The Shark Lady travels on

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

From Kala Pattar we returned to Lobouche, this time staying the night in the very lovely Sherpa lodge. The day stayed clear, and sunset was spectacular, with Lhotse glowing gold like molten metal. The weather held the next day, and I have to say I have never brushed my teeth in nicer surroundings! By this stage washing was becoming a rarity, though I was glad of my deoderant wipes. Any body odours were masked by the fact that the lodges were all heated with yak dung fires, causing all our belongings to smell very strongly of yak and effectively masking all other odours.

We wanted to cross Cho La, the high pass across to Gokyo, but the guide we had arranged to take us over felt that the recent snow could make the glacier crossing on the other side unsafe, as the path could be unclear and crevaces would get covered. We decided not to risk it, and followed the longer route which took us down this valley then up into the Gokyo valley. We stopped for lunch at Periche and visited the Himalayan Rescue Association medical post there, which treats locals and trekkers and give very good lectures about avoiding altitude sickness. We then wandered on up to Orsho and stayed the night at our little lodge in the middle of nowhere. They pulled out all the stops and fed us fantastic dal bhat for dinner, and let me change the Swedish book I had obtained in Gorak Shep for something I could actually understand (well, the title was in English and it was locked in a cupboard!). The next day we visited Pangboche monastery, built in 1660 and one of the oldest buildings in the Khumbu. It was smaller than Tengboche, and decorated with beautiful thankas inside, and some very old paintings on wood outside.

Nibbles the inflatable shark, who travels on the outside of my backpack, continued to make friends. By this stage I had learned the Nepalese word for fish- 'mata'. They don't seem to have a word for shark, but in a landlocked country this is maybe unsuprising. The porters found Nibbles very amusing, and I got greeted with shouts of 'mata!' (or 'tuna' or- slightly surreally- 'plane' or 'helicopter'). He also acquired a fan base amongst the local children, who liked to give him a squeeze, although I did need to watch out for little people with light fingers! He was also a great ice breaker- as everyone wanted to know why this mad woman was carrying a blow up shark. To which there is really no sensible answer, other than 'he did the Milford track with me and liked it'.

Our walk from Pangboche to Phortse was nothing short of spectacular. There were no other villages between the two (leading us to grow rather hungry as we didn't pack lunch), and the only people we met were a couple of porters, a small yak train and a wandering sadhu (itinerant Hindu holy man), who seemed rather out of place in this Buddhist region, with his orange robes, very long grey beard and Shiva trident. We walked on narrow paths hacked out of the sides of chasms- not a route for those with a fear or heights! The views across the valley to Tengboche, Ama Dablam and Lhotse were great. The peacefulness also brought out the wildlife; some large eagles and three Himalayan tahr browsing beside the trail. The tahr is a large species of goat, about the size of a fallow deer though more heavily built, with magnificent flowing coats and manes. Beyond Phortse and later in Kumjung we also saw Danphe- dark blue Himalayan monal pheasants with irridescent turqoise heads and wings, and orange flashes visable when they fly. I also saw a different, beautiful side to the faithful plodding yak, when two beasts full of the joys of autumn ran down a hillside, tails streaming and long fur flowing.

As we reached Phortse, the potato planting season was in full swing. Farming here is all done the old fashioned way; through back- breaking labour. Groups of women were tilling the fields and anyone passing by was a good excuse to stop for a moment and say 'Namaste'. We were delighted to find a shop selling Indian chocolate bars down in the village. My only contact with chocolate since flying to Lukla was two small bars given to me by the Sherpani at Dingboche as a 'thank you for staying' present, so I stocked up on four bars for emergencies! Chocolate is readily available up here, but is expensive as most of it will have been carried up from Kathmandu by porters. Beer gets flown up to Lukla then carried- you will be impressed to here that I lasted the whole trek without drinking!

The next day began with an extremely steep hill, and steps created by someone who presumably had much longer legs than me. I am taller than most of the Sherpas so goodness knows how they manage to get up. Slowly, I suppose. As we gained height again we saw some pretty waterfalls tumbling down into the valley below, and began to get views of the bigger mountains. After lunch the ascent became gentler, and we stopped at Luza, a small village half way up the valley. This was recommended by a trekking guide we had met in Kathmandu- a very nice chap called Joel who runs a trekking company with Jamie McGuiness, who has written one of the best trekking guides to the region. He turned out to be a useful person to know- as well as lots of interesting trekking tales and tips, he got us a big discount in restaurants in Kathmandu and gave us a list of the best places to stay. Chamjee, the Sherpani running the lodge, was lovely and fed us a wonderful dal bhat, with endless refills of rice, yellow dal and vegetables and a side dish of chill-pickled carrots (yummy!). Luckily for me Oli was not a real spice monster, so I was able to devour most of them! The next morning Chamjee loaded us with coconut biscuits for the onward trek, and we set off again- ever upwards!
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