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Everest - the classic route
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'I decided I really like the look of these magnificent things'
The Everest region has some of the highest peaks on our planet, but more; the Sherpas who settled there centuries ago carved out a way of life beneath the peaks they believed Gods resided on, and to walk through their villages early in the morning as they burn juniper to chase away evil spirits with the glittering peaks all around is to be truly blessed.
These peaks are part of Sherpa life and mythology, and this trek is a pilgrimage to view these peaks, seeing them in different lights and moods - but more, we visit the gompas and monasteries the Sherpa's ("people from the east") have built over the 500 years since they have settled in their mountain sanctuary beneath the sacred peak of Khumbila.
This trek follows the legendary 'Expedition route' into the region, crossing the 3530m Lamjura Pass, once followed by hundreds of trekkers every year, but increasingly neglected in favour of the half hour flight to Lukla - the route goes against the grain of the land, with some long up hills, before that magical moment when the first Himalayan giants appear on the horizon - and a week later, they are cleaving the sky above you as the sharp thin air catches at the throat.
Once in the high places, we visit both the old gompas of the region, and the very best viewpoints, Gokyo Ri high above the turquoise Gokyo lakes, the Cho la pass, Kala Pattar and of course Everest Base camp.
This is a superb introduction to the lovely trails of Nepal, with the best guides; Joel has been trekking and leading treks in the area for 20 years, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and culture of the region, and the co-leader Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa is from a Khumjung family who run a lodge in the old yak herding area of Luza. Together they will encourage you to linger and learn more of this special place, to see and not just to look - and to take home a lasting experience.
A few final thoughts on the Everest Pilgrimage Trek now that I have had a chance to collect my thoughts -
1) This trip exceeded my expectations. I've certainly heard and read a lot about the Khumbu Region but until one actually experiences it in person you can't appreciate all the things that make it magical - the mountains, the monasteries and the incredible personal warmth and hospitality of the Sherpa people.
2) The Gokyo Lakes region is preferable to the Everest Base Camp valley. It's less crowded, the scenery at the lakes and Reno Pass is breathtaking. You get to see Cho Oyu up close and personal. One of the Germans staying at the lodge in Gokyo said it was much better than Everest Base camp.
3) As in India, Project Himalaya in Nepal provides a superior "value quotient" to trips with comparable itineraries offered by other companies. Project Himalaya offers an expert western guide as well as a seasoned Sherpa serdar for a price that is 25% - 35% less than the competition.
4) Many companies boast about their long standing relationships with local lodges etc. Joel literally knew the owner of every lodge we stayed at - many for up to twenty years. This translated into clean, reliable accommodations. We had no problems with stomach issues due to food.
5) Lhakpa, our Serdar, personifies the positive strength of character of the Sherpa people. He always thought a couple of steps ahead of what client needs would be. He had great personal integrity and was very generous in inviting us to visit his family home for lunch.
6) Joel's expert knowledge of the area enabled us to see hidden gems like Lauda monastery and to adjust our itinerary on the fly to visit Ama Dablam basecamp - "like being in an IMAX film".
Thanks again for a great trip and best wishes for what looks like will be a very successful summer 2008 season.
Fred M, Everest Pilgrimage trek 2008
Really Joel, you were the best. We (I) wouldn't have tolerated a group of people that were shying away from being where they were, and with whom. On the other hand, I don't want to be a young dead Russian girl, traveling alone with no back up. So everything was perfect.
You of course were cantankerous , when you weren't being howlingly funny. I, of course, was my ever delightful, charming self, who wanted to shoot people indiscriminately when I'd had too much. Which was most of the time.
It was the best trip ever, Joel - and because of you.
Brenna (and Joe Stein), Everest Gokyo 2006
I have very much appreciated what a wonderful guide you were and how much you enriched our experience of Nepal--how much you allowed us to experience Nepal- by putting us in it instead of putting yourself between us and the experience.
We're back home and already missing you and Nepal. Thanks again (and again) for your knowledge and good humor, introducing us to your friends, and -- above all -- for your companionship and generosity: it was a privilege and joy to share the journey.
(Brenna and) Joe Stein, Everest Gokyo 2006