Difference between revisions of "Mount Everest"
Revision as of 09:02, 15 August 2006
Includes the Sagarmatha National Park (above Monju) and the Sagarmatha National Park Buffer Zone (between Lukla and Monju).
Famous for its spectacular mountain peaks and the loyalty and friendliness of its inhabitants (the Sherpas), the Everest region (Khumbu) is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Nepal. While many of the routes through the mountains are arduous, there are ample places to rest and enjoy a meal along the way. Furthermore, don't worry about getting lost. Just ask a local the way to the next village on your route, and they will direct you. Most Sherpas under the age of fifty can at least understand basic English, and many speak it fluently.
While trekking is possible in this area the whole year round, the best times to visit are from the beginning of March to mid May and from the beginning of September to mid November. The winters are very cold and snow may make it difficult to travel higher than Tengboche, and also lodges may be closed above this altitude. Summers, on the other hand, are wet, and the spectacular peaks often lost in the clouds. April and early May is a good time to see the hedgerows and trees bursting into bloom, with Rhododendrons, in particular, adding a spectacular splash of color to the landscape. However, dust from the plains of India during the spring routinely provide less than ideal conditions for clear mountain views. The views are much better after the summer monsoons have cleared the atmosphere of dust, but the days are shorter and cooler.
Khumbu is one of the few areas in Nepal still unscathed by the Maoist insurgence and is considered a safe region for tourists.
Trekking permits are not required for the Khumbu region.
Lodges and restaurants in Khumbu only accept Nepalese rupees. Budget between 600-800rs per person per day for food and accommodation - prices rise with the altitude, though you may spend more in Namche because there is more on offer.
Sherpas speak their own language which is related to Tibetan. Most Sherpa's under the age of fifty can also speak English and Nepali. In addition, because many Sherpas have traveled overseas to work, it is not uncommon to meet Sherpas who are fluent in German, French and Japanese.
Fly to Lukla Airport from Kathmandu. Sita Airways are generally considered the most reliable company plying the route. Sita operates two flights every morning from Kathmandu Domestic Airport to Lukla at 7AM and 8:20AM. The flight takes around 25 minutes. During the summer rainy season, there may be substantial delays of flights, even a wait of one week is not unheard of. For the return journey, the flights leave Lukla at 7:40AM and 9AM.
Just after the village of Monju, there is check point for entering the Sagarmatha National Park. You will need to show your passport and pay a 1,000rs entry fee.
On foot. There are no roads in the Khumbu region.
As a Zen poet once wrote: "Going deeper and deeper - still the green mountains". This could certainly have been written in Khumbu, but while the mountains are the obvious attraction, the area does offer many other sights.
The national bird, danfe (a kind of pheasant), and mountain goats are common in the Khumbu area, and because the Sherpas do not kill animals or birds, people can often get very close before they take off. Musk deer and snow leopards are also natives of the Khumbu mountains, albeit more rare - keep that camera ready.
Namche boasts two museums (Sagarmatha National Park Visitor's Center and the Museum of Sherpa Life) that introduce Sherpa culture and the fauna and flora of the region - both museums are located above the village off the trail to Tengboche.
As the name of the village suggests, Namche Bazaar has a market. Every Saturday morning, Sherpas from the surrounding valleys spread out their agricultural products and electronic goods carried from Kathmandu on land above the main path into town. While the goods themselves may not be interesting to tourists, the market itself is certainly worth wandering around and is a good place to get some souvenir shots of "Khumbu life". Check out the ýak "parking area" above the market - though don't get too close. Yaks are notoriously ill tempered.
In June (lunar calendar fifth month 9-17), Namche holds an annual festival called dumjee (actually all the villages in Khumbu celebrate this event, but the festivities in Namche are the most impressive). The festival celebrates the achievements of a highly respected Sherpa lama, and while the first few days are rather subdued with just local families visiting each other for food and entertainment, the final few days are a boistorous affair held at the Namche Monastery. The ceremonies are presided over by the incarnate lama of Tengboche Monastery and include hillarious lama dances, traditional Sherpa dances and an initiation ceremony.
Tengboche  is the largest Sherpa monastery in the Khumbu area and exerts the greatest influence. You may join the ceremonies at the monastery, but filming or photographing is only permitted after receiving special permission to do so. Audience with the head rinpoche (abbot) can also be arranged, and these meetings are generally held in the morning.
In addition to touring the monastery, also take time to visit the eco-center located outside the main gate. Here, there is a permanent exhibition of Sherpa culture, a gift shop, and a small cinema (a film on Sherpa culture and Tengboche Monastery is shown every half hour).
Incidentally, Tengboche might be the first place on your trek that you have a clear view of Everest. Ask one of the locals to point it out to you. Finally, every October or November, Tengboche holds the famous Mani Rimdu festival that consists of nine day's of meditation and culminates with a blessing ceremony and spectacular mask dances.
Trivia: Outside the monastery is a bakery that claims to be the highest bakery in the world. Although it is hard to substantiate the claim, being located at nearly 4,000m it is easy to believe.
High above the village of Khumjung is a sacred cave. After completing practices at Maratika (Haleshi) in Eastern Nepal, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche as he is often referred, stayed at this cave for several days. On the outer right wall (looking from outside) there is a miraculously arisen Sanskrit character, and half way up the climb, near some retreat houses, there is a very clear hand print of an accomplished yogi imbedded in stone. The climb is arduous, and in order not to wander in the wrong direction, it is necessary to keep the cave in focus. From below, it can be identified by the prayer flags hung outside.
The Khumjung Monastery (Khumjung Gompa) displays a scalp that purportedly comes from a yeti. While at the gompa, ask the monks (lamas) for directions for getting to Guru Rinpoche's cave.
Upper Pangboche (to the left as you enter the village when coming from Tengboche) is a pleasant place to rest and relax. Visit the monastery at the center of the cluster of houses. About half an hour walk from the monastery are some hermits' caves. Obviously, do not disturb anyone who might be in retreat.
Khumbu is an area for trekking. The trek can be as short as a two day walk from Lukla to Namche or an eight to ten day trip to Everest Base Camp. Irrespective of the length of the journey, as there are no roads in the area, it will definitely involve putting on hiking boots and walking the mountain paths. Below is an itinerary from Lukla Airport to Everest Base Camp and all points in between.
DAY ONE - Lukla airport (about US$90 from KTM) to Monju (2800m): Pass directly through the village of Lukla (there is no compelling reason to stop here, though it is a good place to have breakfast/lunch.) and follow the path to Namche. There will no doubt be a string of porters carrying goods up to the Sherpa capital, so the route is easy to locate. The first village after Lukla is Chablung, and further down the trail, you will pass through Ghat and Phakding. Both these villages have a good selection of lodges and restaurants and are conveniently located for taking a meal break. However, if you still have enough stamina, it is advisable to press on to Monju (about 90 minutes to two hours from Phakding) to spend the night as this will give you a good start for the steep ascent to Namche the following morning.
DAY TWO - Monju to Namche: After passing through the Sagamartha Park entrance (1,000rs for overseas visitors), the trail passes through the village of Jorsale and then along the river. You will cross two bridges before beginning the steep ascent to Namche, which can take up to three hours to complete. Be aware that there are no tea houses or lodges on this path, so ensure that you have ample water to get you to the top. In addition, you are now heading into a high altitude area, so take it easy. Even the fittest people are prone to altitude sickness.
DAYS THREE & FOUR - Namche Bazaar (3440m): It is recommended to take an altitude acclimatization rest day in Namche. Although no more than a village, the Sherpa capital has two museums, several internet cafes, and, at last count, two pizza houses and three cafes (locally known as bakeries), so there is much to keep you occupied during your stay here. Namche also has two official money changers, so it is a good place to stock up on local currency for the days a head (NB: Lodges and restaurants in Khumbu only accept Nepali Rupees). There is also a reasonable selection of English books, though the prices are higher than in Kathmandu.
During your acclimatization rest day, you might like to visit neighboring villages. Khumjung (3790m) is over the hill directly behind Namche, and takes about one and a half to two hours to reach. There are several sights in the village (See listings below) and a few lodges and eateries. Khunde is a short walk from Khumjung. Getting there: Take the Tengboche trail, then at the top of the hill above Namche, near the huge mani stone and just past the bank, head straight up the mountain - the wider path to the right goes to Tengboche. After a steep climb, you will arrive at an airstrip. Cross this and rejoin the path at the other side. After a short distance you'll pass a stupa. From there, take the paved path down the hill. Soon you will see the playground and school buildings of Khumjung Hillary School. Thame (3750) is a more traditional village that is about a two and a half hour to three hour walk from Namche. Getting there: Leave Namche on the path that passes the ochre colored Namche Monastery (Namche Gompa). From here, it is a relatively flat walk that takes in some very pleasant scenery. The first hamlet on the route is 'Phurte,' identified by the forest nursery, and then 'Tesho.' The water that runs through 'Tesho' comes directly from 'Mount Khumbuila' - the most sacred mountain to the Sherpas - so there are several retreat huts built into the niches here. 'Thamo' is the next village on the trail, and a good place to take lunch. 'Thame' has a few lodges and is home to one of Khumbu's oldest monasteries. This trail is also the traditional route to Tibet, so don't be surprised to encounter caravans of yaks lead by long-haired Tibetan merchants on your walk.
DAY FIVE - Namche to Tengboche (3870m): After a short but steep climb out of the village, the path levels off and you can enjoy a few hours of pleasant flat hiking. The first lodges you will pass are at Kyangjuma. Consider taking a break here. The Ama Dablam Lodge has some good food and the sitting area out front offers uninhibited views of Mount Ama Dablam. In addition, the lodge reputedly has the best selection of jewelry for sale in the whole of Khumbu, so if you don't plan to return this way, pick out a few light souvenirs - They will forever remind you of this sun blessed place and the sparkling snow capped peak of Ama Dablam. After a short while, the trail descends to river level, and you will pass a few hamlets and cross some bridges. Then at the hamlet of Phunki Thanga (marked by its water driven prayer wheels), the trail ascends steeply. There are no tea houses or lodges on this stretch, so take some refreshment here and stock up on water for the one and a half to two hour climb to Tengboche. NB: Take it easy going up here. The air maybe thinner than you are aware!
DAY SIX: For those heading for Everest, the trail passes through the villages of Devuche (here, there is a small nunnery on the left - definitely worth a visit), Pangboche (3860m), Dingboche and finally Periche (4240m). All these villages offer food and lodgings. Pangboche (especially Upper-Pamgboche, where the local monastery is located) is, however, probably the the most pleasant as it is surrounded by trees. So, if you decide to take the journey slowly, this is the best place to rest and relax. For those heading for Island Peak and/or the Lhotse Glacier, your final destination will be Chhukung. As this is further than Periche, you will definitely need to stop the night in Pangboche or Dingboche.
DAY SEVEN: Whether in Periche or Chukkung, you will need to take a day to acclimatize to the high altitude. Take short, slow walks around the village, marvel at the peaks and dig out the book you bought in Namche, but whatever you do, don't push it at this point. If you begin to feel unwell, inform your guide or lodge owner and return as quickly as possible to a lower altitude.
DAYS EIGHT, NINE & TEN - Periche to Lobuche (4930m): Spend night in this small village. Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5160m): Gorak Shep has a small, usually frozen lake, but little in the way of accommodation (especially during the cold winter months). Therefore, you might want to get an early start, pass through Gorak Shep, visit Kala Pattar (where locations near the peak offer uninhibited views of Everest) and return to Lobuche to sleep.
SIDE TRIP: The trail to Cho La (5420m) offers some stunning scenery and is not as crowded as that to Everest. However, the trek can be tough, and one will need to have advanced information regarding the conditions before proceeding from Dzongla. An experienced guide would be of great help on this trek. Getting there: After Pheriche, the trail turns off the main Everest route at Phlang Karpo and passes through the villages of Tsholo Og and Dzongla.
Trek, eat, enjoy Sherpa hospitality and relish your time in such a beautiful and pristine environment.
Outside Namche, there are few souvenir shops and the handicrafts sold are similar to those on offer in Kathmandu. However, as the majority of goods are carried over from Tibet, which is much nearer to Khumbu than Kathmandu, you might find a few bargains and some unique items. Also, check out the clothing made from yak wool. This is often made locally, and so the prices may be lower than in Kathmandu. As in most parts of south-east Asia, remember to haggle for the best deal.
Most lodges offer similar menus - oatmeal, hash browns, omelettes, dal bhat, spaghetti, fried rice, apple pie, etc. - though those in Namche tend to have a wider selection, which includes such things as pizza and juice.
Bakeries, which were originally a Namche phenomena, but now also operate in Khumjung and Tengboche, offer such luxuries as freshly baked pizza, German breads, pastries and even cappuccino - or as one lodge in Monju advertised: Sherpaccino!
Local dishes include:
Rikikul - the Sherpa dish of potato pancakes, which are delicious eaten straight off the griddle and covered with dzo (female yak) butter and a sauce made of mature cheese and spices called sorma. Due to the effort involved in making them, they are generally not listed on lodge menus. However, most places will oblige if you order well in advance.
Tzen - a heavy patte made from millet and flavored with spices.
Locally bottled water is available everywhere in Khumbu, though the price rises with the altitude. A bottle in Namche costs about 50rs. Beer and juice are flown from Kathmandu to Lukla and carried from there by porters; consequently the price is very high. Tea, instant coffee and a drink made from lemon concentrate are the cheapest beverages in the region, and are available in every lodge or tea shop for between 25 to 50rs a cup. NB: As there is no way to recycle plastic bottles in Khumbu, you might consider bringing your own container and either purchasing boiled water or purifying spring water with iodine tablets.
Except for Lukla, where most people only spend a night on the return journey, all directions such as 'left' and 'right' are given in reference to the outward (i.e. towards Everest) journey.
Lukla is basically just a strip of hotels. There are two expensive, up-scale places which offer such luxuries as hot tubs, while the other hotels are pretty much a sameness. NB: In order to ensure the safety of the airport, there is a 7PM curfew in operation throughout Lukla. So, if you can't complete the final climb before the dead-line, spend the night in Chablung and continue your journey the next morning.
Almost every house in Namche functions as a lodge and the prices and quality of accommodation are similar. However, the following are recommended:
There are four lodges in the field in front of the monastery. The quality and price is about the same.
This small hamlet has only a couple of similar lodges.
Do you need a guide and porter for the journey? If you are strong, then a porter is not required, though hiring one does direct well needed cash into the homes of poor families and allows you more flexibility. If you do hire a porter, remember to keep valuables with you. The vast majority of porters are extremely honest, but it only takes one who is not to ruin a vacation! Expect to pay around 300-400rs (more if your load is very heavy) a day for a porter's services, and as far as Namche you are not expected to pay for accommodation and meals. However, due to the high price of food and lack of provisions for porters above Namche, meals should be provided. (NB: Namche has a cheap and clean lodge specially for porters). Anyway, ensure that your terms are clear at the time of hiring. This will save trouble later.
Guides are definitely not necessary if you are traveling no higher that Tengoche or Pangboche. Above that, you might consider hiring one. Not only can they guide you on the right path and explain local sights, but can be invaluable should you fall ill. Guides need an official licence to operate and speak English (and often other languages - specify your choice when hiring). They command a much higher rate than porters (negotiate), and carrying your bags is not part of their service. Like porters, they will find their own accommodation and meals unless you invite them.
In general, guides are local Sherpas, while porters are Rai or belong to races from other areas.
Guides and porters can be hired for a fee through trekking agencies in Kathmandu or you can inquire at lodges in Lukla or Namche. At Lukla airport, there are always hopeful porters milling around the exit, but it is better to use a lodge owner as an intermediary. They can help you negotiate a good deal and translate your specific needs. Eco Paradise, Lukla or Namche Hotel, Namche are convenient and good places to do this.
In addition to obvious items such as hiking boots, warm clothing, UV sunblock etc., here is list of things that you might not have considered taking along, but that can greatly enhance the quality and comfort of your journey.
Khumbu is a very safe region and violent crime is almost unheard of. However, due to the amount of people flowing through the area on treks, it is advisable to always keep your valuables in sight.
Altitude sickness affects even young and healthy people and is a genuine problem in Khumbu. If you feel dizzy, suffer palpitations or a severe headache, return immediately to lower altitude. Do not take altitude sickness lightly. It can and does kill!
Yaks may be photogenic, but they are aggressive and unpredictable. Always stand on the upper slope (i.e., above the path, away from the drop-off) to let yaks pass. Every Sherpa has a tale about Westerners who have stood on the lower side of a trail to let a herd of yaks pass and been killed after being pushed off.
Don't drink the water no matter how pristine it appears. Use iodine tablets as a purifier or purchase boiled water. Exceptions: Namche and Phortse have clean water supplies that the locals drink directly from the faucet. However, this may not be a good idea for outsiders lacking immunity to local bacteria, but certainly it should be ok for brushing teeth.
Clinics are a sparse resource in Khumbu. However, should you require medical attention there are two possibilities:
Western medicine - Kunde Clinic, in Kunde Village (above Namche) has Western trained doctors and is a surprisingly well equipped facility - they even have a decompression chamber for those suffering with severe altitude sickness. On your return journey, you might like to donate your unused medicines to Kunde Clinic, though ensure that they are clearly labeled in English - even the most valuable medicine is useless if there are no instructions on how to use it.
Tibetan medicine - the Healing Centre  in Namche offers treatments using natural formulas. It is located next to the Camp de Base hotel, but entered from the path in front of the library. This clinic provides free treatment for porters and other patients on low income. In order to continue this service, donations are greatly appreciated.
Along the trail, you will also see small medical stations. These stations generally have very rudimentary facilities and can only realistically offer treatment for very minor ailments, such as cuts and bruises and (non-altitude sickness related) headaches etc.
Namche also has a dental clinic, located on the right side slope of the village when looking up.
There are several Internet cafes in Namche, though keep a sharp eye on the clock when on line. Sending messages via satellite costs between 20-25rs per minute.
International phone calls can also be made in Namche, though are also very expensive compared to prices in Kathmandu. The cheapest place to call from is the government phone office that is located behind 'Hotel Buddha'. The building is a non-discript wooden structure that is identified with an official yellow sign in Nepalese with a paper sign in English stuck on to it (the English sign has faded and is not easy to spot). The one-phone office is located on the second floor - beware, there may be a long line of people on Saturdays as this is market day.
Namche has a post office, but there are mixed reports of letters reaching their destination. Postage stamps are available in local shops and at the post office.
According to the customs of respect in Tibetan Buddhism (which most Sherpas adhere), always pass mani stones and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object and circumambulate stupas and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. Never sit on mani stones, stupas or religious objects.