Monday 3 April 2017
Up at 5am for a 5.30am breakfast, we were due to leave for the airport at 6am. As there are between 40-50 people in the whole group we were going in different tranches and the first group had already left for the airport. Word filtered down that was a delay at the airport, the rumour was that there was bad weather at Lukla so none of the flights were leaving Kathmandu. It was entirely possible that we might not go that day so we were a bit disappointed. Suddenly at 6.30am we were told to get our stuff, we were on our way!
Speculation was rife about the reason for the delay, and it was … wait for it …. a leopard on the runway! Only at Kathmandu. The airport was chaos, the sherpas were unloading all our kit bags off the roof of the buses but it was too difficult to find our own one (they all look exactly the same) so we were told to take any old one and go through security. After all our efforts to get the right weight, it didn’t really matter because all they did was bundle them on the scales a few at a time and record a cumulative total!When we got airside we saw the poor people who had been up since 4am, but luckily as the planes were now moving they were called and we were not too far behind.
We caught a bus to the 19-seater propeller plane, which came with a stewardess who said everything in both Nepali and English, like we were on a 747. She even handed round a little boiled sweet 🙂 The reason for the small plane is that Lukla airport is apparently the most dangerous in the world (I beg to differ, the one at Montserrat, in the Caribbean was pretty scary) as the runway is 527m long and at an 11.9% gradient. The planes come in to land and if they don’t stop in time they basically crash into a big wall at the end of the runway. The flight itself was quite short, a little bumpy and provided amazing views of the mountains. The landing was absolutely fine and we walked up to the Paradise Lodge where we found the other group.
The altitude at Lukla is 2,880m so I was wondering, like at Cuzco, whether I would feel the altitude straight away, but I didn’t feel any different. We discovered that the kit bags had been distributed across all the planes so the people who had travelled earlier had to wait, as we did, until everyone was here so that we could be reunited with our bags.
Everyone finally arrived and everything got sorted, bags found, yaks loaded up and we set off at 11.30am, which was quite late as Monjo was 11.6 miles away and a full day’s walk. We cleared the Police checkpoint and started down the trail and it hit me that I was finally walking in the Himalayas!! After all the planning, preparation and waiting it was a bit of emotional moment. The trail followed the river in the Kumber valley and it was beautiful, lots of trees with now-capped mountains in the background. I was looking forward to seeing the first suspension bridge and it didn’t disappoint. The bridges are actually quite sturdy but are not very wide, and get really bouncy when lots of people are on there. The paths are used by everyone, so every so often you have to make way for locals carrying extremely heavy / wide loads, that are twice as big as they are. It’s quite amusing to see them on the bridges as neither will give way so they start at opposite ends and then have to squeeze past each other at some point on the bridge. We also got stuck in ‘Yak jams’ where the yaks are walking in convoy, so you have to flatten yourself against the mountain side of the track (because apparently the other year an Australian went the opposite side and got pushed down the cliff by a yak!) and hope that the yak doesn’t squash you on its way past.
We had a very late lunch, of vegetable fried rice, at a Tea House on the way, and I got my very first taste of ‘hot lemon’. I wondered if it contained caffeine so asked to see the packet, it turns out it is powder in a tin. It didn’t, although there were lots of E-numbers on the ingredient list so it’s a good job I’m only in Nepal for a relatively short time! I liked it, if you were in the cadets you will understand whendidn’t I say it tastes like screech. It will be something to keep me going when we get higher up.
We set off again at around 2.30pm and the terrain got a little steeper as we went away from the river and up to Monjo, which is at 2,804m. While we weren’t experiencing altitude sickness, being that high does make you short of breath, so it’s slow going and you constantly have to watch your step as the path is uneven and there are lots of steps – all at different levels. We made good progress, but as we had started so late it was going to be a race against time to make it there by nightfall.
The sun was setting and it was hard-going getting up the steps at the end to enter Monjo. We still had a little way to go and so by the time we made it to the
Lodge it was a few minutes away from being dark. We were by no means the last, so the trek leaders and sherpas put on head torches and had go and find all the people still out in order to lead them up. It was a bit of a dramatic end to our first day, but everyone made it safely.
I had my first chicken dhal bhat for dinner (chicken curry, rice and lentils) and then we had the first of our nightly briefings, where they tell us what’s happening the following day and what rooms our trek leaders are staying (in case we feel ill in the night). There was a choice of joining the ladies for a chat or the boys who were playing cards … you can guess where I ended up! Bed time is early over here, so we played ****head – which I last played in the Amazon in Peru, and was still as bad as I was then – until bed time.
Tomorrow we are off to Namche and have the biggest of three hills to walk up, and should be there by lunchtime. Hopefully!