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The classic walk through the Sherpa homeland of SoluKhumbu is a tough trek with a clearcut goal to see Mt. Everest, the highest peak of the world. There are many ways to trek in this area. One can either walk all the way up and back, or walk one way and fly out on the way back, or fly in and out depending on the time at hand and inclination. The first requires a month, the second just about three weeks and the third at least two weeks.
Most Everest trekkers avoid the hardest walking by flying in and out of Lukla airstrip. If you have got time and energy, the walk in from Jiri through the Sherpa's traditional homeland is worth the extra effort. It passes through the lovely region called Solu and the narrow gorge of the Dudh Kosi (Pharak) to reach the high mountain region of Khumbu in a little over a week. Khumbu is exceptionally at high altitude with trekking routes going up to 5,400 meters. Solu can be trekked year around while Khumbu's trekking season is limited. October-November and March-May are the busiest trekking season of Khumbu. Besides good weather, this period offers the five-day Dumje festival (usually April) and the masked Mani Rimdu dances held at major monasteries in spring and fall. Khumbu is a good region for a monsoon trek. High pastures are full of wildflowers and grazing yaks, and the people are relaxed, taking a well-deserved break from trekking and expedition work.
Namche Bazaar (3,446 m), the modern Sherpa capital, is the nerve center of upper Khumbu: from here the trails branch out to explore at least four separate high valleys. It's a cosmopolitan little village, a good place to pick up tips on trails and conditions from descending trekkers. Food prices skyrocket above here, since all supplies must be carried in from a distance; budget extra for this trip.It is the entrance to the Everest region Situated in the lap of the Khumbu Himal range,Namche Bazaar is about 24 km from Kathmandu and the distance is generally covered within 15 days by trekking. This place is the home of the legendary Sherpas, who have won international reknown as the world's most sturdy climbers with an indomitable will to scale peaks. One can fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and Syangboche in the Everest region. At Lukla accommodations are available in Sherpa huts and lodges Lukla is the most popular base for trekking in the Khumbu region. Days could be spent hiking and visiting the Sherpa villages, Thyangboche Monastery, Khunde Hospital, Khumjung Hilary School and trekking towards the Everest Base Camp. Accommodations are available at Thyangboche, Debuche, Pheriche, Pangboche, Lobuche and Gorakhshep.
Phaplu Another scenic place that is also easily accessed via air is Phaplu which has direct flights from Kathmandu. Phaphlu is in the eastern district of Solu-Khumbu, famous for its Sherpas. From here, you can hike into little known corners of Sherpa territory, and bask in the mountains' glow, yet return at night to the warmth of the Sherpa Lodge in Phaplu bazaar.
Access to the Everest region is generally by air or on foot as the road head stops at Jiri which is 8 to 10 hours by bus from Kathmandu. An alternate route is a trek via the Arun valley where the road head is at Basantapur. These are no tourist buses to these destinations hence taking the local bus is the only option. Buses to Jiri leave from the old bus park in central Kathmandu. For the alternative route, buses leave from the Gongabu Bus Park for Hile, from where there are local buses to Basantapur.
By air, the most popular destination is Lukla which has daily flights leaving from Kathmandu. The other option is to fly up to Phaplu air strip, which is also served by daily flights from the capital city. This is ideal for treks in the southern parts of the region or for Everest trekkers who want to take their time acclimatizing.
People and Culture
The heart and soul of the Everest region is the Sherpas. This is their heartland and their cultural influence is seen everywhere; in their traditional costumes to their distinctive houses and village monasteries. There are also minorities of various other groups, notably Rais, Limbus and Tamangs in the lower hills and the Brahmin and Chhetri farmers of the valleys.
Flora and Fauna
The region ranges in altitude from less than 2000m above sea level at Jiri to the high peaks of the Himalaya at over 8000m. Hence the flora and fauna is diverse with dense forest of pine, oak and the flowering rhododendrons up to 4000m. The latter are one reason to make a trip to Nepal in the spring when the hills between 2000 and 3500 m are a riot of colors.
Crops under cultivation depend on the season that you visit but expect to see wheat, barley, corn and potatoes at some stage. Villagers here keep cattle, buffalo, goats and pigs and the all-purpose beast of mountains, the yak
Wildlife seen here is mostly in the form of birds including the national bird of Nepal-the Impeyan Pheasant, (danfe in Nepali), which is quite commonly found around Namche Bazaar. Other notable birds include the ravens and crows of the middle hills and the coughs which soar to seemingly impossible heights in the mountains. Look out for flocks of snow pigeons wheeling about the hillsides.
Land animals in these regions are elusive, so keep an eye out for mountain goats (most common are the Himalayan tahr) and if lucky, you may chance upon the rare musk deer or the common barking deer in the forest.
How and When Trekking in the Everest region depends entirely on the route that you have chosen. On the main trekking trails to Everest Base Camp or the route to the pristine Gokyo valley a teahouse trek is perfectly possible and the easier choice. The trail in from Jiri is also endowed with many conveniently located teahouses although generally not of such high standards as those to the north. Other trekking routes will however, almost certainly require camping gear which means organizing trekking staff and equipment. See the following individual route description for detail.
When to Visit
The best time to trek in this region is from October to November and from March to May which are peak season time. At these times, the weather is mild and generally dry, making walking conditions ideal. The spring season brings out the wild flowers, particularly the rhododendrons, while the autumn season is generally good for clear mountain views, as the air at this time is crystal clear.
Winter treks are possible but risky particularly in late winter as chances of snow are high and passes may be closed at short notice as snowfall cannot be accurately predicted. Teahouses also may be closed for the winter. The summer/monsoon period is generally unsuitable for trekking as the trails are slippery, leeches abundant and mountain views are unpredictable. However, it can be a rewarding time if these drawbacks can be tolerated, as the wild flowers are at their best around this time and the fact that there are fewer tourists encountered on the trails is an added advantage.
Given the hardship of finding a guide at Lukla, you are better off hiring one in Kathmandu before departure. The extra cost of his airfare will outweigh the possibility of not finding a good guide at Lukla, especially during peak season when it is practically impossible. Porters are always available at Lukla. Pure yaks however are not available, because of its low altitude, but yak crossbreeds can be found. For a small group only carrying personal gear, there is no need for yaks, so porters are preferable. The cost will depend on the seasonal demand for their services. If your trek starts at Jiri, then look for your porter there, it’s the only place where they are available. As for guides, bring them from Kathmandu.
Looking after the environment
The deteriorating environment of the Himalaya has been the subject of much debate. Consequently, action has come in the form of environmentally conscious overseas expeditions and organizations such as the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee and our own Nepal Mountaineering Association, who organized education programs and clean-up campaigns that have, to a large extent, solved many of the pollution problems.
However, the environment of the high Himalaya is a very fragile eco-system that is easily put out of balance. Certain initiatives within the National Park area such as the banning of bottled beer and soft drinks, has shown promising results with a reduction of the amount of non-biodegradable rubbish accumulating. However, temporary measures like these are not sufficient and a concerted effort on a regular basis must be made, particularly by trekkers, in order to make a difference. The KEEP code of trekking conduct is a perfect example and should be followed.