|Our treks||Expeditions||Contact us||About us||Old photos & Diaries|
Everest Sherpa Christmas Trek
Kathmandu - Namche Market - Gokyo Valley - Phortse - Tengboche Gompa - Christmas in Monjo
Celebrate Christmas with the Sherpas in their homeland, the Solu Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalaya, and trek up to the spectacular Gokyo valley lakes under clear, blue December skies without the usual hoards of tourists crowding the trails and lodges.
We visit many of Kim and Lhakpa's favorite spots in the Everest region; Lhakpa comes from Thame, just west of Namche, and has relatives throughout the Khumbu, and Kim has been coming to the Everest region for years, her home away from home. We'll stay in cozy Sherpa lodges, stop at old Sherpa villages off the usual tourist trail, visit Buddhist gompas such as Tengboche, and experience the real Solu Khumbu during our favorite month in the Everest region. This all in addition to spending four days exploring (and relaxing) in the Gokyo valley, climbing Gokyo Ri, trekking up to the Renjo La for wonderful mountain views, and taking a trek up the Gokyo valley to the Fifth Lake.
Christmas at it's best!
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
Days 2 & 3 - Kathmandu
Explore the Kathmandu valley with Kim. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 4 - Fly to Lukla 2850m, Trek to Phakding 2660m
A little after sunrise, we are indulged with a spectacular 45-minute flight over the Kathmandu valley and along the snow-capped Himalayan ranges to the airport at Lukla. After sorting out our loads with the porters and breakfast at Eco-Paradise Lodge, we will start trekking. The quaint village of Chaunrikharka lays below us; the trail takes us above a rhododendron-choked forest, over the school and gompa and past the checkered fields of barley, spinach and potatoes of the village. Ahead of us is Karylung peak, covered in snow.
We are trekking along the Dudh Kosi (river) along a centuries-old trading trail from Nepal to Tibet. It is well traveled by stout, heavily loaded Nepali porters and Tibetan traders (Khampas, most distinguishable by the length of red or black tassel wrapped around their heads) conducting business between the weekly markets of Lukla and Namche with Chinese and Tibetan goods brought over the 5700m Nangpa La (pass) from Tibet.
From the small hamlet of Thado Kosi, while crossing a small, shaky bridge, we view the three sister peaks of Kusum Kanagaru to the east. More beautiful walking over cobbled trails takes us through Ghat and the best-maintained cluster of mani stones and prayer flags in the Khumbu. The local lama, owner of the Lama Lodge in Ghat, is responsible for this magical setting. At Phakding, a lively village a half hour's walk away from Ghat, we’ll stay at Ang Sani and Jangbu's Shangri La Lodge, well deserving of its name, where a fire will soon be stoked in their cozy dining area.
A side-trip for the afternoon: Sano Gomila Gompa. Cross the river and climb high above the Dudh Kosi to the small, colorful Sano Gomila Gompa perched amongst the pines. This gompa, as well as those at Thame and Pangboche, are homes to small idols, housed in a metal chest, which are rumored to be made from the branches of a white tree which once grew here. On the way down, we can take the long route and pass through Thulo Gomila village, a traditional Sherpa hamlet, and return along the mail trail to Phakding.
*** Note: we may decide to continue on another two hours to Monjo.
Day 5 - Trek to Namche 3450m
Passing by the small tea-houses servicing the locals and workers in Phakding, we cross a long suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi and trek above the river, climbing a bit to reach the first lodge of Benkar on the left. Continuing over a small bridge, we continue through the rest of Benkar, the first village to attend the Monjo school. Another suspension bridge, another climb, and we reach Chumoa. One more small bridge and larger climb on uneven stone steps, and we finally reach Monjo, where we stop for an early lunch at the Kailash Lodge. Monjo is a spectacularly situated Sherpa village where Kim taught English years ago. Just past the lodge we enter the gateway to the Sagarmatha National Park; we descend to the river and cross yet another suspension bridge to reach Jorsale village, and one more bridge before continuing along the sandy riverside trail, the shores peppered with large, rounded rocks.
Bring your five-colored Tibetan prayer flags to hang on the long suspension bridge over the confluence of the Dudh Kosi (milk river) and the Bhote Kosi (river from Tibet) and send prayers out into the Everest region! The steep hour and a half climb to Namche is broken half-way up the hill by our first view of Everest, Lhotse & Nuptse, and will prime you for the bakery once we arrive at this old trading village. You'll need the extra energy to reach our guest house, Natang & Pemba's wonderful Moonlight Lodge, scenically situated at the top of Namche, up a long flight of stone steps, at 3500 meters.
Namche Bazaar, now the most prosperous trading village on the old trade route with Tibet, sits in an amphitheater surrounded by mountains. From here, we have perfect views of Kongde Ri in front of us, Kantaiega, Thamserku and Kusum Kangguru to the east and Khumbila behind us. Down-valley, the hills and valleys of the route from Solu to Khumbu from Jiri sit shrouded in hazy shades of grey.
Kim & Monjo girls - photo by Jim Wolff
Day 6 – Namche
An acclimatization day, so you are free to explore and/or relax. Options: Visit the Namche Gompa perched on the hillside, the Sherpa Cultural Center museum and re-constructed Sherpa house or the National Park Headquarters museum. The Tibetans are often in the center of town in a dusty bazaar with their goods from China. Alternatively, you might choose just to indulge yourself at one of the two famous bakeries, shop for some yak bells or hand-woven Himalayan hats, look through the gear shops for good trekking gear, chat with the sociable Sherpas in the village, or just relax in preparation for the trek. Watch out for dzopkios and cows wandering the narrow streets.
For some peak-spotting, climb steeply to a viewpoint an hour’s walk straight up the ridge, worth the effort for the panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. Along the way, you are likely to see some wildlife such as musk deer, Himalayan Tahr and the spectacularly-hued Danphe (the Nepali national bird). Alternatively, we might make a day trip to Lawudo Gompa instead of going on the way back from Thame (see Day 20).
The lodge has a warm shower, a large library, a TV with videos (Everest Imax, anyone?), beers in the cabinet and delicious home-cooked food, so there is really no reason to leave at all! They'll do laundry if anyone has grungy clothes.
From here up, the acclimatization process dictates our itinerary, so we will have plenty of shorter days walking.
Day 7 - Trek to Kyangjuma 3620m (via Khumjung & Khunde)
Taking advantage of the cool air and bright morning light, we trek up the steep hill in back of Namche towards the lively, old Sherpa villages of Khunde and Khumjung, passing through the old airstrip at Syangboche en route. On the ridge just above the airstrip, still used for cargo, there are great views of Everest, Lhotse and Nupste, and a yak-breeding center. We may see some Himalayan Tahr en route, as there is a large herd living in the vicinity. We have the morning to visit Khunde's hospital, where Lhakpa's uncle Kami is the head doctor, and many cases of AMS have been treated. We will visit the local gompas of both villages, Khumjung's gompa housing a Yeti scalp. These adjoining villages are some of the original villages in the Khumbu region, both about 600 years old, and are wonderful examples of local Sherpa architecture with their winding stone walls, yak paddocks and wood and slate houses. If we are lucky, we will run into Sherpa friends who will invite us in for some salt-butter tea, climbing up a wooden ladder over the straw-lined manger to get into the main house on the first floor. Both villages sit below Khumbila, the sacred Sherpa peak, and near a famous rock-mural of Guru Rimpoche. The views of Ama Dablam from Khumjung are breathtaking.
It is an easy half hour's walk downhill through the rhododendrons to Tashi & Lhakpa's Ama Dablam Lodge, perched dramatically on a steep hillside overlooking the peak of the same name. Tashi and her family are ideal hosts, and in their toasty lodge we might get a chance to sample some local Sherpa barley beer, or 'chang'; and the dal bhaat is great. Ask to take a look at their traditional Sherpa prayer room, and look out for Tashi lighting incense for the local Khumbu deities outside the lodge. Their pet yak will by in the morning for some grub, so take care going outside when you wake up ...
Day 8 - Trek to Dole 4060m
It's a lovely walk out of Khumjung; Ama Dablam towers dramatically in front of us as we wind our way down the walled, rhododendron-lined trail back to main valley, and then contour up and around and newly built stone steps to the hill leading to Mong La. We have a hard climb to the tiny settlement of Mong perched on top of Mong La, but are rewarded by incredible views of Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Malan Palan, Taboche and the newly named Kamzang Peak once up top. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in the Everest region, is perched at the intersection of the Khumbu & Gokyo valleys in front of us. The misty layers of the hills and valleys south of us are visible down-valley, as are Monjo and the bridge to Jorsale.
After tea, we descend steeply to Phortse Tenga and start climbing on the west side of the river. The route up is beautiful, past frozen waterfalls, up cathedral-like stone staircases, through old rhododendron and Himalayan Birch forests, across small rivers and past tiny Sherpa settlements. We arrive a few hours later, having had our first view of the 8000 meter Cho Oyu, at the summer herding settlement of Dole, where we bed down for the night at Kami & Dawa Dolma's Himalayan Lodge.
Day 9 - Trek to Luza 4360m
A shorter day, gaining elevation, along a trail high above the valley floor, Cho Oyu looming in front of us at the border of Nepal and Tibet for the later part of the walk. We pass some small Sherpa herding huts en route, and after a few hours of walking we arrive at the charming yak-herding settlement of Luza and our favorite lodge there, Lhakpa Nuru and Chomzi's Kangtega View.
Day 10 - Trek to Gokyo 4790m
Another beautiful trekking day; we set off early as the walk up to 4800 meters is difficult at altitude. In the Gokyo valley, once past the lodge at Phanka, the character of the trekking changes abruptly. The opaque powder-blue lakes are often on the verge of freezing over, and sometimes perform a Himalayan symphony of expanding and retracting ice. We have entered the grassy ablation valley running beside the Ngozumpa Glacier, and have our first sight of Gokyo, a seasonal village and grazing area built beside the third, and biggest lake. Gokyo has become something of a Himalayan resort without the crowd – at least in terms of the comfortable lodges with sunrooms, unbeatable views, excellent food and warm stoves. It is a great base to explore from, and we have plenty of time for it. A more spectacular setting is difficult to imagine, and our guesthouse, the Cho Oyu Lodge, perfectly situated on the lake-side, is a little piece of heaven. Dali Sherpa, our host, is a wonderful woman and good friend, and if the kids are off from school it is a very lively place.
Lured into the wonderful sun-room, it is easy to spend the day chatting with fellow trekkers, watching shaggy yaks amble their way in and around Gokyo (sometimes casually sticking their heads inside the lodges) and admiring the views. For those with energy left over after the pass, a must is an excursion up Gokyo Ri (5360m) for some Everest spotting and all-around spectacular views of the lakes, the glacial moraine, the Khumbu icefall and the Himalayan peaks surrounding us on all sides (including Makalu, this time). It is fantastic in the morning, the middle of the day or for sunset, but don't forget to bring a torch if you opt for a 'sunset on Everest' views, which is better than the sunrise.
Days 11, 12 & 13 - Gokyo
If you didn't get up Gokyo Ri yesterday, you have another chance over the next few days. Another option is an incredible day hike up the Gokyo valley, past two or three more glacial lakes, towards Cho Oyu. There are several trails that snake up this gorgeous valley, one emerging on the ridge overlooking the creaking glacier, another passing the eerily deserted fourth lake with it’s white, stony beach, and all with unforgettable views of Everest and the Himalayan range. The unobstructed view of Everest from Scoundrel's Point (4995m), just before the fifth lake, is a good reward for the walk.
Another great option is a hike up to Renjo La, at 4515 meters, a four or five hour return trip with a spectacular Himalayan panorama as the reward. And then, of course, there is always just relaxing at the lodge with (or without) a book in the sunroom!
Day 14 – Trek to Phortse 3810m
Trekking down valley is always easier, just as beautiful as coming up, and of course now we don't have to think about the altitude. We take the main trail back to Phortse Tenga, and then cross the bridge and climb for a bit less than an hour to Phortse village. On the way up, we'll see the ubiquitous Blood Pheasant, rustling in the undergrowth. Phortse, one of the oldest villages in the Khumbu, is a checkered plateau of potato fields and old Sherpa houses, and is a wonderful spot for sunsets. It juts out at the lower corner of the Khumbu and Gokyo valleys, and has a new gompa at the upper end which shimmers in the evening colors. We bed down for the night at a great lodge, Phortse Guest House, always a favorite ...
Day 15 – Trek to Pangboche 3930m
After a sunny breakfast, we head up the hill in back of Phortse until we can look down on Tengboche Gompa across the Dhud Kosi valley. Today's trail also has fantastic mountain views (Kim's vote for perhaps the most scenic trail in the Solu Khumbu), as we contour along for just over three hours to Pangboche, which homes one of the oldest gompas (500 years) in the Khumbu in the upper part of the village. We stay the night in lower Pangboche at Nima Lhamo's Sonam Lodge, and look out over Everest and the Nuptse wall up-valley, and Tengboche Gompa on the hillside across the river below. It's a nice walk up past the gompa to another hermitage, tucked away at the mouth of a narrow gorge, in the afternoon, and a good place to scour the small shops for left-over Everest supplies, as many of the Everest Sherpas come from Pangboche.
Day 16 – Trek to Kyangjuma 3600m
A wonderful walk along well-used yak trails down to the bridge over the Dudh Kosi, through rhododendrons and past moss-covered mani walls to Debouche, where we'll stop at the ani gompa, or nunnery. Afterwards, we start the steep climb to the spectacularly set Tengboche Gompa, backed by the massive wall of Kanteiga. We'll stop to visit the gompa, have some tea, and descend steeply to Phunki Tenga and the bridge across the river. A last steep climb and some contouring through scrub, pine forests and rhododendron eventually leads us to the Ama Dablam View Lodge in Kyangjuma, run by our good friends Tashi & Lhakpa. The dining room is warm, the food, excellent and Tashi is one of the most welcoming hosts in the Everest region.
Day 17 – Trek to Monjo 2840m - Christmas Eve
We follow the trail around grassy hillsides past the beautiful stupa erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of climbing Everest in 2003 before dropping to Namche for lunch, and perhaps some last minute shopping.
he descent of that long hill that we plodded up less then a fortnight ago seems amazingly short and easy on the way down. Jorsale, just before the bridge to Monjo, is the home of Phuru Diki, one of the two girls Kim sponsors (she's now in school in Kathmandu), and we will probably run into her youngest sibling en route. After one last steep hill to the National Park gate, we reach the welcome sight of Monjo. We settle in for the night at Chombi & Kali's Kailash Lodge in Monjo, where Kim spent most of her evenings when living and teaching in Monjo. The school kids will be out en force to visit, and we can take a look at the new gompa just below the school if anyone still has the energy. Dawa Yangi and her sister Nimale, two of the other girls that we help in Monjo, live just above Kailash Lodge, so they will probably stop by to say Hi.
The Kailash Lodge has one of the warmest wood-burning stoves in the Khumbu, and once Chombi gets it stoked, we'll probably need a few large bottles of beer to cool down, now available since we're out of the National Park.
Since we're headed down, we might as well celebrate Christmas Eve with a few drinks ...
Day 18 – Trek to Lukla 2840m - Christmas
We trek back to Lukla along the same trail, although it always looks different coming from the opposite direction. We’ll stop for lunch in Phakding or Cheplung, and finish the trek back at Dawa Phuti & Ang Pasang's Paradise Lodge in Lukla, where we'll have yet another Sherpa feast (after hot showers) and perhaps try some of Dawa's famous Sherpa tongba. This cozy dining room is one the nicest in the Everest region, so it's always an added treat to return there after the trek. Ang Pasang works for the airport, so we are in good hands for our flight out the next morning.
It's Christmas, so we'll order up a big spread, open some wine and celebrate! Tashi Delek & Merry Christmas!
Day 19- Fly to Kathmandu
Bags packed and ready to go early as we fly out of Lukla to Kathmandu on Yeti Airlines in the morning; taking off from the Hillary Airstrip is just as exciting as landing! Flights our of Lukla are sometimes delayed by bad weather, so we have an extra day in Kathmandu just in case.
In Kathmandu, back at the Kathmandu Guest House, long, hot showers await, and grubby clothes can be dropped at the laundry. In the evening, we'll go out for a celebratory dinner at New Orleans Cafe or Fire & Ice, followed later by a drink or glass of wine at one of Thamel’s many cozy cafes ...
Day 20 - Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for shopping, some sun in the garden of the guest house, shopping, cafe-ing or perhaps a visit to Boudhanath for some 'koras' to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. And sights we missed during the first few days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner together. This is also the extra day in case of delayed flights out of Lukla.
Day 21 - Depart
Sadly, we take you to the airport for your flight home ...
* If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, a trip out to Bhaktapur or Patan, the Kathmandu valley's other historic cities, or a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and some expansive sunset and sunrise mountain panoramas. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.
Tashi Delek, and see you during your next trip to the Himalayas!