Nepal’s mountainous expanse isn’t your typical relaxing holiday destination, but for us, the thought of the Himalayas was enough to bring the country to the top of our travel list. As you probably know, it is home to Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak. What is less commonly known is that it is also home to eight of the world’s ten highest mountains. Nepal borders only two countries: China (to the North) and India (well, you guess where it borders India). The Himalayas stretch for 2,400km (1,500mi), beginning in Pakistan and spreading across India, Bhutan and Nepal, finally reaching Tibet.
Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya was both incredible and humbling, and we are thrilled to share our stories and experiences.
Our journey started in Kathmandu where we had a rough wake-up call in the middle of the night to meet with our guide, Bhim, and return to Tribhuvan International Airport, which we had left just a few hours before. We lined up behind dozens of fellow trekkers to catch our flight bound for the small mountain town of Lukla (2,680m / 9,334 ft), where is located what is known as the “world’s most dangerous airport”. The airplane was a tiny 14-seater that the pilot navigated through valleys and hollows, almost painting the ridges with the airplane’s wings. To finish off the thankfully short flight, the landing strip was by far the shortest we had ever seen; sloped upwards to help slow down the plane. We tried to ignore the danger and the eventuality that we might die before even having started our trek, haha… But with great risk comes great reward, and ours was a sunrise not soon to be forgotten. Think Himalayas under cotton candy skies.
We had made it to Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport, named in honor of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary (oh really?), the first people to have summited Everest. Lukla is the starting point for many trekkers in the region and has a great vibe, in part due to the impatient groups of trekkers anxious to get off the mountain and back to the ‘comfort’ of Kathmandu, and partly thanks to the – still fresh and clean – trekkers who, like us, can’t wait to start their trek and discover what lies ahead.
After an authentic Nepali breakfast (hmm okay we had chocolate pancakes), we started our trek! In the true spirit of being first timers in Nepal, we frenetically pulled out all of the photography equipment we could get our hands on to take pictures and videos of a herd of yaks behind us, as if this was the only occasion we would have to see them (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
To exit Lukla, trekkers pass through the Pasang Lhamu memorial gate, named after Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese woman to have summited Everest in 1993, an accomplishment that would unfortunately be her last.
The trails are rife with Buddhist prayer wheels which bring luck to those who turn them (so long as you use your right hand and turn them clockwise). This way, the mantra can be read the way it was written in Tibetan and you can avoid being screamed at by your guide.
The Lonely Planet’s guide to Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya describes the first day as “easy and gentle”. We know before setting out that, given our level of fitness, no day will be “easy and gentle”. Bhim’s advice to progressively acclimatize to the altitude was to “go slowly, don’t run” … yeah, as if we were going to start sprinting! Luckily for us, the trail was mostly downhill and whenever we faced an uphill climb, we told ourselves that the reason we were out of breath was because of the lack of oxygen in the air. Sure, okay.
The landscapes and valleys are still lush with vegetation, a stark contrast with the glacier that awaits us. This was the first of many suspended bridges along the way used to cross over valleys and river beds. I never dared to look down haha… Despite their rather skeletal appearance and their constant swinging from left to right, these bridges are extremely resistant.
We often had to make way (mountain side, not river or valley side, for safety) to let our trekking companions pass– the donkeys, yaks and dzos (cross between a cow and a yak), carrying either provisions for the villages (gas/water canisters, potatoes, etc.) or the duffel bags of trekkers.
It was amazing to see flowers blooming in the middle of November like they would in the springtime.
A few hours later, we arrived at our final destination for this first day, the village of Phakding. Since the day wasn’t a long, arduous one, we could ready ourselves (both mentally and physically) for the days to come. We stayed, throughout the entirety of the trek, in what is locally known as “tea houses”, small mountain lodges built out of plywood that also provide a dining area for guests.
“Dal bhat power” is a slogan for trekkers in Nepal! Dal bhat (or “Nepalese set”) is a traditional Nepali dish composed of yellow lentil soup, vegetable curry, and rice; perfect to give your body the energy it needs and to give you a feeling of satiety for hours on end (you can get unlimited refills…). After a ginger tea and my daily journaling, the first day came to an end and we unrolled our sleeping bags just before 6:30 pm. Tomorrow, hopefully after a good night’s rest, destination Namche Bazaar!
Starting point: Lukla (2,860m)
200m descent / 50m ascent
Arrival point: Phakding (2,610m)