Quest for Everest – A Photographic Journal to Everest Base Camp

I’ve been fascinated with Mt. Everest ever since I was a child. I remember learning about Sir Edmund Hillary and his quest to conquer Everest in school, and wanting to do the same. While the urge to scale the world’s highest peak faded with age, my desire to walk in Hillary’s footsteps only grew. So when my feather tailed dart landed on Nepal I knew it was time to pay homage to the ‘King of Khumbu’ who inspired my love of adventure and taught me Kiwis can fly. It was time I embarked on my own quest and conquered the Everest Base Camp Trek.

PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS…This blog post will be done as a photographic journal because let’s be honest words just don’t do justice to the pure and stunning scenery on the Everest Base Camp trek. Lush green valleys, pine tree forests, incredibly gorgeous animals, ice blue rapids, glacial pools and towering white peaks create a photographic dreamscape which made it virtually impossible to put my camera down. Choosing my favorite photos from the millions I took on my quest was painstakingly hard, so hopefully these will give you a glimpse into the trek and inspire you to explore the heart of the Himalayas.

Lukla – 2,860m

My trek to Everest Base Camp started in Lukla (2,860m) after a 40 minute flight from Kathmandu. If flying in a tiny, roaring aircraft through the Himalayan foothills wasn’t enough of an adrenaline rush, the flight lands at the Tenzing–Hillary Airport – the most dangerous airport in the world. It’s short, it’s steep, and the runway ends with a thousand meter drop into the valley below.

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TRAVEL HINT: Schedule in extra days at the end of your Nepal trip as flight delays in and out of Lukla are common.

Phakding – 2,652m

After a nail biting flight, the three hour downhill hike to the quiet riverside village of Phakding (2,652m) was an enchanting introduction to trekking in the Himalayas. During my walk I ran into droves of droopy eared donkeys and dzo (hybrid between a yak and a cow) carrying supplies to the mountain settlements. These quirky but cute looking animals really did take up the path, giving me a welcome lesson in trekking etiquette.

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TRAVEL HINT: During your trek give way to donkeys, dzo, yaks, and porters as they are carrying heavy loads and wont think twice about knocking you over.

Namche Bazaar – 3,440m

Namche Bazaar (3,440m) is the last large village full of shops, restaurants and wi-fi cafes and marks the end point of western comforts before heading higher up into the mountains. It is a common place to take an acclimatization day… but before I could rest and enjoy this Himalayan haven I had to pay my dues, which involved swaying on five suspension bridges as donkeys trotted behind me (including the Hillary Bridge), being yelled at by a drunk for taking a photo of his dzo, and a three hour vertical climb. I found this by far the most physically hard and grueling day during the trek but I would walk it a thousand times over for the stunning mountain views Namche offers its guests.

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TRAVEL HINT: Everest documentaries are screened after 3 pm at cafes in Namche Bazaar, a good way to get motivated before the really hard trekking begins. 

Tengboche – 3,867m

As time passed, the rustic charm of ply wood walled tea houses and minus temperatures at night disappeared along with my apetite and I began to question my sanity in starting my quest. But stunning mountain views that grow more prominent with my every step inspired me to push on-wards.

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TRAVEL HINT: Stay positive during the trek, remember you are on holiday. Take time to enjoy the view and laugh with your fellow trekkers it will make you feel better and make the walk less daunting.

Lobuche – 4,940m

As we moved closer to base camp, the temperature began dropping, and the air got thinner, everything became a relentless and monotonous challenge. Turning over in bed left my heart thumping, getting dressed left me gasping, even using the toilet was an exhausting exercise. Gradually I stopped taking showers, or even touching liquid, the icy water and frosty air stung when it poured over my purple skin making me gasp for oxygen that just didn’t exist. I got to a point where I just wanted the struggle to end, my only motivation to continue now was my inability to admit defeat.

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TRAVEL HINT: The trek to Everest Base Camp is a snails race, walk slow, if you feel out of breath your walking too fast.

Gorakshep – 5,150m

Reaching Gorakshep at 5,150m felt like an achievement in itself. Despite shaking legs that gave way with every step and a pounding headache from the thin air there was no turning back or giving up now – in three hours I would be at base camp and my quest would be complete.

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TRAVEL HINT: Stay hydrated, drink 3 to 4 litres of water a day to prevent headaches caused by dehydration.

Everest Base Camp – 5,364

Reaching Everest Base Camp at 5,364m gave me a euphoric sense of accomplishment. After eight days of early mornings, headaches, blisters,and no showers, I can finally say Ive stood in the footprints of a kiwi hero who accomplished extraordinary things, toe-to-toe with the top of the world. After hugs, handshakes and a few mandatory photos in front of the pile of rocks and prayer flags I found myself standing in awe at the presence before me…. A canvas of towering snow capped mountains, the Khumbu glacier, an occasional avalanche, beautiful tents of different colors, and the magnificent specter of the mountain that made this Kiwi an adventure junkie – Mt. Everest. My quest for Everest wasn’t easy, it was one of the hardest challenges Ive ever faced both mentally and physically but one that upon reaching base camp, became my proudest moment – an accomplishment worth the struggle.

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Trekking Route:

Day 01: Flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, then 3 hour trek to Phakding (2,652m).
Day 02: 5 hour trek from Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3,440m).
Day 03: Acclimatization day.
Day 04: 6 hour trek from Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (3,867m).
Day 05: 7 hour trek from Tengboche to Dingboche (4,360m).
Day 06: 3 hour trek from Dingboche to Duglha (4.600m).
Day 07: 4 hour trek from Duglha to Lobuche (4,940m).
Day 08: 5 hour trek from Lobuche to Gorakshep (5,150m) then 3 hour trek to Everest Base Camp (5,364m).
Day 09: 8 hour trek from Gorakshep to Pheriche (4,280m).
Day 10: 7 hour trek from Pheriche to Namche Bazaar (3,440m).
Day 11: 6 hour trek from Namche Bazaar to Lukla (2,860m).
Day 12: Flight from Lukla to Kathmandu.

*I booked a 12 day private tour with a guide and porter through a trekking company on my arrival in Kathmandu for $999 USD pp.

Aleisha xx.

Culture Shock in India: What the guide books don’t tell you.

I have always loved travelling in non-western country’s and exploring their less touristic areas. I have traveled overland through most of South-East Asia where I came head-to-head with culture differences, and quirky circumstances that challenged me and I took it all in my stride relishing every moment. It only made sense to turn things up a notch on my round the world trip and conquer incredible India.

Everyone I’ve talked to about travelling in India told me I’ll see things I’ll want to forget, but India is a “spiritual journey” that will bring me to tears before I find the beauty. I wasn’t really prepared for India. I don’t think I ever could be ready to tackle the cultural shocks that, well, ‘shocked’ me when I landed in Kolkata.

The first thing I noticed when I emerged from the yellow Ambassador taxi that shuttled me from the airport to the dirty streets of the Esplanade was the amount of people begging. I thought I was used to people asking for money as this is a common sight in underdeveloped countries but the tactics used to extort handouts from sympathetic tourists is so much more unpleasant to witness in India. Everywhere I walked filthy looking woman with young children in their arms would come running towards me, dangling their lifeless looking child in front of me as they grovelled for money.  Little boys with running noses would bang on my taxi window and shout “one rupee, one coin” and men in sarees clapped their hands in my face demanding money to pass. I understand that India is a poverty-driven country and some people have to beg because they have an inability to work due to poor health, but I also know some families opt for begging to earn their livelihood exploiting their own children in the process.

My heart melted when I saw a young woman my own age holding a tiny baby begging outside the Red Fort in Delhi and I felt obligated to help for the sake of her helpless child. Later I was overwhelmed with dis-taste and shock when I found out that beggars outside tourist attractions are in most cases are part of “begging gangs” and babies are rented to give credibility to the scam. The begging scene in India truly devastated me, it made me question my role as a tourist in the development of poverty.  As a caring and empathetic person I want to donate money and help the less fortunate but by giving money to beggars I know I’m enabling the cycle of child neglect and trickery to continue while simultaneously disadvantaging individuals who really need assistance.

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Before I landed I heard stories of children playing in mounds of rubbish on the street, cow dung gracing the pavements and the overall pollution. Having been warned I stocked up on antibacterial hand sanitizer and baby wipes, but I didn’t expect to be visiting the ‘world’s largest rubbish dump’ and here Purex wouldn’t do the trick. As I pushed my way through the crowded Kolkata streets, the narrow allies of Varanasi and Jodhpur the stench of urine lingered from where men had pee’d against the wall like dogs marking their territory. If the stench of fresh urine in 42 degree heat wasn’t foul enough open sewers flowed along building foundations in ancient cities making it hard to walk anywhere and impossible to breath.

There is no such thing as taking a leisurely stroll in India. Nope walking is work. Alex and I walked around daily and it was impossible to walk side by side, we had to walk single file on the road with the cars, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles and of course, the stagnant pools of filth. When unemployment, poverty and begging riddle the nation it should be easy for the governing body to employ people to clean up the streets but this happening seems doubtful considering rubbish bins are non-existent.

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Everything in India seems to be in a state of anarchy and the roads are no exception. At best the traffic is manic, huge numbers of trucks, cars, buses, auto-rickshaws, and bicycles cram into small lanes honking at each other as if their vehicles ran on the sound of their horn and not petrol. Driving in India is about convenience and driving how you please, right of way is given to the bigger vehicle, the most impatient driver or cows. With so much chaos I found it next to impossible to cross the roads. Zebra crossings exist but for decorative purposes – Nobody stops to let you cross and no one seems to care if they hit you either.

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Despite being surrounded in chaotic crowed cities of millions, locals always managed to spot my fair skin. No matter where I traveled in India whether it be Rajasthan, Delhi or Agra: people would approach me with a phone in their hand and yell “selfie?” Every second person who passed me would ask to take a photo. In the beginning it was exciting; I felt like a celebrity posing with an adoring fan. For a short time at least . But then I noticed the amount of men taking photos and videos of me without my permission and this is when the novelty wore off and I started to feel like I was being harassed by the paparazzi. How many photos are there of me in India? Photos of me with smiling families visiting the Taj Mahal. Photos with giggling little girls holding my hand. Photos of me standing uncomfortably in the middle of 10 men. Photos of me with a scarf pulled over my face. Photos of me pulling the bird at the camera and the not so sneaky creep aiming it at me.  And who knows where all these photos end up, You never know a pervert could be hiding in between those smiley faces.

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These are the things you don’t want to hear about when you ask about travelling in India. But these are the things the guide books leave out. Travel isn’t just about the glamorous Facebook sharing moments, it’s about uncovering the reality of a culture, country and people different to our own.

India has left such a massive impression on me, India pushed me out of my comfort zone everyday, this made travelling in India more challenging and therefore more rewarding.

Aleisha xx.