Felt like travelling some place offbeat and looked up the list of direct flights from Bangalore and got excited when I found a direct flight to Kathmandu: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kempeg...port#Passenger
I thought I will trek to the highest point possible with access to comfortable accommodation and found the perfect hotel to touch 4000m. Googled a bit and figured out I should leave asap as the weather is perfect in mid November. Made a rough itinerary and called the hotel who offered to take care of all arrangements for the trek.
Asked a friend to come along. He thought I lost it and suggested a milder option like Nandi Hills. We both hit 40 recently and lead a sedentary life. The last time we did anything remotely like this was a day hike in Wayanad 20 years back. He reluctantly signed up after a brief motivational speech. Purchased BLR-KTM-BLR flights on Nepal Airlines website.
Had a discussion with the hotel and finalised the following itinerary:
14-Tue: Reach KTM
15-Wed: Explore KTM (to be avoided in future)
16-Thu: Fly to Lukla, meet with the guide, trek to Phakding, overnight at Yeti Mountain Home
17-Fri: Trek to Namche, overnight at Yeti Mountain Home
18-Sat: Trek to Everest View Hotel, overnight at hotel
19-Sun: Day trek and return to hotel
20-Mon: Chartered helicopter to Lukla, Fly to KTM, overnight at KTM
21-Tue: Fly to BLR
Went to Decathlon on Airport Road (not the nearest but has the widest choice). I like traveling light but internet is full of advice and it was very difficult to decide what to skip. I decided to be ultra minimal and it served me well.
Shoes: Decided against the highly recommended trekking boots and opted for light and comfortable sports-ish shoes with good grip (Forclaz 500 Helium). They are great everyday shoes for Rs 3500, better than expensive Nike stuff I have been buying all these years.
Merino wool thermals. Expensive (Rs 1999?) but they are magical. Would never ever touch other thermals. I canít praise them enough.
Quick dry warm running jacket and quick dry hiking pants.
Monkey cap, woollen gloves, neck warmer (light and thin ones to block the wind), woollen socks.
Extra: compact camera, phone, phone charger, toothbrush, etc.
Thatís about it. I carried the fleece jacket and shoes on me and rest of the stuff fit into my ordinary laptop backpack. Things I skipped:
Extra footwear - I am fine to use shoes all the time.
Rain proof gear - Took a chance as rain is less probable in Nov
Hiking poles - prefer my hands to be free to take photos, etc.
Towels, sleeping bags, bed sheet, down jacket - booked good hotels
Water bottle/hydration system - bought bottled water along the way.
Cap, sun glasses - sun doesnít bother me much.
DSLR and lenses, etc - wanted to travel light
Things I should not have taken:
Cotton anything. Cotton is terrible in winter (incl jeans, socks, etc.)
Fleece gloves. Too warm. Luckily I took woollen ones that served well.
Things I missed: Nothing really, it was just perfect. I was only worried about rain and luckily it didnít rain. Maybe a GoPro camera but I am too lazy to organise GBs of footage. I shoot medium resolution JPEG and delete lot of photos at the end of the day to keep a handful of good photos. I did miss wide angle lens, maybe in future.
Day#3 to Day#10: An amazing trip. I donít want to bore you with the actual travel details because there is so much material on the internet/youtube etc. Here are few useful observations that might help first timers:
Contrary to what you hear, every tom dick and harry can do this trek and can even go up to Everest Base Camp. If you can climb 50-100 steps briskly, you are fit enough to consider EBC. It is not at all about fitness, you donít need to hit the gym in preparation.
The real challenge is altitude sickness and lack of decent accommodation beyond 4000m. Nobody aborts EBC trek because they are not fit to continue. Most common causes are altitude sickness (painful) and food poisoning and this can happen to even very fit people.
I did not take medicine for altitude sickness as I thought my trek is at a slower pace only till 4000m but I had mild sickness after reaching Namche and my friend was affected a lot more than me. Next time I will start the medication 2 days before the trek. I just didnít appreciate the importance of altitude sickness, fortunately I had just one bad night.
Scary stories about Lukla airport, how dangerous it is, etc. Yes it is scary but going in November helped a great deal because of clear sky. I actually wanted to experience this flight. It is actually a very busy airport so statistically speaking it is a safe bet. Summit Air has newer planes vs Tara Air that has older planes but I doubt it matters. Itís all about pilot skill and clear weather.
Most people have the dream to do EBC on this route but I feel 4000m is also an amazing destination in itself. Pretty much the entire country of Nepal is a walkerís paradise. If you plan your treks around good hotels like I did, it can be a very relaxed and enjoyable trip. Only if you go beyond 4000m, the conditions become harsh and lack of basic infrastructure doesnít help.
The season and duration of the trek makes a lot of difference. A compressed schedule will make it a daunting trek as you are forced to gain altitude quickly which dramatically increases your chances of falling sick. Unfortunately most tour packages fall into this category. While it is a great experience going to EBC, it will be a pity not to explore this region at leisure.
One should definitely aim for 4000+m to really enjoy this region because at this altitude, vegetation is very minimal and you will get incredible views of snow capped mountains and valleys without any obstructions.
Great thing about BLR-KTM-BLR flight is that international sections are empty in BLR at these times so absolute breeze to get in/get off the plane. Return flight in KTM has long queues in the airport - reminds me of our old airports with never ending queues.
Some photos from the trip:
Window Seat A on BLR-KTM flight offers great sunset view:
The small plane to Lukla airport, everyone is excited and worried at the same time.
Lulka runway. Clear weather is critical. There is a wall at the end of the runway and planes have hit that wall! This photo is not mine, picked it up from internet
Lovely hiking trail between Lukla and Phakding:
Good luck and blessings for the journey:
Prayer wheels are a common sight:
Fellow trekkers drinking water. That water is very cold btw. There are no vehicles (not even bikes) in this region. Just animals and people walking, just wonderful.
Reached Phakding hotel for the first overnight halt after 3 hours of trekking. We felt we could trek for another two hours but decided to stay due to prior reservation and also evenings are a bit cold to trek.
Left Phakding after leisurely breakfast. Most people start very early due to tight schedule. In fact, some people trek for 9 hours in a day.
Nearly the entire portion of today's trek follows this Dudh Koshi river. Lovely company to have as you move along:
These are some of the easy sections along the route. Just need to watch your step to avoid spraining, otherwise fairly easy walk.
Reached Monjo town after 3 hours from Phakding. This is the entrance to Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park and we need to buy tickets here.
An hour after Monjo you reach Jorsale village. This is the last place to grab food, water, etc. on the way to Namche. The trail gets tough from here till Namche and there is no place to stay after Jorsale till we reach Namche. You will gain 600m+ altitude from here till Namche. So the next three hours are considered tough.
Thankfully some plain sections also exist:
Through out the trail, you will spot locals that breeze past you carrying incredible loads while the tourists are panting profusely. Here is a man carrying a child as if it is a walk in the park next to The North Face poster athlete.
Lot of everyday sights that let you soak in the local lifestyle:
The suspension bridges are beautiful and a great relief from all the climbing. They are made of steel and built well (not the creaking wooden stuff). But you do have to share them with the gentle beasts:
It is a great relief to see the Namche town after a long trek. I spent sometime walking around the town before heading to the hotel:
Reached our Namche hotel. After an hour or so I got mild altitude sickness, was a bad night overall. Some people do Lukla to Namche in one go, I feel it is doable for people with average fitness but risky due to altitude acclimatisation.
Left the hotel after breakfast and reached this spot where EBC guys take the Tengboche route. We climbed up towards Khumjung village to get to our final stop.
After reaching 3800m or so the landscape really opens up. If you love walking, this is a paradise. This is the place that makes me want to come back again.
Our final hotel (Everest View Hotel) is an excellent stop. You can see many mountains from here including the Everest but my favourite mountain is Ama Dablam, it is just so beautiful and has a distinct shape.
Of course the mandatory postcard picture
Next day I went for a day trek without any real destination and it was the best part of my trip. Breathtaking views.
Passed through Khumjung village..
I wasn't sure how this trip would turn out so pre-booked a chopper instead of trekking back to Lukla but I had such a good time so I felt very guilty to take the chopper to return. The early morning chopper flight was very Hollywood-ish and fun. I took the co-pilot seat.
If you think Lukla airport is a lonely desolate airstrip, think again. It's super crowded with lot of traffic.
It was good to be in warm KTM hotel after many days in cold weather:
Finally homebound as I bid farewell to the majestic mountains (ask for window seat F):