Hiking in Nepal: To My Turning Point – Deboche (Day 4)

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After a restful and relaxing day in Namche Bazaar, it was time to hit the road for the last leg of my trek before turning back.  As I explained in an earlier post, I was shy a few days in my vacation bank so I would not be going all the way to Everest Base Camp this time.  Day 4 would take me past Tengboche with its beautiful monastery to tiny Deboche.  This day would represent the highest altitude I would reach in this trek, a hundred or so meters under 4,000 m (or some hundred or two feet under 13,000 ft.).

The day would start climbing up out of the half bowl that is Namche Bazaar past the museums and great viewing point I described on the Day 3 post.  And we could also see in the distance the two hanging bridges we had passed on our way to Namche Bazaar.

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Looking back at the spot from Day 3 from here we saw Everest

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The hanging bridges

Then we skirted the side of mountains on a beautiful and changing trail that offered us a new and closer view of Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse than the prior day’s.  We passed a stupa/chorten honoring the sherpas of Everest.

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Headed towards the stupa with the best backdrop!

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Detail of the stupa

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Beautiful and colorful detail of the stupa

Later on we had the best view of my favorite mountain in the area:  Ama Dablam.  It looks like it is a person with two arms and flowing robes!  Pretty darn cool.

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Ama Dablam!

Of course, as we did every day, we stopped for tea at a tea house.  Mint tea or lemon tea – I could never decide which was my favorite.  Sometimes one, sometimes the other!

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Loved admiring typical Tibetan architecture during tea time!

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Lemon tea, anyone?

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Typical outdoor area of a tea house

The team guides and our lead discussed whether to make the push for Tengboche (which involved a serious climb) for lunch or to stop short of the climb to have lunch and rest.  They decided to eat before the climb.  I was torn.  On the one hand, the sooner we got to Tengboche, the sooner the hardest part of the day would be behind us and then lunch would feel more lackadaisical.   I also would not be doing the hardest part of the hike on a full stomach.  But, on the other hand, it would delay eating lunch by a good bit.  So, I didn’t mind which way they decided.  Now having seen Tengboche, I think the spot by the water where we stopped for lunch was perfect for rest and recovery prior to the climb.

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Part of our lunch – soup and rice!

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Toilet in a very scenic place at lunch (you can thank me later for not putting a photo of the inside…)

Overall, that day we would cover about 4 miles (6.5 km) and were expected to be on the trail for about 6.5 hrs.  The most exciting part of the day was when we came to the top of a slope to find ourselves in fairly flat ground looking at the Tibetan Tengboche Monastery through the foggy afternoon.  It was not only a beautiful sight but very surreal.

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Entrance to the monastery (more pix on the next post)

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Lots of color and detail

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We entered the main prayer room but no photos allows – and I respect that

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You better follow these rules – especially no kiss!

Right past it, we stopped at a tea/coffee house before embarking on the short last hour (or less) to our stopping point for the night in Deboche.  With the hardest part of the hike for the day over, it was very enjoyable to kick back and sip away!

Once we got to Deboche, the teahouse was one of the sparsest, most austere of the teahouses I stayed at in this trek.  Being that we were higher, it was colder and the place had one tiny stove in the center of the dining/living room (as do most teahouses).  I definitely stayed more warmly dressed, even through dinner, as I tried to keep by body heat in me.

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View towards the trail from our room

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The rooms were basic but who needs more? Except heat…

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Yeah… heating was very limited and crowds formed

The evening was nothing short of frigid.  There were two toilet rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. But the one upstairs was a Western toilet with a tank that would not fill.  I found it more effort to flush it so, in the middle of the night, I would walk down the very steep staircase to the non-Western toilet room, though by doing so I had to walk further in the cold of the night.  All indoors but, trust me, it was FRIGID; not sure there was much of a difference between inside and outside.  Thank goodness, I had the slight sleepwear and, more importantly, the right sleeping bag!!

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Yeah, that’s our ice-covered window in the morning…  Yes, it was THAT cold.

From this point out, the destination changed – back to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu!

Hiking in Nepal: Namche Bazaar and a View of Everest (Day 3)

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After the grueling climb to Namche Bazaar, it was REALLY nice to arrive at the Khumbu Lodge for a two-night stay as an acclimatization day for the group headed to Everest Base Camp.  I liked the Khumbu Lodge as it had all the amenities I “longed for” (sounds so dramatic!) and the staff and service were great.  I think the group as a whole liked it a lot.  Good start to our time in Namche!  (No, I did not get a free stay or perks for writing this.  I, like my companions, really liked this lodge!)

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The Khumbu Lodge in the center of the photo

We sat in the dining room catching up on Internet-based things and rested before showering and getting ready for dinner.  I loved the almost 270 degree view from the dining room and the spaciousness of the room.

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Namche Bazaar from the dining room

Namche Bazaar is the most sizable town on the route to Everest Base Camp.  It is nestled on the side of a mountain, carved on its sides sort of auditorium style.  Its alleys are covered with steps and unevenness so one better pay attention – no smooth sidewalk in sight!  (I exaggerate perhaps just a little…).  Of course, it is loaded with souvenir shops but also all the practical places needed for life as a local and as a trekker (drug stores, food markets, coffee shops, etc.).

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A typical ‘street’ in Namche Bazaar

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View over Namche Bazaar

Our schedule had us doing a short hike on the morning on day 3 to a point at the edge of the town, high up, with a fantastic view of Mt. Everest in the distance with Lhotse next to it (the world’s fourth tallest mountain).  We spent a good bit of time on photos and just enjoying the beautiful spot and sunny day.  The short hike was  steep so it was a good warmup for day 4 when we would exit past that same point.  There was a small museum at the top of the climb that was well worth the time to check out and learn more about the area.

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At the monument honoring Sherpa Tenzing Norgay

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Everest on the left and Lhotse on the right

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Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam on the right

Coming back down we made a stop at another local private museum, the Sherpa Culture Museum, at a place where Sir Edmund Hillary had camped on his way up and that he later visited a few times when a hotel was established.  It had a neat collection of household items from the region and also a short movie as well as a souvenir shop (the other one was a public museum with no shop).

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Ticket to the Sherpa Culture Museum

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Map on the Sherpa Museum ticket

Sherpa Culture Museum

Sherpa Culture Museum

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Typical Tibetan design in a window at Namche Bazaar

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Yep, this is the real thing. Good for burning in a stove…

Later that day, I was thrilled to discover Hermann Bakery where I ate a nice pastry and enjoyed a latte.  Plus, we got to used a very fast Internet connection (that I could also tap from my hotel room!) which always makes me happy.

This last photo will be the image of Namche Bazaar that sticks with me forever – a gorgeous spot in the Himalayas!

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View from the lodge’s dining room

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Read on:  Day 4 – To my turning point: Deboche

 

Hiking in Nepal: On the Way to Namche Bazaar! (Day 2)

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On Day 2, we left our teahouse in the tiny spot of Tok Tok (9,000  ft / 2,800 m) at around 8:45AM to head, following the route to Everest Base Camp, to Namche Bazaar, a rather bigger town than most in the area (actually, THE biggest).  This would have us climb over 2,000 ft in the last 2.5 hours of the hike that day, a rather ambitious and challenging effort (except for the super fit and those used to the altitude, perhaps – I fell under neither success category…).

Leaving our spot in Tok Tok, we stood for a group photo as one of the trekkers was not continuing beyond Tok Tok.

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Group photo!

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Our first bridge of the day was right outside the teahouse – watch out for the pack animals!

On the trail to Everest Base Camp…

Soon thereafter, off we went walking on terrain that was becoming familiar to us:  rocks, dirt, steps, pack animals, farms, debris from the earthquake, reconstruction, and the river.  It is a rugged but peaceful terrain; except when the pack animals come – at that point you make a quick move towards the inside of the trail, not the side facing the steep dropoff!  On this day, we would cross the river four times if memory serves me right.

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Steep climbs every day!

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Pack animals: these were carrying a very light load

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Typical stop for trekkers

Entering the Sagarmatha National Park

Later that morning, we officially entered the Sagarmatha National Park (which is the park where Mt. Everest sits) via the Jorsalle gate (which is right outside of Monju on the way to Jorsalle).  There was signage offering good advice for trekkers in dealing with acute mountain sickness (there are always those who are unprepared…).  More importantly we passed a traditional kani gate which incorporates prayer wheels and colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings.  This gate marks our entrance in the sacred valley of the Sherpa (a term that refers to an ethnic group, not a job, as we learned…):  the Khumbu.  I loved the rules suggested to those who enter the valley (see photo).

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The kani gate marking the entrance to the sacred valley

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Ceiling painting

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Wall painting and the ever-present prayer wheels at the kani gate

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Warnings about acute mountain sickness

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Follow these rules!

Breaks from the trail:  tea and food

While the actual walk is rewarding despite the challenging parts, one of my favorite moments is when we stop 🙂  Yes, it is about getting a break from the effort.  But it is also about the camaraderie over that cup of tea, lemon or mint with the latter being my favorite.  As we all have different paces, non-walking time is when we get to share with those we don’t keep up pace with (or those who can’t slow down easily!).  After tackling the first mile (which was not a walk in the park), we made a restroom stop at Benkar but did not even sit-  this was not our morning break for tea.

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Brief stop to use the ‘facilities’ and take a snack out

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Resuming our hike with a nice downhill

So we trudged along and, after we entered the Sagarmatha NP, we later hit our morning break at Monju (or Monzo) at a place that I would stop at on the way back to Lukla.  The outdoor terrace was very spacious and comfortable (perhaps because we were the only ‘crowd’ there) and the temperature was great so we enjoyed sitting in the terrace sipping our tea!

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Tea time in Monju!

And then we proceeded to Jorsalle where, not 30 minutes later, we would have lunch outdoors by the river at a teahouse there.  It was a great stopping point right by the trail (as most are).  It was a good break before the final push, and I mean PUSH, to Namche Bazaar – we would be starting a serious vertical climb over a rather short horizontal distance.  Heaven help me!  We left our lunch ‘resting place’ at around 1 PM.

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Approaching Jorsalle, our lunch ‘town’

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Lunch time in the sun!

Bridges crossing the Dudh Kosi River

Before I get to the monster climb…  This day was made fun by the many bridges low and high, short and long we would cross.  If you are not a fan of suspension bridges, this may not be your favorite day but the most important thing to mind are the pack animals, not the height of the bridges!  Here are some images from the “day in bridges.”

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Pack animals have right of way – if you are smart!

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Lovely scenery from the bridge’s vantage point

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One of the smaller bridges we dealt with

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Beautiful spot (notice the prayer flags)!

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Loved walking this close to the Dudh Koshi River

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And then we got to this… (the bottom bridge is closed now)

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And we are about to walk across the highest one!

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

And our awesome endpoint:  Namche Bazaar

The route to Everest Base Camp is not a steady uphill.  No place ever is (even Mt. Kilimanjaro has its downhills as you climb) but this was as much going down as you have gone up in many stretches.

In fact, this day, on a 5.3-mile (8.5 km) route, our net climb was around 2,300 ft (about 800 m) – we climbed much more (upwards of 4,000 ft) and descended a good bit.  But after lunch what we faced was mostly a severe uphill, especially after the last suspension bridge (the highest one).  And the trail was very rugged to boot.  Hard stuff.  I didn’t know how I could finish it.  And remember, we were climbing to our end point at over 11,300 ft (3,400 m) so the thin air was having an impact (as a reference point, once in Namche Bazaar, we would be at 67% oxygen level vs. sea level!!).  I had to stop every now and then just to catch my breath especially after a stretch where the ‘steps’ (rocks) were higher. Not knowing how much more I really had was both a blessing and a curse.  Certainly I would not want to know how much more most of the way but maybe during the last 30 minutes I would have wanted to know that Namche was THAT close.

With the incredible climb at the end, Namche Bazaar could not have come sooner.   So, it was awesome when we rounded a corner about 2.5 hours after lunch and we saw this town incredibly nested in what looked like mother nature’s own amphitheater:  Namche Bazaar!  It was a photo op moment for sure and we had earned the rest day coming up on Day 3!

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I shall name this photo: “The first time I saw sweet Namche”

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The moment I stopped when I rounded the corner – best moment ever!

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My trek roommate and I celebrating we had survived

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Check out other related posts!

Hiking in Nepal: Lukla to Tok Tok (Day 1)

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My trek in the Himalayas followed the route to Everest Base Camp.  I only had two weeks’ vacation so I was short one week to make it all the way to “EBC” since my visit to Nepal included an extra number of days to help in the re-building of a school that was destroyed during the April 2015 earthquake in the village of Kumari.

However, I went on this trek with Trekking for Kids because I knew some of the folks going and it was not a bad time to be away from work (is there ever a good time??).  So my trek was going to be from Lukla to Deboche, past the Tengboche monastery.  As it turned out, that ended up being a good choice since my stepfather died back home the day before I left Nepal for home.  But, before that turn of events, I was already glad I had chosen to not go all the way.

Day 1 took us from Lukla (2,860 metres (9,383 ft)) to Tok Tok (2,760 metres (9,o55 ft)). While an overall descent, there were plenty of climbs and descents along the way!

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Our starting point and ending point for day 1

Starting the trek:  getting to Lukla

Starting the trek in Lukla required first getting to Lukla.  As I shared in an earlier post, either one does a local bus and then a few days’ hike to get to Lukla or one flies into one of the “most dangerous” airports in the world:  Lukla (LUA).  I did the latter for a couple of good reasons:  that was what was pre-planned by Trekking for Kids and I didn’t have enough vacation time anyway!

You can read the details in the earlier post but the short of it is:  I made it to Lukla alive and without too much suffering 🙂

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The Lukla airport – a very short and dramatic runway!

Getting the trek going:  leaving Lukla

After we landed in Lukla, getting our bags was a piece of cake (the airport is tiny, after all).  From there to our breakfast stop (at a hotel we would return to at the end of the trek) was a very short walk (Lukla is tiny, after all).  We got there and, as we had left Kathmandu at the literal crack of dawn, we proceeded to have some breakfast before heading out.  Our guides had to sort our things with the porters we were picking up in Lukla so we had ample time.  I can’t really recall what I had but nothing too heavy as we were leaving for a few hours’ hike.Everyone was itching to go and, when we finally did, I think we had a little bit of adrenaline flowing!  Close to leaving Lukla, we came to our first gate and prayer wheels and the backdrop was phenomenal in the deep blue sky ahead.  It was a sign of the great day ahead!

Though we started the hike at over 9,000 ft, we warmed up pretty quickly as the hike progressed.  It felt so good!  Hamlets in this part of Nepal are charming probably because of the color applied to the window and door frames and we started noticing this early on.

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Approaching a hamlet

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House along the trek route

We crossed our first hanging bridge on this day (one of two hanging bridges that day).  It was not too high (I am not afraid of heights, thankfully) and it was certainly long.  We would follow this river all the way to near Namche Bazaar.  We also crossed another bridge, a truss one, that day.  I noticed that some parts of the route, as it passed through small “hamlets,” were paved with stones while others were dirt paths.  It was nice to have the variation in the route – just like it was nice to have all the uphills and downhills mixed.

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Approaching the Dhudh Kosi River and the hanging bridge

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Beautiful waters, courtesy of glacierland!

Buddhist faith along the route

Along the way we passed different-sized prayer wheels and collections of Tibetan tablets (in sanskrit) that are so iconic and that speak to the concreteness of the faith in that region of Asia.  I tried to not miss spinning prayer wheels and we certainly made sure we passed the “monuments” on their left as tradition/faith requires.

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Sanskrit tablets and a stupa

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A prayer wheel asking to be spun

A hiker has to eat!

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot where the route made a 90-degree angle.  The place, the Wind Horse Lodge and Restaurant was a perfect spot, idyllic, for the stop.  We sat outside at tables on the small lawn, graced by marigolds along the edges.  Until clouds rolled over and it started getting cold.  We promptly found tables indoors and the lunch was pretty darn good:  fried noodles and rice along with fried mini empanadas (my Latin roots betray me as that is not what they call them there!).

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Lunch!

Ending our hike in Tok Tok

Bellies full and feet rested, we proceeded on our hike.  I try on these treks to not study the route we are going to take as I don’t want to be “expecting” the next stop or calculating how much longer we have to go – I want to enjoy the moment though, I admit, at times when I am feeling tired, I start trying to figure out how much longer I have to go 🙂

We arrived at our teahouse in Tok Tok (River View Lodge) and, as usual, it is a great feeling to hear the words “We are here” when we arrive at our resting place for the night!  It was a tiny spot nestled between a hill and the river.  I wish it had been a tad warmer to stay outside in the evening.

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My room at the teahouse

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The dining room (aka, hanging out room) at the teahouse

In the end, it was a spectacular first day trekking in the Himalayas and I slept well that night!  I leave you with one of my favorite views from that day!

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Just magnificent

 

Building a School in Kumari, Nepal

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Prior to my trek in the Himalayas along the route to Everest Base Camp, I spent 3 days in the village of Kumari, Nepal thanks to Trekking for Kids‘ work to support this village.  The village, as many places in Nepal, was severely impacted by the April 2015 earthquake that struck the country.

The recently-built medical clinic was quite damaged and the school that served about 400 children was pretty much destroyed.

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Most damaged part of the clinic

Trekking for Kids had planned a trip to Nepal (it has been going there for years to bring hope to orphaned kids via its treks) and chose to direct the funds raised by us trekkers towards the re-construction of the school.  The school certainly will provide a better environment for the kids to receive education but it will also encourage parents to send the kids to school which helps reduce the risk that human trafficking poses for these children.

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Makeshifts structures -and outdoor spaces- serve as temporary classrooms

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Teacher holding class outdoor

Our stay in Kumari

We left Kathmandu on our way to Kumari, a village development center in the Nuwakot district.  Though it seems to be about 30 miles from Kathmandu, as the eagle flies, it took us about 3.5 hours.  The first 1.5 hrs were on a paved road that we left after a quick stop at a roadside kiosk.  From then on, we took a dirt and bumpy road that in the rainy season is impassable, driving past terraced hills and lots of green.  Occasionally we would pass small rural homes and saw a little bit of life in the countryside.

In Kumari, we stayed in the medical clinic compound, a very large space that was fenced and gated.  The medical clinic laid near the far end and had been badly damaged by the April 2015 quake.  Though damaged, a couple of spaces were still in use for examinations and to house the pharmacy.  Behind the clinic, there was a small structure housing the women’s and the men’s restrooms (2 stalls each) plus one basic shower.  Along the sides of the compound were tents used by our group and others supporting the construction work and our visit.  I imagine the tents were donated post-quake to help with temporary housing for locals but I think I heard tents were not very successful in Nepal as they were too foreign for regular folks.  Not sure if our tents were indeed originally intended for that temporary shelter but they look pretty clean and unused.  I will have to say that they were a little larger than the small two-people tents I have used before so I was glad for the extra “comfort.”

Sukman, medical clinic, polyclinic, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Sukman Memorial Polyclinic, our tents to the right

Staying in the compound was far better than I had been expected.  The grounds are well kept, the indoor restroom was a pleasant surprise, and though I only used it one of the 3 days, it was nice to take a shower after a day’s hard work.  The compound also had a kitchen and outdoor (covered) seating area so all our meals were there.  I tended to wake up very early and enjoyed a cup of tea while soaking in the quiet and sunrise.  It was a little cold at night but not frigid.  We were a 5-minute walk to the work site (the school grounds) so all-in-all, I was pleased with the setup they had prepared to host us, not having too much time traveling to- and from- the work site so we could maximize time at the site.

A grand Kumari welcome!

When our small caravan was approaching the medical compound, we noticed a lot of people were there waiting for us.  The more we walked, the more it seemed the entire district had come to welcome us.  We left our stuff in the cars (someone would take care of that) and after an initial greeting which included music, we were taken up a dirt road towards the school grounds which were located above the medical compound.

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, voluntourism, trekking

Walking from the clinic to the school grounds

As we made the final turn up the dirt road that passes the school grounds, we noticed schoolchildren were lined up waiting for us – loaded with long necklaces made from orange marigolds (like Hawaiian leis).  As we walked along the kids, teachers, and others, these “leis” were placed on our necks.  They must have spent long days making these (the flowers were all fresh)!!  Some of us ended with a heavy yoke of these leis around our necks but it was a very joyful welcome – much appreciated!

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Schoolchildren awaiting us with the marigold necklaces!

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Some of us sporting the massive and heavy leis

After we got to the covered space that had been set up for the welcome ceremony, we took our seats and then all the children and other locals stood behind us.  At the end of the ceremony, 3 hours later or so, I was very impressed the locals stayed the entire time, in the sun.  There were some local figures present but maybe the draw was the two emcees (MCs) who I take had come from Kathmandu and were well-known.  The ceremony entailed many speeches in Nepali or in English as well as some dances/songs by the local kids.  I soaked it all in though, at that point, none of us had eaten anything since breakfast and I, for one, was hungry and trying hard not to pull something out of my day pack when so many in the crowd were probably as hungry as I was.Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourismMukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

School administrators, civic organizers, the MCs and the trekkers

Sweat equity

Trekkers like me commit to fundraise $1,000 towards the projects chosen for the specific trek.  The projects funded are normally anchored on capital improvements or new infrastructure.  In this Nepal trek, the school was the main project our funds would support.  I am proud to say that my group of trekkers and I raised over $33,000, much higher than the minimum we each committed to raise (thanks to any of you who donated!).  This allowed us to also fund the construction of new indoor restroom facilities at the school, something the children had never had before:  one restroom with several stalls for the girls, and the same for the boys.  When I go in these treks, I often leave pondering the things I have taken for granted all my life… and I am humbled at the blessings in my life.

Shree Bikash, school, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, construction

Plans for the new school

One of the three days was focused on us pitching in in the construction efforts.  Trekking for Kids’ approach is to ensure local labor performs the projects and local materials are used.  But trekkers get to get down and dirty lending a hand.  In these projects, trekkers got to help both with preparing the foundation for two of the new school buildings as well as with pouring the new roof for the restroom building.

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Foundation trenches completed, next step was to lay rocks at the bottom

I worked in the crew that helped dig the trenches for the school buildings’ foundations and then “harvested” rocks from the debris field from the former school building from the side of the hill and tossed them (via human chain) up to fill the bottom layer of the trenches.  While we were happy to help, it was clear the locals who worked on the project and the local teen youth group that was volunteering to help were much more effective and fast than we were…  It was certainly an honor to be able to humble ourselves for such a good cause.

Other trekkers helped prep the restroom roof before the concrete was poured by framing the area and cutting and setting up the rebar.  At the point the concrete was being mixed and poured, the locals took over.  It was interesting to watch their methods!

Rebar, Nepal, Kumari, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, volunteer, travel

Cutting rebar

construction, Kumari, Nepal, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids

Roof being readied for the concrete pouring

Kumari, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, construction, Shree Bikash school, Nuwakot, voluntourism

Roof being poured with the sewage tank visible in the lower part of the photo

Finally, our trekkers helped finish the digging of the “sewage tank” that had already been started with the use of mechanical equipment.  Hard work indeed!

And just having fun

Working on the projects is something trekkers enjoy doing but trekkers always enjoy the opportunity to be with the kids.  The kids made us smile with the great welcome they gave us so I certainly enjoyed giving back in this way to them.  We got to be with the kids during school hours and afterwards, including one afternoon dedicated to fun and games that went late.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini-carnival games, the arts and crafts, and a good early dinner!

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One of our trekkers, a former teacher, spends time in the classroom

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

The kids played games in the afternoon

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

Kids enjoying an early dinner

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, Shree Bikash, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, Samsung Galaxy

At the end of the day, kids line up for parting gifts!

As for me

The treks themselves, of course, helped keep me challenged and appreciating my own life’s blessings.  But, in the end, I would not be doing these treks if it were not for the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of children around the world.  It is faces like these that keep me prioritizing my travel budget and vacation time for doing these treks (at the expense of doing more with my own friends and family), that keep me “pestering” friends and family for donations to fund the projects, and that keep me accepting conditions during my treks that are less than what I’d prefer during my vacations.  Take a look, can you blame me?Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Check out Trekking for Kids and pass the word about this great organization to others via word of mouth and social media!

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A beautiful Nepali sunset over our camp

Flying into Dangerous Lukla Airport in Nepal

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I recall seeing a few years ago a TV show about the world’s ten most dangerous airports. Tegucigalpa, St. Maarten and a few others made the list.  And so did Lukla, Nepal.  Lukla is the typical starting point for anyone trekking along the route to Everest Base Camp, or to other points in the Himalayas. The alternative to the 35-min flight to Lukla (LUA) from Kathmandu is a long bus ride plus a few days of trekking to reach Lukla. I was not thrilled at the prospect but there really was no realistic choice.

Heading to Lukla

The Lukla airport was built by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary himself in 1965 to facilitate developing the trekking business the local population needed; it was just a dirt airstrip until just 1999.  Flights in and out of Lukla (a town of a few thousand inhabitants perched high at around 2,840m / 9,300 ft above sea level) mainly fly in the morning when the weather and visibility are what they need to be for a successful flight (read: does not crash).  Only planes that can handle short takeoff and landings can operate from Lukla as the runway is only 1,500 ft long.  Flights can easily be canceled for the day if the conditions are not right which could be more than one day in a row, leaving hundreds stranded in this small hamlet.  So beyond the flight involving a “dangerous” airport, one gets to worry about will the flight even go and what happens to the rest of the itinerary if the day is bust…  In any case, there are several airlines that run flights continuously in the morning to and from Lukla.  It is like a bus service of sorts with planes making quick turnarounds at either airport to take advantage of the right weather.

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Boarding pass to Lukla

The domestic terminal in Kathmandu is small and easy once you get past the chaos of getting to the airline counter and checking in.  After being dropped off, we walk along a covered walkway to a building in the back past a new building under construction.  The old building was old indeed but it was functional.  Once the flight is called (other Lukla flights were called too), we stepped out and there were 2-3 buses awaiting to take people to their planes.  It was a bit confusing and finally someone pointed us to our bus based on our boarding pass.

The plane sat maybe 20 people and we were not full.  I got a seat on the left so I would be facing north (towards the Himalayas).  Unfortunately, the windows were very dirty which assured that photos would not be National Geographic material (that is my excuse anyway…).  Gosh, if they’d let us, I would have gotten off the plane pre-takeoff and cleaned my window!

Himalayas, Nepal, window seat, airplane, flight, Tara Air, Lukla

The taller Himalayas via dirty window

Himalayas, Nepal, window seat, airplane, flight, Tara Air, Lukla

At times, the ground was not far below us…

Himalayas, Nepal, window seat, airplane, flight, Tara Air, Lukla

Small village – one can see the local stupa left of center

Before taking off, the flight attendant (yes, there is one) checked our seat belts were fastened and handed out hard candy (to choke on when the plane jumped?? no, thanks) and cotton balls for our ears.  That and getting us in and out of the plane was all she had time to really do on such a short flight.

Dangerous Airport?

The danger reputation stems from the fact that the runway starts at the edge of the mountain and runs uphill (a 12% grade) until either the plane has stopped and turned or, it has met the wall.

Lukla, airport, Nepal, dangerous, Himalayas, travel, flight, airplane, landing, takeoff, runway

The full runway (control tower on the right)

I have read and was told by a pilot that part of the issue with landing is that the uphill nature of the runway (the far end being higher than the end nearer to the pilot) can trick the eye giving a false sense to the pilot of the aircraft’s vertical position before landing, potentially leading to accidents.

Lukla, airport, accident, danger, Nepal, runway, flight

A plane meets the wall

On the reverse (the takeoff), either the plane catches air at the end of the runway or it drops when the runway runs out until it catches lift.

Lukla, airport, flights, Nepal, runway

See what I mean about “up or drop” (Source: www.theaustralian.com)

Truthfully, and maybe naively, neither landing nor takeoff worried me. What worried me was the turbulence that can be encountered on the way to and from Lukla.  Not helping with things was the name of our airline:  Tara Air.  I was happy until someone pronounced it “terror” air which sent images flying all across my brain of a small plane jumping around due to high winds – a terror inducing ride ahead?  Tara Air, Lukla, Kathmandu, Nepal, flight, airline, airport, Himalayas, trekking

Upon boarding, I looked into the seat pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag which left no doubt as to what its purpose was…Tara Air, Lukla, Nepal, air sickness bag, vomit bag

The flight into Lukla had gone very smoothly – no turbulence at all!  And then we started circling.  I was thinking to myself:  “so close and now we start circling” – was it weather-related, I wondered?  The delay turned out to not be about fog or weather issues and we experienced no turbulence. Lukla airport only has four parking spots for the planes so we had to wait for a plane to take off to get a spot.  The flight back from Lukla was also completely smooth giving me a 2-for-2 no-turbulence flights.

Back to landing in Lukla:  it was pretty darn cool as the small plane’s cockpit was open to us so we could see the runway ahead as we landed – or the mountains we were flying into before that!

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The view out of the cockpit

Leaving Lukla, the plane actually took off the ground before the runway ended so no drop was experienced, maybe to the chagrin of those in the plane who love roller-coasters – but not me!  Here is a video of my own takeoff – notice when we leave the runway before it ends (it is a noisy video so make sure you are not at max volume!).

In the end, as you may surmise, this was a far better choice than the bus and the walk 🙂  And now I can say I “survived” one of the world’s “most dangerous” airports!

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Happy flyer

How Does One Pack for A Trek in Nepal?

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In about 6 days, I leave on a trip to Nepal.  Once again, I will be trekking with Trekking for Kids to improve the lives of children around the world.  This is a special trip for several reasons, one of which is the devastation from the April 2015 earthquake calls for the world’s support for this developing nation.  It has been long enough where our presence will not be a hindrance to the important efforts that happen immediately post-earthquake.  Our aim is to fundraise the monies needed to re-build the school in the remote village of Kumari, pretty much destroyed during the earthquake and still not recovered.  The school serves about 400 children and we got news this week that the building permit and plans were approved by the local authorities.  If you would like to contribute, please visit my fundraising page and donate, nothing too small (or too big!).  After we visit Kumari and spend a few days with the kids and doing some projects, we will depart to do a 5-day hike that, weather permitting, will allow me to see Mt. Everest in person.  I will not be going to Everest Base Camp as it takes an extra week that I cannot afford with work but that’s OK.  I will get to spend time with some folks I have trekked before and I am looking forward to that!

So the point of the post was to share with you how it looks to pack for this type of trek with multiple elements to it.  This is my spare bedroom, all loaded with my stuff.  Now, to figure out how to fit it in the orange bag on the left and the hiking backpack that will serve as my carry-on piece.  Wish us luck!

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