My trip to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was planned in February ’08 itself, when I first heard from Pinakin (of Trek’Di) confirming that an expedition to EBC will happen this October. I clearly remember excitedly calling him and others to confirm my participation in February itself! My leave was approved by my bosses in Pune, who were convinced quite easily as it was a once in a life time event. After my transfer to Bombay in August, there was considerable doubt on whether I’ll get the required leave or not as technically I was a ‘new’ person in the team here. That suspense continued till the last week of September, when after extensive lobbying, my leave (shortened to even have me work on the day of my return) was granted.
I booked my tickets hurriedly, and braced myself with a week long preparation plan. I was to depart for Delhi on the 9th of October and fly to Kathmandu on the 10th morning, where other team members would be waiting for me. Rohan and Abhijit, my best buddies, dropped in on the 8th evening for a much awaited get together. We must have gone to bed by 3 am, and I had to leave the following morning. My bags weren’t completely ready yet! The morning newspapers greeted me with the news that yesterday’s Kathmandu-Lukla Yeti Airlines flight crashed at Lukla killing all 17 people on board (apart from the pilot!). What a start it was to the day. By 10 am, I got a call from Sridharji (my trek leader who was with the others at Delhi airport) that Sucheta, another team member, hadn’t carried her passport and that the immigration guys weren’t allowing her to board the flight for Nepal without one. Apparently, now, if you enter Nepal by air, you need a passport. She carried her PAN card, which wasn’t a valid ID for immigration purposes. The others were running out of time as they had to check in as well. Amidst the chaos, it struck me that I had once met my car-washer, who is a Nepali, at ISBT (Delhi bus terminal), many years back. I managed to get in touch with him as he stays in a hut nearby and asked him the exact route of traveling from Delhi to Kathmandu by road. This I communicated to a grateful Sucheta who was stranded at Delhi airport. How she eventually reached Kathmandu from Delhi is a separate story.
After that I traveled to Bombay Central station in the afternoon with my huge haversacks to board my train (Rajdhani Express) to New Delhi; much to the bemusement of curious onlookers. The train was sharp on time, and to my surprise I was the only person on my seat and the person opposite me was the only one on his. This was quite strange as I had waitlisted tickets originally. After a little investigation, I figured out that we were in an ‘extra’ coach, which was added to clear the waitlisted passengers. The gentleman opposite me was an Indian Airforce officer, associated with the Airforce radars at the various Airforce stations. He was posted at the Lohegaon airbase in Pune. I shared with him many experiences of witnessing Sukhoi 30 exercises at Lohegaon, which was in my backyard when I first moved to Pune for my MBA. There was a group of Malyali girls travelling to Delhi for the first time, who boarded from Baroda. Interacting with them was an enjoyable experience as well. The journey ended in to time and we were at New Delhi at 8:40 am the following morning. My friend from Chandigarh, was very kindly there to receive me at the station, as her office was at Connaught Place (CP), which is very close to New Delhi station. On our way to CP, many cycle rickshawallahs kept asking us if they could drop us somewhere. For the sake of it, I asked one guy how much would he charge. He said thirty bucks. I told him he can sit on the passenger seat with Shweta and I’ll take him to CP…if he pays me thirty bucks..!!
We were having breakfast at McDonalds in CP, before I was to proceed to IGI airport for my afternoon flight. For some reason, I called Makemytrip.com, and they informed me that my flight had been rescheduled to 7 in the evening and that my return flight (which was even more important due to the onward train journey) was also rescheduled to a couple of hours later than it’s original time. So now I had six hours of free time in Delhi. I dropped my luggage at a relatives place in Dwarka and watched a movie ‘Hello’ at Janakpuri. I went back to my relative’s place, picked up my luggage and proceeded to the airport. Time spent at the airport is generally uninteresting, but I had an experience typical of Indian authorities there that I’ll mention here. After immigration, an officer informed me that we cannot carry Rs.1000 and Rs.500 denomination currency to and from Nepal. This is primarily because a counterfeit Indian currency racket operates from Nepal. I was in a fix as they wouldn’t allow me to go back and get smaller denomination currency from one of the many banks at the airport, as I had finished the immigration check stage. After many requests and meetings with senior officials, I managed to do so after depositing my passport and ticket with them!
The flight was pretty ok. It was an old Boeing 757 aircraft with old velvet covered cramped seats. Since the total flying time is just an hour and a half, it wasn’t too bad. I had a nice conversation with the chief steward. I noticed that everything was now rechristened as Nepal Airlines instead of Royal Nepal Airlines, since Nepal is now a republic. Only the after mint packet with our meal still read otherwise, perhaps because it was an older packet. The food on the flight was quite nice and we reached Kathmandu in no time. After alighting at the terminal, I checked out of the airport and called my hotel to inform them that I have reached. The owner also explained to me how to get to the hotel. I negotiated with a cab driver to drop me to the hotel, which turned out to be very close to the airport.
I was greeted by the team at the hotel. They were, more relieved than anything else, to see me there, as there were completely oblivious to my delay due to my flight being rescheduled. I had something to eat, freshened up and tried to sleep. I had a nagging headache, which kept me awake till about 2 am. The morning was refreshing and the view of Pashupatinath from my room was a divine one. After some breakfast, we started moving towards the domestic airport. It was decided that Vishal will wait back until Sucheta arrives (she was expected in a few hours as she called Sridharji from Mahendranagar on the Nepal border) and fly to Lukla with her either today afternoon or tomorrow. Flights to Lukla are more of a taxi service, so it is not very difficult to reschedule unless there is bad weather. We reached the small terminal and checked-in in about 10 minutes! There was a small formality called a security check and we were in the terminal.
Flight staff screams out the flight details to passengers at the terminal as there is no electronic system for doing so. We bought a few Indian flag badges for our track suits. The flight was delayed and during our wait there Vishal and Sucheta had reached the check in counter of the airport. One can just walk back outside the terminal area and meet them and walk back in..! They were being held up there with some other passengers because whether our flight will take off today was in doubt. This happens almost daily to flights plying between Kathmandu and Lukla, as even the slightest change in weather is enough to cancel flights. During our return, I learnt from a co-pilot, about whom we’ll talk later, that flights get cancelled if there is wind at 10 nautical miles at Lukla airport. For people who are unaware about the intricacies of planes and landings, I’d say that this is a very low wind speed, one which can most definitely happen almost everyday. While waiting for an update on our flight, we were enjoying watching the fascinating crowd at the terminal (the terminal is probably around 2500 sq ft. or so!), which consisted of a healthy mix of foreign tourists/trekkers and local people. As most of Nepal has a mountainous terrain, the road network is quite poor and a lot of people travel within Nepal by these small flights. Prices are much lower for Nepali (and quite low for Indians as well) citizens, as compared to foreign tourists.
So, after waiting for a couple of hours, we were informed that the flight has been cancelled due to bad weather. We went back, this time with Vishal and Sucheta, to our hotel and rested. After lunch, I decided to take a quick nap. By the time I woke up, Maheshwar, Vishal and Sucheta had gone for shopping to Thamel. Aneesh and I left as well. The market was wonderful and I shortlisted a lot of things for buying when we come back to Kathmandu after the trek. Aneesh and I had dinner at a relatively exotic restaurant in Thamel and took a taxi back to the hotel. We slept early as we had to wake up early for our flight.
(12th Oct Kathmandu to Lukla)
The night passed very quickly, much due to the anticipation and tension about tomorrow’s flight to Lukla. If, for some reason, we were not to fly today, it would make the trek quite difficult to complete due to lack of time. Tired of walking to the airport with the heavy sacks, we hired a cab, primarily for the luggage. Sridharji and I traveled in it, while the others tread their way to the airport. After checking in, we were waiting, once again in anticipation, for our flight to Lukla (which of course is known to be a superb experience). We had deliberately booked an early morning flight, as the weather is generally calm in the morning. It’s only after the sun starts to heat the ground that wind is generated. So, it happened…we were taken to the aircraft (Twin Otter- 16 seater) in a mini bus. The luggage was being manually loaded and we were witnessing many amazing take offs and landings. All the passengers (there was a large Japanese group) were waiting for the permission to get in, because everyone wanted the best seats.Sridharji managed to keep good ones for Sucheta, Vishal and myself. The single cabin attendant gave us a toffee and cotton to be used as ear plugs since the cabins in these smaller aircrafts aren’t pressurized. I was trying to figure out what the various indicators and knobs in the cockpit ones, with reference to what I had seen in Microsoft Flight Simulator!
The plane started and the pilot took off rather hurriedly, not even stopping after coming on the runway from the taxi-way. It took off at approximately 150 km/h and off we went. In no time we ascended to the 12500ft cruising altitude, which made the snow clad ranges visible to our north-north east. The views were breathtaking and everyone was scrambling to capture whatever they could on camera. I was more interested in capturing it with my eyes, though I did get a couple of great shots and a video. The journey to Lukla is around 32 minutes. We fly just a few hundred feet above the mountains below, which is quite scary sometimes, as we can see the plane’s shadow on the mountains. The plane suddenly passes through a few valleys and turns left and one realized that we were actually approaching the Lukla runway, which now is may be a couple of kilometers away. We approach in no time and touch down smoothly to complete a breath taking flight. As soon as the airplane touches down, the pilot uses reverse thrust to slow the plane down as the runway is just 1600ft (as compared to 10000ft of Kathmandu to give you an idea). We turn into the 4 plane parking lot and the small terminal building welcomes us to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla. Thanks to Tenzing and Hillary, we do not have to walk for six days from Jiri to Kathmandu (which was the only option earlier). I met the captain after alighting and clicked a picture with him (which later turned out to be a video due the camera settings). The parking lot is around the size of my building compound, if not smaller and planes keep coming and going like cabs. The weather was amazingly cool and the awestruck passengers were not ready to leave the parking area and head to the terminal. Eventually, after promising oneself with many more such visual treats in the days to come, we moved into the terminal building to collect our bags.
We were greeted by a number of Sherpas, all asking us if we needed porters. There was a very peculiar smell, at the terminal and throughout our journey later, which couldn’t be missed. The smell is actually due the fact that the local Sherpa people rarely bathe or change clothes (once a month at the best)! We were to of course understand the reasons for this in the next ten days. After Sridharji negotiated with 3 porters viz. Ramesh, Pemba and Lakhpa, we moved to a little lodge above the airport to freshen up. The Lukla airstrip was perpendicular to us and we witnessed a spectacular take-off from very close to the airplane. One can see the ATC building nearby, which is like a small cottage. The air traffic controller is generally seen moving around the runway. We were to head to Jorsale today itself, via Phakding. Though Jorsale was quite far from Lukla, Sridharji insisted that we camp there keeping in mind that we had a steep climb for Namche Bazaar tomorrow. Also, Phakding and Jorsale are both lower than Lukla, so the descent makes the walk quicker. We registered at the Sagarmatha National Park office on the way and started descending through thick forests and a few small farms.
There are a huge number of people all along the route to EBC. This includes tourists, their porters, and also a huge number of individual porters/with Yak carrying wares for the numerous lodges that dot the trek route. It is quite amazing and sometimes saddening to see the amount of weight that these porters carry on their backs. Trekking porters are relatively better off. Our guys were very happy because we had hardly loaded them (by their standards) with any weight; although that increased as the trek progressed. As we descended, we closed in to the Dudh Kosi river, which accompanied us a long way as we were virtually heading towards its source. ‘Dudh’ means milk in Hindi and Nepali and so the name has originated because these were white water rapids which look quite ‘milky’ in colour. The sight of the river flowing like a serpent through the valleys was rejuvenating. As we approached afternoon, we reached Phakding, which is the first waypoint on the route. Many trekkers stay here on the first day, generally because of its beautiful riverside location and lush green forests. There were a few camps near the river, presumably for white water rafting. We had to cross the first of many steel rope bridges over the Dudh Kosi to enter the hamlet of Phakding. We stopped for lunch and had a good meal there. You get a lot of variety almost all throughout the trek, though the cost of things is directly proportional to the rising altitude
After our lunch, we somehow picked ourselves to move on to Jorsale. We crossed several beautiful valleys on the way and a small hamlet called Monjo. It was dusk by the time we crossed Monjo and we needed to hurry a little to make it to Jorsale without using torches. Most of the people had now disappeared from the route, as most of them had reached their destination for the day. It had become quite cool immediately after sunset and most of us had to cover ourselves with some extra clothing to stop the wind. We crossed another long bridge and could see Jorsale a little lower, closer to the river. We got a lodge there and dumped ourselves there. After freshening up (which becomes a pain henceforth thanks to the glacial water), we went to the restaurant in the lodge to eat our dinner. We had quite a lavish dinner, with soup to precede and ginger/lemon tea to succeed it. I met a guide there who was accompanying a couple to the Mera Peak. He told me I resemble Salman Khan!?! Maheshwar and I, who were to share the room had left our window open as we both were missing a fan! When went to our rooms to rest, we froze. One doesn’t realize the amount of chill in the air because we have just come from a much warmer place. I slept with some difficulty and had to use my thermals already, to keep myself warm.
(13th Oct Jorasale-Namche)
The night ended and we were up at around 6. We freshened up and finished our chores, with even greater difficulty. We were heading to Namche Bazaar. After a light breakfast, we started moving towards Namche. Namche, is ofcourse much higher (3440 m) and so there are several steep ascents on the way. It was quite cold, around 6 degrees, and I was wearing my monkey cap, gloves and upper thermals. Within 15 minutes of trekking, I had to take all this off as one starts feeling quite hot when the body is active. Only when you stop occasionally do you feel the cold and the wind chill. We got our first views of snow clad peaks viz. Kusum Kankaru and Thamserku just a little while before we got our first glimpses of Namche itself. The last part was quite strenuous due to the steep ascent. I was walking quite slowly, and had the company of the other slow walker, Shridarji. We got to the start of Namche and stopped there at a lodge for tea. The lodge was bang opposite Kongde peak, and the views were breathtaking. A foreigner was lying in the courtyard of the lodge staring at Kongde endlessly. I also made a single minute call home for a hundred bucks. We then proceeded to the main town and just before we reached our lodge (Buddha lodge), it started raining. Weather is very unpredictable in the mountains. Sridharji and I sought some shelter in a monastery, very close to our lodge. As the rain subdued, we quickly made our way to the lodge where the rest of the guys were there to greet us. We dumped our bags and feasted on a good heavy lunch.
Everyone was tired and sleepy…but Sridharji had asked us to refrain from sleeping due to acclimatization problems. So we played cards and chess instead. We were to stay at Namche tomorrow as well, for acclimatization. In evening, we all browsed through the awfully expensive bazaar. Maheshwar, of all the places, decided to buy a sleeping bag from Namche Bazaar. Throughout the rest of the journey, he was apparently the most comfortable, perhaps because he was trying to comfort himself about the cost! Evenings are short here and every one has dinner by seven. We did as well, in a nice heated dining area. We played cards for a while and then I took some glorious night shots using Vishal’s tripod of Kongde. It appeared quite scary actually, as the snow on the peaks looks mysteriously white amidst the surrounding darkness at night. I hardly got any sleep at night, which remained a constant factor here onwards.
(14th Oct Namche-Everest View Point-Namche)
We slept till about 7 am because we were in no particular hurry today. The morning chores were getting impossible now, because water was almost freezing. After a good breakfast, we were heading towards a hill above Namche on which is located a small lodge named Everest View Point. One can see the tip of Mt. Everest from there on a clear day along with the tip of Nuptse, Lhotse and Lhotse Shar, and Ama Dablam. We were partially following our tomorrow’s route to Tengboche to an extent, before it headed downwards and we continued our ascent. We reached the Syngboche airfield! Syngboche airfield (mud and grass runway) is now not used anymore because the lodge owners between Lukla and Namche were against the idea of people directly coming to Syngboche, as it would affect their business badly. Also, it was even more a difficult task to land at Syngboche and the high altitude (around 3500m) made it a bad starting point for the trek. There is just one small hut at the airfield, which I believe is the ATC. Only charter flights/choppers and rescue helicopters land here now. We could also see an army camp below. There was the debris of a crashed chopper at its helipad. We continued heading towards our destination and I got my first views of Mt Everest tip, Lhotse, and Nuptse. After clicking as many pictures as I could, I continued to catch up with the other (who had all dispersed by now). I met a Dutch guy with an awesome camera and a fish eye lens. I had a brief conversation with him, after which he obliged me by clicking a couple of pics of mine with Ama Dablam in the background. I reached the Everest View Point lodge. Apparently, the Japanese have built it, and is primarily used by Japanese trekkers.
The actual view point is a little behind the lodge and we all reached there. There were terrific views of the high peaks. Every one was waiting for the clouds to clear out and Everest to emerge from them. I had got a few shots when it was clear from Syngboche itself, much to everyone’s envy. It turned out to be quite a joke because what I had captured and what everyone was waiting to re emerge was the tip of Nuptse! The tip of Everest was clearly visible throughout, but no one was paying much attention to it and now it was getting covered by clouds! Vishal and I took pictures of ourselves with Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam in the background. They turned out to be great photos. The other peaks visible to the south east were Kangtega, Thamserku, Kusum Kangkaru, Kongtega and Thame. It was very windy and all of us had to wear some protective gear to guard us against the wind chill. The views left me spell bound and I had no intention of getting down to Namche. One can see the route to Tengboche very clearly to our right. We headed back to Namche Bazaar and reached there in 1/3rd the time it took us to ascent. A couple of choppers flew by, most likely to be rescue choppers heading to Pheriche or Gorakshep. We were back at Namche and the remaining day passed by, in anticipation of the morning. We were all feeling fit, and were well acclimatized. I paid 300 bucks to take a warm water shower, as I couldn’t survive even a day longer without bathing. I also washed a few clothes while bathing. Drying them was another story though. But that was to be my last bath for the next 9 days! Others thought otherwise and didn’t feel the need to do so. I met a Canadian gentleman, Dave in the lodge. I had a long chat with him, and we met several other times during the trek as well. We spoke about politics, Canada, America, India, his experiences trekking etc. He was a retired police officer and I had lots to speak about. We also met a young chap from Pune called Advait staying there. He told us that he split from his group (in which his parents were trekking) because he missed his flight to Lukla. So he was waiting here for them to come back. Sridharji thought of how we could take him along (described later). We split at dinner time, post which I tried to sleep.
(15th Oct Namche to Tengboche)
Needless to say, I didn’t manage much sleep last night. But, I was more relaxed thanks to my warm water bath. Everyone develops a minor cold at such temperatures, but the bath cleared my sinus which was a big relief. We left after breakfast for Tengboche at 7 am. It is a 5-6hrs trek, and quite strenuous. Sridharji and I halted after an hour or so for a snack and some tea. Since the sun was out, I hung all my wet clothes around the various belts of my bags for them to dry. It was quite an innovative way of drying clothes. The journey takes us through a few small hamlets including one near the river called Phunki Tenga. The first two hours went fine; they consisted of mostly traverses from one mountain to another. Post which, we descended a lot of height and reached Phunki Tenga. We had to climb more than 1500 ft from here to reach Tengboche. The climb was sickening and the altitude was making me tired easily. I spoke to a lot of people on the way and because I was meeting people from all around the world, I decided to make a list of the various nationalities that I interacted with. You can view the list at the end of my travelogue. I did a lot of photography in this region as it was lush green and full of life. The climb had taken its toll on a Yak though, whose carcass was strewn across our path. I got to see rare view of mountain goats high above us and got some nice pics of them as well. Sridharji and I met Advait’s parents (Mr. and Mrs. Dake) who were trekking with another Pune based trekking outfit, on the way. We spoke with them and explained to them that if Advait can join us at Tengboche by tonight, he can trek with us. They left hurriedly and said we’ll try and do that.
The last part of the climb was never ending and killing. I was dead tired and was dying for a sight of Tengboche. I met a group of Nepali trekkers who were on their way to the summit of Ama Dablam. We finally reached Tengboche, where Ramesh was sitting at the entrance of the hamlet to welcome me. Others had reached almost an hour before me, and so had settled down. Ramesh lead me to the place where we were staying and I too dumped myself there after some lunch. By then Advait had already joined us at Tengboche. In the evening, I met an Indian couple there, who inquired about how has been the trip so far. I responded my telling them that I had some fatigue today due to altitude etc. The gentleman turned out to be a well known travel writer Partha Banerjee and was accompanied by his wife Shoma. They were experts in trekking in the Khumbu region and Partha had authored a book about the EBC trek and the Khumbu region as well. On realizing this, the remaining team members joined the conversation as well. In the meanwhile, I took Vishal’s tripod and headed outside to capture night shots of the mountains on a full moon night. I got some brilliant shots and returned to the warmth of the lodge. I met an Austrian couple near the entrance. The gentleman had stayed in Tengboche for two years and could speak Nepali/Tibti. After dinner, I continued my interesting discussion with Partha. We spoke about his career and my interests amongst other things. He expressed his interest in having me help him for some book that he was planning for the Sahyadris. We spoke till about ten and they left for their room with their camcorder battery still charging at the reception. Partha had asked me to carry it along to my room when I go to sleep. I was writing my travelogue and so spent another half an hour outside. Finally, I slept in the cold sleeping bag with Maheshwar snoring on the other bed.
(16th Oct Tengboche to Dingboche)
With hardly any sleep and frozen water in the taps, things were getting tougher. We were at around 12000 ft now and we were heading for around 14000! People do many treks at 14000 or 15000 feet like Sar Pass, but the difference with the EBC trek is that we need to stay at high altitudes all the way to 17500 feet! So the body is really under a lot of pressure. The trek began after a moderate breakfast (eating was becoming quite cumbersome for me now) at around 7 am. I don’t think I have ever had so much tea in my life, what I had in the last 2-3 days…and that too lemon/ginger tea). It is a 5-6 hr trek to Dingboche. Soon after we leave Tengboche, the ‘tree line’ ends, which means that all the trees now disappear and only a few shrubs are left. The terrain becomes more depressing and one the winds start blowing, it is really a pain. I was fully decked up with thermals, jacket, gloves, muffler, monkey cap etc. by the time we reached half way. There was a small lodge, in the middle of nowhere, near Ama Dablam. I sat in its compound, near the wall seeking some respite from the cold wind and had a conversation with the owner. The owner was a really nice person and he treated me to warm water free of cost, which really is a luxury here. I was trekking alone now, as most people were ahead me and I did not have the energy or the inclination to catch up. The temperature was around zero in the day time, and one could see a number of frozen streams around. Half way through the journey, I saw (whom we had seen earlier but weren’t sure if she was the one) Pooja Batra, the yesteryears film actress with her husband and her sisters. They were heading to EBC as well. We had a chance to talk with them at Gorakhshep. The path now split into two, the one on the left going to Pheriche and the one on the right to Dingboche. Pheriche is quite lower than Dingboche, so it is more preferred on the return. I crossed another small bridge made of tree trunks over a fast flowing river. I was taking a small break and interacting with a very handsome south-african couple, whom I had met earlier. We noticed that there we three people near the top of Lobuche peak. I took a nice picture of them with at full zoom and I must add that it was a great feeling just to see them that high above us. Each person I met, I inquired about the distance left for Dingboche. I was tired and feeling drowsy and the terrain was very depressing, with no life in sight. Finally, after about a six hours trek, I saw Dingboche at a distance, nestled in the lap of Ama Dablam and some other mountains. I saw a few large birds flying in the valley, which looked like eagles, but later I found out that they were Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture-Eagle), which are scavengers from the vulture family. They were extremely large, may be about five feet in wing span. I descended into the village and had no idea where the others were. Exhausted, I sat down in the middle of the town, hoping that either Ramesh or Pemba (porters) would come looking for me. Ramesh arrived in about ten minutes and I reached the lodge, where the others were having soup. After eating, I tried to rest for some time and got sleep for an hour or so, after many days. The evening passed quickly and we got some beautiful shots of the massive ranges around us at dusk. I made a satellite call home and had a chat with the café caretaker about Nepal, India and politics. He was quite a ‘maoist’ person and did not hold India in the highest of regards. When I probed, he claimed that India has been occupying Nepali territory with the help of the erstwhile kings. He also held India responsible for the Kosi river flood tragedy that happened on the Indo-Nepal border. There was internet there for 30 rupees a minute! After some dinner in the warm dining room, we went to rest in our newly built dark rooms. I did not find much sleep that night either, more understandably though due to the altitude.
17th October- Dingboche Acclimatization
I woke up at around 8 am and clearly remembered being awake for most of the night. I did find a couple of hours of sleep in the morning though, which I guess is what one can expect here. I had now started asking Pemba to give me a liter of warm water in the morning, of which I drank half and used the remaining half for brushing my teeth. A liter costs 150 bucks though. Sometimes; Pemba managed to get some for free! We were to stay at Dingboche today for acclimatization, which was much needed. As many of you know, for acclimatizing, one mustn’t just rest at a high altitude. Straining the body a little is a must, so that the lungs get used to ‘strain’ at high altitude and not rest. We went up a small hillock behind Dingboche. After a half an hour climb, we reached a good vantage point from where we had amazing views of Ama Dablam, Tobuche, Chola Che, Lobuche, Lhotse, Nuptse, Mera Peak, and for the first and last time, Makalu. We could also see Pheriche located in the valley below us, close to the river emerging from ice. We could also see tomorrow’s route to Lobuche. It didn’t look that tough, and I’ll say that it wasn’t the worst of the lot either. After some photography, we returned to the lodge, had lunch and rested. In the evening, others played cards while Sridharji and I played chess and I got another much awaited victory. Didn’t do much else that evening and everyone just wanted to rest and so did I. Sleep wasn’t too bad that night…
18th October- Dingboche to Lobuche
We were now getting close to our destination. Evert thing post Dingboche seems very close to the Everest region. Lobuche has a limited number of lodges, so it is very difficult to get a place to stay during peak season. For this reason, we sent Ramesh at 6 am to Lobuche, so that he can get there before most others and block some space for us. We followed him an hour later. I was having a terrible time and had to give my bag to Pemba for some time. It was very cold, sub zero in till about noon and very windy. We are at about 4800 metres! I gave my extra monkey cap to Pemba as he was not wearing any headgear. I was so fatigued that I was just counting my steps. We emerged into the Everest valley and in no time were surrounded by Nuptse, Lhotse, Listern, Pumori and Lobuche. It was too cold to keep removing the camera repeatedly and one just focuses on capturing the beauty and grandeur in their eyes. As we were now trekking very close to Nuptse, it occupies around 30% of a persons eye view, dwarfing everything else around it. I reached Lobuche, just after Sridharji, in about 5 hours from Dingboche. We were informed that there was no space to stay even though Ramesh had reached here at 9 am. Later, while I was having lunch, the team was discussing the possibility of trekking to Gorakshep today itself. But I refused to even consider it and asked the others to continue if they felt like doing so. I had also developed a bad cold by now, which makes things very tough in the mountains. I had to constantly wipe my nose with tissue and discard it in the dedicated plastic bag that I had attached to my waist pouch. By this time Sridharji had declared that he would stay back with me incase the others feel fit enough to reach Gorakshep. In some time, they revealed that they were trying to play a prank, and that no one was going anywhere. We had managed to arrange space in the dining area of the lodge for 6 people to sleep, which was quite a luxury when one looked around at the number of people who had crowded the heated dining area. We took a nap in the afternoon, and I got some much needed sleep. In the evening, I clicked some beautiful pictured of Nuptse along with a German fellow. The manager of the lodge gave me a bottle of a eucalyptus oil based medicine, which was to be inhaled either directly or with steam to clear my choked sinus. I inhaled it for 5 minutes with steam from hot water, and must have shed litres of mucous! I was feeling much lighter and fitter thanks to this. I had garlic soup, sitting near the fireplace inside the dining area, which also helped me feel much better. The others were seated at another table, but there wasn’t much place there so I chose to sit separately. The room was packed with people, all waiting for the other one to leave, so that they have a little place to spread their feet! I had a tasty egg sandwich for dinner, and was feeling much stronger as well. Thanks to the rejuvenating evening, I felt quite relaxed in bed. The lights were on for about 2 hours after were in bed, and so was Aneesh’s murmurs. I don’t remember much after that, which makes me believe that fell asleep…
19th October- Lobuche to Gorakshep
Though my health was better last evening, today morning, I was back to square one. I had a bad cold and the weather was consistently sub zero. As we left, there was no wind, which made things easier for me, as even the slightest of winds aggravates cold. Lobuche onwards, much of the journey is through rocky moraine. It is very irritating to tread your way through it. In an hour or so, the wind started blowing, and the chill factor started killing me. I was wearing 4 layers of clothes but it wasn’t enough. The lack of high quality wind proof wear was telling. We were now consistently above 5000 metres. I crossed a ‘Pyramid International Laboratory-Observatory’ signboard, a little off track. That is supposed to be a Swiss backed research centre at 16000 ft! We could see Pumori, Listern, Lhotse, Everest West Shoulder and Nuptse from very close now. In a while, we could also see Kala Patthar, our destination, in the lap of the grand Pumori. The trek was quite challenging, as we had to continuously pass through huge rocks and frozen streams. On our right was a valley that separated us from the base of Nuptse. The valley was very strange looking, and had a ‘torn’ look to it which made me wonder if it was formed due to movement of tectonic plates, that have given rise to the Himalayas. There were small depressions in it that were filled with greenish-blue tinged water and muddy ice. I suspect that it had some sulphur content in it too. I could see Gorakshep, a tiny hamlet, from a little height. I could see the roofs of about 3 or 4 huts. I also got my first view of the Everest Base Camp, and the Khumbu Glacier. A part of the famous Khumbu ice-fall could also be seen. We reached Gorakshep in around 5 hours. The lodge we parked at was also full like all others, but we did manage a dormitory type arrangement, courtesy Ramesh, who had reached Gorakshep much before us. The lodge’s nameplate also read its impressive altitude of 5200 something metres. There was a sandy open area on one side and the valley that I talked about earlier on the other. The corridors of the lodge were lined up with souvenirs and memorabilia of the numerous groups from various nations who have stayed there. We made one for ourselves too, on Vishal’s ‘banyaan’ (vest) and stuck it on one of the corridor walls. I also interacted with some people in the dining area, most distinctly with an American couple from the state of Montana, and a very nice Swiss lady from Zurich. We were supposed to leave for Kala Patthar at 4 am or so, so that we get there with minimalistic wind. We had a grand dinner and headed to our beds. It was very cold. The mattress, the sleeping bag, everything that you touched was below zero. I hadn’t got any respite from my cold either. I did manage to get some sleep, but I guess all of us were waiting to wake-up!
20th October- Gorakshep to Kala Patthar
We were up by quarter to four. I could hear multiple alarms ring, and so could everyone else, but no one wanted to get up and wake the others! I wore four layers of clothing on my body and three on my legs and feet. The trouble areas were my head (especially due to the cold) and face, neck, hands, and feet. All the warm stuff/gloves that I had were sub standard for such a trek and were virtually of no use. The thermals weren’t able to retain much heat, because one should ideally be wearing a windproof jacket on top. But with hope and some amount of inspiration, we started our final assault towards Kala Patthar. Pumori, Listern, Lhotse, Everest West Shoulder and Nuptse were visible in the morning glow, as we left the premises of Gorakshep and started heading towards the small hillock of about 600 ft that is Kala Patthar. It was around -7 degrees at the base of Kala Patthar. When I looked around, I realized that I was standing amongst the highest mountains in the world, on the highest plateau in the world; amidst billions of tones of ice… it had to be cold! I was ascending with great difficulty and so was every one else. In no time, my hands and feet were numb. My cold was my undoing factor, because I had to take of my glove in every few minutes to clean my nose. That allowed the ice cold air to enter the glove and replace the air which my hand had warmed being inside them. This was a terrible thing…I cannot explain it. After about 25 minutes of breathless climbing, we got our first breathtaking view of Mt. Everest itself. There is was, as if standing on the shoulder of Nuptse and the Everest West Shoulder. The sunlight was beginning to emerge now, and I could see Pumori, Listern, Lhotse, Everest West Shoulder, Everest Peak (South Col and Hillary step too), Nuptse, Ama Dablam, and many others if I turned a full 360 degrees. I could also see the EBC clearly along with the Khumbu glacier and the Khumbu Ice fall. It was enchanting… we kept moving up and around 150 ft from the top of this hillock (Kala Patthar), I joined up with the others who were ahead me. They had stopped there and I suddenly saw Maheshwar and Advait run down. Vishal too descended a good 50 ft below me. It was too cold…the temperature was -14 degrees. Maheshwar had severe nasal bleeding and Advaits feet were completely numb. Aneesh also looked terribly out of sorts. Sucheta and Sridharji were deciding whether they’ll continue to the top. My nose started bleeding to, and when I took of my glove (out of compulsion), I noticed that my veins and frozen and that there were lumps of blood all over my hands. For the first time in the trek, I was scared and knew that this was the limit for me. I was standing in front of Everest, face to face. Kala Patthar was 45 (though just 200 ft or so) minutes above us, and would offer the same view, but a psychological victory. Sridharji decided to continue with Sucheta and that motivated Vishal and Aneesh to join them. Maheshwar and Advait had already descended a good 200 ft or so. I asked myself about what I think I should do, but my body responded in negative and so I clicked as many pictures as possible and one victory picture of myself with Everest and decided to descend. A new set of alkalines gave me 13 shots before they died out (they last for at least 300 shots in Bombay)! Maheshwar later told me that his camera stopped working! So he was no able to click pictures of Everest. I wasn’t feeling bad, because for me there wasn’t much difference in where I was and the top of this hillock. It wasn’t that I was a few minutes from the summit of Everest, and that my life depended on what I do. But I realized that I was underequipped (and most others) and had a terrible cold, and that it was commendable that I made it to where I was at the moment. I conveyed my decision to the others and started descending. My feet were barely moving and I could literally feel my right hand to be frozen. On my way back, there were two South African women on their way up, and one of them collapsed as her legs had simply stopped moving. Moving down was a relief, and the cold reduced slightly, more because the sun rays were now beginning to emerge from behind the peaks. The sight was amazing…something I cannot express in words. But it was difficult to stop too much, without being bitten by the cold, so I kept moving down. I had a last look at Everest, as I knew that in a few minutes, Nuptse will hide it from me. I reached Gorakshep in 45 minutes or so. The others were already there. I had some soup and spent the next 2 hours trying to get some heat in my body. The others came back at long last…victorious. We had discussions about the whole experience at Kala Patthar, and how we should have made it etc. Vishal and Sucheta were to leave immediately as they were to reach Kathmandu a day before us so that they can go to Beerganj on the Indo Nepal border at Bihar and take a train (Mithila Express) to Calcutta. By the time they will reach there, so will the others and all of them had tickets from Calcutta to Pune. This, if you remember was due to the fact that Sucheta did not have her passport. So Vishal was very kindly accompanying her through this troublesome journey. So they moved on and we were to follow in about an hour. Before leaving, I met Partha and Shoma again, who had just reached Gorakshep. He interviewed me for his documentary, but was also very critical of our decision to go to Everest before sunrise. He said it was a bad idea because it is too cold then and that Everest per say looks much better after the sun has risen completely. We targeted reaching Pheriche today (which is below Dingboche and so is a better option due to the lower altitude). We left from Gorakshep at around noon and bade adieu to the Khumbu valley. Aneesh had a considerable amount of problems with his knee pain, something that had been troubling him over the last few days. After about 45 minutes of trekking, he sat down and thought that he wouldn’t be able to reach even Lobuche (forget Pheriche). After much discussion, we convinced him to move as slowly as he likes till Lobuche. Pemba carried his backpack and was told to stay with him, as he lagged behind. We reached Lobuche in 2 ½ hours and Aneesh joined us safely a good three quarters of an hour later. There wasn’t any space at Lobuche, something that we expected. We were thinking of alternate plans, but Sridharji, out of nowhere managed to arrange for two shabby rooms, at a small lodge. We had some food and were in bed by 7 itself. It was very cold and there were no blankets. The night passed, without any sleep for me and it was time to move on. This section of the trip was very uninteresting and one just wanted to somehow be teleported to the bathroom of Hotel Maharaja Palace, Kathmandu!!
21st October- Lobuche to Pangboche
We woke up relatively late, at around 7 am. The morning chores were extremely cumbersome to complete and many skipped parts of it! I paid 150 bucks for warm water to brush my teeth and wash my face. We were uncertain about today’s destination, as it would depend on Aneesh’s knee. We had set a target of Pangboche (between Dingboche and Tengboche). After the steep 250 meter descend at Dhukla, I was feeling reenergized due the increase in oxygen. We took a different route as we were heading via Pheriche, instead of Dingboche. Pheriche, which is below Dingboche, also has a Himalayan Rescue Association post. Though Pheriche was visible to us in just a couple of hours, it took nearly two hours to reach it as the distance was rather deceptive. The last part was quite irritating as we had to negotiate a rocky and often mucky terrain. The wind was also blowing quite rapidly. At the village, one could see many rock fences demarcating grazing areas of each household. Here, the most important resource isn’t land, but it is the scarcely available grass that is the prized possession. We stopped at a lodge to have out lunch. I estimated that Aneesh would take at least half an hour to join us. In the meanwhile, we also witnessed a helicopter taking off from the HRA post with some apparent victim. The people in these areas are so honest that all our belongings were left on the path (the main road!) outside the lodge. Things like theft are unheard of. We were on course to make it to Pangboche, so we had enough time to enjoy a good lunch. There was one room in the lodge premises that was full of potatoes! After the meal, we moved on and crossed a small river. We also had to ascend for 45 minutes or so… We reached Pangboche in about 3 hours from Tengboche and camped at a really nice lodge (exceedingly nice after what we managed at Lobuche last night). I had a long conversation with another group of travelers there. There was one guy from Ireland, but of Saudi Arabian origin, who was heading to India after Nepal. I chalked down an entire itinerary for his travels in India. I also saw a few ‘never seen before’ Lonely Planet Himalayan guides with them. Shared the room with Sridharji and found some good sleep after many days. This was because we were much lower now and the place was much warmer (as compared to Lobuche and Gorakshep).
22nd October- Pangboche to Namche
The morning was refreshing and it wasn’t very cold, so every one was feeling much better. We were still to decide on where we were headed for today. Sridharji was of the opinion that we should halt at Phunki Tenga (an hour from Tengboche), but I felt that we could make it to Namche. The journey was now very uninteresting, and all of us were just waiting to reach Namche. The scenery changed as the flora and fauna re appeared as we crossed Tengboche. I recorded a 360 degree video from Tengboche. The descent was Tengboche to Phunki Tenga was never ending, and I was very amused to see the condition of the trekkers on their way up. It reminded me of what I had gone through a few days back. We had lunch by the river side at Phunki Tenga and decided to continue our journey to another small hamlet, an hour from here. There is an hour long ascent after Phunki Tenga, which is really taxing, especially because you feel you have done enough of climbing for the rest of your life time! As we reached that small hamlet by 2, I persuaded everyone that we head to Namche…and everyone agreed. Namche was quite far away from there and we had to traverse uncountable ridges. There was a thick cloud cover that had now come up, which impaired visibility big time. We could not see where we were. Visibility must have been around 25 meters. Maheshwar and I were ahead the group, but Advait had already reached the start of Namche. He was indulging himself in some dry fruit mix. I grabbed some peanuts and almonds to. Pemba was extremely pleased to eat it, as it was quite a luxury for him. After the others arrived, we once again camped at Buddha lodge. We were quire tired. The caretaker of the lodge (Govind) told us that Vishal and Sucheta left for Lukla this morning. So ideally, they should have been able to fly on the 23rd. I made a call to India for 70 bucks (what a relief) and had a conversation with the well educated café owner. He was another India hater. At dinner time, we decided that we will be heading all the way to Lukla tomorrow itself, so that we can try to fly to Kathmandu on the 24th. I shared the room with Sridharji again, because my big common haversack had Sridharji’s stuff in it too.
23rd October-Namche to Lukla
We left at around 7 am well prepared for the longest stretch of the trek. There wasn’t anything to do other than look at the watch and estimate the remaining time. The trees and flowers kept me engrossed and I did a substantial amount of photography. We had our lunch at Phakding, at the same place where we had eaten on our way up. I met an Australian couple from Melbourne and their company made the long stretches of ascent easier. The last hour before Lukla was horrible, as it was a continuous upslope. I was weary about this portion right from the time we headed down through it ten days back. We saw a few planes flying around, and thought we must have almost reached. But it took us over an hour from that place to reach our lodge. As we entered Lukla, we got a shock! I saw Vishal running through the market towards the Yeti airlines office that we had just crossed. They weren’t able to fly today and were struggling to make arrangements for a flight tomorrow. Just to remind you, our scheduled flight was for the 25th. We later learnt from them that there were a large number of cancellations today and many travelers were stranded at the airport due to lack of flights. We were a little worried about Vishal and Sucheta, as they had to make their way to Calcutta via Birganj. We stayed at Shangri La lodge, over looking the airport. It was an awesome place and we feasted on good food and Pringles. I also took a hot shower for 200 bucks at the lodge. I felt like being reborn after the shower and the subsequent sleep.
24th October- Lukla
By the time I woke up from my slumber, Sridharji had gone to the airport with Vishal and Sucheta and now Advait trying their luck at persuading the airline staff to arrange for two seats. But there weren’t any seats. The airport was packed. There was one seat in some plane, but these guys had to travel together for obvious reasons. By noon Sridharji came back to the lodge and Maheshwar went to the airport to accompany Vishal and Sucheta. Sridharji was quite tired and frustrated. I went to see the debris of the aircraft that had crashed a day before we arrived. During lunch I watched the replay of the Champions League match between Chelsea and Roma. Sridharji asked me to go to the Yeti office to confirm our seats for tomorrow (8:30 am flight). I did so, and in fact confirmed all 6 seats just to be sure. The gentleman at the office informed me that there may be a possibility of flying to Kathmandu today itself as there were 3 flights arriving from Kathmandu to clear the delay at around 4 pm. I hurried back with this news to the lodge and all of us packed our stuff and moved to the airport. Vishal, Sucheta and Advait were still there! We got boarding passes for flight 3 (of the 3 that were to arrive). Vishal and Sucheta had boarding passes for flight. Advait was to fly with a different airline, as his tickets were booked earlier with his parents. The three flights arrived majestically one after the other and now we were beginning to believe that after all we may leave today itself. As the passengers for flight 1 were preparing to board (including Vishal and Sucheta), the pilots announced that all of these three flights will not be flying to Kathmandu as the weather is deteriorating! With our boarding passes in our hands, we returned to collect our luggage and moved back to Shangri La lodge. The passengers of flight 1 (including Vishal and Sucheta) were given boarding passes for the first flight at 6:30 am tomorrow. We had run out of luck and were to take our ‘scheduled 8:30 flight’. We rested after having some good food as three of us had to go to the airport at 5 am.
25th October- Lukla to Kathmandu
The typical Indian mentality of standing in the check in queue 4 hours before the scheduled departure of an international flight from any airport in India showed. Aneesh and Maheshwar insisted on going to the airport at 5:30 am with Sucheta and Vishal just ‘to try’ if we could get a seat (sounds like a local train doesn’t it!). I found the idea stupid and refused to crowd the airport for no reason. Sridharji agreed with me, but convinced me to join the team in this act…and so I did. So there we were at the airport, mobbing the airline staff for boarding passes though we didn’t have the relevant tickets. Vishal and Sucheta finally left at 6:30 am and Advait left as well. Aneesh and Maheshwar were standing at the empty airline counter hoping to get a seat. I grabbed a seat and Sridharji joined me. In some time, both of us decided to have some breakfast at the German bakery opposite the airport. After returning, we sent Aneesh and Maheshwar to eat something at the same place. All of a sudden, we were informed that our flight timing was actually 11:30 am and not 8:30 am as mentioned on the tickets and that there was no flight at 8:30am. After arguing with the flight staff, we had to be contended when they showed us the flight reservation charts. Although we complained to them as to why was 8:30 am written on our tickets, we had to be content with the 11:30 flight. We were now praying to the weather gods as 11:30 am was touching the danger zone. Any how, the prayers paid off and we flew to Kathmandu at 11:30. In the flight, I was sitting with a co-pilot (Manish Shah) and interacted a lot with him. He too, like many Indians, had studied in Philippines for his CPL. The flight was very interesting as he shared with me many intricacies of the flight while the pilot and the trainee pilot were flying. It was the trainee pilot’s maiden flight, and the fact that he was to land at Kathmandu gave me goose bumps! We landed safely and I exchanged contact information with him. We reached hotel Maharaja by lunch time and boy, were we glad to reach there. All of us took baths for over an hour! Most of the others were bathing after 15 days! After lunch, we headed to Thamel, which is the main shopping area in Kathmandu. It is quite a market, and one sees the affluent Nepali crowd mixed with travelers from all around the world. You can buy every type of trekking equipment here, both original and fake. I shopped for some Khukhris, clothes, handicrafts, jewelry and also got my hands on the DVD I was looking for (National Geographic’s documentary ‘Surviving Everest’ featuring the sons of Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and Barry Bishop). I ran out of money and had to borrow some from Sridharji. I had around 1000 bucks left, but those would be required for paying tomorrow’s airport tax prior to my flight to Delhi. Most of us had split while shopping in Thamel. Sridharji and I were together and so we had our dinner and took a cab back to the hotel. We spent our last night in Kathmandu resting and relishing our memories of the last fortnight. The next day I left for Delhi and then headed to Hazrat Nizamuddin station to catch my train back to Bombay. I also went to office the day I reached Bombay, as I had promised that to my bosses. I came back with over 600 finals shots in my camera, in the hope that others will be able to get a small glimpse of what I have witnessed in the last fifteen days. The trip ended but left me with never ending and never fading memories. Memories that will inspire me to do several other such treks in the future. Memories which will remind me of the lessons I learnt during the last fortnight, and memories that will always stir my conscience towards indicating to me of where my true life lies