Saturday, October 25, 2014

Everest base camp, day 2: Lukla to Phakding

October 2014

Our flight to Lukla was scheduled at 9:30AM. We were at the airport well ahead of time. There were efforts to renovate the domestic terminal which at present looked like an old bus stand.

Kathmandu domestic terminal
The Lukla flight system does not have a transparent way of working. As I mentioned in the earlier post, there is no easy way to book the tickets online. Travelers have to depend on Nepal travel agents. Though departure time is printed on the ticket, airline has their own list and issue boarding tickets accordingly.  With Jugad, influence and bribe one can get an early flight!! As westerners pay more, they get the preference. There is no point to become emotional here. That’s the way things work.

Our flight at Lukla Airport
But if the weather is good, there is nothing to worry. Flights take off at regular intervals and everyone gets to fly at the scheduled time. In fact, we got tickets to board 9:20AM flight. It was an experience to fly in those small aircraft that has only 16 seats. Plenty of sound, turbulence and rattling.

Inside the cockpit

The Lukla airport being on an edge of the hill is one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The runway is not level but has a gradient of 12%. After landing, the flight has to climb uphill!!

Runway at Lukla
Our flight landed successfully and at 10AM we were out of the airport. My first job was to hire a porter. The back pain does not allow me to carry load for several days. Hence I had to depend on porter for long walking. I hope that I will be able to carry my load in future.

As we got out of the airport, we were surrounded by porters. After some discussion and bargaining, Sameer agreed to help me out for 1000 NPR per day. We made sure that he did not have the habit of smoking and drinking. We had some unpleasant experience in Annapurna Circuit trek with bad habits of our porter and certainly we were not looking for similar experience. Sameer claimed to be a clean person and he did in fact lived up to his word. He was at the height of innocence!!

Lukla is a big village. The ‘luxury’ of the trail was evident as we passed though a Starbucks Coffee shop!! At a check post, we had to register ourselves. Let me digress a bit here to describe the permit process for EBC trek.

It is necessary to have TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card to trek to EBC. There are two types of card. One is for individual trekker and another for people travelling with guide. While travel agents can get the group card, for individual card the person has to present himself to get the card. The card is available at Kathmandu but one can also obtain it on the trail itself at Monjo. Indians need to pay INR 375 for the card. Westerners had to be pay more.

EBC is inside Sagarmatha National Park and a permit is required to enter. It can be obtained either at Kathmandu on the trail itself. Indians need to pay NPR 1500.

Back to the check post at Lukla. We had no TIMS card; we were just asked to show the passport for entering our details. Monjo, where the card was available was further away. Hence, it is fine to just show the passport and continue.

Our destination of the day was Phakding. Lukla was at 9383 feet and Phakding being at 8560 feet meant that we had to walk downhill for most of the time.

On the way to Phakding
As we crossed Lukla, we encountered several yaks carrying supplies. At one point of time, we were struck behind them slowing our journey!!

Yaks on the way

At the first hanging bridge, we had to wait for the mules carrying empty gas cylinders to pass!!

Mules also carry heavy load

At 1PM we were at Phakding. It had taken us about 2 hours to reach this place. We had walked 6.5 km and lost 800 feet altitude. We spent rest of the day lazing out in the hotel. Clouds hovered above in the evening bringing down the temperature. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Everest base camp, day 1: To Kathmandu

October 2014

Before I start let me tell you that this travelogue will not give full account of the trek to Everest Base Camp. The simple reason is that I could not complete it. It was my second attempt to reach EBC. Last year it was the bad weather that stopped us from starting this trek. Weather was good this year but apparently the mountains did not like us!!

Like last year, it was me and Subbu who went for the trek.

In the posts, I would like to provide information about trekking to this place individually with relatively less money as EBC is a very costly trip. One will be mainly spending on:
  • Air ticket from Bengaluru to Kathmandu: There is nothing much to do here rather than getting a good deal on flights.
  • Air ticket from Kathmandu to Lukla: Lukla is the starting point of the trek. The only way to reach this place is either by flight or foot. Flight takes 25 minutes while walking requires 7 days!! It is very hard to book the flight ticket online and you need to depend on Nepal travel agents for the same. For Indians, the return ticket costs about 11K INR. Nepalese get it cheaper while westerners need to shell out more money. Many travel agents refuse to just book the tickets. Instead, they see money in booking for entire trip.
  • Stay: It is a tea house trek and one can easily find hotels to stay at the end of the day. For NPR (Nepali Rupee) 200-300, we get a very decent room with common bathroom. There is a catch with the low price. People have to eat in their restaurants only!!
  • Food: The most expensive part of the trek. Expect to spend at least NPR 1500 – 2000 per day. The price increases as we climb up. As the area is not connected by motorable road, everything has to be flown in and then transported by human/animal and hence the reason of high price.
  • Permits: One needs permit to trek to EBC. Prices vary depending on whether you are travelling on your own or have a guide. More information on that later.
  • Guide: EBC is a busy route with proper trails. I do not see a need for the guide at all. But if you need, be prepared to pay for their flight to Lukla and then for their service on daily basis.
  • Porter: Since there is no need to carry tents and food items, the backpack will not be very heavy and I do not see a need of porter.  Having said that I did use porter due to my bad back. You can either hire from a travel agent in Kathmandu or get hire one outside Lukla airport!!
  • Water: If you plan to use bottled water, there are high chances that you go bankrupt!! At high altitude, one need to drink lot of water and a liter of bottled water costs at least NPR 150!! Tap water and stream water are available all along the way which can be used. We used water purifying tablets (Available in Kathmandu) to get rid of bacteria. It will have a tang of chlorine. There are handheld water purification systems like Steripen which do not add chlorine but we just used Chlorine.

Our travel to Kathmandu:
The Spice Jet maintained its reputation as their flights were delayed at both Bengaluru and New Delhi!! Anyway, we reached at 6:15PM at Kathmandu. Immigration happened in a jiffy. Just went to the counter where there was no queue and told that we were Indians. They did not even look at our immigration form and just asked us to continue further.

Note: Indians do not need a visa to enter Nepal. Passport is also not mandatory. Election card is accepted.

We took a pre paid taxi to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. It costs NPR 700/- at the prepaid counter in the airport. We had not booked any hotel in Kathmandu. Thamel it full of hotels catering to various budgets. Just land in that place and choose whichever you like. But unfortunately, driver took us to a junk hotel called Skylark. It was cheap; we were tired so we just took it.

We just dropped our luggage in the room and went outside to get some essential things before the shops were closed. It was the day of Ayudha Puja and only few shops were opened. We quickly took water purifying tablets, recharged by NCell SIM card, converted our currency to NPR and had our dinner.

Note: 1 INR = 1.6 NPR. Indian currency is widely accepted in Nepal. But it is better to have some Nepali currency in case if someone refuses to accept INR. Also, 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted in Nepal and are also illegal to carry. So, it makes sense to convert INR to NPR to avoid carrying 100 rupee notes.

We were all set for the trek next day. Permits were needed but that could be managed later. Sadly I could not sleep properly due to the ruckus made by some Indians in the hotel.