Entering the Everest region via Lukla is to enter a different world altogether.The distinction is not only set by its dramatic geography but also through the ambient sound.
Once separated from the rest of the world because of its remoteness, Khumbu Valley was not called ‘the hidden valley’ for no reason. The fertile basins made by the Dudh Koshi river that cuts in and out of the valley, and the meadows in the upper part of the region, serves as a buffer zone to the mountains that lie beyond. Mythology has it that this area was known as Beyul, or the ‘blessed valley’ and given its seclution from most outside interventions, it was the perfect refuge for those fleeing war, famine, and other calamities. Early inhabitants of the region, who we now know as Sherpas, share common heritage with the Tibetans, and their culture remains intact even though the region was opened to visitors in the 1960s.Several decades later, the region has become one of the most organized trekking routes in the country, and the flagship trek to the Himalayas.As the noise of the twin otters taking off and landing at the Lukla airport peters out, an all-pervading silence envelops the region, the kind that slowly seeps into you.Bells hung around the necks of yaks clang as prayer flags strewn in impossible corners flutter freely in the mountain breeze. The cobbled streets of Lukla (2,860m) are a clatter of footfalls with trekkers from all over the world converging to move up towards Mt. Everest.Along most of the trek, you will pass through cryptic looking manay stones with Buddhist chantscarved all over them. If there is a motif that is emblematic of the entire region, it is probably the colorful prayer flags, which have their roots in Buddhism, a religion followed by most inhabitants of the region. They are strewn all over thechaityas along the route and major monasteries like the Tengboche Monastery (3,867m) as a token of reverence. At the base camp (5,380m) and Kalapatthar (5,545m), the final legs of the journey, they signify the triumph of the trekkers and the end of an arduous journey. At Thukla (4,940m), in the mountaineers’ cemetery, they stand as a solemn reminder of the dangers the climbers face up in the mountains.The massifs towards the north are perhaps, the only equalizer to the striking diversity of landscape in the region. The trek, which starts from the fertile basin of the Dudhkoshi, makes way to verdant forests and grassy flatlands of Tengboche and will take you to desolate places like Dingboche (4,530m) and Lobuche (4,940m), where vegetation is rare. River Dushkoshi cuts in and out of the valley forming the fertile lowlands of Phakding (2610m) and Monjo (2835m). These lowlands act as a buffer to the grassy flatlands of Pheriche (4,371m) and Dingboche (4,410m), beyond Namche and Tengboche, where yaks graze freely.
For the native Sherpas of the valley, for whom the money-making route to Everest cuts right through their villages, a sense of enterprise precedes everything. While the natives may enjoy entitlement to the region’s bustling tourist trade, for many south of the region, Khumbu is their own promised land.
Those with a discerningeye and knowledge of Nepal’s diverse ethnicities will notice the differences, superficial and otherwise, between the many ethnic communities that the valley is made up of other than the Sherpas. The largest in number, perhaps, are the Rais from low-lying districts who hike up to the highlands every peak season to work in the myriad teahouses and lodges scattered through the trekking route.Some have even moved to villages like Pangboche and Somare, which lie midway through the route to base camp.
These are the same villages which are the hub of activities during peak season. It takes one to closely look beyond this interim air of fullness, however, to see that these villages have lost a sizeable part of their population. Most of the year, the cheery languidness is replaced by desolation, and an overbearing banality takes over their lives.
Those remaining behind, who have not succumbed to the lure of greater promised lands and have not left for Kathmandu and the US, find meaning in their lives through devotion. For them, an allegiance to their religion, a school of Tibetan Buddhism, occupies the same high place as enterprise does for many.
The most striking display of this enterprise is perhaps Namche Bazaar (3,440m), along the middle of the route, where shops, bars and lodges with modern amenities have converged to give weary trekkers a respite and serves as a benchmark for locals to aspire to.
The touristy vibes of Namche Bazaar, also known as the ‘Capital of the Sherpas’among some enthusiastic travel writers, is a reminder of the far-reaching effects tourism has had in the Khumbu region. Once a sleepy trading outpost, Namche now stocks everything from professional mountaineering gear to Jagermiester.
Past Namche, beyond the frozen rivulets of Pheriche valley, the solemn reminders at the mountaineers’ cemetery at Thukla, and the eerie desolation of countless outposts like Dingboche, Thukla and Goraksep (5614m), is the dominion of the mountains.
Ever reaching for the heavens, these massifs finally bring to perspective the seemingly nonchalant enquiry of the trekkers who will ask everyone they meet since entering the region: How high are we, really?
Everest Base Camp Itinerary
- Flight to Lukla, and then trek to Phakding
- Trek to Namche Bazaar
- Rest day at Namche Bazaar for acclimatization
- Trek to Tengboche
- Trek to Dingboche
- Rest day at Dingboche for acclimatization
- Trek to Lobuche
- Trek to Gorakshep and hike to Everest Base Camp
- Hike to Kalapatthar, and then trek back to Pheriche
- Trek to Kyanjuma
- Trek to Monjo
- Trek to Lukla
- Flight back to Kathmandu
Alternatively, from Namche Bazaar (3,440 m) one can trek to the villages of Dole (3,620 m), Macchermo (4,440 m), and then reach Gokyo (4,750 m). If the trek before was not lung-busting enough, the following day entails a strenuous ascent to the lake Gokyo Ri and then a trek back to Gokyo. You can return to Namche Bazaar via Phortse (3,860 m), and then head back to Kathmandu. For those who want a more relaxing trek, Hotel Everest View, Syangboche, (015011647) offers short treks, with the hotel as the central point, that offers the same stunning vistas without breaking much sweat, and includes a journey to and from Kathmandu on a helicopter, which lands at the nearby Syangboche airstrip. Many short trips to the neighboring villages like Khumjung (3,970 m), Tengboche (3,867 m), and the touristy Namche Bazaar, just below, can be planned.
Things to do
Hike during day off
While continuously trekking for days might make you dread more hikes, it is a good idea to hike during your rest days. Most tour groups will include that in their itinerary, but even if they don’t, insist on exploring the surrounding vil-lages. While at Namche Bazaar, hike up to the Everest View Resort, which is perched at the edge of a hill overlooking the touristy village below. Next to it is Syang-boche airstrip.Take time-lapse
Even for the smartphone-toting photographers, the region is filled with postcard-worthy vistas at literally every turn. Point your camera and frame a shot, and leave it for 10-20 minutes. Try action cameras like the GoPro or the cheap Xiaomi Yi that were made for an outing like this. Even if you don’t plan to publish these videos, they can still earn you top bragging rights back home.
Sample local food
The delight of your having your favorite comfort food can be blissful, especially during an arduous trek like this one, but local food of the valley not only tastes great, it gives you more calories per serving than most other food. Local food is available for all three meals. Try Tibetan flatbread for breakfast with a side of eggs made according to your preference. Or,you can try tsampa, a bowl of roasted barley flour in which you can add hot water or tea to turn it into a thick porridge. For lunch or dinner, try potato pancakes with end-less servings of butter tea. But a more hearty option is the thick syakpa. More commonly known as Sherpa stew, it is made by using locally available vegetables and meats with freshly-made flour noodles.
And while the more traditional butter tea is an acquired taste, and is only available if you ask for it, the region has been particularly inventive when it comes to beverages. Try a hot lemon, which is made by adding lemon-flavored Tang to hot black tea, a drink so simple yet delicious, it remains a mystery why no one had thought of it before. Or try hot mango, a warm andsugary mango-flavored drink for that much needed sugar rush.