AT first I was little skeptical about going on trek to Everest Base Camp. One reads so much about it all, sees so many pictures that it all sounded too familiar to be exciting. Moreover the place has been frequented by far too many trekkers and the interior is beginning to get expensive and commercialised. However the charms of Everest won me over and I decided to go.
Kathmandu was reached on 11 May, 1972. We had arranged to fly to Lukla (Nepali Rs. 500/- for return) . The first day we took off in the twin-Otter aircraft; the view was grand with majestic mountains in front of us. We could not land at Lukla that time due to cloudy weather. We had to spend the next two days idling at Kathmandu. We flew again on the 16th and landed at Lukla at the second attempt. It was a very short, uneven grassy air-strip, the plane stopping just short of some houses. Our porters and Sherpas were arranged immediately. Ang Norbu was our Sirdar-cum-cook (N. Rs. 20 per day). I casually asked him about his experience. He had been on expeditions to Makalu Cho-Oyu, Gauri Sankar, about ten to fifteen times to the South Col of Everest and three to four times to the last Camp. You receive this sort of reply from many in this 'Sherpaland'.
After lunch, we started off. Two hours of walking through Himalayan potato fields brought us to Fakding. As it had started drizzling we decided to halt there. We put up in a warm Sherpa hut. Made out of wood planks, this hut has two parts. In the lower half, animals and other materials are stored and during harvest this is the main storage room. You get inside and climb up a tiny ladder which takes you to a huge room with a warm fire. It is customary for trekkers or village folks to halt at any of these houses. The host is normally paid a little for the fire wood and food. This luxurious warmth of the Sherpa huts can be often enjoyed on this trek.
That night as we sat around fire with our host, we heard about the Manaslu tragedy. Our host was the mail runner and therefore carrier of the fatal news. The whole community, he said, were badly shaken with the news.
We started early next day for Namche Bazar. We went along the Dudh-Kosi river all the time. Its water is not clear, but thick with sand and mud and hence the name Dudh-Kosi (milky r iver). As we climbed a steep and zigzag slope we met a German party all of whom were over 50 years, returning from a tough trek. I talked to few of them and was amazed at their energy and initiative. Maps were out and we kept talking about the region for a long time.
A little ahead, we came to a resting point and suddenly there was the Everest range right in front of us. This place, called the 'Everest Point' is about a 1000 ft. below Namche and its small platform can take about 20 people. It was the first view for us and it was the last view on our return. From now on we were always in the presence of Everest.
We reached Namche in about an hour from there. Namche Uazar is a comparatively big village situated in a bowl like valley and as you enter it from any direction you can view the whole village and spot every single house. Here again we put up at a Sherpa's house. This is the commercial headquarters of the district. Prices are about three times more than that at khatmandu and naturally the tourist is always the target.
A small climb on the right side of Namche gives you again a view of Everest and then as you go along the well trodden path towards Thyangboche, you are struck dumb with the magnificent massif of Ama Dablam towering over you. This peak is a constant companion from now onwards, and you see it from almost all angles during the trek. Our path is well cut all along the mountain. Dudh Kosi is flowing far below but always parallel to our track. We have gradually left behind forests and enter the world of bhojpatra and rhododendrons. Away on the hill top you can see Thyangboche monastry. It disappears as we decend to cross the Dudh Kosi; the climb is steep towards the end, but the surrounding jungle is heart-warming, with its flowers, green leaves. Weather was at it's best, the mountain air had increased our appetite, so at every halt we would munch a little from our cold tiffin. From the silver bhojpatra forest emerges the silver monastry of Thyangboche.
This monastry is the sister monastry of that at Rongbuk in Tibet. After the Chinese invasion the monks fled and rebuilt the monastryat Thyangboche, about thirty two years ago. One really wonders how, such workmanship could be done at a height of 12000 ft.
We were fortunate enough to meet the Head Lama of the monastry. He is one of the most learned Lama. His brother (himself a Lama) is well-versed in English and has studied in a leading University in England.
One can be most comfortable here, in a little hut, built for the trekkers by the Indian Everest Expedition Team.
Next day we proceed towards Phalung Karpo via Pheriche. You come down from Thyangboche to the most beautiful part of the trek. Nature is generous here with its beauty of flowers and trees, but this does not last for very long and you soon enter the world of rock and sand.
You see nothing but the grey and white stones all around you. Dudh Kosi is of course, by our side, and so is Ama Dablam.
The altitude sickness now begins to make itself evident, and the speed of walking is reduced.
Pheriche is not very far now; it is a deserted village and you can spot Phalung Karpo far away, which we reach in the evening.
We decide to take rest the next day. In the morning some of us go to the nearby Chhola-lake and others climb up to get a good view of Makalu but the clouds do not permit it.
Next day, a little ahead from Phalung Karpo the route climbs up and takes a turn towards Khumbu. We rest at a small point called Dukla. Seven silent pillars stand here in the memory of those Sherpas who lost their lives in the Japanese Everest Expedition.
Now the trek is not so pleasant, we are really dragging ourselves; every one is complaining of some minor ailments. The sight of Pumori makes us all forget all our discomfort. It is a beautiful peak; Ama Dablam is left far behind in our memory, and now this "daughter of the Himalaya" takes it's place in our heart.
We reach Lobuje; here another surprise awaits us, we meet three famous British members of the Mt. Everest Team on their return journey. Don Whillians, Douglas Scott and Hamish Maclnns. Weather is bad outside and we invite them for some coffee and snacks. We are thrilled to talk with them and the subjects vary from the Alps to the south face of Annapurna and the south-west face of Everest.
Next day the Khumbhu glacier accompanies us from Lobuje to Ghorakshep. We are at least two miles away from it; even then we could sense the fierce opening of cravasses in the icefall. Chilly wind greets us at Ghorakshep. The white dome of Everest's west shoulder shines in the night, Nuptse towers over us, roaring avalanches every now and then to prove its powers.
But we all await the next day, to view the great majesty of Mt. Everest.
The climb is steep. In about three hours time we land right in front of Pumori—at Kala Pathar. We turn around and the Nuptse wall seems to have moved aside to let us view Everest.
We are all reluctant to move from this sight but eventually we have to bid farewell to it.
Now we start back; from Ghorakshep to Lobuje. We divert i little, and instead of getting down to Phalung Karpo we go straight ahead from Dukla, in the direction of Dingboche. It is a peaceful but deserted village. This was something new to us, hut very commonly practised in the mountain villages. Every village moves according to the season with all its live-stock and belongings and the routine goes on year after year. Things are .it stand still in this village. Green potato fields and stone houses .ire spread all over, but there is not a single soul in the village; not even a stray dog.
A day of relaxation at Thyangboche is most rewarding; on the way back we make another diversion towards Khumjung and kunde villages.
We also visit the New Japanese 5 Star Hotel—a fantastic project.
Back at Namche, we are right in time for the Saturday bazar.
Next day we have a leisurely walk to Thami. Many of my Sherpa friends from Darjelling, originally come from this village and I was glad to meet some of their families. The Head I una of Thami monastry is a six year old; it is amusing sight to see all the well learned and elderly Lamas bowing down to this ‘Avtari' Lama.
Back at Namche, we are in time to join the celebrations for the return of the Sherpas from the Mt. Everest Expedition. Local wine flows freely with songs and dances in full swing.
We walk back to Lukla and relax in a Sherpa house.
Our small five seater Cessna plane has arrived at last, it's time lo bid good-bye to these mountains. We are returning to civilisation. With the valleys full of cloud below and the ranges in the distance, I reflect and consider myself happy to have come here and enjoyed so much. I have made friendships, both with the Sherpas and mountaineers; friendship to last for all the time.