Just 45 minutes from Kathmandu by a mountain plane, and a days walk from Lukla, one of the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful airports, we arrive at this old world where there is no noise of motorized vehicles, only wind blowing through the ten thousand trees and meditative bells on yaks and mules.
Yaks and mules are the supply trains for this entire region. Most of their shoulders and armpits bleed from the wounds of their heavy loads and coarse straps. They carry food, fuel, modern essentials, and everything else that keeps these mountains alive with people of all colors and nationalities.
Thousands of trekkers pass through the bridge photographed below every year, most of them on the way to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, which leads to the famous EBC or Everest Base Camp, which is the place where nutty people from all over the world congregate to attempt to climb the highest point of planet earth at 29,029 feet.
The roaring milky white Dudh Kosi river flows underneath this powerful bridge connecting one mountain to the other, triggering that primordial sensation of leaving behind the known world and stepping into the unknown – standing in the middle, one cannot escape that literal gut feeling, of fear and wonder all mixed up with just a dash of euphoria and a pinch of the supernatural.
This charming village below is the Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar, and the place where fearless Everest bound trekkers get their chance to visit (arguably) the highest Irish pub in the world. There are also bakeries, pizzeria, bookshop, all sorts of authentic (and some not so authentic) handicraft and memorabilia shops, and even a bar with a projector that plays the movie of your choice, with some popcorn too, if you can get there first before someone else makes the choice of the evening. All in all, at 11,286 feet, with some 400 or so local Sherpa households and scores of madcap mountaineers from all over the world, gathered in the Irish pub in the evening, its hard to imagine a more fun place to acclimatize for a day or two than Namche Bazaar.
Two days climb from the comforts of Namche Bazaar is village of Dingboche. This is already “above the tree-line” so one gets the odd feeling of “being exposed” to the sky. The earth is barren here and clouds play with white peaks of such clarity and sharpness that the brain struggles to accept its reality. Its hard to stare for too long at these crystal landscapes though, even through the window of the narrow wooden room of the two storied lodge built for trekkers and mountaineers; the ultra violet rays are strong at 13000 feet, and the eyes hurt with too much stark raw beauty.
Another day’s hike up from Dingboche village and the diamond like mountains surround us all around. The days are all warm enough to get by with relatively light jackets and layers, all the way up to EBC, so its easy to simply sit down on a rock somewhere, breathing in sharp mountain air, and wonder is it crazier to climb 14000 feet risking a broken leg, or to spend a whole life within concrete walls risking soul sicknesses like anxiety, depression, and fear of the unknown?
In these mountains we come across these “mindfulness stones” everywhere (seen in the picture below, on top of the boulder on the top-left corner where the sun touches the mountain): this is a silent communication from one human, who has walked this path where he found his heart, to another human, who is every bit lonely, tired, homesick and wonder-struck as the one who took the time to leave this “rock message” behind. Remember to remember – the symbol communicates – slow down and let the mountain lift you up.
The last day’s journey up leading to the tiny settlement of Gorak Shep, the base camp for trekkers who go to Everest base camp, is rocky, barren and beautiful. After a few hours of leg muscle power defying gravity, the road becomes a gentle walk through the clouds and between mountains on both sides.
With the thin air and low oxygen levels at nearly 17,000 feet, Gorak Shep is infamous for almost guaranteed headache and nausea of varying degrees depending on how mindful the traveler of these near inhabitable regions has been with his or her body. The only known humans who have a natural mutation in their genetic structure for surviving in high altitudes as this are the Tibetans. Everyone else who follow Ovid’s philosophy of nitimur in vetitumhas to go up, suffer, stay for a while, suffer, feast their eyes, ears, skin and soul with the sights and sounds of the forbidden kingdom, then promptly trek back down again to a respectable altitude where the human body has any business whatsoever.
(The author leads occasional guided journeys into the Himalayas. To check what’s coming up next, click the homepage.)