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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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