Thursday 23 March

Above Namche

Wake to light inside the tent, the sound of crows calling to each other, and the chink-chink of stone masons working on yet another guest house. I open the tent flap to a clear blue sky and the crystal snow-covered peaks of Nupla and Kongdi Ri across the valley. Coffee and warm water arrive shortly. There is a definite nip in the air this morning and traces of frost on the ground.

After breakfast, we set off up hill past rows of prayer wheels and Mani stones for an acclimatisation walk up a few hundred meters above Namche. Brilliant sunshine reflects off roofs as we climb slowly above the town.

Yak

We stop for a rest beside a low dry stone wall. A yak herder appears over the brow of the hill making shooing noises at the yaks that she is driving towards a gap in the wall. She doesn’t seem to want her photograph taken, although she might just have been waving at the yaks – it’s hard to tell.

Further up, the ground levels out again. A small farm and guest house are next to a short dirt landing strip. I wonder if the small planes that land here could possibly have brought up the mechanical digger parked nearby. Rachel assures me that it would have been carried up in pieces. We are about 350 metres above Namche and there are quite a few patches of snow lying around.

Ama Dablam

We rest up here for about half an hour. The chisel-tip of Ama Dablam pokes up over our near horizon to the north east.

We spend the afternoon relaxing back in Namche, washing, and in my case reading. Out of the breeze it is quite war. A bit later we wander up the steep hill to the Sherpa museum. On the way we pass a sign boldly proclaiming:

BEWARE OF!
ALTITUDE KILLS
GO SLOWLY
AVOID ALTITUDE SICKNESS – KUNDE HOSPITAL

A crashed helicopter lies on its side outside the museum. A soldier standing guard tells us how the helicopter came in above the museum and crash-landed just in front of where we now stand. There is a second chopper sans rotors marooned just above.

Most of the museum consists of photographs showing how the area has developed over the last century, including a considerable display about Everest expeditions. In an area dedicated to regional culture, I am particularly taken by this poem, written by Milarepa, an 18th century poet saint of Tibet:

“Wife”

At first a wife is a goddess, wreathed in smiles
and her husband never tires of gazing at her face.
She soon becomes a fiend with corpse-like eyes.
If he casts a reproach at her, she gives two in return
If he takes her by the hair, she has him by the leg
If he strikes her with a stick, she has him with a ladle.
In the end she becomes a toothless old hag
And her fiendish look of anger preys upon the mind.
I have renounced such a devilish scold.
And I do not want a maiden bride.

Back at the lodge, the Japanese have gone – we suspect that they have headed off to the Everest View Hotel. This hotel was built in 1968 with pressurised rooms and a fine view of Everest itself and is still the highest hotel in the world. The rooms are no-longer pressurised (apparently guests used to walk out of their rooms and promptly keel over).