The hike from Sete to Junbesi was meant to be the hardest leg of the trip to Lukla because it involved crossing the mountain pass “Lamjura Bhanjyang”. Maybe it was the exciting scenery,but it was the easiest day yet! On the way up we hiked through moss-cloaked forests of huge trees, the likes of which I’ve never seen. There was some deforestation dramatized by the guidebook, but it didn’t compare at all to what we’re used to at home. The higher we climbed the more stunted the trees became, until we got to a shaded path where everything was frosted over. It felt like we were living the Chronicles of Narnia and getting closer and closer to the Ice Queen. A steady stream of helicopters and small planes kept passing us overhead, a sign that we were getting closer to Lukla. I was very excited to get to the top of the pass as it was the highest I had been yet at 3530 m. On our descent we walked through drier forest still consisting of massive trees, some hollowed out from fire but still very much alive.
The forest gave way to very steep and sprawling grasslands, where rural kids continually asked us “have you got a pen?,” and I was very sad not to have anything to offer them. I stocked up on pens that afternoon in Junbesi; half of them didn’t work anyways and we never encountered that many kids again. Sean saw two good sized furry and spotted beasts run across the trail and is working on identifying them. The long descent started my knees hurting until I was limping my way into Junbesi; it was the start of a problem that would create a hassle for the rest of the hike. The town of Junbesi had a fair sized “Hillary” school, one of many founded by the first man to summit Everest. It sported an outdoor volleyball court; I never expected volleyball to be so popular in Nepal. There was also a large stupa surrounded by prayer wheels that we heard tinkling from our room as people spun them in the evening and early morning. Small fields surround the town and people plough them up by hand using flattened picks; it would be unimaginably back-breaking work. In contrast, the school-aged girl living at the lodge we stayed at was glued to the TV as any kid at home would be; it sported Indian ads for bleaching face cream called “Fair & Handsome/Fair & Lovely.” The contrast of ancient practices and new technology is everywhere and never ceases to surprise me. Sean wisely questioned whether Nepal could ever really be fully developed due to the near impossibility of opening up the country to transport more efficient than donkeys due to the terrain.