persons in total: Jürgen (guide), Bernd (expedition doc), Jakob (Dal Bhat Power) and myself were the European tourists, Punscha was our Nepali guide and Harka, Norbu and Remington (that’s what I understood) or Sherpa Porters. The first two days were more or less easy going with no steep passages on our way. However, it was our first point of contact with what is going to expect us during the next 17 days. Jürgen was very strict regarding our diet and fitness: “No alcohol, no junk-food, no coffee, no black tea, no no no meat under no circumstances and at all and at least 4 liters of water and tea a day” – he said with a burning cigarette in the corner of his mouth (guess that’s healthy). And he wasn’t joking. Directly at our first evening he ordered Dal Bhat for everybody. It is the typical Nepali food, which consists mainly of plain rice, a soup with lentils, a soup with potatoes, brussels sprouts or other vegetables and a fried, thin, large and salty piece of potato – to sum up, we basically had side dish with side dish with side dish with potato chip. Wow! However, it was delicious. Also the next day, and the next, and the next, and….mmmhhh “Can we have something different?” – “Yes, we have garlic soup in addition!” – “Oh gosh, thanks Jürgen!” And we had the garlic soup then even for breakfast with non-toasted toast. What a highlight! At least Jakob was happy, as Dal Bhat is traditionally a ‘all you can eat’ dish and he really took advantage of this option. No I know why they say: Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour!
After an acclimatization day in Namsche (3.400 meters altitude), we proceeded our trek to Everest Base Camp – together with hundreds of other trekkers, porters, yaks and horses. It is far more touristy than I expected and at every corner one can find a lodge with a hot shower, a restaurant with pizza, burger and San Miguel or a shop that sells chocolate bars and coffee – all of that was of course out of question for the Jürgen Sedlmayr Expedition group. To be honest, it also wasn’t quite was I was looking for, did I expect more solitude and silence. Though, I am part of the mass tourism and one should expect such crowds in high season on one of the worlds most favorite treks. Nevertheless, the astonishing nature made up for everything! Really beautiful and unique.
Our typical routine these days was following: getting up at 6am, breakfast, packing and preparing for the trek, trekking, 10am tea time, 12am lunch time, 2pm tea time and check in at new lodge, rest, 6pm dinner, 8pm sleeping bag. The higher we got the more I looked forward to get into the warm sleeping bag. After sunset at around 6 the temperature fell immediately and only at some places the dinning room was properly heated (they burn dried yak shit, no kidding). Otherwise we sat with several layers of cloth, woolly hat and gloves at our side dish and garlic soup dinner.
At Dingbosche (4.400 meters) I had the third day in row a bad headache, which is the first indicator of altitude sickness. The first two days I took an aspirin but the third day it didn’t help and I couldn’t sleep all night. Because of that, I decided to not ascend any further but turn around and go to 4.000 meters altitude. Descending is the best medicine and it helped perfectly. Lots of other trekkers just take during their whole tour Dimox, which is a strong prophylaxis against altitude sickness – only with that they can manage their treks in 10 or 11 days without acclimatization. But still they face problems. At least 10 times a day a rescue helicopter flew out tourists with altitude sickness who puked all night and weren’t able to descend on their own. Stupid and false ambition to reach the Base Camp at all costs (it isn’t the most beautiful place anyway, you can’t even see the Everest from there).
Anyway, because turning around I got some extra days in Namsche and decided to do day treks to other valleys and villages – in retrospect, this was a great decision as I was able to explore the Khumbu region offside the tourist highway. Untouched nature, spectacular views and authentic nepalese experiences. Once, we sat in the kitchen of a lodge instead in the dinning room. We watched how Didi (boss of the lodge) and her children prepare the food and had a nice conversation with them. That’s how I expected it!
Descending proofed to be luck because of another reason too. The day I (and Jakob) turned around was the start of a bad weather period with lots of snow / rainfall (depending on altitude) and a storm. In the Annapurna region more than 40 people lost their lives in an avalanche and still more than 200 are missing. In the Khumbu region it was not that bad but still the helicopters (even military) flew all day to rescue people who got surprised by the weather and stuck on a mountain or far-off trail. The part of my party that did not turn around got only little higher than Dingbosche (where we parted) and stuck there for two nights because of 70cm snow. Then they also turned around after freezing their asses off! So all in all, I had luck to got sick.
Other funny experiences on the Base Camp Trek:
- I saw my first indian version of CSI Miami – CSI Mumbai or so. Every actor, really every (even actresses I guess) have to wear a mustache. Even though I didn’t understand a single word it was hilarious – and the only movie I saw in whole of October.
- On a steep way to Tengbosche (2 hours only uphill) a young boy of 12 passed me carrying his own backpack of at least 10 kilos. I felt totally ashamed having a porter and only hike with a daypack. However, shame i felt only for a couple of minutes – then his little, 9 year old sister passed me, also carrying all her stuff! That was too much. I honestly considered throwing myself to the ground and start crying!
- In Dingbosche we had pure luxus. On-suite toilettes. But unfortunately the toilette didn’t have water-connection. For flushing you had to manually fill the flushing-tank. To bad when you recognize it only after you have done a ‘big business’.
- Chinese are like Germans in Mallorca – they reserve early the best places around the dinning room oven. Germans in Mallorca use towels, Chinese trekkers use one of their porters to reserve the table.
- Sherpas often eat Dal Bhat with their fingers and walk with sandals in the snow – but all of them own a smartphone! Who needs warm cloth or cutlery, I need Facebook at Base Camp!
- While sitting in front of a lodge and reading with my kindle I suddenly noticed a big, yellowish, viscid liquid on the display of my kindle. Did now really a pigeon shit on my display at 3.400 meters of altitude??? Stop, there are no pigeons here. So I looked up and saw an open window. Really? I know, the Nepali spit everywhere. But can’t they just look out of the window before doing so? And how are the odds? Damn!
- On the last day Jürgen eventually abolished the alcohol prohibition and invited us for a Nepali whiskey, which is a glass of whiskey filled with boiling water – how disgusting. I wished the alcohol prohibition back in place.
With one of our porters, Harka, I developed a very good relation and we discussed lot of times the typical life of a Sherpa, which really is sad when be accustomed to western opportunities. His four children almost have no perspective as they miss a decent education. They can attend public school for five years without payment but hardly learn a proper English, which is essential for life in a tourist country like Nepal. Because of that I started my own little Nepal project and support Harka in the education of his oldest son Tilok (Read more about our project and maybe contribute).
After 17 days of trekking, without shower (we only bathed twice in a freezing mountain river) and shaving I was really happy to be back in Kathmandu to have a decent shower and a clean toilette with water connection. The experience was unique though. I can only recommend at least once in life time visit the incredible and divers nature of the Himalaya and experience the friendliness of the Nepal people. You will love it. My friend Jürgen does such tours from October to December every year – check out his homepage with the tour dates for 2015: Jürgend Sedlmayr – Expedition & Adventure
To see all picture of our tour – visit my gallery.