A year ago, when a disastrous earthquake struck different parts of Nepal, many travellers who had been planning to visit the country cancelled their plans at the last minute. A year later, here I was in Kathmandu, rediscovering life in this country.
We were warmly greeted by our guide from the Nepal Hiking Team, and driven from the airport to a hotel in the Thamel tourist area of the city. Looking out the car window during the 30-minute ride, I could see cracked buildings and fallen bricks everywhere.
But I saw no faces of despair from Nepalis, unlike what has been frequently portrayed in the mainstream media. Men were hurriedly crossing the streets, heading to their jobs, and women bartered goods by the streets. Traffic was frenetic. Life went on.
As we approached our hotel, we began noticing more foreigners by the sidewalk. The bustling streets of Thamel were alive with a variety of offerings from café’s and bakeries to stalls selling knick knacks. The energy and atmosphere of this place was nothing like what I’d ever experienced in other parts of the world. It felt absolutely surreal to me.
We returned to Kathmandu’s airport the next day to catch our flight to Lukla, the starting point of our trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC: altitude, 5,380m). The 13-day trek there is a popular one, and thousands of hikers have done it.
The 40-minute flight to Lukla (2,860m) in a small 18-seater plane was memorable, as we went across the mighty Himalayan mountain range, seeing countless white peaks.
Lukla is a busy town with a sizeable number of locals, who rely mainly on tourism for income. Kids take the opportunity to brush up on their English by greeting and starting conversations with trekkers.
Shortly after breakfast, we began our journey, accompanied by our guide and a porter. Every day, trekkers get to see different faces of the peaks of this area, which is protected as Sagarmatha (Holy Mother) National Park.
We reached Namche Bazaar (3,440m) after two whole days of trekking and marvelled at the vast size of the place. Being the main trading hub for the Khumbu region, there were cafés, banks, shops and hotels.
To acclimatise to the increase in elevation, we stayed two nights in Namche Bazaar. On the second day, we hiked up to the highest airport in the world, Syangbongche (3700m). Then we went further to Everest View Hotel (the name describes its main selling point).
By noon, we headed back down to Namche Bazaar to stay for the night. All this ascending and descending was done to prep our bodies to the lower oxygen levels of the mountains and prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Symptoms usually start to appear above 3,000m and it can be deadly.
Our guide was very alert to our condition, and always asked if we were feeling fine. He paid particular attention to our appetite, something I found odd in the beginning. However, I came to realise that loss of appetite is a symptom of altitude sickness and skipping meals can lead to complications later during the trek (when fatigue strikes).
We reached Tengboche (3,867m) on the fourth day of our trek. This was one of the most gruelling days due to the steepness of the trail.
However, all our pain and exhaustion disappeared after we arrived, as we were soothed by the panoramic views of the Himalayas, including peaks such as Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku.
This was also the home of the Tengboche Monastery, the largest gompa (Tibetan Buddhist building) in the Khumbu region. Every year, monks fly in from all over Nepal and go on a four-day trek to this revered monastery.
We were fortunate to have been able to witness the monks conducting their daily prayers; the soothing sound of their chants cleared our minds in a tranquil, ethereal way…
The next day, six hours of trekking took us to the town of Dingboche (4,410m), where we also planned to stay for two nights to further acclimatise.
As we moved higher, the villages got smaller and the hotels were more basic. Despite that, we could still get most of the things we needed, such as clean running water, and even chocolate bars.
On our second day, we hiked up to Nagerjun (5,100m) and then back down to Dingboche, before calling it a day. The temperature dropped sharply as the sun set behind the mountains and we even experienced snow that night!
Exhaustion and euphoria
At this point, we were just two days hike away from Everest Base Camp. Our next destination was Lobuche (4,910m), one of the coldest towns in the Khumbu region.
Lobuche is a particularly busy place every April as hundreds of porters and sherpas (mountain guides) from the region pass through en route to EBC. Many of them also carry supplies with the aid of yaks.
The lodging in Lobuche was basic to say the least. A 3m x 3m room with only two beds and nothing else – just enough for sleeping. After lunch, we took a short 20-minute hike to marvel at the Khumbu Glacier, the world’s highest glacier (from an altitude of 4,900m up to 7,600m) which originates from the region of Mount Everest itself.
Waking up the next day, knowing that we were mere hours away from Everest Base Camp, gave me a sense of euphoria. From Lobuche, the plan was to trek past the Khumbu Glacier towards Gorakshep, and on to EBC, before returning to stay overnight at Gorakshep.
The trek past the glacier was not steep, but the thin air forced us to take a break every now and then. We were constantly reminded by our guide not to push ourselves and to take a break when we needed to.
“Bistari, bistari (Nepalese for ‘slowly, slowly’). It’s not a race. This is your own adventure,” he advised. “We will get there eventually, so there is no need to rush.”
After crossing Gorakshep, by lunch time, we were just one hour away from EBC. The yellow tents there could be seen from where we stood and that powered up our weakened bodies.
The trail was a steep ascent followed by a descent. Heavy breathing could be heard as we walked by fatigued trekkers, though every now and then, a friendly “hello” emerged. Those who were heading back to Gorakshep kept reminding us how close we were to our goal.
After one last steep descent, we made it to Everest Base Camp! High fives were exchanged, as well as warm wishes.
Some were busy immortalising this moment in photos, while others stood in awe at the breathtaking view. A tear ran down my cheek as I reflected on the challenges I had faced to get to this point.
It had been tough, but the feeling of being amidst the tallest mountains in the world made this adventure worth it.
You should trek in Nepal at least once in your life. It’s simply awesome.