Spinning the solitary prayer wheel perched on the tall “Mani” wall above the village, we said “good bye” to Namche Bazaar and made our way on a gentle path snaking between low vegetation on the mountain side and leading us higher up the Khumbu Valley. A rainbow colored bird caught our eyes as we were walking beside the last agriculture fields. It was a rare sight of a Himalayan monal pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus), which, together with the rhododendron, beginning to vividly bloom on the valley, are national symbols of Nepal.
Kongde Ri towering above Namche Bazaar
Soon the dirt path began to give way to a perfectly leveled stone block road – an unexpected sight so deep up the valley. A small, old man, keeping track of his “Mantra” recitations on a Buddhist “Mala” (bead prayer necklace use to keep count of “Mantra” repetitions), was collecting donations for that road’s maintenance. Further up, the road was embellished from corner to corner with beautiful white-gold “Chortens”, perfectly positioned where the road turned around the mountainside, leaving them to stand out and enhance the scenery, especially on a clear-sky day. Lady Luck was half on our side: a rainless cloud blanket was hovering above us, hiding the towering snowy Himalayan peaks from our sight. In spring it is not uncommon for a layer of clouds to station around 4000m, bordering two “worlds”: below and beyond the clouds 🙂
Himalayan “highway” and its keeper
Scattered settlements from time to time were lining the road, providing trekkers with refreshments or souvenirs. Occasionally, small crimson-cheeked children would pop up in doorways, making us stop and admire their beautiful Tibetan features (Sherpas are of Tibetan origin). Others, more courageous, would step out and noisily play with us, inviting us to buy (them) “chocolate-chocolate” 🙂 As altitude increases and weather begins to be harsher, “jupkes” (interbreed between cow and yak) are replaced by massive, tough yaks, with dangling bells and long, wool-looking furs, providing picturesque sights whenever a transport caravan would intersect our way.
Playing with the Sherpa children 🙂
Yaks showing off their temper 🙂
Leaving behind the perfectly leveled road and the low vegetation, the path began to descend moderately with high stone steps, offering a challenge to trekkers on their return from base camp, who were heavily panting for air while we were heading down beside them. With every step lower, the scenery was closing around us into a thick, tall pine forest. Suddenly, between their dark branches, we caught sight of the deep emerald-green glacier waters of Dudh Koshi. At the lowest point of descent, we crossed the last suspension bridge on our way to Everest base camp, getting better views over the icy waters.
The emerald waters of Dudh Koshi
Just across the bridge, before starting a ceaseless 400m relief ascent to Tengboche, we stopped for lunch. Bashfully, from time to time, the sun was caressing us with its warm rays, while we were taking a rest. A group of trekkers caught our attention, as they were carrying loads of professional filming equipment. We learned that they were New Zealanders, shooting a documentary of their expedition. Higher up the valley, we would meet them again.
Having replenished our batteries, we started the final ascent of the day, going past prayer wheels propelled by watermills – Buddhist spirituality is ever-present on the Khumbu valley 🙂 Keeping true to our “pole pole” approach to ascending mountains, we maintained a ceaseless, constant, slow, steady pace, synchronized with our deep breathing, which made this ascent seem effortless and pleasant. It was a good exercise of being mindful and present. Quite soon we found ourselves before a white “kani” gate that welcomes visitors to Tengboche. Behind this gate, follows an imposing white-gold “Chorten” and a gray, stone slabs “Mani” wall. Just a few more steps further, we reached the lodge that was going to be our home for the night.
On this trek, as we ascended, the views from our rooms got more and more stunning. Looking outside we could feast our eyes on one side on the grandstanding Tengboche “Gompa” and on the other side on Ama Dablam (the most beautiful peak in the world).
Water-propelled prayer wheel
Path towards Tengboche
At 3,867 meters, Tengboche village stands up a spur, above the confluence of Dudh Koshi and Imja Khola rivers, with the white snow-covered peaks of Mt. Thamserku and Kantega soaring high behind the village’s few lodges. On a clear-sky day, it offers splendid views of Ama Dablam and even as far away as Everest. Tengboche’s focal point is “the gateway to Everest”: the largest Buddhist “Gompa” of the Khumbu region. Moreover, Tenzing Norgay (one of the first two men to climb Everest) was an inhabitant of this village.
Stretching outside our room’s window, to take in the spectacle unfolded before our eyes, we could see a crimson clothed monk at one of the monastery’s small windows, sounding a conch shell trumpet, and calling people to prayer. It was a quiet, cold and cloudy late afternoon when we followed the prayer calling to the “Gompa”. The monastery buildings are the single most distinctive feature of Tengboche, standing out between the few lodges tucked close to it. An intricately decorated gate, covered with colorful carvings of religious figures, marks the entrance to the “Gompa”. Five bronze prayer wheels lined in a row, together with a “Mani” building housing a huge prayer wheel, protect the monastery gate on each side. Rare, exquisite, elaborate, vividly colored paintings decorated the inner walls of the two “Mani” building, depicting Tantric Buddhist religious figures, from important “Gurus” like Padmasambhava, to fiery, terrifying “Dakinis” and deities in perfect union with their counterparts. Spinning the prayer wheels under the watchful eyes of all the religious figures on the walls, we echoed bell sounds in the stillness of the late afternoon.
Tengboche “Gompa” main gate
Tengboche “Gompa” paintings
Stepping through the main gate, we passed small satellite dwellings marked with white numbers painted on their doors, a beautiful white “Chorten”, and entered the main building of the “Gompa”. A stone, bearing Lama Sangwa Dorje’s footsteps, imprinted during his meditation, welcomes visitors. The building opens to an inner courtyard, centered around a tall pole flying a long prayer flag on all its height, the scene of traditional Buddhist ceremonies. On the opposing side of the courtyard lays the building housing the shrine room, with two wooden benches on either side of its doorway. Sitting on these benches, we contemplated in silence the towering snow-capped peaks of Ama Dablam, Kantega and Thamserku, easily reaching a stillness of the mind and forgetting about any possible worries of headaches or breathlessness due to the altitude.
The inner courtyard of the monastery
Ama Dablam seen from the “Gompa”
Creating an opening between heavy dark curtains, a monk invited us inside the “Dokhang”, the shrine room. A two floors high statue of Buddha Sakyamuni reigned the altar, while religious paintings of Bodhisattvas covered the walls, and intricate “Mandalas” adorned the ceiling. By the time we entered, the monks were already deep in their prayer, so we quietly sat in a corner, joining their meditation. A rhythmic knocking was accompanying the monk’s prayer, marking the chanting pace and inducing a light trance-like state, quieting the mind. The stillness of the meditation cleared away any traces of altitude headaches, as well as the layer of clouds veiling the jewel peak of Ama Dablam, offering a splendid scenery when we stepped out of the monastery’s shrine.
Driven by curiosity, we encircled the shrine building, spinning all the small bronze prayer wheels lining its walls. Some were refusing to move, broken by debris during 2015’s earthquakes. As we returned to the inner courtyard, we run into the monastery’s “Lama”, and together shared a Zen moment: joyfully observing a little bird feeding on the stone block floor of the courtyard.
Prayer wheels surrounding the shrine building
Prayer wheels broken during the 2015′ earthquakes
No sooner did we return to our lodge room, that we heard the conch shell trumpet calling again to prayer, and exercising our fitness, we sprinted back to the ”Gompa”. By now the New Zealanders had arrived too, and they were setting their equipment to film inside the shrine room. For this special occasion all the monks, including the “Lama”, joined the prayer. We took advantage of this unique and fortunate opportunity to meditate together with many Buddhist monks and a “Lama”.
By the time the prayer was completed, night was drawing closer, and with it, temperatures were beginning to drop. So we took shelter in the lodge’s cozy dining room, warming up around the black metal stove centered in the room. Since Tengboche has very few lodges, here we met up with most of the trekkers heading for Everest base camp, befriending some nice Italians and Swedes, who we would meet again higher up the mountain.
Our lodge, just across from the “Gompa”
As we had already gotten used to it, in Khumbu region we had only delicious, plentiful meals. Good food, drinking plenty of liquids and long restful sleep were among the key ingredients to our acclimatization. Like early birds, we were tucked in our sleeping bags by nightfall, doing our already routine check of our heart rate and oxygen saturation, and drawing the conclusion for the day: we had trekked 11km in 16621 steps, descending and ascending back up 400m.
Tomorrow, our trek will bring us to the foothills of Ama Dablam… we were eagerly looking forward to it 🙂
For more pictures, check our EBC day 4 photo album 🙂