Khumbu Experience: Trek of a Lifetime

‘If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?’- Bread in their song ‘If’.

That is precisely how I feel about the once-in-a-lifetime trek to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) that I embarked on recently. A thousand pictures, or an amount of writing equivalent to a 588-page book, can’t completely illustrate the wonderful experiences that the journey had endowed me with. How can I put it into words? Where do I start? When I checked my mailbox today, I saw the postcards I sent to myself from Kathmandu and Namche Bazaar (one of the points where we spent some nights during the trek). A smile crept on my face as beautiful memories from the trip wormed their way into my mind…

It all began when I came across in a local newspaper a black-and-white picture of a long suspension bridge erected high up in the mountains and across deep chasms, with the caption describing a trek in the Himalayan region of Nepal. It instantly piqued my curiosity. My interest was so intense that I spent the next few days making the necessary arrangements. Four months passed, and I was in the Khumbu region (homeland of the Sherpa), face-to-face with the adventure I had signed myself up for.

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A suspension bridge with colorful prayer flags providing access to Tengboche (3870 meters). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Prayer flags in 5 colors: red (fire), blue (sky), white (cloud), yellow (earth) and green (forest). They are usually placed along bridges, at mountain ridges, stupas, and so forth. Local people and trekkers write good wishes on them. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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One of our guides, Passon Dawa Sherpa. Donkeys carrying goods crossing the bridge.

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A group photo before the Hillary suspension bridge, which provides access to the climb to Namche Bazaar (3440 meters). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

I wish I could wholly depict the beauty of the trek’s physical environment in words. A shortfall on my part could do a grave disservice to the grandeur of the Khumbu region (also known as the Everest region). A wild river with its raging currents snaked through the area.

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Breathtaking view of the Khumbu valley.

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The river is not always visible to trekkers, but the sound of its raging currents tells us that it is there all along. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Trekking along the wild river that runs through the region. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

The vegetation consisted of a diverse range of lowland and highland species; I was very lucky to have witnessed the bloom of the national flower of Nepal, the Rhododendron, when I was there.

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Rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal.

The little towns/villages with their colorful buildings dotted the trekking route.

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Namche Bazaar, one of the main villages on the trail to EBC, where I send one postcard to myself :-). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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The kind of congestion we encounter in Namche Bazaar, ‘donkey jam’! Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Namche Bazaar, where I buy my yak bell from a very nice lady :-). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Dingboche (4400 meters).

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Gorakshep (5180 meters), the last overnight point before EBC (5364 meters).

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Yak Yak Yak 😀

Snow-capped peaks loomed large in the distance, some of which are the world’s tallest. At higher points of the trek, I constantly feasted my eyes on the splendor of Ama Dablam.

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Ama Dablam, one of the most stunning mountains in the world, with its pyramid shape. Seen from Dingboche (4400 meters).

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Ama Dablam, stupa and prayer flags; seen during the acclimatization trek in Dingboche (4400 meters).

Mount Everest was quite ‘stingy’ in making an appearance to people who had traveled near and far for its summit and base camp. I had my very first glimpse of a section of it in Tengboche, and it was truly a sight to behold! Again, a small part of it fed our hungry eyes on our way to and back from the Everest Base Camp.

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Clouds obstructing the visibility of Mount Everest; view from the Everest View Hotel (3880 meters). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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First sight of Mount Everest from Tengboche (3870 meters); that little section on top of that huge chunk of snow-covered mountain. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Second glimpse of Mount Everest, on the way to/back from EBC. That little pyramid-shaped section at the center top…very soon it is covered by cloud again. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Avalanche! I consider myself to be very lucky to have witnessed this natural event on the way to EBC. As an onlooker, it is an absolutely beautiful phenomenon! A perfect example of what I call Dangerous Beauty. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Trekking to EBC from Gorakshep. Photo Courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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EBC and Khumbu Glacier in the distance. Photo Courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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EBC and Khumbu Glacier. Photo Courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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A helicopter hovering above EBC and Khumbu Glacier. A scene I have only previously seen in Everest-based movies! It is surreal! Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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A group photo at EBC. We all make it :-). A big thank-you to the dedicated guides and porters of Himalayan Wonders. Photo Courtesy of Jason Newholm.

I set my eyes on Mount Everest for the third and last time when I attempted the trek toward Kala Pattar at dawn. I was told that was the point where one could be rewarded with a view of 65% of the world’s highest mountain. I was determined to go as far as I could. The weather was not hospitable for the sunrise trek. It was snowing and brutally cold; the wind was howling, and I was physically sick. We were supposed to be able to see Mount Everest, but the clouds obstructed the visibility. The trek became something more than I could handle. I had to give up after 20% of the trek. A part of me was disappointed with myself for falling sick (of all the days, why today?! Of course, it was beyond my control!). Another part of me felt incomplete because the ‘mission’ was not accomplished. I slowly made my way down to the teahouse, with a guide who had walked with me for most parts of the trek. At one point, he said to me ‘look, the clouds have cleared’. My eyes followed the direction of his finger, and there, looming large in the distance, was a pyramid-shaped section of Mount Everest, with some rays of sun illuminating it.  I felt the hands of clock had stopped ticking right there and then. It was just me, my guide and that small section of the world’s highest mountain. Despite my sickness, I let myself stare at it for I-don’t-know-how-long.  It was not my first sight of it, but the moment was beyond-words beautiful and meaningful for me. It was so deep that my eyes went teary. A way to see it was that the Mother Nature showed mercy on me…

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Trekking toward Kala Pattar (5545 meters) at 5am, for a sunrise view of Mount Everest. The weather is not hospitable. We take the chances. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Trekking to Kala Pattar. The weather gradually improves as morning is approaching. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Despite my sickness, I still want a photo of me taken while attempting Kala Pattar :-D. I make it to only 20%, but am very glad I give it a try. If I had given in to my initial doubt, I would have wondered what if I had tried. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Trekking to Kala Pattar. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

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Third glimpse of Mount Everest. Again, it is not showing a big part of itself. Just a small chunk. But it is good enough. Very good, indeed! This moment is one of the most beautiful moments of my life! Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

I imagined the great mountains and mighty river must have witnessed thousands of trekkers trudging through the rugged terrain of the region over the years. I described them as my most faithful travel companions. When I could not see them, I knew in my heart that they were there. The mountains were just behind the clouds, and the sound of the river’s raging currents told me it was there all along. Without a doubt, the region is a place of serenity, peace and beauty.

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A perfect place for contemplation :-). Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

John Steinbeck said in his novel ‘Travels with Charley: In Search of America’ that a journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. I have previously done a number of treks. But as perfectly described by the author, the EBC trek has its own personality, atmosphere, and the experiences it has given me are novel and intimate.

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Khumbu region, a place of serenity, peace and beauty. It fills my travel journal with novel and deep experiences. Trekking in the region is like wandering in some very beautiful painting! The journey, my form of pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of Jason Newholm.

The cultural landscape of the region and the people with whom I encountered all added to the depth of my EBC journey. Their contribution is so great that they inspire me to write a separate (my next) article.

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Namaste! Mingma Sherpa, one of our guides 🙂

 

 

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