Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla; Lukla to Phakding
The elusive flight from Kathmandu to Lukla finally happened. We were the last flight of the day, and I didn't lose any time in finding a window seat to see the Solukhumbhu valley from the top. Many tiny homes and terraced rice fields welcomed the eyes. I was like a child in a candy store. The trek had not even begun, and I was already a bundle of high emotions. Little did I know that the real adventures awaited me on the other end of this flight!
Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
After the flight and a short hike to Phakding, Day 1 went by in a flash. The next day dawned nice and early. Today I had to walk to the capital of the Khumbu region, Namche Bazaar. I don't remember how many photos, videos, articles I had leafed through about this place. As I hiked up the steep trail, I walked through many of the famed suspension bridges to cross the roaring Dudh Kosi river below. But the most famous of these bridges was the Hillary suspension bridge. A double decker bridge, the lower bridge is no longer in use. I climbed up to the bridge, panting like a dog, and the walk across the bridge left me feeling like I was on a swaying boat! The trail after the bridge only gets steeper, till you're welcomed by Namche's awe-inducing location.
Day 3: Namche Bazaar to Pangboche
I stayed above the hullabaloo of Namche, in a tiny place on the route for my next stop - Pangboche. As I started walking on the trail early in the morning, my fingers and toes felt numb with the cold. I knew this is how it would be each morning, before the walking warmed me up. As I got busy in building my pace, I glanced up. And I froze in my tracks. In front of me was the most beautiful sight ever - Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. Although I had seen high peaks on the previous day, this was the hall of fame. I removed my freezing hands from my gloves and clicked photos, none of which did justice to what my eyes could see. The rest of the route was long, but I had the Ama Dablam with me through the journey. I passed by the legendary Tengboche monastery, and the tiny village of Deboche, and other villages enroute.
Day 4: Pangboche to Chhukung
Today was a day I was very excited about. I was finally going off the main EBC trail. The destination was a place named Chhukung. It's claim to fame was the proximity of Island Peak, a 'trekking' peak that many amateurs look to climb. For me, the reason to be here was to catch some great views from a nearby peak named Chhukung Ri, and then cross my first pass, the feared Kongma La. Given that it is high season, most hotels charged room rates that were quite high (think 500 Nepali Rupees). But I found that if I slept in the dining room with my sleeping bag, there was no charge! So the dining room became my den in Pangboche, and the story continued in Chhukung. The downside was that it would get really cold at night, and there was little room to toss and turn. The upside was great views from the window, and unlimited free chai thanks to a kind owner. If it was even possible, the Ama Dablam showed an even more beautiful side of hers to me. I was overwhelmed, to say the least.
Day 5: Climb up Chhukung Ri
I woke up before people started streaming into the dining hall. Today, I was to climb Chhukung Ri, a peak with some great views. I was quite excited, but also nervous, as this was the highest I'd go in my life, at 5,550 m. After a quick breakfast of chapati with jam, and tea of course, I left the lodge. Chhukung Ri is a tricky peak to navigate. It gives the illusion of having reached the top, and it just turns out to be a false alarm! The final 100 metres were truly exhausting, and I was scrambling on rocks to reach the top. Very few people were on top, 3 others except me. We all soaked in the view. It was a 360° visual treat, with the Nuptse peaks, the steep and intimidating Lhotse wall, the pyramid shaped Makalu, Island peak, Baruntse, Amphu Labsam, Ama Dablam guarding Chhukung, Thamserku, Cholatse, Cho Oyu in a puff of clouds, and the poster-perfect Pumori. I had climbed my highest altitude, but I was brought to my knees with this surreal view. The way down was very quick, and I was back at my lodge to watch a few folks trying on their climbing gear for Island peak. Meanwhile, I was to cross my first pass tomorrow, the dreaded Kongma La.
Day 6: Chhukung to Lobuche via Kongma La
Here I was, all packed up and ready to leave at 7 am. Today I was crossing over the seldom visited Kongma La, which connects the Kongma Tse and Pokalde peaks. There were about 4-5 people apart from me crossing over from Chhukung. While a group of 3 had started earlier than me and was quite fast, a guide and his sole client who were ahead of me ended up being very slow and behind me after a while. The trail was not wide and well-trodden like it had been so far. Everytime I looked ahead or behind, I could see no one, or a single pinprick of a human figure far away. Thankfully, stone cairns marked the way, and although steep, I slowly made my way to the pass. It took me a good 3.5 hours to make it to the top, and I met a few people who were climbing from the other side. The views from the pass were breathtaking. While the Chhukung side showed my the familiar peaks of Makalu, Lhotse and Ama Dablam, the other side showed a close up of Pumori and Lobuche peaks. I spent a good 45 minutes on the pass, hoping that the descent would be easier than the climb.
As I made my way to the descent, the way was made up of stones, and I had to be very cautious while placing my foot. About 30 minutes into my descent, I was all alone. The single guy with a guide who was on the Chhukung side was nowhere to be seen, while the 3 guys ahead of me were out of sight. As I kept both my feet on a large rock, it moved ahead. And in slo-mo, I fell down, hitting my shin and nose on the rock ahead. I quickly assessed my injuries. The nose was fine, just painful to the touch, and the skin on my shin and knee were rubbed off, leaving large gashes. I sat for 15 minutes, drank water, and slowly got up. I was able to walk fine, and it was getting late, so I continued my descent. The rock patch seemed never ending, but finally I crossed it. But my destination was still a glacier crossing away. The intimidating Khumbu glacier stood guard to Lobuche. On a glacier, routes change very frequently as the glacier is a moving body. There were stone cairns kept at multiple locations. Like a game of Russian roulette, you had to pick a route that looked ok, and go with it. As I weaved my way, I could constantly hear the sounds of ice and rock falling all around me. The sight of Lobuche after crossing the glacier was nothing short of magical for me. The day had been almost 9 hours long, and I couldn't wait to rest and eat. But Lobuche was on the main EBC trail. That meant hopping from lodge to lodge to find accommodation. I had to grudgingly get a room in a lodge for 700 Nepali rupees. The lodges were all stuffed to the gills, and as I ate and drank, the constant chatter around made me miss the quiet of Chhukung.
Day 7: Lobuche to Gorakshep; Climb up Kala Pathar
I started at 7 from Lobuche. Today was going to be a big day. I was to hike to Gorakshep, which took me about 2.5 hours to reach. The trail was filled with not just people, but people on horses, and the ubiquitous yaks carrying loads. While yesterday I felt isolated, today felt like just the opposite. I had to stop many times to let traffic pass by. The main EBC trail is truly choc-a-bloc. Gorakshep is the place from where you head to see both the base camp and a close of view of Mt. Everest from Kala Patthar. After some food and rest, and dumping my stuff in a dingy dormitory, I left with my daypack to hike up Kala Pathar. The hike was reminiscent of Chhukung Ri. Moreover, the wind was raging, and while I could see Mt. Everest peeking from behind Nuptse within the first 15 mins of the hike, I was also really slow. I trudged along, reaching Kala Pathar after more than 2.5 hours. The views were nothing short of spectacular. At one point, I had to pinch myself to believe that I was really seeing Mt. Everest. Not just that, the perfect Mt. Pumori was right behind me.
I was hopeful of waiting till sunset, but the crazy winds just meant I had to make a quick descent. Back at the lodge in Gorakshep, I warmed myself with some soup. While I was happy to have seen the highest mountain in the world, I was dehydrated. To make matters worse, no one offered normal water at Gorakshep. It had to be bottled water. But I was quite sure that I don't want to be another tourist littering the Everest trail with plastic. So I instead bought a pot of hot water, and had it with some ORS. My night was quite restless, as I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag.
Day 8: Trip to Everest Base Camp (5,645 m); Gorakshep to Dzongla
After a fitful sleep, I woke up early to get myself even more hydrated. By 8 am, I set off to visit the Everest base camp. While the sky was very hazy, I trudged along. The path was along the glacier, with gradual ups and downs. As I drew closer, I saw a sliver of Mt. Everest. Finally, at the base camp, I was right next to the most (in)famous icefall, the Khumbu icefall. While it was tempting to set foot on it, I resisted and stuck to the moraine. Standing on the same piece of desolate, yet surreal glacier as many great mountaineers made me forget everything. In that moment, I tried to picture how those who were actually planning to climb the Everest would feel! As it wasn't the climbing season, there were no tents, but I could imagine the bustle of people in the pre-monsoon period. I quickly set off for my lodge again, as I had a long way to descend today.
While for most, this is the end of the EBC journey, I still had 2 passes to cross! But I was happy. I ate some noodle soup, and set off with my backpack. I had no water with me, so I planned to stop over at Lobuche. I made it to a cozy place in Lobuche and had a nice pot of ginger tea, while making small talk with a guide. Well hydrated, I set off to my destination for the day - Dzongla. The road divided into 2 at one point - one led back to Pheriche, while the other continued to Dzongla. I was off the main trail again (yay!). The trail was gradual, and while it packed in a lot of distance, I was not tired. I made it to Dzongla before sunset, and settled into a cozy lodge. The heater was already switched on in the dining room! I decided to stay in the dorm, where most of the guide Sherpas were bunking, and made it to the warm dining room. That's when I decided, I need a rest day! Ever since I started the trek, I had been going at it non-stop. In fact, over the last 4 consecutive days, I have climbed over 5,300 m! Dzongla was a perfect break, and I slept quite excitedly, knowing I won't have to wake up early the next day
Day 9: Watching time go by at Dzongla If there was a contest of my favourite places on this trail, it would be a tough contest between Chhukung and Dzongla (although both are soon to be beaten to the first spot by another place!) Dzongla was a picture perfect little settlement, flanked by big mountains on all sides. I woke up at 8.30 am, well after everyone had left for the day, either towards Lobuche or over the Cho La. To my surprise, 2 Chinese trekkers were still around with their guide and his wife (who was coming along the trail for the first time!) Turns out, the 2 trekkers were severely unwell and were waiting for a helicopter evacuation. We all spent an hour, everyone unable to understand the other's language. I had some tea (on the house again! I think that decides my liking for a place too), and watched till a helicopter landed in the most incredibly tiny piece of earth. In a matter of minutes, the trekkers and their bags were loaded onto the helicopter, and they left for Lukla. In return, the helicopter had carried some supplies as it came to Dzongla. Our lodge got replenished on stuff like soup packets, oil, milk powder, and so on. Soon, I realised that helicopter evacuations are a regular occurrence on the trail. Through the day, I witnessed 3 of these, each as eventful as the other. By noon, our empty lodge was stuffed to the gills with French trekkers who had crossed over the Cho La, and Polish trekkers, who were coming like me from Gorakshep. I had some serious crowds accompanying me over the pass tomorrow. I wasn't unhappy! It was better than the all-round loneliness at the Kongma La. By dinner time, I had heard enough French, Polish and Nepali to last me a lifetime. I stayed up till 9 pm, chatting with the young Sherpas guiding the Polish team. They were quite surprised to know I was bunking in the dorms with them! I drifted off to sleep by 10, knowing I had an early start the next day. I was quite excited and looking forward to my second pass, the famed Cho La.
Day 10: Dzongla to Gokyo, via Cho La
I woke up at 5.30, excited and refreshed after my rest day. Gulped my breakfast and had a nice black coffee on the house, thanks to the lodge owner. I requested for some cold water to fill in my hydration bladder, but the water was frozen solid. So the kitchen staff very kindly gave me hot water. I packed the bladder in my pack, and went to the loo. When I came back, my backpack was steaming and wet! My poor hydration bladder had developed a hole due to the hot water, and now everything I owned was soaking. All attempts to dry it out were futile, so I hoped that it would dry in the sun as I walked. I filled my 1 litre bottle with some hot water and hoped that there would be more water sources along the trail. All this had set me back by more than half an hour, and I quickly set off with a wet backpack towards the trail. The very large Polish team was with me in the beginning, but I soon went past them. The initial walk was quite flat, but it quickly turned into a scramble on rocks. I negotiated it very carefully because I didn't want any more injuries. Once the rock patch was over, I was greeted by moraine, ending with a patch of hardened snow and ice. Thankfully I had packed microspikes, and I put them on just before the ice patch. Once past the ice, there was one last steep section to climb before the pass. I took off my spikes, and quickly clambered up. I was at the Cho La! The weather wasn't very windy as it was still early in the morning. But the Cho La had more people than Kongma La, as it was more popular. This time though, I stayed only for 15-20 minutes at the top, before starting my descent. I was determined to take it slow and steady, as the first part of the descent was rocky and steep just like the Kongma La. After the rocks, the trail eased out to a dirt track. I was out of drinking water, and I was blessed with a long glacial stream. I filled my bottle up, and continued walking at a reasonable pace. The village of Thaknak was now visible! I reached before noon, and as per tradition, had a pot of tea. It was warm and made me instantly forget all my aches and pains. After half an hour at Thaknak, I hauled my semi-dry backpack, and weaved my way through a section of the Ngozumpa glacier, the longest in the Himalayas. It was very reminiscent of crossing the Khumbu glacier, but the routes here were more well-trodden. I did miss the trail 1-2 times, but eventually made my way up to Gokyo. . How do I even describe Gokyo? It felt like I was no longer on Earth. I was so excited that I was to spend 2 nights here. I rushed to find a lodge, and get some food in me as I was starving.
Day 11: Climb up Gokyo Ri
The moment I climbed over a ledge and had my first glimpse of Gokyo is seared into my mind. A turquoise lake, a rounded peak right behind, a view of snow-capped mountains all round, and a small collection of lodges perched right on the banks of the lake. I stood there, transfixed. After pinching myself back to reality, I found myself a nice place to stay. Most of my clothes and belongings in the backpack were still wet. They would have to wait for the sun tomorrow. I was starving, and I quickly went to the dining room. As I walked in, I was greeted by the smell and sight of cakes! Having skimped and scrounged on food and accommodation through the trek, I felt like treating myself today. I ordered a piece of cake (500 Nepali rupees) AND a pizza!!! Both were extremely delicious, and I was grinning from ear to ear. I slept very well that night. The next day, after laying out all my wet clothes to dry outside, I left for Gokyo Ri at 7.30 am. The climb was steep, but after having crossed the passes, and climbed Kala Pathar and Chhukung Ri, I felt quite alright climbing up! The views were spectacular. Dudh Pokhari lake looking as azure as always, and a surprise view of Mt. Everest! Not just the Everest, but also Makalu, Pumori, Cho Oyu, Cholatse and Taboche greeted me. I was heady with joy. I was well-fed, acclimatized, and blessed with the most amazing views all round. I spent some time on top, and made a fairly quick and easy descent back to my drying clothes and lodge. I had made it back before noon, and the rest of the day was spent having tea, lazing around, and watching the views from the window of the dining room. Tomorrow was the day I crossed the last pass, Renjo La.
Day 12: Gokyo to Lungden, via Renjo La
Bidding goodbye to Gokyo was tough, but after a breakfast of muesli with milk, I finally hauled up my backpack (all dry now, thanks to the afternoon sun), and set off towards the trail to Renjo La. This was the last time I was going to climb above 5,000 m. The path was quite gradual at the beginning, and I kept looking back at Gokyo. All of a sudden, I was welcomed by a steep, winding path. Although I was not tired at all, my mind was being lazy! But I steadily climbed up the trail quite quickly. From there, the terrain became gradual once more. I passed by some locals who had camped in a flat patch of ground nearby. And then came the final push. I could see the pass, and it surprised me how soon I was near it! Memories of the Kongma La and even Cho La, where I walked a whole bunch more came to me. I wasn't complaining though. Knowing that the rest of the day will be entirely downhill, I summoned the energy to push to the top and voila, I was at the Renjo La. A final view of the Everest was before me, as well as Lhotse, Makalu, Pumori. The other side presented the Rolwaling range, and a tiny alpine lake below. After spending some time soaking in the views and taking photos, I began the descent. It felt unreal that this was it. Now all I had to do was descend all the way. No more climbing! The trail was very well laid out. Steps made with stones, no rocky patches, and gentle dirt tracks. I was literally skipping down! I make it to the village of Lungden before noon! This has been my shortest pass day ever, taking less than 5 hours. I consider pushing forward, but decide to just chill at Lungden. I find a cozy lodge, and stay for just a 100 Nepali rupees. Most of the other trekkers at the lodge are heading up the Renjo La tomorrow, while me and another solo trekker are headed down to Namche. I laze around the heater, chatting with everyone about the trek and the experience, and finally have dinner and sleep by 9 pm.
Day 13: Lungden to Namche Bazaar
Ah! The joys of descending after a long trek. I had a nice breakfast, watched a helicopter evacuation at Lungden, and set off on my way. While I'd climbed up from the popular and crowded EBC trail from above Namche, this time, I was going back through a secluded trail. Dotted with small villages, many yaks, and the Bhote Kosi river, this side of the Khumbu was very pleasant. I also passed through the famous village of Thame, the home of Tenzing Norgay. I was back in the land of gompas, chortens, monasteries and Mani stones. And of course, I was back in the tree line again. The weather was pleasant, with the clouds playing hide and seek with the sun. I was back in 2 layers of clothing again. As I climbed down, and got a glimpse of Namche, it oddly felt as though I'd reached home. The same crowds, the many lodges and cafes seemed to be welcoming me. I found myself a simple lodge, and while I was tempted to shower, held myself back. It was still a luxury to shower at Namche, and I was still at high altitude! Instead, I went and treated myself to some cheesecake. I still had one buffer day left with me, and at that moment, I decided I would stay back in Namche another day. The rooms were cheap, the weather was good, and my mind was still not content with the trail.
Day 14: Lazing around at Namche Bazaar
While I was done with my trek, my mind refused to let go. I needed one last day to see the tall mountains, to feel the altitude, to stay unwashed and tanned. Being on the trail alone, for such a long period of time was very eye-opening. I spent time roaming around Namche, hanging out at cafes, going to the Sherpa museum, visiting the Tenzing Norgay memorial, or just sitting around and watching the valley. My mind was busy recollecting the trek. I learnt how I react to situations, both good and bad, how I manage myself, how I process my emotions. Some days I surprised myself. All I had was my diary to pour my thoughts out, and Nature. Be it seeing the Everest for the first time, struggling to climb up Chhukung Ri, reaching Pheriche instead of Dingboche, injuring myself at Kongma La, dealing with dehydration at Gorakshep, bargaining for a bed in lodges, trying to meet new people, listening to the eerie echoes of rocks falling in glaciers, or just treating myself to cake on the trail,, everything added to the sheer joy of making it through the journey.
Day 15: Namche to Lukla
Retracing my steps, I passed by many going uphill. I was so excited for each one of them, for the sights they would see. When I passed by the Sagarmatha National park entry gate, I saw folks queueing up, eagerly waiting for the adventures that lie ahead. I was content. My heart was full. I was floating on each memory. Everything was a little more familiar. My journey had ended, but this wasn't the last time I was going to see these mountains. I know that for sure. For those who followed my journey virtually, thank you. I hope you experienced the beauty of the trail and the mountains through my eyes.