Everest Diary: Namche Bazaar - It's rough, but even Robert Redford stay ed here

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The Independent Online
IT'S SNOWING steadily. The traders of Namche Bazaar have covered over their displays of Tibetan trinkets, carpets and outdoor gear with plastic sheets and are sheltering in shop doorways.

A child snuggled up to her Sherpani mum calls out "allo" to cagouled passers-by but there are few buyers. The forlorn scene is strongly reminiscent of an English seaside resort on a wet day.

No one on the team of our Himalayan Kingdoms Everest expedition is complaining that today is a rest day, or rather an acclimatisation day. After forays round the muddy alleyways while the sun shone briefly, most of the team has retired to the main room of the Khumbu Lodge to read, write postcards or mull over the weather prospects.

Further up our proposed route near a hamlet called Machhermo, at around 4,000m, an avalanche has blocked the way and is being dug out.

We are not due through there for a few more days and the heavy snow is one more reason not to reach Everest Base Camp too soon.

On the plus side, "Barny" Barnicott, one of our guides, remarks that no one woke up this morning with a headache. I know from experience that if I had rushed up from near sea level to sleep at almost 3,500 metres in the Alps an altitude-induced headache would have been a strong possibility. So our leisurely pace seems to be paying dividends.

Khumbu Lodge is a Himalayan climbing institution. At the heart of the village, its warm-timbered main room boasts photographs of the patron, Pasang Kima - known to all as PK - with Sir Edmund Hillary, who was first to the top of the world in 1953 along with Sherpa Tensing.

In 1991, the American Himalayan Foundation honoured PK as its Man of the Year for his contribution to the rebuilding of the Buddhist monastery at Thyangboche and the hydro-project which supplies the village with electricity.

Signatures of the film-maker David Breashears on a poster are evidence of visits between 1983 and last year, and there is also a picture of Robert Redford, who was here in 1981. You can even stay in the Jimmy Carter Room, who was on the mountain Kala Patar in 1985. But even these luminaries would have had to use the same toilets at the back of the lodge when you squat a few metres over an evil pile. Don't drop your wallet.

Most of the lodge visitors however are not bound for the highest summits but trekking for three or four weeks in their shadow. A scrap of paper on the lodge noticeboard exemplifies the American trekkers who provide the Sherpas of Namche with an income way above that of most Nepalis. "Grant - Hope you had a nice trek without any headaches and your yak was fluffy and friendly. Yak or Yuk!"

While none of us has suffered any physical headaches, I have certainly been dogged by a metaphorical one in trying to communicate this diary to London. The satellite phone Himalayan Kingdoms has promised for Base Camp has not yet caught up with us and beyond Kathmandu a telephone is a rare sight.

Soon after arriving in Namche I was directed to an army post on a hill overlooking the village as a possible place to make an international call. The rest of the day was spent in increasing frustration in a small shed where an unmilitary-looking Nepali manned a phone in a wooden box.

A Sherpani chattering excitedly for ages into the phone seemed to keep amused most of the group of men, women and children crowded into the hut.

At 6pm the shed was locked and the chance of getting the diary back to London evaporated for another day. Outside chickens scratched around in what may have been the parade ground and it had started to snow.