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The Highest Monastery in the World

April 24, 2009

From Khumjung we had a short but steep hike to Tengboche, which boasts the world's highest monastery. We started our hike at about 12,000 feet, dropped down to 10,000, crossed the river, then climbed up to 13,000. It wasn't as bad as it sounds; we did it in a half day. The monastery at Tengboche sits on a high plateau surrounded by snow-capped peaks with sloping fields with yaks grazing all around. It has an ornately carved entrance, then a courtyard with a tall flagpole of prayer flags and the monks quarters all around. Prayer wheels and mani stones circle the building's exterior. To enter the inner sanctum you must remove your shoes. We were so fortunate to witness one of the ceremonies there. Monks dressed in deep red robes sat cross-legged on benches sipping tea, refilled by the young boy monks. We sat on carpets to the side, colorful tapestries hanging down all around us and golden statues and offerings in the front of the room. Soft light filtered in from the open windows, and the whole place was dim and smoky, almost suffocatingly so, with incense. All of a sudden the head monk entered and sat on a higher bench, a drum started beating, and there was sonorous chanting and horn blowing and cymbal crashing. It was the experience of a lifetime. I sat there in awe and reverence, as the chanting continued. They don't allow video, and words can't explain it all. After about half an hour my companions got restless and we left to hike up a small mountain to see Everest at sunset. For dinner I had the best dal baht yet, with some kind of crispy fried chip on top. And then straight to bed; I am so exhausted I don't even care how dirty I am, but I slept comfortably in my $200 Capilene4 long johns & yak booties within my down sleeping bag.

We were awakened at 5 AM for the sunrise view of Everest. I haven't been as impressed with it as some of the other peaks, which seem higher because they are closer. But the play of pink light off Ama Dablam was quite a show. Today was supposed to be one of the longest hikes, from 13,000 feet down to the river again, and then up to 14,500 feet. It wasn't that bad really. We've been doing all the hikes in half the usual time, so we reached Dingboche at only 2PM. AND I am not at the back of the pack anymore, but somewhere in the middle! The trail wound through small terraced villages with round-faced children running through them, lots of mani stones and stupas and prayer wheels, some water-driven. I keep a good pace, listening to my iPod the whole time, taking in the crisp air and gorgeous mountain views. I am mostly by myself, between the fast and slow groups of our party, which are spread quite a distance, and I absolutely love the solitude. "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay comes on and I feel so unbelieveably happy it takes all I have not to burst into tears. I think it might be the altitude :)

Our group consists of 14 people - the 7 trekkers, Gourav our main guide who has been with us since Kathmandu, Nima and Puri, our two sherpa guides in their early twenties, who take turns either leading us or taking up the rear, and then there are our four sherpa porters who carry our big bags, oxygen if we need it, and other gear. I haven't learned their names yet because they speak the least English of the bunch, but there are two very young ones, probably in their teens, one middle-aged one, and my favorite is this tiny smiley-faced old man who gives me a toothless grin every time I look at him. Although the sherpa porters are carrying huge loads, they beat us to the tea houses every time, so our bags are waiting. Our tea house for tonight & tomorrow night is the Snow Lion Inn. Cool. Tomorrow is an acclimitization day, so we will do a high climb and then sleep at the inn, which is at about 14,500 feet, already higher than the top of Mauna Kea, but I don't feel it as much as I expected. Probably because we are acclimatizing well. It is cold here & it's taking me a long time to post this because I keep having to put my hands in my pockets to warm up. My best investment has been a pair of liner gloves that I bought online before I came. They allow me to do simple things like take a picture or drink water without exposing my hands to the biting cold. Soon I'll have to pair them with my down gloves. From now on we were advised to keep our spare batteries with us in our sleeping bags during the night or they will freeze. Loving every moment.

Tags: himalayas, monastery, nepal, tengboche, travel, trekking

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