Australia and Oceania, Asia · 37 Days · 81 Moments · October 2016

Arif's adventure in Kathmandu, Central Development Region, Nepal

28 November 2016

A day in Abu Dhabi. Lost my glasses in the desert dunes somewhere. This city is odd. It seems in such a hurry to modernise, what with the Ikea, Popeyes, McDonald's and the ever rising glass behemoths, that it doesn't perhaps realise what it is leaving behind. The gap between the Lamborghini and Camry drivers must be ever widening, and maybe that want that. There is 9.5 million people in the Emirates, and only about 20% of them are native, thus only 20% are entitled to land ownership and tax subsidies, which leaves the rest of the population to forever serve them. Just seems wrong.
Desert Sunrise.
Abu Dhabi 0539. On my way out for a desert sunrise and some Quad Biking. We've stopped at a petrol station, so the driver can pray(nothing I'm indulging in lest my diarrhoea return). As I sit here, I watch two types of cars pull up. You have your Mercs, Beemers, Lexus', and from them get out bearded and robed men. Then you have the Hondas, Toyota's, etc, and the men are all dressed in shorts and no facial hair. Curious really. So wealth let's you maintain your culture?

27 November 2016

Kathmandu International Airport apparently. Still no sign of sweet brother Numpse!
Final Sunday morning market walk.

26 November 2016

A morning walk through Kathmandu.

24 November 2016

It's easier to find ice and ganja than it is a snow globe in this city. Maybe the hair makes me look like I'm chasing it????

22 November 2016

Spent the night vomiting in Lukla, reasons unknown, maybe a Red Bull will help break the lethargy. At the crazy airport now, waiting for a plane to get back to Kathmandu. Still can't find brother Numpse.

21 November 2016

Last suspension bridge, and then we're back in Phakding again. 3 more hours to Lukla, and we're done.

20 November 2016

In Namche and it's the first time I'm changing and showering in 6 days. Oh yes, did I tell you about the toilet bowl. WE HAVE A TOILET BOWEL!!!!!!!
The morning froze the tube in my water satchel. On the way back to Namche, I stopped at the Tengboche monastery for a while. After Tengboche, it's a steep downhill trek for an hour which your knees will disagree with. We stopped for a break before the 2 hr uphill trek to Namche.

19 November 2016

The road back is long, as we walk for 8-9 hours a day.
This morning was a pre dawn hike to Kala Pathar, for an Everest sunrise.

18 November 2016

And then, Lil Hulk and I made it to Base Camp.
Upon approach to Base Camp. It's hard to believe you're walking on a giant glacier.

17 November 2016

Ama Dablam seems to burn at sunset.
The terrain becomes almost Martian at 5000 metres, till you enter a valley with dozens of memorials to those who have died trekking and climbing here. Of course, Lil Hulk made it to 5000 metres as well.

16 November 2016

Amazing what you can find in the mountains.
Climb high on your rest day he said. Your grasp of English is flawed I thought. Thus, Lil Hulk at 4900 metres.

15 November 2016

(cont)floorboards, with a long drop off the side of the mountain, through which blew an icy breeze. And piled in front of this hole, I kid you not, was what I can only describe as a frozen pyramid of shit. I closed the door and backed away slowly, deciding to take my chances with a quiet spot on the trail instead. As we walked on through the day we would occasionally come upon people that we had met along the way, rounding a corner to find them resting half way through a big climb, stopping to share some chocolate or compare blisters. Throughout the day we would catch glimpses of each other, tiny figures ahead or behind on the path. We overtook each other at rest stops and caught up on steep climbs through failing light, the thought of hot food and heavy sleeping bags driving our weary feet at the end of the day.
(cont)The villages at this altitude were dry and pale as bone, chillies the colour of dark blood curled outside doorways to dry in the sun and mothers with crab apple faces and bright red cheeks clutching babies wrapped in layers of patterned shawls to their chests. We stopped for lunch on the outskirts of one of them, at a teahouse halfway up a steep climb. The rushing clouds sent shadows skimming over the stone floor of the courtyard and the sun warmed our faces as I devoured a plate of fried potatoes and sauce. The only toilet was on the other side of the path, in a rickety wooden shack perched right at the edge of the cliff. I groaned inwardly. We were drinking five litres of water a day at this point in a bid to stave off altitude sickness, so venturing into the hut wasn’t really optional. I took a deep breath and pulled open the half rotted door to find, without a doubt, the worst toilet I have ever seen. A long, narrow slit had been cut into the wooden
(cont) skyline. Huge cloud shadows raced over the ground, passing over grazing yaks and the occasional pale stone house amidst the scattered boulders.We were alone, lost in the rhythm of our footsteps and the sound of our hearts beating in our ears. An internal monologue accompanied my every step, a tangle of songs and thoughts and half finished sentences that drifted from my mind as quickly as they had appeared, leaving me to snatch for them fruitlessly later, pen and notebook in hand. The necessity of the walk allowed my conscious focus to narrow to a single crystalline point – get there, one foot in front of the other – and with my body occupied, my mind was free to jumble through the flowing train of thoughts, unfettered by the distractions that so often consume my time. The cold air moved through my lungs and the cold sky moved over head, and I felt as though I were returning to something, a permanence and simplicity in the mountains that called my soul home.
Day Five The following day dawned bright and alive with a sharp wind that sent clouds of powdery snow drifting from the mountain peaks in broad brushstrokes across a sky now deep, ozone blue with no trace of the previous days fog. We set off into the cold morning, aiming to reach the village of Dingboche by night fall. For most of the morning we walked through vast rhododendron forests, branches dripping melting snow onto a path that weaved through the trees down into the valley to cross rivers on swaying bridges, before winding upwards again on steep steps hewn into the rock.  As we climbed higher into the vastness of that indigo sky, the world around us transformed into a landscape at once otherworldly and earthily, tangibly familiar. The fecund lowlands turned to windswept plains dotted with scrub and rocky outcrops, pale gold earth framed by the snow capped peaks that were now part of our immediate landscape where just days ago they had stood in hazy, distant relief against the
(cont) we unfortunately didn't stop there. The sun had long since dipped below the mountains, and the cold began to creep through our clothes and settle into our skin. We completed the day’s trek in an undignified scramble, barely able to see where we were placing our feet in the failing half light. The nights shelter was Spartan, thin ply between the rooms, and a small barred window. I half expected a slot in the door to open and my food be dropped in. Temperature at six thirty was -4 degrees.
(cont) Wordlessly, I watched as the final yak cannoned down the slope, narrowly missing another hiker at the bottom of the hill, before disappearing nonchalantly down the trail with the rest of the train. I skidded inelegantly down the slope after them and walked on, treading carefully on the icy ground, learning to trust my boots and the strength of muscles that I didn’t know I had, and thanking Buddha/Jesus/Allah/Jehovah (please pick the most relevant)that I hadn't ended up in that river. The snow and ice were long behind us and we trudged up the endless incline to Tengboche and started down the track to the neighbouring village of Doboche where we would sleep that night. The track wound steeply downwards through trees, the ground treacherously moist and muddy. The long day and rise in altitude had taken its toll on my now spinning head. The first rest house I saw, named 'Rivendell Lodge', had me wishing I had a Samwise to carry my pack. Alas,
(cont) A tell-tale jingle of bells made me turn to see a sizeable train of yaks making their way across the swaying bridge towards us. We had about a minute and a half until they reached the small patch of ground on which we stood trapped, an icy slide towards the river at our feet and a herd of large horned animals at our backs. I promptly jumped behind the nearest rock, clinging to it as my heels hung over the edge, and then stared in disbelief as the yaks lumbered around the corner and began to throw themselves down the slope, hoofs over heads, barreling into each other as they scrambled uselessly for purchase on the ice. Some tumbled down on their backs, eyes rolling wildly; others skidded down on their hooves, skating perilously close to the edge before continuing to amble stoically down the path.
Day Four Namche bestowed upon us glorious morning and after retracing steps taken yesterday to reach to top of the village, the valley opened up below us, frosted with white under a sky now blue and blazing, but this day we could see the trail ahead of us. Around midday we crossed a long swinging suspension bridge, the wire handrails looped with hundreds of coloured flags, and came to a sharp bend in the path at the top of a steep slope, slick with hard packed snow and ice. The edge of the path was visible at the bottom, a sharp drop above a rushing, liquid ice blue river; pale and milky and translucently vibrant. If really, really cold had a colour, it would be that exact shade of blue.
The bridge we couldn't cross, and Lil Hulk at 4040 metres.
The bridge we couldn't cross and Lil Hulk at 4040 metres.

14 November 2016

We have a new winner. Today was the most tiring day ever. I'm spent.

13 November 2016

(cont) We left Namche for our acclimatisation trek mid morning, with snowflakes still drifting in the frozen air, trudging up the steeply stepped path that leads out of the town and up the mountain to a 3880 metre viewpoint. The silence echoed through the valley; that blanket quiet that only a snowfall brings, a stillness suspended in a swirling grey sky. My boots crunched, and the wind keened faintly, and somewhere the throaty bronzed tenor of a bell echoed a ghostly prayer. The ever lessening snowfall stopped late morning, allowing bright shafts of sunlight to break through the clouds. The valley opened up below us, frosted with white under a sky now blue and blazing, and for the first time that day we could see the trail ahead of us. The rapid decline back to Namche bought day to an end, with enough time to saunter through the stepped streets and inhale a deserved cinnamon scroll.
Day Three I awoke to a world that had changed overnight. Pale early light streamed into the room; stained red by the thin embroidered curtains hanging at the single square window, casting scarlet prisms across my eyelids and forcing me out of the warmth of my down sleeping bag. Namche Bazaar was blanketed in a hint of white, its rooftops now powdered, the surrounding mountains dark and forbiddingly beautiful with their snow-capped peaks. The soft grey sky was full of minute snowflakes, dancing and spiralling around the smoke rising from the town chimneys, and the evergreens shook piles of snow from their boughs to fall with a muted thud to the ground. I dressed quickly and breakfasted on apple pancakes, sipping hot sugary tea and gazing apprehensively out of the window at the dancing sky.
Lil Hulk with Everest in the background.
Today's rest hike(yeah, that makes sense) is done. We got 3880 metres high, with a Tenzing Norgay monument half the way up.
0630 in Namche and it's -2 degrees in my room. Today is a rest day, which means only a 4 hour hike up another 200 metres. Hike high, sleep low. It helps with the acclimatisation. I believe they misconstrue the meaning of 'rest'.

12 November 2016

(cont)I began to hate everyone and everything; the tree roots that reached up to trip me, my water bottle swinging and banging against my hip, the groups skipping gaily up the path with their tiny day packs and their laden porters, shooting us confused and sympathetic looks. We pressed grimly on for three exhausting hours, until the trees cleared and we rounded a corner to see the coloured roofs of Namche spread out below our aching feet. Delirious at the prospect of hot food, sleep, and most importantly being able to put our packs down; we wobbled into the town on legs that had melted into useless jelly and quickly found a room in the hotel with a view of the darkening mountains. Curling into a window seat with my phone charging and a huge flowered flask of hot chocolate, a great wave of achievement and contentment flooded through my veins as I settled in for the night with my book; contemplating how far I had come and anticipating the next day.
(cont) Pushing on through the afternoon, we found ourselves behind a yak train swaying ponderously up the trail. The path was fairly narrow, with large boulders on either side, and we would have to pass alongside the yaks to overtake them. This would be no problem, though I was acutely aware of the downside of squeezing alongside these heavy horned behemoths of the mountain with my midriff at disembowelling height. That being said, I viewed it as a little prep for my hopeful Pamploma trip one day. Our final challenge that day, in the lengthening shafts of afternoon light and shadow that had begun to filter through the pine trees, was the ascent to Namche bazaar, a notoriously steep climb ascending 2000ft through the forest to reach the town where we would spend our first acclimatisation day. We fought and battled our way up, muscles burning, panting beneath our 11kg backpacks.
Day Two I slept straight through until dawn peeked through the curtains and I rose to pull on clothes that were already becoming second-skin, heading out into the grey early morning. The sky was swollen, low and pregnant with rain, but after an hour or so the clouds lifted to allow bright shafts of cold sunshine to fall across our faces. We passed through a village, small white houses perched on the steep slope with doors and window frames painted bright blue or deep green, the air full of the fragrant bitterness of wood smoke from their chimneys. A train of mules passed us with tasselled bells jingling on their woven headpieces, blinking dew drops implacably from impossibly long eye lashes. Leaving the village, we followed the path through rolling fields of waving grass and wild flowers, stopping at a tiny roadside teahouse to refuel on fried potato sandwiches and mugs of brick red tea in the sun filled garden.
6pm, and for the first time thus far, I'm tired. This place is packed, primarily with groups on their way down. I'm just going to have some mo mo's and a lemon and head to the room. It's rather cold so the sleeping bag seems attractive.
Mocha and chocolate chip waffle. I'll pass on dinner.
As I made good time (wish the guide had told me earlier so I could slow my ass down) I headed into the village and found a bakery.
Finally made it to Namche Bazaar. Hands down the hardest I've ever pushed myself. Ever. The altitude made it endless, and the rock hewn steps, more akin to residual landslide, made every step tough. Namche greeted me with a laundry area, and then my room for two days of acclimatisation. What a view from my window.
There she is, off in the distance, Mount Everest.
When I young I was scared of the steps in the Big Pineapple. I mean, there were gaps between each step and I thought I would fall through. Now, I'm doing suspension bridges. 5 in total today, and of course we took the highest one. Safety aside, I'm little bit disappointed it wasn't like that Indiana Jones scene with the rickety and missing planks.
The walk to Namche this morning snaked the Dudh Kosi, which inevitably meant having to rise above it at some point.
Ginger tea to warm up.
Morning in Phakding. On to Namche Bazaar.

11 November 2016

(cont)but without the concrete and bars, and headed back to the main room where tired, happy trekkers sat around the huge central stove and ate dal bhat with their fingers. Leaning against the wood panelled walls, I wrapped my hands around my mug of hot masala chai and wiggled my pleasantly sore feet in their three pairs of thick socks. My cheeks burned in the heat of the fire after the cold night outside, and my muscles ached warmly, unaccustomed to the strain of carrying a whole person up a mountain. As the power sputtered and eventually left us, I went to bed early,
(cont)buttercup yellow amongst the green. Sometimes we would round a corner and emerge at a rocky outcrop, a small gilded stupa perched on the edge, its gold and blue painted eyes watching over the villages on the valley floor and strings of rainbow flags sending prayers floating down over the mountainside. Far below, the river snaked pale electric blue into the distance, surrounding by the vibrantly fecund slopes of the lower himalayas on all sides. In the distance, framed by a vast, jewel blue sky, bruise coloured peaks topped with snow stood in a haze along the horizon.  We reached our village stopping point at Phakding that afternoon as the first pale stars began to appear behind the trees, black silhouettes against a dusty twilight sky. The teahouse was easy to find, its windows casting a pool of warm light onto the wide stones outside, and I quickly dropped my bag in the room, familiarly small in size but
(cont)And then we were alone. The first thing was the silence. Nothing but mountain song drifting on the biting breeze; the soft flap of prayer flags, the distant clanking bells of a yak train on the path far above. Lower in the valley, the cool bubbling rush of the icy river, carving the mountain apart with a cold flash of turquoise. Our hearts beating in our ears and our breath catching in our throats. The slow song of the mountain, low and melancholy; the wavering alto of an ageing prima donna echoing over thousands of years. She is beautiful though; from the moment we stepped beyond the painted archway that marks the start of the ascent to base camp she was breath taking. The path rose and dipped as it followed the river through the valley gorge, hugging the mountain’s curves and curling steeply upwards through a heady, scented forest of tall evergreens. Small villages interrupted the trail and flowers bloomed alongside the path, tiny delicate starbursts of pale pink and violet and
(cont)hall to collect our packs, dodging the few persistently hopeful guides hanging around the airport. We walked amongst them as we left the village, sharing stories with the heavy set Russian girl with the tight curls and the determined eyes, the middle-aged American couple realising a long held dream, walking in tandem and swinging matching water bottles. The trail began to climb, and we began to out-pace the group as they fell back to ensure that no one got left behind. We walked on, treading carefully and jabbing the earth with our walking poles, until we lost sight of them on the path behind. We headed to a small bakery down the narrow track into the village. There we bought cheese bread and hot tea and took it outside to eat in the biting, wood smoked air, watching the steady stream of trekkers passing through the village towards the trail, their breath hanging in front of their faces and their steps deliberate and measured on the stony, cold earth.
(cont)Once at altitude, the plane levelled out and we drifted through a dark navy sky stroked with scudding wisps of cloud, the tiny plane weightless on the breeze. Around us the Himalayas unfolded, undulating foothills rolling into a jagged horizon of dark peaks, forbidding and scarred with ice. At certain points the plane flew so close to the ground that I could see our shadow, faint and insignificant as that of a bird, a toy plane,outlined against an illustrated map of a mountain. After what felt like a few minutes, but was probably closer to half an hour, the airstrip appeared ahead, an impossibly thin shoelace of black, and my stomach floated sharply into my throat as the plane began to fall gradually through the sky. For a moment it felt as though we were suspended, the ground rushing up at us as we coasted thermals, buffeted by the wind; and then the wheels touched down smoothly and we were safe, and suddenly we were piling off and being ushered from the airstrip into a narrow
(cont)one of the most dangerous airstrips in the world. The trek would begin in Lukla, a mountain village nestled amongst the Himalayas, accessible by an airstrip notorious for its short length, sloping trajectory and pin drop positioning amongst the mountains. I love flying, but today I was all too aware of the fact that l was climbing into a tin can with wings about to be propelled towards the side of a mountain. After a brief scramble for the seats directly behind the cockpit with the most vertiginous view, the plane trundled down the runway and rose into the air with a cold shuddering of metal. Amongst the other passengers I could hear prayers being whispered under breath over the mechanical rumblings of the plane, and the rushing sound of air past the windows as we climbed, the earth dropping away sharply below us.
(cont) introducing themselves to the people they would be sharing their adventure with. I had no introductions to make as I had met Sujan, my porter/guide, the day I landed. Like all of the places that have most captured my mind, I had found my way here on a whim. The idea just presented itself in one of those travel emails I live vicariously through. I had spent a month pondering it, with little real ambition to actually do it. But it wouldn't stop, the idea kept speaking, describing to me the hard beauty of the mountains, the heart-falling feeling of being alone on the trail, of standing with a map at a fork in the path; and I thought – there’s my adventure. I discussed it with a couple of friends I'd done Singapore with the year prior and then we were trekking to Everest Base Camp. Things fall apart sometimes, but remnants linger. And so, several months later, I found my way here, to a dirty airport hall in Kathmandu at dawn, waiting to board a tiny plane that would fly me into
Day One “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Lao Tzu  The single step that began my journey to Everest base camp was a tentative one; taken in supple new hiking boots across smooth black tarmac. I felt the skin on my bare arms prickle into goosebumps in the air of a morning so clear it gleamed like glass, the sun glaring white on the surface of the tiny 16 seater plane that waited for us. In the distance the mountains waited, shimmering slightly in the frosty air. That clear cold sky was good; it meant that we would fly that day. I had woken in the still-dark early morning, sneaking from my little hotel between the silhouette of a sleeping night attendant, and had ridden in a rusting taxi to the airport as a dusty pink dawn rose above Kathmandu’s empty streets. The airport, a long hall of stained concrete and corrugated iron in green and grey, was full of mounds of trekking kit and sleepy eyed people stood in groups, (continued below)
Lunch time! Carbs.
The walk to my first stop at Phakding was astounding. Mountains, yaks, and Starbucks.
I did wonder where the rest of the plane was, but the views were amazing, and continue to be so.
Well, off we go then. To Mordor! Sorry, Everest Base Camp.

10 November 2016

Red Bull, the only way to start the day.
Final stop was Boudhanath Temple. Though heavily damaged in the earthquake last year, it has been rebuilt by the local Buddhist community, unlike the other damaged monuments which await promised international aid to materialise. The temple, in various incarnations, has stood on this spot for over 1500 years, iconic in its stature, and symbolic of the peace that reigns between Hinduism and Buddhism.
Death is often behind closed doors in the west, but in Pashupatinath it is the final chapter in the theatre of life. Here bodies are washed in the holy waters that are a tributary of the Ganga(that's a body about to bathed) and burnt for all to inhale. There is no wails of mourning, just ritual rites for the journey into the next incarnation, which could be a higher or lower existence pending upon one's karmic merit.
Next stop was Lalitpur, or Patan. It too was under reconstruction after last year's earthquake, but was still a wonderment of timber carving.
Faith is indeed blind. Or is that love? One and same they are perhaps. Today entailed trips to the primary religious temples of Kathmandu. We started at the Monkey Temple, a walk of 365 steps to the top, avoiding monkey faeces on every other step. One step for every day of the year, and yes, an opportunity to be outnumbered by monkeys.

9 November 2016

Finally in Kathmandu and checked in. Nice little hotel down a dirt road. They've got me on the fifth floor, but there's no elevator. Lucky I've been training. Time to clean off the airplane germs and head out into Thamel.
Half an hour out from Kathmandu, at an altitude of 10668 metres, the mountains peak through the scattered clouds.
Flying over the barren, mountainous lands between India and Pakistan one can't help ponder about the purpose of this vast nothingness. Bereft of any signs of life, in a region steeped in faith, I wonder what reason a Creator had for the land below. Perhaps in time, when the oceans rise, this land will be the new home of the people from Karachi in the South and New Delhi in the East.
The obvious change is the type of carry-on luggage. Without reading the screens one can tell which flight is heading to Kathmandu. Gone are the multitudes of rolling trolley bags, replaced as they are by backpacks and sleeping bags. As I read the screens, I shake my head in dismay at the Trump lead(254-209), and figure that we about to see the decline of the last empire, collapsed by the weight of hubris, like so many before it.
The obvious change is the type of carry-on luggage. Without reading the screens one can tell which flight is heading to Kathmandu. Gone are the multitudes of rolling trolley bags, replaced as they are by backpacks and sleeping bags. As I read the screens, I shake my head in dismay at the Trump lead(254-209), and figure that we about to see the decline of the last empire, collapsed by the weight of hubris, like so many before it.
Desert Hulk.
We be hungry now that we've landed. Red Bull and Cinnabun. Breakfast of champions.
Sunrise over Abu Dhabi.

8 November 2016

Surely it's not just me. We all must think that we have a terrible job at some time throughout the year right? But, I'd like to say that the guy doing the currency conversions in the departure lounge is the winner. If hell is one's personal worst nightmare for eternity, then this guy has undoubtedly committed the gravest of sins. Driving to an international airport every day, but only to return each night home. Dealing only with those who are breaking away from the mundanity in every interaction. It must all be very disheartening. But then, maybe he's a suicide? Suicides don't go the heaven nor hell, but linger in purgatory eternally. If so, where else would this guy work, but in an airport, the purgatory of all souls in transit.
One's past finds a way, a little bit each day, to make it into the present. Half an hour in immigration and we're out.
Twelve hours to go (not that I'm counting)

6 November 2016

Two days to do and here's what my little walk looks like.

30 October 2016

We're all packed.

29 October 2016

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it's fatal.

26 October 2016

Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever.

23 October 2016

Travel far enough, you meet yourself.