Day 6: Paiya to Phakding
Pikey Peak, Nepal
Ascent: 800 m
descent: 920 m
Distance: 16 km
Elevation at Destination: 2610 m
For once, we didn’t start the day with a huge climb. The straightforward, undulating path, although at times a bit muddy, gave us a chance to warm up our legs before things got serious. An hour or so in the trail dropped directly down to the town of Surkhe, but it didn't feel as difficult as it had on previous days. Our only hold up was the mule trains. By the time we reached Surkhe, about two hours after starting out, we had been stopped by six mule trains and one yak train, mostly carrying heavy bags of food and gas bottles. Each time they appeared we flattened ourselves against the mountain, waiting impatiently for them to pass. We also became stuck behind a yak train going in our direction, but fortunately an overtaking area appeared after a few minutes. It wasn’t often that the trail was wide enough for that to happen.
Like yesterday, clouds appeared early in the day. We were lucky to catch a few breaks every now and then, but we never really knew what wonders lay before us. Planes transporting passengers between Kathmandu and Lukla continually flew overhead, their loud engines ruining the serenity.
Once we crossed over the gushing river in Surkhe, we commenced the climb straight up the other side. I wasn’t sure if we were getting used to all of this ascent or if the incline was more gentle on us today, but it didn't feel quite as torturous as most of the hills we had hiked.
Near the top we reached the village of Chaurikharka, a huge, never-ending, stair-filled town that stretched for well over a kilometre. While walking through here the tip of a peak slowly revealed itself from behind a cloud, but I was continually stuck behind houses, trees and power lines to see it clearly. Chaurikharka blended into Cheplung, where we ate lunch in the sun and relished the fact that most of our ascent for the day was behind us.
It was evident we had hit the main tourist trail for the Everest Base Camp trek, as there wasn’t a moment's peace after leaving Cheplung. This was advantageous because it severely limited our chances of becoming lost, but it also meant that taking a photo without a random stranger in it was near impossible. The trail from here was undemanding, with only a few short ups and downs, although the ubiquitous jagged rocks slowed us down considerably. Mule/yak trains continued, but thankfully the path was wide enough to let them pass without having to stop (although twice I was caught in a train going in the same direction I was, and the leaders of the herd did not want to let me through. I had no choice but to walk along in the middle the pack, pretending I was one of them).
Out of nowhere appeared Phakding, where we were suddenly surrounded by signs of civilisation. There were numerous stores selling all sorts of food and hiking gear, cafes with espresso machines, bakeries, bars and snooker halls. We found an upscale (by our standards) lodge that came with an attached bathroom, including a hot water shower (a first for us). Prices had noticeably increased, and we knew they were only going to get higher from here on up.
After making good use of the shower, we strolled around the bustling town. Walking around without a heavy pack on our backs almost felt foreign to us - we almost floated around the streets. Despite not needing to buy anything, we wanted to anyway, just because it was there. In the end, our only purchase was toilet paper.
Unbelievably, we did not go off course once today.