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.
As planned, I was up and on my way up to the lookout by 5.15am this morning, with fingers crossed that Everest would finally make an appearance. Lindsay was already up there and together we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune – Everest was indeed clearly visible, rising beside Lhotse into a largely cloud-free sky. As we watched, the sun backlit the mountain and then painted a wisp of cloud clinging to the summit pyramid a vibrant orange. After a while, the others drifted up and then we all returned to the hotel to re-pack our bags and have some breakfast.
When it was time to hit the track, we walked up and through a yak parking lot then onto the track, which ran up above and behind the hotel. The track was very well maintained and mercifully flat – and also quite busy, with several other trekking groups, and of course quite a few porters, taking the same route. We were now walking towards Everest, and we were treated to a series of spectacular views of the mountain as the track wound around the undulating hillside.
As we stopped for a rest beside a large stupa, a couple of vultures flew overhead, the long feathers on the ends of their wings spread like the fingers of an open hand. A bit further on, at another rest stop, several Himalayan tahr (a type of wild goat) suddenly appeared on the hillside above us. Spooked by the sound of a passing helicopter, they leapt over a ridge and down the steep slope, before stopping to regroup. Not long after, we came across three more, much lower down, standing above the track on some flat rocks.
After we had been walking for a few hours, the track began heading steeply down through a pine forest and we eventually rejoined the Dudh Khosi again. We stopped there for lunch – once again using a restaurant dining room for a meal cooked by our hard-working kitchen crew. After lunch, we crossed the river and began the long, hard slog up, passing numerous rhododendron trees covered in bright-pink flowers. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination – Tengboche Monastery, the oldest monastery in the Khumbu Valley. First built in 1916, the monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1934, rebuilt, and then destroyed again by a fire in 1989 – and then rebuilt again.
As the team began to set up the camp in a large open area below the monastery, they were politely asked to move – it turns out that we were in the middle of the monks’ football pitch. By the time the tents were up, it was time for 3pm prayers at the monastery, so we all made our way over to the main building. After removing our shoes, we quietly filed into a darkened room, fragrant with incense, where we joined a number of other tourists on the floor at one end. As we sat down, the five or so monks sitting facing us began to chant, a low monotonous rumble filling the room as they intoned various mantras and prayers. They stopped soon after, and all took sips from mugs of steaming tea. The only sound in the room was the rustling of Gore Tex and the clearing of throats. When the monks started up again, they were accompanied by the tapping of a small drum. The prayers lasted longer this time and, closing my eyes to focus on the resonant chanting, I very nearly fell asleep.
Back outside, we watched as a yak team trundled down through the natural amphitheatre in front of the monastery. Up at this altitude (almost 3,900 metres), yaks have replaced the mules as beasts of burden. It was much cooler now and as some low cloud started to blow in we all went back to the camp for the afternoon washy-washy and some tea and biscuits.
Afterwards, I ventured tentatively into the forest behind the camp, making my way past gnarled rhododendron trees, a thick layer of spongy yellow-green moss beneath my feet. I was hoping to see a musk deer – KK had mentioned that they sometimes hung out in the forest - but as the slope steepened and I climbed higher, I realised that I was in reach of the ridge summit. Stopping frequently – at this altitude I found my breathing switching from ‘slightly laboured’ to panting after much less effort than usual – and meandering regularly, I made my way higher until suddenly the forest opened up and I found myself standing on a precipitous ridgeline. A strong wind was driving the cloud up the slope towards me, over the stunted vegetation below and through a bank of fluttering prayer flags that festooned the trees and bushes along the ridgeline. A wide path ran up the ridge to a series of shrines in varying states of disrepair and I followed it higher until it simultaneously steepened and narrowed, and began to twist back and forth in a series of switchbacks past moss-covered rocks. Choosing a nice flat rock, I sat, cross-legged, and watched as ghostly veils of mist by turns obscured and revealed the stones and bushes around me. The only sounds were the wind whistling through the trees, the rhythmic croaking of the ubiquitous big, black ravens and the occasional bark of a dog in the valley behind me. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but with the light fading and the cloud thickening, I eventually roused myself and headed back down to the monastery grounds, where a group of monks was playing an enthusiastic game of football on the pitch from which we had earlier been ejected.
Australian Himalayan Foundation
Kathmandu community partnerships
Kathmandu Summit Club treks