Day 19: Monjo to Lukla

Last night turned out to be an interesting one. We’d not really thought much about the lodge we checked into, just that it seemed nice. Around 4:30pm or so, a couple of Exodus groups showed up. It was certainly the most full we’ve seen a teahouse during the entire trek. One of the groups, the “geriatric” group (as deemed by Murray), had only gone as far as Khumjung. The other, far more raucous group had been as far as Gorek Shep and base camp. Nothing of real note happened until after we’d had dinner, when the Gorek Shep group started drinking. It started with a round of beer, followed with some whiskey. From there, the party went on until the wee hours of the morning, with much drinking and dancing and other celebration. Fortunately, we had a room on the third floor of the teahouse and slept soundly through the night, not hearing any of the commotion below.

We were up early in the morning, both Anne and myself now suffering the full effects of the dreaded “Khumbu Cough,” which was really more like a bad and persistent cold. With a sore throat and cough, it made sleeping later in the morning hard. Even harder was getting out of the sleeping bag as it was still quite cold out and with our proximity to the end of the trip, motivation to move fast was starting to leave me. However, we were packed by 8am and had finished breakfast and were on the trail by 8:40am.

The hike to Lukla was a reported 4 hours, making most of the way uphill as the cruel and lasting shot from the Everest region. But the skies were clear, the sun was soon shining in the valley, and it made the first part of the hike to Phakding enjoyable. Anne and I sort of assumed, given the fact that Dorje had family in Phakding, that Dorje would want to stop for tea. We agreed that we didn’t want to stop in advance so when the question came, we said no in unison and said that we’d rather motor on to our intended lunch spot. Next thing we knew, Dorje had again performed his disappearing act. He caught up 40 minutes later as we were taking our time photographing a large complex of mane stones just outside of Nurning.

We finally stopped for tea around 11:20am. Anne really wanted to push on to Lukla before eating lunch. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it so I ordered some soup, which finally forced the issue of food and Anne decided to grab a bowl of soup too. We soon found out that this teahouse was owned by another uncle of Dorje’s who’d summited Everest 3 times himself and had the pictures on the wall to prove it.

After a short lunch break, we made the final push for Lukla. While relatively short, the trail climbs nearly 300m in the final bit to Lukla. Since I’d already mentally prepared to be done the night before, assuming a short day, it made it that much more difficult to push on. Finally, however, Lukla came into sight on the hill above us. After only another 30 minutes of gradual uphill we crossed the “finish line” which Anne and I crossed together, hand in hand.

As is now customary as we get to town, Dorje bolted ahead making for his uncle’s lodge (The Sunlight Lodge). There, he tried to woo us into a double bed room with an attached shower. When I asked the price he said it was 500 rupees. I somehow figured that wasn’t it so I asked about the shower, which as expected cost extra to use. Anne and I pressed that even the most expensive rooms in Gorek Shep were 250 rupees. After some bartering and a little threatening to go somewhere else, we finally got a room with double bed and no shower for 300 rupees. Even though it was a nice enough room, it was hard not to feel like we were being hustled.

Anne and I wanted to look around the town a bit and grab some coffee so we went to find out when dinner was before taking off. It was then that Dorje starting informing us of his plans for us that night. First, we were to all have dinner together. Next, we would talk about the good and bad parts of the trip, giving him feedback on what he did well and not so well. Finally, we would give he and Renche their tips. Along the lines of tips, he went into suggesting the amounts we should tip, for a good guide such as himself (and the good weather) 10,000 rupees and for our porter 5,000 rupees. Anne and I both felt like a line had been crossed.

We went to check out the airport but instead found what appeared to be a town talent show by the airport. We only later found out that this was a once a year event that brought crowds from all over, some flying in from Kathmandu to attend. As we watched, the woman from our lodge danced a Sherpa dance. We only found out later in the evening that it was her, and that she had seen us from on stage! We also found out from her that the event would continue on until the early hours of the morning, getting more vigorous and alcoholic as the night progressed (Dorje actually said that it wouldn’t be safe for us to be out).

Next we had coffee a couple doors down from our lodge, where we determined several things regarding our current situation:
1) We’d never be able to have a fruitful conversation with Dorje about his shortcomings. Especially since his English was one of his biggest shortcomings
2) We really didn’t want to get into the conversation at all and would try and avoid it if possible
3) We would only give the tips out once we got to Kathmandu

We finished our coffee (which was awesome), went back to the lodge, and waited for the inevitable.

A note about the coffee: There’s a “Starbucks” coffee in Lukla. No, it’s not the real thing, but the sign looks nearly identical. It was closed, so we couldn’t try it, but I would have loved to have had a “Starbucks” in Lukla!

Dinner came and I bought a couple rounds of beer for both Dorje and Renche. Since we’d seen other groups treat their guides and porters, it seemed the only appropriate thing to do. This lead inevitably to “the conversation.” At this point, Anne had abandoned me to her new friend Joanna leaving me to chat up Dorje alone. To her credit, she checked in regularly with an inquisitive look to which I could only reply with a sad puppy dog face. Dorje started with lodges… Which lodges were good and which weren’t. To this I had no problem. Both the lodge in Dole and the lodge in Dingboche were duds. Dorje totally appreciated this, telling me he’d not take new clients back there. Then the topic of his service came up. I told him that his English was hard to understand and needed some work. I completely skipped the part about feeling like he’d had his own interests in mind more than ours on several occasions. Dorje, trying to take back the discussion, felt compelled to remind us both of the good weather we’d had and his good service, also then taking pains to invite us for lunch when we were back in Kathmandu (to which neither of us wanted to go).

All the while both Anne and I felt that Dorje was pushing too hard for a tip. Fortunately, I’d managed to dodge the topic of the tip for the majority of the evening. However, it came to a belligerent head later in the evening as Anne, Joanna, John, and I were talking. Dorje made some remark to Joanna and John to be quiet, apparently upset that the four of us were talking. John immediately interjected “What are you on about!?” as I quickly pulled Dorje to the side to grab more water. I reinforced to him that he’d get his tip in Kathmandu, which seemed to quell the immediate issue and make him happy.

Sensing the lull in the mood, Anne and I made for the bedroom, retiring early to pack and get ready for the flight out the next morning. It was good, we weren’t sure how much more we could take, and we’re certainly worried about how tomorrow will go, especially since Dorje wants to have us to his home for tea. For now, we’re packed, ready to go, and dreaming of hot showers and indulgent food…

Stats for the day:
Miles: 5.7
Ascent: 621m
Descent: 583m
Total Time: 4:59