EVEREST BASE CAMP DIARIES - DAY 2
Everest Base Camp Trek, Day 2 - Lukla to Phakding
Quote of the day: Arpita and Suhani: "This Sherpa stew is awesome!"
Our wake up call today is 4:00 AM and our guide Khudam Bir had given us a stern lecture the previous night - as stern as a mild-mannered gentle Nepali boy could possibly be! But looks are deceptive. Khudam Bir is a product of the elite Nepal Mountaineering Association and has lead over 35 treks across Nepal's high ranges - eight of them to Everest alone! I learn that he's just got back from leading a group to Everest Base Camp, had hardly a day's rest and is now going to be leading our group to the Khumbu region. So back to the stern speech - we couldn't possibly be late. We simply had to be at the airport by 5:30 AM, because he wanted us to be on the first flight out to Lukla.
The flights to Lukla take off starting 6:15 in the morning and there are around 10 flights that fly there on a good clear day, after which the weather packs ups. So it's imperative that we're on the first few flights out, or else we miss out on our first day's trek completely.
The planes to Lukla are all 15-seater Dorniers - my little girl's remote controlled toy plane looks more solid! As we pile into the aircraft, I see Khudam Bir pop a pill, neatly, deftly, before anyone can see him. He looks at me, smiles sweetly and says: "I've been on this flight once for 1 hour 40 minutes, after that I never fly without taking an anti nausea pill." I'd heard so many horror stories about this 40-minute flight to Lukla and steeled my stomach for the horrors to follow. The roar of the engines are deafening, the silence on the plane louder still - obviously everyone had heard of this infamous Lukla flight and the normally boisterous group is waiting for that kick in the stomach just like I! The plane takes off, Kathmandu city becomes a tiny speck against the mighty mountain ranges and the views are awesome! The fearful silence on the plane turns to awe. The Lukla airstrip looms large, the plane almost hovers over the Lukla valley - my Star Wars moment, and the Jedi pilot lands with a bump on what is considered to be one of the toughest landing strips in the world. The flight takes all of 20 minutes, our stomachs none the worse for the wear. An anti-climatic flight if there ever was one - and hopefully a precursor of things to come.
We spend about an hour at a little lodge on the Lukla airstrip, checking our backpacks, filling up our bladders...okay before you get any ideas, let me explain this one. Water is an essential on any high altitude trek. We needed to keep ourselves hydrated continuously and the best way to do that is to carry a camelback - a water carrier with a pipe that fits in neatly into your nap sack. The water carrier is called a bladder - for obvious reasons, and it needs to be refilled as soon as it gets over.
"You need to drink at least three litres of this today" says Khudam Bir. After some hot chai and a packed breakfast, Our trek takes off - straight from the Lukla airstrip itself. We're at 2800 meters (9,240 feet) and the cobble stoned pathway leads us through little Nepali villages, across wheat fields, to the first of the massive suspension bridges on this route. I'm afraid of heights - there I just said that. Looking down isn't an option. Pavane offers to lead the way: "Just stare at my backpack" she says. I look around, realise I have no option and meekly follow her, my knees shaking. The winds are strong, I hold on to my hat for dear life.
The Dzos on the other side of the bridge are waiting impatiently, and I scamper across. Magnificent looking animals these - a cross between the Yak and the Buffalo, they're either black or white, short, long straggly hair with doleful eyes. They give "beasts of burden" an all new meaning.
The suspension bridge takes us across a tributary of the Dudh Kosi, and an undulating cobbled path leads us to the Dudh Kosi river itself. The river is a bizarre white in colour, living up to the "Dudh" part of its name, and the rapids are Grade V and beyond - wild and ferocious and totally unraftable. The five hour trek to Phakding is fairly easy and we reach by 1:30 PM - to a delicious lunch of hot cheese momos and Sherpa stew! Totally yummy! I've got a splitting headache by this time and decide take off for a brief nap after popping a pain killer. We're at 2650 metres (8,745 feet) not a height for altitude sickness, I think. Probably just exhaustion. After all, walking at altitudes of 8,000 feet and above is not something I do everyday! Dinner is at 6:30 PM - dal bhat and stir fried spinach and pok choy - I'll realise in the days to come that this is a regular thing - an early dinner filled with carbs that helps to power you on for the next day!
Tips for first time trekkers to the Khumbu region:
1. Drink at least 4 litres of water a day. If you can bear the taste, throw in some Electrol. The taste sucks but it helps bring back those salts you'll lose while trekking.
2. Get your own tea bags if you're a stickler for the morning cuppa. The milky ready made chai isn't for everyone. The lemon ginger tea is a better bet.