Sunday 11 January 2015

Days 221-222: Namche to Lukla - Joining the traffic jam

A Tara flight prepares to take off from Lukla. It's more like a launch from an
aircraft carrier than a conventional take-off.
Guy joined the sick register this morning, while Paul still felt nauseous and I still had a cold.  We were finishing the trek in style.  Breaking Paul felt like an achievement of sorts; no one had ever realised he had limits before.

We left early to try and make it to Lukla in a day, but not too early to devour a final chocolate croissant in the bakery first.  We needed plenty of sugar for the day's hike, not because the path cheated and started heading uphill again, but to help us withstand the shock of finding ourselves transported from remote hillsides to a trekker-jam of M25 proportions.

Hundreds of hikers swarmed along the pathway, maybe thousands whilst overhead monied tourists took to the skies in chartered helicopters.  We queued for suspension bridges and huddled along the edges of the trail while yaks, donkeys and people vied for supremacy.  Where had everyone come from?  Did this many people really still exist in the world?  Until now, we could have counted each day's passers-by on our fingers.  The truth was that we had converged with the Everest Base Camp trek - a trek that we resolved, on the spot, never to touch with a barge pole.

The world of dishevelled mountaineers and rugged hikers was behind us.  Here there were 'trekkers' wearing jeans; there were overweight trekkers; there were trekkers who had succumbed to the hardships of the trail on their first morning and now rode horses.  Meanwhile, porters staggered by carrying loads wider than the height of their bearer.  We counted the number of beer cans on their backs and calculated their load.  Sometimes it was over fifty kilograms (even our unbreakable Paul with his bottomless food sack was only carrying twenty-eight).  This was plain wrong.

Vast numbers of trekkers on the motorway to Lukla
If the valley itself had been our only company then it could have been an enjoyable day.  A wide river sauntered downwards between steep green slopes and clusters of houses.  Plants and insects gave it their seal of approval, so did the sunshine.  But we all felt as though our trek was over.  This was no longer an expedition; it was a route-march along a highway.

In early afternoon Guy's energy ran out and we realised that Lukla would have to wait another day for our company.  He spent the rest of the day in bed with a fever.  It's just possible that the rest of us resorted to the odd game of cards for entertainment - not quite for the last time.

But the next day, after a short climb, we finally made it to Lukla, home of one of the most dangerous airports in the world.  We wandered over to the agonisingly-short runway which dipped sharply down the hillside to give the planes a gravity-aided take-off.  "Looks a bit interesting," thought Paul and Ian, but Guy and I compared its smooth tarmac with the rutted, vegetated, dirt track that passes for a runway in Juphal (Dolpo).  "Lukla's runway looks state-of-the-art," we concluded.

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