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Thursday, 26 April 2007

Namche to Thamo and return [Day 15]

Trek C depart

I wake early with Trek C - the dormitory comes alive at 0530hrs with the usual type of lads banter. I could have stayed in my bag as it was lovely and warm, but wanted to say 'goodbye' to the team who had welcomed me so openly. The 'dorm' will feel strangely empty when they have gone.

Yaks loaded and ready

Farewell to Trek C

I go outside to say my goodbyes to Trek C - my surrogate family for the last few days. I mingle with them chatting... we shake hands, hug, take the obligatory group photo and go our separate ways.

The yaks and their loads saunter off up the steps and through the arch. Trek C wander off too, waving their trek poles in return of the many waves from the few that are staying behind.

Peace returns to the lodge and I am all alone again - a free-agent. It is a bloody good job I am independent and sure of my own company, otherwise it would be a very lonely experience.

Well, let's get sorted. I must go and get breakfast... then have a wash. I better see what my accommodation arrangements are as well. I'm sure they won't want me in the large dorm on my own, which is a shame as it is a nice airy room.

I feel a more positive attitude emerging to offset my previous disappointment. In fact, I am really looking forward to doing some exploring on my own. The highlight will be surprising my Trek D colleagues... but I am also looking forward to trekking over to Thamo.

I discover I am allocated Room 106 for the rest of my stay. I move my stuff from the dormitory and settle down to sort everything out for the day. This room overlooks the front of the lodge and has an en-suite sit down loo. Luxury!

I wander downstairs to set off for Thamo (3,493 metres).

Walk to Thamo

Climb out of Namche

Quarry above Namche
Trail from the quarry

It is a wonderful morning and I take a different route over the ridge to the quarry, almost getting lost. By following the contours however, I manage to locate the correct trail and drop down through the rhododendron forest, full of flower. Heaven.

A tiny wren-like bird follows me from bush to bush as I whistle similar sounds to his call - he is only a couple of feet away, peering at me from behind the foliage.

Exotic mani stone

Sagarmatha National Park

Heading for the Chorten in the distance

Down to the river

River crossing

The noise of the river gets louder and louder as I descend to the valley floor. The three logs across the milky white gush of water able to be navigated with ease. On the opposite bank, a burnt patch of earth is evidence of where the porters stop for rest, as we had seen when we wandered here as part of the acclimatisation walk with Trek D, which seems many days ago now.

I soon pass the teashop where we originally turned around and continue up the hill on new ground. I remember how, if we upped the pace just ever so slightly, we would end up panting and out of breath in no time. No such problem now as I romp up the steep path - just shows how one acclimatises to ones surroundings. I feel in absolutely A1 condition... and fitter than I have done for ages.

Arriving at the top of the rise, I turn the corner to see a great scar in the landscape where the river has carved its way into the mountain. A wide expanse of rock where the river has split into many routes, finding its own way down the valley, to merge into one again at the bottom. I look further ahead up the mountain... and there nestled in the hillside is Thamo.

Thamo - nestling in the hillside

It seems so close and yet I discover it takes another half-hour before I walk up the path into the village. I pass a tiny hydro-power station built by the Austrian Government, the waterfalls from the hillside being channelled into its turbines. Prayer flags bedeck the trees as the water tinkles and sparkles in the sunlight. I stand there for a good five minutes mesmerised.

Mani stones and prayers

Austrian NGO-funded hydro-power project

No competition - just stand aside and let them through

Delightful village

Wandering up between the little houses, I greet the locals with the usual 'Namaste' (meaning 'I salute the divine within you', but is used as both Hello and Goodbye). I take care to approach the mani stones and Chortens in the right way, going around them on the left side to ensure the prayers are sent up the mountain correctly. Basic respect for another culture and important to observe I feel.

The village is a riot of colour, not only from the prayer flags, but the different coloured roofs of the huts and lodges. Trying to locate the Nunnery, I glance higher up the mountain. Often these buildings are at the top of the village in the highest vantage point and I locate what seems to be a likely candidate and head for it, winding my way up a path between bleached white stone walls. Steep steps lead me to a wooden gate and a sign indicating the Khari Nunnery.

Khari Nunnery

A new prayer hall under construction

I put my jacket on to respectfully cover my arms and enter the complex. I pass what seems to be a building still under construction and I am met by a shaven-headed Tibetan lady in purple floor length robes who beckons me down some steps towards the sound of chanting. I find numerous discarded pairs of sandals, flip flops and shoes and sit down to remove my own footwear. Although I am only a UK size 7, my boots look massive in comparison.

Approaching a decorated curtain over a hidden doorway, the chanting gets louder - pulling this to one side reveals a brightly decorated prayer hall, with 20/25 robed nuns sitting cross-legged, chanting mantras, ringing bells and clashing cymbals. I am offered a seat on the floor at the head of the service. A prayer mat is brought for me and I adopt the same posture as the nuns, so as not to offend by showing the soles of my feet. Shortly after, I am given a cup of yak tea, which I sip quietly. This has quite a sour taste, but isn't unpleasant.

Listening with my eyes closed for some of the time, I feel very relaxed... the rhythm of the mantras become soporific... really quite calming. I feel somehow at peace and 'right' with the world. It doesn't feel at all unnatural.

I have a good look around at what the nuns were doing - each seeming to have a part to play in the service, either by blowing into a conch shell, or ringing a bell, or starting up a mantra. At times they rest and sip their own tea... and then start up again.

Not knowing how long the service is to last, I finish my tea, place a 200NR donation in the collection box, bow my head with my hands together, utter 'Namaste', rise gently and leave through the curtain. I put my boots back on and depart feeling quite enlightened.

Lower down the hill towards the village I stop at a little stall to buy a ringing bowl as a memory of my remarkable trip to the nunnery - 700NR, less than £7. I am now sitting in the courtyard of a local shop writing up my diary, having purchased a litre of water and a Mars bar for my return journey.

The owner seems fascinated by my writing... and a cow has just wandered down the path and is leaning over the low wall behind me, watching me drink from my water bottle.

I descend through the village and set off along the trail at a good pace. I am feeling extremely strong and romp along. As I go over the log bridge for the second time today, I take an alternative path back to Namche, much higher on the mountainside. This seems to be newly-constructed and the flora and fauna are fantastic. Tiny ice-blue mountain Iris litter my feet all in flower - beautiful. I take a couple of photos on self-timer to remind myself of the wonderful day I have experienced... at one point nearly falling over in my rush to get into position. Good job nobody was looking!

Heading out of the village again

Back at the river crossing - no yaks this time

Alternative path back to Namche

Farmstead above Namche
Flora

and fauna

Namche again

I arrive back in Namche at 1530hrs and bump into another Brit who is also attempting to trek to Everest Base Camp. He has taken the wrong turning and actually ended up in Thamo (completely the wrong valley). I therefore point him in the right direction, advising that it is about a three-hour walk to Tengboche, with a very hard climb at the end. I recommend he might get a lodge lower down and tackle the climb in the morning, particularly in view of his lengthy diversion today. I don't know whether he heeds my advice but off he trots on the correct route at last.

I have a quick check of the cash in my wallet: 300NR (about £3); 110 US$ (about £55) and 60 UK£. Hopefully this will be enough to last me for the rest of the trek.

Medical Lab at Namche

I check back in at the Med Centre to report that I am back safe. I manage to speak to the duty doctor and explain how well I am feeling. The duty doctor confirms that I can return up the mountain to meet up with my friends from Trek D, but it is conditional on accompanying Trek G, who will be leaving for Deboche the same day.

I have not really bonded with Trek G, so don't really want to be shackled to them, especially as I have enjoyed such a great day on my own today. Having now walked this route twice, I remain confident I can do this on my own, but I can also see the safety concerns. Rightly or wrongly, I decide there and then I will see if the Trek G leader approaches me beforehand. If not, I decide to set off in advance of the group, knowing that if anything untoward happens en-route, I can just sit in position and wait to be 'swept up'.

I return to my room where I start to plan for the walk to meet up with Trek D. It will be necessary to leave my main holdall in Room 106 whilst I head off up the trail... but will still need a certain amount of kit to cover all eventualities.

I plan to pack my sleeping bag, wash kit, med kit and put in some extra layers and waterproofs just in case I am caught out with the weather. It normally starts quite cool and then quickly heats up, if previous days are anything to go by. With the steep climb at the end, I will be sweating buckets, so I must make sure to take enough fluid. I will be returning to Namche the day after in any case. There is no hurry though to get sorted as I still have one spare day to do all my admin, so decide to leave it for tomorrow.

I bump into Goli (one of the other Docs on the permanent staff) and have a chat. She is organising a viewing of 'Everest' the Imax movie for the evening after tea... I think I will go and watch it.

In the event, the film shows promise, but the DVD keeps skipping, then there was a power cut. Furthermore, I am not made to feel very welcome by some members of Trek G... with brusque comments like "Who's this?" etc... but after politely explaining who I am and why I am in Namche, I excuse myself and go to the saloon for a bedtime drink of hot chocolate.

Dr Jo notices me sitting on my own and takes the opportunity to sidle over and have a chat. She also takes the opportunity to return my Med Reports and USB drive. One report is for Deborah (my Trek D Leader) with other copies for the Kathmandu Med Centre and my own Practitioner. She was going to hand these to me tomorrow, but Monty and the permanent staff are leaving for a few days. I feel even more certain about my plans for the day after tomorrow.

I retire to bed and read my Med Reports - no surprises there.

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