The High Passes of Everest Trek: Lukla to Namche – Days 1 – 3

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For most trekkers, The High Passes of Everest Trek begins at Lukla after a thirty-minute flight from Kathmandu. The local Exodus-hired team took care of all the details – bussing us to the airport at 6 a.m., tickets, all the duffel bags, one for each of the 14 clients on the trek, all but me from the U.K.

Good weather meant no problems with take-off, and we were in Luckla by 7:30.

Exodus duffel bags at the airport check-in...common bag helps to keep things together

Exodus duffel bags at the airport check-in…the bags are only available to U.K. customers, so my red North Face duffel kinda stood out!

Lukla Airport is reputedly one of the most dangerous in the world! Our flight would be uneventful, though it did seem weird to land at an airstrip that sloped upward!

Shangri-La Air! Our 18-seater airplane getting loaded- I can see the baggage handler with my red North Face duffel!

the airport, Lukla village, and the start of the trekking trail to the Khumbu

Lukla Airport- supposedly one of the least safe airports in the world

Lukla Airport’s single landing strip is 460 meters long and slopes a bit upward

Mera Lodge- a Lukla landmark and one of the many lodges with rooms available

We relaxed at a Lukla Lodge, got to walk around town a bit in the morning, and had lunch before setting off for our short Day 1 objective, the nearby village of Phakding. It was an easy walk that included a 250-meter loss in altitude!

Cultivated fields just west of Lukla airport

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Lukla to Namche Bazaar  

The Trail From Lukla (A) to Phakding (B) to Namche (C)…click here for a “live” Google view of the clearly visible trekking route

Day 1 – From Lukla to Phakding

  • distance: 9 kilometers
  • altitude change: from Lukla 2860m to Phakding 2610m
  • time: three hours

Lukla to Phakding – satellite view

Lukla – Phakding…Himalayan Maphouse map…hard copies available in Kathmandu

the Dudh Kosi as we come down the trail from Lukla

Sherpas with their straw cone baskets (dokos) full. Each man has a tokma, a walking stick with a T-Shaped handle

A Mani wall on the trail…a common sight

Phakding lodge/teahouse, where we stopped for the night

Our first day was a pretty easy one. The morning was spent in Lukla while the sirdar got everything organized- the food, the tents, the fuel, the porters and the rest of the crew who would be walking with us for the next three weeks. There may have been as many locals as clients on the trek!

Exodus Tents up behind the Phakding lodge

Mornings began with a cup of hot tea delivered to the tent door by one of the assistant guides. This would be followed a few minutes later by a bowl of hot water for washing purposes.

Main street Phakding with a porter coming by

the other side of the Dudh Kosi from Phakding- notice the yellow trekking tents!

Phakding rooftops at dusk

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Day 2 – Phakding to Namche

  • distance: 8 km.
  • altitude: from Phakding 2610m to Namche 3340m
  • time: 5 hours (2.5 hrs. from Monjo)

welcome sign from the local Maoists-  and then came  the “shake-down.”

The Maoist Insurgency – mid-2000s

My visit in November of 2006 was when the civil war between government forces and the Nepalese Communist Party (Maoist) was still going on. The trek leaders had to pay a tax or entry fee to Maoist representatives for each foreign trekker in the party.

We’d enter the official park boundaries a few kilometres later and pay the government-mandated trekker’s entry fee. (In 2022, that would be about $30. U.S.)  By the time I left Nepal in late November, a peace accord had been signed by the Prime Minister and the Maoist leader Prachandra (1954- ). here is a brief intro to his life story –

Prachanda, byname of Pushpa Kamal Dahal … Nepali rebel leader and politician who headed the Maoist insurgency that ended Nepal’s monarchy and established the country as a democratic republic, which he served as its first prime minister (2008–09); he later was returned to that office (2016–17).  See here for the full encyclopedia entry

Since my trek, worries about Maoists have been replaced by the impact of the 2015 Gorka Earthquakes on the region’s tourist infrastructure. The Maoist tax issue was followed in 2017 by the decision of the Khumbu municipal government to impose its own tourist tax (N.R. 2000 per visitor) since it rightly argued that it received little of the money taken by the national government’s compulsory Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) fee.

The 2020-2022 COVID pandemic has not helped the local economy of the Khumbu, which has become very reliant on foreign trekkers.

Getting the paperwork done- and paying the “tax”

Looking up the Dudh Kosi Valley to the next teahouse

Brass incense burner at teahouse stop

Monjo at 2835m is halfway between Phakding and Namche. By this point, we had gained 215 meters since Phakding and were back at the same altitude as Lukla. The bulk of the day’s ascent was up ahead – the 600 meters up to Namche. Just north of Monjo is the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park.

Monjo Satellite view

amassed trekkers at Monjo

“What are all these people doing here?”

One of the things that took me a day or two to understand was that this is not a wilderness trek. Once I realized that I was on a pilgrimage and not on a voyage of exploration, things went much better.

The answer to the question- “What are all these people doing here?” is very obvious- “Exactly why you are here! For the stunning scenery,  the chance to be up close to Mount Everest, and to finally walk a trail you’ve dreamt about for years….”

A porter’s traditional backpack made of pelts  at rest on the trail to Namche

more trail traffic on the approach to Namche

Instead of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, we’re all pilgrims heading for one mountain peak or another, with Mount Everest attracting the most devotion.

I should also add that the two crowd-scene photos are from Monjo, not far from the entrance gate to Sagarmatha Park. That would explain the large numbers of trekkers, some probably waiting as their guides dealt with the permits at the park entry gate or just setting off after getting them. Nowhere else did we experience anything like this!  The higher up the trail you go, the fewer people you will see. Above Namche, we seemed to have the trail to ourselves.

Namche – the Khumbu capital

The satellite image below gives a view of the final stretch from the confluence of the Dudh Kosi and Bhote Kosi up to the village of Namche,  the administrative capital of the Khumbu region.

the steep climb up to Namche from the Bhote-Dudh confluence

Namche is nestled in a bowl;  the downtown area where the bazaar area is located is at 3440m. Also visible on the satellite image is the start of the trail to Everest Base Camp, which heads from Namche to the top right side of the image.

the covered entrance to Namche Bazaar with the stupa up ahead

Since my visit, the local government has spent some tax money upgrading the central market area and paving more of the streets. Compare the image above with the one below for a sample of the changes –

See here for the image source and an informative Nepali Times article from 2019

The ready availability of hydroelectricity means that vast amounts of wood do not need to be burned to provide trekkers with hot water. Higher up, though, yak dung patties and wood are still used as energy sources. Our trekking crew brought cans of  fuel along for cooking purposes.

Namche’s bazaar area- the market

main street Namche

the view from our tenting grounds above the town

my first shot of the Mount Everest peak was taken from near our tent site in Namche

Namche at night

Day 3 – Acclimatization Day

Acclimatization hike above Namche

An extra night in Namche aids in the acclimatization process. The various trekking companies have worked out a schedule that seems to fit most trekkers. If they didn’t, they would have to continually deal with sick clients on top of all the other logistical challenges that running a trek entails.

During our “rest” day, we did a day hike above the town on a pleasant route which took us to the Everest View Hotel, where we stopped for a bite to eat and admired Ama Dablam. Then it was through Khumjung village and past the airport and down to Namche. The mountaineer’s advice had been followed- “Walk high, sleep low”!

yak grazing in fields above Namche

walking up to the Everest View Hotel with Ama Dablam in the background

Everest View Hotel menu

a view of Ama Dablam from the terrace of the Everest View Hotel above Namche Bazaar

walking above Namche towards Khumjung  as a part of our acclimatization-day hike

Stupas and prayer flags in the village of Khumjung above Namche Bazaar

yak dung patties drying in the sun above Namche

In this satellite view of Khumjung village, the red-cloured monastery building is clearly visible amid all the green roofs! We stepped inside the monastery’s main hall for a quick look at the statuary and thangkas.

the pre-2015 Khumjung monastery front

Also displayed in a small glass-paned box was what some locals still believe is a Yeti scalp. Since our visit, the 2015 earthquakes did some damage to the building. However, given the monastery’s importance to the Sherpa community, a reconstructed building was opened within two years. The image below shows what it looks like after the rebuild.

the Khumjung Monastery post-2015 Earthquake reconstruction

overview of the temple interior

Buddha figure close-up

We looped back to the Namche bowl- our blue tents are visible on the upper left. The market area can be seen on the bottom right.

The Trek leader takes us to his father’s home…

where a picture of him as a young man as a part of Hillary’s Sherpa team makes the rounds

men playing a game of chance in the market area of Namche

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Next Post: Namche to Chhukung Days 4 – 7

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3 Responses to The High Passes of Everest Trek: Lukla to Namche – Days 1 – 3

  1. Steve says:

    Hi,

    Thinking of doing this ftrom 16th Oct with a company.

    Once everything factored in, will be around £4200, is it worth it? Worried crowds will put me off, do they becoe ore dispersed?

    Thanks

    • true_north says:

      Is it worth it? My 27 days in Bhutan to do the Snowman Trek cost me, once everything is factored in, about £9000. Since the Bhutanese government raised the daily tourist tax this July from US$65. to $200. on top of the actual cost of the trek, if I were to do it next year, it would cost me in the £13000 range. That is not worth it!

      For £4200 (airfare included), you are getting much more dramatic mountain views and will likely have better weather …at a third of the cost! As a bonus, Kathmandu, as chaotic and polluted as it is, is far more fascinating than Thimphu or Paro. If you like trekking, there is nothing more iconic than the names you will see on your Three Passes route. Re: the crowds. Post-covid, I don’t see that as a big issue. I will admit to having to adjust my head to the fact that it is not a wilderness trek as much as a pilgrimage, so you will see other pilgrims on the trail. The worst was the first two days from Lukla. After that, we saw few other groups. The higher you go, the fewer fellow trekkers you will see!

      To make sense of your £4200. I checked the Mountain Kingdoms and KE Adventure Travels prices for the land-only portion – at £2350 and £2475. they were fairly close. That would mean the other £1800. of your total is for the flight there and back.

      Before the age of air travel, your trip would have been called “the trip of a lifetime.” It may just be the first of a few you take to the Himalayas after what should be a great introduction. Just make sure you up your fitness level (if you haven’t already) so that it is one thing you do not have to worry about!

      Have fun deciding whether it is a go or not!

      • Steve says:

        True_north, thanks for your comments. Fights aroud £1200, the rest is insurance, train, via, tips, spending money etc.

        Yes, price for doing via a company is in the ballpark, all told though a significant outlay. Also, I like remoteness/isolation, which I know I’m not going to get here.

        Food for thought…

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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