|Follow the river: The Milk River roars down the valley toward Lukla.
Return to Lukla
Tuesday, Oct. 26
Karen is sick. She had slept nearly all of the day and evening before, and though feeling better this morning, is nowhere near being well. Perhaps it’s the altitude. Maybe she ate something that did not sit well. My feeling is that her and Tim spent far too long in Tengboche.
Whatever the case, as we get ready to leave Namche, Tim has packed most of her gear in his pack, and we offer to stick with them on the way back.
The difference between Namche and Lukla is only about 1,000 feet, but it’s ten miles. There’s a lot of ups and downs and even though we are ready to hit the road at 7 a.m., the day is already hot and the sky cloudless.
After breakfast, as we make the final checks of our gear, our offers one final gesture that nearly brings tears to all our eyes. He gives each of us a kati scarf, a lightweight, gold offering of safe travel. We each bow forward as he wraps them around each of our necks.
I truly feel like a traveler, and I know now I’ll miss this place more than any other.
On the way out of Namche, we catch an emergency helicopter leaving the pad we had explored the day before and I wonder who’s aboard.
Our final day of walking begins serenely enough. We are fully acclimatized now. Our bellies are full and we’ve had two full evenings of sleep. We keep track of Karen, who is clearly tired, and try to cheer them both with stories and conversation. Tim is concerned though, and sometimes seems obsessed with getting her down and to some relative safety. He’ll move ahead, then seem frustrated when we’re unable to follow at that speed. Even healthy, we’re no match for Tim’s speed and strength.
We move like this, a little mismatched foursome, back down the Namche plateau and past beautiful lookouts that were covered in mist on our way up.
At one such switchback in the path, there is a kind, older woman selling small wrinkled oranges which she has lined up on a blanket alongside the path.
|Valley beauty: Above, a wonderful cabbage orchard. Below, marigold heaven!
We cross back over the high suspension bridge, then move down to the shores of the Milk River once again. At this stage Karen’s spirits seem to lift and we bid our friends farewell. We’d see them again at some point in Lukla, but for now they appear driven enough to move much faster than us.
Here in the sun, at the edge of the river, the valley is magical. I spend some time taking pictures of the white, foamy water, roaring so loudly we have to move close to each other to hear. We move at a pleasant pace, past vast cabbage orchards, and back through the villages we struggled through a week and a half ago.
We come again to Dingboche and stop for an early lunch amid the marigolds. There were meet a team of three climbers, two westerners and one Sherpa, who have just finished their expedition to Mera Peak. Even though they have scaled a vastly more difficult and technical peak than us, they are gracious and curious and we share our stories of our successes with each other. Once again, Meena and I marvel at the obvious differences between the Sherpa guides and the Sherpa climbers. This Sherpa is lean, and broad-shouldered, wearing expensive sunglasses and fine outerwear. No flip-flops here.
A half hour later, and we’re back in Ghat, the site of our original night. We have an important task to attend to here. Days earlier, a Sherpa guide Meena had chatted with had asked her to inform his wife that he would be several days late in getting home. He was going to accompany a client the long way back, over the Cho-La Pass. Could we tell his wife as we passed through?
I marvel over this simple but crucial responsibility as we searched for the man’s house. There are no addresses of course. Meena has a vague description of the house and the Sherpa’s name. No email. No phone. No post office. This is how messages are sent from village to village.
After a few inquires we find the lodge, and find the woman, a child on her waist. Meena and her chat for a while, and we’re done. She invites us to stay, but we politely decline, wanting to reach Lukla by that evening.
|Gonna be a bright, bright, bright, sunshiny day!
The day wanes on and afternoon comes quickly. About two miles from Lukla we’re startled to run into Tim, who is heading in the other direction. Turns out, Karen was too tired to make it all the way to Lukla so they got a room in Dingboche. Then Tim went on to Lukla to confirm their flight for the next day and is now coming back. I marvel at his strength, but am horrified to hear that the Tara Airlines office in Lukla closes at 4 p.m. and we must confirm today in order to assure our flight for tomorrow.
A word again about domestic travel in Nepal. We have our tickets. The tickets are paid for. We are scheduled to leave Lukla and fly to Kathmandu tomorrow.
In Nepal, that means nothing.
It’s 2:30 p.m. and we’re two miles from Lukla. I leave some gear and all my water but a half bottle with Meena. We agree to meet at the Tara Airlines building. I give her a kiss and head out, not exactly at a run, but as near as I can manage.
I make good time too, skirting the valley, and assaulting the final climb up to Lukla within an hour. Even after a traffic jam within a half mile of town thanks to a slow moving yak train, I manage to motor into the noise and ruckus of Lukla with 10 minutes to spare! A few more blocks and there’s the airline building.
And another line.
I groan. Again, in Nepal the word “line” is fairly relative. The line in front of the tiny Tara Airlines building is really more of a rowdy half circle of angry people all talking at the same time. Inside the one room barn-like building frazzled airline workers lazily mark down notes on paper grids. No computers. No electricity. Nothing.
Four p.m. comes and goes, and my patience with this system begins to erode. Finally, at 4:30, after having stood there for nearly 45 minutes, Meena joins me, a big grim on her face. She knows how things work around here.
I have had enough, and for five minutes all semblance of wakefulness evaporates and I decide that being nice does not work here. I leave my pack with Meena and begin to cut. I am unapologetic in my rudeness.
A few people eye me, but no one seems surprised. I shove my way to the front of the line and thrust my boarding passes down toward the oldest man at the table, the one who appears to be in charge.
“Dia!” I bark.
He looks up and I shove the tickets into his hand for verification. He takes them, and I see him write our ticket numbers down in the chart that says 10 a.m. He scribbles something on the ticket and hands it back to me without looking. We’re done. I’m exhausted.
We drag ourselves back to the outskirts of town as neither of us have any interest in having to deal with the chaos. If anything, Lukla is more riled up than the first time we passed through, and it seems like there are more people. Near the center of town, the thump from a second floor dance club reverberates into the ground. We finally settle on a small lodge next to the memorial archway and order dinner for later that night.
|Coffee break: Starbucks, Lukla style!
After dumping our packs, and putting on some warmer clothes, we walk back into town. We have one final thing to do before our trek comes to an end; visit Starbucks.
I order a chia and Meena orders hot chocolate and we both settle back in this familiar setting to relax and try to calm our jangled nerves. Oddly, the interior of the Starbucks looks like a Hawaiian tiki lounge, with wicker chairs and tables and a small bar pushed up against a wall. In an outer room, there is a small internet cafe and we’re able finally to post some pictures and notes letting people know we’ll be back in Kathmandu tomorrow morning.
But of course, we wouldn’t. In fact, even as we sat in the fake Starbucks waiting for our trek to be over, we didn’t realize just how much more there was to come.
Our host: The owner of the Yak Hotel kept us well fed and comfortable.
Our trek concludes next week. Only one more day to go, and all we have to do is get out of Lukla. Join us next week, Thursday, Sept. 1 as do whatever it takes to get on that plane and get back to Kathmandu!
In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you – questions, advice, suggestions, you name it, we’ll do our best to respond!
Until then, check out this weeks pictures at our digital picture site. See them at: Return to Lukla.