Religion is not something outside, but in our hearts. The essence of any religion is a good heart.
Day 5 – New Year’s Day Journey to Tengboche
We wake up on New Year’s Day and I feel that I’m definitely up to continue this trip and see how I do out there today. What a great way to start the New Year with the promise of good health and new areas to explore! We have breakfast and pack up to leave the teahouse to continue the rest of our journey. We climb the rest of the steps from our teahouse to the top of the market section of Namche Bazaar and get on the trail to Tengboche. The trail skims the hillside and is gradual for the first hour. All along, we see great views of where we came from on the first two days of this trek. You clearly see the lower river valley and the series of hills that all seem to lean forward and dip their toes into the river that cuts the deep slope down this valley.
There are spectacular mountain views all around that would be the highlight back in the US. Because we are in Nepal and these are the Himalayas, some of these peaks are mountains you simply pass as you make your way to even higher and more stunning vistas. We reach the top of this hill that we’ve been skimming and it’s time to start making our way down. We cross a small stream and make our way onto another hillside to skim for another hour. We then steeply descend into a village, where we will have lunch before ascending the large final ridge-line that Tengboche is located. Descending, especially steeply, has a way of making you feel good. We arrive feeling good at the teahouse with some sun in the sky and a cold wind blowing. We look forward to a suspension bridge to cross and the long steep hill climb after lunch.
That I was feeling really awful just hours earlier doesn’t jive with how I dive into my lunch at this teahouse, which turn out to be one of the best on the trek. They prepared our food in the classic Nepali dal bhat lunch set. What is dal bhat, anyway? Dal bhat is an extremely popular dish in this part of the world and consists of steamed rice (bhat), a seasonal vegetable curry, sometimes some potatoes, and a hot bowl of dal (cooked lentils) often accompanied by a crispy thin bread. Here, we find a tiny sprig of mint with a few leaves on top of the mound of rice — a great touch. We also get our first introduction to condiment of fermented pickled vegetables in red chile sauce. We’ve picked up on the fact that we can always ask for “local chiles” sauce with our meal, but this pickled thing is highly welcomed by me and we start asking for it everywhere. The normal local chile sauce we ask for usually comes in the form of a semi-wet paste of red chiles and seeds and it’s fairly hot. Some places it’s more of a liquid and it’s extremely hot and needs to be used in tiny amounts with food.
Thermal management, or the ability to keep yourself warm & dry, is especially important at high altitudes. Whether you’re mountaineering for hours up a steep snow slope or you’re trekking like on this trip, you naturally get warm when you’re moving and you rapidly cool off when you’re not. The usual routine is get indoors and quickly add a layer even though you’re comfortable to keep yourself that way and not lose your warmth. Inevitably, when you start back up again, you’re going to feel cold once you get outside. How well you manage this can mean a huge difference in comfort or even jeopardize your progress due to slower progress or making mistakes on the trail.
We finish our delicious lunch and head out into the now windy, cold, and cloudy conditions. We make our way across the suspension bridge and in front of us is the long hill climb that we’ve been expecting. We’ve been growing accustomed to going slow uphill. So slow, in fact, that Julie remarks that she actually didn’t know she could walk so slow! It isn’t really that slow, during the steeper slopes, we average 1 mile or 1.6 km per hour. This becomes a wonderful pace to build a rhythm of breathing and movement. This transforms the trekking hours into a moving meditation. Moreover, it helps to stay warm and dry and not overheat and sweat. This not only helps thermal management, but also given the ever-increasing altitude, there is no need to rush and risk developing AMS.
We sense that we’re nearing the top of the ridge and the clouded over skies start with snow flurry showers. These showers continue until they develop into a dry light snow. There’s not much that’s falling, but it’s falling consistently and soon there’s a slight sugary layer of snow all around the forest we’re ascending. Near the end of our hill climb, we reach a section that’s iced over in a tricky way due to sloping rocks. We call out the slick section to make sure everyone is aware and I test it with my trekking pole. It’s so slippery that the steel tip of my pole immediately slides off of the ice. I carefully make my way over the short section safely. Behind me, Julie doesn’t fare as well — I hear the sound of surprise in her voice and a thump. Luckily, she is OK, manages to stay on the trail, and doesn’t slide off into the forest.
Shortly thereafter, we finish the last switchback and immediately see the beautiful Buddhist-themed sights of Tengboche; a decorated archway, mani stones, and the prominent Tengboche Monastery. Especially in the snowy conditions we find ourselves right now, the setting is beautiful and different from what we’ve experienced so far. The snow continues to fall, the day is ending, and there’s a colder wind blowing up here to confirm it. Time to quickly step into our teahouse and get warm. This evening, quite a few people end up at this same teahouse and we have great conversations with Australians, Poles, and Swiss trekkers. Huddled together near the dining room stove, we order multiple baskets of hot popcorn topped with yak butter. They’re a big hit with everyone and they’re passed around repeatedly until we’re down to a few un-popped kernels.
This is one of the bigger teahouses that we’ve stayed in so far and also the coldest. We’ve gained some respectable elevation and are now at 12,660’ / 3,860m and also experiencing cold, wind and snowfall. So, a more expansive teahouse is not a plus right now. They also seem to be stingy with their yak dung usage for the dining room stoves. Only one stove is lit and everyone is huddled around it like moths near a bright light. Due to the cold, we understand that there’s no more running water to be used for washing hands or using toilets from now on until we descend at the end of our trek. The toilet situation has been mainly Western toilets with some squatting types. But, we know that will also change as we head higher.