17. Fantasy vs. Reality. Lukla-Everest base camp

Before we left Poland I created the list of things I wanted to do during this trip. And seeing Mt Everest was surely one of them. That’s why when I sat down in a tiny plane and felt the engine starting I couldnt hide my excitement. The turbulence replaced it for fear though when we started to pray to get to Lukla in one piece. After we got there safe and sound we quickly discovered we didn’t need any porter/guide and there were so many people on the trail that it would be impossible to loose it. So the first day we got to Monjo where we payed enormous price of Rs 100 for a room which is equivalent to US $1. The next day we reached Namche Bazaar that is the main tourist village on the trail. Before we left we stocked up our backpacks with Chinese soups, nuts and chocolates but to our surprise the trail wasn’t actually too bad, my vision of a tiny path in the middle of the mountains away from the civilisation was far from the reality. Every few kilometres you can find a village with small shops and lodges, the trail is clearly paved and the whole trek is really commercialised. Most of the people, even our age, had guides or porters carrying their beautiful North face backpacks and the best branded clothes. We had our backpacks with a pair of good shoes but the most important- plenty of motivation and freedom.

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Porters carrying twice their weight

In Namche we met a really nice German couple who was traveling the world like us, on a budget. They actually got a porter for free from the travel agency that they would advertise in their blog. Idea worth using in the future. We hiked with them to Tengboche, shared our travelling experiences and our distrust towards Nepalese. In Tengboche monastery, where supposed to be a festival, we found only 2 monks chanting: “ooom…” for 1 hour which wasn’t pretty much what I expected. Callum was satisfied though having a chance to practice his meditation skills. We lost Germans on the way to Dingboche but we gained Joel- friendly Australian guy instead. He was funny and laid back mate so after serious conversations with Germans we could actually take a piss on each other. He was a “follower” kind of traveller though, going where his porter told him to. So not much self initiative but he was lively interested in our adventures. We stayed in the same lodge in Dingboche after where we split and continued our trek to Gorakshep. The more we were going up the less people we could meet, the colder it was and the more difficult it was to walk. On the trail you could see hundreds of porters caring the most essential things that usually included beer or whisky. Well, tourists must be entertained. Some of them were so old or so young that I didn’t know how they were able to carry twice their weight. Other company were hords of yaks and donkeys that had to be given a way in order not to be trampeled. They gave us delicious milk and yak cheese though.

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Cardboard painted in white. A bit cold…

Although we took our tent with us using it was: a) a suicide because of the temperature, b) not necessary as lodges were so cheap. There’s unfortunately an unwritten rule- if you stay, you must eat there as well. So even if a room costs Rs 100 ($1) you will pay for a food US $10. We tried to avoid it though bargaining with the owners or pretending we were sick. Then we could cook our delicious Chinese soups in the room and saved lots of money as in the mountains everything is 5 times more expensive. 1 bottle of water normally costs Rs 25 while in Gorakshep it’s Rs 350. So as you can imagine we filtered water from the streams and glaciers. Besides the prices lots of Nepalese like to cheat, not giving you the correct change, removing half of matches from the box or changing the price next morning. So we had to be constantly careful. First 2 days we walked surrounded by forest, yaks and rhododendrons. After that the landscape became more rough and dead, with snowy peaks and glaciers all around. This was real Himalayas.

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Kala Pathar (5500 m), finally we could see Everest!

We got to Gorakshep on the 5th day directly from Dingboche. Hard day but it was worth it. While most of the tourists had their every day itineraries and days for acclimatization we decided to listen to our body’s itinerary and that’s why the whole trek took less than we thought. We stayed in a nice Bouddha lodge where we spent 2 nights. Horrible nights, as the temperature at night was probably -10°C (in the room there wasn’t much difference) and it was very hard to breath on 5180 m. We met a nice group of Israelis with whom we spent both evenings chatting and playing cards. The second day in the morning we started to climb Kala Pathar (5500m) which is the highest available viewpoint of Mt Everest without any permits. After Rush lake (4600m) in Pakistan I thought 5000 m would be a piece of cake but it wasn’t. Climbing up that usually takes 1,5-2 hours took us 3. I could hardly breath, having a headache and nausea. Even though I had to stop every 10 min I didn’t want to give up so finally we got to the top- huge pile of rocks surrounded by Buddhist flags. From there you could see the Queen Sagarmatha (Mt Everest 8848 m) and other neighbouring peaks. I expected to see more of Everest to be honest (you could see just top half) but I couldn’t complain, views were amazing. After taking few pictures and celebrating the achievement we had to go back. Although we wanted to go to Everest base camp the same day the altitude sickness (read: vomiting Callum) decided we needed rest. It didn’t stop us from celebrating the Big Day though as we decided to reward ourselves by ordering huge yak steaks and rum that we carried all the way from Namche. We had a nice meal with our Israeli friends and next day we promised we would join them on the way to Gokyo.

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Feast after a long trek
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