Hiking the Himalayas: Day 4
We go where no plant dares to go:
Past the tree line
It was a slow morning in Pengboche as we tried to help ourselves adjust to the altitude. After breakfast, I went back upstairs to rest because despite the coffee and pancakes I was feeling really low energy. I didn't have altitude sickness, but the altitude was wearing on me. It was around this time that I started to get the sniffles a bit which was also an added stress on my body.
Dain however was invited by our teahouse host, who happens to run the local monastery, to go on a quick hike with him up the mountain to worship with him. This particular monastery, built 600 years ago, is the oldest in the Khumbu region and a people come from miles and miles away to worship here. Dain got to see the courtyard where people practice Buddhist ceremonies called dharma, relics like a yeti skull (a replica because the original was stolen in 1991), and got to come inside to observe a daily ritual. Women of Nepali Sherpas currently trying to summit Everest were offering rice wine and money. Juniper twigs burned their soft, sweet cinnamon smell into the air. The room was adorned with silk scarves and vibrant Buddhist paintings and our host recited prayers while beating a drum that hung from the ceiling. Dain felt grateful to be a small part of such an intimate cultural ceremony.
The first part of our trek from Pangboche to Dingboche, 2 hours, 8 km, and another 500 meters up, was along a thin trail on the edge of a cliff. We chose Dingboche instead of Pheriche, the town in the valley below it and a popular stop along the route, because Dingboche avoids the high winds that run through the valley which means it's a little warmer. The river was to our right and loose rock and gravel suggesting a landslide zone to our left. As we walk, the landscape starts to look increasingly eerie. We're in the middle of passing the tree line so plants and animals give way to massive rocks and boulders as far as we can see. Simultaneously, the morning fog grows denser and denser and you get the sense that you've hiked right off of Earth and onto the moon or a similarly uninhabited planet.
Today was the first time we needed to hike with more than just a base layer on. Perpetually hot Dain only wore his rain shell (which he removed because he got hot) but I needed my fleece and gloves the whole time. If I had to guess, it was around 40 or 45 degrees with no sun. It was a short, fairly easy day of trekking as most of the trail was steady but as mentioned, the air was getting thinner and thinner with each step. We stopped into a lodge at the edge of town for tomato soup and mo:mo, Nepali dumplings, before settling in at the Yak Lodge which surprisingly used wood instead of yak dung in the furnace. Even more surprising, Dain tries to order a yak steak for dinner only to find that there's a yak shortage in the town.
Around 7 o'clock after dinner, someone points to the window in amazement. We all hovered around to see that the sky had cleared and dense clouds we'd all walked through during the day had masked the stunningly gorgeous mountains imposing around the town like stern parents. Dain grabbed his camera and we went out into the cold to marvel at our first experience being truly within the world's tallest mountain range. It was dusk, and the dimming light was mystical.