Gokyo was the last point for me to be standing in the high altitude during my walk on the Everest trek. After the climb to Gokyo Ri to see the clear view of all the 8000m peaks in the Everest region, I descended down to about 4400m in Machhermo. It is still quite high in elevation but I felt much better after descending more than 1000m altitude from Gokyo Ri on the same day. I could still feel the coldness biting the nerves on my skin especially when the clouds started to dominate the evening sky. There were many trekkers going towards the opposite direction… looking fresh since they havent get really high in the elevation yet. Things are much cheaper here in Machhermo compared to Gorakshep or Dzongla. Black tea is half the price and the room price here is much cheaper compared to the villages near the Everest basecamp. I felt relieved that things started to get normal again down here.
Machhermo is the last place for me to sleep at over 4000m altitude. The next morning after a late breakfast, me and my guide walked slowly leaving Machhermo, slowly descending below 4000m altitude into the tree lines. We walked for only an hour in the Himalayan tundra before we started to see small trees on the ground, telling us that we have now reach the normal elevation. Getting into the lower elevation, I started to feel the heat slowly. For the first time my walk in the Everest trek, the clouds were dominating the sky almost for the whole day. Under those clouds, rescue helicopters were flying once every few minutes from Lukla towards the north… saving lives of some trekkers who probably suffered from altitude sickness.
The longer I walked down the elevation, the trees were bigger and the earth was finally filled with greens… populated by the world of flora. No more ice and snow and instead of seeing rocks everywhere, the earth is now covered with carpets of grass. The path is easy and smooth from here. It feels so different here even though it was only a day walk from the high tundra. After a few hours of walk, I finally get back to the same road for the last few kilometers, only that this time I walked the opposite way, this time back towards Namche Baazar. The first thing I did when I reached Namche was to take a very long… hot shower. Then I pampered myself with good food since its much cheaper here compared to the villages on the trek. I also rushed to the ATM machine in Namche since I had no more cash… everything was spent in the high altitude villages during the walk.
The next day I trekked down to Lukla which sits at much lower elevation at about 2600m. It was an easy downhill walk with some river crossing… mostly the same way I took when I was going up towards Lukla from Kharikhola a few weeks before. The next morning I woke up early to say goodbye to my guide who has been like a good friend to me and to catch the flight back to Kathmandu. I felt quite nervous here to take the mountain flight from one of the most dangerous airport in the world, Tenzing-Hillary airport here in Lukla. The runway is very short and not even flat. When I first looked at it, I was wondering how the pilot could land and take off in such a short runway. I was at first wanted to just trek down back to Phaplu which will take another day and take the long 12 hours bus ride back to Kathmandu since I was quite phobia to take the mountain flight. But then again, I wanted to experience this at least once in my life. I started to have phobia on flying since the news of our MH370 a few years ago yet ironically, I flew so many times since then due to travelling.
Surprising the take off was very smooth… and the half an hour flight from Lukla to Kathmandu is actually one of the smoothest flight I have ever take… not a single turbulence… nothing. Once in Kathmandu, I stayed in the same hotel and get a good discount since the staffs already know me and Im already considered as a loyal customer here. I stayed a few days in Kathmandu taking a good rest, continue writing my travel diary, editing my film as usual and doing the thing that I hate the most… planning my next move. Im really bad at planning thing… it usually never happen as planned. So Im just reading to get more information on places that I intended to go soon after Kathmandu. At the same time I walked around Kathmandu to see the celebration of the Hindus… Deepavali, the festival of light. It is so colourful and its something really big in Nepal, people really celebrate it here. Firecrackers every few seconds and people are dancing everywhere on the street… so much fun to watch the happiness of the people here during the celebration.
Since I came across the big crowd coming from the opposite direction in Chola Pass, my walk became quieter, only the sound of flowing water and the wind… sometimes the sound of rescue helicopter flying low dominated my ears. In Thangnak, I stayed in a guesthouse with 2 other trekkers, one from New Zealand and another from Canada. Since I arrived early and has nothing to do but to rest, we chat almost the whole day until our dinner arrived. I still had the same headache since Gorakshep 4 days earlier but I tried to ignore it. There is no cure on altitude sickness except going to the lower elevation. Drinking a lot of hot ginger tea just kept my body warm and nothing more. But it wasnt too much, only the headache that annoyed me. I already slept well at altitude of 4700m. Slowly my body started to adapt to the high elevation, where the oxygen is about half the amount compared to the sea level. My heart beats faster, the digestion system reacts differently, the pH reading of my blood changes and the system boosted the amount of oxygen-carrying red blood in my body. All these happen without me controlling it… everything is controlled by a mysterious entity… I could only feel the effect…
The next morning I kept walking following the trail that leads me towards Gokyo, another small village in the Everest region. The landscape here is absolutely amazing, something very different. Sometimes it reminds me a bit about the landscape in the high mountain of Khan Tengri in eastern part of Kyrgyzstan… and sometimes it reminds me a bit of the landscape of Iceland… and sometimes it reminds me about the image I created in my mind on the landscape on the moon. Breathing freely without an oxygen mask is the only thing that reminds me that Im still walking on this earth. The landscape surrounds me while walking towards Gokyo is surreal. Since Im walking at really high altitude, almost 5 kilometers from the level of the ocean, there is no flora world here. No trees stand a chance to grow here. Its only rock and ice… a pure tundra.
While walking on the trek, I always became fascinated whenever I saw the passing Sherpas… the local people here in the Khumbu region. The sherpas who work as a porter for those big group of trekkers are carrying really heavy loads. Sometimes I saw some carrying 3 huge backpacks probably 150L each, tied together with a rope and they just carried it while climbing very high mountain passes just like a boss. They ascend the mountain pass steadily as strong as a Kyrgyz mountain horse… and they descend the mountain at the speed of a mountain goat. And shockingly, when they reached their destination, they took a rest by lighting a cigarette, completely ignoring the fact that the oxygen is only half the amount in the thin air and started smoking as in theyre chilling on a beach of Copacabana. It was such a bizarre moment.
Whenever I stayed in a guesthouse, I usually chill with the Sherpas. Probably because I look like them, theyre always curious about me. There was once an old sherpa came stood next to me, lighting a cigarette and started speaking Nepali to me. My guide, Pemba who are used to my playful attitude, just looked at me from far while laughing, watching me mumbling in a language even I dont understand with the old Sherpa. The old Sherpa really thought that I was speaking Nepali but perhaps he has problem with his hearing, kept talking to me in Nepali about some subject until he finished his cigarette! There were many cases that other trekkers mostly the Westerners who thought that Im a Sherpa, started asking me about the trail ahead and the weather forecast. It was hillarious.
I reached Gokyo at noon, welcomed by the beautiful landscape of the thick cyan colour lake, surrounded by the big mountains and the tiny Gokyo village next to it. I took a good shower, had heavy meals since I got my appetite back and took a good rest to prepare myself to climb to the peak of Gokyo the next day. Early morning the next day, I woke up as early as 4am, planning to start early to climb the peak of Gokyo for the sunrise. But I was too tired and it was too cold, so I moved very slowly, had a good breakfast and drank a lot of hot water before I finally starting climbing the peak of Gokyo (Gokyo Ri) at around 630am. Thank god the headache I had for days was gone and I felt energetic again as usual… so I climbed fast and it took me only an hour to reach the peak of Gokyo Ri with the elevation of 5360m.
When I reached the top, I was amazed looking at two very interesting views. The first one was when I looked down at Gokyo lake. Such an amazing view, with the green colour lake surrounded by towering mountains all lit by the morning sun under the blue sky. The second one was when I looked straight towards the east, looking at all the world’s highest mountain, with Mt Everest dominating my sight and two other 8000m peaks which are Makalu and Lhotse. It was surprising to learn that we cant even see Mt Everest even from the Everest basecamp since it was covered by Mt Nuptse right in front of it. You can get the clear view of Everest once you climb Mt Kalapatthar (5550m) from Gorakshep. But here from Gokyo Ri, I get to see the best and the most interesting view of not only Everest but other 8000m peaks as well all within one sight.
Gazing at those 8000m peaks made by nothing but rock and ice, I imagined myself climbing right to the top of it, pushing myself towards the end of the troposphere, almost reaching the border of the stratosphere. I imagined myself looking at the world from a totally different perspective, everything is below you, no clouds above, only the blue sky and the shining sun. The planet’s weather activities all happen below the peak of Everest most of the time… so there is nothing veiling you from the blue sky on daytime and the zodiac constellation at night. Here in Gokyo Ri when its only slightly above 5000m altitude, the oxygen is half the amount compared to the sea level. Up there at the peak of Everest at almost 9000m altitude, the oxygen is quarter the amount! The Everesters call it as death zone. Not only the altitude could kill you, but the wind, the weather and the ice as well.
Gokyo marks the end of my walk in the high altitude. After Gokyo Ri, I was so motivated to cross another pass called Renjo La Pass (5360m) towards the east but I had to reach back to Namche Baazar quickly since my money was depleting, so I needed to get to the ATM machine in the civilization to withdraw more cash. Everything is very expensive up here in the mountain… making my wallet losing it’s weight very quickly. So I walked fast down the elevation after Gokyo, back to 3000m altitude. But the experience, nothing could be described by words. Sometimes, I tried my best to convert my experiences and my thoughts into words and pictures on this blog Im writing… but none of these match the experiences I received from the road. Words just represent nouns and verbs, but it couldnt represent the universe. Just like you are trying to describe the taste of water to someone who never taste water in his entire life, its just impossible. You simply have to taste it, experience it firsthand. Or you try to describe the colours of a rainbow to a man who is blind since birth. The images I posted here just represent a split second of what my eyes saw… but it couldnt represent the true feeling of being in the place, it couldnt record the wind, the coldness and the warmth of the shining sun, the random thoughts in the mind while I was in the specific place and how the heart getting closer and closer towards Oneness in such places… such a powerful moments…
Leaving Gorakshep feels like going home since I knew that I was slowly descending the elevation. After two nights of having difficulty to sleep, I finally descended from over 5000m towards 4830m altitude in Dzongla. It was an easy walk, I walked fast and reached Dzongla in less than 2 hours from Gorakshep. The headache I had seems leaving slowly when I reached Dzongla, descending 300m in altitude from Gorakshep. It was an easy walk, not much climbing. I was slowed down only by the beautiful view, the landscape is filled with towering mountains which always catch my eyes during the walk. I stopped for a few minutes to watch the beauty of a green colour water of Chola lake which sits at 4590m. I climbed a big rock and sit comfortably on it, taking a good rest, keep admiring the beauty of Chola lake with my eyes and let my mind flying away freely, welcoming and entertaining any idea that came to my mind.
I took a good rest upon reaching Dzongla, but not long after I sat still doing nothing there, the headache came again. It seems that the headache came when Im not moving my body. So I spent the day drinking a lot of hot water to keep my body warm and to prevent myself from getting sick. Later that night, I heard rumours from the Sherpas, saying that there were two Spanish climbers were stuck at the peak of My Chola, the big mountain that stands in front of us. They climbed two days earlier and successfully reached the summit but they said one of them might be injured and probably already dead while the other climber desperately tried to come down the mountain in the middle of the dark. Everybody saw one headlight from the climber who attempted to descend the mountain.
The next morning, everybody thought that both of them were dead since the weather was really bad. Massive thick clouds blinded everything and visibility was probably less than 50 meters. Rescue helicopter tried to fly in but had to turn back since the clouds were too thick. But it was all written, like every other creation… the dark clouds had to obey the plan of the master of the universe, the cloud disappeared just two hours later and the helicopter finally flew to find the two climbers. Everybody were clapping happily in Dzongla when the helicopter managed to rescue both climbers, they were both alive and I witnessed how good the Nepali rescuers are in rescuing both climbers in the mountainside. The Nepali rescuers were really brave gambling their lives rescuing the climbers while the helicopter pilot was really skillful to fly the helicopter in such difficult terrain and environment.
I felt relieved when I saw the helicopter was flying away heading south towards Lukla carrying the two injured climbers. But again it reminded me on how vulnerable we all are. Climbing to the peak of a mountain might be easy for someone fit and well prepared. Yet after celebrating the victory at the top of the mountain, the happiness is mixed with a feeling of fear… the fear of descending the mountain. Most accident cases happen during descending… not the ascend. One single wrong step could be fatal… and unlike the virtual world, there is no undo button in this “real world”. We think we are controlling everything in life… being independent from the Source… we think we are controlling our destiny.
But when we meditate and think deep about the subject, we control nothing. Not a single stone have the power to move except through the the will of the One. Most of the time, we dont even control our breathing, our blinking eye or even while swallowing our saliva. We dont even control the bloodflow inside our body… and we dont even control each step while we are walking or running. While hiking here on the Everest trail, I was always being careful with my step yet sometimes, I stepped wrongly and fell down, almost sprain my legs. Then I walked slower, putting more concentration on each of my step yet sometimes, I fell again… Things could go really bad for me if anything bad happen for me on the trail. I cant afford to pay for a helicopter rescue if accident happen to me in the middle of nowhere. If anything happen, its either I have to stay strong and keep walking towards the nearest village or I have to be carried by a donkey… which are the only option I could afford.
I stayed in Dzongla doing nothing but taking a good rest from hiking and the headache I had since the weather was bad the whole morning. It was cold especially at night where the temperature reached about -10c for a few hours. Thank god I had my winter clothing that I used in the Arctic which kept me super warm all the time. I woke early the next morning, had a heavy breakfast and started walking as early as 6 when the first light hit the Himalayan sky. It was quite a tough journey where I had to climbed all the way to 5420m crossing the Chola Pass but the walk was beautiful.
The weather was good, the clouds were hiding, giving ways for my eyes to witness the beauty of the high Himalayan tundra from the pass. I also walked through an unexpected but short snowfield at the top near the pass. I had no crampons which makes it quite difficult to pass since it was slippery and steep at some parts. Sometimes I had to kick hard with the edge of my shoes to bury the front part of my shoes inside the snow which help me to grip harder while walking through the steep and slippery area. When reaching the top of the pass, there were so many hikers taking a rest at the top coming from the opposite direction which is from Thangnak. Many were shouting celebrating their victory reaching the top so again I didnt spend much time at the top plus it was very windy. So I quickly descended the steep mountain and continued the walk for another two hours to reach Thangnak.
From the darkness… lead me to Light. From death… lead me to Immortality. From deception… lead me to Truth. From delusion, lead me to the Straight Path… and from the blindness, lead me to True Sight… the kind of sight that can make me look at every corner of this planet from the deepest ravine to the highest mountain through my eyes… and see through my heart pass the 70 thousand hijab (veils) that are blinding me from the Ultimate Truth, from the Source of all reason, from You oh Al-Akhbar (The Greatest), from You the Master of all souls, from You who are not bound by space and time ………………………………………………………….. and when the five senses and the mind are at still… and all reasons, causes and effects freeze and at rest, then the Supreme Path begins… My soul came back attached to my physical body early in the morning after a long night’s dream, before the sun started to give its light and warmth to the Himalayas, feeling so determined to walk higher into the thin air, to finally see with my own eyes, coming face to face with the Everest, the highest place men can ever walk or stand on this planet.
Leaving Dingboche walking towards the Everest Basecamp, I could still see the grand Mt. Ama Dablam on my right standing high and proud, crowned by the sun that was shining behind its peak, giving a marvelous view for the whole morning. The weather was really good, a combination of the beautiful morning sun and the blue sky giving a perfect mountainscape, forcing me to walk slower to enjoy the beauty during my walk and I couldnt stop snapping photos to capture the memory inside the memory stick of my camera. Once in a while, I walked pass Buddhist stupas and prayerflags, which reminds me that Im now walking at the roof of the world, the Himalayas. After Ama Dablam left my sight, other high snowy peak mountains came into my sight, mostly standing over 6000m… making it feels like I’m walking in a huge and grand gallery of snowy peak high mountains.
I could look at the stars at night trying to understand the meaning of huge but its difficult since the stars are too far away and its impossible to know the distance of the stars. But here looking at the mountains in the Himalayas, I could easily understand the meaning of huge. The mountains are so huge and I think I finally understand and grasp the meaning of it when comparing it with the village that sits below them. The village down below which is man-made look so tiny and weak compared to the surrounding mountains which are extremely huge and grand… reminds me on how weak we human are compared to our creator, the source of everything. Looking at the big mountains in far distance and compare it with us human who look like ants trying to walk or climb over it, making me to realize that the only characteristic we human should have is to be humble and always down to earth since we look too weak, miniscule and unimportant compared to the mountains. Yet some of us are filled with so much pride and arrogance which doesnt suit our appearance at all. Its just not natural. Proud is for the mountains, since theyre huge and grand. Then my mind began to think on a bigger scale, the mountains too should be humble comparing themselves to a huge asteroid that can destroy these mountains if it ever flies through our atmostphere and hit them… My mind then flew at a much larger scale, that the stars too should be humble because they just look like a dot compared to milky ways. In the end, every creation… from a tiny butterfly to a grand asteroid should be humble because we are all weak. My mind kept flying much faster than the speed of light in some mysterious realm while my physical body was walking in the Great Himalaya and my eyes were admiring those 6000m peaks.
I came across Thokla pass which sits at 4830m, filled with monuments of mostly climbers who died trying to scale the big mountains here including the Everest. Theyre being remembered as heroes here and books were written about their stories but the most important thing to me, it acts as a reminder on how small and weak we are. We might be strong, well prepared and fully equipped but the mountain is like a pretty young witch. They can be beautiful and seducing but can be deadly, they can kill men if they dont like them. All it’s elements can be against us human. The air.. the cold mountain air can weaken us slowly, the altitude makes us sick, lost control, lost appetite and constant headache, the rocks and ice and snow could make us slip and fall and break our legs and even kill us if we take one wrong step especially while descending, a drop of a small stone could start a deadly avalanche that could bury us alive and finally, the weather could just wipe us off, separating our soul from our body in a matter of minutes.
I walked fast towards Lobuche just to find out that most of the accomodation are full so I only stop there for a quick lunch. Then I continue further towards Gorakshep which sits at 5140m altitude. This is a mistake I made, by ascending too fast without proper acclimatization. Walking above 3000m, always sleep a night at every 500m of ascend and a full day rest for every 1000m ascend. But I walked over 500m a day from Dingboche (4410m) and the last time I had a full day rest was at Namche Baazar which sits only at 3440m. So there you go, I started to catch a headache when I was in Gorakshep. I even had problem sleeping the night since the headache I had was unbearable. The next morning I felt weak, but I woke up early at 5 to catch early breakfast and climb the peak of Kalapatthar (5560m). This is the best place on the Nepali side to see the Everest… and I just get to know that even on the Everest Basecamp we cant see that famous highest mountain since its covered by the other huge mountains in front of them which stands at almost 8000m. The climb to Kalapatthar was quite easy, took me slightly over an hour to reach the peak but it feels hell since I had constant headache which doesnt go away. When I came down back to Gorakshep, I took about 2 hours of rest in the guesthouse I was staying, battling against the headache that was getting stronger. Knowing that the headache wont just go away so easily, I then continued towards the Everest Basecamp which sits slightly over 5300m altitude. It would be an easy walk if it wasnt the headache, but with this kind of headache, it would be very difficult even to walk in a supermarket or a shopping mall.
I was happy to summit the Kalapatthar and reached the Everest Basecamp but there were too many people there just like in shopping malls. The difference is only that theyre not carrying goodies in shopping bags but instead a backpack, a walking stick and theyre wearing hiking boots. So I didnt stay long and quickly continued with the descent as its difficult to really enjoy the view when too many people were shouting at their friends guiding them how to operate the camera to snap their pictures showing peace sign at the top of the mountain. It only made my headache worst, so I basically enjoyed the journey much more than the destination. In this case, I could find a peaceful moment much easier in the bathroom in my hotel back in Kathmandu compared to the peak of the mountain. So I snapped a few pictures before going down so that one day I could show the pictures to my son and then my grandson telling them how I was battling with heavy breathing and ignoring the constant headache I had during the climb…
I stayed a day in Namche Baazar which is slightly higher than 3400m to acclimatized and took a good rest before going higher into the thinner air. The small town in the mountain is still covered with thick clouds, visibility is probably less than 200 meters the whole day when I was there. But when I woke up the next morning and looked at morning sky from horizon to horizon… I couldnt find any clouds. It was a clear blue sky and I finally managed to see the beautiful surrounding peaks which probably more than 5000m standing proud, clearly visible from the hotel I was staying in Namche Baazar. They look so grand and huge and fierce making the man made buildings in Namche Baazar look very small, weak, humble and unimportant.
Looking at the same view for an hour waiting for the sunrise, a thought came to my mind thinking deep about the comparison between us humans and the mysterious world we are living in. Since generations, we are trying to figure out our existence yet the more we discover the more we dont know. We are trying to understand the universe but sadly, the universe is too big to fit inside our brain, only our brain fits inside the universe. Enjoying the view of Namche Baazar and the surrounding peaks for an hour while filming the timelapse, I also got to see the comparison between human made architecture and real nature architectural plan of the master of the universe. The four elements of earth, water, fire and air… how they are connected in different ways in the dimension of space… and how all these are connected with the other dimension of time. My mind couldnt stop moving from one topic to another, while my body is sitting in one spot while filming the timelapse. This is one reason why I enjoy watching both the sunrise and sunset, my mind would usually fly to some mysterious realm just by looking at the magic in the sky.
Since I left Namche Baazar, the trail is filled with trekkers who usually started trekking from Lukla. Its never quiet hiking here compared to the mountains of Central Asia. Its fun when other trekkers thought that Im a Sherpa. My look isn’t so much different than them and even the Sherpas thought that Im one of them. Hiking on the trail with Pema, my guide while speaking in fluent Malay, making it confusing for other foreigners to guess which one is the tourist and which one is the Sherpa… and they thought that Im speaking Nepali with Pema. Whenever we are in the hostel, it makes it easy for me to blend with other Sherpas.
The walk started to get very interesting since I left Namche Baazar. The surrounding totally changed since I walked out of that village. The landscape easily tells that Im now walking in the higher altitude, the trees are slowly becoming smaller here before it finally change into a high tundra. The weather was extremely nice, the sun was shining almost the whole day making it really warm walking under the sun but cold under the shade. The first day of my walk out of Namche Baazar put me in a small village of Deboche which sits at over 3800m altitude. This was the last village for me to sleep under 4000m before going higher the next day. From here, I could already see rescue helicopter landed right in front of me to rescue a hiker who suffered from the altitude sickness.
The next day I walked 600m higher in altitude which put me at Dingboche which sits over 4400m altitude. This is where I got slower especially when ascending. My body started to realize that there were not enough oxygen at this altitude. So I walked slower while taking more time to enjoy the beautiful scenery while walking nearer and nearer towards the Everest. The walk here is filled with snowcapped mountains which all sits above 6000m. One of the most prominent peak that catches my eyes the most is Ama Dablam, a beautiful mountain with two sharp peaks where the higher peak reaches 6856m. Ama Dablam stands too proud and high and it is clearly visible for the whole two days of walk from Namche Baazar to Dingboche village. Besides those high snowcapped mountains, there are many Buddhist stupas and prayerflags along the way. This isnt much different than Bhutan or Tibet or even Mongolia. Once in a while, the traffic became tense when trekkers have to give ways to the yaks coming from the opposite direction. The clouds usually came to cover everything in sight not long before the sunset. Once the sun left the Himalayas, it becomes really cold here… everything freezes and there is nothing better to do in the dark except spending time inside the thick and warm sleeping bag.