Day 6 - Phakding, Nepal
Day 6, May 4th,2018, Phakding to Namche Bazaar, 8.9 miles hiking, elevation 11,300 ft.
We start the morning with our first real views of the mountain walls surrounding a sunny Phakding, which is a lovely sight after arriving in the dark last night. Phakding is in a valley between two steep mountain walls that rise up from the Dudh Koshi River. We were hearing the river now and again last night but didn’t get a chance to really see it while walking in the dark.
After breakfast we shoulder our packs and start walking. In a few minutes we come to our first suspension bridge crossing of the day and wow, it is impressive! The long steel support cables are decorated with Buddhist prayer flags. Chain link fencing is in place between the cables (handrails) and the decking and horizontal metal ridges keep our feet from slipping, which is especially useful I imagine when it’s raining. Our steps are tentative at first and we’re holding on to railings on both sides. The river below, which is sourced from the glaciers high above is a gorgeous shade of light aqua-blue, the same as my favorite Gatorade flavor in fact — Glacier Freeze!
We walk for a bit now on the other side of the river, all the while hearing the sounds of the rushing river below. Now that it is daytime we really begin to get an understanding of what life is like for the people who live here, as we see porter after porter walking by with copious amounts of materials on their backs, in their hands, or over their shoulders.
There are no cars or roads in the whole Khumbu region, just foot and animal paths. Manufactured goods and foods that can’t be grown locally get brought up by plane to Lukla or by helicopter to the other towns in the region. From there, porters carry everything from sacks of rice to cooking pots to building materials and cans of propane gas on their backs. At higher elevations teams of donkeys and yaks are used to carry larger loads. We see porters of all ages from 14 to 60, mostly men, but some young girls as well. I am humbled both at their strength and by my sheer luck of being born in a country where I don’t have to walk to the neighboring town to go to school, let alone carry my building materials home from Home Depot on my back.
We stop for a tea, snack and bathroom break at a trailside tea house in Bengkar. As I am leaving the toilet shed in back I am questioned by an older American woman of this is my first time visiting Nepal. I excitedly say yes, isn’t it wonderful! and ask her the same. She says this is her fourth visit and suggests, half-scoldingly, that because the Nepalese are very conservative people, I should cover my legs if I want their respect.
When I hike I wear a hiking skort with leggings underneath. When I get hot, I take the leggings off to help regulate my body temperature. I’m a little taken aback by her frankness, and as a New Yorker, also a bit skeptical that she’s just a cranky old lady. But I certainly don’t want to be disrespectful, so I discreetly ask Abhaya about it, and he says that yes, up here it might be best if I wear clothes that cover my knees, but in the cities it’s not so much of a big deal. I pull my leggings back on under my skort and feel glad, if not slightly embarrassed, that I asked about it. I like the people here and I want them to like me too.
We pass through the village of Monjo and shortly thereafter cross the border into the Sagarmatha National Park, where we must stop to get our trekking permits. Sagarmatha is the local tribal name for Everest and it is sacred land that we are entering. Rules are posted about many things such as not cutting down trees or littering, but my favorite sign suggests that visitors refrain from anger, jealousy and from taking life. There are also many warnings about acute mountain sickness (AMS) and how to prevent it as our elevation is about to rise significantly. We cross through the beautifully painted Kani gate and continue on.
The remainder of the afternoon is all uphill, often steep with steps, and we take many breaks to catch our breath. We cross the Larja Suspension Bridge high above the Bhote Koshi Nadi River. It is a replacement for a bridge just below that is no longer safe to use. We marvel at the logistics it must take to get a structure like this built in a place this remote.
In another hour or two we reach the town of Namche Bazaar, our home for the next two nights and the largest of the region. It is a town built into the side of the mountain and is filled with teahouses, hotels, bars, restaurants and even a North Face Store. It is a popular place for climbers, trekkers and locals alike.
On our way up to our hotel, the Nirvana Home, we walk by a beautiful stupa and a brand new statue, dedicated to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Everest. Then it’s up some steps where we pass through a group of children ecstaticly jumping rope. It is so hard to leave them and their rosy cheeks, many of us are clicking away, but the sun is going down soon and we need to check in.
We are welcomed with tea and a chance to warm up in the heated dining room. The father-in-law of the proprietress is the last man alive who worked with Edmund Hillary on his 1953 first ascent of Everest and he is giving a talk about his experience to a group of New Zealanders. Apparently our group of six who have just settled in and are reflecting about our all-day hike is being a bit too loud and some of the folks on the other side of the room are looking our way. An older woman comes up to our table and asks us in so many words to please put a lid on it, but she seems to be talking directly to me. This is my second scolding of the day — what gives?!
We comply of course and I am able to brush it off easily, thankful for the day, thankful to be here with good people.