With over 30,000 tourists hiking the trail every year, the Everest Base camp trek is one of the most popular treks in the world. It is not just adventure, nature and culture that Everest and its mountains offer but standing in the mountain’s colossal shadow in this region would as well quickly make you realize just how small you are and how impressive Mother Nature can be. This smorgasbord of rugged mountains, beautiful valleys and winding rivers however attracts adventure enthusiasts, making Everest base camp one of the most desirable and popular trekking destinations in the world.
In peak season, this trail offers one of the best views of the mountains in the Khumbu as well as a great communal buzz which makes you feel comfortable along the trail. On the other hand, the trail is overwhelmed, isn’t much serene and would have teahouses pack and require advance booking. Above all, the wilderness experience isn’t much wild and natural.
On 4th March of this very we had a calling from Gokyo lakes and hence we responded to the calling by boarding a flight to Lukla. There are several other options to reach Lukla, via Phaplu or via Bhandar, but since there was only adventure and nothing in our mind, we decided to give ourselves a little extra adrenaline punch by landing on one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
In the first two days, we hiked up the staple route to the Everest base camp via Phakding, Monjo and Namche bazaar. There are some exceptional alternative routes to the base camp which showcases you off the beaten experience, far from the hustle and bustle and most importantly a different view and aspect of very less explored section of the landscape. Gokyo valley and lakes is one of those off-the-beaten paths, which unlike the regular Everest Base Camp trail, is a circuit trek and takes you to one of the highest passes in the world. Beyond Namche we took the trail that goes towards Khumjung and from there the trail towards Phortse Thanga was serene and unbelievably beautiful, no doubt Everest is the king but plays peek a boo from the cloud and for that reason Lhotse, Ama Dablam along with several other peaks steals the show.
Beyond Sansa, the sign post read that we could reach Gokyo in only seven hours but I guess it forgot to mention that it is applicable only for super humans, because the elevation picked up more rapid than the price of food and accommodation. Jokes apart, the natural presence was beautiful and the weather was on our side but our body wasn’t taking too well to the gain in the altitude. We were exhausted, feeling dizzy and had mild headache, which were few signs of altitude sickness but amidst the colossal mountains and breathtaking scenery that these mountains formed, our physical problems seemed worth it.
After stopping for a day each in Phorse and Machharmo, we finally entered Gokyo valley. We noticed a sudden change in the landscape and vegetation, all the pine and birch forest changed to alpine shrubs. Furthermore, the land became more arid and dry, like it has been in the rain shadows. Nevertheless, Gokyo is best known for its very pretty lakes which reflects the snow draped mountains. These series of emerald green lakes, are the sources of Dudh Koshi river, and the lakes’ colour contrasts beautifully in real and photographs against the looming white mountains that surround them.
The initial plan was to rest and relax on the lodge’s patios overlooking the turquoise lakes surrounded by some high mountains including Cho Oyu.
But since we had read that there were six lakes namely Longabanga Tso the first lake, Tanjung Tso(4,720 m) the second lake, Gokyo Tso the third lake, Donag (4870m) the fourth lake, Ngozumpa (4990m) the fifth lake and Gyazumpa (5150m) the sixth lake. The sixth lake is as well known as Cho Oyu 1st base camp. (names confirmed with lonely planet, the longest trail books published in 2016) Since we had see the first, second on our way up and we treated ourselves on the third lake we head out to see the fourth and the fifth lake. We did not see the 6th lake as per the recommendation of the locals who said it would require us to walk for hours. Lack of time and inadequate camping gear stopped us from trekking to the sixth lake. It took us entire day to walk around the fourth and the fifth lake as we did it slow in a pace that we were comfortable with. Since there was no provision of accommodation in lakes further the 3rd lake we had to fall back to the same place where we started.
We stayed four days in the Gokyo lake and on the fourth and the last day, we hiked up to Gokyo Ri. Gokyo Ri, a peak adjacent to the lakes is major reason behind the influx of trekkers in the region. This 5,340 m mountain, 3 and half hour climb from the Gokyo lake, which requires no further permit and permission is an exceptional viewpoint. The view from the top of this prayer flag wrapped, rugged mountain, stretches as far as your eyes manages to and offers a blend of glacier and grass, rocks, snow and ice. The sunset over Everest and Makalu was undoubtedly beautiful and left a profound print on our minds and soul.
From Gokyo Ri we could have either done a high pass over the Cho La to the Everest base camp but due to several reasons and budget, we traced our way back on the same trail we had headed up. On the way back, we decided to take a short detour to Tengboche monastery, the biggest and one of the oldest in the Khumbu region. This monastery is beautiful and survived several tragedies to make it this far. After several restoration projects this monastery now houses several monks and students who study and live in the same. The place as well showcases mountain grandeur at its optimum.
The entire trip took us around 12 days and it was one of the best trips we have had in the recent days. Gokyo is not much of a cultural trek like how the Everest base camp is but it is one complete trek and offers a different approach to the same mountains. This is one highly recommended trek which is accessible and worth the buck.