While checking out used bookstores in Bangkok, I found an old guide of Nepal; through it I was exposed to the idea of trekking on the Himalayas. It looked as the perfect escape adventure; walking day after day in the open nature, neither buses nor technology would bother me there. A few days later, I landed in Kathmandu.
Nepal provided another point of interest. The rich culture of South East Asia was the result of the adoption of the Buddhism brought by monks from Sri Lanka by a population that has been displaced from China many centuries ago. This mixture evolved into new and fascinating cultures. Nepal was placed in another point of contact between the Chinese and Indian cultures, creating thus an exciting point for comparisons. However, in Nepal the result was different; each one of the many ethnic groups kept its personal characteristics and culture without mixing with the others. Tibetans rolled their prayer wheels and placed Buddhist prayer flags while Newaris carved wonderful wood windows and worshipped colourful Hindu gods.
Trekking in the Everest Region
The trekking season in Nepal is limited due to climate conditions, therefore there is a choice to be taken among the four main trekking areas as not everything can be covered in one season.
Annapouna, touching the western side of the country, is the most popular trekking area and is considered to be a relatively easy trek. It promised hordes of western tourists, hence this option was scrapped. Lantang was more appealing since it was just a few kilometers north of Kathmandu and was the least visited trekking area, but it was too small for a long trek. Mustang touches the Tibetan Plateau, just north of Annapouna, but a compulsory guide was imposed by the authorities, diminishing thus its attractiveness. The last option was the Everest, which is widely considered to be the hardest trek in Nepal; I expected the path to be relatively abandoned. Additional advantages were a close sight of the Everest Mountain and several paths to choose from.
The Everest Trek
My choice within the many possibilities of this path was to make the long, historical version of the Everest route. I began from the village of Jiri and ended in Kalla Pattar, the "Black Rock," at 5545m above the sea level, just above of the Everest Base Camp on the Solukhumbu glacier. The similitude between the Nepali "Pattar" (rock) and the Indo-European variations of the name Peter was a fascinating reminder of the shared roots of those languages.
Many years ago, following the first conquests of the Everest, a short runway for small aircraft was built in Lukla, much closer to the Everest than Jiri, causing the long way between Jiri and Lukla to be abandoned by most trekkers. Nevertheless, I had the time, wanted to be thoroughly acclimatized to the heights, and generally loved the idea of an abandoned route, used mainly by the local porters carrying rice and other products to the isolated villages of the area.
I reached Kalla Pattar in eighteen days; only then, while looking at the imposing Everest summit, which was still more than three kilometres over my head, I began appreciating the monstrous size of the highest mountain on earth.
The first part of the trip, from Jiri to Kharikhola, crossed three mountain ridges, since the mountain ridges flow here from north to south; it was an excruciating experience of climbing up and then down, again and again; it was done mostly under the rain. The second part of the trip consisted of a straight path northwards, which is usually called the Everest Highway. It ends at the Everest Base Camp from where the climb to the mountain’s summit begins. I reached it at the beginning of a snow storm and returned surrounded by a cold, white landscape.
The trekking season in Nepal is limited due to climate conditions, the summer is hot and humid and the winter is freezing cold above the 4000m line; thus it is recommended to time the trek with the spring or the autumn. The autumn offers the added value of hosting the Indra Jatra festival, and it was my choice; I enjoyed the festival in Kathmandu and then left for the trek at the following morning.
A good book or a detailed map is imperative in order to make the trek without a local guide. Those guides are hard to find outside Nepal, but once in Kathmandu they are readily available in the used books stores of Thamel. I strongly recommend the Trekking in the Everest Region by Jamie McGuiness.
A permit issued by the Nepali government is needed to enter the Sagarmatha Reserve. The trekking permit can be issued in Kathmandu or at the entrance to the Sagarmatha Reserve, and since the costs are equal (1000NRP) in both cases the later option is the best so that it wouldn’t get lost in the way.
Other Costs and Needs
Once on the trail exchanging money or breaking down large notes is impossible, thus I prepared a large enough sum of money (at least 500NRP for planned day) in notes not bigger than 100NRP. The first days were cheaper, but as I got higher on the trail, the prices climbed up accordingly.
Iodine pills to purify the drinking water are not essential, but buying boiled water from the locals gets expensive on the higher zones, thus they are strongly recommended.
Regarding the rest of the equipment, the single most important article in the list are the shoes, a good pair of trekking shoes is essential.
Leaving Kathmandu: from Kathmandu (1350m) to Jiri (1935m)
I took a cyclo from Thamel to the Jiri’s bus terminal, just next to the Clock Tower. The old Tata bus left at 6:30am, but I arrived half an hour earlier because I wanted a good place. The ticket cost 250NPR and after buying it at the counter, I entered the bus with my luggage; I didn’t want a sudden rain to spoil it.
A seat by a left side window provided me with awesome views along the way, especially of the Lantang Range as soon as we left the Kathmandu Valley. The snacks I brought turned out to be a good idea since the terrain was difficult for the bus. It moved slowly and from time to time it did emergency stops to avoid collisions, sometimes travelling backward and forward to let other cars pass. As we climbed, the houses changed construction's materials from the regular, small red bricks in the Kathmandu Valley to irregular grey and big ones; the houses hang over dangerous slopes among rice and banana's fields. When it began to rain the driver stopped to coat the bus with a nylon sheet. The bus reached Jiri just before sunset.
Jiri is a small village, just a few wood houses around a single paved road with a basic bus station at the end of the road; from there on there are no paved roads.
Once there, after registering at the police booth just before the village, finding a guesthouse was my first task. There weren’t many to choose from and all of them offered similar conditions. That was typical for the rest of the trek: I paid only ten rupees for a very basic room, but I was supposed to eat there; a shower cost extra. Since the villages were extremely small, usually just a few huts, the eating limitation was of significance.
After finding a guesthouse, I used the last lights to check out the right entry point to the walking path because there were two eastward exits from the small bus parking lot. The lower one was a path for heavy vehicles travelling to a nearby village; the upper lead to the village of Shivalaya, my destination for the next day.