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On Assignment to the World’s Highest Internet Cafe

Everest and Lhotse are lit up as the sun sets over Everest base camp

In the Spring of 2003, the worlds highest internet cafe opened at Mt. Everest base camp at 17,500 feet. It was also the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Everest. I went to base camp to check it out. With the help of my brother who had recently learned php programming language we built a live reporting tool (aka: blog) that enabled me to send photo and text dispatches by satellite phone from the Himalayas. I’ve re-published the 5 text+image posts that I sent out while on the trail.

4/26/03 : Intro Hi-Tech Everest

First – the assignment — In search of technology in this region of the world my plan is to trek to Everest base camp and hopefully indulge myself in a latte while surfing the net at the world’s highest internet cafe at 17,400 feet. A little background — From the New York Times to NPR reports of the construction of the world’s highest internet cafe have been surfacing over the last six months. A young, technically inclined Sherpa, named Tsering Gyaltsen is planning to create an internet cafe at the base of Mt. Everest. Servicing the thousands of trekkers and hundreds of climbers that pass through base camp, the cafe will raise money for the Sagamartha Pollution

Control Committee (SPCC). The SPCC is the local environmental agency and is charged with keeping the natural environmental clean and healthy. It will take me about 10 days to get to base camp and I’ll be passing many, many villages along the way. I’ll see what other technological advancements are occurring in the area and report on them here. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. Everest base camp is reportedly packed with expeditions and it will be interesting to see the developments over the course of the season.

I plan on arriving in Everest base camp around May 6th and will stay for about five days. I’ll interview Tsering and hear the story on how this ambitious project came to life. As I’m equipped with a sat phone I’ll try and upload a few images each day.

The images from this story are available for editorial license. For more information please contact April Jenkins at the New York office of Corbis-Sygma.

4/27/03 : Khumbu Arrival

Watching the flies land on my arm to lick the sweat and realizing that had I had not the energy to shoo them away was a just a tad disconcerting.

On all my previous trips to the Himalayas I was part of a climbing expedition and had trained vigorously for that purpose. Since climbing was not a part of this trip, I had neglected any form of exercise. My ego had gotten the best of me and now I am paying for it by feeding these hungry flies. The morning started with a twin engine Otter flight into the border like town of Lukla where I was greeted by hundreds of Nepali porters looking for work. As the plane made a quick u-turn after dumping the passenger luggage at the end of the landing strip, I stared at my four bags and was forced to quickly make a decision as to which porters to pick. From 9,000 feet at Lukla my porters and I trekked to t

he town of Monjo, about 5 hours away.

To be quite honest I’m simply exhausted and I’m going to bed. Didn’t see much in terms of tech today. Mostly barefoot or flip flop clad porters carrying items to villages higher up the Khumbu. Beer, whiskey, a television, wood logs, rocks, and the backpacks and bags of the few trekkers on the trail.

Image # 030427_025

# 030427_025 — From the safety of their home, two children entertain themselves by watching the foreigners trek by.

Image # 030427_001

# 030427_001 — Porters with full loads round the corner with the Dudh Kosi river far below.

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# 030427_031 — A porter with an empty load returns to the Lukla airstrip to hustle his n

ext load.

4/28/03 : Rumor of the

World’s Second Highest Internet Cafe

With the flies still h

overing on each bead of sweat dripping from my forhead I plodded up the legendary, thigh busting Namche hill on my way to the Namche Bazzar.

Namche Bazzar is the largest village in the Khumbu and sits in a horseshoe shapped cirque cut into a mountainside. The sacred snow capped peak Kumbila looms above. In 1998 an enterprising Sherpa set up a computer with a 24kpbs dialup connection to Kathmandu. The computer was located in a small room next to the town bakery and thus the “World’s Highest Internet Cafe” was born. Since the local telephone exchange was notoriously unreliable and also blown up by the Maoists in 2001, no one really took the internet cafe seriously.

I figured the internet cafe would still be there, but in what condition, I did not know. I was surprised to find four desktop computers networked together serving up a “high-speed” connection at 94kpbs down and 64kbps up. However, at the time of my visit the place was empty.

There was a little more traffic on the trail today. Loads of porters carry anything that could be lashed down with a tump line around their forehead, and American, British, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and German trekkers. My search for tech on the trail did not yield much. A pair of trekkers operating a GPS unit was about it.

#030428_046 — Tenzing is

the manager of the former world’s highest internet cafe. Business is slow right now and on this rainy day there’s not much to do except drink milk tea and watch the rainfall.

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#030428_039 — Pasang is the mother in law of my Sherpa guide. Although she lives in another villae, she rents a small apartment in Namche Bazzar where she stays during the trekking seasons.

Image #030428_039 — A busy morning at the internet cafe. Three tourists emailing and one computer blasting music.

#030428_039 — A busy morning at the internet cafe. Three tourists emailing and one computer blasting music.

4/29/03 : Lighting Storm Wreaks Havoc

Wreaks havoc on the internet connection that is….. After repairing the recently crowned “World’s Highest Internet Cafe” at Everest base camp, Tsering Gyaltsen ran down to Namche Bazzar yesterday arriving late in the evening.

While enjoying a cup

of fresh coffee at the bakery this morning, Sunosh informed that Tsering was in town. I was expecting to meet him at base camp so I wondered what was up. We sat down in the living room/office of his company, Namche Technical Services, and he explained the situation. Speaking in almost perfect English, although so fast I hard a hard time understanding him, he told me of the lightening storm that blew up one of the Cisco radio transmitters postitioned on the side of a small mountain called Kala Patthar. It had been a scramble to reestablish the internet connection on a different route, but it was accomplished. Immediately after he ran 30 kilometers from Everest base camp to Namche Bazzar.

The good news is that I can now report that indeed the internet cafe is up and running at Everest base camp. I will meet Tsering there around May 6 to see the entire operation.

Image #030428_018 - Two monks on their way back to the monestary climbing a steep hill above Namche Bazzar.

Image #030428_018 — Relaxing in his office, Tsering Gyaltsen recounts the lightening storm which knocked out the internet cafe at Everest Base Camp.

#030428_018 — Relaxing in his office, Tsering Gyaltsen recounts the lightening storm which knocked out the internet cafe at Everest Base Camp.

#030428_039 — A busy morning at the internet cafe. Three tourists emailing and one computer blasting music.

Image #030428_045 — The Cyber Cafe advertisement in Namche Bazzard.

#030428_045 — The Cyber Cafe adve

rtisement in Namche Bazzar.

4/30/03 : Ethernet Cable Severed

Up here the dog ate my homework doesn’t quite work, but maybe the yak stepped on my modem will.

Seriously though, my ethernet cable was severed this afternoon by a well meaning trekker playing with a sharp knife (note to self: Benchmade knives and ethernet cabling don’t mix) that I had loaned him. The ethernet cable connects my computer to the sat phone and allows me to send data (images, etc.) back to the states. Now I am uploading this dispatch from the cyber cafe in Namche Bazar. Depending on my skills in splicing tiny colored wires back together again, or finding a spare cable, I may send more images tomorrow. Otherwise my next dispatches will be May 6 to 10 from Everest base camp.

5/09/03 : First Morning in Basecamp

Arrived in base camp yesterday afternoon to thousands of prayer flags flapping in the wind.

After getting settled, I made my way over to the Cyber Cafe which was packed with trekkers sending email and surfing the web at a buck a minute. The temperature last night was a chilly 8 degrees fareinheit, however, with the door of my tent shut and the sun beaming in at ten am this morning, the high could reach amost 70. FYI-This dispatch is being uploaded directly from the cyber cafe. Photos to come momentarily.

5/10/03 : Images of the Cyber Cafe

This internet cafe or cyber cafe as Tsering and assistant Dinesh like to call it is fully operational.

With three laptops and a desktop trekkers and climbers drop in on a regular basis. Tsering’s wife Yangji serves up fresh coffee, tea, steamed momo’s and noodles (all complimentary), while Dorje the cook takes the orders.

Everest and Lhotse are lit up as the sun sets over Everest base camp

Bob Hoffman, expedition leader of the American Commenmorative Everest Expedition, pays a visit to the cyber cafe.

Bob Hoffman, expedition leader of the American Commenmorative Everest Expedition, pays a visit to the cyber cafe.

From noon to 2pm the cafe is usually busy with trekkers making the day trip from nearby Gorak Shep. Dinesh oversees the acitivity.

From noon to 2pm the cafe is usually busy with trekkers making the day trip from nearby Gorak Shep. Dinesh oversees the acitivity.

Three climbers huddle over the computers checking their hotmail accounts and downloading the weather reports.

Three climbers huddle over the computers checking their hotmail accounts and downloading the weather reports.

Climbers outside the internet cafe.

Climbers outside the internet cafe.

1 Comment
  • Dave Kohnke on

    Hi Didrik . . .
    I enjoy reading all your remarks and viewing your photos about your adventures. It sounds very challenging and very interesting.
    I am looking forward seeing you at SHP and hearing more about your work.
    Good luck and keep up all your good work.
    Dave Kohnke

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