Anna Blake Keeley
December 2018 Trek
As I write this at a Starbucks in rainy North Carolina, Nepal feels very far away—another world even. Three weeks in a country is hardly long enough to learn it, to understand it, but it is long enough to recognize how spectacular it is. It is long enough for the country to become a part of you, long enough to love it, to miss it. Nepal is easy to love. It is a place of wild beauty and warm people, of rich history and modern disfunction. It is a place of pungent city smells and fresh mountain air, boisterous rivers and raucous city streets. It is a place of contradiction, of beauty and harshness. It’s a place everyone should visit.
I was a member of a group of nine: two guides, two porters, and five American tourists. We couldn’t have asked for better people to show us the Himalayan countryside. In our 12-day trek to and from Lukla to base-camp of Everest, our guides Shree and DK made us feel welcome and comfortable—as comfortable as you can be in -20F degree weather and 10-day-ripe pants.
We stayed in clean tea houses and hotels, ate delicious meals—giant plates of fried rice and daalbhaat so good we never tired of it, and met many wonderful people, both other travelers and Nepalese. In the evenings guides and hikers gathered around dung-stoves, playing cards, telling stories, and singing songs. Even exhausted by the day’s trek, even shivering from the cold, people were kind, wanted to chat. Most days we had sun and clear skies. We never felt worried or rushed; DK always seemed to know the exact right pace for us. Our guides answered our incessant questions patiently, often filling the hours with stories and songs we did our best to learn. When we needed, we stopped and stretched our legs, and on the long days, the days that seemed like they’d never end, we tucked our chins into our neck warmers and pushed ourselves.
It was not a glamorous trek. Hiking base camp isn’t what I would call a restful vacation. It’s work. It’s hard. I’ve never been colder in my life. Our group lucked out in terms of altitude-sickness, but the higher we got the harder it got, and base camp is pretty high (who knew!?). But this difficulty is what makes it worthwhile, it’s what makes the experience exceptional. The mountains pushed us past our comfort points, made our bodies ache and our heads pound. Made our water bottles freeze at night and our hiking poles snap in two. The mountains also made our breath catch in our throats, so overwhelming is their beauty. They made us want to linger even in the chill of the afternoon, made us want to turn back for a look at the landscape sprawled behind us as we climbed to a peak we couldn’t see, and then turn back again, and again, and again.
It was hard, yes, but not too hard. At no point did I doubt we could make it. Anyone can put one foot in front of the other, and that’s all it was—walking. There were several days that entailed hours of steep climbing: the hike to Namche, the last climb to Mt Kalapatthar. But even those most challenging days, when the trail felt vertical and old Nepalese men with canes skipped up the mountain around us as easily as breathing air, we never considered turning back or felt afraid.
The trail is home to many: sunburned tourists like us, wearing bright down coats; lines of mules with heavy loads strapped to their backs, spurred on by boys in sandals; women in velour sweat pants and lipstick walking between houses; fluffy Tibetan Mastiff’s ready for a belly scratch; men and women with straps around their foreheads, carrying doors and food and sacks of rice for the villages further up the trail. This unique array of color is what makes the trail feel so alive, like something breathing, evolving. The people and animals are just as part of the landscape as the mountains and rivers.
I recommend it to everyone. Do it. If this hasn’t convinced you, google Everest base camp and let the spectacular pictures do the trick. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and with DK and Shree as your fearless leaders of Vistas Himalaya www.vistashimalaya.com, you’ll experience the best of it.
- Ms. Anna Blake enjoyed the trek along with Mr. Chuk, Ms. Elizabeth, Ms. Sydney and Ms. Sarah on Dec, 2018