Coming from the manic hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, with it’s endless car horns and constant traffic, landing at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla and realising that you won’t see another motorised vehicle (with the exception of the odd helicopter) for over three months is something of a dream. From now on, the only way to get about is by foot and for us that involves walking, for six days into the mountains.
After a brief pause to arrange porters and breakfast, we leave behind the streets of Lukla with the fake Starbucks and shops selling suspiciously cheap North Face clothing and take our first steps into the thin air of the mountains. We have flown from Kathmandu at 1300m to Lukla at 2840m in under 40 mins and we can already tell that there is less oxygen to go about.
For the first day we walk high up along the valley side of the Dudh Koshi River, which flows far below us. We pass prayer wheels, mani stones and endless streams of prayer flags, reminding us of the spiritual nature of the country we are walking through. Everywhere is green and fresh looking, locals and porters pass us with a cheery Namaste or hello. Cloud drifts between the mountains tops, as we cross the river on high cable suspension bridges. After a steady four hours we arrive in the village of Monjo (2835m), our first mountain stop. Our porters are waiting with our bags as is dinner and a much needed early night…
Early the next day we are up and bound for Namche Bazar, it’s only 6.5km away, but with the altitude and climbing that the day will throw at us, it takes over 3 hours to get there. Not long after leaving Monjo, we enter the Sagarmatha National Park and have our trekking permits checked. Immediately after entering the park we start a long decent before crossing a long suspension bridge and reaching the valley floor. We hop over boulders before starting another long climb to an even longer and higher cable bridge, high above the Dudh Koshi River, passing a view point offering views over Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, although not today as cloud swirls around the mountain tops, blocking any view which may be there.
And then we round a corner and are greeted by the sight of the Namche bowl and the huge face of Kongde, now we really feel like we are in the mountains. We spend two nights in Namche which is at 3440m, allowing our bodies to acclimatise to the the reduction in oxygen. On our day off, we climb the hill behind the village and walk to the Everest View Hotel (3880m), more clouds mean no view of Everest through, so we have to make do with a view of Lhotse.
The following morning we climb up out of Namche again, into clouds of swirling mist, it’s almost like we are destined not to see the mountains… We stop to visit the Hospital at Khunde, an important introduction for the Doctors, as this is where many of the walking sick patients will be sent, as it is far better equipped than the clinic in Machermo. Walking down the valley in to Khunde is like walking through a mystical film set for some Lord of the rings type film… The air is so clean and clear, that lichens grew from the trees hanging in long strands from the branches. Every roof in the village is green, except the entrance, school and hospital.
Leaving the Green Valley behind us we climb a steep path, traversing around the mountain and rising to the tiny village of Mong La at 3975m. Mong is the birth place of Lama Sangwa Dorje, the patron saint of the Khumba, and with it’s spectacular views, dropping away to the valleys on all sides, it’s certainly a place that moves you. We are told of stunning views of Ama Dablam on a clear day, which today isn’t, as we poke into the clouds. We have lunch in a lodge perched right on the cliff edge, the dinning room, part hanging in space, giving dramatic views to the valley floor, hundreds of feet below us and the swirling mist.
The trail out of Mong La is steep, descending all the way to the valley floor and the Riverside Resort village of Phortse Tenga, our stop for the night. Walking down in the the mist through the trees is both dramatic and eery. Far below us the river rages, cutting its way down the mountain, tumbling over rocks in a white water frenzy. Arriving at Phortse Tenga, after more than a few days without a shower, the river was too tempting and a wash was called for, despite the river raging and boiling like nothing before… We managed to find a “safe” place for a quick dunk, and boy does it feel good to be clean again.
The next morning, dawned bright, with some blue sky above the clouds, and after pancakes for breakfast, we climbed back up the valley side, through the trees towards Dole. A short walk today, which took only a couple of hours, but with ever more spectacular views, through the trees and rhododendron forests. The afternoon in Dole was spent visiting the various lodges and handing out altitude information packs. As Dole is the closest main stopping point for trekkers heading up the valley to Machermo, it’s likely that we will have call outs to the village. Yaks graze outside our lodge, and drink from the river that runs past.
Blue skies and excitement greet us when we get up the following morning, as today our walk will finish in Machermo, our home for the next two months. We climb steadily out of Dole, marvelling in the views of endless mountains, before the cloud closes in. We pass porters hurrying down hill with baskets on their backs, through the villages of Lhapharma (4300m) and Luza (4360m) both with extensive views up, down and across the valley. Further on, clattering bells warn us to move to the side of the narrow trail as a train of yaks and zophyoks (a cross between a yak and a cow) passes. Their driver whistling and shrieking to urge the animals forward.
And then, over the next rise and past a chorten, lies Machermo, almost hidden in the mist. We descend down the last short hill, trying to take it all in, before passing in to the village proper, past a stack of brightly painted mani stones. This is home until the end of the season…