Descended over the course of 6.5 hours from Namche to Lukla where we catch our plane out in the morning – destination Kathmandu. I say “descend” with some irony as like everything here, going either up or down involves a mix of both. At first I wondered why they couldn’t just carve the trail in more or less in a straight line, but the terrain, the need to cross the gorge numerous times on shakey, but blessedly steel spans, precludes that. But the “thicker” air and anticipated real bed at normal sleeping temps, is a lot of motivation!
Since I already traveled this ground in earlier blogs, I’ll focus on some different things. First, since we first went through about two weeks ago, spring has sprung! A number of fields were sprouting green, rhododendrons, the national flower, were in bloom. And we saw beatific white flowers blooming on what we thought were cherry trees but that were a form of peach tree. Point of trivia: Any guesses on the state animal (like the eagle is for America)? Hint – what would you guess in a country that is 81% Hindu? You guessed it, the cow. They are literally everywhere. India, also a mostly Hindu country, similarly holds the cow sacred (the highest form of reincarnation) but its national animal is the bengal tiger.
Coming down the mountain also revealed how much trekking and Everest expedition provisioning has accelerated now that April is here. The animal trains, and people, were noticeably more frequent. Some of these trekkers I saw I think have insufficient reserves to make it to basecamp, the most common destination by far, and perhaps that is why helicopter flights up and down the Khumbu are so frequent. As I was hiking, I also marveled at the quantity and types of manure everywhere. I have garbage bags to seal up my dirty clothes for home, but cleaning my boots strikes me as important. Not sure how the US Dept of Agriculture feels about small amounts of animal manure coming into the states in a world of foot and mouth disease.
A third observation was the Nepalese children. They seem completely unphased by cold temps, and on a few occasions observed mothers bathing their small children, helpfully in the sunshine. The children are all positive and fun loving in disposition, and seemed fine with having their picture taken, although one small group said, “no photo, no photo” and held up two fingers that might have meant peace or 200 rupes (about $2) 😊. Their mom seemed most entertained by the exchange.
A last observation I will make now focuses on the creativity and industriousness of the people of the high Himalaya. First, as a reminder, there are no cars, roads as we know them, or ready power or utility infrastructure (although they are most clever with solar and hydro in places, but the sun doesn’t always shine and water not easily accessible everywhere). While helicopters frequent the area, they aren’t financially practical for bringing in goods, except when an evac happens or hikers decide to book a heli out – communities piggyback on an empty heli coming in to bring some supplies since someone else is by definition paying for it. This, basically EVERYTHING you and I take for granted to exist everyday, comes in on someone’s back – a person, a donkey, a cow, or a yak. As you might guess, prices for goods are higher as you head up the Khumbu. We bought liter water bottles for instance (need to drink 2.5 to 3 liters a day). They started at the equivalent to $1 a bottle in Lukla to $4 a bottle near Everest Basecamp. The doing of everyday things such as laundry and building construction are also fascinating to watch. The former with soap and a scrubber over a table or rock and air drying and the latter with hand tools to cut stone blocks (will post some pics when I get better WiFi in Kathmandu).
Late this afternoon in our Lukla tea house, was the moment to tip our porter. Amy and I wished to be appropriately generous within an 8-12% of trip cost framework, but I also used the occasions to provide some gifts. First, I gave him my Vermont State Colleges shirt with an explanation of what it was and the admonition that he ensure he enables a good education for his 3 children. I perhaps laid it on more thick than I needed to (but, I do work in this industry and certainly see the opportunities enabled by education, especially firstgens in college), and he assured me it was a priority for him too. I’m not naive to the financial and geographical barriers he confronts In his country, but I’m hopeful this American made a small difference. At the very least, he is likely to wear his shirt on the Everest trail in the future, advertising the 4 regional colleges in Vermont! A second gift was a pair of clean socks (my last ones), that were high quality Patagonia smart wool. He told me a few days ago that his boots were not waterproof and on multiple days they were wet. He tried to dry them by the yak dung stove with varied success. I also gave him my hand and toe warmers that he said would come in most handy during late fall/winter treks (as it turned out, I did not use them). Finally I gave him my remaining Gatorade protein bars and Cliff bars with the admonition to eat them only when exerting energy and not sedentary in front of the TV 😊. I will miss Sundar’s positive spirit, extraordinary smile with straight white teeth (not that common in a country where dentistry and orthodonture is limited in rural area especially), and his inspirational vigor in dragging our bags up and over passes.
That’s the news from Lukla. I’m excited for tomorrow, with a twist. Apparently in the month of April, all domestic flights are being diverted to an airport 4.5 hours from Kathmandu. Hence while going direct to Kathmandu would be preferred, seeing the countryside will also be something new. Stay tuned…