Compared to all the settlements we passed along the way to Namche, it could perhaps be described as a thriving metropolis. The town is tucked into a basin in the side of the mountain and sprawls upwards on all sides. Historically speaking, it used to be the hub of trade between Nepal and Tibet and has ever since been a center of trade for the region. The town is home to dozens of shops selling trekking and climbing gear. It even has a North Face store (unsurprisingly, still selling only fakes)! We were lucky enough to arrive on a Friday, when they were holding the outdoor market, where I got a few delicious clementine-like fruits. Our accommodations for our two day stay made it feel like we were staying at the Ritz Carlton. With free charging, hot showers, and heated blankets, we were living in style. After getting settled in, I made my way over to the Namche bakery for a cholcoate crosissant and some hot tea before returning to the lodge for dinner and bed.
Because of the rapid ascent to Namche, most people take an acclimatization day and do a small side hike. For ours, we went to visit the famous Everest View Hotel (where rooms cost $150-$180 a night!), circled to the nearby town of Khumjung, and then went on to Kunde before returning to Namche. Unfortunately, due to some heavy cloud coverage our views during this trip were quite limited. From the Everest View Hotel, we had an excellent view of clouds and nothing else. On the bright side, the hotel made a delicious cup of tea! After visiting the hotel we walked 15 minutes to Khumjung which is home to the Himalayan Trust School which is sponsored by organizations around the world. Because we were here on a Saturday, school wasn’t in session, but some of the highlights of the visit include a bronze bust of Sir Hillary (whose influence on the region is beyond compare), a computer classroom (naturally, sponsored by the Koreans….. talk about stereotypes), an English classroom, and a full sized soccer field. While in town we visited the monastery, which, unfortunately, was decimated in a recent earthquake and was in the process of being rebuilt.
An easy 15 minute stool brought us to the town of Kunde, sister city to Khumjung, and home of the Kunde Hospital which was built by the Hillary Himalayan Trust in 1966 and just celebrated its 50th year anniversary this past March. Given that Catherine and I are giant medical nerds we had to pay the hospital a visit. After creeping around the front of the building, peering in the front windows, and generally being nosy, we tried one of the doors and it opened! We were soon greeted by one of the staff members who was more than happy to give us a tour. She showed us the main clinic room which had sheleves of medical books, rows of paper charts (separated by region and spanning between Phakding up to Base camp), an exam table, and all your basic clinical supplies. Behind the clinic room was a pharmacy and a small room equipped with an x-ray machine and an ultrasound. After talking to our tour guide, we discovered that she was in fact one of the physicians at the clinic. She grew up in Kunde, left for medical training in the Philippines, and ultimately came back to serve the people of her region. She also informed us that as of 2002 all of the clinic staff are locals, and that the hospital is no longer dependent upon visiting foreign doctors…. which is awesome and really serves to improve the region. The consultation fee for locals is a mere 20 rupees while for foreigners it costs $50.
After our day of exploring, we made our way back to Namche and once again found ourselves in the Namche Bakery for some pastries and free wifi! I spent some time haggling at some of the shops and shortly became the proud new owner of a trekking pole, some wind-proof gloves, and a small backpack for a grand total of $26. It was at this point that I also decided to hire a porter to carry my bag (yes…. I know…. I am weak….). After spending the day hiking without carrying my bag, I figured I’d enjoy the journey a whole lot more if I wasn’t lugging around all of my gear on my back.