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The Gokyo Trek – Leg II

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Day 5 – Naamche Bazaar to Dhole

Having dispatched my sister back to Lukla with Nir Kumar, I was on my own again, and happily so. As much as I appreciate the camaraderie of a trekking group, I prefer going solo, picking my companions as I roll along. There’s nothing so liberating as an extended ramble through the mountains when you can start and stop as you like it, which means something of a frozen Khumbu morning. Half an hour more in your cocoon? No worries. Think you can leg it to the next set of lights before dark? Carry on, trekker.

That said, the first evening on my ownsome offered ample opportunities for not wholly wholesome reflections. I was alone in a crowd, dining among groups of trekkers chatting fluently (the Spaniards), playing cards and giggling (the Nepali guides and Canadian girls from Mountain Madness), journaling and reading (the Germans) and poring over their maps (the French).

Post-prandial high-altitude flatulence aside, I was the odd one out. The guides and porters clearly didn’t know what to make of a Nepali who’d trek alone for the heck of it. For my part I found myself judging the young bloods for their pop accoutrements and sneaky, lewd asides, preferring the pastoral ideal of the honest, naive village guide even as I chided myself for believing in it. Perhaps I considered them inadequate as representatives of our collective culture. Perhaps it was a general resentment of pharener girls with those boys, mirroring that of pharener lads with our girls. I felt better qualified to discourse on the country they were experiencing through the microcosm of trekking. But I was too much like them to give them the Otherness they craved, too easily dismissed as a rich boy from Kathmandu.

Thoughts turn upon themselves in the dark. Once more, I had nothing to complain about! A fresh, sunshiney start from Naamche up to Mong, scattering raucous blood pheasants before me, relishing the first clear views of the jewel that is Ama Dablam and the approaching Everest panorama. A dusty scramble down to Phortse Thanga and a bowl of noodles before a dogged climb up and through forests to Dhole at 4110m, facing the emergent massifs of Thamserku and the saddle mountain Kantega (6783m), golden in the dying light. I’d covered excellent ground in a day – I don’t recommend pushing on beyond Phortse Thanga to everyone – and was well on my way.


Day 6 – Dhole to Macchermo

A slow community was forming this second day out from Naamche. Moving en masse to our destination, meeting and greeting on the trail before dispersing over the few lodges that awaited our arrival at the end of the afternoon. There was none of the jostling anonymity we’d kicked off with from Lukla. I took it easy, hanging back with the Spaniards to admire the giant whose slipstream we were entering, Cho Oyu (8201m). We were clearly above the treeline now. Rooted to the sienna scrub, we traced the grey serpent of the glacier down in the valley to the white massif framed by the deepest blue.


Setting our bags down in the busy, sunny first lodge whose name I cannot recall, we pushed up a nose above Machhermo at 4470m, and stood enthralled at the view from Cho Oyu to Thamserku as the boys from Mountain Madness leaped from rock to rock for the benefit of their kaanchhis. It was only when a Frenchman pointed it out we saw old hoary Everest itself pop out of our panorama, resplendent in its pyramidal, defiantly unsnowed glory.

Our emergent community and the relative comfort (the toilets! the cooked food! the arctic nights!) may have negated the down-at-earth ‘into the wild’ experience my facebook status message promised à la Chris ‘Supertramp’ McCandless, who perished in the Alaskan outback. But it’s all about the bigger picture. The wide angle of the rocks, ice and snow rising above the scrubby hills, the play of light as it ebbs and flows through the day, throwing into relief what it will when it will. Red, yellow and orange lichen in sheets and bubbles, clumps of stubborn alpine flowers. This was the wild around me even ensconced in a warm dining room waiting for my mixed chowmein before to bed, to bed!


Day 7 – Macchermo to Gokyo and Gokyo Ri

A state of stunned euphoria is how I might have described my state as I sat alone – blissfully alone – amongst the three-score loudly babbling trekkers scarfing their dinner in the Gokyo Resort. Cut off from their expectations of the morrow, having taken the advice of the owner to catch the Gokyo Ri panorama at sunset, I floated in my own weary bubble of satisfaction. I didn’t care that everyone I met on the trail was elsewhere lodged – if anything, I felt slightly sorry for them. To them the numbing morning winds as they crawled up Gokyo Ri, to them the blinding sunrise views.

Words can’t quite convey the spirit of the panorama from Cho Oyu to Thamserku as it moved through shades of gold, pink and violet above the long grey smear of the Ngozompa glacier next to the chain of perfect turquoise lakes I’d skipped along up from Macchhermo. But neither can photos. Beyond the obvious, much of what made the view is lost in translation. It was in the long, tough trudge to the top. It was in the anxiety of seeing mists cottoning up the valley and wondering if the view would be gone by the time I got from 4700m to 5355m. It didn’t happen. It all lay before me as I clambered happily on to the rocks strewn with prayer flags to join the half-dozen intrepids already there, the sublimation of all what had gone before.





A jocular Nepali showed me the pair of tents he and a wild-bearded Japanese were spending the night in before offering me a warm drink of pineapple tang and a lightning name-drop tour of the vista…before gesturing towards the retreating glacier pocked with ponds and adding sombrely, yehi ho nepal ko bhabishya. The future of Nepal lies in the rising glacial lakes of the Himalaya.

Gokyo may well be in the path of a future inundation. For the time being it’s thriving. The Gokyo Resort’s unassuming Brahmin owner Surendra Sharma recounted to me the development of the settlement. In the early 1980s, when he set up shop, there was almost no traffic to speak of. A ballooning expedition in the 1990s brought the region much-needed publicity. Today up to 30 or 40 trekkers and guides bed down in the dining room on the busiest of evenings. I almost found out the hard way. Meandering along the lakes with assortments of acquaintances I got to Gokyo to find I was the only one without a room booked. Until Sharma took pity on me. It was just as well. The food was the best I’d had since I left Kathmandu; an experimental Thai special fried rice with cashews and coconut bits for dinner, and tasty, substantial hash browns and eggs for breakfast did me very nicely.


There may be some good in having a guide, though the going hasn’t been all that good for them this season. Those with daily budgets for their guests have been hit by hotel prices (300 rupees for a plain jane dalbhat, anyone?) because commodity prices are more than up in this elevated part of the world. Sharma’s Sherpa wife Kaanchi complained about paying Rs350/kilo for tomatoes and Rs500/kilo for onions…and how not, when the formerly reliable service provided by porters from Jiri has been supplanted by an unreliable plane and helicopter service? I look at everyone’s accounts, said Sharma. I can tell by the guides’ faces that their guests are eating all their profits. And why wouldn’t they, given how much they pay the trekking agencies?

Day 8 – Gokyo to Thore


In an unsually empty lodge off the main drag – the Kantega View in Thore on the return loop the other side of the Dudh Koshi – after a slow listless morning lit up only by the crackling crunches of the glacier as it poured down in its millennial tread from Cho Oyu, the trip felt as if it were winding down. I wasn’t tired. But I’d had my fix. I wondered at the numbers of enthusiastic trekkers who, liberated from their backpacks, figured they’d squeeze in two five and half thousand metre climbs in a fortnight (Everest Base Camp and Gokyo) rather than one in twice that time: the guides spoke fearfully of rumoured deaths from altitude sickness in Gokyo the day before.

My trek felt done, if only in a physical sense. But each day I was going where no Nepalikukur had gone before. I was alone only when I chose to be. And I had the Mani Rimdu festival in Tengboche to look to. Wrapped up in my bag in my cold room, I blew plumes through the circle of light cast by my torch.


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