Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nepal Trek Day One: Kathmandu - Lukla - Phakding

Over the next three weeks, I'm taking a trip down memory lane with a look back at our trip to Nepal last December. For all of the entries about our trek, click here.

Sleep was evasive the night before we left for our trek. I woke every hour on the hour in anticipation of the adventure ahead of us. I ended up giving up on sleep and got up around 4:45a. We repacked our trekking bag (which our porter would carry) for the umpteenth time and moved several items into our city bag, which we would store at our hotel while we were gone. The bag was still ridiculously heavy, but it was full of necessities -- clothes, our sleeping bags, sundries, trekking poles, and the like. In additional to our big pack, each of us also carried a large daypack, which held extra clothing layers, water, cameras, and other items we'd want with us while we hiked.

Prim came with Bharat to pick us up from the hotel just past 6a and we made our way to the airport. We scooted through "security," and then waited for our flight to depart. Seating on the small turbo-prop plane was first-come, first-served, and Bharat made sure to get on the plane ahead of us to save us the good seats while he sat further back. As we got onto the plane, the flight attendant handed out pieces of candy and cotton to stuff our ears with. (I used my own handy-dandy ear plugs; the plane was LOUD.) Though we boarded around 7:30a, we didn't end up taking off for another hour, as they were doing some work on the tarmac. 

{inside the plane}

The flight was spectacular and offered amazing views of the Kathmandu Valley, small villages clinging to mountaintops, and snow-covered peaks. We flew fairly close to the ridgelines, making for a bit of a white-knuckle flight. 

{view of Kathmandu Valley from the plane}

The real "highlight" of the flight would be landing (and later taking off from) the Lukla airport. Deemed one of the world's most dangerous airports (apparently the History Channel called it the "world's most extreme airport"), here is an accurate description of the airport from Wikipedia:
The single runway is 1,500 feet (460 m) long, 65 feet (20 m) wide and has a 12% gradient. The elevation of the airport is 9,100 feet (2,800 m). ... Due to the terrain, there is no prospect of a successful go-around on short final. There is high terrain immediately after the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop of about 2,000 feet (610 m) at the southern end of the runway into the valley below.
Yeah, the landing is a bit dramatic. Here's a video from YouTube showing a plane landing and taking off at the Lukla airport:

{our plane after landing in Lukla}

After deplaning, we grabbed our gear and met Dilip, our porter. We were immediately a little nervous (and felt quite bad about the size of our bag) after first seeing him as our North Face base camp duffel bag was nearly as large as him, but he proved to be crazy strong and agile even when encumbered with our ginormous bag. Time was not wasted, and after pulling out our trekking poles, we were on our way.

{walking through Lukla}

{leaving Lukla}

{Bharat and D head down the trail}


{lunch break}

We hiked for about an hour before stopping for lunch at the Khumbiyula View Lodge and Restaurant for lunch. We went traditional for our first meal and both had a cup of black tea and dal bhat (lentils and rice) for lunch. Following our lunch, we had another two hours to go until arriving at our destination for the night - Phakding. 

{suspension bridge}

That day's trail included the first of what would be many suspension bridges. D and Bharat got a kick out of stopping in the middle of the bridge for a chat, while I wanted to just jam my way across the bridge and get it over with.

{trail traffic jam}

{carved rocks along the trail}

{carvings up close}

{Khumbu Traveller's Guest House Phakding}

{our lodge room}

{our fantastic bathroom with flush(!) toilet}

We arrived in Phakding around 2p, and after dropping off our gear, we took an hour-long nap. About an hour later, Bharat took us on a quick tour of the small village so that we could get our bearings. Dinner was around 6p, and we got our first taste of the lodge experience. We met up in the dining room with other guests staying in the lodge and sat around the woodstove in the center of the room to keep warm. Ambience was provided by a monk staying at the lodge who spent the evening chanting in his room.

D and I both ordered the "Himalayan pizza" for dinner, which totally hit the spot, even if some of the vegetables were unidentifiable in the weak light of the dining room. We hit the hay at 7:45p (early bed times would become the norm in upcoming days) and prepped our alarms for to wake up in time for breakfast at 7a. According to Bharat, tomorrow's hike to Namche would be "one of the four hard days."

{river view below Phakding}

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