Thursday, November 30, 2017

Everest Base Camp Trek Part 7 ~ Back to Kathmandu for R&R

Part 7 ~ Kathmandu at last.  And a lovely tour of Swayambunath Temple.
Swayambaunath Temple, Kathmandu.

Somehow, connections of the boss of Namaste Lodge gotten us a second flight out of Lukla despite the huge backlog of passengers from a whole day of delayed flights.  Those of us on the second flight managed to make it back to Kathmandu early.  But the other half of our group who were scheduled for the third flight were delayed and left on cold Lukla for another four hours because of poor weather in both Lukla and Kathmandu.

[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 13 ~ Kathmandu, finally!
30 Nov 2017

Flying back to Kathmandu from Lukla sounded straight forward enough.  But by now we had come to realise that in Nepal, even the most straight-forward-looking path was a whole lot of zig-zags and ups-and-downs.  The day before, the planes couldn't fly, and all the Ang Moh trekkers were stranded in Lukla.  So we had a full day of backlog.
"I always can trust Ram because he knows the boss of Namaste Lodge very well, and Ram has connections with the boss of Namaste Lodge who has connections with the airport controller at Tenzing-Hillary Airport who has connections with Tribhuvan airport controller, who in turns has connections with all the airline owners...." explained Adrian to me.
In short, we ended up taking the second and third flight out of Lukla.

The VIDEO:  The non-straight-forward, zig-zag flight back to Kathmandu

So, 7:27am, us in the first group boarded our Summit Airline flight.  Smooth-sailing all the way back to Kathmandu! Er... nope. What do you mean 'nope'?
About 15 minutes into our flight, the pretty air stewardess stood up and announced:
"We apologise.  We cannot land in Kathmandu because of poor weather there.  We are now diverting to Pokhara airport, until we can fly again"
Wow! Travelling in Nepal was always an adventure.
Diverted from Lukla to Pokhara, and then flew from Pokhara back to Kathmandu.
Got our money worth of propeller plane flight time. [Photo: Patrick]

Thankfully we were only stranded in Pokhara for half an hour or so, before flying back to Kathmandu.
Well at least Lai Peng could say that she had been to Pokhara. [Photo: Alex]
Poor things were our second groups who were all still stranded in Lukla airport because of poor weather on both sides, for another four hours.  The weather turned colder and colder as they continued sitting at Tenzing-Hillary Airport.

Loading up the van.. on our way back to Kathmandu Garden Home
"Ok, let's go look for some place for lunch," suggested Adrian.
"Sounds good.  Adrian you go where, we just follow you lor."
So we ended up at Hotel Mandap this restaurant for some steaks and chicken and some more flavourful food since we had been so deprived up in the mountains.

Lunch at this Mandap Restaurant place.
Group 2 arrived back in Kathmandu!  

By the time group 2 flew back to Kathmandu, Ah Tan already fell almost asleep liao. [Photo: KC Tng]

Evening came, and we simply just enjoyed walking along the streets of Thamel and having fun.

Having fun in Thamel in the evening
And the girls really REALLY wanted to give Adrian a surprise - his mandatory favourite Fanta Orange as his usual Nepali ritual.  This ritual went way way back 9 years ago when he first did ABC with Melvin.

The girls said they wanted to buy a Fanta Orange for uncle Adrian as a surprise!
Because it has always been a ritual for him and Melvin to buy a Fanta Orange in Nepal
even if it cost him S$10 up in the mountains.
One part of Thamel where I found most unforgettable was this little narrow and covered alley not far down from our hotel.  We had to pass through this alley every day every night in order to get to the other parts of Thamel.  And this alley was shared between pedestrians, trolleys and motorbikes.  Most interesting feature of Nepali urban planning.

That small little covered alley where human siam motorbikes  & bikes siam human.

For memory's sake, I even took a shot of Google map where the red drop pin marked the alley.  To my surprise, Serene's shop - that B&B Himalayan Traders shop where we bought plenty plenty of stuff from, was also on this map, not far from that little alley.

The Red Pin marks where the small alley was in relations to Kathmandu Garden Home

EBC TREK Day 14 ~ Swayambunath Temple
1 Dec 2017

Since we were fortunate not to be stranded at Lukla for another day, our itinerary went on as planned.  Swayambunath Temple had always been one of my favourites, together with Boudhanath as well as Baktapur.  But we only had enough time for one place.

The VIDEO:  A very relaxing day touring Swayambunath and shopping in Thamel (again!)

[Photo: Alex]

On this morning, the weather was nice and warm in Kathmandu, and the visitors to Swayambunath were almost as many as the monkeys there.

[Photo: Lai Peng]

[Photo: Lai Peng]

[Photo: Lai Peng]

[Photo: Patrick]
I had always enjoyed walking along and browsing in the shops of Swayambunath and bargaining with the sellers.  There were a few things that I would love to buy home as souvenirs.  And thankfully we managed to get some good prices for them.

[Photo: Patrick]
And Ah Li and I finally found our tiny prayer wheels and the little turtle she wanted to buy for Nainai.
Ah Li and I were happy to bargain the price of this small prayer wheel down to 150NPR.
[Photo: Kai Sing]

[Photo: Serene]
[Photo: Serene]
There were so many angles in Swayambunath and it would take a whole full day just to roam and explore every angle.  But our tour could only allow us limited time.  But it was good enough.  I had a field day with my iPhone 7 Plus, and Kai Sing had his iPhone X.

iPhone 7 Plus.

iPhone 7 Plus
I love this shot with Kai Sing.  He and I we have always been as enthusiastic about the mountains as possible.
His advice on nutrition and training was important to my preparation for this trek.

I particularly looked forward to coming to this huge statue of Buddha here at Swayambunath.  It's the signature features of this temple and I always loved to take a shot here.

The signature Buddha statue at Swayambunath,

Of course, Ah Sing and the rest of the gang were very taken by the many monkeys in this temple and could not stop taking shots after shots of these primates.
Kong Wan taught me how to do this.

Kong Wan was really keeping his eye out for unique angles and doing magic with his phone.  He had quite many lovely shots.

Serene's panoramic shot
My fish eye handphone lens

Serene's shot

[Photo: Serene]

[Photo: Serene]
I just wanted to try out the fish eye lens on my iPhone 7 Plus.

Serene caught a nice shot of a monkey here.

[Photo: Serene]

While Ah Sing took another shot of another one.
[Photo: Ah Sing]

Kong Wan cleverly video-ed a monkey picking up dunno-what from the ground and enjoying his snack.

Video by Kong Wan of the famous monkey at Swayambunath.

Here near the entrance of the temple was a little pond where one could buy a stack of old Nepali coins and try his or her best to throw the coins into the pot just at the foot of the Buddha.  I managed to get one in!  I hope my wish would come true!

[Photo: Kai Sing]
[Photo: Kai Sing]
After Swayambunath, and back in Thamel, Alex and Lai Peng gave me a surprise gift  - my very own -shirt with my name embroidered on the sleeve - the half closed eyes of wisdom of Buddha! One of my favourite symbols!  Gracias!

[Photo: Lai Peng]
"Ok, I have ordered plenty of KFC for everybody.  Gather at the lobby 1:15pm for KFC feast!" Whatsapped Adrian. And we all did not miss that chance to dig our fingers into some Nepali KFC!

Later that late afternoon and that evening...

We went exploring and found a small little shop that sold the EBC T-shirts for only 300 NPR per shirt.

And further down the road, we came to B&B Himalayan Traders, that Serene's shop run by Binot.  This man must have earned plenty of money from our whole group.

Further down along Thamel, we simply enjoyed ourselves devouring whatever the girls came upon.  They were really hungry for real food, after the trek.  And I let them have the liberty and the luxury of buying whatever they wanted.

And even Ah Sing had a go on a motorbike!  This girl was fantastic!

That evening, before dinner, we simply just relaxed on the balconies of our hotel.. here Patrick and Kc Tng having a good time chatting..

... and Lai Peng and Alex unwinding out at their veranda.

"I bought another four sets of the NorthFace trekking fleeced-lined trekking pants that you bought earlier on," said Adrian.
Man, the shop owner Binot really had his business made.  He had better give us big discount when we next get back to him on our next trip.

This stall owner Binot must have made a fortune out of us.

Here was the shop just next to that familiar little small alley. They sold badges.

And I bought several to remember.

My trekking boots looked like they had gone through a lot over the past 14 days.

EBC TREK Day 15 ~ Finally flying back home to Singpapore
2 Dec 2017

Our luggage were all consolidated and we all gathered at the front court yard of Kathmandu Garden Home.

[Photo: Kai Sing]
Sigh.. Can don't go back home?

Ram hadn't changed much over the past 6 years, except for that little bit of extra fat around his waist.  Hopefully we will see him again soon for a next trek to Nepal.

[Photo: Serene]
And on this day... Malaysia Airlines finally flew us home.  But not without losing Serene's luggage yet again, when we arrived back in Singapore.  Such was the reputation of Malaysia Airline and KL International Airport cargo handling.

[Photo: KC Tng]


Our trekking boots washed and brushed.  Our base layers, middle layers machine-washed and sun-dried.   Our down jackets dusted and dried-cleaned.  All the winter clothing packed and vacuum-sealed.  All the day packs and backpacks scrubbed and hung dried. Trekking sticks cleaned and stored.  Everything was kept and put aside for our next adventure.

Back home in Singapore, everything appeared unchanged.  Lives went on as those of us who had to work jumped right back to our usual working routines, whilst those who were retired continued their retired lives.  But in our hearts, everything had changed.  I was very sure, in each and everyone of our hearts and our minds, even those who were seasoned trekkers and alpine mountaineers, there would be that bit of transformation.

Trekking to Everest Base Camp was not just simply ANY trekking trip.  EBC trek was not called EBC trek for no reason.  This journey had opened up our eyes to the Himalaya in ways which we would never ever have imagined possible, had we not undertaken this demanding expedition.  The Himalayan ranges had laid bare to us,  their deepest secrets, their very essence, their ever-changing nature, and most importantly had welcomed us into their cradle.

This adventure had revealed not only how harsh the terrain was up there at 5000m, but also how stoic human nature was, in surmounting all the obstacles that came their way.  To me, even up till today, 5 weeks after our return, I still harbour the bizarre perception that everything here in modern Singapore is not real, but true reality is what was up there in the mountains.
In short, I found myself very much converted.
I had seen what the mountains had exposed to me.  And I am no longer the me I used to be.   In the deepest abyss of my being, there is this little yearning that is bubbling gently, urging me that the mountains are calling again.

As I continue to discharge my responsibility as a father, a doctor, a citizen of this country in my daily grind, exactly as what Adrian described as the 'drudgery of daily living', I know that I am ready to be up there again.  Any time.  Confidently I am sure our girls and even the ever-complaining Serene, are just as ready for another adventure.

I was most honoured to be given the chance to experience this journey with this group of highly-motivated individuals, individuals whom I got to know better, even those very good friends who I have known for years.   I finally saw a different side of them, a strength of character in them that I am so proud of.  I hope the sentiment is mutual among all of our team members.

And so, as our guides and porters withdraw back into their home villages for the next few months as trekking season ends, and all of us resume our daily routine back home here in Singapore,  I realise a tiny little spark of fire has already been lit, this spark that will eventually grow into a huge firework for yet another adventure in due course.

Till then.