In early April, National Geographic Traveller Aus/NZ editor Geordie Torr and competition winner Laura Waters joined a group of Kathmandu Summit Club members for a 14-day ‘Rebuild Nepal’ trek through the foothills of the Himalaya. Having raised funds for the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF) as a way of giving back to the communities that they would visit, the group visited schools in the Solukhumbu district to see first-hand some of the work that’s being carried out by rural education and environment NGO REED Nepal, with support from the AHF and Kathmandu, before joining the ‘tourist circuit’ for views of Mount Everest and other famous Himalayan peaks.
Many of us were kept awake last night by a mixture of the altitude and the local stray dogs, which spent several hours barking stridently and relentlessly in the very early morning. We were camping in a natural bowl, so the barking reverberated noisily, ensuring that sleep for most was either fitful or non-existent. KK told us that he has asked the monks on several occasions to get rid of the dogs, but of course, they’re Buddhists, so their focus is more on feeding than banishing the animals.
Last night was also the coldest we’ve experienced thus far, and we awoke to find a layer of frost on the tents. There was some cloud around, which meant that our views of Everest were somewhat obscured again. After a bracing outdoor breakfast we loaded up and headed back down towards Namche. As we walked, we were rather taken aback by the number of helicopters flying up and down the valley. At first we were concerned that some sort of terrible accident had taken place, but it later emerged that they were just carrying film crews around. We were also rather taken aback by some of the unfeasibly heavy loads we saw making their way up the hill on porters’ backs, including the constituent parts of a pool table.
We were accompanied on our walk down the hill by one of the dogs that had kept us awake last night, which adopted us and kept pace with us as we descended and then eventually abandoned us when we reached the river. Our rest stop at that point took place beside a small stone building and it took me a little while to register that the front wall of the structure was liberally covered in dung – cow/jopkyo/yak – obviously slapped on to dry for later use as fuel.
A bit further on, we stopped for an early lunch in the village of Kenjoma. While we waited for the food to arrive, many of us browsed the knick-knack stalls, whose wares were significantly cheaper than those we had seen in Namche. After lunch, we turned off the path we had taken on our way to Tengboche and headed uphill. As we climbed, we came across a group of women resting near a large white stupa. All around, their yaks and jopkyos were grazing and making music. A large white yak was standing still and panting, causing the large cow bell hanging from its neck to create a steady rhythm that was then augmented by tinkling melodies from the smaller, higher pitched bells sported by the other animals.
More steps, more climbing, more panting, more resting and then we reached the outskirts of the Sherpa village of Khumjung. Originally settled by refugees from Tibet, the village was the source of many of the Sherpas who took part in the successful 1953 Mount Everest expedition and Edmund Hillary returned there many times to do what he could to improve the lives of its inhabitants. We visited Khumjung school, which was built by Hillary’s Himalayan Trust in 1961 and is now the largest school in the Khumbu region, with more than 350 students, although it was deserted during our visit, the students on their post-exam break.
Like Namche, Khumjung is built up around a natural amphitheatre, green-and-white buildings arrayed on the hillside around a flatter cultivated area of small ‘fields’ surrounded by rough dry stone walls. Indeed the whole village is a maze of these walls, which bear mute testament to the amount of work that the inhabitants needed to carry out in order to turn the land over to agriculture. Although the fields looked bare, KK told us that the ground has already been sowed with the next potato crop – they just haven’t sent up their shoots yet.
After taking a tour of the school, we visited the monastery. This time we were charged an admission fee, but that meant that we were allowed to take our cameras in. The smoky room we entered was brighter and there were more monks seated around the room intoning mantras and prayers, but with our group bustling about taking photos, it felt like an intrusion and I think many of us were glad to get back out into the open air.
Our next stop was the hospital/clinic in the adjoining village of Khunde, which was also set up by Hillary’s Himalayan Trust. And then we hit the trail back to Namche, which took us across the hilltop and past the now largely defunct airstrip and then steeply down on a very exposed path to Namche itself. As we descended, we passed a large group of Russian tourists decked out in a fascinating array of fluorescent garments that while exceedingly bright, seemed far too light for the altitude and attendant biting wind.
We returned to Hotel Sherwi Khangba, where we hit the showers, played some cards, had some dinner and then watched a movie about the Sherpas who work on Everest, which increased our already substantial admiration for these indefatigable workers.
Australian Himalayan Foundation
Kathmandu community partnerships
Kathmandu Summit Club treks