Thursday, November 1, 2012

Into Thin (but not that thin) Air

Back in Kathmandu after a remarkable two-week trip through Khumbu, the Everest region of Nepal. Hiked to two base camps (Ama Dablam and Everest), two lookouts (Kala Patthar at 18,192 feet and Gokyo Ri at 17,575 feet), and one pass (Cho La).

The route is pretty crowded, especially this time of year, but for good reason. The landscape and views are incredible. From Gokyo Ri, in particular, you can see five 8,000m peaks. The weather was perfect, too -- clear, cloudless skies.

It wasn't hard, but it wasn't easy, either. Five- to seven-hour days with a 30-pound bag, all above 10,000 feet. There were definitely some cold and tired older tourists wondering why they were there.

It's pretty mind-boggling to imagine the rate of change in lifestyle that's taken place in the last twenty years as more and more people visit Khumbu. Many of the inhabitants (Sherpas) were once yak herders, constantly trading goods between Tibet and the lower-elevation areas of Nepal. Now many are lodge owners and earn enough in five months to travel in the off-seasons and send their kids to Europe and the US. They're incredibly nice and welcoming.

By not hiring a guide or porter I was able to condense what should have been a 16-day itinerary into 11 days -- and save a considerable amount of cash.

Watching porters carry HUGE loads on their backs with only a head strap is one of the most humbling sights imaginable. It often seemed like porters outnumbered trekkers, most carrying 70 pounds or more worth of food, bottled water, building supplies, appliances, trekkers' backpacks, etc.

Kathmandu is crazy. It's multi-cultured, brash, and loud. It's a sea of multicolored four-story buildings with no clear layout or evidence of any sort of urban planning. Thamel is the busiest and most chaotic tourist district I've ever been to.

On to Dubai for the weekend, then NY for election day. Pumped. And sending love to everyone affected by Sandy.