Having reached Lukla, and survived the most dangerous airport in the world, we were now ready to start our 4 day trek up to Tengboche at 3,900m and then 3 day trek back. Tengboche was half way up the Everest Base Camp Trail, the base camp being at 5,500m and another 3 days trek past Tengboche. After some local lunch we arranged the sherpa porters and with our trekking guide Bir Bador we headed out through the town and onto the gentle first half day trek to Phakding. At the end of the town there is an arch marking the start of the Everest Base Camp Trail and the stone trail initially descends steeply making it an easy start to the trek. From Lukla to Phakding there is a drop in elevation of around 200m. It was mentally noted however that this easy first section would soon to become the difficult final section on our return to Lukla!
This trail ran through numerous small rural villages surrounded by stepped, cultivated fields growing rice and vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, and potatoes. There were also a number of tea houses and small shops to stop at for refreshments and snacks.
Dzo, a hybrid between yak and domestic cattle, were commonly seen on the trail carrying goods up towards Phakding and beyond. Donkeys were also commonly used and we came across large “donkey trains” heading up or down the trail, usually fully laden on the route up with large bags of goods, gas bottles, etc and coming back down the trail empty ready for the next load. Also, a common sight on the trek were numerous porters, both male and female, young and old, carrying large loads of goods up the trail. We soon got used to listening for the bells of the dzo or donkey trains and moved to one side of the trail to allow them to pass. Occasionally we would see small horses on the trail usually being used to transport people rather than goods.
Prayer wheels were a very common sight on the Everest Base Camp Trail These were brightly painted and inscribed and came in all sizes, some having their own building to house them. A prayer wheel is a cylindrical “wheel” on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Newari language (Ranjana script) on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. There were also occasional small monasteries and Buddhist stupas along the trail.
Along the paths of regions under the influence of Tibetan or Nepalese Buddhism the traveller is often confronted with Mani walls and these were commonly seen all along the Everest Base Camp Trail. These stone structures comprise intricately carved stone tablets, most with the inscription “Om Mani Padme Hum” which loosely translates to “Hail to the jewel in the lotus”. These walls should be passed or circumvented from the left side, the clockwise direction in which the earth and the universe revolve, according to Buddhist doctrine. They are sometimes close to a temple or chorten, sometimes completely isolated and range from a few metres to a kilometre long and one to two metres high. They are built of rubble and sand and faced with mani stones engraved in the elegant Nepalese/Tibetan script.
The trail eventually came down close to the Dudh Kosi River and followed this to Phakding where we would spend the first night. The scenery of river, valley and rugged mountains was beautiful and many of the trees in the fields were in blossom adding to this beauty. It reminded me somewhat of Scotland (without the good whisky I may add!) although on a much larger scale. The mountains were no doubt higher … the highest mountain in Scotland being Ben Nevis at 1,344m and of course Mount Everest here (but yet to see) at 8,848m – some six and a half times the size!!