On the return walk from Everest Base Camp to Gorak Shep, I came to the conclusion that I had done my dash and that it was time to descend, rather than attempting the Cho La pass or even descending and ascending again to get to Gokyo. My body was sending signals of fatigue and it didn’t feel right to continue. Instead, Ram and I agreed to take our time descending back to Lukla; we would ascend Kala Pattar first to reach the high point of the trip, then descend over 1,300 meters in one day via Pheriche to Pangboche, followed by a stay in the sherpa village of Khumjung, back to Namche, then Phakding and, if possible, flying out a day early from Lukla to Kathmandu. With the decision lifted off my shoulders, I felt a lightness returning.
Despite a cloudy start to the day, the skies cleared as we walked out of Gorak Shep offering an uninterrupted look back to this stunning place. During the descent to Lobuche we watched rescue helicopters fly in and out of Gorak Shep. I counted a total of eight helicopters flying in and out for medics. Not a good day.
Our walk posed no problems, moving from sublime sunshine, through windy fluvial valleys, to fog-shrouded mountain trails, before arriving in a state of exhaustion at our accommodation for the night. Hot chocolate and dinner were a welcome treat, as was my sleeping bag.
The next morning the external fog was gone, but an internal fog had taken over: a sore throat and the onset of flu. If we had persisted with the Cho La plan, this would have been the day of the pass crossing. I clearly made the right decision as I would not have had the strength to do the crossing in this physical state. As it was, the day was hard enough for me with uphills and downhills to Khumjung, followed by an uncomfortable night due to breathing difficulties.
The village of Khumjung itself was a delight; a quiet Sherpa community where people went about their daily lives without too much disturbance from tourists. A neat and tidy village, most of its inhabitants were busy harvesting potatoes when we arrived. Early the next morning I was woken by the sound of drums, cymbals and horns from the nearby monastery; a procession heading off into the hills to perform last rites. With the monks and caretaker away, it meant that I was not able to see what the monastery is known for: the head of a yeti.
The short walk from Khumjung to Namche was mainly a steep downhill walk in gorgeous sunshine. Near the Hillary School in Khumjung a very long mani wall stretches along the path and from there we climbed to a bucolic pasture with cows, flowers and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains before commencing the at times dizzying descent to Namche. An early arrival at the tea house meant I had plenty of time to give my body a rest.
We covered the final descent from Namche to Lukla in two days and what struck me most on the way down was the odd assortment of trekkers that were coming up the trail. Several walkers had boom boxes in the side pockets of their backpacks, loudly playing their particular taste in music. Apart from the need to charge these devices at every tea house (or carry a large supply of batteries), the concept of forcing everyone around you to listen to your favourite music seems very selfish to me, when you have the option to use a pair of ear phones. And heaven forbid one should not list to music at all, but to the sounds around you!
The other technology increasingly visible are drones. As we descended from Namche to the Hillary Bridge, we spotted a young trekker who had his small and delicate drone laid out right on the trail, ready for a sturdy hiking boot to step onto it. I suggested to him he should move it off the trail as there was a yak train headed for the bridge not far behind us. He looked at me dumbfounded and I had to repeat my advice to him several times before he moved it off the trail with visible reluctance. Thirty seconds later the yaks thundered past; his drone would have been in smithereens if he had not moved it. And in case you wonder, no, he did not thank me.
In our last few days, the amount of people coming up the trail grew steadily. We watched large groups of Chinese and scores of young backpackers as they commenced the trek, chattering away how it looked just like the movie. And then it hit me: I realised that this was the flow on effect of last year’s movie release of Everest, resulting in this increase of tourism. The increase in tourism is a positive for Nepal, particularly after the earthquake, but not everything associated with that increase is positive. Unfortunately, it is also resulting in culturally inappropriately dressed tourists. With tonnes of websites providing clear information on what is culturally appropriate to wear in Nepal, it was surprising to see the amount of deep cut and sleeveless tops on women, tight leggings with net cutouts and minuscule shorts. I’m certainly no prude, but as a visitor in a country you show respect to that country’s culture. The Nepali people are far too polite to say anything to you directly, but don’t be surprised if they laugh at your sartorial faux-pas with their compatriots. Do your research!
We did manage to catch an earlier flight out of Lukla and while I looked forward to warm showers and comfortable beds, the return seemed almost too fast, reminding me of the sadness I used to feel as a child returning from holidays, when I would watch the scenery outside the train gradually but inevitable change to the familiar scenes of home. And I don’t think I will every lose that feeling at the end of a holiday; the despair of not being “away” anymore.