Trekking in Nepal had been on my “absolutely must-do someday” list for well over 20 years. I longed to see and experience first-hand the Everest region of the Himalayas with its incredible mountain scenery. Plus, the rich, colorful culture of the Sherpa people, with its roots in Tibetan Buddhism.
Well, that someday became reality in April 2012. That’s when I embarked on a 9-day Nepal trek in the Himalayas with a group of friends. It turned out to be a “trip of a lifetime!” And, what was great – it was a doable trip for us mere mortals. Mountain climbing – no way! But trekking just meant hiking, and that we could do!
In this blog post, I share highlights & photos of the Nepal trek. It was a perfect mix of an outdoor adventure & a fascinating cultural immersion. Our particular lodge-to-lodge trek stayed at lower altitudes in the Everest region, which was filled with cool Sherpa villages. To me, this was much more fun than the longer, more grueling, high-altitude Everest Base Camp treks that other hikers do.
And No Worries – you don’t need to be a “wannabe trekker” to enjoy the post. I realize most people have ZERO desire to trek in Nepal. Instead, you can simply come with me on a vicarious journey to one of the planet’s most magical regions – no hiking boots needed! And, there just might be a Mount Everest sighting – just saying…
However, if you ARE a hiker or wannabe trekker who might actually enjoy a Nepal trek, this post is for you too! You will gain real insight into what it’s like to trek in the Everest region. Plus, at the bottom of the post, I share a link to the Active Travel Adventures podcast where I was interviewed by Kit Parks about the Nepal trek – and we discuss more of the nitty gritty trekking details on the interview.
So, let’s begin our Himalayan journey ….
I undertook this grand adventure with a group of 12 friends – 6 of us from San Diego and 6 from Hawaii. At that time (back in 2012), our average age was 55. I had dreamed of doing this Nepal trek for so long & the time had finally come to make it happen. We weren’t getting any younger!
I hired Gary Scott, an Aussie living in the States, to be our group leader. Gary had been trekking in Nepal for over 25 years and is a true mountaineer. So, we knew we’d be in good hands with Gary and the local team of Sherpa guides & porters he would assemble. And, yes, they all turned out to be great!
The “core trekking trip” was 14 days – including 4 days in Kathmandu (2 on each end) and 9 days trekking. Many of the group (including me) added one more week after the trek to explore more of Nepal. We all started with two full days in Kathmandu, Nepal’s bustling capital – as most treks seem to do.
Those two days provide an opportunity to explore Kathmandu’s many great sights while getting over the worst effects of jet lag & travel exhaustion. Plus, it gave us time to meet with Gary for formal orientation and final preparations for the exciting journey ahead. We would leave our main suitcases back at the hotel & pack just our trekking gear in the duffel bags that we were provided.
Flight – Kathmandu to Lukla
Lukla is the gateway to the Everest (or Khumbu) region. This pretty mountain town is located at 2,860 meters (around 9,300 feet). Just about anyone who wants to “get up the hill” to places like Namche Bazaar or Everest Base Camp must fly in here. In fact, Lukla’s busy little airport has been called the “World’s Most Extreme Airport!” That’s because you’re essentially landing on the side of a mountain on a very short runway.
Only specially trained & certified pilots can fly into Lukla airport, which was renamed Tenzing-Hillary Airport in 2008. Plus, planes only fly during daylight & in good weather. Clouds & other bad weather frequently close the airport for a few hours and occasionally, even a few days. Let me also mention that there is a 700-metre (2,000 ft) angled drop at the end of the runway to the valley below. Yep – flying here is not for the faint of heart!
Great (& Short) Video About the Lukla Airport
Here’s a wonderful 4-minute video about Lukla’s airport. Click the highlighted link (the next one in blue) to take you to the Nepal Trek “Podcast Show Notes” from Active Travel Adventures. Go part way down the page, and you’ll see the graphic for the video (screenshot below), which you can click to watch. Enjoy! If working, the annotated captions (speech bubbles) are quite entertaining.
Luckily, the weather gods smiled down on us! We arrived early at the Kathmandu airport on April 4th for our 6:45am flight, which was on time. It was a short, 35-minute flight to Lukla on Agni Air’s 16-passenger turboprop plane. The scenery out the window was beautiful. And, oh, was that landing ever fun – one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever experienced!
In Lukla, we met up with our Sherpa team – 4 guides (lead guide Pemba & his wife Nima, plus Rinji & Dorjee) and 7 porters. Our sweet, shy, and mostly young porters would each carry two of our 30-pound duffle bags along the trail. That way, we trekkers could walk each day with only a day pack. The photo (below right) shows how they do it! Amazing…
While the Sherpa team was busy organizing our gear, we had breakfast, while still in disbelief that we were actually here in the Himalayas! Soon, it was time to head off & begin our Trekking Day #1. We first walked through the cute town of Lukla, with a population of around 1,200. It gave us a nice introduction to the Everest region’s distinctive architecture & its ethnic Sherpa people.
Trek Day #1 – To Phakding
Saying goodbye to Lukla, we passed through its iconic “Welcome” trekking gate (photo, top of page) & entered the trail. Great news for today. We would be mostly going downhill to our first night’s stop in Phakding. This little riverside village has an elevation of 8,600 feet (vs. Lukla’s 9,300 ft). On the way, we passed through terraced farmland & pretty wooded forests.
Gary & the four Sherpa guides walked with us trekkers as we spread out along the trail, with at least one guide always at the front and one at the group’s rear. After 4 hours of trekking, we arrived around 3pm at our “Sherpa Farmhouse” lodge. It was the most rustic lodging of our trip, but it still beats camping by a long shot!
The photo (below) shows that our plywood sleeping room (shared with friend Debbie) was quite basic – just a bed frame with a thin but adequate mattress for use with a sleeping bag (which we all carried). The bathroom was down the hall. The rooms were not heated, like most places we stayed. But the dining room was warmed by a strong wood-burning stove & we enjoyed a nice dinner there.
Show Trekking Map The Trek Map here & attached shows our general route
Trek Day #2 – To Namche Bazaar
Day #2 would be our longest & toughest trekking day – taking us from Phakding’s 8,600 feet up to around 11,300 feet in Namche Bazaar. This uphill 4 ½ mile segment took us 6 hours to walk, but the captivating scenery & thrill of trekking along the busy trail kept us entertained.
The first half of the day, we passed through the beautiful valley of the Dudh Kosi River. Quite a few times, we had to cross the river over metal suspension bridges. For people like me with a fear of heights (and drop offs), these prayer-flag lined bridges with open metal slats (allowing you to see down to the river – sometimes far below!) were a little (okay, a lot!) unnerving. Luckily, I survived with help from my trek-mates & a couple cute local girls. With time & practice, the suspension bridges got less scary.
The trail passed through small Sherpa villages, giving us a fascinating view of local life. The culture of the Sherpa mountain people of the Everest region comes from strong Tibetan roots, going back around four centuries. Seeing the colorful Tibetan architecture of people’s homes & their Buddhist temples, I felt like I had been transported back to Tibet (from my 2001 trip there!).
The Sherpa people’s devout Tibetan Buddhism faith was evident everywhere. There were large colorful prayer wheels you would turn clockwise to “purify your soul,” plus smaller brass ones. Intricately carved mani stones were inscribed with Buddhist devotional mantras, and prayer flags were fluttering in the wind everywhere. It was spiritual heaven!
The Everest Highway
This trail from Lukla to Namche Bazaar – and beyond to Everest Back Camp – is nicknamed the “Everest Highway.” Since there are no roads in the region, everything has to be flown into Lukla and carried up the trail by human porters or pack animals (a mix of mules, dzos, yaks).
As you can imagine, the main trail is shared by everyone – local people, trekkers, porters & the cargo-laden animals. We learned early on to step far out of the way when a pack of mules or yaks passed by us on the trail. As for the porters, you truly can’t believe the size and weight of the loads that these small but incredibly strong men were carrying up the hill. Some loads weigh over 100 pounds (45 kg).
We stopped for a quick lunch in Jorsale – both to break up the day & fuel ourselves for the final stretch. We enjoyed dal bhat, a popular Nepalese dish we ate quite often on the trek (photo below). It’s steamed rice with a cooked lentil soup (dal). Soon, it was time to face the infamous “Namche Hill.” Turns out, we walked up that hill for 3 straight hours! So, what a thrill & relief it was to see Namche come into view.
Namche Bazaar – The Region’s Epicenter
The town of Namche Bazaar is nestled in the mountains, in a horseshoe-shaped bowl with almost 1,000 feet of elevation between its upper & lower levels. Certainly, no fitness gyms are needed here for the locals! Namche is the Khumbu region’s largest town and main trading center. It has a population of around 1,500, not including the multitude of trekkers that it houses & supports.
I absolutely loved this bustling Sherpa town with its cool trekker vibe! It’s a cultural mishmash of the local people living their daily mountain life & all the international visitors. Namche is filled with lodges & guest houses, restaurants, bars, tourist shops, trekking stores, plus Internet cafes and tasty bakeries.
We spent two nights in Namche at the Sherpa Land Hotel (above left), which was certainly a step up from the lodge in Phakding. We had real beds and our own bathroom, plus hot showers most of the time. There was a nice dining room, where we enjoyed good dinners both nights. In fact, we ate all our meals at the lodges.
Free Day in Namche
We awoke our first morning in Namche to freshly fallen snow – our first of the trip (but not our last)! This Day #3 was a non-trekking day to give our bodies a chance to acclimate to the 11,500 ft. altitude.
So, we all used the “free day” to explore Namche’s sights. Many of us visited the local Buddhist monastery (Namche Gompa) where we met & took photos with the resident monk. Plus, we toured the town’s excellent Sherpa Cultural Museum.
In the afternoon, we all met up at the “Liquid Bar” – Namche’s famed small movie theatre. We watched the fascinating 1997 film “Into Thin Air” about the tragic 1996 Mt. Everest climbing expedition – all while having drinks & eating popcorn. Check out the photo of Nima with her Red Vines licorice. It was all so surreal & so fun!
We continued the party with a visit to a local teahouse run by Pemba & Nima’s lovely daughter & her adorable 2yo son (below left). We invited the whole Sherpa team to join us trekkers there for a drink, which they happily did. The hard-working porters also love their beer, especially when someone else is paying!
Namche Bazaar is great fun for wandering & exploring, along with lots of good shopping. I did buy a beautiful small thangka painting from the men in the photo (a few rows above), which is proudly hung on the wall of my meditation area. We also made a quick visit to Namche’s Saturday market where local ladies were busy selling fresh produce & the men were selling yaks.
Trek Day #4 – Khunde & Khumjung
We bid adieu to Namche and set off for the sister villages of Khunde & Khumjung – about a 3-hour walk along a beautiful stone path set amidst dramatic mountain scenery.
Our first stop was Khunde (elevation-12,600 ft), the village where Pemba & Nima live. They graciously invited us to their house for lunch, so Nima had hurried ahead to prepare for us. It was a real treat to be hosted in their quite-nice home & see how a Sherpa family lives.
We then visited the next-door village of Khumjung (elevation-12,400 ft). These two traditional villages have rock walls dividing stony fields (for growing potatoes & grazing yaks) along with stunning mountain views. We made a quick visit to the Khumjung Gompa (monastery), where we saw young monks reading & chanting scriptures.
Debbie & I went with Pemba to visit Khumjung’s school – the original school there was built by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1961. After his successful Mount Everest summit in 1953 with Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund fell in love with the region & the Sherpa people. Over the years, Hillary & his Himalayan Trust spearheaded many other educational & health projects in the region. He died in 2008, at age 88 – a true hero to so many around the world!
Everest View Hotel – Our Special Lodging
From Khumjung, we had a short walk to reach the lovely Everest View Hotel where we would be spending the night. Set on a ridge (elevation-12,700 feet), the hotel has a spectacular, out-of-this-world view down the valley to Mount Everest – the world’s highest peak at 29,000 ft. – which is only 20 miles away! Most trekkers come just to enjoy lunch or drinks on the hotel patio, but we were actually staying here – a decadent trekking treat.
This hotel’s location was going to be our best chance to get some great Mount Everest views (weather permitting), since our group was not trekking (happily!) all the way to Everest Base Camp (EBC). EBC is way farther down the valley & much higher up– at 17,500 ft. It’s about a 5-day trek further on. Now that’s some serious trekking!
I have written a whole blog post just about this amazing stay at the Everest View Hotel – which you might want to check out. It’s entitled: Nepal Trek: Easter Surprise at Everest View Hotel. Thus, I won’t share any more of the story here. However, the post does have some great photos you might enjoy. Just saying…
Trek Day #5 – Thame
Setting out from the Everest View hotel the next morning in fresh snow (photo above), we set our sights on Thame, a remote Sherpa village. The 5-hour trek – plus a lunch stop in Thamo (photo above right) – took us through more beautiful & diverse scenery, including along the Bhote Kosi River valley.
Thame is a popular destination on the non-Everest Base Camp trekker circuit. Nestled among tall mountains, the small village (elevation–12,500 ft) is home to many famous Sherpa mountaineers. In fact, Thame was the childhood home of Tenzing Norgay – yes, that Tenzing!
We arrived mid-afternoon at our lodging, where we would spend the next 2 nights. Thame’s delightful Yeti Mountain Home is part of a chain of six nice 3-star guest houses. In addition to hot showers, our beds actually had comforters & electric blankets/pads – what a luxury!
Visit to the Thame Monastery
During our free day in Thame, we visited the famous Thame Monastery (gompa), one of the oldest in the Khumbu region. It’s situated at 12,900 ft., so we had a little bit of a climb to get there. In doing so, we walked along a ridge with beautiful views of the surrounding area, including up a valley that ultimately leads to Tibet (~4-5 day walk).
We were told Thame’s Lama (chief monk) died about 3 years ago and hadn’t yet been replaced. Around 50-60 monks live at the monastery, in quarters above the temple. At Nima’s request, a sweet young monk (age 13) opened the temple door so we could take a quick look inside. It was very similar to the Namche gompa.
On the way back, we saw several yak trains with locals herding their cargo-laden animals. Those big furry yaks are critical beasts of burden for these high altitudes. I will admit I had a fascination for those yaks!
Back at the lodge, we enjoyed happy hour (with nuts & popcorn) before a delicious dinner in the cozy dining room/lounge. Then the real fun began! Local village women came to entertain us – with singing & typical Sherpa line dancing in their beautiful Tibetan-style clothing.
Then, we guests were invited to join in – first for one big line dance & then pretty much a dancing free-for-all! It was very sweet & so much fun – a wonderful cross-cultural experience. At the end, we collected tip money for the ladies, which we were told they would use to help preserve the trails.
Trek Day #7 – Return to Namche Bazaar
From Thame, our original plan had been to trek (for 8 hours!) to the Yeti Mountain Home lodge in Kongde (elevation–14,000 ft), where we would spend the night. However, the evening before, our trip leaders decided that the snowy & icy conditions on the high trail would be too dangerous. So, they quickly arranged for us to return instead to Namche for one more night. Fine with me!
We awoke in the morning to snow actively falling in Thame. So, we cancelled our morning hike & left quickly (photo above) to return to Namche – just to be safe & not get stranded. We hiked back over a different trail – the “High Trail” – and arrived in town around 11am.
We enjoyed another “chill day” in Namche, including a repeat visit to the “Liquid Bar” (for a different Everest movie) and a fierce game of Bananagram before dinner.
Trek Day #8– Phakding
We all know the adage: “What goes up, must come down!” Well, in the case of the incredibly steep Namche Hill, it was SO MUCH easier going down! And, not surprisingly, it took only half the time (1.5 hours). Our group, which had spread out quite a bit along the trail, all met up for lunch at Jorsale – at the same café/restaurant where we had stopped on the way up.
During lunch, it started to rain fairly heavy, so we hung out for a while longer in their cozy cafe. Some brave souls even tried the Mount Everest whiskey! (photo above) The rain finally lessened so we could finish our walk to Phakding in just a light drizzle. However, there were lots of muddy & slippery stone steps, so we had to be careful. We spent the night again at the Sherpa Farmhouse lodge.
Trek Day #9 – Ending Back in Lukla
Happily, the weather cleared for a lovely final day of trekking. We again walked along the Dudh Kosi River and passed back through the various small villages. Our group met up at a café along the trail to rest & savor the final moments (photo below).
From there, it was like a “horse to the barn!” It took just 45 more minutes to reach Lukla’s iconic “Welcome” entrance gate, arriving at 12:30pm. Our trek was complete! Lead guide Pemba signed the Lukla officials’ logbook to document that our group had safely returned from the trek. And, we got the big thumbs up for our accomplishment!
We leisurely walked back through town, heading toward the Lukla airport. Turns out, our hotel for the night – Everest Mountain Home & Kitchen Lodge – was conveniently located right next to the airstrip. After lunch, we had free time to explore Lukla, before new rain & hail drove us back inside.
That evening, we enjoyed a lovely Farewell Dinner at the hotel with the full Sherpa team. We trekkers made various speeches & gave our heartfelt thanks to the incredible team of guides & porters who had made our Nepal trek such an incredible & unforgettable experience!
As seems typical for treks, we had all collected trekking items (clothing & gear) we no longer needed and wished to donate to our wonderful Sherpa family. Items like hiking shoes, poles, warm gloves, shirts, Nalgene water bottles, etc. After the speeches, Pemba took charge of the donation table & the handing out of the items. It was so much fun to watch our new friends delight in their new gifts.
Day #10– Return Flight to Kathmandu
Our return flight to Kathmandu was scheduled for some time in the morning, but the process was much more “fluid” than the Kathmandu to Lukla flight. We needed to be packed by 6am & ready to leave for the airport at a moment’s notice – whenever Gary got the flight call. So, we had an early breakfast at the lodge’s restaurant, which was a pleasant place to hang out with its patio’s front row airport views.
Thankfully, we awoke to clear skies We were also delighted to hear the first plane arrive in Lukla at 6:35am. Yep, it looks like we’re getting back to Kathmandu today! While waiting, we said final tearful goodbyes to our Sherpa guides & individually gave them our monetary tips. In return, they gave us beautiful white khatas, ceremonial Buddhist scarves, as a gesture of farewell & safe journey!
Around 10:30am, we got the call to go to the airport. Our luggage had already gone on ahead. We went through security, got our boarding passes, and waited for our Agni Air flight to arrive. We departed Lukla at 11:20am, with a final last look at the beautiful mountain views. We were all feeling sad about leaving but also deep gratitude for such an amazing trekking experience – and one that had gone so well!
Our return to Kathmandu was on April 13th (2012). That exact day happened to be Nepal’s New Year. Gosh, we had something else to celebrate! And, yes, I will freely admit that it was a thrill to check back into our luxury Kathmandu hotel where our suitcases with fresh clothes awaited – and our bathrooms were guaranteed to have hot showers! Ah, yes, life is good!
Okay, the “Just Saying” tease is over. Time to share… Yes, we did get to see incredible views of Mount Everest – a sight I will remember the rest of my life! And, we didn’t even have to hike to Everest Base Camp! That morning, a large plume of snow, as is often the case, was blowing from Everest’s summit. Apparently, that iconic plume provides evidence of the strong jet stream winds that can buffet the world’s tallest mountain.
My “Nepal Trek” Podcast Interview with Active Travel Adventures
I was interviewed by Kit Parks about the Nepal Trek for her “Active Travel Adventures” podcast – back in May 2018. The “Hike Nepal’s Everest Region in the Himalayas” interview is focused on folks who might want to do a similar trek.
Here is the direct link (in blue) to episode #017- Nepal Trek. Full podcast is 49 minutes long. The bar to play the podcast is at the top of that page (like below).
On the podcast interview, Kit & I get into more of the actual trekking details like:
- What is the trail like?
- Talk a lot about the altitude & acclimatization
- How much hiking did we do each day?
- How was the weather – when are best times to go?
- How difficult would I rank the trek – on scale of 1-5?
- What advice would I give folks who want to do the same trek?
Note: If you’d rather read than listen, I have a Transcript of the Full Podcast Interview.
Comments: Have you ever done a trek in Nepal? If so, please tell me/us more – what region, how many days, etc. If not done yet, is a Nepal trek like this on your bucket list?