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A Personal Anecdote On The Rediscovery Of Pain And Pleasure

In January @naim.ibu travelled to Nepal with his wife and their 7-year-old daughter. This is a personal anecdote of how trekking through Shivapuri Nagarjun National park helped his family gain a better understanding of pain and pleasure. @naim.ibu’s family was guided by @warlockgraphics and his 9-year-old daughter. Their two-day trekking through the spectacular hills took them from Sundarijal, a small village in the outskirts of of Kathmandu to Chisapani, a small mountain village and then to Nagarkot,a picturesque mountain village in the north.

As you make your way through the madness of the honking traffic your most pleasant experience probably is to treat yourself to a Nepalese mo-mo – an exotic steamed bun with fillings of minced meat. The fumes from the rickshaws, the acrid stench of the dilapidated drains from which stray dogs and rodents pop their heads out every now and then – that’s Kathmandu. Pandemonium writ large. This is definitely not your most ideal place to spend a holiday. But if you brave the journey through the muddy dirt roads there’s a whole world for you to explore.

Sundarijal, a small picturesque village named after a Hindu deity is where you start this journey. You challenge yourself to a hike up a steep flight of never-ending steps leading to a fantasy landscape. 

Captivated at first by the magical beauty of the surroundings, little do you realize how ill-prepared the wannabe-hiker in you is for the road ahead. Before you realize extreme fatigue kicks in. You feel out of breath, find yourself desperately gasping for air. A few hours into the journey your toes are numb. The pain becomes excruciating. Your legs refuse to carry you any longer. The pain on your shoulders becomes so unbearably intense that you feel like every single fibre in your trapezius muscle is on fire. You look around and see a frail-looking 60-year-old woman carrying her own weight uphill. That’s when you realize how incredibly frivolous your sense of pain really is.

You spend the night in a wooden shed in Chisapani – a village named after the Nepali phrase for ‘cold water’. The temperature is approaching sub-zero.  There’s chilly mountain air continuously getting in through the gaps between the wooden planks.  Your toilet is nothing more than a hole in the ground.  Your fingers are so numb that you seriously think you are about to lose a finger or two to frost-bite.  Then you look into your 7-year-old daughter’s face as she sits across a make-shift table with a glass of warm milk and see a glow in her eyes – a glow that tells you for the first time in her life she’s just learnt the art of digging up little gems of pleasure buried in rocks of pain.

You wake up in the wee hours just before the break of dawn and sit on a rubble outside, feeling the pain of chilly mountain wind on your face. You sit there, totally oblivious to the pain of the chilly wind, utterly spellbound by the magical moment unfolding in front of you. You allow yourself to so effortlessly immerse into a state of deep spiritual intoxication as the mighty Himalayas light up in an incredible golden glow right in front of you. 

Day two of the journey is no different. Hours of hiking through never-ending mountain trails. You see tears in your daughter’s eyes as she tries to cope with the pain of walking for over 8 hours through unforgiving mountain terrain. You think you have just reached your emotional threshold level. Then you see another child - a girl a year or two younger than your own, chopping firewood with a sickle. You find yourself inadvertently alternating your gaze between her face and the half-meter blade of the bagging hook in her hand. You wonder if the child has learned to mask her pain as a survival tactic or is genuinely inured to pain. That’s when you realize your own child’s momentary pain is in fact a necessary tool - a yardstick she’d need all her life to measure many a pleasure she’s yet to live through in life.  

“There is pleasure that is born of pain”, - Robert Bulwer-Lytton


Encountering our limits

Notes from Lobuche East (6119m)

I have lived here for few years and fell in love with it, not particularly for conveniences in a city that inhibits nearly million people. What is special about Kathmandu is chaos, dust, winter cold, summer heat, and relentless traffic. Let your self suffocate in pollution while gazing the drama unfolding before your eyes on grand scale in Kathmandu. It is a scene of abject poverty, life struggle, garbage, temples and shrines in one single pot. Cut the immediate noise and stare beyond, you notice there is powerful, spiritual, cultural elements embedded in the society that somehow intertwined in the fabric. It is vibrant, bustling, colourful and moving.

I am not here this time to discover Kathmandu scene though, but to experience other side of spectrum, the real natural beauty of Nepal – the majestic mountains. It has been nearly two years since I was in Rolwaling Himal with DHIEXPLORER team Usha and Inthi.  This trip to khumbu valley is special, not only there will be no leaches but spectacular mountains, as well as first Maldivian women climbing a mountain above 6000m. Muna is determined to summit Lobuce East (6119m), and it will be monumental challenge for someone who has no hiking or mountaineering experience at all.

A day later in the evening while we were in the hotel a knock on the door. A friend travels to Nepal for a surprise, and indeed it was beautiful to see an old friend and chat about the trip and life over a local dhal baat dinner. We spoke about our good old days back in University and small hikes that annoyed, frustration and hesitation of walking uphill and down over a good laugh.

Following day, on 2nd April we arrived airport morning at 5, and we have barely slept at night. As duffels were off loaded, the long queue before check in gates stretched till the parking lot. I have no doubts that everyone was nervous; there was a backlog of 2 days due to bad weather in Lukla. The limited flights before afternoon air turbulence means we had to be there in Lukla before 10. Finally, among all these mountain lovers we managed to get to a desk, thanks to our guide who is meticulous and efficient in organizing mountain adventure trips.  Everything checked, weighted and waiting began. We enjoyed our morning ritual, the espresso, set nervously for boarding call hoping we will leave as promised. After an hour of waiting it was our turn- airborne.

We were curious, anxious and nervous in the flight. It was a beautiful morning, and 10 minutes into the flight the Himalayan giants were unveiled in the eastern sky. Endless peaks rise and shine in morning glory. It was just breathe taking. Green valleys against snow-capped mountains as far as I can see are true wonders of nature. A unique scene that is only owned by Himalayan plains. We arrived Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla - a small airstrip that hangs on a mountain slope is an attraction in its own right. The last gateway to Khumbu region. We had breaki and masla chai while enjoying acrobatic manoeuvres of the helicopter pilots. Helicopters and small aircrafts dominate skyline of lukla during trekking season, and it has been integrated part of tourism driven economy in the region.  

The same day late morning, we started hiking from Lukla along the river dut koshi. The valley has been cut by powerful glacier water running down stream which is rich in glacial silt. It is a heaven to pine and rhododendron (national flower) that blooms in spring in bright colours, and scenic slopes on both sides are also rich in white cherry blooms that shine brightly against deep blue sky. The farming community inhibiting these remote corners are ethnic Sherpas and Tamang. Simple but tastefully decorated houses are complimented by roadside stalls to attract passing tourists. These mountain folks have changed very little over millennia, their rich heritage and culture still very much alive. After 6 hours of hike with few breaks to energize we arrived Monjo (2800 m) for the night. 

We left Monjo after breakfast and continued hike deep into the valley. Upper section of the hill gets narrower and contour runs steep uphill on the green slopes, and rewards with elusive mountains from afar. We entered Sagarmatha National park just before our lunch break. There is no physical barrier to the park but vigilant police check posts in the buffer zone that control who comes in and goes out. It is not only the natural beauty of lower Khmbu valley that is significant, but number of tourists and locals converge on these dirt trails. At times the trail was so congested, we had to wait for our turn, and then give way. It is further exuberated by number of porters who embark the journey of 2 days from Lukla to Namche carrying 3 times of their weight. They are truly unspoken heroes who provide and supply for tourists and local needs alike. Their resilience and endurance are not only story of life struggle, but compassion and determination of human will to live.

After 4 hours, we made to our destination for the day, the legendary Namche Bazar (3400m), it is the economic and tourism hub in the valley. A semi circular village nestled on the slope looking over the mountains that serves and entertains tourist. Its small alleys are decorated with colourful shops, bars, bakeries and hotels. During peak season, this remote settlement is swamped by hikers, porters, yaks and donkeys, which make Namche experience very special. 

As they say "go up sleep low", we hiked next day just above Namche for acclimatization. The trail was packed with trekkers attempting to get first view of promised mountain scenery. On the top of ridge, we saw mountains in full glory, rising to the sky as if someone has painted them on a wall. We gazed at Thamserku (6623m), Ama Dablam (6812m), Lhotse (8516m), Sagarmatha (everest, 8840), Nuptse (7861m) and Tobuche (6542m) in awe. It was only 3 hours day hike, but altitude was definitely felt, especially for Muna who has just broken her own record.

Following day we left hotel around 8 in the morning. It was hiker’s highway accompanied by yaks carrying equipment’s for expeditions at Everest Base Camp. The trail contour runs steadily up from Namche till the intersection to Gokyo. From there we descended and crossed river Imja Kohla over suspension bridge. After long Lunch break we began walking steep uphill through ancient pine forest. Unfortunately, it was over cast and the sight was not so dramatic. Yet, Amadablam was occasionally unveiled.

We arrived Tengboche 3867m after 8 hours. A remote settlement with few tourist accommodations and a monastery looking over Himalaya. The monastery also accommodates the largest Gompa in the Khumbu region. After short break at the lodge we enjoyed watching monks and porters playing football. A mountain folk, whose endurance seems no boundary no matter the altitude. The next day early morning we went to explore monastery and gompa, it is the famous monastery featured in the movie “Everest”, decorated in rich Buddhist scripture and colourful Tibetan architect - a significant spiritual landmark for the people living in the area. Sadly, photography was not allowed.

"A Little bit up, a little bit down, a bit right a bit left". It's factually improper terms that describe daily trail contours giving impression that it's not that challenging and not that long. In fact, following day we covered about 400m in elevation over 8 hours from Tengnboche to Dingboche (4485m). The Himalayan rugged and dry plains and hills finally end here. It felt almost you could touch the snowy peaks that cover whole skyline around. Our spirit was good, healthy and sound. 

Next day early morning Usha headed to hills for early morning photography, who seems prefer bitter cold rather than warmth of sleeping bag. As it was an acclimatization day we decided to hike Dingboche peak, which reminded me of Goyo Ri, a steep inclined mountain just behind the Dingboche. Lower section consists hilly slopes while upper section is rigid, covered by boulders and ridges.  Long days of hike, altitude and exhaustion were very evident during the hike. We decided Muna should to rest and walk back with Ang (our guide) as she was having breathing difficulties. Her phase count has become increasing slower and slower as we gain more and more altitude. At the same time lack of appetite caused by limited O2 was not aiding her with energy needed. It takes hours for her to empty half a plate, no wonder why she was dreaming of her smoked tuna dishes back home. We often force ourselves to eat; our body needs much more calorie to sustain heat and to compliment our endurance at higher elevation. No food no power, no power no hike, no hike no destination – food intake is the ultimate saviour.

Rest of the team pressed on along the ridge but decided to descent just before the summit due to strong wind. We had a long break at the mercy of boulders protected from wind, and gazed at the mountains, particularly Tabouche (6501m) and Cholatse (6440m) - the view was just extraordinary. When we were returning, Usha and Sagar, climibing friend of Ang took a detour to visit mediation hut and for better photography location. A small stone structure above the village is a known place of solitude and spirituality.

That afternoon we spent roaming in the village, enjoyed our hot shower after days of last washing. A warm shower can be so precious after days of sweat, heat dust that pile on the skin, layers on layers. Probably there is nothing more rewarding than being able to feel hot water trickling on the face and skin, at least that is true on the mountain. We ended the day with illy coffeing at the local bakery over a chocolate cake.

Next morning we headed west from Dingboche across foothills and valleys towards Himalayan snow-capped mountains. Alpine meadows, rock bursts and boulders cover these alpine pastures that become vibrant and colourful during wet season. Mountain ridges, rugged slopes and exposed walls were illuminated in black and brown hues in mighty khumbu valley. North Face of Ama Dablam (6870m) dominates the sky from the east while Lothse, Island Peak, Peak 38, and Makalu shines far behind to the east. On the opposite side, exposed rocks and ridges of Cholatse and Tabouche rise to western sky and further to north Lobuche East (6619m), our final destination is erected.

We had a quick lunch break at Thuglawe and pushed further to north over dry riverbed and gradually ascended along the ridgeline. Just above Thuglawe is a highest memorial site on earth. Stone structures with the name of fallen mountaineers are scattered among the boulders and rocks while colourful Tibetan prayer flags swing in gentle breeze, and giant Himalayan griffins hover in deep blue sky, absolute solitude and peace. A tribute to those who have conquered their life as well as for those who have cut short their life in pursing their dreams among mighty giants in Himalaya. It is a place of triumph and tragedy that reminds human endurance and nature’s power, a very sobering moment for us indeed.

We arrived Lobuche (4900m) late afernoon. It is few stone houses tucked between Lobuche East, Pomuri, Lothse just below rugged foothills. Teahouses and Lodges were over crowded and overbooked as numbers of accommodations are limited deep in the valley. It is very apparent how mass trekking impacting the sensitive environment and people inhibiting these remote corners.

After breakfast, we hit the trail in the morning from Lobuche (4900m) contouring over the hills adjacent to mighty Khumbu Glacier. Most of the trail run gradually uphill on the glacial moraine fed by the mountains on both sides. The landscape is dramatic, wild and rigid, ice pinnacles of Khumbu Glacier dominate below Nuptse and shine in blue hues. Just opposite to of Khumbu Ice Fall, expedition camps are set for Everest expedition. The tent city is home for thousands during climbing season; vibrant and colourful makeshift tents and camps shine brightly in vivid shades against deep blue ice.

We had lunch in one of the camps where our guide will attempt to summit Everest this season. It was rewarding to get insight of how tent city operates and serves people coming to live and conquer themselves in this remote place for months. We returned to Gorakshep late evening after long day on the run. Golden hues lit up the Khumbu giants that evening when sun set, and gradually faded into darkness for a long cold night. We tucked in our sleeping bags in our tents and braced for some rest. 

First night in the tent battered by the wind, we hardly had any sleep in the tent. Morning at 5 we, Inthi, Usha & I left to reach popular summit Kalapattar (5600m) hoping to be on the summit to see the sunrise over the mountain in east. Previous evening it was apparent that Muna was suffering mildly from altitude sickness and exhaustion and decided to rest and recover. It was bitter cold and howling wind made the hike very difficult. Toes and fingers were so cold and numb; it was impossible to say if it was cold or hot. Just after we left we realized that our water reserves were frozen despite all efforts to keep it running, fortunately our guide was carrying some warm tea. Half way through “are you heading up” Usha asked Inthi in doubt. “I think so..” replied Inthi cautiously. We pressed on under darkness on rugged hill covered with boulders and rocks. Finally, sun kissed our faces just before we reached the summit. The view was magical, absolutely stunning. Early morning light rays deflected on Chomolungma (Goddess Mother of Mountains, The Everest) and awaken the mystical landscape of great Himalaya. A scene of wonder, nirvana and wisdom. 

We Left from Gorakshep after late breakfast. Back enroute to Lobuche East base camp for finale. There were many people who had summited Kalapattar and EBC descending back to Namche on that day. Long and tough trekking conditions were apparent among many who have endured the trip. Some were evacuated by medic due to fatigue, exhaustion while others collapsed. We had lunch at Lobuche and continued to Lobuche Base Camp. When we arrived at base camp, tents were ready. After dinner we played cards and early to bed. Rest and recover.

Our camp was set in a dried river basin watching over Lobuche East, Nuptse and Ama Dablam and many more. The isolated camp gave us much needed space and silence to concentrate on the climb. Next day we had rope work and other essential climbing technique sessions. Other than that we had no activity, 1st day without hike, it was a bit weird not to move. It was also full moon that night so we hanged around the ridges and enjoyed the Himalaya shining in the dusk.