Hiking in the Himalayas, a journey of discovery.
When thinking about the Himalayas, images of snow capped mountains, luscious green valleys, meandering rivers and traditional Nepalese villages, come flooding to mind. I smile even just thinking about my journey there, and a wave of happiness, contentment, peace and thankfulness, to name a few, sweep over me as I rememise , trekking through the Himalayas to reach our final destination, Island Peak.
However, let me tell you, a few weeks ago these feelings were no where to be found, as i prepared for my departure to the Himalayas, thinking only of the destination i.e Island peak, a 6,100m Mountain. Although I loved the outdoors, and walking in particular, the highest I had climbed was a mere 700m, so naturally , there was a mixture of emotions, as I prepared to leave for the Himalayas.
As the time grew nearer, I began researching blogs, videos of Island peak, peoples testimonials, and physical preparation prior to the expedition. All the information gave a insight to the challenges that lay ahead, e.g the acclimations, the daily trekking hours, the equiptment needed, altitude sickness e.c.t and some described the natural beauty and landscape that was to behold along the way.
I knew it would be a challenge, and I loved this idea of doing something I had never done before.I would be joining a team of 6 others, guided my a Trekking company called Namaste Nomad. The guide, Mohan, who I am also lucky enough to call my partner, is originally from Nepal, and takes groups out to the Himalayas often on trekking adventures. So this was my chance to spend some time with my partner, and also experience the Nepalese culture and explore the wonderful Himalayas.
These were my initial thoughts, quite simple and easy going, however what ever I expected this journey to be about, could not even compare to the experience I had, because some things you cant prepare for.No matter how many guide books or articles you read, it will never be able to tell you how the Himalayas could give a light to your life like you have never experienced before. This is a personal blog of my first experience in the Himayalas, and all it has to offer.
Our first day began, trekking from lukla to Phakding village, (beautiful river side village).. Leaving the small but busy village, all geared up with our bag packs and our trekking poles, and with a chant of “JUM JUM” from our lead Sherpa, we headed upwards slowly, our guide and porter setting a constant but easy pace, to let us find our rhythm while walking and breathing.
I was still on a high after flying in the small 19 seater propeller plane from Kathmandu to Lukla. I’ve never been so close to the pilot, he was literally a foot away from me, but a great way to experience the “worlds most dangerous flight”.
I remember just looking down at the luscious green valleys , and thinking ” wow, i’m actually in the Himalayas”. I felt like a child again, awaiting our adventure to start,the feeling of joyful excitement and anticipation, as we started our trek.
Being the only member who had not experienced altitude trekking before, I was conscious of this, and worried that I would not be able to keep up with the group.I was reasonably physically fit, but I had images of me puffing and panting on the side of the route, trying to keep with the pace of everyone.
But our Guide and Sherpa was extremely organised and always communicated with the group, making sure everyone was ok .It was a great comfort that there was always a member of the team at the front and back of the group, ensuring that we all kept together, but also if we felt we needed to take it a little slower, there was always someone with you. We took regular breaks along the way, taking time to enjoy the spectacular scenery, and also catch a breather. Mohan was always advising us to layer up or delayer or drink water, watching the group for anyone that needed assistance or extra encouragement.
Apart from the gentle buzz of chitter chatter among the group, it was beautiful to just have the sound of the river rushing below the valley, birds chirping in the trees, yak or donkey bells in the background. All you had to focus on was putting one foot in front of the other and breathing. The grandeur of the river valleys and the backdrop of the towering mountains , made it almost feel surreal at times, as you looked up at this vast landscape. It was so refreshing to have no distractions or sounds of phones, or cars or noises apart from the delicate sounds of the natural surroundings.I felt instantly at peace and happier looking at this wonder. All the worries of home life was forgotten and it was the first time in a long time, that I felt alive in some sense. It gives you that time and space, to just enjoy living, and makes you appreciate the life that you have even more.
You see the reality of other peoples lives, and the hardships that they have to go through on a daily basis, to earn a living, to support their families. Many days we passed men, women and sometimes children, carrying heavy loads on their backs, bent over nearly at a 90 degree angle, supported by a stick that was cut short to stabilise this weight, heading towards the next village or beyond. What struck me, was their humility, their smile upon greeting or a gentle Namaste, and ability to carry out these duties, with such strength, determination and focus. I learnt that its not the most expensive hiking boots, or trekking accessories that was going to get me through this journey, but my own inner strength and focus to keep going. A simple , but invaluable lesson .
The villages where we stayed, all offered something different, and each one held a unique quality to them. We stayed in traditional tea houses, typically family owned, with clean and basic accommodation. If you wanted WiFi, a place to charge your phone e.c.t, or a shower, it was a added cost, but some things you learn to live without for a few days!. It definitely makes that first shower, a luxurious treat , ill tell you that!
Although there is hotels also available, I personally valued the tea houses more as it felt very homely and it was lovely to meet the families . We stayed in a local sherpas house in khumjung that held a incredible record of summiting 38 times, Everest being 21 of those times, His name is Tashi sherpa..
It amazed me how this man had held this incredible achievement, yet his home was so humble and simple. There was just a hat, hanging above the door, marked with his records. No gold medals, no cabinet of glassware, no fineries, just a humble symbol of his achievements. I felt privledged to be staying in his home. In the evenings, the families would light a fire, fueled by the traditional method of dried yaks dung, in a canaster in the middle of the tea house. Groups would gather around it for the evening, chatting, reading books or catching up with social media. One of our group members thankfully brought a pack of cards, which was great entertainment not only for us, but also one evening the Sherpas sons took part and had a few games with us. The locals were always so welcoming and simple things like this , was a treasured moment.
I felt at home and comforted by their company ,and grateful that they took the time and interest to spend time with us, and make this experience unique and memorable. There was always a peaceful atmosphere in the tea houses, often letting you reflect on the different thoughts, sights and feelings during the days journey.. Its something I actually hadn’t done at home in a long time. There is always so many distractions, or things to be doing, that this was a unfamiliar routiene, but one that was most welcomed and valued by the end of the journey. It was so refreshing to have no distractions or noise, just to sit with your thoughts and reflect. It gave you time, to have time away from the busy life we lead normally, and discover things about yourself or your life that you never thought of before.
Each day , waking up , I felt good and ready for the days trek, excited to see what beautiful landscape lay ahead of us upon the journey to the next village. But each day brought new challenges , as naturally we were acclimatising to new altitudes, and our bodies were working harder to cope. It’s amazing how going from a lower altitude to a higher altitude of a few hundred meters can make on your breathing. Our guide made sure we all had time to adjust, staying at villages of lower altitude for a night before moving up to higher altitude the next day, continuing this plan until we reached base camp. This being my first high altitude trek, I definitely found it a challenge at times and my whole concentration would be simply focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and breathing in rhythm!.
I never dared to even look up from my feet, in fear I would see the distance above me and alter my concentration from moving forward. I knew physically that there was no reason why my body could not keep going, but i learnt that it was my mental and emotional strength that was being challenged , and that’s what was going to get me to the next point. As we passed porters young and old, individual of all ages, groups and lone travelers, people with physical disabilities, I quickly learned that this was not a matter of ego or physical capability, it was a journey of inner strength and determination, that pushed us each day, and from that I was finding greater happiness, proudness and peace, growing as the journey continued.
I remember one evening in Dingbouche village , midway through our trek to island peak, myself and my partner decided to trek up to one of the stupas, along a hillside. We only set out to reach the first stupa, but upon getting there, we were eager to reach the next one and then once there we pushed on to the next one , until we were scrambling to the top of the next stupa. For me, this was the highest I had been , 4400m, and For a moment I sat on the rock over looking this picturesque village , listening to the flags gently sway in the wind, looking back at the rough terrain we climbed up to reach this peak.
I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratefulness and accomplishment that we made it together to this next point. Although it may seem like a small hike, it didn’t matter. It was the act of supporting each other to the next peak, the encouraging words , the comardaryship of getting there together and accomplishment of looking back at this challenge and seeing how far we had come , to reach this point and over look it’s beauty. It was moments and lessons like these that you couldn’t describe in a travel iteniary of reasons to go to the Himalayas!.
Whether as a couple or a group, it’s amazing the amount of support you get from each other and for me personally, what you learn from each individual along the way. Within the group , there is people from different backgrounds, experiences, ages, life journeys and characterists. This can be a positive and a negative thing, as people may clash along the way, for what ever reason,but that’s always the way with groups.
But a journey like this, I found that the group was invaluable to lift up spirits in times when we were all feeling lethargic or tired, missing home comforts , or days when you thought that one more step seemed almost impossible. It’s the simple humour, or the encouragement from a member that keeps you going and that’s what makes the journey all the more enjoyable , achievable and memorable. It’s a amazing achievement to have a journey like this with a group of people, knowing we all carry different goals or reasons to be here, but to go through the journey together, getting to know one another , and learn from each other’s ways of life and experiences. For this reason I would definitely advise to go with a group if thinking of taking this adventure.
Our guide Mohan was clearly passionate about getting all of us to island peak safely . Every day he would check if we all felt OK, had enough to eat, sleep, drink and checking with people of they were experiencing any problems that commonly occur, e.g diarrhoea, nausea, headaches e.c.t
. Mohan and his team really looked after us, and were constantly looking out for our best interests. We were advised to stick to a vegetarian diet , so the usual meals consisted of porridge in the morning, Dal bhat for lunch, and generally dal bhat for dinner and ginger tea in between . Looking around at other groups , some were eating pizza/ burgers and although there was times I craved the same comforts, I knew the food we were eating was far more nutritious and full of protein which was needed for the amount of trekking we were doing. I learnt my lesson when going out one evening for a stroll , I diverted away from the regular meals, and treats myself to a lovely cinnamon bun and latte.
But I sorely regretted it, as diarrhoea soon set in. In normal circumstances , it would be fine, but when your trekking in high altitude, you need all the energy possible, and it effects you not only physically but mental and emotional ability ,which is impertinent when meeting new challenges every day. Also while trekking, we witnessed the meat being carried in open baskets, exposed to the air and sun, to the next villages. It’s things like this that make you grateful for a vegetarian diet! Getting sick on a journey like this is not fun, and seriously can effect your ability to carry on, as I later found out.
After 9 days , we were approaching Island peak. We stayed at chukung, where we rented our crampons and abseiling accessories , and spent time practicing jummering and getting used to the equipment before the next day. Although excited and anxious to finally begin our assent upon the mountain ,the dropping temperatures and increasing altitude had a immediate effect of this on my breathing and energy levels. Most of the group felt good and ready for the climb, but not being to this altitude before, and still having loose stools, I knew it would be more of a challenge for me.
As we arrived to base camp, i was surprised at how well set up it was. The tents were of good quality, warm and spacious. Trekking before the season started definitely had its advantages, as there was not many people at the camp.We were provided with a bigger tent where we could all meet for lunch/dinner, and I have to say , the food was good, given limited resources and equipment Not to far from base camp, you get a fantastic view of this magnificent glacier valley, its almost sureel looking down at this wonder ,with nothing but these giant peaks surrounding you. After a early dinner, we all headed to our tents to catch a few hours rest before our assent at midnight.
Wakening up in the black of night, we all prepared for our assent. For me this was exciting yet nerve wreking as I knew I felt weaker from the diarrhoea, but my mind was determined to say ” You can do it”. Gathering around in a group circle, we said a prayer to the mountains to keep us safe, before our assent. After a hour into the trek, unfortunately I had to turn back as the cramps and nausea took hold, and although my mind was willing, i knew my body was not. At this point, i knew my mind was not functioning normally, and sense was telling me to just turn back, but my stubborness was telling me to keep going. My legs felt like jelly, and for some reason i felt drunk, and had no cordination or concentration. Looking back at it now, it was a frightening battle going on inside my head, but thats when I was so thankful for the expert guides and sherpas, as they see this happening and know how to handle these situations straight away. Like being drunk, your sense of reason leaves you, and you will fight with your shadow because you think you know what you are doing!. I remember even saying to Mohan , the lead guide , ” I’ll climb this by myself”!. After a few more steps , the guides made me see reason, and arranged our porter, sudeep, to take me and another group member back to base camp.
The team were amazing through out the whole trek, but I have to say, they really made me feel safe and supported , from start to finish. You can see how passionate they are about getting the team safely to their destination, what ever distance that may be when the time comes. Like a family, they comfort , support and encourage you when you need it, and their kind nepalise culture is unlike any that I have met before.
I am looking forward to my next venture to Nepal in April and aim to assent to Everest Base camp in September. What ever it is about the place, people, group you’re with, or your experience, the Himalayas will always call you back to experience its beauty.
While trekking back to Lukla, I thought i would feel disappointed or sad that i had failed to make it to Island Peak. But this had been such a beautiful journey and adventure, that nothing could take away this special feeling of contentment and self achievement. I will always cherish the memories of this journey, as it gave me a new lease of life, and a better perspective on life in general. The #culture, the #nature, #mountains, physical and mental challenges, and the people you meet on this journey, has made this experience one of self discovery and has taught me to be a more humble, grateful and a happier person in general. Its a very strange feeling to describe, but this is a journey not to be missed, and I cannot wait to be back there.
Writer- NAMASTE By JoY Carroll