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Arun Valley & Gokyo Lakes
Christmas in the Gokyo Valley - New Year's Eve in Kathmandu
Celebrate Christmas with the Sherpas in their homeland, the Everest region, after one of the most scenic and challenging (but least known) treks in Nepal, the Arun Salpa Valley trek. Early Everest climbers used this wonderful, diverse and hilly route to get to Everest, but it escaped the hoards of trekkers and climbers heading to the Everest region because of the airport at Lukla and the road-head at Jiri.
Starting in the rustic east of Nepal, homeland of the Rais and other 'middle-hill' Nepalis, we begin our journey from Tumlingtar, landing on a grass runway! We trek along the turquoise Arun River, through the green, terraced hills of the Arun and Salpa Valleys to Solu, and continue cresting and descending large hills, passing through thatched Rai and Sherpa villages, heading towards Lukla and the old Tibetan trading center of Namche Bazaar. The Arun Valley is a region which sees few trekkers, so the trek will be a real adventure and a look into the timeless mountain villages and cultures of Nepal.
Once at Lukla and the Khumbu region, the festival of peaks begins; heading north towards Cho Oyu and the border of Tibet, the 8000 meter giants tower above us as we trek through Sherpa villages. We hope for a white Christmas in a cozy Gokyo lodge while exploring the stunning, turquoise Gokyo lakes and climbing Gokyo Ri, and trek the spectacular eastern trail back to the old Sherpa villages of Phortse and Pangboche, taking time to stop at the many gompas (monasteries) including the well-known Tengboche Gompa, and visiting old Sherpa homes, maybe having a cup of salt-butter tea or chang in their traditional kitchens.
Incredible scenery all around, no other trekkers until Lukla, traditional Nepali villages backed by the high snow-peaks of the Himalaya followed by a bit of holiday pampering in the Sherpa homeland, on the shores of spectacular Gokyo Lake; who can beat that for Christmas!
And we'll celebrate the New Year together in Kathmandu ...
Thanks a million times, once again, for the absolutely amazing trek - what a fine, life changing, experience, thanks to you and your amazing crew.
Lindsay H, Arun Valley & Gokyo 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed being part of your November 2008 Everest High Passes trek. Thank you very much for providing such good leadership, for your ever-cheerful companionship, for solving the various problems that arose and for ensuring that we all had a good time. We were an excellent group of really nice, diverse and interesting people whose friendship I enjoyed and value; as a consequence of your good organization and the staffing you provided each and every one of us was able to maximize what this trek has to offer. Visiting the Everest region was a wonderful and awe - inspiring experience that I treasure. I look forward to traveling with Project Himalaya again.
David K, High Passes Nov 2008
[About Kim] I swear you are one of the most amazing people I've ever met. You simply never ceased to amaze me with your seemingly endless energy. On top of that you were always there to see how I was doing and never failing to have a solution to whatever was the problem of the day. Your professionalism, organization, and friendliness shined at every turn.
Lowell, Everest Gokyo & Kala Pattar Christmas 2005
I enjoyed the trek much more than I could ever expect. When I left home my main goal was basically just to see all those big mountains, I didn't think so much all the other things I was going to see in Nepal. So, I was truly amazed how great it was to meet local, ordinary people, especially kids, and I felt so privileged when you made it possible to visit many homes of local people. The trek itself felt like being on a trek with a good friend who has excellent knowledge of local culture and people, and who knows very well the mountains also. You did so well in all areas when compared to any other trekking guide (local or westerner), at least I felt very safe every time we were trekking, and nobody was as well taken care of as I was when we were staying in lodges. You had nice attitude all the time and you even took it calmly when I was grumpy or irritable. Maybe the most important thing for me was that in some nice way you were so easy to be with, I mean that even sitting beside you and just reading without saying a word felt so natural; this doesn't happen with everyone
Olli PL, Everest High Passes 2008
Kim treats her porters very well and considers them a vital part of our trip, caring for them with better wages, some outfitting, first aid, responsible loads, and an itinerary that also took their needs into account. The porters often joined us in the lodge, and we felt they were a part of our group as was appropriate. ... All of this goes without saying that the Everest region and the two high passes (Cho La and Renjo La) are utterly magnificent! We were indeed at the top of the world, and I felt like with this trek's itinerary we really experienced the entire area.
Ann McC, Everest High Passes 2007
Kim - Your energetic leadership and guidance and positive outlook have made this trip truly memorable. Thanks for your kindness and inspirational support.
Jim W, Everest Gokyo & Kala Pattar Christmas 2005
Arun Salpa Valley & Solu Khumbu Regions
This trek is a feast of green, fertile valleys, dramatic snow-peaks, traditional mountain villages and diverse cultures, a real journey through eastern Nepal starting in one of Nepal's many remote outposts, Tumlingtar. Many of the inhabitants of the middle hills below Lukla are Sherpas, the tough, devout Tibetan Buddhist mountaineers of international repute. They live mainly in the upper Solu region (and of course are the main inhabitants of the Khumbu region), farming barley, wheat and potatoes, tending their livestock, visiting their gompas, celebrating many Buddhist and Tibetan/Sherpa festivals and of course, trekking and climbing the high peaks in the Khumbu region.
Their neighbors, the Rai, tend to live further south, in clean, orderly, fertile villages with lots of opportunity to farm rice, millet and corn. Their dress is different from the Sherpas, who one might mistake for Tibetans; the Rai woman wear colorful lungis, and are adorned with golden nose rings while the men wear woolen vests, their khukri knives hanging at their sides. They often travel for work, many join the army, and you will meet them often working as guides, 'sherpas', cooks or porters in the trekking industry, many opening restaurants and lodges as they become more wealthy. The Rai, like the Sherpa, are of Tibetan descent but speak a Tibeto-Burmese dialect which is still only orally transmitted. Their religion, called Mudum, is an ancient form of animism, worshiped in the home, with shamans and holy men (dhami) enacting the many rituals and ceremonial rites. They are considered some of the oldest inhabitants of Nepal, and are of the Kirat ethnic group.
After our trek through the lush Salpa Arun Valley, we continue north through Sherpa country towards the border of Tibet, trekking up to the spectacular Gokyo valley lakes under clear, blue December skies. Once in Gokyo, there is lots of exploring to be done, Gokyo Ri to climb, and spectacular viewpoints for sunrise and sunset. We spend Christmas day at a wonderful lodge in Goyko, right on the lake. We usher in the New Year in Phortse, at one of our favorite lodges, after trekking down a little used trail on the eastern side of the valley, a wonderful route topped by 8000-meter snow peaks.
En route, we visit many of Kim and Lhakpa's favorite spots in the Everest region; Lhakpa comes from Thame, just west of Namche, and has relatives throughout the Khumbu, and Kim has been coming to the Everest region for years, her home away from home. We'll stay in cozy Sherpa lodges, stop at old Sherpa villages off the usual tourist trail, visit Buddhist gompas in Pangboche and Tengboche, and experience the real Solu Khumbu during our favorite month in the Everest region.
*Note that although we try to follow the itinerary below, at times local trail or weather conditions may make slight changes necessary. The trekking itinerary may also vary slightly depending on everyone's acclimatization rates.
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore the Kathmandu valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 3 - Fly to Tumlingtar 400m
We'll head to the domestic airport after breakfast for our flight to Tumlingtar in eastern Nepal, the starting point of our trek through the Arun Valley. It's a beautiful flight over terraced fields, hills and traditional villages with a range of Himalayan 8000 meter peaks peeking over the haze in the distance. The landing is classic old-style Nepal; a sharp turn, a steep descent to a large, grassy field and we've arrived!
We stay the night in a simple guest house as the campsite in Tumlingtar no longer exists. After unpacking, we'll have some lunch and you have the afternoon free to reorganize your gear and explore the rustic village of Tumlingtar. Pick up some of the wonderful and cheap tangerines (suntala in Nepali) that are available from locals selling them in the streets; they're exquisite. Kim, Lhakpa and the staff will go into town to buy some supplies for the trek, and you're welcome to tag along if you want. There's a local barber for any of the guys wanting a quick pre-trek shave and haircut ...
The next few nights will be warm, so dinner will just be in a t-shirt; enjoy it while it lasts, and have a cold beer to wash it down as we're sleeping at 400 meters ...
Day 4 - Trek to Kartiki Ghat 315m
The Arun Salpa Valley trek will be wonderful days of 'old-style' trekking through the idyllic middle hills of eastern Nepal, a very diverse region of many ethnic groups, shamanistic religion interspersed with Buddhism and Hinduism, traditional villages, green, terraced fields, small, riverside trails and basic accommodation.
With the mountains rising in the hazy distance, Chamalang to the left and Makalu to the far-right, we set out with our crew from our campsite at Tumlingtar, following the small road through the long village and adjoining series of small, lively villages and colorful tea-houses; there will be many locals sharing the trail with us, as well as trains of mules carrying cardamom, the biggest cash crop in the region. After an hour, we reach a fantastic suspension bridge with side ties stretching across the wide Arun River (which we don't cross) and drop down to the sandy riverside, peppered with rounded beach rocks. Following the river closely, we pass terraced rice fields, buffalos, thatched huts and villagers working in the fields. Soon, the Chewa Besi primary school appears on the right, a scenic spot under banana trees, followed soon afterwards by the small, local tea-houses of Chewa Besi where we stop for a packed lunch.
After a game of 'karom board' at the tea-house, we continue to Kartiki Ghat, where we cross the Arun river on a long suspension bridge. The main village, known for its bees and honey, stretches out just past the bridge, and our campsite is not far past the village, a scenic, green campsite right on the Arun River, between two gurgling streams. Enjoy the warmth of this 'tropical' site, and pick up some cold beers from town ...
Day 5 - Trek to Goethe Bazaar 685m
We start the morning with an easy twenty minute walk to the lovely village of Balwa Besi, where we cross a small, sparkling stream on a wooden bridge and then start climbing through a lush, tropical forest of cardamom, banana and papaya trees, and past thatched huts to a chautara (local rest-spot, here also a spectacular viewpoint) high above the hazy valley and the Arun River. Leaving the lovely Arun behind, we have 600 meters to climb before lunch, and the trail of red mud can be slippery if the weather has been damp. Contouring around hillsides and continuing to climb, we reach Marduwa, a small hamlet where we'll stop for a cup of tea. We soon pass more terraced fields and clusters of ochre and cream mud-brick houses built in the local style, eventually stopping for lunch near Nepali Danda, also called Charlissay, named after a Chettri caste that lived here many years ago, and have not reputedly migrated to the Kathmandu area. Soon we reach the intersection of the old trail from Dingla, and after contouring around a hillside we reach a larger trail near a cluster of banyan trees. The forest thickens again as we ascend and then drop back down to the Irkhuwa River, crossing two bridges, the second one a long suspension bridge, and following a riverside trail for another hour or so to Gothe Bazaar, the inhabitants a mix of Gurung and Rai. At Gothe Bazaar, the local woman will have bunches of sweet bananas and tangerines for sale at the first section of the village, and at our lovely campsite a few minute down the trail, we should be able to find some local pumpkins for soup. Keep your eyes out for brilliant, blue Kingfishers looking for fish in the river.
Day 6 - Trek to Salpa Phedi 1520m
Another balmy but early start as we head towards Lankuwa village and then further on to Dhobani, a village of paper-makers (the same that you see in the Kathmandu markets) en route to Salpa Phedi.
We leave Goethe Bazaar by crossing the stream, and soon pass many thatched huts, some for buffalos and others simple dwellings. Delicious tangerines are sold along the trail again by local villagers, so don't miss the chance to pick up a bunch for the day. We cross the river on a flexing bamboo bridge, and trek through several small, picturesque whitewashed villages with thatched roofs and ochre bases. We pass through Lankuwa village and then start on a steep, uphill climb to Dhobani; along the way, keep an eye out for the traditional fishermen with their long, bamboo nets. We continue through a thick, tropical forest of cardamom and other large-leaf trees, climb the 'waterfall steps' and eventually reach Tala (Lower) Phedi, where they also make paper. We'll stop for a cup of chai at the small teahouse (we bought great kukuri knives here last year) before hiking another hour uphill, on a lovely hill-side trail backed by undulating grasses, rocks and fruit trees until we reach the sprawling settlement of Salpa Phedi. The staff should have already reached the grassy campsite, a welcome sight!
Someone will undoubtedly be around with a basket of expensive but much needed beers and cokes ...
Day 7 - Trek to Jau Bari 2000m
We shorted this day to avoid a 1500 meter ascent in one day, but if people are fit we can do it all today. We did the past two years but it's a bit daunting. IF we divide the day into two, we'll hike the three hours up, steeply, to Jau Bari and camp on the grassy campsite of the Sherpa Lodge. The day below assume we've started from Salpa Phedi.
Day 8 - Trek to Guranse (Chayaksila) 3000m
We start the morning with a steep climb on stone steps, passing through the many dwellings of upper Salpa Phedi, and then keep climbing with increasingly amazing views down the valley, the layers of hills various shades of icy-blue below us. It will take us several hours of climbing to reach Jau Bari, a village where they grow the best barley in the region and where there is a Sherpa gompa (monastery) just below a lovely Sherpa-run campsite. We'll stop for a breather here, and then continue past the terraced fields and then through rhododendron forests, increasingly thick, past the turnoff to Salpa Lake just past the small 'Guranse La', to Gurasne or Chayaksila, a local porter stop with several Sherpa houses which translates as 'best rhododendrons'. We set up camp in back of one of these houses, on one of the only flat plateaus in sight, and are treated to a breath-taking sunset and sunrise. It will be colder here, so you'll want your down jacket for the evening ...
Day 9 - Trek to Sanam 2840m
On to the pass! The Salpa Bhanjyang, 3360 meters, with its single chorten, is the border of Solu Khumbu and the Sherpa region. It's a short ascent, just over an hour, to the chorten-topped and windy pass where we have wonderful views of snow-capped Karylung Peak. We descend steeply through the forest, following a small stream and several mani walls, to the Lidung Khola, where we cross to the north bank and continue on to Whaka with its few local tea-houses. An hour or so afterwards we reach the picturesque Sherpa village of Sanam our stopping point for the day. Sanam, 'the land of the sky', is a lovely village with traditional Sherpa houses and terraced fields, which we look down upon from our grassy campsite. Fresh yogurt is sometimes available, so we'll take a look around the village for some. We'll have the afternoon free, enough time to explore the village or do some much-needed washing up!
Day 10 - Trek to Gudel 1965m
Leaving pleasant Sanam, we contour along a high trail with broad views, first reaching Duire (Tiu), a group of simple lodges. Soon afterwards, we arrive at the rustic gompa at Nimtsola; here Sherpa influence ends and the land of the Rai begins. The trail is now larger as we contour another few hours along the hillside, finally reaching the many buffalo huts and terraces fields of the large Rai village of Gudel. The equally sprawling village of Bung and the Naulekh mountains are visible in the distance, as is Mera Peak. We descend steeply on slate steps to our campsite in back of a local teahouse, Namaste.
This is a very interesting, bustling and traditional village, so we have scheduled an afternoon and extra day here to explore and take photos of the colorful dwellings and villagers. We'll keep this day in hand in case we need it earlier or later, however ...
Day 11 - Gudel (Extra Day)
We've scheduled a rest an exploration day in Gudel as it's one of the most interesting and picturesque village in the Arun Salpa Valley. The village is also reported to grow the most delicious taro in the region, so we'll search out some for dinner. Enjoy!
Day 12 - Kiraunle Gompa 2540m
Having given you a rest day yesterday, we'll make up for it with a long(ish) day today, but a fantastic one, one of the favorites of last year's group.
It's a long and steep descent past rice paddies and cardamom plants, on stone slabs, to the river far below us. We cross a long, wooden bridge and begin the equally steep ascent to Bung. Following the stream on a rock trail, we ascend a switch-backing trail after crossing the Hungu Khola; Bung begins soon afterwards and continues upwards, built on the hillside, the lowest houses of the village about 400 meters below the upper reaches. Bung means 'beautiful flower' in Rai, and is indeed a lovely, large village of Rai inhabitants, renowned for its tongba, or millet beer, and which has received much development aid recently. Villagers will be selling oranges at the start of the village, and half way up there are several shops where you can pick up a coke or snack if you want. The school is just past these shops and the entrance to the Makalu Barun National Park (across the trail). We keep climbing, eventually the trail flattens a bit, and we continue to trek with great views and cooler temperatures until we reach a grassy plateau where we'll stop for lunch. Soon afterwards, there is a small, friendly tea-house where we might stop for a glass of chai and give the owner some business. Just afterwards is the local school of Kiraunle, and a bit of 'off-trail' climbing leads us to the grounds of Kiraunle-Chambaling Gompa, recently built, our campsite for the night.
Day 13 - Trek to Sibuje
Another pass day, this time a two and a half to three hour hike up to the crest. Heading straight up out of the campsite to the ancient, moss-covered chortens and mani walls on the ridge, we pass through an ancient rhododendron forest, and at the intersection by the small group of tea-houses, head up towards the Surkie La pass, at 3070 meters. There are better views at the sightseeing platform just above the narrow 'pass' ridge where we'll be able to see Karylung, Khatang and Numbur, so head up for a look. The descent is steep, down a rocky trail and through a forest of bamboo, and soon we arrive at our destination for the day, Najing Dingma, a tiny hamlet and grazing area with a few small tea-houses and shops, set on a flat, green section of the hillside. It's a wonderful spot with expansive views, so after lunch grab a camp-chair and a book and enjoy the afternoon!
Day 14 - Trek to Pangum 2850m
Another fantastic day, another big climb and another pass! After breakfast we leave Najing Dingma and descend through a leafy woods for an hour to Gai Kharka (a kharka is a seasonal grazing settlement in Nepali, and gai means cow), another small village of only a few thatched huts, and continue descending steeply to the rickety bridge (built by the Himalayan Trust, obviously many years ago) high above the Inkhu Khola. From here, we've got a steep ascent of which the owner of the small Nepali tea-house near the bridge said 'it's so steep that even the monkeys fall off'. Enough said, it's a steep climb of two to three hours to the next village, but as we gain altitude we're treated to spectacular views up and down the Inkhu Valley, eventually spotting Mera Peak looming in front of us. Shubuche (pronounced Sibuche; the local Sherpa name is Ningso, which means dense bamboo forest) is a large village at 2660 meters, spread out over the hillside, market by Tibetan prayer flags at the lower end, with two local tea-houses just past the flag and a small gompa at the upper reaches. We'll pass last year's campsite in lower Shubuche, a lovely, a grassy plateau carved out from the hillside, in back of which is a friendly Sherpa lodge.
It will take us another hour of climbing to reach the two small tea-houses below the pass, and then another hour to reach the Pangum La (or Satu La) pass, at 3175 meters. We see the trail from Jiri, the Trakshindo La and the incredibly scenic Sherpa village of Pangum below, and in half an hour reach our scenic campsite in back of a friendly Sherpa lodge. Pangum now has a few quite nice lodges, a Hillary school, fields marked by wooden fences and a Tibetan Buddhist gompa off to the northern side of the village. We'll have a fantastic sunset out over the wide open valley, with Karylung rising majestically in front of us, across the Dudh Kosi (the 'milk river' that leads to the Khumbu region).
Day 15 - Trek to Phakepani 2775m
The camping has been great, but we'll welcome the next few nights in cozy Sherpa lodges from now on. Heading out of town past the long rows of old mani walls, we look out at the hilltop villages of Bupsa and Karikhola in the distance, but veer right on a smaller, wooded trail towards the small hamlet of Kharte two and a half hours away and then the Khari La ('wide pass'). Once fortified with a cup of tea at Kharte, it will take us a good hour and a half of contouring and climbing to crest the pass at 3075m meters, but the views are amazing from the top. We'll have our first view of the sacred Sherpa peak, Khumbu Yul Lha (Khumbila), and Gyachen Kang, and then Kusum Kangaru just around the corner. It's a quick descent on a rocky trail to the main Jiri trail, and then just another half and hour to the charming village of Puiyan, where we'll stop for lunch at the Beehive Lodge. Another enjoyable hour of hiking along a wide trail with broad views and over a small ridge brings us to Phakepani, where we'll bed down at Ang Dali's Mountain View Lodge for the night, a real Sherpa experience. Showers, cold beer and tongba are available, so clean up and head to the warm kitchen table for the evening ...
*** Some of our great trekking crew will head down from here,
and we will continue on with Lhakpa and some of the porters.
Day 16 - Trek to Phakding 2640m
After a good night's sleep and a lodge-cooked breakfast, we head through the long village of Puiyan, past the lively school, and stay relatively level for a few hours. Getting closer to the upper Khumbu region, we continue to contour around hillsides, just below a small pass called Chutok La to another small hamlet of Surkhe from where we have a glimpse of the Kongde Massif (Nupla peak) and across (up) the valley, Lukla. After crossing a suspension bridge, a gradual incline and gentle series of cobbled steps leads us below Lukla to Chaunrikharka, where we amble along an old, walled trail pass many traditional Sherpa houses, mani walls and fields of barley, potatoes and vegetables, a dramatic entrance to the Upper Khumbu region. We continue through this magical village pasts more mani walls until we reach Chheplung, a village of checkered fields and a few small lodges.
Many wonderful days later we have met the main Lukla trekking route to Everest Base Camp and the Gokyo Valley, so will see a few more trekkers, although not so many in December. From here, the mountain views keep getting more and more spectacular as we head north towards the turquoise Gokyo Lakes. Ahead of us is Karylung peak, covered in snow. We are trekking along the Dudh Kosi (river) along a centuries-old trading trail from Nepal to Tibet. It is well traveled by stout, heavily loaded Nepali porters and Tibetan traders (Khampas, most distinguishable by the length of red or black tassel wrapped around their heads) conducting business between the weekly markets of Lukla and Namche with Chinese and Tibetan goods brought over the 5700m Nangpa La (pass) from Tibet.
From the small hamlet of Thado Kosi, while crossing a small, shaky bridge, we view the three sister peaks of Kusum Kanagaru to the east. More beautiful walking over cobbled trails takes us through Ghat and the best-maintained cluster of mani stones and prayer flags in the Khumbu. The local lama, owner of the Lama Lodge in Ghat, is responsible for this magical setting. At Phakding, a lively village a half hour's walk away from Ghat, we’ll stop at Ang Sani and Jangbu's Shangri La Lodge, well deserving of its name, and settle into our rooms and around the wood-stove for the night. Since it's our first night together as a large(r) group and Kim's birthday, we'll perhaps try some of Ang Sani's tongba, a mild beer-like beverage, to celebrate the occasions. But just a little bit since we're acclimatizing!
Day 17 - Trek to Namche 3450m
Passing by the small tea-houses servicing the locals and workers in Phakding, we cross a long suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi and trek above the river, climbing a bit to reach the first lodge of Benkar on the left. Continuing over a small bridge, we continue through the rest of Benkar, the first village to attend the Monjo school. Another suspension bridge, another climb, and we reach Chumoa. One more small bridge and larger climb on uneven stone steps, and we finally reach Monjo, where we stop at Kali and Chombi's Kailash Lodge for an early lunch before the dreaded Namche hill. Monjo is a spectacularly situated Sherpa village where Kim taught English years ago.
Just past the lodge, school and newly painted mani walls we enter the gateway to the Sagarmatha National Park. Once inside the new gate, we descend to the river and cross yet another suspension bridge to reach Jorsale village, and one more bridge before continuing along the sandy riverside trail, the shores peppered with large, rounded rocks.
Bring your five-colored Tibetan prayer flags to hang on the long suspension bridge over the confluence of the Dudh Kosi (milk river) and the Bhote Kosi (river from Tibet) and send prayers out into the Everest region! The steep hour and a half climb to Namche is broken half-way up the hill by our first view of Everest, Lhotse & Nuptse, and will prime you for the bakery once we arrive at this old trading village. You'll need the extra energy to reach our guest house, Natang & Pemba's wonderful Moonlight Lodge, scenically situated at the top of Namche, up a long flight of stone steps, at 3500 meters. The lodge has a warm shower, a large library, beers in the cabinet and delicious home-cooked food, and will do laundry if anyone has grungy clothes.
Namche Bazaar, now the most prosperous trading village on the old trade route with Tibet, sits in an amphitheater surrounded by mountains. From here, we have perfect views of Kongde Ri in front of us, Kantaiega, Thamserku and Kusum Kangguru to the east and Khumbila behind us. Down-valley, the hills and valleys of the route from Solu to Khumbu from Jiri sit shrouded in hazy shades of grey.
Day 18 – Namche
An acclimatization day, so you are free to take a short hike up the hill to get some great Everest views, or just to relax. Other options: visit the Namche Gompa perched on the hillside, the Sherpa Cultural Center museum and re-constructed Sherpa house or the National Park Headquarters museum. The Tibetans are often in the center of town in a dusty bazaar with their goods from China. Alternatively, you might choose just to indulge yourself at one of the two famous bakeries, shop for some yak bells or hand-woven Himalayan hats, look through the gear shops for good trekking gear, chat with the sociable Sherpas in the village, or just relax in preparation for the trek. Watch out for dzopkios and cows wandering the narrow streets.
Day 19 - Trek to Kyangjuma (via Khunde & Khumjung) 3615m
Taking advantage of the bright morning light, we trek up the steep hill in back of Namche towards the lively, old Sherpa villages of Khunde and Khumjung, passing through the old airstrip at Syangboche en route. On the ridge just above the airstrip, still used for cargo, there are great views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, and a yak-breeding center. We may see some Himalayan Tahr en route, as there is a large herd living in the vicinity. We have the morning to visit Khunde's hospital, where Lhakpa's uncle Kami is the head doctor, and many cases of AMS have been treated. We will visit the local gompas of both villages, Khumjung's gompa housing a Yeti scalp. These adjoining villages are some of the original villages in the Khumbu region, both about 600 years old, and are wonderful examples of local Sherpa architecture with their winding stone walls, yak paddocks and wood and slate houses. If we are lucky, we will run into Sherpa friends who will invite us in for some salt-butter tea, climbing up a wooden ladder over the straw-lined manger to get into the main house on the first floor. Both villages sit below Khumbila, the sacred Sherpa peak, and near a famous rock-mural of Guru Rimpoche, and the views of Ama Dablam from Khumjung are breathtaking.
It's just a quick hike down through rhododendron forests to Tashi and Lhakpa's Ama Dablam lodge, perched dramatically on a steep hillside overlooking the peak of the same name. Great Everest sunset views to be had just five minutes above the lodge. This is one of everyone's favorite stops; Tashi is as charming as they come, the rooms are lovely, and we're treated to real Sherpa hospitality.
Day 20 - Trek to Dole 4050m
After a scenic breakfast on the deck and a bit of posing for photos with Tashi's pet yak, we start the morning by contouring around the hillside to Mong La, at 4000 meters, a wonderful spot overlooking both the Gokyo and Kala Pattar valleys, with a breath-taking panorama of peaks: Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Malan Palan, Taboche and the newly named Kamzang Peak. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in the Everest region, is perched at the intersection of the Khumbu & Gokyo valleys in front of us. The misty layers of the hills and valleys south of us are visible down-valley, as are Monjo and the bridge to Jorsale.
We'll have lunch at Mong La, enjoying the view, and then descend steeply through the pine forest to Phortse Tenga by the river, immediately ascending again. The route is beautiful, past frozen waterfalls, up cathedral-like stone staircases, through old rhododendron and Himalayan Birch forests, across small rivers and past tiny Sherpa settlements. The forest is home to several musk deer, shy creatures who peer out at us through the tangle of rhododendron. We arrive a few hours later, having had our first view of the 8000 meter Cho Oyu, at the summer herding settlement of Dole, where we stop for the night at Kami & Dawa Dolma's Himalayan Lodge or Urkien and Kanchi Maya's Yeti Lodge. Dole translates as 'plenty of stones', and anyone who has extra energy can cross the stony streambed and ascend either of the neighboring ridges for some good Himalayan views.
Day 21 - Trek to Machermo 4430m
Hoping for a sunny morning, we continue up the Gokyo valley, gaining elevation, along a trail high above the valley floor, Cho Oyu looming in front of us at the border of Nepal and Tibet for the later part of the walk. We pass some small Sherpa herding huts en route, and after a few more hours of trekking we arrive at the charming yak-herding settlement of Luza. This is one of the many seasonal settlements of the Khundu and Khumjung inhabitants; the next one is Machermo, which we reach 45 minutes later, having climbed steeply out of Dole to a set of prayer flags marking the end of the settlement, and ascending and descended once again to Machermo. Machermo is the name of a local female goddess, who we hope will bless our stay here!
We'll get some rooms at the quite luxurious Namgyal Lodge, and enjoy some good Sherpa cooking around the warm dining room stove. Again, anyone wanting an afternoon hike can climb up the ridges on either side of Machermo.
Day 22 - Trek to Gokyo 4800m - Christmas Day
Another beautiful and mountainous trekking day; we set off early as the walk up to 4800 meters is more difficult than usual at altitude. In the Gokyo valley, once past the lodge at Fanga, the character of the trekking changes abruptly. The opaque powder-blue lakes are often on the verge of freezing over, and sometimes perform a Himalayan symphony of expanding and retracting ice. We have entered the grassy ablation valley running beside the Ngozumpa Glacier, and have our first sight of Gokyo, a seasonal village and grazing area built beside the third, and biggest lake. Gokyo has become something of a Himalayan resort without the crowd – at least in terms of the comfortable lodges with sunrooms, unbeatable views, excellent food and warm stoves. A more spectacular setting is difficult to imagine, and our guesthouse, the Cho Oyu Lodge, perfectly situated on the lake-side, is a little piece of heaven. Dali Sherpa, our host, is always ready with a smile and a laugh, and with her son and daughter helping at the lodge, you'll feel right at home. Lured into the wonderful sun-room, it is easy to spend the rest of the day chatting with fellow trekkers, watching shaggy yaks amble their way in and around Gokyo (sometimes casually sticking their heads inside the lodges) and admiring the lake-side views.
*** It's Christmas Day, so we'll have a fitting feast and a few bottles of wine in the evening, perhaps even some snow, a tree and some presents. A real Himalayan Christmas!
Day 23 - Gokyo
After breakfast, we cross the small, glacial stream, jumping over the stone 'bridge' to get to the base of Gokyo Ri (5360m), just five minutes from the lodge. It will take us about two hours of switch-backing to reach the prayer-flag festooned summit; take your time as the views down valley past Gokyo lake are great the whole way up. From the top, we are treated to a spectacular, 360 degree panorama of the Gokyo lakes, the glacial moraine and the surrounding Himalayan giants; Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu among many others. To the west is the Renjo La (4515 meters) pass, the gateway to the Thame Valley and the Nangpa La, which the Tibetans cross with their yaks en route to Namche.
A nice afternoon excursion is a circumambulation of Gokyo lake; there is a beach at the other side, and then Buddhist and Hindu shrines just past that, a walk of 1 to 1 1/2 hours. And for sunset, don't miss a quick hike up the moraine ridge in back of the village for glorious sunset colors on Cho Oyu, turning pinker down valley towards Cholatse, Taboche and Thamserku.
Day 24 - Gokyo
A few options for today, he first a scenic day hike up the Gokyo valley, past two or three more glacial lakes, towards Cho Oyu. There are several trails that snake up this gorgeous valley, one emerging on the ridge overlooking the creaking glacier, another passing the eerily deserted fourth lake with it’s white, stony beach. The unobstructed view of Everest from Scoundrel's Point (4995m), just before the fifth lake, is reason enough for the hike.
Others might opt for a more restful day and just wander along the lateral morraine just a short walk above Gokyo. And then, of course, there is always just relaxing in the warm sunroom of the lodge with a book ...
Day 25 – Trek to Phortse 3780m
A truly epic day of wonderful hiking on high mountain trails which skirt the ridges on the west of the river. We trek back along the lakes to just below the stone steps, where we cross the river to the small hamlet of Na, and then gradually climb back up, contouring on a high trail along the western side of Cholatse and Taboche peaks. Looking back, we have an unobstructed view of Cho Oyu and the glacial valley, and ahead Ama Dablam. There are several lovely villages, yaks in the walled enclosures, for tea and/or lunch (although perhaps with limited options in December), other scenic, stony seasonal villages, a few ridges topped with chortens to climb, magnificent views of Taboche, and lots of wildlife, so enjoy the day.
We arrive early afternoon at Phortse, in time to stop at the colorful Phortse Gompa at the very top of the village. Phortse, a maze of small, walled lanes, traditional houses and now many newer lodges, is one of the oldest villages in the Khumbu. The village perches scenically on the promontory protruding from Taboche, which towers majestically above it. Many Daphne, musk deer and blood pheasants live in the woods that border the village, and you can almost always see them early and late in the day.
We stay the night at Ba Nuru and Pasang's Phortse Lodge, which boasts one of the regions nicest dining area, a good sound system and TV, delicious food and a stocked bar ...
Day 26 – Trek to Namche
A wonderful walk along well-used yak trails down to the bridge over the Dudh Kosi, through rhododendrons and past ancient, moss-covered mani walls to Debouche, where we'll stop at the ani gompa, or nunnery. Afterwards, we start the steep climb to the spectacularly set Tengboche Gompa, backed by the massive wall of Kantaiega. We'll stop to visit the gompa, have some tea, and descend steeply to Phunki Tenga and the bridge across the river. A last steep climb and some contouring through scrub, pine forests and rhododendron eventually leads us to Kyangjuma, where we stop again for a sunny lunch on the terrace of Ama Dablam Lodge. A further 1 1/2 hours of contouring brings us to the top of Namche Bazaar and back to the Moonlight Lodge where Pemba and Natang have our rooms ready.
Day 27 - Trek to Lukla 2845m
Up early as it's quite a long day back to Lukla. The descent of that long hill that we plodded up less then a fortnight ago seems amazingly short and easy on the way down. Jorsale, just before the bridge to Monjo, is the home of Phuru Diki, one of the girls Kim sponsors (she's now in school in Kathmandu), and we will probably run into her youngest sibling en route. After one last steep hill to the National Park gate, we reach the welcome sight of Monjo, where we'll stop at the Kailash Lodge for a cup of tea. Dawa Yangi, another girl that we sponsor, and her younger sister live in Monjo, so we might run into them in Monjo. We continue back to Lukla along the same trail, although it always looks different coming from the opposite direction. We’ll stop for lunch in Phakding, and finish the trek back at Dawa Phuti & Ang Pasang's Paradise Lodge in Lukla, where the adventurous can try some of Dawa's famous Sherpa tongba. This cozy dining room is one the nicest in the Everest region, so it's always an added treat to return there after the trek. Ang Pasang works for the airport, so we are in good hands for our flight out the next morning.
Day 28 - Fly to Kathmandu - New Year's Eve
Bags packed and ready to go early as we fly out of Lukla to Kathmandu on Yeti Airlines in the morning; taking off from the Hillary Airstrip is just as exciting as landing! Flights our of Lukla are sometimes delayed by bad weather, so we have an extra day in Kathmandu just in case.
In Kathmandu, back at the Kathmandu Guest House, long, hot showers await, and grubby clothes can be dropped at the laundry. In the evening, after changing into the appropriate New Year's garb, we'll get together somewhere in Thamel for a great New Year's Eve celebration, a fitting way to end our journey. Happy New Year!
Day 29 - Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for recovering from last night, shopping, some sun in the garden of the guest house, shopping, cafe-ing or perhaps a visit to Boudhanath for some 'koras' to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. And sights we missed during the first few days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner together. This is also the extra day in case of cancelled flights out of Lukla.
Day 30 - Depart
Sadly, we send you off to the airport for your flight home.
Extra Days in Kathmandu
*** If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, a trip out to Bhaktapur or Patan, Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities, a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and expansive sunset and sunrise mountain panoramas or a multi-day trip out to Chitwan or Bardia National Parks. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.
Tashi Delek & Namaste; we'll see you during your next trip to the Himalaya!