Nepal Pt13: Tengboche

Gate of the monastery at Tengboche

When I talk about my trip to Nepal, I always say that I did it solo. It is true that I traveled there and back alone. I was on my own while I was in Kathmandu. I wasn't by myself on the trails though. I was with Shambu Tamang who is a professional trekking guide. I've done three treks with him in the past few years so I consider him a good friend. Shambu has featured in most of the posts I've done about this trip. It reads more like a two person trek than a solo one and that's probably an accurate reflection of the way it was. We would study maps and talk over options and decide together what we were doing.

But there was a third person who was along on my solo trek. Awshuk was our porter. Although he does appear in some of my posts, he doesn't get mentioned nearly as much for two reasons. One is that I didn't have much interaction with him. He doesn't speak much English. He knew a few words so we could communicate the very basics. Stop. Go. Wait. Ready. We couldn't really carry on long conversations though.

My not-so-spacious room in Tengboche

The other reason Awshuk isn't mentioned very often is that I wasn't actually with him a lot of the time. When we stopped at the end of the day, while I would often be in the dining room of the teahouse with other trekkers, he would be in the back with the people who worked in the inn. Sometimes he would stay at a different teahouse to save money, a lower end one that catered more to porters and locals.

Even on the trail I didn't hike with Awshuk like I hiked with Shambu. Each morning I would pack my bag. I would take the things that I thought I would need during the day while we were hiking: jacket, warm hat, rain gear, camera, candy bar, etc. I would pack everything else in my duffel bag and give it to Awshuk, who would carry it to the next village. It weighed about thirty five, maybe forty pounds. He would carry that along with his own gear, which was pretty minimal. If there is anyone who knows how to pack light for life on the trail, it's a Nepali porter.

Although that was certainly a heavy load to carry on the tough trails that we hiked, it wasn't bad as porter loads go. Many of the porters I saw with the large trekking groups carried two duffel bags. Since the limit for the Lukla flight was fifteen kilograms per bag, they were carrying at least thirty kilos (66 lbs) in addition to their own stuff. For some trekking groups the limit was 20 kilos per bag which means the porters would have over ninety pound loads. So I think Awshuk felt he had a good gig, at least relatively speaking.

Starting down from Tengboche - Kongde Ri in distance

He still was carrying a heavy load so we hiked very differently on the trail. I was a tourist with a light backpack, so I could take my time, dawdle, take lots of pictures, sight see and just generally take a long time to get anywhere. Remember that my mantra was always bistari, bistari. Awshuk on the other hand just wanted to get where he was going as fast as he could so he could set down his load. Usually he would rush ahead of us and then stop somewhere and wait for Shambu and I to catch up. Sometimes he would fall behind and then catch up the next time we took a break. It was pretty rare for us to all hike together. Awshuk always knew where we planned to stop for the night so my duffel would show up in the same place I did at the end of the day. There was never a problem.

Except once.

It was at the end of a long day. The three of us were actually all together on the last stretch of trail leading to Tengboche. It was uphill of course. Shambu was a little worried about finding a place to stay. It's very famous and most Everest trekkers stay overnight there. For some reason there are only four teahouses so as soon as we arrived Shambu went to find a spot for us. In the meantime I took a few pictures of the monastery in the village. I didn't even notice when we separated from Awshuk, if it was on the hill into town or after we arrived.

The bridge cable that tried to kill me

Shambu came back with good news. He found rooms for us in a teahouse. Even better. It had a western-style toilet, something I hadn't seen for days. Even more better. It had a gas shower. It sounded like I was set.

We went to the teahouse and settled in. My room wasn't ideal. To say it was small would be an understatement. The room was only as long as the bed, which was not quite six feet long. I could almost stretch out straight when I laid on the bed but not quite. We joked about it but it really wasn't a problem. It was cold enough at night that it felt good to curl up in bed.

Next I checked out the shower. It was outside and around back. A little bit of a dash in the cold air but otherwise as promised. We had been in remote villages for almost a week and it was six days since I had taken a shower. It was high and cold so it wasn't as bad as it sounds but I was about at my limit. I was anxious to get cleaned up and then have dinner. All I needed was my duffel bag so I could get some clean clothes and my shower stuff (camp towel, soap, shampoo, etc.). My bag wasn't here. Where was Awshuk?

Another glorious morning for hiking

Shambu looked around and couldn't find him. Tengboche isn't very big so it didn't take very long. Fortunately he was able to call him on his cell phone. Now up until this point I would have said all kinds of curmudgeonly things about how trekking isn't like the old days because everyone carries their cell phone in the supposedly remote mountains. No more. It turns out that somehow we got out of sync and when Shambu and I stopped in Tengboche, Awshuk blew right through and kept going. He was already quite a way further down the trail. The key word there being "down" because immediatly after Tengboche the trail makes a steep descent to the river. So not only did Awshuk have to turn around and come back, but it was all steep uphill. I can't imagine that he was very happy. It took him about an hour before he finally showed up. I was just glad that he didn't get pissed off and throw my duffel bag over a cliff. I probably wouldn't have blamed him if he did.

A little late but I spin the prayer wheel for good luck

The gas shower was great although the run back inside afterwards while I was still pretty wet was, shall we say, exhilerating. After eating dinner I sent Sandy a text message. I had cell service again but my phone was just about dead. I paid to get a charge and was able to call and talk to her just before I went to bed. I felt like I had returned to civilization.

It's a good thing that I am a heavy sleeper. My room was right next to the dining room. The door didn't close well and a lot of light came in at the top, not to mention a lot of noise. The lodge was completely full. All of the rooms were taken by trekkers so all the Nepali guides and porters just slept in the dining room, and they did not go to bed early. Nevertheless I slept really well, although in a fetal crouch.

I was up early. I had to step carefully to get to the bathroom. There were Nepalis sleeping everywhere. I went outside and it was another clear morning. The clouds had covered the mountains when we arrived yesterday but now I could appreciate the magnificent setting of Tengboche.

Midmorning break - Coke, Pringles and magnificent scenery

The village is on a ridgecrest, high above the Inja Khola. The ridge is a spur running down from Kusum Kanguru, so there are magnificent views in every direction. Up the Inja Khola are Lhotse and Nuptse. Just poking above Nuptse, the summit of Mt. Everest is visible. Nearby is the classic view of Ama Dablam. Directly above is Kusum Kanguru. Across the valley is Taboche, the opposite side from what we saw the day before. Down the valley was Kongde Ri, across from Namche Bazaar which was over the ridge and not visible. The sun wasn't up yet but there was enough soft light to see all of the beautiful mountains arrayed all around me. Sadly my cameras (or perhaps my photographic skills), weren't up to really capturing the beauty of the predawn scene.

After breakfast it was time to rock and roll. Our goal was to reach Namche Bazaar for lunch and Monjo to stay the night. That would put us within an easy days walk of Lukla where we would catch our flight back to Kathmandu.

Shambu and I...and a lady photobomber

Before leaving we went by the Tengboche monastery. It's over a hundred years old and is the largest monastery in the Khumbu region. There are over sixty monks who live there, although I have heard that they have trouble recruiting new monks. Young people prefer to go into the lucrative trekking industry instead of joining the monastery. I can certainly understand that. The setting is beautiful with Ama Dablam as a backdrop. I have an original painting of the scene, from my first trip to Nepal, that hangs on the wall in my office. This time the light just wasn't good for so I didn't get any photos.

When we left Tengboche the trail immediatly plunged down the ridge towards the river far below, as Awshuk had learned the afternoon before. The trail went through a lovely forest, with enough gaps in the trees that I could enjoy the view of the morning sun shining on the long ridge of Kongde Ri.

I remembered going down this exact trail over twenty five years ago. Back then it was narrow, with a steep slope on one side and a four foot rock wall on the outside. There were many yak trains going down the trail and they were very slow. My friends Brian and Mike and I were in a hurry to get back to Namche so we ran along the top of the wall to get past the yaks. It was probably dangerous but I was young and foolish back then. And a lot more agile.

Shambu pauses to admire Kusum Kanguru

This time there were no yaks so I could take it easy going down the trail and enjoy the view. Little did I know it would prove to be a lot more dangerous.

It took us about an hour to get down to the river where there was another suspension bridge. It was a beautiful spot. The bridge was high over the river which was full of roaring white water in a steep, deep green wooded canyon. High above I could see incredibly high snow peaks. I just looked all around as I crossed, taking in the incredible scenery. I reached the other side and turned to walk towards Shambu. Unfortunately, with my nose up in air and not paying attention to where I was going, I turned about a foot to soon. I tripped over the suspension cable and went down hard, face first. My glasses slammed into my nose and I got a pretty good cut across the bridge of my nose. Fortunately I didn't break my glasses or my nose. The worst injury could have been the heart attack that Shambu almost had when he saw me go down. He probably feels it would reflect badly on him if anyone died on one of his trips.

Tobuche looks steep on every side

I was ok except for the cut on my nose. Unfortunately facial cuts bleed profusely so it looked a lot worse than it was. I felt really stupid. It was just clumsy. To make it worse, I had to put a pile of Kleenex on my nose underneath my glasses so I looked like a total dork. It was at least fifteen minutes until it stopped bleeding and I could get rid of the tissue. During that time every person that we passed on the trail had to ask me "Are you ok? Are you hurt?"

Only my pride.

After another steep climb up from the river, the trail made a long traverse along the hillside. It was perfect hiking, a bright sunny day walking in the most amazing mountains on earth. I quickly forgot all about my pratfall and was happy just to be here. I felt like I could go forever.

Hikers below the classic view of Ama Dablam

When we reached the village of Kyangjuma it was packed with trekkers. It was a complete zoo but I didn't let it spoil things. Shambu and I stopped for a break and I splurged and bought a can of Pringles and two Cokes. We found a table on a patio overlooking the mountains and just sat and enjoyed the view. I could have stayed there forever too but eventually we got up and continued.

Along the way, I bought a yak bone necklace from an old sherpa woman in a small village. Unlike my wife, I'm not a jewelry person but I decided that I would try to change that. I have worn it some since I have been back. I guess even very old dogs can learn new tricks.

Nothing else significant happened on the walk to Namche. It was just a terrific hike. It took us another two hours but it seemed to go quickly. The weather was perfect. The scenery was amazing. I felt good. I've pretty much run out of superlatives by now.

In the next post I'll pick up the narrative in Namche Bazaar where we stopped for lunch.