Day 10 – April 7, 2013 – Pheriche to Namche Bazaar
Hiking from Pheriche back to Namche Bazaar proved a grueling task – almost 8 hours of path pounding, including an uphill section that took about 45 minutes to climb. The sky was hazy, the trail ahead fuzzily obscured. It seemed every ridge we rounded simply revealed two more ridges we’d soon have to traverse. But we were motivated, for Namche represented a relative return to civilization – our last stop before Lukla — and the promise of our first hot shower in eight days.
We broke up that tenth day of hiking by stopping in Tengboche (3,860 meters), the hilltop village of Everest pioneer Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. There we visited the celibate Tibetan Buddhist monastery known as Dawa Choling Gompa.
Although originally built in 1916, Dawa Choling Gompa fell victim to both earthquake (1934) and fire (1989) and so has twice been rebuilt, most recently with the help of the Sir Edmund Hillary and Himalayan Trust. Today, about 50 Buddhist monks live and study on the campus, an important religious center for the Sherpa culture. The monastery’s also popular with mountaineers (including writer Jon Krakauer of “Into Thin Air” fame), who are known to present katas, ceremonial white scarves, for resident lamas to bless. According to Tibetan tradition, the color represents purity of intention and aspiration, virtues typically important to someone venturing out on a death-defying climbing expedition.
The monastery felt deserted during our visit, and Him and I encountered only a handful of monks on the grounds. Inside the main building, rows of empty meditation cushions faced a large Buddha statue perched upon an altar. The shrine’s walls depicted angry demons, some surprisingly so considering their active engagement in erotic displays of affection.
From Tengboche, we marched to Phunke Tenga (3,250 meters), pausing for lunch at the aptly named Riverside Restaurant and Lunch Place. The establishment had proven a monumental stop on our out-going hike as the on-site outhouse had claimed the buckle on my only belt. I had been straddling the porcelain hole, fumbling with the plastic latch on the belt, when it snapped off, fell through a gap in the floorboards and landed on the pile of rocks providing crude drainage for the porcelain hole. Assessing the situation, I ultimately decided to let the belt buckle rest in peace.
So I was sans-belt for most of the 62-kilometer Everest Base Camp trek. I lost a few pounds on the trek thanks to the constant physical activity, and the wardrobe malfunction would have proven catastrophic if not for two developments: (a) I was able to fasten a substitute from a piece of frayed rope; and (b), I had a wicked case of gas.
I am living proof that lentils, when consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the course of 12 long days, will wreck havoc on a non-native’s intestines. Before even that first bite of my first “Nepali Set” crossed my lips, my stomach was hard and distended. A tightened belt would only serve as a torture device.
Despite unbuttoning my khakis and unzipping my fly (under cover of my jacket, of course) I found relief only when I could, ahem, release some of the pressure, and so I discretely attempted to do so at the tail end of our four-person group. But each time I fell back from the others, feebly feigning exhaustion, our guide would employ some sort of Farting Sixth Sense and march back to retrieve me.
“Go ahead,” I told Lakpa, waving my hands so as to spare his nostrils from the impending assault and myself from the embarrassment of detection.
But either to assure himself I hadn’t fallen off the mountain or to satisfy some sort of sadistic Sherpa code against flatulent foreigners, he relentlessly retreated until he was once again right behind me.
As my lentil intake increased, my directives became more frantic.
“Go ahead!” I shouted, violently waving him away as I clutched at my stomach. “I’m just resting!” Couldn’t a girl fart in peace?
Desperate, I eventually broke the sacred “Couple’s Code of Silence re. Embarrassing Bodily Functions” and resorted to informing Him of my dilemma. Thankfully, he was experiencing similar intestinal agony, and we took turns running interference to block Lakpa when he made a beeline for the end of the line.
So there were multiple reasons why I was weary and incredibly relieved when our group rounded the last bend in the path and we began striding into Namche (3,440 meters) at about 3:30 p.m. on April 7.
Once inside our room at the Foot Rest Lodge, I pried the scarf from my head and unraveled the birds nest underneath. The back of my hair seemed to have a permanent crease from its week-long confinement in a Scrunchie. Him and I took turns using the lodge shower, each spending about 45 minutes under the hot stream to wash eight days worth of grime. (I scrubbed both hair and body three times each).
Thus cleaned, we consumed slices of apple pie and chocolate cake at the next-door bakery and then joined the growing crowd back in the Foot Rest Lodge’s dining room. At dinner, we sat beside a large group of Australians, a young couple and their respective parents and friends.
The hikers looked too clean, too perky, to be on their way back from Base Camp; we guessed they were just starting out.
In fact, they were just starting out, and one member of their group, the girl’s mother, already exhibited signs of altitude sickness. She was holed-up in her bedroom, asleep.
Anxious about the road ahead, the Australians asked us questions about our own trek, and I, overly eager to share my newfound expertise, didn’t hold anything back.
“The walls of all the lodges are paper-thin,” I rambled, spooning another bite of lentils into my mouth. “You’re going to have to bathe with a thermos of frigid water… Make sure you sleep with your electronics to keep them warm enough to function… You’ve never been so cold in your whole life.”
I paused long enough to notice Him casting me a sideways glance; my audience was stunned silent. One woman, a middle-aged lady whose carefully chosen attire resembled a L.L. Bean holiday catalog spread, seemed particularly uneasy. Her eyes bugged out from her perfectly coiffed head.
“Of course, I’m so glad I did it,” I quickly added.
Aside from the extreme cold, altitude sickness and inevitable lentil assault, there was absolutely nothing to worry about.