Clinking cattle neck bells accompanying their owners’ slow dangling ascending pace, hammers banging nails in wooden planks, chisels delicately carving into stone blocks, saws cutting sharp angles into timber, and birds chirping their trills, all of these entwining into a symphony of melodious sounds to welcome a new day on the Khumbu Valley. The sun was barely coming up from behind the mountain, and the locals were already industriously busy. Early mornings were also a must for us too, especially since we were eager to see as much as possible of the surrounding snowed capped peaks – as nighttime usually clears the skies.
Apple porridge with honey, banana pancake and ginger tea boosted our energies for the coming day. We planned to trek through lunch and replenish our batteries on arrival in Namche Bazaar, our destination for the day.
The trek started past the local school, Gompa (monastery) and continued to the gate of Sagarmatha National Park. Here the rangers keep track of the numbers of trekkers going in and out of the park. Albeit there was a visible decline in numbers after 2015’s earthquakes, in recent months trekkers started to come back to this region, helping sustain the local economy - which is highly dependent on their presence.
The passing still further deep inside the Khumbu Valley is guarded by a "Mani" wall and a “Kani” gate, whose walls are lined with small prayer wheels, and whose ceilings are painted with elaborate “Mandalas”. From here onward, we were stepping inside a “beyul” (a sacred hidden valley blessed by Padmasambhava - the spiritual master who brought Buddhism into Tibet). Spiritual transformation and growth is said to be facilitated by this blessing. Once through the gate, people are encouraged to refrain from several behaviors which are not in line with Buddhist tradition.
A kani gate at the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park
Greeting message on the gate wall
Mandala on the ceiling of the kani gateThe first to welcome us inside the “beyul” was a jupke (yak and cow crossbreed) caravan making its way up the stone steps, while another caravan, this time a mule one, was holding us still at the entrance of the first suspended bridge, as it was coming across. Today, more than in other days, we met many porters caring huge and heavy loads on their backs. They were busing up the mountain, bringing goods to Namche for tomorrow’s bazaar day – Saturday is bazaar day in Namche, gathering together people from the surrounding villages to sell and buy supplies to last for the week to come.
For a while, our trek kept us on low relative elevation on the valley, close to the Dudh Koshi (koshi = river). Crossing it several time on suspended bridges provided a good opportunity for studying the water, imagining how it would be to whitewater kayak on it... :D
Soon enough we could see a narrow valley whose deep cliffs were linked together by two suspension bridges. We would be crossing the highest of the two, climbing on the shoulder of the hill all the way up to Namche. It was going to be a ceaseless climb on stone steps, through delightfully smelling pine forests, bringing us up to 3440m. We took on this challenge “pole pole” (=slowly-slowly in Kiswahili), as our friends from Tanzania say :D, and it proved to be a great decision. Other trekkers would take breaks to catch their breath and rest, while we were slowly, continuously, relentlessly continuing our ascent, and it didn’t even feel like such an effort :)
Mule caravan crossing a suspension bridgeStanding at one end of this long and high suspended bridge, looking on one side to the old abandoned bridge, stretched halfway down the cliff, and on the other side at the trees littered with pieces of prayer flags torn off from the bridge side, was thrilling and exciting. Halfway crossing the bridge we stopped to take in all the surrounding: left, right, underneath, down and up the valley. On the other side, stone steps were waiting for us to continue our way to Namche.
Dush Koshi and the two suspension bridges
Looking down while on the high suspension bridgeBy now the trek was getting busy with porters loaded with big blocks of goods. Some of them seemed as young as 15! And on average they would be wrestling up the mountain with loads of about 100kg (yes, one hundred kg...)! A group of teenage porters was having lunch, so we seized the opportunity to try out how it feels to carry such packs. They had a good laugh while we were struggling to lift the heavy load, unable to inch it off the ground. These porters are very tough!
Jupke caravan descending on stone steps
Struggling to lift the porter's load off the groundFurther up the trek, in a rest spot people were gathering, pointing and looking with awe towards a forest clearing. Their behavior aroused our curiosity to discover what was causing their wonder. As soon as our eyes pierced through the opening between tall pine trees, we were met by an unexpected and breathtaking sight: Mount Everest with its almost ever present snow plume (=tail of blown snow). It was the first time we were seeing Everest in real life, and now, in hindsight, I can say it was the most amazing view of Everest from all the trek. Seeing it from so far away on the Khumbu Valley increased the feeling of its immenseness. Further up the trek we would see it in a range of high mountains, diminishing from the perception of its height, but now together only with Nuptse, they were the only snow covered peaks standing out in the surrounding vegetation.
First sight of Mount EverestFueled with exhilaration from having caught sight of Everest, we slowly pushed up the mountain accompanied by sights of the snow covered Kongde Ri – a sacred mountain, forbidden to be climbed. In no time we left the comfort of the shading forest, reaching the first stone tea houses – a sign that Namche couldn’t be far :) But we kept patient, being preZENt and enjoying the spectacular views, prepared to continue climbing as many stone steps as were necessary. And you know how life is, when you have no expectations, it rewards you with…unforeseen surprises :D. Just around “a corner” of more stone steps Namche was welcoming us, after we have climbed roughly 600m.
View of Kongde Ri just before NamcheOur trek was blessed with many fortunate “synchronicities”, one of this list was getting a chance to see the famous bazaar from Namche, a bustling gathering of people and merchandise from vegetables, spices, various flours, to pasta, Coca-Cola, chips, to shoes and clothing. Although the bazaar is mostly intended for locals, tourists can find mountain gear, mandalas, jewelry and snack foods in the many shops that line the main streets of Namche and that are open daily, unlike the bazaar. It takes a good deal of self-restraint to leave this village without buying (too) many arguably needed things, as the shops are ever so alluring. We got away with only one pair of pants... :D
Bazaar bargaining in action
The view from our roomThe lodge where we were going to spend the next two nights has splendid views over Namche Bazaar and Kongde Ri. Its back gate, painted with local traditional motifs, is reminding of a gateway to Heaven. As bonus, it has one of the best cooks we met on the trek, “unfortunately” we only discovered his delicious master piece when we returned descending off the mountain: spring rolls – we highly recommend them! :D We ate some many wonderful and plentiful meals in the Himalaya, and best of all the food here is organic!
After having a well deserved lunch, to facilitate our acclimatization we climbed above Namche Bazaar and visited the Sagarmatha National Park Museum, hoping to catch our first glimpses of Ama Dablam and seeing Everest again. Unfortunately, the afternoon sky was covered with clouds and we had to make do with seeing Tenzing Norgay’s memorial 1/1 size statue (together with Edmund Hillary, they were the first to summit Everest).
Mushroom and vegetable soups, fried rice and mushroom dish...yumi :)
Tenzing Norgay memorialDriven by curiosity we explored the small streets of Namche to the local “gompa” (=monastery). Besides two big prayer wheels, the gompa was surrounded on all sides by small, differently colored prayer wheels and Mani stones. Scrupulously we passed by each prayer wheel spinning them while murmuring “Öm Mani Peme Hung”, just like the local Buddhist do. A friendly baby holy cow shyly joined us on our round of the gompa... :)
Allured by the colorful mantras carved on big stones above the gompa, we went exploring a little bit higher above Namche, only to be rewarded by great views of the horseshoe shaped village. A field of Mani stones and prayer flags was leading up the mountain, but we stopped fascinated by a small rock quarry where some local men were chiseling stone blocks. Close by a flat platform was built from such stone blocks, providing a future landing place for rescue helicopters...
Evening was drawing nearer so we headed down back into the village. As we were spinning the last prayer wheels tucked into the outer walls of the gompa, “coincidently” some trekkers were visiting the inner chamber of the gompa, so we took the opportunity to see, for the first time ever, the place where Buddhist monks and lamas come together to pray. The entrance was guarded on the outside by murals of the Buddha and Padmasambhava, while inside reigns an atmosphere of peace and tranquility under the watchful “eyes” of the many deities painted on the walls.
Finding our way back to the lodge on the shop lined streets provided a chance to have a quick peek at the wide variety of mountain gear on display, some were at very good prices. A nifty looking pair of pants caught our eyes, and on return from Base Camp we bought it :)
The entrance to Namche Gompa guarded by the Buddha and Padmasambhava
Jewels on sale on the streets of NamcheBefore turning in for the night, we put our gadgets to use once more, checking our pulse, oxygen saturation and distance trekked. Today we made 18104 steps, over 12km.
For tomorrow... the highlight of the day is planned to be seeing Ama Dablam live for the first time, what an amazing sight that would be... :)
For more pictures, check our EBC day 2 photo album :)
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