Defeating my fears
FROM LUKLA TO NAMCHE BAZAAR
When I wake up, I check my watch and see that it is 09.00 am. I think to myself, „Oh no, I’ve totally overslept“, but a few seconds later I realize that we are allowed to sleep in today as we have an almost rest day (a 3/4-hour trek) in order to get us acclimatized to the high altitude. I feel totally relieved and also refreshed from the exhausting day I had yesterday. As I leave the guesthouse I go around the village and stop to eat a nice brownie at the local Starbucks. Since Lukla is the most popular starting point to reach Everest Base Camp (EBC) it is a very touristy place, more packed and more expensive than the villages we have previously visited.
I head to the airport to see how the airplanes and helicopters take off. Lukla airport is among the most dangerous airports worldwide, due to the very short landing strip and the inclination the airplane has to overcome before landing. Indeed, as I hear the start of the motor, watch the take-off and see how the airplane disappears into deep fog, it is quite scary.
After some time, when we get our Tims card (necessary to keep our information in an electronic database system), we are ready to head off for our trek to the next village: Phakding.
As we leave Lukla we have to pass through a gate called the “National Luminary Pasang Lhamu Memorial Gate” It was built in honour to the first Nepalese women who climbed the summit of Mt. Everest back in 1993 and died while doing so. We can also see many remains from the devastating earthquake from April, 2015, while leaving the city.
On our way towards Phakding, we are surrounded by beautiful countryside and pass by a few very small villages. These villages all have something in common; I see many dark rocks which have something carved onto them with white paint, as well as some very colourful wheels which have a sheet of colourful written paper inserted into them. I ask Pasang, my guide, what this means and he explains that these are so-called Mantras – prayers written in Tibetan, common in the Buddhist religion. All these prayers have the same meaning:
Om mani padme hum
These six syllables mean, that you can transform your impure body, speech and mind (Om) into the pure exalted body, speech and mind of Buddha, by using the practice of the indivisible (hum) union of method (Mani) and wisdom (padme). It is believed that, by spinning the so-called Mani or praying wheel three times and saying the prayer aloud while doing so, your soul will be purified and you will be cleared of your sins. Before continuing our walk, I watch some local women who are spinning the wheel and praying in the same time. Afterwards I go there myself and try it.
We arrive in Phakding at around 1.30 and have lunch there. Here I meet Sherpa Kasang, who I interview as he has climbed to the summit of Everest on a number of occasions while working as a high altitude guide. You can read about his interesting life in my previous article.
The rest of the day we just spend relaxing, washing our clothes, reading books and enjoying the environment.
The next morning when I wake up I have a good morning yoga session and eat a tasty pancake for breakfast. It is a lovely, sunny day with an amazingly clear view and I am ready to start the trek, knowing that today we have to complete a gradual eight-hour long uphill trek. We need to reach Namche Bazaar (3,440 m), a small (approx. 1,650 inhabitants) village, located in the Khumbu area. Namche is an important trading hub for the Khumbu region and also the most expensive town in Nepal (3 times more expensive then Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal).
Five minutes after leaving, we have to cross a long suspension bridge. Although it is not extremely high, I still don’t feel very confident since I am afraid of heights. After passing this bridge, our guide tells me that we will have to pass 4 more suspension bridges today, the last of which is around 200 meters high. I think he is joking, since every time he says something he has a big smile on his face and I never know if he is serious or not; but still, from that moment onwards, I can’t think about anything other than the 200 meter high bridge.
Just after having crossed the first suspension bridge, we pass by a village and see that all the locals are standing outside, in front of their houses, totally agitated and making phone calls. We ask someone what happened and they tell us that they had just felt an earthquake. We, surprisingly, didn’t feel anything. My friend and I just look at each other – scared and speechless. Our guide tells us that small earthquakes are common and as there is not much we can do about it anyway, we continue our trek and have a tea break in a wonderful place with an awesome view.
As we resume our trek we meet a really nice family from Singapore, with whom we start walking for the rest of the trek, almost until we reach Namche. I enjoy the beautiful landscape around me and even crossing the second and third suspension bridges is not as big of a problem as I thought it would be, since they weren’t as high as I had imagined.
Things are getting more touristy the higher we go and I can see many porters carrying heavy bags – sometimes four or five at the same time – as well as bulls with heavy loads (at lower altitudes donkeys are used for carrying goods).
After some time we arrive at the Tims point, where we have to register to enter the Sagarmatha National Park and pay around 30 USD. We pass through the gate of Sagarmatha National Park and read the rules which are to be respected in this area: Refrain from killing, anger, jealousy, offending others and taking excessive intoxication – this National park is sacred to the locals, since it is home to the Holy Goddess of the Universe (the Mt. Everest).
Along the way we meet many old people as well, and it is just fantastic to see how they are keeping up. Respect! We stop for lunch at the last available restaurant, before we have to face a steep uphill three hour walk towards Namche.
I order some vegetable noodles, but can’t really enjoy them, as I keep thinking about my fear of the 200-meter high suspension bridge.
After lunch we have to hurry up and leave fast, since it is already late and we don’t want to walk in the dark. We pass along the river and from there I can already see the tall bridge: Great!
As we approach I try to convince myself that I can do this, that the fear I have is something unreal, something created by my own mind. I hope that this will help me somehow. When we reach the bridge, I just stand in front of it for a few minutes and watch all the people who cross. I see a few porters carrying heavy loads; one man is transporting a door on his back and I just think: It must be so heavy, what if he slips and falls?
After some time, Pasang, loses his patience, takes me by the hand and says we have to cross now. My friend Fatima and I look at each other and nod our heads- then I grab her hand and we start walking slowly. As we are crossing I am not able to look down, I just hope and pray that it will be over soon and I don’t slip. The wind up there is very strong, my knees keep getting weaker and my heart beats rapidly – I get uncomfortable and start walking faster.
As I finally reach the other side, I sit down and recover; feeling very happy, confident and proud of myself. – I finally did it!
After having taken many pictures at this amazing viewpoint I can’t stop myself from stepping on the bridge again and again; this time feeling more confident than ever. By defeating one of my fears, an extraordinary power starts to run through my body; I start to enjoy the adrenaline rush and although I am still scared, I am also excited. I even manage to walk alone, without holding onto the rail and to look down for a few seconds before getting dizzy.
For the rest of the day I have a smile on my face.
We still have to walk uphill for about three hours, and it is a real struggle, but I am just happy and sing along to my music. Around 4 pm we reach the police checkpoint, which you have to pass before entering Namche Bazaar. There we take a short break, have a tea and wait until the police check our passport and Tims Card.
As we enter the village, we are very pleased by the beauty and authentic looks it has to offer. We reach the guesthouse and put our bags in the room. Since this is the last place where you can get fresh meat, I order Momos (traditional South Asian dumplings) with chicken. After having a rest we go out to explore the village. It reminds me of Lukla, since it is also very touristy and there are many bars/pubs, trekking shops, western- style bakeries & cafes as well as a traditional Tibetan market.
Namche also has a pharmacy, bank, post office, military base, school, Sherpa museum (where you can learn more about the culture and tradition of Sherpas) and a hospital. Since this is the last hospital on the way to EBC, you can see helicopters landing and taking off every day, transporting patients from EBC to Namche and from Namche to Kathmandu. Since we are really craving some dessert, we try one of the local bakeries and have a chocolate cake.
Unfortunately it doesn’t really taste good, more like as if it is 1 week old. At the bakery we also meet some Indians and since we have a day off tomorrow, to get acclimatized, and we want to celebrate our achievement at having made it until Namche, we go to have a drink with them and spend a nice and relaxing evening together.
The next morning we get up early since we want to go to the viewpoint where you can enjoy a great view of Everest and its surroundings.
It is a 2-hour trek and, since we will trek to a height of 3,800 meters, it will also help us to acclimatize to the conditions. Luckily it is a clear and sunny day and we can see all the mountains around Namche Bazaar. I am very happy, since yesterday when we arrived, it was cloudy and rainy and I couldn’t have imagined that I would be able to see such an amazing view the next morning.
As we walk up, with every step, we get a better view of the surrounding area and of the city, which now looks so small. We sit down and take a rest to enjoy the moment. Next to us we see some kids walking as well- 4 boys on their way to school and some porters, but no one else since it is very early. When we reach the highest point the landscape has changed, no more trees- everything is flat and sparse, offering us a perfect and clear view of the whole area. Our guide tells us the names of all the mountains surrounding us and asks which one we think is Everest; everybody takes a guess but no one is right. He tells us where Everest is located and as we look over there, we remain speechless:
We are looking towards the peak of the highest mountain on earth. Amazing!!!
We spend around two hours at the viewpoint taking xxx pictures, having coffee, enjoying the amazing view and praising every single moment.
As we go down, we have lunch at our guesthouse and afterwards go to see a movie at the local bar, which tells us more about Everest and the culture of the Sherpas. We go to a shop to buy some more supplies and end the day sitting all together, drinking some milk tea, sharing stories with other trekkers and preparing ourselves for tomorrow when we have to reach Tengboche, at 3.870 meters.
Note: The following pictures show some more impressions captured on the way from Lukla to Namche Bazaar: