April 20th 2021, is a date that I will remember for the rest of my life. The second wave of the ever-lasting Covid19 Pandemic had just began. The borders were getting sealed again and the vaccine doses had yet not arrived in an efficient manner in India unfortunately. I had just reached New Delhi from Bir - Himachal on the 19th. I could read all over the news that stringent rules for travel restriction had been reinstated and a full lockdown Phase II was in place. My plan to head to EBC - Nepal was already postponed from March 2020 and even this year the history hinted me that it was going to repeat itself. I bet I haven't taken up a better self analysis check of myself before 20th April morning, when I set off to board the last bus leaving from Delhi to Kathmandu. I am grateful now to have chosen to get on that bus because what I witnessed and the journey I went through in the next 25 days to come was spectacular in its own way...
Day 1 - New Delhi To Kathmandu - A Single Bus Journey for 36hrs
Yes, you read it right. I was also a little shocked to see a direct bus from New Delhi to Kathmandu city. It usually takes 32hrs on an average but unfortunately in my situation since the lockdown was announced, I was accompanied by around 70+ people (Nepal residents) rushing back home, in the bus which could only accommodate 50 people. I had stranded passengers sitting on the aisle of the bus throughout the journey. Lucky me that I had seats booked online on 19th April just prior to the when the lockdown news broke out. Post the clearance of my documents and Covid19 Negative Test Report at the Indo-Nepal Border in Sonauli, I was allowed to enter Nepal.
Day 2 - Stay at Thamel & Gear Purchase
After the long tiring bus journey, I stayed in the busy streets of Thamel in a cosy backpacker hostel. The lanes in Thamel are just over-poured with trek and expedition gear shops. We can find A-Z that you need for your trip here. Although we need to be very cautious about the authenticity of the product and not just go by the brand name that they are offering. I found a genuine shop by the name Shona's Apline after reading multiple blogs and reviews, where I got what all I needed for my trek which I already wasn't carrying and at a fair price.
I could find the streets a little deserted since covid was prevailing during the better half of 2020 and these local shop owners were still skeptical about the 2021 season as well.
(The last image shows the most basic essential gear that you will need to carry on your self guided high altitude trek to EBC)
Day 3 - Koteshwar to Salleri
After a day's rest in Thamel, I packed my 21kg backpack to Koteshwar from where I had made a booking in the local bus (25 seater) to a hamlet called as Salleri or locally known as Solu.(Initially, finding out that busses to Solu leave from Koteshwar was a task in itself. It took me an entire day to figure this out since Hindi is not very commonly understood and Solu was a village long forgotten by people since most of the trekkers always flew down to Lukla to start the trek).
This village is the starting point of the trek to Everest Base Camp for those who want to do the entire trek on foot and are bypassing the classical way of flying to Lukla and then hiking to Namche and onwards. My objective was to avoid all costlier & sophisticated ways of travel and get along with the most basic and traditional path to observe the local community thriving on the entire path to EBC in tiny villages. To be honest, it was a very tedious way of journey especially with Covid19 spreading like a wildfire. I boarded the bus at 6 in the morning and already could see a huge chunk of crowd ramming and squeezing into the tiny compartment.
The entire journey from Koteshwar to Salleri was covered in 13hrs. And for nearly the entire journey I sat amidst the pile of bags on the aisle of the bus. Although I had a booking, there were a lot of aged people who weren't able to travel without seats. I had to offer them my place.
All my bus journeys were little dreading but I didn't have much of a choice. The journey from Kathmandu to Salleri is worth the ride with magnificent sky piercing snow capped peaks glazing your eyes throughout. They never fail to amaze you as you keep getting closer to them for every hairpin bend that you cross. Seeing them stand tall far away yet near me was worth getting on the bus.
(Here is a quick video snippet of the distant ranges of Himalayas on the way to Salleri. I was keen on saving up my phone battery as well as memory for the rest of my journey hence I was being conservative on taking videos or photos)
Day 4 - Salleri to Thamdada to Surkey (10km hike)
As I reached Salleri, it was dark already. I realised that it gets darker even sooner in Nepal. As I got down from the bus, I walked across a dimply lit village in search of a homestay and found a tiny house where a lady owned a small restaurant (dhaba). She gave me a room to crash in her house on terms that I had the dinner at her restaurant. Post dinner, I had arranged a camper for myself to a place called Thamdada. Originally my plan was to start hiking from Salleri but I came to understand that a there is a road where campers alone can be driven and it ends at Thamdada from where I can start the hike. This way I was saving 2 days worth of hike hence I agreed for this plan.
Sharp at 7am, I was all packed and set for the travel. Like an excited kid, I asked the driver to let me sit in the front seat. In the cab, I met Tenzing Dai (brother in Nepali) who spoke fluent English and was a Chelsea fan. The whole 7 hrs of the journey, we shared with each other many stories of football and mountains. We ended up arguing why Chelsea can not win the Premier League that year. He then invited me to his homestay in Thame (a small village in the Khumbu valley near Renjo La Pass). His village was in my itinerary on the 19th day of the hike. So I happily agreed to be his guest.
The driver dropped us at Thamdada where all the three of us had hot lunch and were getting ready to set trails apart. I shook hands with them both and took my trek poles out and was charging up to kick start my journey to EBC officially. Right then, Tenzing daai called out and said, "Join along Vikky, if you can keep up".
It was a tough start since I had put on weight during the lockdown and had underwent a knee surgery just a month ago. I was advised not to do any activity for 6 months but I was out there in Nepal to explore and was with open mindset to not carry on with the trek if at any point I felt I am straining my knees.
On February 25th 2021, I had undergone a ligament reconstruction surgery on my right knee for an injury that happened 6 years ago while in college. I am glad than I had taken up the surgery but my plans for EBC were still at stake post my surgery. If I hadn't recovered well, there was a good chance of getting injured again on the same ligament which would cause a permanent damage on my knee. Keeping this in mind, I took it very slow and was always questioning my thoughts while planning each day prior to the trek. In March, about 2 weeks post the surgery, to check my strength and stability, I did the Chandrashila trek in Uttarakhand to get an idea of how my legs were shaping up. Although post the surgery, I wasn't sure about EBC since I planned for a very extensive 3 Passes route of EBC which would need good fitness.
So there I was with Tenzing daai, sweating it out in the valley of Solukhumbu. At first when Tenzing daai said me to tag along till Surkey, I felt its good to have a sherpa guiding you with the stories of the beautiful villages but when we started hiking, I witnessed the true power of Daal Bhaat (Rice and Daal - A staple diet of Nepali Sherpas) in Tenzing daai. He was 44 years young and had the spirit of a mule. It was indeed tough catching up with him with my half recovered knees but I still tried manage every step. During the last few kilometres of the hike, we could spot the village Surkey right down in the valley next to a river. It was a steep downhill trail for almost two and a half hour. This is when reality hit me. With a 21kg backpack and an underprepared body, I felt I have made the biggest mistake of my life.
All thoughts of heading back to Thamdada and getting back on the same cab that dropped me there were constantly hitting me on my nerves for each step that I took downhill, I could feel my knees cursing me for making them go through that. Nobody to blame but back there, I had no better option than to take it slow and reach Surkey by nightfall.
Day 5 - Surkey to Jorsalle (12km)
Right from Day 1 of hike, I decided that I need to warm up everyday prior to the start of the hike and end the day with a Head-to-Toe warm down to ensure minimal stress on the worked up muscles on the next day. Tenzing Dai was supposed to head to Namche right from Surkey which was nearly a 16km hike. So I had decided that I would accompany him for as long as my knees give me the strength to push. At Phakhding, we bid adieu to each other and I planned to head to the last village before Namche which was Jorsalle.
On this day, I went through two check posts which charge a permit amount to enter the Sagarmatha National Park. The first check post is at a village called Tok-Tok and the second is at Monjo. The total price for the permit for an Indian to enter is 3500 NPR (Approx 2200 INR) and we need to provide a valid ID proof for the same. It is advisable to keep these tickets safe. These tickets are rechecked at Namche just prior to entering the village.
Swipe right for more
Also, when you hike from Lukla to Namche / Surkey to Namche, you will be greeted with beautiful hanging bridges suspended in thin air which gives you the chills. This was something that I was looking for while planning the hike as well. A short clipping of one of the bridges en-route Jorsalle.
Day 6 - Jorsalle to Namche Bazaar (11300ft / 3300m) (4km hike)
After two days of a warm up hike, my knee was getting used to the routine and I felt more confident than earlier, so I decided to go for Namche. I was skeptical on this move since Namche is at 11300ft (3300m) above the sea level and heading to a high altitude spot could trigger my knee pain. But I had the option of getting a chopper in the worst case to get dropped back to Kathmandu from Namche if it was absolutely neccesary. Keeping this thought in mind, I started of the day from Jorsalle to Namche which is an entirely steep ascend trail from the start till the we reach Namche. I was said that it would take around 3hrs to finish the trail.
I have seen and heard great stories about how beautiful Namche Bazaar is, which was another reason for me to not give up. The highlight of this village - The first glimpse of the almighty - "Mt Everest" and other prominent peaks like Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam all in one landscape view. I wouldn't trade this for anything after all the efforts taken.
As I kept ascending, the fresh fragrance of the mountain soil and the chill breeze gushing me with the excitement of getting to see the big peaks for real, gave me endurance and strength to get through the whole 3hrs of trek in just an hour and half. It was the day I could feel confident and was hiking without much efforts unlike the previous two days.
Namche Bazaar was the turning point of the entire trek for me. At such altitude, I could not believe what I was seeing. It felt so unreal for humans to have built such a beautiful village out there. Namche is the last place in the entire trail where we can find all the essentials needed for any expedition or trek that you are headed for in the trail. Of course the pricing is a little surged but it compensates for the efforts taken to transport the goods till up there. You can also find overnight pubs, bars with snooker tables, pizzeria, and even Baskin Robins here.
As soon as I reached Namche, I looked for my friends place here called Hotel Kamal, where I met Pemba Dai. He was a very hospitable host and a dear friend. Just after my lunch, I explored Namche and headed straight to Everest View Hotel situated above Namche Bazaar which takes around 15mins of a walk, where if you are lucky on a clear weather day, you can spot the all- mighty peaks which I had mentioned earlier. But since I reached there around 3pm, all the clouds had ended my show for the day.
Note - At Namche we get access to the Everest Link Wifi system that the entire Khumbu region depends on for internet. It is priced at 2000 NPR (1250 INR) which has a validity for 30 days with 10GB of data where you can even track your usage and can recharge further on the trail at certain shops for additional data. The lodges that you will be staying in the village ahead of Namche, all provide with Everest Link Wifi (except a few in Gokyo) and all you need is your Username and Password and you have access to very fast internet. But choose to use the data wisely as during bad weather, the network goes down and all you have is the Wifi to make Whatsapp calls and book flights for any uncertain needs. And this piece of paper needs to be kept safe since anyone who has access to your username and password can consume your data. I have also attached a screenshot of how the wifi network looks in your phone ahead of Namche. After shopping for a few more necessities, I took enough rest at Namche and was thrilled for the next day to begin already.
Day 7 - Namche Bazaar to Pangboche (13123ft / 4000m) - (15.5km hike)
Considerably this was the second longest day of my itinerary. The Everest View point at Namche is on the way of the EBC trail and I was excited to have a glimpse of the big jewels of Himalayas. I woke up at 5 in the morning and started the hike at 6 from Hotel Kamal at Namche. I was all charged up with the vastness around me and the ones that are going to amaze me. After a few turns and twists in the trail, leaving Namche behind, I was welcomed to the ever astonishing view of Mt Ama Dablam. I was frozen, standing in-front of her. No wonder she is called the "Mother's Necklace". I stood there in awe and was waiting for someone to help me with a picture before the clouds come up again and ruin the show. Luckily I met a few Sherpas crossing on the trail who offered to help me. Due to covid, all the travellers were very reluctant to speak with strangers, which was a setback for a solo traveller like me. But I was glad I could get my emotions captured at that moment, to remember forever.
Fortunately, since I was there early in the morning so I was able to get the glimpse of Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse as well. Probably the best start of the day in the entire trek I could say.
There I was, looking at Ama Dablam, and I instantaneously decided that before heading to EBC, I need to visit Ama Dablam Base camp as well. I had it my initial plan but since my knees had taken a toll, I was tweaking my itinerary to just accommodate plans to EBC safely and head back to India, before the lockdown restrictions get intense. But the moment I set eyes on her, I could not think of anything else. I was super excited and got an instant adrenaline push inside me, which lasted for an entire week that made me cruise through the whole trek. Without any second thoughts, I had planned the hike from Pangboche to Ama Dablam Base and then heading to Dingboche for the next day.
After the jaw dropping views for the start, I hit the pedal hard to head to Tengboche Monastery which is enroute Pangboche. Here, we can see the largest Gompa in the Khumbu region where every climber/trekker visits this monastery and prays for a safe passage and journey to what ever they set foot on. Unfortunately for me, the gates were shut because of the pandemic so I was denied entry inside the temple.
Day 8 - Pangboche to Ama Dablam Base Camp to Dingboche(14450ft / 4410m)
My body was getting used to the everyday hike and the altitude very well. I could ease up with the pace and my knees were keeping up with the ascend trail very well. All my hopes were high and my energy levels were not going down. Things seemed to be in control. I headed off to a homestay in the almost deserted village where I got a cosy room and a good dinner. I sat with the property owner who guided me with the route to Ama Dablam base camp (15100ft / 4600m) from the village. He said that no-one else from the village was heading there the next morning when I was planning to go. This was a little less warming than I thought since I was new to the trail and with an offbeat trek to Ama Dablam base camp, I wasn't sure of the route but I felt that I could manage myself unless I get lost in which case, I can always head back the way I had come. With this optimistic thought, I called it a day and went off to the bed by 9 at night because the temperature dropped drastically post sunset and it was a very windy night.
After a good night's sleep, I woke up at 6 and hit the trail by 6.30 with a day pack with only essentials like rain cover, torch, medicine, water, energy bars and my knee support and marched towards Ama Dablam Base Camp. It was a trail covering 4km from Pangboche to the base camp and was an ascend trail overall. During the start of the hike, I could feel the nerves on my knees and also the thought that if I was headed in the right direction was constantly popping in. my head. However, I felt that I had to be there to witness her from as close within.
After 2 hours of a daunting hike, I could see a few yellow tents lined up far ahead of me. This was a sigh of relief. I rushed through the rocky terrain engulfing the campsite and reached the base camp and up there she stood. The stunning jewel of the Khumbu Region.
It was so hard for me to leave the camp but with a heavy heart and a happy face, I looked upon her, and said to myself that one day I will be back here but not just at the base but at the top!
From the base camp, I descended back with a good pace so that I could warm up my body for the rest of my trek for the day from Pangboche to Dingboche. After reaching Pangboche, I had a super quick brunch and hit the trail right away. The weather predictions for the next 4 days were not very favourable for the hike. To Dingboche, it was considerably a gradual hike with not much efforts for me since I had ideally gone up till a higher altitude than Dingboche. I could notice the change in the landscape of the hike after Pangboche. I could spot lesser greener shade and more of the desert-like aura was welcoming me a step closer to paradise on Earth.
Through the entirety of the trail, I was alone amidst the sky piercing peaks and I was trying to make the best out of the hike as if I was walking in my backyard. I felt so tiny no matter how high I ascended. It was surreal.
Day 9 - Dingboche to Chukhung (15500ft / 4800m) - (5km)
As soon as I reached Dingboche, I found an affordable place to stay and was hoping that the weather would clear up because the hard part of my EBC trek was yet to begin. The next day, I would be heading to Chukhung village, from where I have the options to hike to the following places:
Lhotse Base Camp - 17000ft
Island Peak Base Camp - 16500ft
Chukhung Ri - 18195ft
Imja Tso Lake - 16400ft
With all this in the pipeline, I had to really wish the weather to be courteous to me.
Ideally, the traditional trail to EBC from Pangboche is.
Pangboche ----> Periche ----> Thukla Pass ----> Lobuche ---> Gorakshep ---> EBC
But since I was taking up more of a challenge, I chose the 3 Passes Route to EBC. Hence I had to head to Dingboche. My route was something like,
Pangboche ----> Dingboche ----> Chukhung ----> Kongmala Pass ---> Lobuche ---> And so..
In the morning from Dingboche, I started off early to cover the 5km hike to Chukhung as soon as I could, post which I could head to Lhotse Base camp if the weather permitted. It was a deserted trail all throughout since not many trekkers commit for the 3 passes route. Here on this trail, I could witness the best views of Mt Lhotse and the Island Peak. I was headed straight towards the peaks and in this trail there was no issues of heading out in the wrong direction.
Everyday, I carry1.5L of water and 1L of a Lemon Juice (flavoured powder) from each village that I used to check out in the morning from. Being hydrated was the best way to handle the altitude gain as well as fatigue. Although the winds were chilly, and the mid day temperature post Pangboche was 10 degrees or lower, the thirst was never quenchable.
Carrying a backpack of over 20kg and hiking at a fast pace with a semi-healed knee was a challenge all together. So I had to ensure that my health was a 100% fine and I was mentally focussed on the same. While travelling alone, I also had to ensure that I only take calculated risks and more to it when I am trekking at high altitude zone.
While all of this was new and super exciting doing this trek solo, I had the constant fear in my mind about what all could actually go wrong while I am in such an inaccessible place with the pandemic spreading like a wildfire and the lockdown restrictions were getting stricter everyday.
But there I was, walking, sweating, gasping for each breath but absolutely loving every step of the long tiring hike and the ever challenging weather.
At around 11am in the morning, I reached Chukhung. I had to pace up in last 2km of the hike, as the weather went drastically the other way around. I checked-in at Chukhung resort and in no time the skies were all dark and the clouds were raging against each other and for 3hrs there was absolutely no sun and just snowfall. The desert like canvas around the small village of Chukhung was now all white as vanilla. And the weather didn't seem to clear up any sooner. The network was down and I couldn't check the forecast or even inform my family about my whereabouts for the entire day.
I waited till sundowner to find any trekker who is attempting the Kongma La pass with whom I could tag along, because I could see the weather was not favourable and the route to the pass was now fully covered with snow. There were high chances that I could lose the path and end up nowhere. Taking this risk and traversing through a pass at 17500ft was not a sensible decision for my solo attempt. Sadly, I couldn't find anyone heading up there and I couldn't hire a sherpa even as the all the guides were already occupied with other teams. Moreover without internet access, it became even more harder to take that risk. So I decided that from Chukhung, I would return to Dingboche and head to Lobuche via Thukla Pass. In this way, I had to cover an additional distance of 12km and I had to lose one day that I had spent to come to Chukhung. Bad news apart, this village was a gem no doubt.
Day 10 - Chukhung to Dingboche to Lobuche (16210ft / 5000m) - 13km
I had a very early start as I had a long day ahead. After a quick warm up, I packed my bag and bid adieu to Chukhung and all my plans. I hit the trail by around 6am as soon as the sun was out and to my bewilderment, the trail that I had covered in the previous day was no longer the same. It had snowed the entire night and I felt as if I was walking in a route that I haven't before been in. All the peaks were covered with fresh white powder snow and they were sparkling like stars in the day. It was a sight to immerse myself into. But since the weather was all up against me, I had to pace up and cover the distance soon and cross Thukla Pass before noon. Thukla Pass is at 16000ft - 4865m and it would pose a challenge to cross the pass if the weather takes a toll on me.
(A few glimpses of Chukhung and the trail to Lobuche)
Swipe right for more
After around less than 2 hours of hike from Chukhung, I reached Dingboche and headed straight to Lobuche. This way, I will be bypassing Periche and I will be walking straight to Thukla and then Thukla Pass eventually.
The trail to Lobuche from Dingboche was not a knee breaker deal however it was a long and yet a beautiful trail that I had come across so far. I could meet a few sherpas on the trail who suggested me many affordable home-stays options to stay in during my next days to come.
After two hours of hike, I had reached the Thukla village. In this trail, I could hear choppers circuiting on and off in the skies, to and from the Everest Base Camp region.
From Thukla village, it was a hard ascend to the Thukla Pass. I braced my knees and with time constraints in mind, I didn't hesitate for a break on the trail and started pacing upwards. This section in particular was a challenging hike but as I was acclimatised properly, I could head up with ease.
As I reached the pass, I could see huge cairns (stone structures in the shape of a teepee) which were eternal memoirs dedicated for those who had lost their lives during any expedition in the valley. It was a very unfortunate sight to look at. I visited all the memorials present there. This was the best tribute to the mountaineers who now forever remain within the Himalayas.
Pacing through the Khumbu valley, I could sense how close I was getting to the highest place on our planet Earth, the Mt Everest. And even reaching the base camp was a sense of overwhelming accomplishment for me. Surpassing the nature and the challenges it throws on you while attempting to summit Mt Everest can be literally bone chilling and I wonder how every year around 600 people try to scale the massive and daunting Sagarmatha. To give a few insights, Mt Everest has a fatality rate of 6.5%. This is still lesser than other 8000ers like Annapurna I and K2. A big salute to all the super human sherpas without whom the whole valley of Khumbu would be barren and attempting to scale to Earth's mightiest peaks would be nearly impossible.
Once I crossed Thukla Pass, it was a gradual walk to Lobuche and to my fears, the weather had no mercy on me and the grey clouds welcomed me with a white cast of spell. I reached the stay for my night and fortunately had internet access. I ordered a hot bowl of soup and rested my knees after the long tiring walk. I planned to head to the Khumbu glacier in the evening but the weather wasn't getting any friendlier. I had to stay put and make myself warm and prepare myself for the next day. While fidgeting through Instagram, it came to my notice that, the world famous, record breaker, Nims Dai was stationed at the base camp. My adrenaline levels of excitement shot up 200% and in the evening, I had a thought that I could even leave right away and reach Gorakshep so that I could meet the legend as soon as possible. But again, the weather was harsh so I decided to just wait another day.
Day 11 - Lobuche to Gorakshep to EBC (17600ft / 5364m) - (8km)
(Constant rescue chopper operations at EBC)
An early morning start from Lobuche put me in the trail all alone like every other day. Now I was getting used to hiking alone during the morning sessions especially. However, from Lobuche I had taken an off trail, where I didn't realise that I was headed wrong but nonetheless I just went with my directions instinct and managed to end up right. This was quite adventurous but since I had time to spare because of starting very early, I had the luxury to take this risk everyday.
The trail from Lobuche to Gorakshep is spell-bounding as we get to see the entire Khumbu glacier, EBC from up top and the constant view of Mt Pumori leaves your jaw dropping. However, the challenges are quite a few to name. Since we head to a definite altitude of 17000ft, getting headaches, cough and breathlessness are very common during this trail if your body hasn't acclimatised well. I faced this as well but being well hydrated and properly layered did the deal for me.
The entire trail is full of rocks and you can hardly find any vegetation. The winds get chillier and if you aren't wearing good (SPF 40+) sunscreen, it can make the matters worse. On a clear day, hiking without the sun shades can give you the worst experience as well. Being well prepared fitness wise is as important as being geared in the right way.
Gorakshep, being the last village in the trail of EBC, a few luxuries that were available earlier would be not accessible here. You have a couple of homestay options at Gorakshep and during the peak season to EBC, booking a place earlier comes handy. I was fortunate that due to the pandemic, the season had taken a downfall and I could get rooms across all the villages in the trail. I checked in at the famous Buddha Lodge and started with my day pack alone to EBC right away. From Gorakshep, EBC is hardly a 3km walk with gradual ascends and descends. I was just hoping that I could meet all the famous mountaineers stationed there at the camp since it was the climbing season as well. Legends like Kenton Cool (summited Everest 15 times) and Nims (scaled all 14 8000ers in 7 months) were all there. Just the thought of it, had me on my toes. I could also see that Indian climbers, Arjun Vajpai and Harshvardhan Joshi were heading to the summit this season. To my surprise, even Mike Posner - the singer was at EBC.
(The Khumbu Icefall)
As I reached EBC, I could see there were hundreds of tents with a huge commotion of sherpas heading up fully loaded with huge bags on their back. Climbers heading fully equipped with gear for their technical sessions perhaps. Yaks wading through the people with sacks of food. I could hear loud Nepali folk music from the kitchen tents. Drones flying over my head and a chopper landing at the helipad every tenth minute. I couldn't see this much activity happening in the past ten days of my solo hike. The josh was fully HIGH sir!
I started asking around for "Elite Exped" camping spot to first meet with Nims and his team. On a sidetrack, everyday there were news form EBC that climbers were falling sick and the people doubted that Covid outbreak had reached the campsite as well. I was well aware of this fact and I had to carry mask to EBC alone to ensure that people don't send me back. I had planned to spend a good amount of time at the camp if there was a nice weather window. I could feel the spirits of the people working there. Walking through the small lane between the campsites of various adventure companies where entry was prohibited, I felt privileged to be even walking amidst all of them.
At the very last end of the entire EBC, wading through all the camps, I could spot the white dome of Elite Exped. I bet, I wasn't as nervous as how I felt then, ever in my life. As I approached the camp, I met a dai to whom I said that I had come a long way to meet Nims. With an unfortunate look at his face, he said that Nims and the team had left in the morning at 6 to the first camp of Everest for the acclimatisation walk and would be returning post 3 days. As I heard him tell this, I could say that I had a tear in my eye.
I walked inside the dining tent of Elite Exped and the very hospitable team gave me hot tea and offered me the "Beyond Possible" book written by Nims. Inside my mind, I thought I should stay 3 nights at EBC with the team and wait for Nims to come down so I could meet him but the situation was not favourable. I couldn't believe that after all this I missed meeting him by a matter of 5hrs. If only I hadn't gone to Chukhung, I could have been at EBC a day earlier..!
(In picture - Gelje Sherpa - The famous dancer team member of Elite Exped Team -You can catch him in action in the movie 14 Peaks by Nims)
I spent a wonderful time at their camp but the weather switched sides again. I had to head back to Gorakshep and rest for the day. Heading to Kalapathar at 3 in the morning the following day was the plan. I had to retrace my way back to the start of the EBC to take a picture at the iconic EBC Rock, but unfortunately due to covid people out there were very repulsive to even handle other's phone to take a picture. Luckily, a sherpa offered to click a picture for me. With all smiles and more hope to reach EBC again to be with in peace amidst the blanket of the Himalayas, I headed back.
As I descended back to Gorakshep, I went to the dining area of the lodge and I put my phone on charge and had some hot momos to celebrate my safe summit to EBC. Over at the dining, I met a few travellers who were returning from EBC and were planning to head to Kalapathar and Dzongla the next day.
Kalapathar is at the highest altitude on the EBC trail at 5644m. The trail stretching from the village of Gorakshep to the summit of Kalapathar is treacherous and needs good fitness to enjoy whilst walking up. Hiking in the morning at 3am to witness the sun rise form the East over the Mount Everest, is a sight worth the efforts. However, the cold weather makes it harder along with the cloud cover that covers up at the summit as soon as the sun rises up. Hence, there was no bargain with the starting time of the day.
I needed enough rest to be up and ready to start the day that early. At night, the temperature at Gorakshep dipped to sub zero degrees making it harder to get sleep. I had to finally use thermals here, to get some peaceful rest.
Day 12 - Gorakshep to Kalapathar to Dzongla (15850ft / 4830m) - (15km)
At 3am, I woke up to see at the window that it was a clear sky and could see stars carpet the night sky as if they were out there to guide me. At 345am, I got out of the lodge to hit the trail to Kalapathar. The onward distance is around 2km steep ascend. It was all dark out and I was on the trail with rest of the trekkers from Buddha lodge.
I for a change, enjoyed the ascend since I was just carrying my day pack with just medicines, water and a few essentials. It was a freedom to walk with no load. And as I was half way through, to my right side on the ridge I could see the shadows of all the peaks appear out of nowhere. This was the closest I could feel myself to Mt Everest.
Low visibility at Kalapathar Trail and the Mt Everest during the sunrise
Swipe right for more
The altitude was kicking in along with the freezing temperature. In the morning before the start of the hike, I remember checking the temperature at Kalapathar which was -10 degrees. Not the best motivation to get out of the cosy blanket at 3 am honestly.
After an hour and a half, I could reach the summit where the Tibetan player flags were tied to give hope to the trekkers to make it up to there. And the view from the summit was spectacular. Sun rays stroking the peaks and giving light to the entire valley and the silhouette of all the huge peaks standing in front of you is a sight that you will cherish in your memory forever.
Reaching Kalapathar on time was just 50% job done. Heading down within the clouds and a powder snow trail was another task. How fast the weather changes in the mountains still amazes me. In no time, the fog had risen up and all the view was stolen from our eyes. We had to head down as it started getting chillier and there were chances of snowfall again. Many of the trekkers had decided not to head up to the summit and turned around mid way. A handful of us were on the summit and hoping for some good time but we could get some precious ten minutes with the stunning views and like magic, it was all gone! My fingers and toes were all numb and it was quite hard to click a picture up there.
As I approached the descend, I had to be extra careful with my knees as the powder snow makes the trail slippery and its hard to navigate through. We had a well defined trail so it wasn't much of a challenge per se. And within half hour, I rushed my way back to Gorakshep. I didn't want to strain my knees, hence I chose the option of jogging my way down with the side stepping technique.
Gorakshep in the morning was like a "Game of Thrones" shoot spot. With the mystical clouds hovering around you, the charm for this tiny village makes you speechless.
In 8 days from Kathmandu, I had reached EBC and summited Kalapathar as well, with all the challenges that I had taken up on me. I was reflecting on my journey so far and was revisiting all the beautiful villages that I had crossed, the massive hanging bridges, the hardworking people I met and all the big mountains that I had seen. So much I had gone through in the past 8 days.
After having a quick breakfast, I joined the group of people who were also headed to Dzongla. From Dzongla, I had to attempt to cross the Cho La Pass in order to reach Gokyo. People at Gorakshep were saying that even Cho La pass is covered with massive fresh snow cover and crossing the pass was not viable. I made plans to reach Dzongla anyway to figure out the situation on ground.
From Gorakshep to Dzongla, we had to hike for 10km and the entirety of the trail was a flat terrain walk.
Day 13 - Dzongla to Gokyo via Cho La Pass (17800ft / 5420m) - (14km)
When I reached Dzongla, I met with few trekkers who had just reached Dzongla from the Gokyo side. And they informed that the Cho La pass was a well established route with metal rods placed throughout the trail to guide the trekkers in the right direction. Based on this, we decided to hit the trail next morning at 4am to cross the pass as early as possible before the weather goes down again.
In the morning, we got a beautiful view of the entire valley where the village Dzongla was situated. My homestay was right next to the Cholatse peak. It was a majestic white wall of 6500m which erupted out of nowhere. In the following video you can witness Mt Ama Dablam in the frame as well as Mt Cholatse up close at 5 am.
(Mt Ama Dablam and Mt Cholatse)
We reached the Cho La pass by 7am by when the sun was all up high and scorching our eyes. From the Cho la pass, we had an intense descend trail of almost 2000ft with a slippery route which was a knee breaking exercise. Fortunately, there were guiding ropes which when needed could be used for one's support. The panorama of the Gokyo valley was entirely different from the Khumbu valley. It was more barren, covered with scree and the valley had Ngozumba Glacier which covered around 36km entirely from Cho Oyo till Gokyo. The glacier felt more like a brown desert unlike Khumbu glacier which was glacial white in colour. I could spot in-numerous small unnamed lakes as I walked through the valley.
Chola Pass route and Ngozumba glacier walk Swipe right for more
After 2 hours of never-ending descend, I reached Thagnak to have hot lunch and headed to Gokyo since I had the energy and the excitement to stay at Gokyo. Around 5 in the evening, I had safely reached Gokyo before sundowner and had a wonderful sight in-front of me. Of all the glacial lakes I have been to India, Gokyo stood apart. And no justice could be done with pictures to what it feels like to be in the presence of it. Soon, I booked myself into a very cosy homestay right on the edge of the lake. Staying there was a treat to myself for planning this trek.
Day 14 - Rest day at Gokyo (15500ft / 4750m)
At Gokyo, I halted for another night to just get immersed into the beauty of the lake in itself and planned to hike to Gokyo Ri if and only if the weather permitted. In my original plan, I had even Cho Oyo base camp covered in the itinerary but I couldn't risk my knees getting more damaged. Since I was getting wifi at Gokyo, I had to take this rest day to plan my travel back to India. I could see that my return flight to Delhi from Kathmandu had been cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions and the flights from Lukla were no longer operational. They were operating only a few flights to rescue stranded foreigners from Lukla to Kathmandu. Here is when all of my plan went haywire. I had to now figure out a way to Kathmandu as soon as possible so that I can head back to Delhi. But there was nothing much I could do sitting at Gokyo since I had to be at Lukla to get the true insights of the flights. So I decided to head off to Lukla right from Gokyo.
On the rest day, I enjoyed the lake to myself. I spent 4 hours in the morning to go around the entire lake and was listening to a very soothing calm music and got lost in the stillness of the entire valley.
Day 15 - Gokyo to Namche Bazaar - (21km)
This day, I embarked the longest trail covered in a day of my improvised itinerary. The weather was clear but after my lunch at Machhermo, it started to rain again. We started the descend at around 8 in the morning and after covering a distance of 21km, I could reach Namche Bazaar by 6 in the evening. The contrast of journey's I will remember. From the snow laden Gokyo, I crossed 3 villages in between and descended 4000ft of altitude in 10 hours. This was an achievement for me after all that had gone wrong in my journey. But a huge sigh of relief when I reached Namche. I took a good long hot shower at Namche, which by the way you have to pay for. And treated myself with delicious food and also asked around for the flight situation to whom ever I met. Everyone I asked around was skeptical about the status. After the ambiguous series of answers and directions I received, I decided that I had to pull off another long hike the next day to reach Lukla directly.
Gokyo in the morning
Day 16 - Namche Bazaar to Lukla (15km)
In the search for a rescue flight to Kathmandu from Lukla, I headed off again in the morning to descend from Namche to Lukla before evening 5, so I could make in time and head to the airport and check for any flights for the next day. This day was another tester for my knees. The descend always hurts the most. Along with a backpack of 20+ kgs, and a constant trek of 12 km+ a day on average is really taxing. The circumstances forced me to indulge in this and the determination to get it done was the driving factor.
While hiking down, I re-lived through all the beautiful home-stays and villages which I had crossed while heading up a week before. The weather had unfriended me even on this day. As I reached a village named Cheplung, it started raining cats and dogs. The worst rainfall I have been in on a trek. I couldn't afford to take a break because I was running late to reach the airlines office. Wearing my rain-sheeter, I kept walking like any other mule or yak that was one the way. I was just hoping that it should all be worth it. I trekked in the rain for around 2 hours. Fully drenched and dripping from head to toe, I reached Lukla by 4 in the evening. I headed straight to the flight airlines office and caught the final breath of relief. There were two cargo charter flights reaching Lukla the next morning, and will be flying back the stranded foreigners alone to Kathmandu. I happily booked a seat for myself and checked in at the hotel right next to the Tenzing Hillary airport.
The most dangerous airport in the world - Lukla
Swipe right for more
Day 17 - Lukla to Kathmandu
Probably an all round experience for me this trek had been, and how could I miss flying off from Lukla - The most dangerous runway which takes you up to heaven when the flight accelerates through the sloping runway. I was always scared of flights and the uncertainties but I was there with no options left whatsoever. I had to find my way back home to India. However, all flights from Kathmandu were indefinitely cancelled and the roadways to India were blocked as well due to Covid restrictions worldwide. In any case, I had to reach Kathmandu to figure out options to head back, so I had to board this flight from Lukla.
I was said at the office that if the weather was not manageable, the flight might get delayed or cancelled even. Along with me, I had a bunch of Europeans who had fallen sick and couldn't complete the trek and were stranded. The airport was full of people hoping for the weather to clear up just for the 3 hour window.
Finally, by 10am in the morning we were said that we will be flying. I had made arrangements for my stay at Thamel in the same homestay that I had stayed in because rest all places in Kathmandu were either closed or not accepting bookings. I was lucky to get a place since I wasn't sure for how long how I would be staying there in Kathmandu.
The flight experience from Lukla was a shocker. I had been to many mountains, lakes, hanging bridges but this flight of half hour was something I was excited for, but I am not anymore. And with the weather turbulence, my flight experience was enhanced beyond my threshold limits. But it was an experience of a lifetime for sure. Not that I would prefer to head back this way.
In flight take off experience
Day 18 to Day 25 - Stay in Kathmandu
"13 days of hike - 151 Km trekked - 18500ft max altitude gained - Average of 12km a day"
I checked my weight as soon as I reached my homestay. I had lost 4kg post the trek. It was due to sheer amount of distance I had to cover to cope up in the last 3-4 days of the trek. This was an intense routine but I loved it till the last day inspite of the internal concern and fear for my knees. I was glad, I could regain my fitness levels in the first 3 days of the hike and it lasted till the last day. The weather didn't support me but it was anyways for the best.
I had stayed in a cosy little backpackers hostel where in an entire week, I made so many new friends who are now friends for life. Along with them, I had travelled with many new people on the trail who I am happy to have met and shared my travel stories and lessons with. I feel that these beautiful people added more value to my trek along with the never resting sherpa community, who have made it possible for people like me to plan such an extravagant trek with at-most comfort. I haven't felt at as much ease during any of the 50+ times I have trekked in the Himalayas at various places in India. I couldn't thank the Sherpas enough who have directly or indirectly helped me achieve this feat. I hope that I would be able to give them back someday, something in life for the love they shared with me and that they would keep sharing with many more travellers to come.
Many lessons were learnt, many new to-do's were made, many new friendships to be cherished, many heartfelt moments were lived, many new experiences were enjoyed.. But I will be back! Back for more and back for the same! Nepal.. You always amaze me!!!
Swipe right for more
Special Thanks To
Sneha and Krishna
Suman and Khushi
S P Karthick
Ashlene and Shrey
Nimesh and Nitisha Shrestha
I will forever be indebted to you, for each one of you have been an integral part of this trek in one way or the other.