I woke up feeling good (and hungry) and was ready to start the trek to Tengboche.
We had to climb out of Namche (to the east), but after that the path leveled out. Namche still had a fair amount of trees, but we started to notice them thinning out on today's hike. The greenery was beginning to transition from dense trees to less trees and more bushes. We followed ridge around and around the side of the mountain. Around an hour in we passed a sign that pointed the way to Gokyo and the way we would be coming down if we could get through the pass.
We didn't really do to much climbing before lunch. The trail naturally goes up and down, but the steep, two hour climb to Tengboche was waiting for us after lunch. We were on our last small descent to Phunki Thenga, our lunch stop when we ran into Mike, a photographer/traveler/buisness owner from New York, going in the opposite direction He was on his way back to take a helicopter ride to base camp the next day because he didn't have time to do the full trek. He and his guide had just had lunch at a small lodge with a little blue plastic table right above the suspension bridge that crosses the river. We should sit there, he said, because the entertainment was great. They were having lunch when two Korean men started across the bridge. They were about half way when, from the other side, a yak came running full speed on to the bridge, heading their way. I hate to laugh at other someone else's expense, and I'm sure that karma will come back to me eventually, but the sheer terror they must have felt was cynically comical. I'd only seen yaks lumbering slowly up and down the path, or sitting and eating grass. I'm sure they can go fast, and the last place you would want to be is in their way, but they were so slow and steady every time I'd seen them. They're such big animals, though, and those bridges aren't wide enough for you to pass one. They don't yield either, obviously. You, honestly, would probably go over the side if it was you or the yak. Anyway, the yak comes running full speed on this bridge, headed right for these guys. Mike, the ever ready photographer, snapped pictures of the men throwing their arms up, screaming, turning around and running as fast as their legs would carry them back to side they started on and out of the way of the yak. Luckily for them they made it (and Mike had documented the whole thing). He said it took them a little while to find the humor in the situation, but after getting over the initial shock, they could appreciate how funny the terrified looks on their faces were. That's going to be a really good story those two have. It almost makes me wish I had a similar one. Almost :)
We sat at the same blue table and watched plenty of people and yaks go by, but not at the same time and not at full speed.
We crossed the suspension bridges, hiked steadily up for roughly two hours, passing yaks and what would have been trees blooming rhododendrons had it been later in the season..
Tengboche is much smaller than Namche and only had about seven lodges to chose from. We picked the one that had some people in the common area and I got a pot of ginger tea to hydrate and warm up. The main attraction in town is the Tengboche monastery. They do a twice daily puja (prayer ceremonies) at six in the morning and four in the afternoon, so I had enough time to check out the monastery and catch the afternoon ceremony. Apparently, there's a lot of history connected to this monastery. The first one was built in 1916 and destroyed in an earthquake in 1934. A replacement was built, but this one burned down in an electrical fire in 1989. Most of the items in the monastery were saved from both disasters and they made their way into the newest monastery, built in 1993.
I walked around the outside and onto the grounds. Once again, the colors didn't disappoint - this actually might have been the most colorful one yet. I only saw one monk, and he didn't pay me any attention as I took my photos. The gate outside was protected by two statues that look like a mix of a lion and a dragon to me, at least. There were also several, smaller ones inside the middle courtyard that housed the red building where the puja took place. Just as I was finishing my self guided tour and wandering back out past the front gate, I heard a bell ring and realized it must be about four. I saw a bunch of figures in red start walking in my direction and realized where all the monks had been - playing volleyball in the open area below.
There was a sign that had mentioned not entering the main hall until all the monks had entered, so I waited until I was motioned inside and walked to the right side of the building. There were mats there for visitors to sit on and I sat down and watched the straggler monks enter and take their seats on the red cushions on the benches in front of me. Suddenly someone was chanting, but I couldn't tell what they were chanting (most likely a mantra but not one I recognized) or who it was chanting. It took me a while to pinpoint where the voice was coming from and he chanted on his own for a while before all the monks were served tea and then joined in on the chanting. The chanting was a beautiful, almost mesmerizing string of sounds that all joined together and hummed in your ears. Again, I couldn't tell what was being said, but it seemed like it was being chanted quickly and there was lots of repetition. Another thing that really stuck out was that the monks had bare arms sticking out of their red blankets. I was freezing and they seemed to have no concept of the temperature. I'd guess that it dropped below freezing pretty soon after the sun went down and that was usually a little after four. There was no heating in this room, so you were watching the ceremony through the steam of your breath. I'd walked in right after some familiar faces I'd been seeing on the trail and we were all bundled up, but we were also all cold. Everyone was rubbing their hands together, pulling their hats down over their ears, doing anything to stay warm. It's one thing to stay warm when you're hiking, but its another when you're trying to sit still and not be disruptive. I was in my puffy jacket, thermal tops and bottoms under my hiking clothes, a hat, wool socks, thin gloves and I still wasn't warm. Even the guides that were there looked cold. We started leaving, one by one. I was the most bundled, so I made it the longest, about 45 minutes, but still didn't see the whole ceremony.
A hot shower wasn't a possibility here and I wasn't about to take a cold one in these temperatures, so I changed into my yak wool pjs and a fleece and sat in the common area writing in my journal and reading about tomorrows hike until it was dinner time. Netra and I went over the hike for the next day every evening, so we did that after dinner and I went to bed hoping that I didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to use the outhouse (I didn't!)
Day 4: 4 hours. 4.3 miles. Got to see a puja ceremony.