11th February – Day 2
Ok, this is really happening. I’m in Kathmandu.
I spent the first day catching up with some sleep until 4pm, when I met with the rest of the group and the organiser of the trip, who introduced the guide to me and explained a few things about what I was about to face, which was, the trip of a lifetime.
I soon discovered that the other 7 persons in the group weren’t going with me. They booked only for a two weeks trip. I was the only one insane enough to spend more than three weeks in the Himalayas during winter season.
12th February – Day 3
Crap, I am exhausted but I absolutely have to write down my journal. I cannot delay.
Well let me start saying that my flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur was delayed so Malaysia airline put me in a fancy 5 stars hotel for the night.
After the meeting with ACE staff (the tour company) I went out for dinner in a lovely little nepalese restaurant in the heart of Thamel, the commercial neighbourhood of the capital Kathmandu.
After a spicy dal bath, a traditional nepalese dish, I walked around smelling perfumes while zig zagging along the bumpy main road. You must have surviving skills to wander around because you can be run over any second by the thousand of bikes and motorcycles that drive randomly on the road.
It seems that anything goes. Feels like Bangkok.
I went back to my room around 9pm and passed out. There’s a 5 hours difference between Kathmandu and Sydney. I had to quickly get use to it in order to have as much sleep as possible, which is a crucial requirement up in the mountains.
Yesterday, on day 2, I visited the three most popular attractions around Kathmandu: Bhaktapur, Pashupati and the Great Buddah Stupa.
The city of Bhaktapur is known as the cultural capital of Nepal, just 15 km east of Kathmandu.
It is said that the city is a living museum that hosts countless temples and other cultural and historical places, like Durbar square, the Dattaraya temple and Pottery square, just to name a few.
Its history goes back to the 8thcentury, and few decades ago it has been listed within the World Heritage Sites.
Unfortunately the beauty of this city has been destroyed by the 2015 earthquake that crippled a good part of Nepal and caused 17 deaths on Everest.
As a souvenir, I decided to buy a sand mandala painting by a buddhist monk, that now hangs in my living room. This particular mandala has been created by the Dalai Lama, and it represents life cycles. Traditionally, mandalas are created and then destroyed, to represent that everything is temporary. Like life. I choose this beautiful drawing to remind myself not to take anything too seriously, and I picked the blue background because it is the colour of inner peace. Which is exactly what I need.
After Bhaktapur we drove to the other side of the city to visit Pashupati, the temple of Lord Shiva, the God of Gods. The temple is revered both by Hindus and Buddhist, making it an example of religious unity. Foreigners may not enter the temple as the entrance is reserved for worshippers only.
The surrounding area is free to be explored, and it is here that I saw my first Hindu funeral.
The temple is built on the banks of the holy Bagmati river, where Hindus are cremated.
The dead lies on a concrete bed, covered by wood and a bale of straw, and the head must face North. The chief mourner, who is usually the first son, lights the fire. At the end, once there is nothing left, the ashes are washed out into the river.
It’s been sad and fascinating at the same time.
In the early afternoon I went to see Great Buddha Stupa, one of the biggest buddhist temples in the world. From an arial point of view, stupas shares many similarities to sand mandala drawings.
Every part of the building has a powerful meaning. From the bottom you find: the mandala (the square base) is the mansion of Buddha; the dome represents the universe; the two eyes are wisdom; the nose like symbol represents nirvana; the thirteen steps are the states to complete the enlightenment; the lotus is symbol of compassion; the umbrella is for protection; the pinnacle is the symbol of Mt. Sumeru, the sacred five-peaked mountain believed to be the centre of universe.
At the end of the sightseeing, I realised I got sunburnt. It’s still winter here, and I am 1400m above sea level, but today there were around 22 degrees and I sweat all the time. I wasn’t expecting that!
Before going to be I enjoyed a hot shower, conscious of the fact that it was the last one for the rest of the trip.
This morning, day 3, I woke up around 4am, finished to pack my bags and had a couple of boiled eggs for breakfast, while sitting outside the hotel waiting for my guide Pimba.
Once there we drove to the airport to catch the 6 am flight to Lukla, famous for having one of tyhr most dangerous airports in the world. What a good start.
The 30 minutes flight was quite pleasant I must say. But I understand the fear and panic of tourist who take this flight for the first time. We were so close to the mountains I thought I could touch them. The weather today was ok but if there were a bit of wind I would have been scared to death.
A mild turbulence started toward the end, once we reach an open valley. It lasted only a minute, and we safely landed in the small town of Lukla, at 2800m, in the highest airport in the world.
This flight is very technical and the weather here is so unpredictable. Pilots are well trained and cannot take any risk and flights are often delayed, so once you board the flight you are pretty sure you’re gonna make it. You might shit your pants, but you’ll make it.
Once there I met my porter, Michel, and we all had a cup of tea to warm up a bit. I felt so bad at the idea of that young 19 yo boy carrying my 10kg backpack, but people here make a living out of it.
We started the trek descending towards Dudh Cosi River and reached the small village of Phakding in little less than 4 hours. This first day was quite easy, a light start is good to let your legs get use to the trek. I’m quite fit, but hike at high altitude can bring many nasty surprises.
During the walk I crossed hanging bridges and stepped on animal droppings countless time.
Now I’m freezing. Didn’t feel it while walking obviously, but now I do. Oh jeez I do.
I’m such a frozen person, always cold even during summer, a light breeze is enough to make me shiver at the beach. This is only day 3 and I am only at 2600m.
Tomorrow I’ll have to face the first big hike, up to Namche Bazar, located at 3500m.
The village is considered the gateway to Mount Everest.
I knew I was going to suffer for the cold weather. All this is extremely hard for me , and I am still not sure if I can make it till the end.