Monday, 14 April 2008

From Namche back to Kathmandu

Since last Friday my trip has been much less exciting than the previous two weeks but still enjoyable. That afternoon we were rejoined by the young couple, Simon & Sharnie, who had left us because of altitude sickness at the first high pass, Konma La. On Saturday, we trekked south from Namche, retracing our steps from the first three days, along the Dudh Koshi River valley, through pine forests, with many large, red flowering rhododendron trees. The river was flowing strongly, fed by numerous tributaries. We crossed the river several times on swinging bridges, fortunately made of metal rather than broken timber as they had until several years ago. As I mentioned in my first email, the track is a pedestrian highway at this point, with many trekkers passing along, with even more Sherpas (the local Nepalese) carrying huge loads on their backs to the small towns and villages at the higher altitudes. Yaks, the local beasts of burden in caravans of 4-5, also carry large loads.

We stopped overnight at Phakding in the same lodge we had used on the outward journey. That night was Nepalese New Year's Eve (we are now in year 2065 in the Nepalese calendar), and being the second last night of the trek, the guides and porters joined us for dinner. Several of the group joined me in buying Nepalese rum for the guides and porters. They appeared to enjoy it, cleaning up the lot.

On Sunday we completed the trek, returning to the town of Lukla. In the afternoon another member of the team, Peter from Manchester in the UK, and I went for a walk along a track through small farming settlements past Lukla. It was pleasant getting away from other trekkers and the crowded track north. As well as the farms we saw lots of birdlife.

At afternoon tea at 4pm the group of nine presented the guides and porters with a combined tip of 42,000R to be distributed by the head guide, Tashi.

This morning we were up at 5am to prepare for our early flight back to Kathmandu. The airport at Lukla is the most amazing I've ever experienced. Lukla is built on a narrow strip of land along the side of a mountain. The runway is 300m long and at an angle of 30%to horizontal, finishing in a rock wall in the mountain side. Planes touch down a few metres from the start of the runway and are able to stop in the very short distance because of its steep gradient. At 6:45am the first plane, a 30 year old Twin Otter that was our aircraft, landed. It turned onto a tiny tarmac off the end of the runway, and the passengers and luggage were bundled out. We raced out and jumped in. Meanwhile three other small aircraft landed and turned into the remaining space. I timed the whole operation at less than 5 minutes. Our aircraft, without having stopped its twin propellers, turned to the top of the runway, gunned the motors, raced down the tiny strip and flew off the side of the mountain into the wide, blue yonder!

The flight was also well worthwhile, with grand views of the higher Himalayan peaks in the distance, and the lower mountains below, heavily forested, with large areas bright red with rhododendron blossoms. We flew over heavily terraced farms connected to others only by barely visible tracks.

In Kathmandu we returned to the up-market Shangri-La Hotel, where a further two nights accommodation are included in the price of the trip package. We were all desperate for our first proper shower in three weeks.


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