Everest Base Camp Days 1-4

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

So this was it – the final chapter of the journey and I was off to see the big one – Mt Everest.  I've always been in love with the mountains but this really is the special one. This is a place that is nature at it’s most powerful, it’s most awe –inspiring and where man is not all conquerable. And it’s the place in the world that is a little nearer to the stars than anywhere else on the planet.

I had a couple of days in Kathmandu between trips to reflect on this final chapter. Originally the plan was to stay in Nepal after the Everest Base Camp Trip and see a bit more of the country (was meant to get back into the UK on 1st June), but whilst I was on the Annapurna Circuit trip I had decided that I was going to go home earlier. So I booked a flight back for May 12th which was the day that everyone else on the EBC was also due to go back. I was already exhausted after the Annapurna Circuit and I knew that all I would want after another hard two weeks of trekking was to get home, have a decent cup of tea and a sausage sarnie. I was just travelled out and I knew it was time.

So my final group arrived on the Tuesday – there was fifteen of us; John, Paul (Bob), Kathryn and Rob friends from Yorkshire, the Canadians comprising Pete, Emily, Mark and Lindsey, Ollie and Alex (the youngsters), John from Telford, Jamie from London, Doug from Scotland and my Mancunian (posh one though – now lives in Cardiff, but soon to be moving to Edinburgh) room mate Caroline. We also met our group leader Lakpa who is one of the most experienced Exodus leaders in Nepal. So the first night we went to a traditional Nepalese restaurant where the rest of the group got to experience their first Dal Bhat (as you know it really wasn’t my first one). I was still sticking to my no alcohol policy but most of the group pushed on through and were up until the early hours. John even managed not to make it back to his room at all. Well he did try but Steve was so out of it he didn’t hear him knocking so John slept on the hotel in reception (genius). The following morning we had our full briefing from Lakpa and quite a few members of the group were struggling a little bit. I of course was feeling just fine having retreated off to bed early and got in a good 8 hours. So that day we did of sight seeing and then a little bit less of a monster night ensued – partly because some were still suffering and we had a very early start the next day.

So the next day and Day 1 of the Everest Base Camp Trek.  Before I start can I just say that the photos here are not just mine, thank you to Caroline, Mark, Lindsey, Pete and Lakpa for also letting me have yours. So we had a very early start at we were going to be on the first flight out of Kathmandu to Lukla. We got up at 4am and headed off on the bus to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu. Well that’s if you can call it a terminal.  

Now usually at the start of such a trek the overriding feeling is one of excitement but I’d say in most of our cases it was one of trepidation verging on shear terror. This is because we were going to be flying into the Hillary-Tenzing Airport at Lukla. That’s Lukla the gateway to the Khumbu region and to Everest but also Lukla which has another claim to fame – as it has one of the albeit of the World's Most Dangerous Airports (funnily enough I didn’t mention this one to my family before I did this). Lukla sits at 2,840 meters like a dinner plate balanced on a table edge: a terrifyingly shallow plateau in a ridge of mountains. The landing strip is built on the steep incline of a hillside. Its length is 450m long and has a width of 20m (to put this into context the longest runway at Heathrow is 3902m long and 50m wide and the Edwards Air Force Base in California has a 11917 m x 274 m lake bed runway as it was the landing site for the Space Shuttle. The runway incline at lukla is a staggering 12% (equivalent of a 10 storey building). The airport can only take the 18 Seater Twin Otter Propeller Aircraft (so no you can’t land a 747 or an A380 there, the A380 is actually probably longer than the runway itself).

  Landing in Lukla leaves no room for error. The approach is through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and the air is often cluttered with clouds. The approach is through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and the air is often cluttered with clouds. Pilots throw their propellers into hard reverse before they touch down. When you take off the pilots have to gun the engines as they race down the hill for takeoff as at the end of the runway there is an abrupt drop off down to a river valley below. So funnily enough only the most experienced pilots in Nepal are allowed to fly into there.

So we headed out on the first flight with Tara Air. The weather was stunning but to be honest I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was around us. I am not normally bothered at all by being in a plane but I have to say even this one scared me. The small mercy of the actual arrival was that by the time I’d actually spotted the destination (or the lack of it) the wheels were already bumping along the runway, the brakes were screaming — and I’d realised that I was actually not dead (which was a relief). Mark managed to film the plane landing (can’t believe he had his eyes open).

Beyond the scariness of the airport the fact that it even exists is a huge feat in itself. The airport was built in 1964 by Edmund Hillary as part of his Hillary Trust project. In 1960 when Hillary was in back in Nepal on a multi-purpose expedition (Climbing, conducting physiological research into high-altitude acclimatisation and trying to find the yeti aka the abominable snowman) to Makalu (the 5th highest mountain in the world) that he decided that he wanted to give something back to the Sherpa people, who he believed had given so much to mountaineering. So Edmund Hillary set up the Hillary Trust in order to provide better education and health care facilities to the people of the Khumbu region. One of the problems with the projects was getting in supplies and materials so Hillary decided they needed to build and airfield. They found some low grade farming land close to Lukla (meaning a place with many goats and sheep) and Hillary purchased the farm land on behalf of government of Nepal for a total of $635 quite a substantial sum in that area in those days. They had no mechanical equipment to build the airport, of course, so everything needed to be done by hand. A team of more than 100 Sherpa’s used kukris (a Nepalese machete) and mattocks (similar to a pick axe) to cut down the bush, dig out roots and level the land. Often there were huge boulders which they were unable to lift, so the Sherpa’s used a method in which they would dig holes and roll the boulders into them, and then cover them up with earth. When it was finished, Hillary was concerned about the soft earth that was the runway (it was only tarmacked in the 2001), so he plied the Sherpa’s with alcohol in the form of the local Sherpa Beer and for several days had them dancing on the soft ground to try to make it harder and more stable. It was renamed the Hillary-Tenzing Airport in 2008 following the death of Edmund Hillary.

So on arrival we all clambered (in a state of shock) out of the plane and onto the tarmac, and the first thing we noticed was it a tad bit nippy up there. We were now at 2840m (t-shirts all the way in Kathmandu). So we headed out of the airport (our bags had already been taken apparently) and off to get some breakfast and get ready for the day’s walking. On the way to a lodge we could see other planes coming into land and taking off and were all completely mesmerized by what we were seeing. We’d landed on that !! After some breakfast we were ready to set off on the EBC trek. I thought by now I was a dab hand at being prepared and after the Annapurna Circuit I knew what exactly I needed for the day, but after having a last minute swap of bags in Kathmandu and a re-pack I realised I had forgotten my walking poles. There was no way I could pop back and get them so I decided it was fate stepping in (rather than me just being a muppet) and a sign that I needed to do the trek without poles. Amanda had managed quite capably (although I think that was because she is very capable) on Annapurna so I could do as well. We also met our other guides. Hari, Dawa and Mingma who would be with us for the duration. On the trek our large kit bags (which had to be less than 12Kg for the flight to Lukla –yes therefore I was only carrying spare pairs of pants – had to love it though – all of our kit bags were less than 12kgs as we knew they were to be weighed, the daypacks were not weighed though !!) were being carried not by porters but by dzopka’s, which are a male cross-breed between a yak (the Daddy because they are big and strong) and a cow (the Mummy because they have a calm temperament. 

The first days’s trekking was only 3 hours (6km) and it was to Phakding at 2610m. We were a little pit annoyed because Lukla is at 2840m and weren’t really appreciative of the fact that on the first day we were descending not ascending. So we headed on out of Lukla, past lots of trekking shops, a hairdressers, bars and lodges and even a Starbucks (looked a little bit on the fake side). As we walked out of the village we passed under a gate with a statue of a famous Nepalese woman that wished us 'Have a Nice Trek’. Just beyond this is the very sobering sight of the Memorial to the Yeti Airlines Plane Crash on the 8th October 2008. This was a flight just like the one we had come in on. The same type of plane and on it was 16 German’s, and 2 Australians as well as 3 crew. When the plane took off from Kathamndu the weather was fine at Lukla. However, during the 20 minutes of the flight the weather changed and a bank of cloud rose up the mountain. When the plane was on its final approach the cloud just rose up and shrouded the view into the runway. The plane just ploughed into the hillside a meters below where the runway way and exploded. Tragically only the pilot survived. As we were looking at the memorial I was told that the an Exodus (the company I was travelling with) group was meant to be on that flight but they had managed to get earlier one that day.

So we trekked on up the Dudh Kosi (Milk River – it’s a cloudy colour due to the amount of eroded rock in the water that has been removed by glaciers) through the incredible landscape and was what I was expecting from Nepal. Lush green valleys surrounding by stunning mountain peaks. The first major peak we could see (no Everest on Day 1 I’m afraid) was Kumsum Khangkara at a height of 6367m. Its name means "Three Snow-White Gods" in the Sherpa language, which refers to the triple summit of the mountain. With an altitude of only (I say only but am comparing it to the big guys further up the valley!)  6,367 metres mountain is classified as a trekking peak, but it is considered one of the most difficult to climb. Out of 22 attempts between 1978 and 1998, only 9 successful expeditions have been reported. On the way I was actually taken aback by the amount of Buddhist Prayer Wheels and Painted Rocks. I had seen a lot in Annapurna but there was far more here. The Sherpa’s were originally from Tibet and migrated across the mountains. According to oral Buddhist traditions, the initial Tibetan migration, was a search for beyul (Shangri-La). Sherpas belong to the Nyingmapa, the "Red Hat Sect" of Tibetan Buddhism. Allegedly the oldest Buddhist sect in Tibet, founded by Padmasambhava during the 8th century, it emphasises mysticism and local deities shared by the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, which has shamanic elements. Sherpa’s are the group that particularly believe in hidden treasures and valleys. Monasteries with celibate monks and nuns, along with the practice of reincarnated spiritual leaders are later adaptations.

In addition to Buddha and the great Buddhist divinities, the Sherpa also believe in numerous deities and demons who inhabit every mountain, cave, and forest. These have to be respected or appeased through ancient practices that have been woven into the fabric of Buddhist ritual life. Many of the great Himalayan mountains are respected as sacred. The Sherpas call Mount Everest Chomolungma and respect it as the "Mother of the World."

Today, the day-to-day Sherpas religious affairs are presided by lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) and other religious practitioners living in the villages. The village lama who presides over ceremonies and rituals can be monastic or a married householder. In addition, shamanic (lhawa) and soothsayers (mindung) deal with the supernatural and the spirit world. Lama identify witches (pem), act as the mouthpiece of deities and spirits, and diagnose spiritual illnesses.

An important aspect of Sherpa religion is the monastery or gompa. There are some two dozen of these institutions scattered through the Solukhumbu region. They are communities of lamas or monks (sometimes of nuns) who take a vow of celibacy and lead a life in isolation searching for truth and religious enlightenment. They are respected by and supported by the community at large. Their contact with the outside world is focused on monastery practices and annual festivals to which the public is invited, as well as the reading of sacred texts at funerals.

So we arrived at our lodge in Phadking in time for lunch (obviously it was the last lunch again) and already three members of the group were suffering from the altitude. Jamie, Doug and Rob were all not in a good way. This wasn’t looking good for the rest of the trek. In the afternoon the rest of us headed up 200m to Thaktul Monastery. The Monastery is 500 years old and had about 30 monks there. When we visited we were slightly taken about to be coming in half way through a game of volleyball (which Mingma very quickly joined in). Playing was a group of young boys who lived there. It is traditional for Buddhist families in the area to send one of their male children the monastery. We also got chance to see inside the prayer room and the religious arefacts. The pigeon holes are where to monks keep their Prayer Books.

On the way back down I was at the back (once again) chatting to Lakpa about the Monastery with Ollie and Steve and there were some workmen on a roof building it. Very scarily we witnessed (it seemed like it was in slow motion) one of the men come careering off the roof. He slid off and then his chest hit smack in to a pile of logs below. Amazingly he stood up but he was clutching his chest. We couldn’t imagine how after that kind of impact that he hadn’t broken ribs and even punctured a lung. At this point it became very real the lives of people out in this region. The nearest hospital was in Lukla (3 hours walk away, remembering there are no roads here) but that would only have very basic facilities. This man would need to be flown back down to Kathmandu but we also knew that he wouldn’t be able to afford that and certainly would not have insurance. For us, it would just be a 999 phone call and an ambulance would be there in a few minutes. Here in Nepal the reality is very different.

So onto Day 2 and we were going to be trekking Phadking at 2610m Namche Bazar to 3440m, a hike of 11km. Once again we were following the Dudh Kosi river valley. As we followed the valley north through pine trees and little villages we got our first glimpse of Thamserku (6608m). Once again I was taken aback at the sight of the porters trying to carry building materials. We saw several trying to carry doors for lodges.  We also a famous rock which apparently looks like the laughing Buddha (if you say so). Lunch was in the village of Monjo at 2840m which is just before the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park. Sagarmāthā National Park is a protected area in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal containing the southern half of Mount Everest. The park was created on July 19, 1976 and was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979. Sagarmāthā is a Sanskrit word, from sagar meaning ‘sky’ and matha means ‘forehead’ or ‘head’, and is the modern Nepali name for Mount Everest.

The park encompasses an area of 1,148 km2 (443 sq mi) in the Solukhumbu District and ranges in elevation from 2,845 m (9,334 ft) at Jorsalle to 8,848 m (29,029 ft) at the summit of Mount Everest. Barren land above 5,000 m (16,000 ft) comprises 69% of the park while 28% is grazing land and the remaining 3% is forested. Most of the park area is very rugged and steep, with its terrain cut by deep rivers and glaciers. Unlike other parks, this park can be divided into four climate zones because of the rising altitude. The climatic zones include a forested lower zone, a zone of alpine scrub, the upper alpine zone which includes upper limit of vegetation growth, and the Arctic zone where no plants can grow. So we passed through the gate and into the park and this was it, we were now in Everest National Park. Then we had to go down a couple about a 100m (really not needed). We then hiked for another hour following the Dudh Kosi river until it reached the confluence with the Bhote Kosi (which flows from Tibet). We then looked up and saw the Larja Bridge (the highest on the trek) which is a drooping suspension bridge that floats from a dizzying height above the Dudh Kosi. This really felt like we were where the moutains really began (the L.P. describes it as being like the scene in the Lord of the Rings where the Fellowship starts to climb into the misty mountains – I wouldn’t know as I don’t do films with Hobbits or Vampires, and it’s far too long for me, I have a tendency to nod off in cinema’s). Anyway with a lot of trepidation we headed on over the bridge. As you will see by the prayer flags fluttering it was pretty windy up there. Also we nearly got thrown off by our own dzopka’s (they don’t tend to wait and let you past. Personally if I was a dzopka’s I would be refusing point blank to cross these bridges). Following the scary bridge we then had a 2 hour hike upwards (pretty steep) to Namche Bazaar. Near the top we were told there is the Everest viewpoint – the first place you can get to see the big one. So we used this as a carrot to get us up the hill. Unfortunately it was the afternoon and as ever in Nepal that means it’s cloudy. So we couldn’t see a flipping thing. So we were feeling a bit subdued until we saw the poor guys carrying loads of plastic containers. So finally we trekked into the village of Namche Bazaar at 3440m. Namche is set in a natural amphitheatre looking across to the jagged ridge of Kongde Ri (6187m).  Namche is the main trading center for the Khumbu and has lots of shops, restaurants and obviously an Irish Pub (it’s funny how at 3440m a pint of the black stuff doesn’t seem that appealing – we were now above the threshold for altitude sickness). It has a tight tangle of cobbled streets and everywhere you look there is building work going on. Traditionally the village was a trading post, with locals bartering yak cheese and butter for agricultural goods grown at lower altitudes. However, after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's successful climb of Everest in 1953, the dynamics of the village changed forever as climbers and trekkers soon followed in their wake. At first the groups came in a trickle, but in the 60s and 70s this turned into a torrent, and being located at a confluence of trekking trails, Namche has prospered from the tourist trade, and according to government statistics it is the wealthiest district in Nepal, with 7 times the average national income and twice that of the capital, Kathmandu. One thing you do notice it that all the buildings are pretty much painted either the same shade of green or the same shade of blue. I thought this must be down to some planning regulation but it turns out the local shops selling roof paint only stocks two colours – green and blue. We were staying in a lodge in the centre of the village so this was an excellent opportunity to stock up on a few final provisions for the days ahead – Cereal bars, toilet paper and Yorkie Bars (No they aren’t just for girls). As I was heading back from my little shopping excursion ready for a shower I was accosted by Ollie, Alex and the Canadians. Apparently (according to the guides, who incidentally wouldn’t be coming with us) if you take a walk to the top of the hill you can see Everest and the weather was clearing. So I grabbed Caroline and somehow we summoned up the energy to get up the hill. We found a good viewpoint, were looking in the right direction, and yes there were some big mountains and then the realisation dawned - none of us actually had the faintest idea what Everest looked like so even if it was there we didn’t know. So we took some photos, said we seen it and headed back down (on my return I looked at the photos and with my new knowledge of Himalayan peaks I realised that yes it was there after all – we’d finally seen Everest – just none of us knew it).  In the photos it’s a small triangle (always centre of photo) poking behind the Nuptse Ridge.

So the next day, another early start. We were heading to the Sherpa Villages of Khunde (3840m) and Khumjung  (3622m) on our Edmund Hillary and the Yeti Experience. Apparently this was one of our acclimatisation days. Now I thought acclimatisation days meant lounging around not doing a lot and letting your body get used to the altitude – apparently not. They are like normal days you go up a bit, but just come down again – fabulous!. So we headed up out of the village (again), past the grassy airstrip at Shyanboche (3790m). This lofty runway was built to serve the Hotel Everest View, but no airlines have any planes that can climb to this lofty altitude (I love it!). Apparently this is going to be used as the location for Everest Sky Diving. In October this year people are going to be able to pay $25 000 to jump out of a plane at 10 000m (29 000ft), obviously with oxygen from a special plane that can fly that high with special pilots (will be giving that one a miss then). As we headed off away from the runway towards the hotel I was at the back of the group chatting away to Lakpa, our head guide. The rest of the groups were a few meters ahead. He suddenly stopped me and said look over, pointing to a small triangle of a peak sticking up over a ridge with a halo of cloud over it. ‘That’s Everest’ he said. This was it- I was finally seeing the highest peak in the world (yes I know – I’d actually already seen it yesterday). I must admit I became a little bit emotional and there were a few tears in my eyes (sunglasses are so handy for such situations). Then I became even more emotional as I realised that was it – the final thing I wanted to see/do on my big trip was Everest and here is was – I’d done it. I know I still had 11 days left in Nepal but it really did feel like things were coming to an end. So we caught up with the others and everyone stopped for a few minutes to have their photos taken. It wasn’t quite the view  had expected – it wasn’t just sat there on it’s own like the Matterhorn is, but still it was spectacular. I was looking at the highest point in the world.

So I pulled myself together and we carried on to the Everest View Hotel, which is a Japanese hotel, very minimalist, expensive (and no hot lemon – what kind of a place is this ?!?!) and surprisingly very poor toilets (although I think actual guests get the good ones, we just got the hole in the ground outside). So we sat having a bit of a break completely mesmerised by the sight of Everest. After that we headed on through some rhododendrons down to the villages of Khumjung and Khunde.

The first village was Khumjung and it was here that we visited the first school that Edmund Hillary help to build, the Khumjung School, also known as Hillary School in a mark of respect towards the man who built it back in 1961. At 3790m above sea level it is the only high school within the Khumbu region As I previously said, in 1960 was in Nepal on an expedition to Makalu, when he decided he wanted to give something back to the Sherpa people. He discussed it with some of the Sherpa’s on the expedition about what he could do to give back and they were quick to reply that they wanted a school to educate their children. One Sherpa said 
‘Our children have eyes but they are blind.’ Despite surviving under the shadow of illiteracy, the Sherpa people were, nevertheless, very thoughtful and farsighted.  Through the knowledge gained from their various experiences and the influence of foreign travellers, they had a deep regard for education. So Edmund Hillary pledged to build a school in Khumjung the following year, although at the time he had no idea how he would make it happen.  It is credit to Sir Edmund Hillary that he was not only able to find sponsors and partners for his many expeditions, but that the same companies and people were quick to support him in his charitable work as well. 
The materials were flown into a temporary airfield 10km away and all of the materials were carried the 10km to Khumjung by the local Sherpa people, And then one year later after that campfire conversation, Khumjung School was opened for its first class.  When it opened it had only two classrooms, with 47 students and a Headteacher and one other teacher. Not long afterward Sir Edmund founded the Himalayan Trust with some of his climbing friends and it was the start of a long and fruitful partnership between Sir Ed and the Sherpa people. Today the school has expanded to have 300 students, 18 teachers and hostel accomdation for 55 students who live to far to walk each day. The high school has 6 feeder primary schools. In 2011 the school celebrated it’s 50th anniversary, but sadly there was one important person missing. Sir Edmund Hillary died in 2008 at the age of 88, although there is a lovely statue of him within the school grounds. Whilst I was in Nepal I read his autobiography ‘View from the Summit’ and it is an incredible story of the beekeeper from New Zealand. The ascent of Everest is only a small part of his story and of his incredible accomplishments. Not long before he died he said ‘I don't know if I particularly want to be remembered for anything. I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest and my trips to the poles. But there's no doubt, either, that my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain’.

So after our visit to the school we went to Khunde which is where Edmund Hillary helped build the Khunde Hospital. In 1966 Hillary together with a small team from overseas and local villagers built Kunde Hospital, his biggest project at that stage. It differed from his others in that overseas volunteer staff would remain at the hospital after the expedition left, so that healthcare would shift from being a temporary service provided when an expedition was in the area to being part of Khumbu's permanent infrastructure. A small government clinic had also opened in Namche Bazar. The government of Nepal was slowly expanding its health services, but scarce resources and personnel meant that these services were often very limited, particularly in rural areas, and in many places there were none.

Hillary had been able to bring in Sherpa teachers from Darjeeling for the schools, but there were no qualified staff for the hospital at Kunde. So Overseas Volunteer Doctors had to be used. In October 2002 Dr Kami Temba Sherpa became the first Nepali doctor-in-charge of Kunde Hospital. His appointment to Kunde is in many respects a fulfillment of what Hillary's and the Himalayan Trust's involvement with the people and the area has been all about. Kami Temba came from the village of Thame, went to the local primary school that Hillary had built in 1963 before continuing his education at Khumjung School, which offered schooling to Class 7. He had to complete his high school education four days' walk away at the Solukhumbu district centre Salleri, where he gained his school leaving certificate in 1976. Returning to Thame, he worked for one year at the school as a teacher. He also became the part-time village health worker before being offered a job at Kunde Hospital.

Apart from a few months away Kami Temba remained at the hospital, eventually taking on a wider medical and administrative role both at the hospital and in the wider community. In 1997 he was offered a place at the Fiji School of Medicine, first to do a bridging course for experienced health workers that he passed. At the end of 2000 he graduated with a medical degree, returned to Nepal and did his internship at Patan Hospital in Kathmandu. In October 2002 he passed the licence examination conducted by the Nepal Medical Council that gave him temporary registration in Nepal. The same month he returned to take up his post at Kunde. When we visited the hospital was closed and we could see the very limited facilities it had to offer (makes the NHS look world-beating). But for the local people this is a massive lifeline and the work they do here really does make a difference to their lives.

The final stop was back down in Khumjung where were off to see a yeti skull (of course it’s real). The Khumjung Gomba (monastery) possesses a rare Yeti skull. Generations ago, before Khumjung Gomba was established, the people of Thame, Namche, Khunde, and Khumjung celebrated the festival of Dumji together at Thame every year. After some time, a dispute arose over management of the festival, and the people of Khunde, Khumjung and Namche left Thame to celebrate at Khumjung. When they left, the people of Khumjung expected a cultural gift of some significance – perhaps prayer flags, Buddhist scriptures, or ritual instruments – from the people of Thame, but were surprised to receive only a yeti skull. The villagers of Khumjung were so offended by this meager gift they kicked the skull all the way home. Only now, after increased interest from Western scientists, tourists, and mountaineering heroes including Sir Edmund Hillary and local leaders like Konchok Chumbi Sherpa, has the cultural and biological value of the skull been recognized.

The legendary Yeti or so-called "Abominable Snowman" is a well-known feature of Solu Khumbu. These creatures have been searched and hunted for but are rarely sighted. The Yeti, according to legend, is a shy humanoid creature that inhabits the high, remote regions of the Himalaya. While traversing the region you may hear Sherpas and other hill people describe the Yeti's superhuman strength and its ability to carry off yaks and even abduct children.

The Sherpas distinguish three different types of yeti: Drema, or Telma the messenger of calamities; Chuti which preys on goats, sheep and yaks; and Mite or Midre which also attacks animals and sometimes men. Sherpas believe that the findings of mysterious footprints in the snow and several incidents of yaks killings support the legend, and Sherpa accounts say the yeti's height is approx. 6-8 feet with a conical scalp, pointed ears, hairless chest area and a human-like face. The creature is said to have a very bad temperament and will attack anyone who ventures close enough.

So (after giving a small donation) we were able to see the yeti skull in a glass cabinet. To be honest I was a little disappointed – I thought it would be bigger and looking like Chewbacca but it just looked like a cross between a coconut and a guinea pig. I also remember as a kid hearing about its alter-ego the ‘abominable snowman’ so expected something like the one out the snowman, but who’d joined the dark side (cue Aled Jones singing ‘Walking in the Air’ – that should not stick in my head for a few days then – deep deep joy).

So after all of the yeti excitement (nearly wet my pants), we headed down to Kyanjuma and our lodge, the Tashi Dalek (it’s that dark side again) Ama Dablam View Lodge. There’s a lot of lodges in Nepal that have use the word view. For most of them it’s rightly so but for some you have got to question the view. Often it’s a view of a big rock or some building work going on rather than a lofty Himalayan Peak. My favourite was the North Pole View Lodge – nope I think you are pushing the boundaries of feasibility a little bit much there. Anyway it was a very exciting evening – I managed to wash some pants, socks and even a t-shirt (no it doesn’t get any better than that !)

So onto Day 4 (I do hope that in your head when it says Day 4 you hear it from the Geordie bloke on Big Brother) and I was wide awake way before the alarm so decided to head out for the sunrise. There were some stunning views  of Everest (just) and then behind to Khumbi Yul Lha (5761m). Khumbila or Khumbu Yül-Lha, is roughly translated as "God of Khumbu" and is one of the high Himalayan peaks in the Khumbu region of Eastern Nepal within the boundaries of Sagarmatha National Park. Considered too sacred to be climbed by most local Sherpa people, the mountain is considered home to the patron God of the local area. Khumbu Yül-Lha has never been climbed; one attempt prior to the 1980s ended when climbers were killed in an avalanche, and there have been no subsequent attempts. Apparently Edmund Hillary did make an attempt but broke his arm and had to come back down before reaching the summit. So today we were heading down  from Khumjung 3780m to Phunki Tenga 3250m and then up to the famous Tengboche  at 3860m. The descent down to Phunki Tenga was pretty steep so this meant only one thing – it was going to be grueling 2 hour ascent up to Tengboche. We thought it would never come, but finally we passed through the gate and saw the stunning sight of the famous Tengboche Monastery with Everest and Ama Dablam looking stunning further up the valley. Tengboche is the cultural and religious centre of the Khumbu valley and is also famed as where the 1953 Everest Expedition speant 3 weeks aclimatising after their trek from Kathmandu. That expedition spent a lot of time in the monastery and since then Everest expeditioners have visited the monastery to light candles and seek the blessings of gods for good health and safe mountaineering.

The Khumbu valley, where Tengboche is located, came under the influence of Buddhism about 350 years back. Other monastery’s were built in the area but Tengboche monastery was only built in 1916 by Lama Gulu.It is the first celibate monastery under the Nyingmapa lineage of the Vajrayana Buddhism.

The monastery of Tengboche and other buildings were destroyed during the 1934 earthquake. Lama Gulu died of shock when he saw what had happened to the  His successor, Umze Gelden, took up the task of rebuilding the monastery, with strong support from Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. Then sadly on January 19th 1989 there was a devastating fire caused by a short circuit on an electric fire which destroyed the monastery's precious old scriptures, statues, murals and wood carvings.  

Following the destruction of the monastery by fire, its rebuilding was undertaken by the present Nawang Tenzing Jangpo who is considered as the incarnation of the founder Lama Gulu, an important spiritual leader of the Sherpas. The project was only possible because of once again the efforts of Sir Edmund Hillary. When word came to Sir Ed, he flew with his wife June to Kathmandu, and then on to Tengboche to witness the destruction himself.As he stood there looking, the Sherpa people told him that the monastery must rise again. Sir Ed took it to heart, and began a massive fundraising effort, travelling the world asking for support. Money poured in from Japan, England, North America and France. Switzerland donated the copper roof. More than $500,000 dollars was raised, and the monastery slowly emerged from its ashes.

Today the monastery is home to about 40 monks, from students who live in a hostel, right through to those who have lived here all their lives, turning small mud huts into comfortable houses.The monks spend their days studying scripts and praying. During breaks they play football on an uneven, sloped field bereft of grass. It is a place of religion, and little else. In the winter it is covered in a thin blanket of snow. Temperatures plummet to well below freezing and the monks rely on the burning of yak dung for heat. However, it is also said that fewer and fewer young boys join as monks as they prefer to work in mountaineering or trekking-related activities.

We visited and had to the chance to watch the afternoon prayers. I’m not too sure what I was expecting really - a few hymns maybe, a bit of ‘All things bright and beautiful’ perhaps (wrong religion Liz – that RE teaching did you wonders !). But we just sat for (on the floor, crossed legged I hasten to add – how to kids sit like that for ages?, I was dying after 2 minutes, think some yoga or pilates is in  order – none of that hot one though – I just want one where I have a nap for a few minutes) 20 minutes whilst a monk read out loud his prayer book very quickly.

Lakpa then told us a fantastic story about Tengboche and the world’s obsession with celebrity. A lot of famous people who aren’t climbers have come up to visit the stunning Tengboche, including Sting and Cher. When Cher visited hundreds of local people trekked 10’s of kilometers just to catch a glimpse of her. However, when she arrived at the Tengboche Monastery there was a wave of disappointment when they saw her. Apparently all of the locals thought that Shakira was coming and were just a tad dissatisfied Cher appeared. Even a rendition of the Shoop Shoop Song couldn’t get the crowd back (yes I did make that bit up – but it would have been brilliant if she had broken into song, with a group of dzopka’s for the back up singers).

So after all the excitement of the monastery I decided to go for an extra bit of a walk and headed off down the path to see if I could get a better view of the beautiful Ama Dablam (6812m). For its soaring ridges and steep faces (for all of you geographers out there it’s a lovely example of a pyramidal peak and therefore Ama Dablam is sometimes referred as the "Matterhorn of the Himalayas." Ama Dablam actually means "Mother's necklace" as the long ridges on each side like the arms of a mother (ama) protecting her child, and the hanging glacier thought of as the dablam, the traditional double-pendant containing pictures of the gods, worn by Sherpa women.

Then it was shower time – and I was now becoming an expert in scoring the quality of shower facilities.  Tengboche I think was my favourite of pretty much all the showers in Nepal. It had hot water (not usually the case), a good flow of water (had a few trickles), excellent hanging up of clothing facilities and somewhere to put your shoes without them getting soaked. Good flooring (it was actually just like astro turf – the not sandy one – a little bit bizarre but it worked) and finally and this was the icing on the cake – it had a shower curtain with ducks on it (who needs anything else). This as it also turns out was to be the last time my hair was going to get washed for the next 7 days (fortunately from the next day it was too cold to take your wooly hat off anyway (yes even in bed).

In the evening we all headed outside (down jackets on) to see the stunning sunset over Everest. It’s an incredible sight because at Everest is the highest point (doesn’t look it, but it is), everything else below it goes dark and then all you are left with is the last rays of the sun hitting the triangle peaking up over the Nuptse Ridge and bathing it in red (emotional yet again). Then I had the best Dal Bhat of my trip to Nepal (and believe me by the end I’d tried a few). This was certainly NOT a dal bhat disaster. A long way to come to try some dal bhat I know but it is recommended.

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