Side Trips on offer during the Everest base camp trekking route
The Everest trials and infrastructures have undergone speedy repairs as most of lodges/trekking inns en route are operating as normal. However, many trekkers still prefer to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and then embark on the trail to the Everest Base Camp & Kala Patthar, missing some stunning stops just off the beaten path. Most are only a couple of hours’ walk off the main route to base camp, and some are only 20 minutes from the madding crowd. The best advice for anyone planning an Everest trek is to add on a couple of days to your itinerary to fit in some of these off-piste highlights. You’ll likely have these spots completely to yourself, even in high season.
Rock Paintings, Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar, a lavish looking Sherpa town is dotted with espresso stalls, bakeries, trekking gear shops and even an Irish pub, all full of acclimatizing trekkers engrossed in sipping lattes and checking their Face book statuses. It would indeed be a welcome diversion from the hullabaloo of Namche by embarking on a short enticing hike above the town’s monastery to a series of rock paintings of Khumbu Yul-lha, the protector deity who resides on the mountain that rises behind Namche Bazaar. It’s a sacred, almost animistic site, so do pay your homage when treading!
Hillary Memorial Chorten’s Viewpoint
An excellent acclimatization day hike from Namche Bazaar to Kunde is what most of trekkers prefer, but it is worth mentioning that most of them miss the views from Hillary Memorial Chortens (stupas), which is just about 20 minutes up the hill behind Kunde Monastery. Three chortens there have been dedicated to the Everest summiteers, his wife and daughter, whom died in a plane crash while working on aid projects in the region. The views towards Thamserku peak, Namche Bazaar and Thame are mind boggling and you’ll have only the yak herders for company.
Just about 30 minutes walk from the main Everest Base Camp trail between ‘Dughla’ and ‘Lobuche,’ lies the stunning alpine lake, Chola Tsho. It is a perfect add-on as you can only climb 3 hours above Dughla to Lobuche in a single day due to acclimatization issues. Chola-Tsho sits at the base of craggy Cholatse Peak and is also visible if you trek to Dzongla and the Cho-la pass.
Upper Pangboche Village
The village of Pangboche is bifurcated into two settlements; one is a collection of trekking lodges on the main lower trail and the other is a charming traditional Sherpa village on the hillside above. Stay in the latter to sample the warm ‘Sherpa’ hospitality in one of the most charming villages in the Khumbu, as well as the chance to see the replica of the ‘yeti hand’ held in the village monastery (the original was stolen in a convoluted plot involving mountaineer Peter Byrne and the actor James Stewart). For the arduous trekkers, there is a way up the valley behind the village towards Taboche Base Camp, curving round the valley for jaw-dropping views of Ama Dablam.
Ama Dablam Base Camp
Ama Dablam is undoubtedly the most beautiful peak on the Everest trek. One can witness this hooding snow-clad giant from multiple points along the main trail. But if you are someone who craves for a neck-craning close-up view, make the day hike from Pangboche up to Ama Dablam Base Camp to see the expedition tents camped in meadows at the foot of the peak. One needs to get well acclimatized beforehand in order to hike up here, so it is advisable to take on this hike on the way back down from Base Camp, not on the way up.
Upper Gokyo Lakes
Literally speaking, the scene of the Gokyo Valley gives you your money’s worth as it probably the most spectacular ambience in the entire Khumbu region. Many trekkers halt overnight at lodges in the Gokyo village and then ascend the Gokyo Ri the next morning for views of Mt Everest, the sparkling lower Gokyo lakes and the mammoth ‘Ngozumpa Glacier’. Fewer people bother to spare an extra day to make the full day hike up to the fifth and sixth lakes in the tranquil valley above Gokyo. These upper lakes are perched in a high alpine bowl at the foot of Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest mountain. The only noise here is the whisper of the wind and the occasional echo of small avalanches tumbling off the 3km vertical wall above. In order to pursue this trip, physical fitness is mandatory.
Just after 45 minutes’ uphill walk from the popular overnight stop of Dingboche, we are greeted by ‘Nangkartshang’, the former meditation retreat in a broad and beautiful valley. Continuing the uphill march for another 30 minutes will get us to a vantage point to witness the flabbergasting beauty of the peaks of Cholatse and Taboche, as well as Ama Dablam. The pretty lake of Chola-Tsho is also visible from here. It’s a superb morning hike that offers a very good acclimatization.
Pangboche to Phortse Trail
Although the standard Everest Base Camp itinerary is more of a ‘there-and-back’ linear route, one can always opt for diversions on the return leg. A little-used trail on the northern side of the Dudh Koshi valley links the charming villages of Pangboche and Phortse, while offering uninterrupted views of the Tengboche Monastery en route. Despite some earthquake damage and being well of the main trails, the Phortse village is a great place to stay overnight, as it has several good lodges.
Imja Tsho and Amphu Labtsa
Up a side valley, the village of Chhukung is a great detour off the main Everest Base Camp trail. Many trekkers embark on this fabulous half-day hike up to the viewpoint atop ‘Chhukung Ri’. Only a few mettlesome trekkers dare to continue up the valley to the Island Peak Base Camp and even fewer branch off before getting there to visit the south side of ‘Imja Tsho’ lake and the base of the wall-like Amphu Laptsa Pass. This is a wild and remote high mountain landscape.
The Three Passes
Undoubtedly, one of the most challenging and dramatic ways to get acquainted to the grandeur of the Everest region is embarking on a ‘Three Pass Trek’, which connects all the four of the main valleys close to Everest. The first and most spectacular of the three passes is the 5535m Kongma-La, which offers views of all the way east to Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak. Cho La (5420m) on the other hand can be accessed via Dzonglha. Even if you aren’t crossing the path, it is still worth a visit as it offers absolutely fine views of Ama Dablam peak down the valley. The 5345m Renjo-La is the third of the high passes and offers jaw-dropping views back down to Gokyo Lake, with Mt. Everest poking its head up in the distance.