My recent trek to the base of the highest mountain on earth was an experience I will cherish throughout my life. From beautiful alpine forests to arid, rounded landscapes formed by melted glaciers, the journey through the lap of the mighty Himalayas was exhilarating to say the least.
In the happening two weeks, I had landed on the most dangerous airport on earth, got hit by a yak train, almost blew myself off from a dizzy suspension bridge and weathered a mini blizzard at 18,000 feet. Still it wasn’t that bad after all. Those fourteen days of living-out-of-a-sleeping-bag, waking up to astounding views of the tallest peaks on the planet and trudging through rocky trails with nature for company – were undoubtedly some of the best days of my life.
I had practically no trekking experience before attempting this, an odd day-hike here-and-there was all I had in my trekking resume. So the trek, often described as the toughest on earth, could not have been easy for me. It wasn’t. At times, I had to follow a 10 to 10 rule – 10 steps, and then a 10 sec break to catch my breath back. That helped my struggling lungs – hankering for oxygen, get some respite. I had learned loads about my body and my mind had to push my preconceived limits of the possible and the impossible. Once I started from point A, I had to make it to point B; there was no looking back or stopping in between.
Tea House Trekking
The best thing about trekking in Nepal is that it’s relatively easy in terms of logistics. Doesn’t matter if you are a rookie with no experience of carrying a pack or fixing up camps, you can always hire a porter to carry your stuff and stay at a lodge with a basic bed and a roof on the top. The Everest region receives approximately 15000 trekkers every year and boasts of having the highest permanent accommodations on earth, even at 18,000 feet! I had seen the best and the worst of these accommodations, popularly called “tea houses”. At some places, I was surprised at the luxury of a hot towel served before a meal and at others I felt switching sides on my bed might tilt the whole building!
Going with a Porter
Initially, I had a moral dilemma about hiring a porter/guide for the trek, but decided for it as it supports the local economy. After I met Sambhu (my porter cum guide) and spent the first day with him, I knew I had taken the right decision.
We had some wonderful conversations on the local culture, the mountains and the social issues in the country. He showed me the unconventional routes and would often act as a translator in a remote village facilitating some interesting conversations with the locals there.
Without him I would have wandered through the picturesque valleys lacking a connection to the people inhabiting them.
Affable locals and the Bollywood Connection
I found the people of Solukhumbu (Everest Region) to be extremely warm and welcoming. I was always greeted with a smile and a Namaste. The fact that I am an Indian always gave me an edge in the conversations with the locals. Most Nepalese consider Indians as their brothers from the south and take pride in explaining to foreigners that we are one and the same, culturally and socially. Indian Movies and Music are extremely popular in Nepal and their influence ensures most Nepalese speak manageable Hindi. On Sambhu’s request, I had put my earphones at bay and kept my ipod’s speaker on, while playing music. Every time a Bollywood number came up on the playlist, a passerby would stop with a wide smile – “Aap India shey Ho? (Are you from India?)”
Trekking to the Mt Everest base camp was long in my “List of Things to do before I die” and I am glad I pushed myself to tick it off this year. But the interesting thing about “Bucket Lists” is that they keep changing. Once I reached the Base Camp and saw hundreds of multicolored tents dotted along the Khumbhu Glacier, I knew climbing the mightiest mountain on earth had slowly slipped in to my mind and eventually into my bucket list.
The trek, contrary to the popular perception of being extremely difficult is actually doable by anyone with a moderate level of physical fitness and mental toughness. I say that because most of the times, I found my mind pushing the limits for my body. Having said that, I have seen hordes of people go back by rescue helicopters every morning and a 69 year old make it to the destination.
Every new day was like conquering a new level. But the sense of achievement one gets after passing each level is unparalleled to any other travel experience on earth and when coupled with the breathtaking panoramic scenes, it was an experience of a lifetime!
This was a summary of my experience at the trek. Watch out this space for detailed posts on the preparation, tips and stories you have never heard before.