Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Everest Base Camp Trek Part 6 ~ Back to Lukla!

Part 6 ~ Our last assault on Lukla was well-coordinated by General Adrian.  The Airforce would take its first flights in and the infantries would trudge in later..
On a mission!

So it was.  The very last day of our trek.  Our hearts were in a dilemma.  As much as we were glad to be back to Lukla soon, we knew that our journey was coming to an end.  None of us wanted it to end.  Despite the hardship, we all had so much adventure in the past twelve days.  Many of us wanted more.

[In this Travellogue, I have tried my best to credit all the photos to their respective photographers, and I tried my best to recall verbatim what members said during the whole trip. Most events are as I could remember them. Those who have expressed clearly to me their wishes not to have their photos shared online I have post-processed the photographs so that their faces are pixelated to protect their privacies.]

Table of Contents:
  1. EBC Trek Part 1 ~ An epic adventure.  Kathmandu to Lukla.  Lukla to Phakding.  Phakding to Namche Bazaar.   Acclimatisation in Namche Bazaar.
  2. EBC Trek Part 2 ~ The air got thinner & the body got more tired.  Namche Bazaar to Tengboche & Debuche.  Debuche to Dingboche.  Acclimatisation in Dingboche.
  3. EBC Trek Part 3 ~ The Final Push.  Dingboche to Lobuche.  Lobuche to Gorak Shep and to EBC and back to Gorak Shep. 
  4. EBC Trek Part 4 ~ Kala Patthar
  5. EBC Trek Part 5 ~ The unrelenting march from day to night - Gorak Shep to Periche.  Another long day to night march from Periche to Namche Bazaar.
  6. EBC Trek Part 6 ~ No matter how tired... just go into Cruise-control mode walking from Namche Bazaar to finally arrive back in Lukla in the dark, yet again.
  7. EBC Trek Part 7 ~ Flying back to Kathmandu.  Rest and Relax in Kathmandu and flying home!

EBC TREK Day 12 ~ Back to where we started - Lukla, here we come!
29 Nov 2017

Here is the Relive video of our last day of trek from Namche Bazaar all the way back to Lukla:

Relive 'Everest Base Camp trek Day 11- the last burst of energy from Namche Bazaar right back to Lukla arriving at 5:30pm. It was all dark by then already.'

Here is the Strava Flyby of this day's trek.  Just click on the image below, play and zoom in and see.  Our last burst of fire.  Our last walk.  We would miss this trek I was very sure.

Here is my Garmin record of the days' trek.  We managed to arrived at Lukla at 5:34pm, allowing Babu a win over Adrian with their wager against each other.

The VIDEO:  Back to Lukla, a home-sweet-home kind of bitter-sweet feeling...

Pleasant surprise early in the morning...

I was really pleasantly surprised by a special gift from Mimi, Ka Lin and Zaid early in the morning at the dining hall of the Green Tara.  A big thank you from me!

Such wonderful thoughts from Ka Lin, Mimi and Zaid! Thank you!

The foot-soldiers getting ready to set off..

8am was the set off time for the trek downwards from Namche Bazaar.   Honestly I had never trekked from Namche Bazaar right back to Lukla in one day's time.  The last time we did the same 6 years ago, we trekked from Namche Bazaar and spent one night in Monjo before trekking the next morning down to Lukla.  Thus, such a stretch seemed a little far, altogether a horizontal distance of 21km.
But of course, compared with what we had gone through the past ten days, this was just a little walk.
"OK lah, this is it, ladies!" I said. "This is the home run.  Let's just do it!"

Cheng Cheng said: "I wanna take a shot with your whole family!" The honour was ours.

Three weeks after our return from Nepal...

The skin on all my fingers were dried and peeling.  Some hardened spots where the dead skin were particularly thickened were irritating as I palpated the face and skin of my patients.  I kept apologising for the hardened skin on my hands.  The deep cold of the mountains had caused my finger skin to die and as the skin renewal cycle of three weeks caught up, the old skin were peeling off and dropping off.
Even until today, my iPhone still refuses to recognise my finger prints on both hands when I tried to unlock it.  And my fingerprint activated door lock at home only managed to identify my fingerprints perhaps 70% of the time.

I was quite sure everyone else in the same team was suffering from the same.  Serene was still complaining of numbness of her toes.

Back in Namche Bazaar...

The last thing on our minds were the numbness of our finger tips.  What was uppermost in our hearts was to get going as soon as possible, and try to reach Lukla before sundown.

The Airforce Helicopter Squadron making their way...

The night before, when Adrian dropped the Helicopter bomb, the first person whose eyes looked sideways in un-concealable eagerness was Ah Tan.
"可以坐直升机啊?我要我要!“ (Can take helicopter ah? I want I want!)
That set off a whole cascade of recruitment into SgTrekker Airforce.  I sat through the whole discussion and listened in amazement at how the guys and gals worked on their combinations and permutations to fill up 4 persons per helicopter.
Darric our chopper pilot making his way to higher ground to receive his helicopter. [Photo: Kong Wan]

Taking a helicopter down from Namche Bazaar down to Lukla was really quite an adventure.  It added a totally different dimension to the whole trip.  It made absolute sense to end the last stretch to Lukla on a high note - the climax of enjoying a chopper ride.
What would take 9 hours on foot could easily be had for 7 minutes.  And the rest of the day could finally be spent relaxing, shopping, eating and sleeping in Lukla... exactly like what a trek was supposed to be.  It would be a really special experience and a real treat for the family.

On that evening before, while everyone was animatedly deliberating , at the dining table, I stole a glance at each of the daughters.  What I saw in their faces were expressions of unwavering resolve to complete the circuit on their own two feet.  A tenacious and purposeful intent that was no different from mine own.  They have their father in them.  Right that very moment, I threw any plan of boarding the helicopter with the other crew members out of the window.  Serene would have to bite the bullet and play the role of the matriarch, and lead by example.

[Photo: Kai Sing]

Thus on this morning at 8:30am as our airforce crew were busying themselves trying to run into the helicopter from the 2 o'clock and the 11 o'clock position, we were already making our way down the steps of Namche Bazzar.

[Photo: Kai Sing]

[Photo: Kai Sing]
Looking back at the photos of the guys and girls in the chopper, I could sense their excitement.
[Photo: Lai Peng]
Landed in Lukla...

And exactly seven minutes later, they set foot on the soil of Lukla, safe and sound, and fully refreshed.  Their mission- to recce the village for some caloric replenishments.

[Photo: Lai Peng]

[Photo: Lai Peng]

[Photo: Lai Peng]

And found they did.  Their brunch and lunch and high tea were spent relaxing in a comfortable cafe with sumptuous dessert and burgers, calories more than enough to make up for what they had be so deprived of in the past ten days.

[Photo: Lai Peng]

Meanwhile, back in Namche Bazaar...

Namche’s weather would and could not be considered cold by any Himalayan standards after spending 10 days at higher altitudes and experiencing several of our coldest days and nights.
Setting off at 8am, and constantly looking back at Namche, I felt that yearning in my heart again. A question mark that stemmed from having my life intertwined with this flavourful little Village a couple of times. Will I ever be back again? The last time I asked myself this question I ended up setting foot on her steps.
This time round I wasn’t so sure any more. Not many people would do EBC trek multiple times, and this world being so big, there were forever other parts of Nepal where one would need to explore.
For me it was simple, I totally leave it to my karma and the common karma of my family members and my good friends. If it should be destined, we would be back.

One last look at Namche Bazaar. [Photo: KC Tng]
The lush pine and rhododendron forest once again provided us the shade as we treaded carefully on the rocky paths down from Namche. The decimated group was trekking closely together, as the fast front trekkers had all declared their job done and had had their exercise cut.
We walked leisurely, not wanting to rush through the last day of our trek, treasuring every moment of it, taking in every sight, every sound, every smell as we passed by each little Village and each prayer rock and mani stone piles.
The Sherpa-ian feel to the Solokhumbu region was unique and would forever be deeply ingrained in our memories.

[Photo: Fann]

[Photo: Kc Tng]
I could still remember my exasperation looking up and finding the end nowhere in sight ten days back when we were going upwards in the exact opposite direction on this same track.  Breathless as I was on that day, on this morning, breathing was a breeze, not only because our haemoglobin had gained more affinity for oxygen molecules over the past ten days, and our lower limbs muscles had been more conditioned, but also because we were going downhill this round.

The multiple suspension bridges appeared again and again.  The only difference was, this time it was only a few of us walking on them.  Ryan the bridge shaker was not with us, and there was no longer the sight of a whole line of trekkers queuing up walking on the bridge.
Ah Li said to me much later after the trip: "It would be fun to have the whole group go for a trek."
And I totally agree with her.  Times like these certainly we felt the sudden quietness, almost like a loneliness compared to the buzzling crowd we had been having the past ten days.  I was sure Patrick and Kc Tng these two buddies were still enjoying the nice walk like they did six years back.

[Photo: Kc Tng]

[Photo: Fann]
Very soon, we came back down to the banks of the Dudh Koshi once again, where Fann and I left puddles of our urine at her side some days back, behind some bushes.  I wasn't sure, but it seemed that within a short period of 10 days, the trekking season seemed to have been over, for there were hardly any other trekkers except ourselves.

Suddenly it kind of felt a little lonely.  But for a fleeting moment only.  The daughters, Serene, Cheng Cheng, Ah Leong, KC Tng, Patrick were still with us.  Jason and Matthew were of course way ahead already.  Adrian was sweeping the whole platoon right at the back.  It was a leisurely trek, and there was no sense of urgency, not even up till this point.

Saying bye bye to Joarsalle. [Photo: Fann]

[Photo: Fann]

The climb up towards Monjo was still exhausting and breathless.  It could not be otherwise because it was a steep ascent.  But today's climb felt shorter, and our steps felt slightly lighter.  It had all to do with the heart lah.  Our hearts were all in a calm mode, and our senses were all primed to soak in the sight, the breeze, the whole atmosphere.  None of us were in much of a hurry.  Cheng Cheng was particularly relaxed.  I could always tell from behind it was her, not only from her pinkish outer shell, but also because of her gentle gait that was so suitable for trekking.

[Photo: Fann]

Even Serene never kao-beh much on this day on the ascent to Monjo. She was just conserving... just holding back, holding back.. and getting her engines revved up for the last burst of fire up to Lukla.  In her memory, she could remember that last tough stretch of climb up Lukla.
"Adrian told me I was a bit slow that night when we were walking back to Pheriche.  So I told myself today I must try to walk faster lor," explained Serene later.  Actually Adrian was quite correct in his assessment.  Serene was the can one.  The only stumbling block was her mind.  Back home when she ran with me, once she caught on the 'second wind' on the run, she was like the wind.

I particularly enjoyed this part of Monjo just next to Sagarmatha National Park station.  The extensive prayer scriptures Om Mani Padme Hum carved on the rocks all over this part was the feature that told us- Monjo was near.

Monjo is quite a nice little village, in many ways no less flavourful than Phakding or Lukla. Guesthouses, restaurants, local shops stocking whatever one needs to buy for use on the trek abound.

Cleverly, Adrian arranged for us to have lunch at Monjo at around 11:45pm.  A quaint little guesthouse restaurant serving nice coffee and Dal Bhat and pasta.
"I guess we really don't have much time to count the gratuity later.  So I need your help here.  May I borrow your girls to do the job with me?" asked Adrian.  We gladly obliged.  The last time we did this 6 years ago, the honour was Serene and Patrick's.

Lunch time came just nice before noon.  KC Tng and ourselves we were all really famished and were ready for some replenishment.  Only upon thinking back that we realised that it would be another under 6 hours before we would arrive back in Lukla.  Of course we had snacks in our daypacks still, but a proper meal was still a proper meal.

[Photo: Ah Li]
Up till this stage I was still harbouring phobia of Dal Bhat and chose pasta instead.

[Photo: Ah Li]

With Prem and with Sabinn Rai. [Photo: Fann]
The last view of Monjo before we said good bye to this little village.

Four weeks after our return from Nepal...

Every day as I went through each consultation, almost every single patient had his/her attention drawn to the blown up family portrait of my family at Syangboche by KC Tng and the Kala Patthar rock from Kong Wan and Ai Lin, displayed prominently at the back of my desk.
"Wow, such a beautiful photo, and what magnificent background!"
They were really conversational pieces, and I found myself repeating our experiences to many of those who had always wanted to trek to Nepal with their family and friends, but had never plucked the courage to take that first step.  My answer to them was always a strong affirmative.
"It's life-changing," I reassured them, as I pointed to the photo and the framed rock.
My gratitude to Kong Wan, Ai Lin and KC Tng for the generous gifts!

Back to somewhere near Bengkar...

Time was running out fast.  We had to quicken our pace a little.  We had had two days of trek when we ended up arriving in the dark at 6:30pm and 7:30pm.  I was really hoping we could escape the same fate on this day.

[Photo: Kc Tng]

[Photo: KC Tng]

KC Tng and Prem [Photo: Kc Tng]

Babu keeping an eye on all of us at the rear.
Phakding came into view and we crossed the Phakding bridge.
I was so thrilled.  Because with Phakding we were merely a few more hours away from Lukla.  Serene, Ah Li and Cheng Cheng were walking in front, while Fann and I were behind.

Ah Sing was also not far behind Serene and Cheng Cheng.

Phakding was such a happening village.  I didn't realise that it had such bars and pubs.  But I guessed this was inevitable as it was a touristy village not far from Lukla.  What they had here in Phakding they could never have in villages like Lobuche nor Gorak Shep.

[Photo: KC Tng]
As we drew nearer and nearer to the end point, suddenly Serene, Cheng Cheng and Ah Li picked up pace.
"I don't know why.  But suddenly I felt energetic and no lasa.  Even when I climbed up the steps I wasn't breathless.  So I kept going faster and faster lor.  Because we are very near already.  And Babu bet with Adrian said that we will arrive at Lukla at 5:30pm mah, so we must try to move fast lor." Serene explained to me afterwards.

Cheng Cheng was smiling away.  She knew the end was near.  And she was as excited as us to complete the last stretch!

Of Trekking shoes...

I remembered way before the trek, Cheng Cheng was complaining that her new trekking shoes were heavy and gave her ankle pain.  After so many days trekking I finally had the chance to ask her the question in my heart:
"Cheng Cheng, so how is your new trekking shoes? Are they still painful?" 
"Actually no more.  I couldn't feel any more pain and they actually felt alright.  I think I must have seasoned them as I trekked over the past ten plus days," came her reply.
What she said was quite true.  Trekking shoes really needed to be seasoned and to be worn in.  But that was only the one part.  The more important part was the after-care.  Most of the time, our trekking shoes lasted only one trek.  The next time we brought them out from the shoes cabinet for another trek (mostly a year or two later), the rubber soles would have hardened and started to crack and open up.  None of our trekking shoes, even the most expensive ones, lasted more than a year.  This time round, I was determined to store our family's trekking shoes well waxed, well lubricated and vacuum-sealed to see if they could last till the next trek.

Chheplung was in sight! We were really near already.  I kept Whatsapping the guys up in Lukla our location, and telling them to keep a look out for us.  They must have been laughing their butts off with my constant location sharing and constant update.  Despite my warning them of our impending approach, in real fact, I just could not estimate how long more it would take at our pace.

Ah Li coming to the village Chheplung.
The moment we found ourselves in the vicinity of that tiny village of Chheplung, we knew we were within very close range of Lukla.  We were in auto-pilot mode by now.  If we picked up pace and jack up our heart rates to zone 3 or zone 4, we might just make it back to Lukla by 5pm.  Of course that was wishful thinking.  We just needed to make out way back up to Lukla in one piece and in good shape, preferably before the sun went down.

A couple of happy children at Chheplung
Adrian was in a relaxed mood.  His job was almost done, I told him.  And the girls were all cheekily sharing our snacks and lightening their loads before that last climb up to Lukla.

Serene, Cheng Cheng and the girls were not only fast, they had shifted into super-turbo gear.  I was trying to increase my cadence, on the relatively flat path, but the ladies were still ahead of me, and slowly drawing further and further away.

And then, suddenly..... we found ourselves at the foot of the climb.
"Nah, this is the start of the climb to Lukla," I told Serene. "I want you to pose here like how you did six years ago." And she did, gladly, knowing that the end was near, precisely like what she did six years ago. 
The only difference was, six year ago she was totally shagged out already and was suffering. But this round, she turned on her turbo mode and was fully charged going up all the way, over-taking many without even needing to stop. THAT was the great difference between Serene of then, and the Serene of now.

The climb up to Lukla was on nicely paved stone steps.  It was not the usual uneven rocky path.  I was starting to push myself a little, and my heart rate went up to 120/min.  Jason, Matthew, Ah Leong, Patrick and KC Tng had already arrived at Lukla and had made their way to Namaste Lodge already.

Steadily steadily, a metre by a metre, Lukla drew closer.  Every metre we ascended was a metre closer to Namaste Lodge.

And KC Tng finally arrived!!

The sky was threatening as it turned darker and darker.  My confidence of arriving at 5:30pm was beginning to shake.   Unbelievably we crossed the Pasang Lhamu Sherpa gate at 5:34pm.  Not a moment too late!  I still remembered how tired Serene was when she crossed this gate six years ago, but on this day, she was actually smiling away!
But I took a good look at myself and I was ashamed to see how shagged I looked.  I looked simply terrible!  Cheng Cheng, Serene and Adrian were all smiling and in high spirit.  But no matter how hard I tried, I could squeeze no smile out of my face.  Only then did I realise that I still had a long way to go before I could even call myself a trekker.

[Photo: Cheng Cheng]
Lukla came to life in the dark of evening.  The lights and colours took on a different personality.  I'd never seen Lukla like this before and it was really enlightening.  Our Airforce crew must have had their fun exploring Lukla over the past 9 hours while we were on the trails.

Walking along the streets of Lukla towards Namaste Lodge

Namaste Lodge!
That evening...

This dining hall of Namaste Lodge brought back so much memories.  It had always been our end point and always been the climax of the whole trek.  And even with the earlier group being here for the past 9 hours, they were all enthusiastic and gathered in the warm hall, awaiting our arrrival.

Babu and KC Tng remembering this morment.

Cheng Cheng was exhilarated.

Everyone was seated, cheerful, some already well-fed, some waiting for their Tibetan bread and dinner.  Our porters and personal porters were happy to have their job completed.

Mani, Koot, Sabinn Rai, Mahendra, and Dilip on the extreme right.

Our advance porters.

The loser and the winner of the 5:30pm bet.
Matthew and Jason, two of the fittest among the whole team, glad to have their trek completed, and to have it topped up with a surprise belated birthday cake for Jason.  This Matthew would go on to higher pastures, scaling higher mountains.

At this moment, every one was in jubilant mood.  And every one was grabbing every one for photos.

Ka Lin, Fann and Mani.

A time for congratulations, and a time to give thanks and to show appreciations...

The customary gratuity presentation began and Adrian had the honour of giving bear hugs to all the porters, and the guides.  This really reminded me of that six years ago when he presented gratuity to Binot (could see Kc Tng and Patrick clapping themselves crazy in the background) on our last trip.

And next came our personal porters, without which many of us would not have been able to complete our trek.  Their constant presence, their reassuring guide, their strong hands of support, and their never-failing smile and encouragements, made the trek so much more bearable,

Kai Sing and Ka Lin were euphoric.  It was their dreams come true.  I really appreciated Kai Sing's show of gratitude, although I really did not think I did much, and in all sincerity, I still maintained that he was the one who trained very hard over the couple of years in preparation of this trek.  He was one of the most prepared, mentally and physically.  And he made it possible for himself, and his support and encouragement for Ka Ling made it possible for her too, to make it all the way.

Alex, Mahendra and Lai Peng.
Alex and Lai Peng were the wild cards.  They were apprehensive about the trek, but they ended up being one of the faster trekkers.  This couple was truly in the elements up in the mountains.  Their special souvenir to me, I was really grateful for, though again, I wasn't sure I was deserving of it.  Having their company on this trip, was already a present to me and Serene.

Mimi was a great fighter.  The realisation of her quest was in a major part, as a result of her digging deep within herself for that drive.
"Wee How, did I make it to EBC?" she asked me some time later, as she was still in a state of disbelief.
"YES, you did! We made it to the old Everest Base Camp.  Well done, Mimi, well done! I am so proud of you!"
Her show of gratitude we all sincerely appreciate too, although I was quite sure we did very little but to encourage her emotionally to push forth.  Thank you, Mimi!

DT, Jeffrey, Mani and Mimi.

Our family with Sabinn Rai, the almost-trained paramedic.
A very special thanks to Darric, Lay Khim, Jeffrey, Kong Wan, Ai Lin, Patrick and Kc Tng for a couple of special treat post-trip.  Serene and I had gained at least 2-3kg each from the durians, and the Mala feasts!  Even until today I am still wearing the special embroidered EBC trek T shirt that Darric and Lay Khim bought for Serene and I. Thank you all!

I was thankful to everyone for giving me their trust. 
And wow! A special EBC trek T-shirt and Kala Patthar rock - another generous gift from Kong Wan and Ai Lin! Thank you thank you!

Now that the trek was over, we were all ready for our hot shower and our well-deserved rest.  I had plenty of reflection to do.  I had to analyse my own performance on this trek, how I could have done better, how I could have made it easier for the children, and how I could possibly made if more comfortable for the teammates.  Introspections awaited me.

Cheng Cheng was ecstatic to have completed this tough trek.  Through thick and thin, she proved, like everyone else, that physical endurance propelled by an unshakable steadfastness, would almost always deliver nothing short of victory.  Although she kept thanking Serene and myself, in my personal opinion, she was the one who deserved the reward.  Good job!

That speech bubble was just a joke! Jokes aside, Cheng Cheng was truly one of the most reassuring members of the team. 
I was grateful to her reassuring hand.
Meanwhile, Adrian as always, had to utter some disclaimer about the unpredictability of the weather here in Lukla and Kathmandu.  That was the main reason why he planned for an extra two days at the end of the trek.  The date was 29th November 2017.  Our flight out to Kathmandu was scheduled for 30th November 2017.  But our actual flight out of Kathmandu back home to Singapore was on the 2nd Dec 2017. That one and a half extra days were buffer for any of the highly likely delay.

Both Serene and I were very very grateful to all our members who had showed their appreciation to us and our family.  We really loved this group of great teammates.  It was with plenty of warmth and love that night that we both went to bed.

The Namaste Lodge room

Lukla was still just as cold as night.  The hot shower was still as suffering a shower to me.  The water was hot, but once I stepped out of the water, even inside the bathroom, I was instantly feeling cold, even while struggling to put on my base layers.  I really hated hot showers in such cold weather.  If I had my ways, I would not even shower.

The few of us who trekked that 9 hours down to Lukla were finally feeling tired.  We had had our mission completed.  Our bodies and our minds were at peace.  We needed to do nothing else but to sleep.  Come what may tomorrow.

Click on the following to continue to the next part:
EBC Trek Part 7 ~ Flying back to Kathmandu.  Rest and Relax in Kathmandu and flying home!