At 3am this morning I awoke to the noise of someone hitting a hammer hard against the wall in the next room. I didn’t get back to sleep after that, but instead of being irritated I found myself thinking that if I’m going to be kept awake, I’m grateful that it’s in a place like this. I caught up on emails for an hour or so and then just laid here with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy the time until the alarm went off and it was time to get up and get going. After a quick porridge and boiled egg breakfast we hit the trail.
The skies were clear and beautiful and opened up to huge vistas of snow capped mountain peaks with beautiful glacier fed rivers weaving their way down into the valleys. The hike to Namche Bazaar is incredible for several reasons:
First, you get to start out in the lower mountains where brush and pine trees cover most of the landscape. There are several spots where (in one photo) you can see lush green vegetation below and huge daunting peaks towering over them. It’s not only a beautiful contrast, but also a perfect illustration of the effects of altitude on mountain vegetation. You can see a tree line in many mountains around the world, but in the Himalayas it’s quite dramatic and unique.
Second, there are several river crossings via cable bridges. Some of these bridges are only 20 feet in the air while others dangle several hundred feet above the rocks and water. They can be challenging for anyone uncomfortable with heights, especially as they swing back and forth in the wind and bounce under your feet. The fun dial goes up a notch when entire yak teams are trying to cross at the same time and the bridge begins to tilt. Reflecting back on my last visit to the Himalayas I noticed that the bridges were nicer and newer than some of the old “Indiana Jones” style bridges that existed 15 years ago. So bridge crossings now are done with much more confidence. Still, there’s always a few that need a little coaxing and encouragement to get across. A couple times I was met with concerned faces or language when I leaned over the side to take photos, but I’m sure those comments were well intended 😉.
Lastly, the ascent is dramatic with over 3300 vertical feet climbed. The last two hours are pure switchbacks that make you feel like you're on an endless stair machine. This is the portion of the trek where people start to feel winded or even headaches, it’s not exactly slow acclimatization.
I can honestly say I enjoyed this section thoroughly along with the rest of the team. It turns out we kept a great pace which was not too fast or slow and we made it up the last portion laughing at jokes and enjoying good conversation to take our minds off of the stairmaster. We made our way into Namche with plenty of fuel in the tank and wide eyed as we took in one of the most impressive high mountain bazaars in the world! I remember it being big (for a mountain village) but it has grown and flourished in my absence. I hardly recognize some parts of it. Music could be heard everywhere over cafe speakers and there are WiFi signs in almost every lodge.
I stayed in Namche 14 years ago, and one of my fondest memories was that of a friendly and skillful cook at the “Namche Hotel”. He was lively man that had made his way from the Mongolian region to settle here in Namche and he would tell me, “name anything you what to eat and I can make it for you”. Then he proved it with some of the best lasagna and hamburgers I have ever eaten.
The reason I bring him up is because one of the first people I saw when I stepped into the lodge today was him! I couldn’t believe the coincidence and how quickly I recognized him! I immediately introduced myself again and showed him a photo on my phone of the two of us from all those years ago. He treated me with all the same friendliness and big smile that I remembered, and I found out that he now owns four lodges here in Namche!
After we settled into our room at “The Nest at Namche” we headed out to explore (and for me, to remember). I was shocked as I walked by a full on North Face outlet store with authentic equipment and apparel. As you walk in, you’re instantly transported to just another gear shop in your home town, which is a bizarre experience in Namche. Next we stopped at one of the many coffee shops that look and feel like you’re in downtown Chamonix, enjoying coffee and cappuccinos to the sound of club jazz. It’s enjoyable, but also blew me away and left me feeling out of place. It’s this kind of development that makes Namche Bazaar stand out among all the Himalayan villages. It’s always been the most advanced and populated location in the area because it has always served as a central location of trade and commerce in the Himalayas. When you leave Namche in any direction you step back several decades in services and infrastructure.
After the coffee shop we slowly made our way back to the lodge by way of various shops and stands. The wooden dining hall was packed and alive with nearly a hundred trekkers and climbers. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was warm and inviting with conversations flowing easily and stories being shared (and embellished). It’s moments like this when I sit back and realize that this scene, with all the smells and sounds and people, is the kind image that I’ll never forget. I ended the evening with a feeling of gratitude and well being, 3am wake up call totally forgotten.