peter.andren (at) gmail.com
This is a very quick and dirty translation from the corresponding Swedish page (Nepal), just to try certain multi-language capabilities in my HTML home-cooked publishing system. It should, I hope, be better than Google Translate, and maybe even useful for some daring individuals. I think I sometimes have kept the Swedish way of constructing sentences, so try reading it with a "Scandinavian" accent. If you found the text readable I would be very happy to hear from you — or if you have any questions or comment.
I have edited the translation to not include information useful mainly to Swedish people. However, no or very little information has been added to help an more international audience. Hence, as they say in book publishing, "this translation is slightly abridged."
The trip was officially arranged by the Swedish company Scandinavian Ascents. In reality, more or less all was arranged by Bertil Warrell with his wife Margaretha. They have been arranging trips to Nepal for more tan ten years, and their knowledge and contacts made all the difference. Bertil helped Scandinavian Ascents with this trip, without being affiliated to the company.
We had a very small group. It was I (Peter Andrén) my then-girlfriend Jenni, my then-colleague Göran, Rickard from Malmö, and the guides Bertil and Margaretha. It was nice to be a small group, and I think we got along very well all the time.
At the airport we were met by our main guide Raju Gurung (रजु गुरुञ) and our second guide Dip (दिप). Raju, pictured to the right, turned out to be an incredibly pleasant person and good guide. Bertil and Margaretha had met him on their first trip to Nepal, when Raju worked as a second guide. When they decided to arrange trips on their own the choice of first guide was not difficult. Raju seemed to be very grateful to Bertil for all the work he brought to him through the years.
A comment to the Nepali text. You need a so-called "Rendering Support" to get a correct representation of the Nepali text. Follow the link to Wikipedia for instructions. I should add that my Nepali is very very rudimentary, so the names and place-names are probably riddled with errors. If you read this and know the correct way to spell the place-names please mail me on peter.andren (at) gmail.com.
As you probably know Katmandu is the capital of Nepal. This is where we landed, and where we stayed the two first nights. Despite the fact that Nepal is a very poor country Katmandu is a very nice city. "City-Raju" gave us a guided tour in the center, after which we had lunch on a very pleasant roof-terrace.
It's very very obvious that trekking and climbing in the mountains is very popular in Nepal after having walked in the Thamel part of the city center for a while, and chances are very high that you, as a tourist, will spend most of your time in Thamel. Here, the equipment shops with everything you have ever wanted are placed almost one on top of the other. Most things are copies, but you can find original products at decent prices in the better stores. You can also find some used equipment from all the previous expeditions, but not as much as I had hopes for. Most likely, the equipment today is so expensive that it's not just left behind when the expedition is over. You could find fairly cheap expedition grade down overalls, but I couldn't think of any occasion when I would need one.
You will meet many street salesmen in Thamel, selling the following products: tiger balm, chess sets, decoration elephants, flutes, and ghurka knives (sorted on how common it was). Begging occurred, but not much and more importantly not as aggressive as in many other countries with the same distribution of poor people and rich tourists. Up in the mountains I saw no begging at all, and Bertil and Margaretha often became popular with very simple presents as a balloon or a ball-point pen. If you are planning a trip to Nepal it might be a good idea to bring a bag with balloons or something like that.
It was nice to stay in Katmandu a couple of days, but we had come to Nepal to walk in the mountains. After a undramatic flight (disregarding the chaotic checking-in procedure) we landed in Lukla, which is probably most famous for its airport rumored to be one of the most dangerous in the world. In Lukla we also met our three local porters Dordje, Kamal and Jadab (दोर्जे कमल र जदब).
The quality standard on food and rooms is incredibly good on the trek from Lukla to Gorak Shep. Apparently, lots of renovation has happened during the last years, as Bertil and Margaretha constantly warned us that "soon the living conditions will be much more primitive, with nothing but an earth floor and a hole in the ground for toilet." But that never happened. Our well-being was constantly looked after by our guides who somehow managed to make reservations in advance. This is probably very tricky to do on your own.
The gentleman in the green vest and the interesting hat in one of the pictures below is a local represent of the Nepali Maoist Guerilla. Today I guess things will be different as the Maoists are in the government now. Anyway, we had to pay a small fee to be allowed to walk on guerilla controlled territory. Despite the fact that I dislike this kind of extra fees, everything was handled very smoothly and all involved looked happy and content. (Well, some rich western tourists simply refused to pay, but I don't know what finally happened to them. A bit silly, I think. When in Rome . . .)
Below, I let the pictures do all the telling. It was, all in all, quite easy walking up to Namche Bazaar. The first day we even lost 160 metres in height. The second day we climbed almost a thousand metres, but all the time on very nice paths and stairs. On our way up to Namche Bazaar we passed the border to the national park going all the way up to the summit of Everest. The large white building was the site of all the administrative personnel, who's main duty seemed to be to collect the national park entrance fee. And this we did pay promptly — our, rather, our guides did it for us.
Namche Bazaar is the capital of the Sherpa people. We stayed here for two days in order to start acclimatizing to the higher altitudes. The rule-of-thumb is that you should stay one night extra per thousand metres climbed, in order to give the body a chance to recover. One of the days we stayed there was a market-day, but it was very crowded and nothing to buy. It's worth reflecting on the fact that everything in Namche Bazaar, and further, have to be carried by porters and yaks. The porters nominal load was forty kilos, but apparently it happened that porters carried the double load to earn twice as much, but I don't think we saw ant porter with that kind of load.
What you couldn't find on the market, you could find in all the outdoor shops. Almost nothing second hand from earlier expeditions (as I had hoped for), but a vast amount of fake North Face and Mountain Hardwear. Very nice jackets and other equipment to about the tenth (or often less) than the corresponding genuine product would cost in Sweden. Okay, maybe the quality isn't quite the same, but far from the difference in the price. I found it very hard to buy anything in Sweden for a long time, when I had the prices from Nepal in the back of my head. On our way down again, our porters went to the "Tibetan market" and bought really nice jackets for about six dollars each. I wonder where the 700 dollars I paid for my new gore-tex jacket ended up. Surely not with the manufacturers.
In Namche Bazaar we were lucky enough to see a demonstration of a so-called Gamow-bag. It's a large airtight bag, which is inflated till the pressure corresponds to that of about one-thousand metres below where you are. This is a quick way to help people affected by altitude sickness without the need to carry of fly them to lower ground. (I'm not a physician so you should check the accuracy in this before ordering a Gamow-bag, but in general terms I think this is how they work.) The woman who demonstrated and sold the bag pretended(?) to be very surprised we didn't have a bag in our group. It seems to be a simple and cheap life insurance for a poor and in many ways primitive country.
Our fantastic are porters posing for a photo session. As I wrote above they are, from the left to the right in the picture, Jadab, Kamal and Dordje (जदब कमल र दोर्जे). Jadab was the big charmer, and despite a somewhat limited English was always wanted to talk and "hang around". Kamal was also rather sociable, while Dordje had a lower profile. As I understood, this was a way for them to earn some extra money. Out of trekking season they lived with their parents and studied at some local school. Observe the very simple carrying harness they use. Actually, they carry the whole load with no more than a wide belt/cord on their foreheads. I tried the method and can clearly appreciate that it would work once you're used to it. Even Sherpas with small day-packs usually used the head-band with the shoulder straps.
The panorama below shows the village of Khumjung (the picture is taken with Ama Dablam behind me). This was a quite typical village in the part of Nepal we visited. The handmade stone houses seemed to be bigger and bigger in recent years. It was fascinating to see the stonemasons making stone after stone with no more than a hammer and a chisel. The resulting walls were truly beautiful, as you can see in the example to the right. Another thing I noted was how "active" the farming seemed to be. You could think that the tourism would make people less dependent on farming, but it didn't seem so. Nor could I see any signs of depopulation to talk of. On the contrary, many new houses had been built recently, and more were on their way. The tourism is probably the main reason for this, and I wouldn't be surprised if prices will rise in the near future — but still be low for the western tourist.
Khumjung is situated very close to the village Khunde where Edmund Hillary built his first school for the Sherpa people. Hillary is something of a demigod to the Sherpas. (Much much more so than in New Zealand where you have to go all the way up to Mount Cook before you see a statue of him.) The school children were on leave when we visited, so we only saw a number of empty building.
Also, in Khumjung you can see the scalp of a yeti. It placed in a small box made of glass in a monastery of all places, and you have to pay a small fee to get a peek at it. My guess is that it's and old furry hat from some old Russian mountain climber, or something like that. I don't think I need to say this, but it's not worth looking at. Better to spend a few more minutes to look at Ama Dablam, which you, on the other hand, never can see enough of.
There's no need denying that yak calves are incredibly cute. Jenni wanted to bring one home to Sweden — preferably a magic calf which never would grow into a big cumbersome yak. The furry chocolate colored one below is maybe not the smartest looking yak in Nepal, but oh so cute.
The panorama (covering about 180°) below shows the sunrise from our lodge in Khumjung. When the picture was taken the sun was just rising above the edge of the fantastic Ama Dablam आमा दब्लम.
The interior from the tea-lodge Gompa Lodge in Khumjung. This lodge is run by the wife of Pema Dorje Sherpa, whom of I write more further down. This is a very typical interior of the lodges we stayed at. Benches attached to the wall (also used as beds) and a large yak-shit stove in the center. To use dried yak-shit for fuel might sound a bit . . . distasteful, but it doesn't smell anything and seemed to be very efficient. Wood might sound more cosy, but wood is far too expensive to be used as fuel. To burn a few twigs from a juniper bush while praying (or something like this) is very common, and it smell wonderful.
A panorama not as wide as the one above shows our tea-lodge in full daylight, and in the approximate direction continued our trek. And some more pictures of mountains, yaks, trekkers, and the always present Ama Dablam.
The man standing next to me is no other than Pema Dorje Sherpa (पेम दोर्जे सहेर्प), sirdar for the Swedish Everest expedition which put Mikael Reuterswärd and Oscar Kihlborg as the first Swedes on the summit of Mount Everest. Pema was kindness incarnated. Our Swedish guide Bertil had met him a few times before, and they seemed to be the best of friends. Pema told us a little bit about his life, why he started climbing, and why he had succeeded. (He had, for example, impressed foreign expeditions by running to the upper camps with fresh bread.) He talked very highly of life and people, and seemed to be very content with life. Maybe except Reuterswärd and the rest of the Swedish expeditions. He did not say anything against them, but compared to how highly he spoke of all the other Everest personalities they did not come out favorably. Reuterswärd and the rest of the team had apparently talked about bringing Pema to the festivities in Sweden, and to participate in presentations of the climb. But contacts with Sweden were few and far between, only to stop completely before anything happened. I don't know, maybe this isn't accurate, but he seemed to be very reliable. I did see him very angry once — a yak had somehow sneaked into Pema's vegetable garden and just wolfed down anything looking green and succulent. This was especially interesting as yaks normally are so slow, but this one was chewing cabbage like a lawn mower.
Our coming ascent of Kala Patthar did not impress Pema. Kala Patthar is a place where yaks go to give birth, which completely disqualifies it as anything even close to an achievement. This, of course, is quite true.
A short walk to the lake Tshola Tsho (त्सहोल त्सहो). The other in the group decided to stay in Dughla, but Kamal followed me and Jenni to show the way and make sure we both came back all right. The melt water from the glaciers gives the water the milk-like quality you can see in certain Swedish mountain lakes. Bathing was not an the agenda, so to speak.
As almost always, you can see Ama Dablam in the background of the panorama below.
Between Doughla and Lobuje the path passes "The Everest Memorial Area". Here you can find memorials over many climbers who have died on Mount Everest. It was an area of great peace, beauty and tranquility.
My first shot of Mount Everest to the right! At last, and the weather was great. From the distance, it took some time for me to realize just which summit it was, but once you have noticed it you didn't miss it again. I don't know exactly what it was, but I had the feeling I could feel the gravity from the enormous mountain from miles away. As a scientist maybe I shouldn't think like that, but if I say that the mass and volume of the mountain could be if not felt so at least appreciated from a great distance, I think I'm still within the realms of science. The problem is that I could also feel Mount Everest pulling me towards it . . .
The little fellow to the right was very difficult to take a picture of — I had to follow him (or if it is a she) a couple of hundred metres before it finally gave up, and almost started posing. Apart from this, I didn't see much animal life.
Mount Everest isn't a particularly pretty mountain. Close by to it you can find the very beautiful Ama Dablam and Pumori. Naturally, it's the landscape around Mount Everest more than the mountain itself that's the real experience. Ant it truly is strikingly beautiful and impressive. You can take lots and lots of pictures without being completely satisfied. I have tried to pick a few that shows how beautiful the area is, but I also know that my pictures does not convey what it's really like there. If you like walking among mountains you should consider to go there. Have you already been there you know what I talk about.
A group picture in front of the high-point of the trek — Kala Patthar. But no, it's not the high white beautiful mountain in the background, but the not equally impressing black hill in-front of it (kala, or rather kaalo (कालो) in Nepali, means black). One of the pictures above shows the lodge of Gorak Shep where we stayed, as well as the path leading up to the summit of Kala Patthar. The main reason to climb Kala Patthar is the view you get of Mount Everest and its surroundings. Then, of course, it's always fun to break your altitude record.
It was difficult to stop shooting pictures there. What I present here is a small part of all the pictures I shot.
Kala Patthar. Rickard has found a good spot for taking the ultimate picture of Mount Everest. Rickard had climbed Mount Elbrus in 2005, and liked everything connected with mountains and even more the people who climb the mountains. He claimed he always wanted to go higher, but I think he was secretely happy to go down to the low fat thick air filled with oxygen over the next days.
With the risk of being boring I have to say that I can't get enough of these pictures. Next time I go to Nepal I will definitely try to stay longer in the mountains. The adaption to the high altitudes takes time, and the thought of being able to walk around in this environment without feeling slightly sick (or really ill as some people do) is very appealing. The costs to stay there are rather low compared with the cost of flying there etc. It's a bit sad you feel your best when you are going down.
This was not a good day for me. In general, I adapted well to the high altitudes up to 5000 m, but I felt a bit queasy when we climbed Kala Patthar. This strange queasiness remained with me to the next day, and I needed a lot of will-power to walk to the Base Camp and back. But it's nice to have been there. On the whole it's a depressing place. The view of the icefall is impressive, but that's about it. Maybe it's more interesting in the autumn when more expeditions are present.
With my experiences from this trek and discussions with other trekkers more used than I am with high altitudes, I would not hesitate to take Diamox as a prophylactic before the trek. I have the feeling that Swedish physicians are the only ones not prescribing this, which probably is due to cautiousness and ignorance. However, I think you can find it easily in Nepal.
With my two metres in height I sometimes find it hard to fit. In Nepal I had surprisingly few problems, but at times I couldn't stand straight (see picture below). The reward was that I could stand slightly higher than the others on Kala Patthar, but this did not produce any noticeable jealousy.
The Tengboche monastery is what might be the only tourist trap in the area. Maybe tourist trap is a hard word, but I definitely had the feeling that the isolated and meditative atmosphere had been exchanged for facilities for foreign tourists with money. For a small fee you can visit a ceremony in the monastery, but Jenni and I weren't in the mood, and from what we gathered from the rest of the group we didn't miss much.
Who-ho! A cafe! As you can see from the rather misty pictures all traces of tiredness from the last days' efforts are just gone when Jenni has targeted the pastry with the highest chocolate content in Nepal. Without being truly exquisite it was good.
End of the trek! Here we arrive at Lukla after sixteen days in the Nepali mountains.
That beer was very tasty, indeed. The dog I have taken a picture of i celebrating the-day-of-the-dog. If you look closely you will notice the necklace made of flowers.
The men newly shaved and all with fresh clothes we visit the restaurant Rum Doodle. It's a tradition among real Everest climbers to visit Rum Doodle after a successful expedition. The name is taken from the very silly novel "The Ascent of Rum Doodle" by W.E. Bowman. It's about an expedition to summit the mountain Rum Doodle, 40000½ feet high. I read one chapter, then quit reading.
As you can see in the picture the place is covered with cardboard yeti footprints. On these people have written small stories about their trips and so on. More seriously, there's a book in which people who have summited Mount Everest can sign their autograph. Surprisingly, you only have to ask for the book to have it handed over to you.
Party at Raju and family.
Dinner at a restaurant in Katmandu.
Copyright © 2007–2010 Peter Andrén