Manaslu Trail Race: the 2nd of my only two steps of trail running

Manaslu Trail Race: the 2nd of my only two steps of trail running
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the participants of the Manaslu Trail race kicking off from the start point of Stage-7

Why do we run? I wanted to have a one-liner that would give people goosebumps while reading. Just the way I feel a chill everytime Bruce Wayne’s father answers his own question “Why do we fall, Bruce?” Well I tried but no answer came to mind.

Anyway, ask this question to every runner you know and it is either a physiological or a philosophical reason.

So what do you get by running? I would commonly go along the lines of lactic acid, musculoskeletal aches and fatigue. I read somewhere that running marathons can release endorphins. Still might seem like an awful lot to do for some chemicals that you can also have released by eating chocolates, going shopping or making love.

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my professional pose in front of some of the mountains I would be running around

So while long distances running can be hard, doing that for eight consecutive days can be harder and doing that at altitude even more so. That is almost precisely what I did last week in the Manaslu mountain trail race. I add ‘almost’ because I did not ‘run’ the whole thing. I basically did what I am more used to doing- which is trekking at a fast-normal pace. I could play my “I would want to remain a ‘fresh’ expedition doctor at the end of the day” card every time.

37 the sunrise glow on Manaslu was something worth waking up very early and waiting for
the sunrise glow on Mt Manaslu, always worth waking up early for

The Manaslu Mountain Trail Race was a great experience on so many fronts. It included just above 200km of total distance over 9 days (racing and non racing days – it did not matter to me though) with countless meters of change in elevation. I am aware that my description of it on my Facebook album as “so much for my eyes, a little too much for my knees” makes it seem like a very hard thing to do. But to be honest, this is one of the races where if you are just a trekker and not an elite runner, you may not come first but you still win.

Not my first trail ‘running’ experience of course (as evident from the title of this blog). I did the Mustang Trail race this April and returned with a glorious amount of satisfaction. Although I do not have a blog post to prove it. This amazing experience came with even more positives. It could not have had a better timing- immediately after my USMLE step 1. And while I strolled past the beautiful mountainous panorama, the peaceful sound of the fiery rivers, the turquoise lakes, the yak-bells ringing in no particular tune while on their way to Tibet, my mind was the perfect futsal ground for me to try to score a soul-searching goal (it turned out to be a goalless draw).

2 Birendra Taal and the village of Sama

Manaslu trail has to be mentioned as one of the most attractive trekking trails. With the earthquake and lots of recent landslides in the region, being so close to the epicenter, it was understandable that there were few tourists and travelers (same as everywhere else in Nepal this year). But I would be genuinely surprised if it did not climb up in the to-do-list of trekking routes once Nepal starts to become what it used to be.

20151110_104334_Richtone(HDR)Coming back to trail running, while I may or may not further my two steps towards becoming a self-proclaimed veteran runner, I would certainly say that my take on running as a sport has changed considerably. Having done both Mustang and Manaslu trail races, if someone asked for my recommendation, in one word, my reply would, of course, be “both”. Run it all. Because you deserve to feel what I felt.

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To the pile of rock and ice with a history.

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These three words are probably more used than any other combination of three words (‘I love you’ included) whilst at altitude. Destined as it may sound, I just went through the first few chapters of the wonderful book by Jon Krakauer. It was by no means my plans to save the act of reading that book to the moment I would be closest to Mt Everest. That would have been bit too dramatic – even by my standards. I only started reading the book because it was there.

I started walking from Lobuche early morning hoping to make it to the Everest Base Camp and be back in time. I knew it was a long day – it was bit too much of a work for my arguably fit and lean body. And at the end of the day, it turned out some work for my mind as well.

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Of the thousands of people who trek to Everest Base Camp, many must wonder why people climb mountains at all. And many others must wonder what it would be like to be at the top of that tall, dark and not particularly handsome (in architectural sense) mountain that translates as “forehead in the sky” in local language. No matter in how much detail one would envision his/her moment at the highest point in earth, I agree with Jon than one would not summon the care to relish the moment as much. Partly because of the hypoxic mind incapable of processing feelings in the oxygen deprived air at 8848m and more so because for every moment you would spend at the top, there would be someone in queue behind spending that very moment waiting for the time of his/her life.

Do excuse me if I sound like I am giving a “grapes are sour” explanation to why climbing Everest might not be in my immediate bucket list (although it is there in one of my fantasies). I was only saying that when some say that all you need to climb Everest is a heap of money and the willingness to spend couple months of life away from the urban luxuries of food, drinks, fast cars, fashion and everything, it might not be a totally pointless criticism after all.

My point is not to disregard the efforts put by all those who have climbed Everest till date. I have utmost respect that they were determined enough to put in all they got on the line. They took a risk – which may have been high or low to different people and some of it may have been determined by luck. It does not need a mountaineer to say that you are offering your life every time you try to climb the mountain. As I passed many memorials that had names of climbers who failed, I wondered how many of the people had actually thought they might not return to their loved ones. Sometimes I think climbing mountains is like driving a racing car – there is a truckload of charm and thrill, but also a chance that something could go wrong to the experienced of drivers.

???????????????????????????????Facing Mt Everest from the Base Camp (the top is not visible from there), I wonder if there is a way mountain or nature decides who it is letting to the top. Many amateurs have scaled it while many experienced mountaineers have perished on their attempt. In fact some of their bodies are still there somewhere- frozen and preserved, if I could say that.

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The top of the world is more than three kilometers higher than where I am sitting here. If there were a person right there, he/she would not even be visible or smaller than a speck if seen through a pair of binoculars.

Indeed man as a mountaineer is a small insect crawling right underneath the nose of the mountain which is peacefully asleep. Only sometimes the mountain gets irritated and the insect gets blown in a sneeze.

So, back from my hike to Everest Base camp and Kalapathhar, I am sitting at my hotel staring at the “Himalayan Trilogy” poster of a smiling Rob Hall on the wall. As I keep wondering why we climb mountains, I am left to realize there might not be a better answer I could quote than what George Mallory said,

“Because it is there.”

(contd) Stairway to Everest- Days in Dingboche

“We write to taste life twice- in the moment and in retrospect.”

I am amazed at myself for trying to write every now and then. It may be because of the fact that I have nothing to do mostly during the day and there are these insane amounts of things running through my mind. As I write here, I try to recall the highlights of my stay in Dingboche.

I have to warn, there is a possibility of getting bored while in Dingboche if you are here long enough. On my second day, I did an acclimatization hike up to prayer flags and poles on the top of a hill on the side of the village. I went up with Alaistair, Robert and April, friends I had made while playing cards at the lodge the night before. The view of Ama Dablam got better (impossible, right?) with the lake at the bottom of the mountain.

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i wonder if there could be a better spot for lunch. even plain cheese sandwich tasted amazing!!!

The next day I could not help going to the lakes. And I got the company of my bestest friends, Nire and Pante, to do the hike up to the lakes.

lakes (2) lakes (1)

My usual schedule here is waking up fairly early, having nothing to do, following up on study participants already recruited down in Lukla and visiting lodges around looking for people who would be eligible to take part in the research that I am a part of. I get all sorts of mean comments from some people and guides but some people are so much fun and open to talk to. To be honest, looking for ‘guinea pigs’ for a randomised control trial is a bit hard. But that I guess is science.

Of all the interesting people I got to meet, I have to recall chatting up with a former Miss India. Her stories of places she had been to were enough to make anyone jealous.

On the day of this writing, there were four Australian girls – amazingly pretty. It was a good conversation with them as I explained them how helicopters flying over this region always need to have space for “a bag of potatoes” and ???????????????????????????????one would hope them to function as air ambulance, there are just taxis. As if the prettiness of the girls wasn’t enough to cast an image on my mind, one of them made an art of Mt Ama Dablam in a matter of minutes. It might take a while to get those girls out of my mind 😉

On that very day, in the afternoon, I met a Vet Doc from Australia (I should probly make the day theme of Nov 8, 2014 as ‘Australia day’). Soon as she came up to have her SpO2 measured and told me that she was a Vet working in the Emergency and Critical Care, I jumped to my natural level of stupidity at asking questions like “How do you measure SpO2 in a pet?”, “What cases come to your ER?”, “What is intensive care like?”, “How do you do blood transfusion in a cat?”, etc. I hope I made her understand properly that I had seen nothing like a Vet Hospital and was just curious about all the pet-equivalent of human medical practice.

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such a fun group to hang out with… forgot the name of the game though..

The evening was even better- played an interesting card game (forgot the name) with a bunch of Norwegians.

So when I am at the HRA post (half an hour away) to charge my laptop, the first thing on my mind is updating my blog. Insane amounts of thoughts to phrase. First time in my life, I made myself believe (or want to believe) that there are people waiting for an update – it might just be a fantasy of mine.

(contd) Stairway- Namche to Dingboche

Namche- Tengboche

After two wonderful nights in Namche, it was finally time to say goodbye to Alison and Deblin- wonderful people (thank you for the lesson about the bird and the bees- there is no way I would have learned it otherwise). Apparently everyone I meet is wonderful. I am starting to believe, it has something to do with me.

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the original OAKLEY sunglasses I bought at Namche for NRs. 400… having lost my previous ‘original’ one

The walk up from Namche is great. You start to see Mt Ama Dablam (the most beautiful mountain in Nepal to me). I couldn’t help taking several pictures- some with my mobile such that it would be easy to upload them quick. Mt Ama Dablam is so beautiful it makes you wish you did not blink at all. It is so beautiful, you wish it was a ‘girl’ you could marry. That way ‘climbing’ it would mean different – okay, I am starting to think a bit dirty; must be the altitude getting to me.

I could only upload the pics to my Facebook and Instagram after reaching Tengboche though, by means of quality internet @ NRS 500/use.

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what is in a name afterall???
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view of Ama Dablam on the way to tengboche

Finally we arrived at ‘Tashi Delek’ hotel in Tengboche, where I had a quick shower which was really warm and totally worth the NRs. 400 one would have to pay for it. The owner of the hotel was a cool guy, attentive and helpful. He had his way with all guests and handled everyone really well. I had lasagne for dinner and sat down by the fire as I listened to a group of foreigners, one of whom came up with riddles that everyone else tried to solve. And as I was quickly solving them in my mind, to partial success, I started to feel a bit sleepy.

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Tengboche monastry

Tengboche- Pheriche- Dingboche

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Continuing on my praise of Mt Ama Dablam, if there is something you can get an orgasm just by looking at it, this is it. This majestic peak (translated to my knowledge as “lap of mother”) is wonderful no matter what angle you look at it from. And throughout the walk up, you can see beautiful views of this mountain. You don’t really need to keep your camera in your pocket the entire time. Other than that, there is nothing much to write about the walk.

We arrived in Pheriche, went to the HRA aid post and then walked towards Dingboche – where I would be stationed in for the most part of my trip.

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evening shot of Dingboche

At the end of the day I imagined what it would be like if it were possible to do what Albus Dumbledore did with his magic wand – pull out a thread of memory and preserve it so that you could revisit it anytime.

Dingboche

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Dingboche is a beautiful place right at the base of Mt Ama Dablam, the famous super model of my blog. We were staying in Snow Lion Lodge right by the French Bakery (where I am sitting in at the moment as I continue to write). I could not charge my laptop because of lack of stable power. Feeling that a threat to my budding blog, I tried to write on this piece of paper hoping to type it out when I could get the chance to charge the laptop maybe when I visit the HRA.

The internet here would cost one NRs 500/hr. It has been getting expensive on the way up. Well, you could reason that it is something even the porters cannot carry but I feel the internet charge should be added to the hotel charge (making the hotels even expensive rather than having to change WiFi passwords every hour). On other thought though, internet is not something everyone would need while trekking.

(contd) Stairway to Everest- Namche Bazaar

Acclimatization day at Namche

Namche Bazaar is a beautiful place. That is it. Whatever further I write from here, is just me trying to write to the extent that it becomes a blog post.

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early morning view of Namche Bazaar… Good morning indeed!!

Namche Bazaar is one of the biggest ‘town’s in the region of Everest. There is a lot to do here- I woke up to a beautiful view of the place. I had been to one of the pubs the day before to watch the football game. The whole atmosphere was a big challenge to my resolution of not drinking (my definition of having fun) while on the way up in altitude. I just had a sip of wine- I was forced, believe me!

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Khunde.. the green valley. My destination for the acclimatization hike!

Most tourists spend an extra day in Namche for acclimatization and there could not have been a better place to spend extra days and nights. There are short day hikes that one can do and exploring the town isn’t a bad option either. What I decided to do was to walk up to Khunde, where my friend has been working for more than a couple of months now. He has been uploading pictures of views from the green valley close to everyday. This is one of the best views captured by my friend from the Khunde Hospital. 10703842_10203286429663516_8534560085724671268_o

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This is the best view I could capture- the best visibility throughout the two hours I stayed there.

So I could not help walking up to Khunde. The way was not too bad through the Syangboche airport (which is just a port for air now- not functional). After reaching Khunde in less than 2 hours, I was in for a treat. There were a lot of clouds to welcome me. The walk down was so foggy making it impossible to see anything. At least it was quick. I got down in less than an hour. Back at the hotel, I took a hot shower. Not sure if I felt better, but I definitely smelled better. I took another look at my friend’s profile to see what I did not see while at Khunde.

Stairway to EVEREST!! story of one Nepalese tourist in the Europe within Nepal.

Sometime back when I introduced myself to people from outside Nepal that I was from Nepal, most used to ask, “Oh you come from Everest? What’s it like there?” “I could tell you stories about it anyway but I have never been there or thereabouts,” was my answer- to their disappointment. And mine.

I believe this, my first ever big piece of blog, is the perfect opportunity to explain everything I experienced and encountered while getting high and face to face with the highest (“AND NOT THE TALLEST”- one of my English friends should be happy with this parenthesis) mountain on earth. And it could not be a better time to be writing than this. At a time when I am not asked by anyone to put my thoughts and experiences to words. Answering all the questions that no one has been asking me- that would be so me!!!

The Gateways (from one of the worst to one of the most dangerous)

this is how you queue at the airport!!
this is how you queue at the airport!!
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waiting to board. finally on a bench!

 

 

This is an inside view of the Tribhuvan International Airport which was recently listed by CNN as the third worst airport throughout the world. The truth is, that compliment was for the International terminal. The domestic terminal (the one in the picture where I had the heavenly pleasure of waiting patiently in) is a whole lot –let’s just say ‘differently comfortable’ with a pinch of sarcasm. At least I had good company in the form of Jessie, while waiting for the plane. She showed me the pictures of chicken she had back home. She would kill me if I wrote how delicious they looked (she was a vegetarian).

With the God of good luck, the God of good weather, and the airlines (never in the slightest less powerful than the Gods themselves) in your favor, you will be on a plane to Lukla. Because the morning sky of Kathmandu was hung-over (it was a Saturday morning), all flights got delayed. And then due to air traffic, there were fewer flights to Lukla later that day even though the weather was good. I seriously think there should be a separate domestic runway- now that I have written it in my blog it should materialize- in the next life.

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The air planes are small but they totally rock- literally!! The turbulence gives me the feeling of sitting on a rickshaw back home- and for me personally it is way too much fun than it is scary.  If you stretch your neck a bit, you can even see whatever the pilot is seeing from the cockpit. And the view of the mountains from the sides is amazing.

 

 

 

 

you can almost see what the pilot can.
you can almost see what the pilot can.

 

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Jessie had advised me to say that I had an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to sit on the left window seats- so that I could take this picture of the mountains for my blog. It did not come to that.

 

Last time I had flown in to Lukla, I could see another plane right outside my window going the opposite way. This was not to be the case today when I arrived at the airport that takes more superlatives than you can think of. The Lukla airport surely has a million more reasons to be famous for than the ‘Gangnam style’. It is a small air strip but on a typical day in the peak trekking season, while one airplane is landing, there is one right about to land and another one right about to take off. Busy is just one way of describing it. If I had to write an essay on it, this picture would come to my aid.

best juggling I can ever do is with the help of Photoshop (picture taken from the internet)
best juggling I can ever do is with the help of Photoshop (picture taken from the internet)

This picture is totally worth the thousand words that I would otherwise put forward to describe Lukla. It is typically said to be a dangerous one to start with and the metaphorical picture is spot on if you think of the knives as planes and the talented person (Photoshopped as me) as the airport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the streets of Lukla (european bakery on left and starbucks coffee on the right)

The ‘city’ of Lukla might make a Nepali miss home but never a foreigner I think. It has got Starbucks Coffee, Irish pub, the European bakery, pool houses and what not. Led Zepplin might know more on this to support my statement, but I am pretty sure you cannot find them even on the stairway to heaven.

The original plan was to stay at least a few hours ahead of Lukla en route to Namche, on the day of arrival. Now that I look back on it, I am actually glad that we got delayed and had to stay a night in Lukla. I got to meet my friend there and with him a wonderful person – one hell of a creature. I bet when he was born, God was in a real jolly mood if not ‘high’. David had a “soul that vibrated”- that is for sure.

Walk up to Namche

The next day was important. Manchester United were playing Manchester City in the evening. It is normally a 1.5-day hike up to Namche. I was motivated enough to do that in a day and the friends I had with me were full of encouragement. So we had a great “country breakfast”, I put on my Man Utd shirt and said goodbye to Nire and David (with a tearful face, because of the morning cold). And just like that, we were on our way up. Or straight for a while followed by up.

I was trekking with two beautiful American girls. That statement on its own is an achievement the man inside me would be proud of. Okay, in all seriousness, it indeed was “A Walk to Remember”.

The first tourist check post in Lukla, the policeman asked me, “Just two guests? Can I have your name and guide license number if you have one?”

“I am not their guide.”

He must have been tempted to ask if I was their porter then, but I was carrying just my laptop bag which was about 4kgs, while the girls carried almost 10kgs each if not more. He would be making a joke out of himself, in a way that he would understand he was making a joke out of himself.

“Who are you then?”

“A friend of theirs.”

“I don’t understand. Can I have your ID anyway? And you need to tell us what and how many cameras, phones and laptops the foreigners have with them?”

I still do not understand what that is for. But if I could have a paid job asking people, “Do you have an iPhone or iPad?” I would totally take it. Anyway that check post was not too bad. None of the check posts are bad, they are just a bit too many and I feel they are too useless for the number of those that are there.

It came as a shock to most when I used to ask the way or the time to reach a place. I had to admit to a guide that this was my debut in the region. He was helpful. He must have thought I must be a son of a Managing Director of a travel agency- got an Everest guiding job without having trekked ever in the region.

???????????????????????????????The trail is truly amazing. Not as much waterfalls as much as I would have loved to see (I have a thing for waterfalls) but when the girls with me screamed that this was the prettiest place they had been to, I couldn’t be happier for them. But to be honest, from what I had seen so far in the trail up to Namche, I feel I have been to better trekking trails. I hoped to say what the girls were saying, that it was the best place I had been to, as I would reach higher and saw the Ama Dablam. I have only seen pictures of it before.

The interesting part about this trail was that you would see a person every five minutes. That was reassuring considering my history of getting lost in places there are slim chances of getting lost in. And it felt good to exchange smiles with strangers. One of the interesting people I met was from Newcastle and wished me good luck that Man Utd would concede as few as possible. Honest and polite Brits!

We reached Monjo at almost 2pm and were left to decide whether to continue to Namche or stay there for the night. The time taken from Monjo to Namche would differ every time we asked a different person. The range was from two hours to four hours. It would get dark after 5 and the way was only uphill but we continued anyway.

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I was out of breath but never out of words. The shortness of breath never held me from talking to Katie, who is so amazing, friendly and cool that you would want to keep talking to her even though your lungs are not pretty keen to provide enough air to vocalize.

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the first view of Namche Bazaar!

Finally we reached Namche and Katie and I went in to the Namche Bakery to have a chocolate cake and a pastry. What a place the world would be without chocolates and sweet people!! We then went to the hotel to meet other crazy people of the research team for a nice dinner. As we talked from genetics and embryology to the advancement of technology so as to text beer, I realized one has to be crazy if one is to become a scientist. And though I might rather want to be sane, there might not be a chance afterall.

Well in terms of silver lining on every cloud like they say, it was a day of silver plating for me with the cloudy lining to come in the evening. Manchester United went a man down and lost 1-0. It was a miserable end to an otherwise great day. But no amount of misery could prevent me from getting some sleep. zzzzzzzzzzz

Getting started!!

Every time I have had to describe myself in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Couchsurfing, and all other places where I am required to fill out a short bio/description, I start and end with the things I love. Music, sports, football, and Manchester United are the points I never miss to mention. I have mentioned that I love to travel, meet new people, make friends, take pictures, share experiences over drinks, keep friends close (grossly in that order till the end). I suppose these hobbies are the things that would come to everyone’s thoughts almost spontaneously whenever asked. And even if I make myself ‘think’ to come up with something new and different, I doubt I could cough up any more hobbies.

into the world of blogging… remains to be seen how far ahead I can go, if I go ahead at all.

I have never dared say I love to write. Well if you count my Facebook statuses and tweets, you might sometimes be prompted to say that I write (or I might be a writer of some sort, from a weird point of view). Not that I don’t love writing- but I don’t have anything to show for it if I say that I do. So when I am about to embark on the pinnacle (literally), the standout highlight among all my trekking experiences, I promised myself I would write a blog during/after the trek in the Everest region. And I don’t break promises that I make to myself. So thinking better today than tomorrow, here I start-