Back in 2002 I made my first trip to Nepal, and I had no idea really what to expect. It was part of a trip where we spent about nine months circumventing the world. Kim had really wanted to go to Thailand and India, and while looking at the maps, I decided that Nepal looked like it could be very interesting, at least I figured it would be a good chance to see the Himalaya. That is about where my knowledge of this country ended, I knew it had the largest mountains in the world. So when I arrived here with plans to spend about a month I had no clear Itinerary, except I knew that at some point we would head south to India, and on the way I really wanted to stop in Chitwan. On the plane ride over I saw that Everest was in a National park. Huh...you must be able to drive to the entrance I thought. Yes I was that naive.
So on a little reading it became clear that in fact you could not drive to the entrance. Not only that, the nearest road was a good week long walk just from the Khumbu valley and then another week to get to base camp when you included the acclimatization days. Still the prospect of going to see the worlds tallest mountain really was something that once I got it in my head was hard to let go of. So I found some other traveler to head out that way with and took the bus to Jiri, the trail head for those who choose not to fly into Lukla.
Here I am at Tengboche Monastery, Everest and Ama Dablam in the Background
Last time I headed up that way my digital camera took floppy disks, and due to its expense and fragile nature I had to bring a disposable camera for pictures. I had these pictures transfered from the original film to a digital format. Nepal at the time was still recovering from the royal massacre which had taken place only about eight months prior to my arrival, and America was still in shock from 9/11. I was still a youthful 24 years old and I was even still single...though not for much longer. The Maoist insurgency was just starting back up in earnest and just a few weeks prior to my departure they had bombed the tower at Lukla airport, an event that caused a lot of negative reaction due to how it had scared off many tourists.
Rhododendrons in Bloom with the Himalaya in the Background
So it's been quite some time since I've been up that way. In some ways though I remember that trip best of all my Himalayan treks. While I had found something very charming about Kathmandu, that most people fail to appreciate, I really fell in love with Nepal on that trek. I had never in my life spent time in rural villages that were days from the nearest road, and the experience of being so far away, but at the same time being able to sit converse and have tea, was just something I fail completely to be able to describe. The terraced hillsides on these huge mountains are just something you don't see any place else on this planet. It was the first time i had seen gompas and mani walls on a trail, and it was something so different that it really stuck with me.
The Amphitheater Shaped Village of Namche Bazaar
Once up into the Khumbu valley there was some really breathtaking stuff to see. Although you go up there to see Everest, the mountain that really has stuck with me is Ama Dablam, as I really do think it is the most beautiful in the world. The high valleys, the decorated yaks, the weekend market at Namche Bazaar, and visiting places like Tengboche monastery that I had seen in movies was something special. On my way back, the night before my flight to Kathmandu I stayed at a guest house that wasn't even officially open. My room in the upstairs was unfinished, and I was told I was their first guest. Ispent the evening dining with this Sherpa family, and the in-laws even stopped over for dinner, it was fried momos and this amazing sauce for everyone. Really great experience that sticks with me to this day.
So next Monday I think I will head back up that way again to see how things have changed, get some up to date photos and visit one of my favorite parts of the planet. While flying out off Lukla is scary, I'm even more reluctant to fly into it. Besides, I find that some of the most memorable parts of the hike, and certainly the less touristy part of it, came on the way to the Khumbu valley. I may or may not try to fly out of there, depends what the back log is, and what the price is on tickets. Even back in 2002 I remember there was internet access (!!) by satellite at Namche, so I can easily e-mail Kim my intentions from there.
North of Namche, Looking Toward Everest.
I may even try to swing up and see the Gokyo lakes, but I haven't really started doing any research on the exact route I'm going to take. The worst thing I could try to do is recreate exactly what I did last time. Things change, people change and the experience changes too. On a trip like this it's important to try and not recapture the past but to make sure that what you are setting out to do is something new, even if it retraces a little familiar ground. It's always a little different, and this time won't be an exception. I'm looking forward to being able to bring back some pictures from this place, though despite their higher quality, they'll never replace these crappy old ones I've shared on this post today.