Day 7 - Namche Bazaar, Nepal
Day 7, May 5th, 2018, Namche Bazaar acclimatization day, 5.2 miles hiking, up to elevation 12,729 then back to 11,300.
Our morning starts in the usual way, with breakfast at the teahouse. Because of the limited staff, we set the time we want to eat and order breakfast the night before so they’ll be ready for us. Most places have similar menus but it’s hard to anticipate what you’re going to be in the mood for first thing in the morning, so you just have to make the best guess. Eggs and breads seem to most popular with our group to get in some protein and carb up for the days. Today I’ve opted for apple porridge and hard boiled eggs with milk coffee.
Today’s goal is all about acclimatizing. We are going up in elevation and then coming back down to Namche in order to get our lungs and our bodies used to the thinner air in the days ahead. Above 5000 feet there is less oxygen density in the atmosphere and your blood has to pump faster in order to bring you enough oxygen. As you acclimatize, your body builds more red blood cells and gains the ability to operate more normally in less dense air. Ascending slowly and gradually helps to prevents symptoms of acute mountain sickness. Taking “rest” days such as these are important also to have the time to take in the towns, the scenery and try to get a feel for the culture.
Our walk brings us up out of the bowl shaped Namche and the scenery is gorgeous. Snow-capped mountains, (the names of which our guides have told us but I can’t remember), shoot up into the sky on all sides. The stepped levels of the town below seems like something out of a Tolkien novel and the stone monuments and prayer flags lead us on our way. After stopping here and there for breathing breaks, we reach the village of Syangboche, where there is a helipad and stacks of building materials that seem to have just arrived. Again, I am humbled by the ease of which us Americans have access to things.
Next stop and high point of the day is the aptly named Everest View Hotel where we get our first clear view of the world’s largest mountain. From this angle Everest itself is dwarfed by some of the nearer mountains, but the entire range wows us and soon enough we’ll be close enough to witness it in all its glory. We have tea and snacks on the outdoor patio and marvel at the majesty of it all before the clouds roll in. Then it’s down, down, down to town.
Back in Namche we have our pre-determined lunch at the Nirvana and trade in our hiking gear for town gear, which really doesn’t mean much except for leaving our backpacks and trekking poles behind. Kaddy, Danny, William and I get shown around town by Abhaya, while Sari and Heather hang back for naps. Danny remembers that it’s Abhay’s birthday, so William secretly heads to a bakery to pick up some cake for us to surprise him with after dinner.
Kaddy and I befriend a Nepali girl who speaks to us in English and who is not shy about having her photo taken. Her rosy cheeks and huge smile melt our hearts. We walk past the main water feature running downhill in the center of town which powers the spinning prayer wheels. Below them is a public washing station for clothes. It is amazing to think that so many people in the world still wash clothing by hand, but then again, what do I know? I live in a gigantic city, one with regular access to electricity and a good public sewage system. The only way to get a washing machine here would be by helicopter and there are much more important things to spend money on.
We get back to the Nirvana and still have time to kill before dinner, so Kaddy and I have some tea in the common dining area, which is a bit warmer than our rooms. The proprietress, Kami Sherpa, starts a fire for us to stay warm, which isn’t something usually done until around 5 pm when most guests start rolling in and as a way to conserve fuel. Because Namche is within the National Park boundaries, the locals only have a two-week window per year where they are allowed to go and cut trees for heat. We are most grateful.
Kami tells us a bit about her husband Tshering, the newly elected mayor of Namche Bazaar and his plans for improving the region's economy and for preparing it for climate change, which they are already starting to feel the effects of. She talks with us about the 12 years they spent saving money in the States, how homesick for the mountains they got at times, but how it also allowed them to save for this teahouse. In their culture, as the youngest child, it is her husband’s responsibility to move into his parents’ home and take care of them as they age. Tshering’s mother passed away a few years ago, but his father, Kanchha Sherpa, now 85, is the only still living member of Edmund Hillary’s original 1953 Everest summit team. They have all worked together to turn Kanchha's home into this teahouse and lodge. Kanchha gives talks about his experience on the mountain and we will be having one after dinner. It is apparent that we are among good and respected people of this community.
The rest of the gang rolls in to the dining room around 7 to eat the meals we decided upon at lunchtime and Sari whispers to us that after her nap, she went into town to take photos and got some pastries for Abhay’s birthday too. Ha! We are going to feast!
Abhay is totally taken aback and is smiling from ear to ear when he walks back into the room and we are singing to him. He cuts everything into pieces and there is more than enough cake to go around, including Kancha, Kami and the whole kitchen staff.
We finish our dessert and Kanchha sits with us while we sip tea. Through translation by Abhay, he tells us how he first learned of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who would later summit Everest alongside Edmund Hillary, by seeing some finely dressed women and asking them how it is they were able to afford such nice clothes. Turns out they worked for Tenzing and by following word of mouth directions, Kanchha walked all the way to India with two of his friends to find Tenzing's home and ask for work as well.
It is Kanchha and these two friends who were responsible for many things along the long journey from carrying heavy boxes of coins (payment for all of the porters) from Kathmandu to Base Camp, for washing Tenzing's clothing and most notably for setting the ropes ahead of Tenzing and Hillary’s final ascent — which they did without the aid of oxygen.
It is evident that Kanchha thrives off of sharing his stories with the public. It truly brings him joy to share this oral history with others as talking about it helps to keep the memories of his departed loved ones present. He is also happy that so many visitors can come and visit this most sacred land due to the improvements that Hillary brought to the Khumbu region in the years following that first ascent — like the Lukla airport, a school and a hospital. Prior to Hillary's success and the race to the top of the world, much of the local economy consisted of potato farmers and yak herders.
Kanchaa himself gives back to his community as well. He has created The Kanchha Sherpa Foundation, which in addition to keeping the Sherpa culture alive and promoting sustainable tourism, provides local school children with backpacks, scholarships and other educational opportunities. A small 500 rupee/person interview fee and supplemental donations from visiting guests help to fund his mission.
I fall asleep honored and humbled to be in this place and most thankful that I am not showing any signs of altitude sickness.