Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar Day 1 Phakding
Everest Base Camp is one of the most popular treks in Nepal. Did you know, it is the 3rd most visited area in the country. More people visit Chitwan National Park, and Annapurna Conservation Area. More than 50,000 people visit this national park each year. The majority of the visitors come between September and December. For a comprehensive breakdown of the best time to go, what to bring, where to stay and other facts you can read my blog post Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar by following this link. You can also learn how to prepare for this trek by reading How to prepare for Everest Base Camp. In Day 1 we start trekking in Lukla and end in Phakding. You can skip ahead to day 2 Namche Bazaar here.
The following post describes the first day on a trek to Everest Base Camp and arriving in Phakding. Kick back, relax, and enjoy Day 1 on the trail to the tallest mountain in the world.
Flying into Kathmandu
Flying into Kathmandu can be a religious experience. I mean that in both the heavenly and devilish sense. It is important to keep an open mind when you visit a foreign country because it will make your trip more enjoyable. I will give examples and be as entertaining and as knowledgeable as possible. You can also read my post on what to expect before arrival.
Kathmandu is what dreams are made out of. I’m not talking about the plastic dreams you can buy in a Hollywood circus for $20 a pop, only to be disappointed by the time you get off the ride. I am talking the real deal, bonified substance, a hearty overhaul of the body and mind. For the record, I am passionately at odds with Kathmandu, but I absolutely love it. I love it for its freedom and will avoid it at all costs because of its pollution. More on this later.
My first impression of Kathmandu was like a “bland spaghetti dinner.” I felt indifferent. I entered the airport, applied for a visa, payed for the visa then I was sent on my way. Upon exiting the airport, I had an immediately strong negative opinion. I was assaulted by a cacophony of taxi drivers, and hotel managers yelling at me to come to their hotel and ride in their taxi. It was nuts.
Behind the scenes
What most people don’t see when arriving in the airport for the first time are the staff members barbecuing their lunch on the tarmac. It is almost reminiscent of a 1970’s Viet Nam war movie, where everyone does whatever they want with little consequence. This is exactly what happens when you step off the airport grounds. Traffic laws, forget about it! Toilets, who needs them? Trash… smash. No, that is not an Incredible Hulk quote, but a rare attempt to rap. It is incredible in its own way.
Although I would like to see the Incredible Hulk fight pollution, the only animals I saw were crows, monkeys and cows roaming the streets freely. One cow was caught in a low hanging telephone or power line, another eating garbage piled into the street. The monkeys had sprite bottles and plastic cups, like they were going on a picnic. The crows were singing away, without a care in the world. It was really quite adorable how seamlessly synchronized the chaos was. The freedom is beautiful.
About 15 minutes after arriving in Kathmandu I was at my hotel and had a cough, presumably from the dust and garbage fires, but who really knows. Fortunately, my hotel was very clean and well kept. I stayed at the Sukeyasu Hotel, owned by Mr. Ghanshyam Paudel and managed by Mrs. Pabitra Khanal. The thing I liked the most about the hotel was the hot water showers. Finding a hotel in Nepal with a decent shower can be extremely challenging to near impossible.
Kathmandu Hotel to the airport
The hotel is conveniently located on ring road and has a private car, which the hotel staff are pleased to use to provide guests with rides around Kathmandu and to and from the airport. This saved me from the price gauging taxi drivers offering $20 rides at a discount. The food is also very tasty and the rooms are relatively inexpensive at $15 per night. There are nicer hotels in Kathmandu, but this one met my requirements. I spent two nights at the hotel before I departed on the flight to Lukla.
Lukla gets a bad rap for having the most dangerous airport in the world, but at least there aren’t people barbecuing on the tarmac… probably because its too short. The airport runway is 1,729 ft long at an elevation of 9,334 ft. The only thing that scared me in relation to the airport, was the flight to the airport. Are you ready for a long tangent? If not skip ahead to “Totally rad dude” starts trekking.
Kathmandu to Tenzing-Hillary Airport Lukla
I arrive at the domestic departure wing of the Kathmandu airport 1 hour and 10 minutes before my flight at 4:50 AM. The airport is scheduled to open at 5:00 AM. So, I’m waiting outside, excited as a butterfly in a patch of wildflowers, for the airport to open. 5:00 rolls around, and nothing. I start to think the airport is closed because of the thick net of pollution called air, in Kathmandu, is trapping all the visibility and plane operators can’t fly through it.
Wondering what to do, I peak through the window and see people. Ok good sign. So why aren’t they opening the airport doors? Tea! They were having their morning tea. I forgot about tea time. It is something that I will never forgive the British for inventing. Their doors opened 5 min late and a uniformed man came out instructing us to form two lines. Great, I’m back in grade school. I just know this is going to end with me in detention with one of those pink slips of paper pined to my shirt.
The uniformed man asked us to put our packs through the x-ray machine and step through the metal detector. I let out a mild sigh of relief thinking I could do that. The metal detector beeped instructing the attendant to wave me over with the wand. After a couple beeps of the wand and the attendant groping at my pockets I was set free in the airport. I wondered around looking for my airline ticket counter then finally gave up and asked for directions. By this time, I have about 20 min to check my bag and find the gate.
A slippery looking poop and a long wait
I was instructed to go through the hall and it would be on my left. As I’m walking through the hall I see something on the ground that seemed out of place. I approached cautiously like a lion hunting a wildebeest, but with much less intensity and quite a bit more hesitation exactly like a human man walking down a hall. I came to find a slippery looking poop lying smack dab in the center of the hallway. I’m not making any assumptions of what made the poop, but I didn’t see any 4-legged animals around.
I find the ticket counter on the left-hand side of the hall. A sign reads no nunchucks. Holy wow! how many ninjas live in this country, or pass through these gates? You couldn’t imagine the terror. I have to watch my back. I checked my bags with the staff and received my boarding pass. After some hustle, I found my departure gate with 15 minutes to spare. I sat down and thought, I’m safe, I’m on time, everything’s good. Six O’clock arrives and nothing. So, I asked the gate attendant if she and the rest of the staff have had their tea.
She giggled and shyly looked away. I don’t get it, I really don’t. So, I sat back down. Two hours pass and the airport is inundated by Asians. As I become aware of my surroundings, I remember the sign, and laugh to myself. My neighbor looked at me concerned and I said “no nunchucks.” This only confounded the situation and worried my neighbor more. I smoothed it over by following up with “I wanna rock!” and hoping the reference would be associated with Twisted Sister and not the greeting of those in the Northeastern Atlantic states.
The Plane Arrives
I continued to wait for another couple of hours for the flight to Lukla. I must have missed the announcement because the shy girl attending the gate was now talking to me, telling me the bus was waiting for me. It felt kinda nice to be waited on but I hurried out the door to catch the bus. But instead of immediately zooming off to the airplane we waited in the bus for another half hour. (I should have known). We reached the airplane at the end of the tarmac at around 12:00. I sat in the back of the plane with the stewardess.
My mind drifted to boats and comparing boats to planes and how some planes are also boats. This led me to the question of whether or not nautical names are the same for aeronautical vehicles. To lead up to the question, I asked “what is the name for left” in Nepali. (It is “baiya,” pronounced by-ya.) The stewardess did not know the word for left. I then asked her if she was Nepali and spoke Nepali. She answered “Yes” to both questions.
I found out later that the names for left and right are the same for both nautical and aeronautical vehicles. Port and starboard are left and right respectively. At this point in time, we have been flying for about 15 to 20 minutes. I could see the Himalayas on the port side of the plane, so I changed seats. I snapped a few photos out of the window not expecting them to turn out well. Then, without warning, weightlessness. Thankfully I had my seat belt on.
The plane dropped 30 feet and passengers were lifted out of their seats. I thought oxygen masks were going to drop from the top of the plane but realized they can’t if the plane is falling faster than or equal to the velocity of the air mask’s fall. Maybe I’m wrong? If any physicists are reading leave me a comment with “physics rocks” or “geo-physics rocks.” Thank you to anyone laughing at my science jokes. I also thought that this sudden loss of altitude would disrupt the load balance of cargo in the middle of the plane.
What happened next, I couldn’t believe. We arrived in Lukla. The plane touched down and we gently drifted to the passenger unloading zone. My guide was waiting for me when I arrived. He had a sign that read “totally rad dude.” I use that name at airports to confuse the paparazzi. We began to trek to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar after a brief chat.
“Totally rad dude” starts trekking to Phakding
We walked around the airport and through the city to enter the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality. This is a buffer zone before entering the Sagarmatha National Park. The entrance fee costs 2,000 rupees or $20. Directly after paying the entrance fee there is a police check point that inspects the receipts. Then in about 20 more yards, we were in a beautiful rhododendron conifer and birch forest.
The trail was sleek and cobbled with river rocks. We had excellent views of the Dudh Kosi River and beautifully cultivated farm land. On parts of the trail we could see Mt. Kusum Kanguru, which reminded me of the internal structure of a leaf. On other parts of the trail, we had to dodge cattle and mules as they lumbered past with heavy packs. We hiked down and up rolling hills but ultimately settled 820 feet lower in elevation than Lukla.
The hike to Phakding from Lukla took about 3 hours. Phakding, at 8,563 feet in elevation, is a small village with quite a few tea houses and a surprising number of pool halls. And as I would find out later, one really delicious tongba beverage house. I stayed at Namaste Lodge Restaurant and Bar. The rooms are small with two beds and a shared western style toilet down the hall. The walls were wood patterned vinyl but the floors and hand rails were real wood.
The entire lodge had a very comfortable feel about it. It is one of those places where you just feel good when you walk inside. The rooms do not have charging outlets, but you can get a full battery charge for $2. The soft mattress and blankets are more than enough to keep you comfortable at night. Throw away any used toilet paper, because the toilets cannot accept paper. The bathrooms do not have sinks, but there is a sink and mirror by the entrance and outside.