31st October 2018

Namche Bazaar

Robin Willmott RobinWillmott Expedition Guide

There is simply nowhere on earth quite like Namche Bazaar.

Every time I make the steep ascent from Monjo and cross the beautiful (and terrifying) swing bridge with its fluttering prayer flags, a sense of wonder and excitement fills my heart.

The Sherpa capital sits proudly in a natural amphitheatre on a grand promontory above the meeting of two deep valleys. Such is the dramatic geography of the Himalaya, the town is tantalisingly hidden from view until the very last moment.  As you turn the final bend in the trail, you can’t help but look up in awe at the sprawling, beautiful mess of bright rooftops and cobbled streets. A magical hillside metropolis miles away from anywhere. 

Commercial trekking has undoubtedly changed this once simple trading post on the route between Tibet and Nepal.  Most sensible itineraries include a couple of nights acclimatisation here and you can easily blow a few thousand rupees on Italian coffee, WiFi, hot showers and expensive kit (you could walk naked into Namche and source everything you need for a Himalayan summit, at a price of course). Naturally, some old timers will remember when the town had just a couple of tea houses and will screw their noses up in disgust. They will say the place has lost its charm and regret the relentless development over the last 20 years.

I was last in the Khumbu Valley shortly after the devastating earthquake in 2015. After running the Tenzing Hillary Ultramarathon, I skipped my flight back to Kathmandu and followed the old trekking route beyond Lukla down to Jiri. For five days I picked my way through eerie ghost villages: tea houses, farms and homes obliterated to a crumpled mess of concrete, splintered wood, ripped clothes and once-treasured trinkets strewn, lost and forgotten. It was horrible.

This year I have heard time and again just how grateful people are that the tourist dollar is once again flowing in the Khumbu. So, on the whole, I don’t regret Namche’s success or its continuing development. I celebrate its prosperity.  It will always be a unique and magical place to me, no matter how many coffee shops there are. 

A valid criticism, which we hear often, is that the tourism wealth is concentrated in a small number of Namche hotels and trekking outfits in Kathmandu.  As responsible travellers, we do well to spread the love as much as possible. You can buy beautiful handicrafts at any number of small villages along the trail, you can pick up tea and snacks as you go.  Don’t bring bags of trail mix or Snickers from home.  A few rupees straight in the pocket of local businesses goes a very long way. The average trekker on a classic EBC trip might spend £100 on hot showers and WiFi. I urge you, take hot showers and use WiFi on alternate days (or less) and donate £50 to The Himalayan Trust whose incredible work has a meaningful and lasting impact across the wider Everest region.

As a responsible travel company, we too want to benefit local communities and help them prosper.  On our Khumbu Valley 3 Pass Trek we explore some of the less frequently visited parts of the region. Not only does this mean we enjoy some true Himalayan tranquillity, but also we help sustain remote communities with our inversion tourist dollar.

Join Robin and Lhakpa Sherpa in October 2019 when they return to the Khumbu for another epic three week adventure.

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