The charm and in more recent terminology, the brand value that the Mt. Everest carries is enough to entice any trekking enthusiast to consider a hike till the Everest Base Camp. Our initial research gave us an idea that this trekking route is way more commercialized than any given route in India which was a bit of a put off but on returning from Nepal, I can assure that the raw and expansive landscape of the Khumbu valley is bound to make you want to explore Nepal further.
In the last decade, Nepal has become synonymous to trekking. Quite literally, you can land in Kathmandu and start hiking towards the many ranges that are situated in Nepal. Obviously it would then depend on the time you’re willing to spend and the money you’re wanting to save. As any other employee in corporate India would have, we considered ourselves lucky to manage a two week leave which gave us fifteen days to cover the whole trip. This meant a tight schedule to cover what all we had planned while accounting for any flight delays due to sudden change in weather. Yes, this delay is very probable as you will see in the below.
We started planning two months in advance as the list included deciding the itinerary, booking international & local flight tickets and getting into a more rigorous fitness schedule.
Deciding the itinerary – Depending on how much time you have and how much effort you want to put in, you can modify your trek to EBC. Below is a quick list with some options after landing at Kathmandu:
- Fly to Lukla – Hike to Namche Bazar – Hike to Lobuche via Pheriche, Hike to EBC and Kala Patthar via Gorakshep – Return to Lukla via the same way. This is the most straightforward and fastest way to reach EBC with hardly any challenging climbs and across well established towns that offer most of your daily necessities. Est. duration: 10-12 days
- Fly to Lukla – Hike to Namche Bazar – Hike to Gokyo via Dhole and Machermo – Hike to Lobuche via Chola Pass – Hike to EBC and Kala Patthar via Gorakshep – Hike to Lukla via the route in Point 1. The route involves crossing the Chola pass and summiting the Gokyo Ri (5,357m) and will add some challenge (and lot of snow) to your trekking. Also there’ll be way lesser people treading through this path. Est. duration 13-15 days
- Fly to Lukla – Hike to Namche Bazar – Hike to Gokyo via Renjo La Pass – Hike to Lobuche via Chola Pass – Hike to EBC and Kala Patthar via Gorakshep – Hike to Chukung via Kongma La Pass – Hike to Lukla via Namche. This route is famously called the “Three Pass” trek and involves additional and even more challenging two passes. Est. duration: 19-21 days
The routes described in point 2 and 3 can be done the other way round as well. Another option which would take much longer is taking a bus to Jiri and hiking all the way till EBC via Namche. This would take close to 30 days but would give you the most definite experience of trekking and culture in Nepal.
We chose Itinerary 2 as the duration fit perfectly, promised lesser crowd and was a bit more challenging.
Although the best time, as told by many blogs and agencies is between April and May, trekking during May end and June first week, like we did has its own benefits. There are lesser people trekking so you don’t have to stand in hour long queues at checkpoints and easily find accommodation in the smallest of the camps. The con however is that monsoon kicks in and you have to be lucky to spot the mountains you came to have a closer look in the first place.
Quick list of what I filled in my 60L rucksack:
- Wicking tshirts (X2), trekking pant, inner wears
- Upper and lower inner tights. These will help you against heat burns on the body
- Upper and lower waterproof windcheater: The lower is mainly to protect against rains
- Down jacket (rented for NPR 70/day in Kathmandu): This is not necessary for summer season if you’re carrying a windcheater
- Fleece jacket, fleece lower
- Semi-waterproof shoes, socksX4, slippers
- UV protected sun glasses, warm head wear, cap, buff mask
- Trekking poles, Water proof gloves
- Dry fruits, chocolates, medicines, sun screen, toiletries
- Torch, Power Bank, Go Pro
- 20L day bag
I’ve skipped adding some of the useless stuff that I was carrying. One sherpa on the trek told me that the ideal bag should be a 50L rucksack weighing around 8kgs – lesson for Annupurna trek next year!
Day 1: Landed in Kathmandu and took a cab to Thamel. We stayed in Alobar hostel which I wouldn’t recommend since the food they served for dinner was one of the worst meals I’ve ever had. Moved around the market to rent a down jacket and buy chocolates etc since they are quite expensive as soon as you reach Lukla. We also managed to get an NCell connection.
Day 2: Despite the heavy traffic of tourists, the domestic airport in Kathmandu is still very primitive and flights get delayed by hours without much explanation or notification by the authorities. Our morning flight to Lukla (2,800m) was delayed by about three hours. We then boarded the small double otter flight to take the hour long flight to the most dangerous airstrip in the world at Lukla! You would want to wait for some while after getting off the airport to watch a flight taking off from this tiny scenic airstrip.
We then enquired about hiring a guide but decided to walk to Phakding (2,600m) without one to see how it goes. Walked for 4 hours and parked ourselves at a lodge at Phakding.
Day 3: We decided to hire a guide the previous night and the lodge owner was helpful enough to arrange the services of Mr. Om Lamha (aka Om Bhaiya) for us who helped us with some of our luggage and lead the way ahead.
7hr hike over multiple foot bridges to reach the iconic town of Namche Bazaar (3,440m). This is the biggest town in the Khumbu valley and has most of the facilities including an ATM, branded shops for trekking gear and more than a couple of bars too.
Day 4: Acclimatisation day – We trekked to the Sagarmatha National Park to get our first glimpse of the Everest and then trekked to an even higher point to get a slightly better view. We returned to our lodge and took rest.
Day 5: 6-7 hr hike to Dhole (4,000m). This is when we had turned from the mainstream path and given the off-season, we were one of the few guests in the village for the night. Dhole onwards – you lose mobile internet and since there are no electricity lines, everything runs on solar from here onwards.
Day 6: 2-3 hr walk to Machermo (4,465m). This was the easiest day on our trip given the short and straightforward walk across scenic green trails. We could have walked all the way to Gokyo but this halt is recommended for smooth acclimatization.
Day 7: 4-5 walk to Gokyo (4,750m) while passing through three of the five turquoise colored Gokyo lakes.
Day 8: 2 hr climb and 1 hr decent from the Gokyo Ri Peak (5,357m) amidst mild snowfall in the morning. Because of this bad weather, we couldn’t get any view of the surrounding mountains but were lucky enough to get a view of the three lakes that we’d crossed yesterday. This made the hike worth it!
The snowfall was more prominent by now but we made the 2 hr hike through Khumbu glacier to reach Dzhongla (4,830m). Crossing ice and boulders amidst crashing stones from avalanche prone sites is how I would describe this part.
Day 9: This was the toughest and the most adventurous day on our trip. Snowfall over the last two days around the Chola Pass (5,420m) had erased the trail and deposited knee deep snow across most part of the hike. 2 hr hike till the bottom of the pass followed by a 3 hr steep climb to the top of the pass and another 3 hr downhill walk through a snow field to finally reach Thagnak (4,700m).
Day 10: EBC day. 2 hr hike to Lobuche (4,940m) followed by 3 hr walk to Gorakshep (5,164m). We rested for a while and then did the 2 hr hike to the Everest Base Camp. Ideally one is not allowed inside the premises of the Base Camp and you return from the flag poles way before the camps start. But given the off season, no such barriers existed and we ventured near the camps. The last expedition had just wrapped up and I spotted some Indians in professional mountaineering gear and they confirmed that they had just returned from the Everest summit. We shared some tea with them and heard about their story before returning.
Day 11: We started early from Gorakshep around 430 AM to make the 2 hr climb to Kala Patthar (5,643m), the highest altitude we would reach during our trek. Kala Patthar’s almost magical positioning makes it the perfect vantage point for a 360 degree view of the entire range. Mt. Everest stands rite in front of you alongside Lhotse and Nuptse with Pumori in your background and Amadablam on the right. We were lucky to get a good view around sunrise before the clouds took over.
Having accomplished our aim for the trek, we started walking back and hiked for 6 hr downhill to reach Tengboche via Pheriche.
Day 12: 5 hr hike to reach Namche Bazaar. This time around, perfectly acclimatized, we explored the town and spent time at the local bars.
Day 13: We were a day ahead of our schedule and in love with the town so we decided to chill for another day at Namche.
Day 14: Mostly downhill 7 hr hike to reach back to Lukla
Day 15: The weather had been foggy for the last four days and no flights had taken off in this duration and we met many people who had been stranded since then. Many had decided to walk till Saleri or Jiri from where they would take cabs to Kathmandu, while others had reserved helicopters for 500$ per head. We spent the whole day at the airport hoping for the fog to clear out and watching countless helicopters land and take off to Kathmandu. To play it safe for the next day, we reserved chopper seats for ourselves for the next day since we had connecting flights to Delhi and beyond and commitments at work. The flight company provided a full refund later.
Day 16: It was the first time I had sat on a helicopter and tried to make the most of it since I had spent a bomb of money on it. Just to give some icing on the cake, the helicopter raised an alarm for open door midway when the pilot made an emergency landing at a random hill to check everything. After he was satisfied, he flew us to Kathmandu airport safely.
We took our flight to Delhi in the afternoon.
Lodging during the trek
Although Lukla and Namche Bazaar are established towns, all settlements onwards are for the sole purpose to serve tourists. These camps have proper concrete buildings and energy is either sourced from solar power or burning wood. The kitchens are decently equipped to serve a large menu including pizzas, tuna sandwiches and pancakes as well. Dinner menu includes dal bhat (dal rice) which can be modified to be a bit spicy on request. The lodges charge a minimal NPR 100 per person for accommodation on the condition that you have your meals at the lodge kitchen itself.
Hiring a guide
It is totally possible to do the trek without a guide in Nepal as the trail is well laid out and you can use guide books or fellow hikers for directions once in a while. The only day we felt we needed a guide was when were crossing the Chola pass. Heavy snowfall in the last couple of days had covered the trail and we noticed some people who had decided to wait and follow a guide on the next day.
Also some guides, like ours, are semi-porters as well and can help you shed a couple of kgs from your back.
Trekking in Nepal can be expensive than trekking in India but the facilities provided by the camps are well worth the price they charge. Also since demonetisation, the new Indian currency is not accepted in Nepal anymore, although 100 Rs notes work at most of the places. Do make sure to carry enough Nepali currency from Kathmandu itself as you won’t get a good price for your Indian currency from Lukla onwards. All numbers below are obviously approximate.
- Round flight between Delhi and Kathmandu (Royal Nepal/ Jet Airways): INR 15,000
- Round flight between Kathmandu and Lukla (Tara Air): INR 10,000
- Night stay and food expense in Kathmandu: NPR 700
- Conservative daily spend on only food and stay from Day 2 to Day 15: NPR 1,500
- Guide Charge per day: NPR 1,000
(INR/NPR = 1.6)
In addition to the above, Namche Bazaar onwards, you’ll be charged for almost everything including hot baths, hot drinking water, charging your phone/ batteries, wifi connection (The valley has a satellite wifi network but it was down while we were trekking) and even tissue papers at some lodges. Tea might also seem costly and you might want to have some garlic soups to help you with acclimatization. So plan accordingly on what all you can carry with yourself to save some money.