Fortified by a good breakfast we set off on day two, which promised to be significantly tougher than yesterday. After an easy start, criss-crossing the river (at least, for those not afraid of heights given the numerous suspension bridges) we found ourselves after lunch facing the 450m (1,500 ft) climb up to Namche. Although only around a third of the height of Ben Nevis (the UK’s rather modest highest mountain) it was at at least three times harder at an altitude of 3,400m.
But with a leisurely pace and lots of breaks we made it up to the town and settled into the Khumbu Lodge where we will stay for three nights to acclimatise. We got there just in time. As the afternoon drew to a close the clouds rolled in and as I showered before dinner I could hear the rain pouring down on the corregated roofs all around. If the shower had had the same volume of water coming down it would have been great! But given the relative temperatures I wasn’t minded to swap. And after a hot, dusty hike up the hill I was happy just to be clean. When the clouds cleared in the morning I could better appreciate what the effort of the climb had bought me. Without even getting out of bed the view was spectacular.
For our first acclimatization day our guides proposed ‘a short walk – maybe an hour?’ to the Everest View Hotel, followed by a further half an hour stroll to Khumjung where our sirdar (Sherpa leader), Pasang, had kindly offered to give us lunch. They neglected to mention that this involved a further 430m (1,400 ft) of ascent, and descent.
But while tiring, it was a great hike with wonderful views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse and – briefly – Everest itself. Pasang and his wife were wonderful hosts and it was a privilege to be a guest in their home. While in Khumjung we also had a chance to see the Hillary school – complete with a bust of its illustrious founder who set it up in 1961.
We walked home by a different route, and were treated to a great view of Namche itself before the final descent back to the town, and a well-earned rest.
Situated in a natural amphitheatre, Namche is much as I remember it from my last visit here in 2009. A little larger, perhaps, and with the addition of two more banks, an ATM and an authorised Mountain Hardwear dealer, the character of the town with its steep, narrow streets lined with trekking gear shops, souvenir stalls and lodges was not much changed. Being here on a Saturday we were fortunate enough to catch the weekly market. I’ve seen a lot of markets in a lot of countries but few could compare for the beauty of their setting, or the tolerance of the shoppers for our group (and others) getting in their way and snapping countless photos.
Along with all the usual vegetables, chickens, fuel and hardware my favourite product was ‘Close up’, ‘active gel – red hot, the closer the better’, a happy couple adorning the box. I was initially startled to see a crate of it prominently displayed – but it turns out to be a dental hygiene product. The meat market polarised the group. Some found the carcasses (in various states of dismemberment) fascinating, others couldn’t look. Personally, I could cope with the meat but was horrified to see a man selling dried chillies in bare feet. All the flip-flops were bad enough! Toes numb from the mere thought of it, I headed off for a hot drink to recover.So with our laundry done, final purchases made, email checked and good coffee guzzled we’re ready to leave Namche. Our Easter Sunday will be spent heading higher up the mountain to Deboche.