Find high-performance outdoor clothing, gear, and accessories that make wise and responsible use of resources. See more Mountain Gear Sustainable Pick items.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Solu Khumbu

The photo at right shows the jam-packed trail about halfway between Lukla and Namche Bazaar in Nepal, early one morning after the Lukla airport had been closed for two days because of poor weather. An estimated 80 flights arrived in Lukla the day the airport opened, dropping off more than 1,000 trekkers anxious to make up for lost time. They weren't making much time this morning. Fortunately, we were headed in the opposite direction, and once we'd pushed past the camera-wielding tourists, lumbering dzopkyos, and porters laden with 200 pounds of kerosene and San Miguel beers, the trail was nearly all ours again, just as it had been for most of our trek.

When we planned our Solu Khumbu trek, we were guided by time constraints (only two weeks in the mountains) and by more desire to experience a variety of Nepali culture than to see a constant panorama of high mountains. We quickly realized that we had neither the time nor the interest to hike all the way to Everest Base Camp, as most Khumbu trekkers do. Instead, experienced friends such as Jim Nowak, cofounder of the dZi Foundation, recommended that we follow the uncrowded, less-Westernized traditional Everest approach from Jiri. However, we also were warned that the Jiri trek begins with a series of punishing ascents and descents. Then we discovered that there was an airport at Paphlu, about halfway between Jiri and Lukla. We opted for the roller-coaster flight to Paphlu's hillside dirt airstrip ("Thank you for flying with us. Please pick up your heart by the gate") and began our trek there, and this proved to be a terrific compromise.

We were starting in the Solu half of the Solu Khumbu region, among lush, terraced hill farms and small Sherpa and Rai villages. Each day we saw only one or two other Western parties, and usually we were the only guests at the teahouses we used; we encountered only one other group of Americans in five days of trekking. Solu was a feast of unexpected delights. At the huge Thupten Choling monastery, we watched and listened to a broad room full of monks at prayer, and shared photos with the young monks and nuns. Creeks and flumes spun enormous water-powered prayer wheels. A family butchered a buffalo in the trail, the enormous heart standing on a wooden stake, the entrails hung on a clothes line to dry; later we saw porters carrying baskets laden with buffalo meat up the trail for celebrations of the Tihar festival; a crow landed repeatedly on one porter's basket and pecked at the meat as he walked along. We drank rich, brothy Sherpa tea in a home near Taksindu La. Young singers crowded into the tiny dining room of our teahouse in Nunthala to peform the "Bhailini!" chorus, sung on the third day of Tihar. The next day, young men and women in traditional dress danced in nearly every village. Slowly, unfamiliar peaks were revealed, including broad, sacred Numbur (below), just under 7,000 meters high.

When we joined the main Everest trail near Lukla, the character of the trek changed instantly. Suddenly there was a steady stream of large trekking groups—10 to 20 walkers and their guides. Arrows appeared by chortens, pointing out the correct clockwise route to walk around them. (Most trekkers ignored the arrows.) We celebrated our first flush toilets, and the broader range of choices on dinner menus. And, of course, the famed Khumbu peaks hove into view, including our first sighting of Everest and Lhotse. We were saddened about leaving Solu behind, but excited to see what the Khumbu would bring.

1 comment:

pda-boys said...

nice post...i like it because i m from solukhumbu...