Monthly Archives: March 2013

We’re in Namche Bazaar

After getting up at 4:00am on Thursday, we drove out to the airport for our flight to Lukla.

We’d been assured, that we would be on the first flight and got excited as it was called for departure. Only to find out that we somehow got bumped to the fourth flight that day. We then saw the big, organised groups board the plane … while the independent trekkers (like us) had to wait for the later flights. As you can imagine, the frustration mounted and the only thing that gave us hope was that our guide called his buddies in Lukla and they told him that the weather seemed to be holding.

At 10:30 we finally boarded the small plane (about 12 seats) and Finn managed to snag the seat right behind the pilot. As he was waiting to start the engines, Finn pointed out to the pilot where the thrust levers, the flaps and the gear controls are. He turned around shocked and asked “how do you know this?”. Finn told him he flys his flight simulator on the iPad almost every day … which got a puzzled look from the pilot.

We had a last minute scare as there was some sort of engine trouble on the way out to the runway … which seemed to have gotten fixed after a few minutes.

The last few seconds before the landing are as terrifying as I remember them, as the mountain side fills the front window and the pilot plunges towards the runway.

All went well and we were on the trail within an hour. It was absolutely heavenly to finally start walking, without the constant noise, traffic and pollution of Kathmandu.

After walking all day on Friday and today, we are now up in the Sherpa capital, Namche Bazaar at an altitude of 3400m. So far all has gone well, the kids have hiked without much complaining (even on the very steep final ascent up here) and none of us is feeling any signs of the altitude.

Unfortunately, I only found out today that the SD-card adapter from Apple does not work with the iPhone (yeah, I should have tested it beforehand) and therefore won’t be able to post any pictures that I took with my camera. The only thing I can share in the next three weeks are crappy snaps, taken with my iPhone 😦

Festival and Fever

Yesterday was the Hindu Holi Festival, which celebrates the arrival of Spring. People throw color on each other in the street, accompanied by (at least in our neighborhood) huge speakers that pump out non-stop techno dance music. While Anna and Ute were having fun, the kids were a bit scared of it all and didn’t really know what to make of it.

Unfortunately, I missed it completely. I've had a bad cold for almost two weeks now but managed to just ignore it. Yesterday, that wasn't possible any longer …. when I woke up with a fever. NOT GOOD just before flying up to Lukla and starting our trek.

The pharmacies here are selling almost everything over the counter (no need to see a doctor) and so I got myself Azithromycin and Pseudoephedrine, drank plenty of water and stayed in bed. It seems to be working … as I'm typing this, I'm already feeling better.

We also have our gear shopping/renting list complete and met Chure, who will be our guide for the trek. Truth be told, you don’t really need one (the trail is impossible to miss) … but it helps to have someone along that arranges accommodation and speaks Nepali in case things go wrong. He seems like a very nice guy and actually grew up close to the Everest region. Sometimes he leads climbing parties and has been on the South Col of Mt. Everest (no oxygen!) as a high altitude Sherpa … I think he’ll be quite bored with us.

Trekking preparations … as well as flight and weather worries

Ute has arrived from Germany and we are back in Kathmandu, rushing around to get our gear sorted out for the trek. We have to rent expedition grade sleeping bags, thick down jackets, gloves, hats … temperatures up at Base Camp (5700m) are still -15C at night.

What worries me a lot more than the weather is the flight situation into the Lukla airstrip. It’s “only” at an elevation of 2900m, yet they’ve had fresh snow in the last few days and only very few airplanes got in and out during the week. The way the system works is it that you have a ticket for a certain flight at a certain date … there are about three flights scheduled every morning. You then show up at the airport at 5:00am to see if “your” flight goes. Whether flights leave or not depends entirely on whether the airstrip is free of clouds. The only chance of that happening is in the early mornings, around sunrise. Unfortunately, Lukla is also famous for being maybe the most dangerous airport in world. Only special STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) airplanes can use it and the pilots only get one single chance for a final approach. There is a rock face right behind the airstrip, allowing no go-around for a second attempt.

If your flight does not go, your name goes in the back of a waiting list, which will slowly be cleared by additional flights that are added during a good weather window. The list can get very very long. You get up in the morning at 4:00am, get a taxi to the airport, wait around, only to find out that you won’t make it that day. The next day you try again … and get more and more frustrated.

Of course the expeditions can’t wait around for days and therefore either “convince” the master of the waiting list by “financial means”to get moved to the front of the line … or charter private helicopters to fly up to altitude. I’ve been following several expedition blogs and they were posting yesterday that they just couldn’t wait any longer and chartered two military helicopters to bring them up to Lukla. That means that the waiting list must already be quite long 😦

So … basically … if our designated flight doesn’t go, we’re screwed. Wish us luck.

Nagarkot and Dhulikhel

After having seen our share of temples (there are more to come), we decided to stretch our legs a bit and do some hiking in the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. The plan was to hike from just outside Bhaktapur up to the village of Nagarkot, which has great views of the Himalayan Range.

There are no clearly marked hiking trails and you either pick your way through potatoe fields or stick to the local “roads” (dirt tracks). Walking through the small villages along the way really was a lot of fun, especially seeing our kids interact with the locals. The adults like to pat their heads and the kids love to try their English on them. At some point Lara and Finn were walking with a whole group of school children, only to be ambushed a few minutes later by a few older kids with water balloons.

It’s not all idyllic though. You see a lot of poverty along the way and the amount of trash lying everywhere is just shocking for us. It doesn’t seem to bother the locals (I suppose when you are that poor, you have other things on your mind), but it sure takes away from the picture perfect postcard rural Nepal that a lot of tourists expect.

We ended up taking a bit longer than expected (7 hours of solid hiking) and were all pretty exhausted by the time we reached the final ridge line. The kids did extremely well, really never any complaints about either the heat or the distance …if things go well with the altitude, they’ll do just fine on the Everest trek.

We found a very nice guesthouse with a warm shower (even with an open fire place) and all went to bed early. The main draw in Nagarkot is the sunrise over the Himalaya range and I got up at 6:00am …only to look out at haze and clouds.

From Nagarkot we went on to Dhulikhel by car and then hiked up (about 3 hours) to a Buddhist monastery, where we stayed for the sunset.The next morning we could just barely see a few peaks in the distance, before the clouds came in a few minutes later.

All in all, two nice days of hiking … which could have been so much better, if we’d only had a clear view of the mountains.

Now we’re off to Kathmandu again, back to the noise, traffic and pollution. Ute is arriving on Monday and we’ll spend the next two day getting our gear sorted out for the Everest trek … while sneaking in the Patan museum and a few more temple visits.

Two Nights in Bhaktapur

After a week we had enough of Kathmandu (the polution, traffic and noise started to really bother us) and headed out to Bhaktapur. During my first visit in '88, I remember bicycling there … today that would border on suicidal. If you don't get hit by a car, you'd surely die of lung cancer.

The center is still as nice as I remember it though and we stayed for two nights in a beautiful guest house, right on one of the temple squares. That allowed us to get back to our room for some school work in the late morning, just as the tour busses arrive from Kathmandu and dump hundreds of tourists into the narrow streets. In the early mornings, and especially in the evenings, we had the temples almost for ourselves.

It went remarkably well with the kids during the two days. What really helped was that we let them out of the guest house and into the square without us constantly watching over them. They immediately found local kids to play with and spent hours with water ballons and chasing each other around the temples. When I stuck my head out of our window this morning at 7:00am, two of the kids were already waiting outside, demanding that I sent Finn and Lara out to play with them.

The only thing that didn't go over so well with our kids was how remarkably clearly they were beaten at almost anything …. even though mostly younger, the local kids were much faster, stronger and tougher. Lara tried to argue that she is didn't really try to win the races, while Finn rationalized his loses: “of course they are faster, they are Sherpas and train at high altitude!” 😉

Temples and “Teenage” Tantrums

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Our friend and neighbor Ulrike has arrived from Germany and we’ve done a bit of sightseeing over the last few days. As you can imagine, that’s mostly temples (Hindu, Buddhist, often a mixture of both), small back alleys and everyday life.

It’s fun to watch how the kids interact with the locals and what they find interesting:

– being allowed to ride in taxis without seat belts

– soldiers with Gurkha knives and rifles

– corpses being burned at the Hindu Temple outside of town

and what annoys them:

– having to hold on to our hands while we’re dodging in and out of a chaotic mixture of rikshas, motor bikes and cars

– sitting in restaurants while the adults talk

– getting through their school work, especially with “the worst teacher in the world” (me)

Truth be told, this time we’re not off to a great start with them. Lara is “only” 9, but often behaves like 13. Not doing what we ask of her, lot’s of eye rolling and constantly pushing her boundaries with unbelievable energy. It’s the same back in Germany, but at home there is more time and space to “disengage” and let her be on her own for a while. Here it feels like constant close quarter combat …. and both Anna and I feel totally drained by the time we go to bed.

Let’s hope that the dynamics will change a bit once we get going on the trek … which will hopefully give the kids a chance to channel all their energy into hiking.

But there are great moments as well, in which we feel we’re “getting through” to them. There are quite a few beggars around the temples and many of them are terribly scarred from leprosy. Before falling asleep last night, Finn wanted to talk about the “poor people here that are sick”. After a long discussion, he concluded that “it isn’t fair that they weren’t born in Germany” and even considered a career change and to become a doctor instead of an astronaut. Who knows …

Later today we’ll be leaving Kathmandu and the guest house that we stayed at (highly recommended!) for a few days in the surrounding area.

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First Days in Kathmandu

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By the time we picked up our bags (unfortunately two trekking poles didn’t make it) and got through immigration at the airport, it was 9:00pm and dark outside the terminal. The arranged pick-up from the guest house worked perfectly … and we were in our room within the hour.

The night wasn’t too bad (I forgot how noisy the stray dogs are all night … deafening!) and we all slept quite late the next morning before we headed out.

Our guest house is on the edge of Thamel (the touristy part of Kathmandu) and very little seems to have changed since I we were here last in 2002. An endless mass of shops, selling everything us tourists need … trekking equipment, “local” crafts (mostly manufactured in China or Bali), coffee shops, restaurants and guest houses. A bit tiring after a few days, but also kind of fun. Especially for the kids, who want to stop at every store and stall because:

“The people are so friendly here!”

“Sure they are, they are trying very hard to sell you something.”

“So what dadd, that’s how they make money! It’s still nice!”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Sure beats the grumpy shopkeepers in Germany.”

Finn is mostly interested in used climbing equipment (especially oxygen tanks and masks), while Lara is drawn to the necklaces and beads. As you can imagine, we didn’t get through the day without purchasing a few necklaces … but so far we’ve remained firm on oxygen cylinders with Russian stenciling on them.

We’ve spent the first days with just walking through town, eating well and getting some errands done. Lara’s trekking pants needed shortening, Finn needed flip-flops … and we all needed to get our flights, guide and porters arranged for the Everest Trek.

In between, I had to be pretty tough with Lara in order to get her math work done … which didn’t go so well. Lot’s of eye rolling, complaining, debating and outright wailing … I guess we still have to find our rhythm 😦 The setting couldn’t be much more beautiful though, we have a great view over the city from the roof top terrace.

Our friend Ulrike will be arriving in a few hours and we’ll start showing her the sights tomorrow.

As always, the latest (pretty much unedited) pictures are on our flickr photo stream here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157633008662866

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