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Would you travel to the ends of the earth for a drink? If so, read on.
The inventively named Irish Pub in Nepal is the most difficult pub on Earth to get to. The only way to get to Namche Bazaar, Nepal, is to fly into Lukla, officially the most dangerous airport in the world, and then take a gruelling two-day trek into the Himalayan mountains. You have to really work for it if you want a whiskey at Namche’s very own Irish Pub, sitting loftily in the shadow of Everest at 3,400 metres (11,286 feet) above sea level.
The pub is an incongruously cosmopolitan addition to the sleepy streets of Namche Bazaar, which sits in a horseshoe-shaped bowl in the midst of the snow-capped Himalayan mountains and is home to 1,600 hardy souls. In the town known as ‘the Gateway to Everest’, stalls stuffed with trekking kit in all colours of the rainbow rub shoulders with tall Buddhist stupas, and signs advertising homemade yak cheese for sale flap in the wind next to prayer wheels. Sherpas from Tibet still come over the border to Namche for its thriving weekly market – but the town’s main business is leading hikers up to Everest base camp, or for those hardy enough (or deep enough of pocket), to the very top of the tallest point on earth, the summit of Everest itself.
Above the Irish Pub’s doors, a sign proudly proclaims that “There are no strangers here, only friends who haven’t met”. Step inside the welcoming warmth of the pub and the walls are plastered with maps and memorabilia from the peak that dominates life in Namche Bazaar – Everest, still a few days’ trek away. Flags and photos of successful summit attempts are pinned everywhere. A wood stove crackles in the corner, sunburnt trekkers of every nationality sitting gratefully around its heat. A trio of Sherpas are beating each other at pool, but look round to greet newcomers with a smile and a “Namaste”.
Behind the bar is manager Krishna Shahi, or Chris as he’s known in the pub, busy serving up Irish whiskey and pints of the black stuff to anyone who can make the lung-popping pilgrimage up to an altitude of 3,400 metres and through his doors. Everything in the pub, from the bottles of Jameson Whiskey to the huge pool table, had to be carried up here from Lukla by hand.
“What makes this an Irish pub? It’s not the green walls or the flags – it’s how welcome you feel here,” says Chris, sitting below a sign proclaiming, “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay in advance”.
He continues: “People come here from all four corners of the world. I want them to have a good time, have some craic, and be safe. Trekkers regularly stay too late drinking here and get locked out of the teahouses they’re staying in – when they do, we put them up in the pub.
“There is no road to Namche. We order crates of Jameson Whiskey and kegs of Guinness in Kathmandu, and our cargo gets flown to Lukla – when the plane can make it through the weather, that is. Then porters bring everything up on their backs to the pub.” Even the enormous pool table? “It was carried up here by four Sherpas! People are pretty hardy up here, and there’s a strong community feeling that you don’t find down in Kathmandu, where I’m from. When I’m in the capital I miss Namche Bazaar – there are no cars or crowds here, just mountains and clean air.”
Rock music blares out of speakers, shamrock flags flutter on the walls, locals are necking pints at the wooden bar. You could easily be in a rural Wexford boozer here – if it weren’t for the yak burgers on the menu and the mountain memorabilia everywhere to remind you that this pub sits in the forbidding shadow of Everest.
“Everyone who comes here has to hike to reach us – they’re on a pilgrimage. Some trekkers are heading to Everest base camp, some are going right to the summit of Everest itself. I can always tell the people who are attempting to conquer Everest for the first time – they tend to look rather green in the face once they realise they’re getting close to their all-encompassing goal. A drink here can be the last time they feel relaxed before they begin the rest of that gruelling 40-day attempt. And when they’ve summited, trekking teams hike down again to celebrate in the Irish Pub and show me photos from the top of the world.”
“I always keep up to speed with each mountaineering team to check that they got to the summit safely. I don’t have to watch the news to hear if they made it up to 8,848 metres [29,029 feet], though – the latest news from Everest flies down the mountain and comes straight to me at the bar! I don’t have to travel the world working in this pub – the world comes to me.”
Sian Lewis trekked to Namche Bazaar’s Irish Pub to join Jameson Whiskey’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.