Porters and Yaks have the right of way…


I am on my way to Gorakhpur in the North of India from where I will take a taxi to Sunauli to cross the border into Nepal.  Railway stations are always interesting here in India.  There are people sleeping all over the floors, there are a couple of rats sniffing around, ugh!  There is a man changing his pants and shirt just in front of me. Everyone stares at me as if I was an alien.  Two cows walk by… yes! inside the station waiting area! They just announced that the train is delayed by at least an hour and I was early by two hours! Grrr!

I met a nice couple from the Netherlands waiting for the train in Varanasi and we ended up sharing the cost of a jeep ride from Gorakhpur to Sunauli with two French guys.  As usual they fill up the cars to the max so we are joined by a Cambodian monk and an Indian guy.  The ride was bumpy and longer than expected but we made it to Sunauli safely and crossed the border into Nepal.  I continued on to Kathmandu with the French guys on a long and uncomfortable ten-hour bus journey with regular stops to pick up and drop off passengers and very few pit stops (by the side of the road).   It was the longest bus ride of my life!  We sat in the last row of the bus where the seats can’t recline back and we could not extend our legs out because there is a man sitting on a small stool just in front of us.  They cram people in these buses just like they do in India.  We were dropped off in a suburb of Kathmandu, about 2km away from Thamel, the popular tourist area where I wanted to stay.  It was 11:30 pm and there was no transportation available into Thamel at that time due to the fuel shortages the country has been experiencing recently.  We were lucky to be offered a room in a local guesthouse from the owner who happened to be on the same bus with us.

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crossing the border

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The two French guys and Cambodian monk crammed in the back of the jeep

I met my friend Mark in Kathmandu.  He had arrived a day earlier on a different bus.  We spent a couple of days in Kathmandu getting ready for our trek in the Himalayas. As we have both been traveling for a long period of time, we did not have any of the essential gear for the mountains so we had to rent sleeping bags, down jackets, buy beanies, gloves, trekking poles, etc.  We also loaded up on some important medicine like Diamox for altitude sickness and some antibiotics.   I bought a 2-4 week supply of these plus some probiotics, all for US$10!

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overwhelmed with all the choices in an outdoor gear store in Thamel.

I could not sleep the night before the trek, probably due to the excitement about starting this long-awaited journey.  We boarded a small 12-seat airplane both nervous and excited about flying into the most dangerous airport in the world – The Tenzing Norgay airport in Lukla.  Luckily they say that Nepali pilots are the best in the world.  The flight attendant passes out candy and cotton to everyone.  A man gets up from his seat (what?!) and almost steps into the cockpit to take pictures; which makes me very nervous. I want to yell at him and tell him to not distract the pilot but he finally sits down.  The views of the Himalayas from my window are absolutely amazing but all I can think about is the dangerous landing that will take place 25 minutes later.  The mountains started to narrow in and I knew it was time to land and time for me to begin praying.  As we approach Lukla, I spot the short airstrip on a small uphill, with a mountain right behind it.  No room for error here!  I anxiously wait for the airplane to touch ground and hope that it breaks before it runs into the mountain.  It was a perfect landing and I begin to clap because the pilot truly deserves the recognition!  Everyone joins me.

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I hear this flight is a bit dangerous

We met Pemba, a guide from the company Ammonite in Kathmandu; which helped us with arranging a porter in Lukla.  I insisted on using a porter because I didn’t want to carry my stuff as I had enough of a challenge dealing with the high altitude.  We also thought it was important to help the local economy, specially after tourism has declined so much since the earthquake.  Pemba introduced us to his brother Ras who would be our porter for the next 16 days.

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registering in Lukla for the trek

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our porter Ras

We hiked an average of six hours per day and made overnight stops in different guesthouse or “tea houses”. Our trek itinerary was Lukla, Toktok, Namche (2-day stay for acclimatization), Tengboche, Dingboche, Lobuche, Gorakshep, Everest Basecamp (day hike), Kala Patthar (day hike), back down to Dingboche, Phortse Thanga, Machhermo, Gokyo, Gokyo Ri (day hike), Gokyo Lakes (day hike), back to Machhermo, Namche (2-day stay with a side trip to Syangboche, Khumjung and Khunde and finally back to Lukla for one night before returning to Kathmandu.  It is possible to go to Gokyo from Lobuche by taking the Cho La pass trail but we opted to go the long way around since I didn’t have proper shoes to cross the snowy (and icy) steep parts of the trail.

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Our trek plan

We spent an average of $25-$35 per day (including extras).  The food and room costs increase as you go higher in elevation.  Rooms are typically $2 to $6 per night.  A meal with tea costs $5 to $7.  The Porter cost was $18 per day (including his insurance).  Extra expenses can include showers, usually $3 to $5, WIFI use $2 to $3.50, battery charge $1.50 to $3.50.

Some of my favorite moments of the trek:

The amazing views during the trek, at all times:

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Crossing the long steel hanging bridges connecting the mountains:

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Hearing the alerting sound of the bells on the approaching yaks on the narrow trails.  You have to move to the side immediately so they don’t push you off:

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baby yaks outside our room in Dingboche

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Admiring the amazing strength of the porters as they carry 90kg of supplies (and even wood doors) on their backs:

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Seeing the prayer flags hanging from stupas and mountain peaks.  Walking on the left side (as customary) around the many Buddhist stupas and mani walls encountered on the trail:

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Painted rocks

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longest Mani wall in the Khumbu region in Khumjung

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prayer flags at the top of Kala Patthar

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prayer flags at the top of Gokyo Ri

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stupa to honor Tenzing Norgay, the first Nepali to climb Everest with Edmund Hilary

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Buddha carved into a stone piece of a mani wall

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sign by stupa honoring Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb to the top of Everest with Nepali Tenzing Norgay.

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Mark turning the prayer wheels clockwise (as locals do) to bring healing and clear our kharma:

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Visiting Gompas (monasteries) along the way and witnessing the prayer rituals and monk traditions:

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the Tengboche monastery

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The Pangboche monastery

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the Khumjung monastery

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dances performed by the monks during the annual Mani Rimdu festival at Tengboche monastery

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The whole town was there

Viewing Everest, the highest mountain in the world from various view points:

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view from the Everest View Hotel in Syangboche

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view from the Gokyo glaciers trail

Beautiful mountain villages along the trail with cheap accommodations and an incredible variety of food at every teahouse.  We had Dal Bhat (rice, lentils and curry) many nights; which the locals say gives you 24-hour power.

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Relaxing, shopping, day hiking, and watching movies during our acclimatization stay at Namche:

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We went to see the yeti skull at the Khumjung monastery, just an hour north of Namche

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the alleged yeti skull

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Enjoying the hike up to the top, and the amazing views from the summits of Gokyo Ri and Kala Patthar:

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the sun coming up over Nuptse.  Everest to the left.

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Kala Patthar is the lower peak without snow.

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Gokyo Ri

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The reflection is incredible

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view from summit of Gokyo Ri

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My favorite, seeing the famous Khumbu icefalls from Everest basecamp and the Glaciers along the Gokyo Lakes trek:

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Khumbu icefall behind me

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Last but not least, the women and children of the Khumbu region:

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The highest point reached during the trek was Kala Patthar at 5550m (aprox. 18,209ft).  I usually don’t do very well in high altitude but I believe I was able to go this high thanks to the drug Diamox (took low doses of it for the first 6 days).  It gave me some nasty side effects but it got me there.  And of course, thanks to the support of our porter Ras, the Dal Bhat meals, and last but not least, my amazing companion Mark Crawford who kept me motivated throughout the entire trek, taught me to play fun card games, and made me laugh everyday!  I will never forget this incredible experience and the stunning beauty of the Himal!

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Ras, Mark and I posing with Everest in the background (from Gokyo Glaciers area)

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On the flight back to Kathmandu from Lukla on day #17 the flight attendant asked me to sit in the back of the airplane next to her.  Five minutes into the flight I spot Everest in the horizon. This is the sixth time that I see it during this trip,  from yet another perspective.  I am feeling nostalgic to leave these beautiful mountains behind.  Luckily, the airport in Kathmandu has heavy traffic so we get to stay up in the air for a bit longer and admire the scenery.

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amazing views from the airplane

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Some destruction from the earthquake is evident in Kathmandu and the nearby towns but the Everest and Gokyo routes are in great condition.   This trek is not easy but it is not difficult either and it is definitely worth every physical challenge that it presents (altitude sickness, freezing cold nights, steep climbs,etc)… I would recommend it to anyone that obviously likes to trek and enjoys beautiful mountain scenery.  I also believe that the best way to help Nepal recover from the earthquake is by coming here and helping the tourism industry get back to normal.

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drinking Everest beers after a successful trek back to Namche

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4 comments

  1. So cool! Glad you made it to Base Camp and Kalla Pattar! Looks amazing, great photos, makes me think of my wonderful memories there. Safe travels 🙂

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  2. Awesome Cata…very impressive and beautiful pictures…looking forward to going and your blog post will definitely come in handy for frame of reference!

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  3. gracias Alejandro! dime cuando vienes por aca… yo creo que estare en Nepal hasta enero y regreso a la India despues.

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