We humans are social animals and even though we are under lockdown for social distancing, we find ways to connect and share. With this unprecedented quarantine, many people are finding a long list of things which should have been done long back but missed due to the process called ‘life’. A reminder came in the form of a few pictures of our Everest Base Camp trek done in 2004, shared by my sister Priya. For me that trek was an absolute personal achievement. Being a chronic asthmatic patient, from the seashores of Mumbai, reaching above 5000 meters was a great feeling. During the journey, I found that I had mental and physical toughness to endure challenging situations. If I look back now, this experience probably was a precursor to be confident about my abilities as a traveller.
It’s been 16 years since then, but the memories are fresh in my mind, like I did it recently. Those were ORKUT days before digital bloom and social media was just taking shape. Back then, I used to own a Sony handycam, probably many of you wouldn’t have seen those small cassettes of handycam recordings. In today’s 4K world, those were the days of early technologies, full of adventure, fun & memories as we didn’t need to worry about posting or Gigabytes!
The Tenzin-Hillary airport (Lukla) is one of the most scenic but also the most dangerous airport in the world, situated on the mountain top, 2860m above sea level. I remember it was the month of November 2004, somewhere around Diwali, when we landed from Kathmandu to Lukla (around 30 mins flight).
Diwali celebrations were on amongst the local communities, we could experience the local dancing and singing all around us. It was a 11-day trek, from Lukla to EBC and back. On the way, we camped at Phakding, Namche Bazar, Tyengboche, Panboche, Lobuche and then at Gorakhshep. From Gorakhshep to Kalapathar was just a day-trek.
One of the most memorable events during this trek was when Priya & myself got lost at Namche Bazar! Recollecting this incident now, after travelling extensively in the mountains since 2004, feels like one of the most hilarious moments in our lives. But back on that day, it was the most terrifying experience for us!
We started our day as usual with the ‘First man’ of our group and started our birding & butterflying through the day. On any other normal trek day, we would’ve reached the campsite along with the ‘Last man’ of our group. This is the strategy which we had adopted, as we were the only 2 people in the group who were not just interested in trekking, but also keen on looking at the fauna of the place, especially for lifers, since this was a new region that we were visiting. This day was the maximum wildlife sightings that we’d had, butterflies to birds to mammals. We were so happy to have seen so many species that day that we almost forgot to keep a track of our group. Around 4pm, when we entered the village of Namche Bazar, we couldn’t find our group ahead of us or behind us. Though we knew that our camping site for the night was somewhere around Namche Bazar, we didn’t know where exactly it was.
Thus, we decided to ask the locals around the village if they had seen any trekkers passing through the village or any camp being setup. A shocker to us was when we realised that none of the villagers could speak or understand Hindi or English!! By now it had started getting cold and apart from our day jackets, the other layers/ jackets were with the group luggage. We somehow had to find our way to the group before it gets dark. We decided to start walking through the village, hoping to find atleast one person who could speak in Hindi. We asked and asked different people, with signs and actions, but everyone nodded their heads and moved on. By now it had started to get a bit scary as we realised that the group has probably not passed through this route. Suddenly a boy appeared from nowhere and walked up to us and asked us in Hindi “Kya hua?” which meant ‘what happened?’ This was the most soothing thing to our ears! Apparently, he was the only boy in the entire village who could speak Hindi. Any guesses on how did he learn this language when nobody around him spoke Hindi? BOLLYWOOD!!! He was a huge Bollywood fan and watched only Hindi movies, which is how he had learnt to speak Hindi. That day we realised that Bollywood was a boon to us and a blessing in disguise for that moment! We’d never ever loved Bollywood movies better!
This boy was very kind, he asked us about our problem and then suggested us to wait at his house where his mom was there, while he would go and find our group. He comforted us with his mom, who was empathetic enough to serve us some hot local tea with biscuits. This was a saviour. We were now a bit calmer as we knew that someone was around to help. We spent some time chatting with his mom, in a broken language which was a mix of Hindi & Nepali, she managed to explain to us about her son’s passion towards Bollywood and thus how he learnt to speak Hindi. In the meanwhile, this boy had gone in search of our group and within 30 mins came back huffing and puffing and with a big smile on his face, saying “Mil gaye!” which meant he had found them! We immediately jumped from our seats and he escorted us to our campsite, which was situated a few kms above the village. It then turned out to be that the group had reached the campsite through another route and while we had taken the village route. The next few days we were very disciplined and ensured that we stayed with the group, even if there were birds & butterflies flying around!
Our trek route passed through the Sagarmatha National Park. This park is largely composed of the rugged terrain and gorges of the high Himalayas ranging from 2,845m at Monju to the top of the world’s highest peak Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) at 8,848m above sea level. Several rare species, such as the Snow Leopard and the Red Panda, are found in this park. Through the entire trek of 11 days, we had some interesting wildlife sightings like the Spotted Nutcracker, Himalayan Snowcock, Blood Pheasant, Mountain Weasel etc.
Even though this was 16 years ago, most of the places we’d passed through had good facilities for tourists like hotels with boarding & lodging facilities, internet & telephone facilities…I guess this was all due to tourism. To my surprise, the rivers during our journey were not clean enough to drink the water from them, unlike most other Himalayan trek routes. There were many shops to buy souvenirs, post cards of sceneries, travel maps, etc. There were many tourists/ trekkers on the way, atleast about 2 people every 50 steps on an average, most of them were Westerners. The temperature during the day would range anywhere between 2 degrees 12 degrees and during night time the minimum was -18 degrees. It was a great experience to watch the water freeze while flowing from the tap!
I wish to do this trek again someday, not just to take better images and document my journey, but also to focus on the fauna this time. As a trekker and a wildlife lover, it is always challenging to limit your actions to any one of these hobbies during a journey, invariably you end up doing both!! 🙂