To facilitate acclimatizing for the days to follow, in this third day we were going to “rest” ascending roughly “only” 400m and then descending them back to Namche. Being a rest day, we seized the opportunity to sleep in late. By the time we mustered the courage to remove ourselves from the coziness of our down sleeping bags, the sun was already half ways up the sky. Curiosity pushed us to jump out of bed and open the condensation coated windows to take in the morning panoramic view over Namche Bazaar and Kongde Ri.
Morning view from our room’s window
One would be tempted to think our decision to oversleep was unwise, however it proved to be quite inspired 🙂 All the other trekkers like us on a rest day in Namche woke up conscientiously bright and very early, and were already starting to descend from their acclimatizing trek, leaving the paths all to ourselves and the occasional porters.
Stepping out of the lodge through what we deemed as the “gate to heaven”, we made our way up the countless stone steps of the terraced village of Namche Bazaar. Glancing back over our shoulders we got some stunning views of the blue-red-green roofed Namche together with Kongde Ri snow-powdered on its peaks. A tall “Mani” wall, white prayer flags on a towering pole and a colorful prayer wheel were marking the way out of the village.
Stunning view from one of Namche Bazaar’s streets
The prayer wheel guarding the entrance in Namche Bazaar
Looking upwards, a winding path of stone steps was cutting through the juniper forest clothing the hills around the village. With a slow, steady pace we climbed to the alpine grass-covered plateau above. Just as we were making our way through the last traces of bushes, a loud noise caught our full attention. We could hear a helicopter approaching, but we couldn’t see it. As we were scanning the sky trying to find it, the huge underbelly of a Soviet-made, heavy transport Mil helicopter rose up from the valley behind us, flew just above our heads and landed on the unpaved Syangboche airstrip – the closest airstrip to Mount Everest and its base camp; at 3780m it is located just above Namche Bazaar and sometimes is used to fly in expedition gear, which would be further hauled by porters or yak/mule caravans to base camp. “Coincidentally” we had the chance of witnessing such a situation 🙂 Once on the ground, while the enormous propellers were slowing their spin, bending heavy under their own weight, the cargo brought up was switched for another to be carried down.
Climbing to the top of the hill, we were keeping a watchful eye on the landed helicopter, looking forward to its imminent departure. When the pilots started the engine and the huge propellers began spinning, we paused our ascent to witness the helicopter lift off the grown. The air pushed downward by the propellers suddenly made a loud echo, as the helicopter flew into the deep valley below and disappeared from sight.
Panorama from above Namche Bazaar – Syangboche airstrip visible in the lower right part
A stone building closed off with a weather-worn, carved and painted wood gate was topping the hill we were climbing, obstructing most of the horizon from our sight. A winding path flanked by a rough stone wall was encircling the building, alluring us to follow it. Excitement was building up as we were eagerly and hastily advancing beside the wall…and…just around the corner, as the wall covering the skyline began to turn left, opening up the horizon…there it was…just before our awe widened eyes, we were seeing one of the most beautiful and spectacular mountains of the Khumbu Valley, Ama Dablam. Having a solitary, tower-shaped peak adorned with a huge overhanging glacier, the “Dablam” (necklace), it soars to 6812m. Every step we took further was revealing an ever-prolonging skyline, unveiling a summum of 6000m+ snow-covered peaks, Mount Everest reigning with its looooongest trailing snow plume…
Scenic view from “around the corner” of the stone wall
Closest to us was Mt.Thamserku, with its razor teethed ridge, rising dizzyingly high another 3000m above where we were standing to “only” 6608m, while opposing it on the horizon was Mt.Tawache at 6501m, both seemingly dwarfing Everest, which lay much further up the valley, roughly 35km away from where we were locked in place admiring with awe and reverence what had just unfolded before our eyes…
As we proceeded on the dirt path etched on the hill’s shoulder and disappearing further ahead in a pine forest, the picture perfect, peak abundant scenery was vividly boosting our energy levels, quickening our pace. Concealed among tall, thick pine trees lay a beautiful stone, wood, and glass Japanese design hotel, one of the highest in the world, at roughly 3880amsl. Sitting on the stone steps leading inside the hotel, we got the most stunning view of Kongde Ri framed between ebony black pine branches, contrasting against the deep infinite blue sky. On the opposing side, the hotel spreads out a simple, sober stone slabs terrace, only to enhance the bewildering view it offers: from left to right as long as the horizon stretches you can feast your eyes on some of the highest, snowy Himalayan peaks, the most dominant being Everest, Tawache, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku.
View of Kondge Ri from Everest View Hotel
View of Everest from…Everest View Hotel 🙂
“Tempus fugit”, time flies, so soon we leave behind the wallpaper view terrace, starting to descend on a gentle slope to Khumjung, the biggest Sherpa village of the Khumbu Valley. Picturesque black pine silhouettes contrasting against the surrounding white covered mountains soon gave way to low dry grass carpeted slopes. An occasional solitary austere, painted white and gold “Chorten” would pierce the sky under the watchful presence of the towering mountains. Just another day in Paradise… 🙂
If you were to live in Khumjung, you would wake up every day to the fascinating sight of Ama Dablam, Kangtega, capped by a huge hanging glacier, and Thamserku, on one side of the village, and Kongde Ri and Khumbila on the other. At 5761m Mt.Khumbila (“God of Khumbu”) has never been climbed to this date, being considered a sacred mountain by the local Sherpa people, and thus, forbidden to be climbed. Khumjung is home to the second largest “Gompa” (monastery) in the Khumbu region, housing an alleged Yeti scalp, and a school founded by Sir Edmund Hillary. The quiet village almost felt deserted, since it lies off the main path to Everest base camp porters and animal transport caravans are an occasional sight, letting the village go about its tranquil life.
View over Khumjung with Kondge Ri in the background
Ama Dablam, Kangtega and Thamserku seen from Khumjung
We made our way through narrow unpaved streets, bounded on two sides by stone blocks neatly piled on top of each other, without any mortar, into chest-high fences that were enclosing each property, creating an elaborate maze of interconnected streets. Reaching the footstep of the sacred Mt. Khumbila, the stone block fenced streets opened into what looked like a small square. A sort of spring where locals would queue to fill up drinking water supplies, Khumjung “Gompa”, and several white-red painted “Mani” buildings (a single-roomed structure sheltering inside a big prayer wheel, occasionally having an anteroom) were bordering one side of the square, adorning its center were a bunch of twisted trunked, centenary pines, “Mantra” minutely engraved “Mani” stones piled together in a pyramid shape, and a lined up row of red and gold painted small prayer wheels. The other side of the square was open, offering panoramic views over Khumjung with Ama Dablam, Kangtega, Thamserku and Kongde Ri towering high above the village.
“Mani” buildings next to Khumjung “Gompa”
“Mani” prayer wheels in the center of a small square”
It is only in the upper Khumbu Valley that you can find that the nice man cooking and serving your food had successfully summited twice Mt.Everest. Warming our backs against the sunlight windows of a cozy wood-paneled dining room, we were carefully studying the many pictures and certificates lined up on the opposite wall, recognizing our host in a down high altitude suit on top of Everest. Deeply moved by his outstanding achievements, we admired his characteristic kindness and humbleness with which he took our order, entered into the kitchen, put on an apron, went into the small vegetable garden terraced below the lodge, returned with a handful of freshly plucked spinach leaves, prepared our food, and smilingly brought it to our table…
Having replenished our energy supplies with a plentiful, traditional “Dhal bhaat“, we were ready and eager to explore Khumjung “Gompa”. Entering in an inner open theater-looking courtyard, centered around a tall prayer flagged pole, and displaying religious-figures painted walls on all sides – the scene of religious festivals, we proceeded through a low wooden door into the dim-lighten main prayer chamber of the “Gompa”. Colorful, gilded statues of their favorite religious figures were reigning the altar: Avalokitesvara (the Buddha of compassion), Padmasambhava, Tara and the Buddha, while libraries of box-shaped prayer “books” were covering the side walls, Buddhist deities were painted on the entrance wall, and minutely elaborate “Mandala-s” were covering the ceiling. Locked away in a glass box, the famous (and alleged…) Yeti scalp was presented to us by the “Gompa” ‘s keeper. The skull was looking closer to a… oddity, than a scientifically undeniable evidence of the mythical being’s existence…
The altar of Khumjung “Gompa”
A library of prayer “books”
Spinning all the small bronze prayer wheels lining the outside walls, we counterclockwise encircled the “Gompa”. Proceeding with the big prayer wheels inside the “Mani” buildings, we managed to arouse the curiosity of 3 crimson-cheeked, little Nepali girls. Mustering the courage to overcome their shyness, they joined us pulling on the holds of the prayer wheel. Running in a circle under the fierce gaze of the religious figures painted on the walls, we mixed together the clinking bell sounds with their innocent, crystal laughter. Smiling was our common language, bridging the gaping differences of spoken words.
Sharing the universal language of smiling
Our “Gompa” entrance tickets remained behind as gifts and maybe reminders of our joyful meeting, while we completed our exploration of Khumjung by visiting the Hillary school, an institution founded in 1961 by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust. Outside the school grounds, lays a huge blue-eyed “Stupa” (a Buddhist religious structure) still exhibiting deep crack scars from 2015’s earthquake.
Small, child hands holding an entrance ticket to Khumjung “Gompa”
Extending from the “Stupa”, a long “Mani” wall ( a wall made from “Mani” stones) was fencing a narrow pathway leading to a “Kani” gate, marking the entrance to the village. Further on, we climbed on a solitary stone step path winding through an unspoiled, tranquil, tall pine tree forests, to the top of the hill separating Namche Bazaar from Khumjung. It was Saturday evening and as bazaar day was coming to a closure, we were meeting locals on their way home, hauling supplies for the week to follow.
“Mani” wall leading out of the village
Stone steps leading away from Khumjung
Descending the last hundred meters of stone steps to Namche, we reached the multi-colored prayer wheel and tall “Mani” wall guarding the entrance to the village, and soon we were going to be back in the lodge. While our delightfully smelling dinner was being prepared, we packed our bags for the next day, as the following day we will be back to our “normal” rhythm of (too…) early morning starts… 🙂
Descending back to Namche Bazaar
By now, it has become a habit and a source of much amusement, to check both our heart rate and oxygen levels in the evening, as our hearts were struggling to cope with the lower oxygen levels, generating irregular, patternless waveforms, uninterpretable by our gadgets – we were “aliens in human disguise” :))))
On this so-called “rest day” we managed to cover “only” 11km along 15366 steps, ascending roughly 400m to almost 3900m, and thus acclimatizing for the day to come, when we will be climbing about the same relief as today.
For more pictures, check our EBC day 3 photo album 🙂