Pictures by Rethesh Kumar
May 10, 2012
For ardent trekkers with an adventurous streak of mind, Nepal, the landlocked mountainous country offers enormous opportunities to trek to their heartís content. For trekkers who are fit as a fiddle, who like to challenge themselves and have an open mind to explore and experience pristine natural beauty and distinct culture Nepal certainly lives up to its nickname as a trekkerís paradise or adventure destination. Adorned with the ice-cold mountains of the Himalayan range this land of frondescent hills, deep valleys, yaks, stupas, monasteries, temples and Sherpas offers variety and diversity to thousands of trekkers who flock to witness its beauty and splendor in abundance every year from different parts of the world.
This April I finally achieved my long term ambition of reaching the Everest Base Camp and also Kala Pathar getting a rich dosage of its cultural vibrancy and enjoying one of the best trekking I have ever undertaken so far. Apart from feasting on the beauty of worlds highest peak Mt Everest (8848 m) and some of the of other tallest mountains from the closest range possible from Nepalís side like Nuptse (7861m), Lhotse (8526m) Ama Dablam (6856m) I also got a once in a life time opportunity to witness nature in its pristine form and get a glimpse of the lifestyle of the Sherpas, the original inhabitants of Nepalís side of Himalaya, well known for their mountaineering skills. Though the trekking to this terrain is graded as adventurous but moderate to medium difficult, it is quite challenging for normal trekkers especially those from Mangalore or other areas which are at sea level as they have to beat altitude sickness.
Lukla Ė the Gateway
From Kathmandu I arrived in Lukla by flight and from here began the journey to our destination covering a distance of 120 kms to reach Everest Base Camp (EBC). There are airlines like Sita, Agni, Budha, Yeti with small planes ranging from 10 to 20 seaters to take trekkers to Lukla from Kathmandu. We had trekked an additional 50 kms that included trekking during the two rests and the additional trekking we did at higher elevation in order to acclimatize. While it took 8 days to ascend, the journey back took only 4 days and could have been covered in 3 days also. Lukla is the gateway to the mountain region and except for human and yaks there are no other means of transport in this entire region.
As we strode the winding path with our rucksacks firmly perched on our backs we came across hordes of jubilant trekkers crisscrossing us as many trekkers were returning triumphantly having completed the arduous journey. We reached Phakding village after about 5 hours of trekking and rested for the day as it was getting darker, though we were to go to Monju as per our plan. Our lodge was on the bank of the Dudh Kosi River giving us a panoramic view of the pine forest and the smaller snow-clad peaks. This Dudh Kosi River has been a part of our trekking trail all through.
Glimpse of Sherpa Culture
The next dayís journey, to Namche Bazar, was one of the toughest in the entire trail as it was a steep upward climb and we started off early morning. If we had covered Monju the first day our journey to Namche Bazar would not have been such a grueling one. After a few minutes of walk from Monju comes the entrance of Sagarmatha National Park which covers the Everest region. An entrance fee of $20 has to be paid and here they keep the records of trekkers going to and from the place. They issue us Trekkerís Information Management System (TIMS) cards, which is a must for all trekkers entering this trekking region which helps them to track missing trekkers. Somehow, tired and weary we reached in Namche Bazar, the capital of Sherpas. Namche Bazar is a vibrant settlement set on the ridge resembling like an amphitheatre and from here one can get the first view of the imposing Everest and other peaks.
It was rest day and we went around Namche Bazar to see the local culture, the museum, the tea shops and guest houses and make do whatever little shopping we required for higher elevation like, exchanging Nepalese currency, buying trekking poles (stick) and toiletries. We then decided to go to a higher elevation to acclimatize and after a steep one and half hour climb reached Shyangboche airstrip to come to Everest View Point hotel. From here we could get the first glimpse of the mighty Mt Everest standing tall and taunting us. We trudged along Khunde and Khumjung villages passing through numerous Buddhist stone monuments and arrived at our guest house late evening. On the way we stopped at tea-shops to have lemon tea or a quick bite of something to boost our energy levels or just to take a short break from the grueling schedule.
We decided to here porters from Namche Bazar to conserve our energy as our destination was EBC. From Namche Bazar we started off early morning to proceed to Tengboche and on the trail we were greeted by the beautiful Rhododendruns, the national flower of Nepal. Passing through this trail also gives a good view of Ama Dablam considered to be the most beautiful mountains in Nepal by many. We reached about 7 kms to reach Phungi Thanga and from here a steep high to reach Tengbuche. Here we saw the beautiful Tengboche monastery. We walked another 2 kms and rested at Debuche savouring some of the local food like Sherpa stew with noodles, momos or egg omelette with Yak cheese. Yak steak (available mostly in these regions) is quite a sought after dish by trekkers from Europe and America.
Acclimatization a Must
Our next destination was Dingboche where we rested for a day as part of acclimatization. Hot shower facility is available in most guest houses with makeshift bathrooms and as we go to higher elevation the cost also increases. But we cannot complain because everything including gas cylinder has to be transported from Kathmandu through land and transported by manual labour or through Yaks. Paying Rs. 400 (Nepalese) for a shower is quite moderate if the cost of transportation is taken into consideration. Wood also becomes a scarce commodity from Dingboche onwards as trees become sparse in colder regions.
Sudden change of weather is normal in this region and sometimes after 2 pm it becomes cloudy or too breezy and trekking is risky in such conditions. So we usually used to trek in the morning hours as much as possible and afternoon was mainly meant for additional trekking to cover higher altitude. At Dingboche we had a surprise when it started to snow at 2 pm. It made the area still cooler. After having a hot shower and having freshened up we went higher altitude conquering a steep peak as the weather improved in the evening. There was another surprise as the next morning we were in for another surprise as we were treated to a fiesta of snow all around us. We trekked to Chukung valley as part of our trekking and climbed the highest altitude of 5106 meters to test our endurance at this level. On the way we could watch Island Peak and Makalu from a close distance.
Altitude sickness is common and common symptoms include head ache, vomiting, fatigue and in severe form may lead to walking like a drunkard and breathlessness. Going to higher altitude and coming down to lower altitudes helps to overcome it to a great extent. Many trekkers have beaten a hasty retreat half way through unable to overcome altitude sickness.
Mt Everest Ė Near yet Far
On reaching Lobuche about 8 kms of steep highs and downs had a quick lunch and went for higher altitude to reach about 5000 m. Some in the group felt slight head ache and fatigue (altitude sickness) but by now having climbed to higher altitudes constantly we were ready to face it. April 24 was that D Day we started from Lobuche to Gorakshep at 7 am even in the biting cold. By 11 we had reached Gorakshep and after keeping our bags at the guest house headed towards EBC covering about 8 kms. The walk is quite exhaustive due to high altitude and thin air. At around 2.30pm I reached the destination I was eagerly looking forward to all these days. At Everest base camp one is treated to the splendorous and ferly Khumbu ice fall and partial sight of mighty Everest sandwiched between Lho La and Nuptse peaks. Everest Base Camp is the starting point for expeditions by different countries to scale on the summit and is bustling with activity. Colorful tents set up by expeditions from different countries (including India) dotted the place. A leader of an Indian expedition told us that there were 32 teams at EBC during this season.
Having reached the goal we were back in Gorakshep to get ourselves pepped up for the final dayís journey to Kala Pathar (black stone) which offers magnificent view of Mt Everest. We started early morning to capture the sunrise atop the Everest and in the cold chilly conditions I was up by and was ready to face another stiff challenge and by 5 am we were heading to climb Kala Pathar. I had worn two shirts, sweater, thermal wear and a down jacket and had wrapped myself with monkey cap, a shawl. Two pair of woolen socks covered by feet and had worn two pairs of gloves on my palms. Still my feet and hands felt numb even after climbing for an hour or so. I kept rubbing my hands but the backbreaking path and difficult terrain made even that impossible. After 2 hours of hard labour I was on top Kala Pathar with mount Pumori on the background and from here we could get the most astounding view of Mt Everest and its neighboring peaks like namely Lhotse and Nuptse. I must say I had reached the acme of my trek and having embedded the scene in my memory and after capturing those scenes in the camera I began to descend.
Etched in Mind
Same day we began our journey to Lobuche and halted there after trekking for another 16 kms. Next we came to Pheriche after trekking more than 20 kms all day long. On 28th we were back in Lukla treading the same path through Namche and Phakding. On 29th our flight was scheduled at 9 am and we were in Kathmandu by 11 am.
All through the trekking one has to go through graded paths and though the climb to EBC does not call for any technical expertise any average trekker with good fitness levels, strong will power and with an inclination to work hard to acclimatize to higher elevations, will be able to complete the trek. My lips had to bear the brunt of the severe cold and my nose was like a wound on fire due to constant watering and slight bleeding. But it was a small price I had to pay for all the eudemonia that I experienced by watching the breathtaking beauty of the mountains. Carrying enough Nepali currency is essential to meet the mounting expenses of food and shelter all through. Trekkers must carry petroleum jelly or glycerin and cold cream to reduce the severity of such a situation. Sunscreen is a must as the sunís rays are quite strong in this region. Children with sun-burnt cheeks are a common sight here.
All through the trek routes there are numerous guest houses and tea shops and the accommodation is quite cheap with Rs. 200 or 300 (Nepalese) on twin sharing basis. Indian currency is valued at 1.6 in Nepali which means Indian Rs. 100/- is valued at Rs. 160/- in Nepali currency. They provide woolen bed sheets which often smell bad but using a thin bed sheets or carrying oneís own sleeping bag helps. The only condition in these guest houses is that one has to eat in their guest houses and the high cost of food ranging from Rs. 400 to 700 per meal helps them cover the cost. Meals both veg and non-veg and snacks are easily available in these guest houses. Certain luxuries like drinking hot water internet and mobile or camera charging facility comes at a price ranging from Rs. 300/- which goes up to Rs. 1000/- per hour as we go higher. Most of the guest houses are run by women and I presume their men go as Guides to the trekkers, which is quite rewarding.
Suspension bridges form a part of the trekking itinerary all through this region both for men and the beasts (animals especially yaks). One can even witness ice fall or breaking of rocks due to cold during the trek. Yaks and porters give constant company to trekkers all through the journey. Porters who carry the rucksacks as well as goods to higher places with their baskets or load firmly on their backs are also ubiquitous all through the trekking route. When I struggled to carry a bag of 10 kg I wonder how these porters carry such a huge load ranging from 50 kg and above. Ultimately they have to do it for a living and often it is the only way of livelihood for these people.
This experience is something to be felt and words are not suffice to express it fully. Needless to say I treasure the experience of trekking in this naturally beautiful mountainous terrain enjoying a perfect fusion of adventure and culture in addition to taking up the challenge successfully.