Pass through a number of villages, each with their own guard of dogs and chickens along their paths. The Dude Koshi river cuts through the valley below and comes into sight every so often. It is a feisty stretch of water, noisy and white. Its strength can be seen even from high up in the safety of the tree-line as it batters over rocks in an endless twist of rapids. And yet the sound of it is restorative. This river flows from the glacial valleys above, from up where the higher peaks stand, from that hallowed ground in the Khumbu region where the group are heading: a trekker's Nirvana. Yes, the river is special, to be feared and respected.
Feel the straps of your daypack cut into your shoulders and resolve to pack less the following day. There was no need to haul a stockpile of sweets and chocolate up the ribbony sinews of path that spiral upwards. Incline gives way to more incline, Sweat pours. Liberate some Noam chews from the bag and mill them, looking upwards at the confusion of treetops and towering mountain summits. Only a few hours in and this place has cast its spell. It is hypnotic in its bands of green and blue where the sky kisses mountain peaks. Shimmering waterfalls bleed from limestone faces in every direction. They spill over crags and tumble from high up to the foot of the valley. Stand beside one and marvel at the rainbows cast from its loud waters as they cascade onto boulders below.
The group sits on black rocks not heated by the midday sun while breaths are caught beneath the shelter of evergreens. It is early in the trek, everyone looks composed. If anyone is feeling the burn, they are far too polite to admit it. There will be plenty of time for honesty. There is a siege of conversations about work and what people do, and it is frightfully formal. But again, the incline and the altitude on the day-long treks will soon have their way and formality will erase. Friendship will grow in its place.
Watch a porter carry a chest freezer on his back. He wears thin Sketchers on his feet and carries his load by a namo (strap) attached to his forehead. The ground is unsmooth and yet he soldiers on with balance, stooped beneath his load of 300 or so pounds. It is the first sight of how shockingly hard the porters of the region work. For lucky ones, this work is their source of income and they ferry everything from retail goods to construction materials up the steep mountains. They breeze past, often in flip flops, their legs sinewy and limber with leathery muscle.
Replete with a fat shin, freshly insect-bitten, arrive at the Shangrila Lodge guesthouse in Phakding. Begin the customary pre-ordering of meals that will become practice at every teahouse on the trek. Give the lunch order to Kashi who records everything in his trusted journal, from hot-showers to phone-charge requests. Trundle upstairs to where the black duffels have manifested outside rooms that are very advanced: they have electrical outlets in them. After a morning of heavy-photographing, phones and devices are left to charge while tired limbs rest. But soon, the call for lunch comes and the group is easily summoned by the aroma of momos and frying Tibetan bread. And so begins the first real sampling of Himalayan cuisine.