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Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.

Solo trekking to the Gokyo Lakes

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

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AsiaNepalTravel
The spectacular 6,782m Kangtega mountain
The spectacular 6,782m Kangtega mountain - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Introduction

To kick off my round the world tour, I first want­ed to dis­con­nect from our mod­ern civil­i­sa­tion. I want­ed to be­come lost in the wilder­ness and to have am­ple time to think about my jour­ney ahead. I have loved trekking for many years, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly com­plet­ed sev­er­al mul­ti-week treks in ar­eas such as Tas­ma­nia’s wilder­ness, pro­tect­ed trop­i­cal Is­lands, as well as the An­na­pur­na cir­cuit. I had al­ready or­gan­ised to vis­it Nepal to at­tend a month long med­i­ta­tion course, so since I would be fly­ing to the coun­try I de­cid­ed to start my trip with a walk, or rather five weeks of con­tin­u­ous walk­ing.

I chose Gokyo as my des­ti­na­tion af­ter read­ing Lone­ly Plan­et’s “Trekking in the Nepal Hi­malaya”. There are quite a lot of treks in Nepal, Lone­ly Plan­et on­ly just scratch­es the sur­face, as I found out once I had ar­rived, but the Emer­ald Lakes of Gokyo stood out to me the most. Orig­i­nal­ly I want­ed to walk Mt. Man­aslu, but it re­quired that I walk in a group of two and take a guide. That didn’t work for me, as I want­ed to walk so­lo. An­oth­er op­tion was the Do­p­lo Re­gion, but again re­quired a guide and a group. So af­ter much read­ing, I de­cid­ed to go with Gokyo; a trek de­scribed in Lone­ly Plan­et as “the high­lights of Ever­est Base Camp with­out the tourism”.

This ar­ti­cle has an ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­to al­bum on Flickr, check it out here!

Arriving

Monastery in the Mountains
Monastery in the Moun­tains - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Touch­ing down in Trib­hu­vana Air­port is like go­ing back in time. The air­port is a com­plete sham­bles; with peo­ple stand­ing on the run­way for self­ies with aero­planes, and the bag­gage col­lec­tion area a sea of aban­doned trol­leys, stacks of tele­vi­sions and oth­er im­port­ed goods, and a throng of peo­ple fill­ing what space was left.

The first thing I had to do was or­gan­ise my sim card, stand­ing in the queue I met a la­dy from Es­to­nia al­so plan­ning on trekking; so we split a taxi to the city and over the com­ing days de­cid­ed to join our treks, though re­alised that we wouldn’t fin­ish it to­geth­er as we had dif­fer­ent time­lines.

Getting to Solukhumbu

To start the trek I de­cid­ed to walk in rather than catch one of the per­ilous planes. There had been one crash al­ready in 2017, though it wasn’t wide­ly re­port­ed on be­cause it was on­ly a car­go plane rather than a pas­sen­ger plane. Ac­cord­ing­ly, the air­line was re­brand­ed lat­er the same month.

Orig­i­nal­ly I planned to walk in to the Ever­est area via Jiri, how­ev­er I was sug­gest­ed by a lo­cal man to walk in via Sal­leri as it was three days short­er. There wasn’t a lot of in­for­ma­tion about the Sal­leri trek on­line, how­ev­er this blog proved to be fair­ly use­ful, but lacked a bit of de­tail. I doc­u­ment­ed each day of walk­ing quite thor­ough­ly, though I won’t post my records here as it is out­side of the scope of this web­site. If you would like my trail notes, then feel free to send me an email.

Catching the Local Jeep

To get to Sal­leri, you need to catch a jeep or a lo­cal bus. I caught a jeep, and sup­pos­ed­ly the jeep is more com­fort­able than the bus, but I haven’t caught the bus so I can’t com­ment. To buy the tick­ets we were tak­en to the bus de­pot by my ho­tel. The bus de­pot is in Chabahil on the ring road, you can see it quite eas­i­ly on Google Maps by search­ing for Chabahil Chowk. The tick­ets cost 1400rs each, or about $17 AUD, though ac­cord­ing to oth­er blogs they were 900rs. I guess the price had gone up, though is still ex­cep­tion­al­ly cheap.

Three generations in Solukhumbu
Three gen­er­a­tions in Solukhum­bu - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The jeep was due to de­part at 5am, but didn’t get away un­til 5:30am, which I still con­sid­er to be an over­whelm­ing suc­cess con­sid­er­ing the punc­tu­al­i­ty of most Nepali trans­port. The jour­ney took around 12 hours in to­tal, and cov­ered a dis­tance of about 200km. The road for the most part was pret­ty good; it was sealed for most of the trip, with the oc­ca­sion­al un­sealed cor­ner, or patch of shat­tered road where a boul­der had fall­en down from above. Talk­ing to oth­er trav­ellers who had com­plet­ed the jour­ney in pre­vi­ous years, you used to have to swap jeeps half way through and cross a rope lad­der on foot. The fi­nal 20km or so of road was the worst; this sec­tion was com­plete­ly un­sealed, hugged the edge of a moun­tain, and dropped off sharply in to a foam­ing riv­er far be­low. Parts of this sec­tion were ex­treme­ly rocky, I had to hold on to the door han­dle in the car to keep my­self from slid­ing around the seat­belt-less back seat. Dur­ing the lat­er part of the trip I spot­ted two bus­es turned over and rust­ed out a few hun­dred me­ters away from the road down the val­ley. At one point we came across a heavy chain draped across the road, fol­low­ing the chain you could see a Jeep down the val­ley. The ac­ci­dent must have hap­pened with­in a few hours.

Rid­ing in the jeep with us was a moun­taineer­ing guide from Ka­pan. On the way out of the val­ley he point­ed out a small, dis­tant pin­na­cle pok­ing out of a cloud - Mount Ever­est. Such an amaz­ing gift. You could not see the foot of the moun­tain at all, just the peak high in the sky.

Walking to Namche Bazaar

Villages leading to Namche Bazaar
Vil­lages lead­ing to Nam­che Bazaar - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Walk­ing in from Sal­leri was one of the most spe­cial parts of the trek for me. The vil­lages in this area ex­ist­ed for more than just tourism, you could see the vil­lagers just liv­ing their nor­mal lives. The weath­er un­for­tu­nate­ly on the first two days was a bit wet, which was fair­ly un­heard of for Oc­to­ber, though not un­pleas­ant but it did make mud­dy, treach­er­ous walk­ing. The worst sec­tion was the climb in to Nun­tha­la; here the path had swollen to two me­ters wide from the don­key trains, and it was very mud­dy. You could slip eas­i­ly, and with each step the hun­gry mud would swal­low your foot up by a few inch­es. The trail ev­ery­day went up 600m in al­ti­tude, be­fore dip­ping back down an­oth­er 600m in al­ti­tude, so it was pret­ty tough go­ing. It crossed through forests of Rhodo­den­drons, over ex­posed high-pass­es, and past im­mac­u­late­ly main­tained Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies. For the first day we didn’t see any oth­er tourists, not un­til we had con­verged with the main Jiri trail did we start to see oth­er trav­ellers, and even then the vol­ume of peo­ple was just a frac­tion of what we would en­counter lat­er. Dur­ing this part of the walk, my Es­to­ni­an friend and I part­ed ways, as I be­came un­well with what I sus­pect­ed to be food poi­son­ing and had to take an af­ter­noon of rest.

Shrine in 500 year old monastery
Shrine in 500 year old monastery - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

One of the most spe­cial parts of this sec­tion was a 500 year old Bud­dhist Monastery that I found as part of a side trail. The monastery fea­tured a shrine of Gu­ru Rin­poche, who is an 8th cen­tu­ry Bud­dhist mas­ter, and is con­sid­ered to be the ‘Sec­ond Bud­dha’ across Ti­bet. It was a very spe­cial day; I was shown around the tem­ple by a monk who was the same age as me.

Walking with the donkey trains
Walk­ing with the don­key trains - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Nam­che Bazaar is a bit of a hub in the Ever­est Re­gion; it is a large town, which ev­ery­body needs to pass through to reach the trekking des­ti­na­tions be­yond. It is al­so an im­por­tant ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion point, you have to rest here for at least one night, but prefer­ably two, be­fore you con­tin­ue on un­less you are will­ing to risk get­ting al­ti­tude sick­ness. To get in to Nam­che Bazaar there is a day of steep climb­ing; for the first part of the day you are fol­low­ing a tur­bu­lent riv­er fed by the glaciers high up in the moun­tains, be­fore be­gin­ning a steep two hour climb on a dusty trail switch­ing back and forth through pine for­est and cross­ing steel sus­pen­sion bridges. On this sec­tion of the walk I met up with three ladies from West­ern Aus­tralia. We walked to­geth­er up to Nam­che Bazaar, and shared ac­com­mo­da­tion for two nights. This was to be the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of their trek, so af­ter the two nights they re­turned back to Luk­la and on­wards to Kath­man­du.

Namche Bazaar to Gokyo

Nepali enjoying view of Ama Dablam
Nepali en­joy­ing view of Ama Dablam - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

From Nam­che my next des­ti­na­tion was to be Gokyo and its famed Emer­ald Lakes. De­part­ing from Gokyo I went via the Ever­est View Ho­tel, for as its name sug­gests, it has a nice view of Mt. Ever­est on clear days. Luck­i­ly for me it was a clear day, so here I re­laxed for half an hour while I soaked in the view. More spec­tac­u­lar how­ev­er, was the view of Ama Dablam. In lo­cal lore Ama Dablam means “Moth­ers Neck­lace”, where the main pin­na­cle of the moun­tain rep­re­sents the moth­er and the two small­er pin­na­cles are her lov­ing arms wrapped around her child. To me, Ama Dablam is the most beau­ti­ful moun­tain in the Hi­malayas, and one that I cap­tured a lot of with my cam­era. Ama Dablam aside, I felt a pow­er­ful sense of ac­com­plish­ment to be sit­ting in sight of Mt. Ever­est, hav­ing car­ried my­self here on my own with­out a group or a guide.

Major town Khumjung on the way to Gokyo
Ma­jor town Khumjung on the way to Gokyo - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

On this sec­tion of the Trek I be­friend­ed two oth­er trav­ellers, an Aus­tralian man and a Dutch man. The Aus­tralian was a pho­tog­ra­pher as well, and we had some nice chats to­geth­er about pho­tog­ra­phy gear. The dutch guy told us a sto­ry about his friend who had in­jured him­self cross­ing a high pass, and how they had to re­cruit a group of eight porters to run his friend down the moun­tain. Mean­while they were un­luck­i­ly at­tacked by a wild yak, which was fend­ed off by the porters throw­ing stones at it. In the end his friend was flown to Kath­man­du by he­li­copter.

This sec­tion of the walk was far more des­o­late than the pre­vi­ous, and of­fered some tru­ly spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain views. The trail hugged the cliff edge all the way up the val­ley from Nam­che to Gokyo. The path was pre­dom­i­nate­ly less than one me­ter wide, and dropped off sharply down the val­ley in to the Dudh Kosi, a riv­er fed by glaciers and lakes high up in the moun­tain. Dzo, a work­ing an­i­mal which is crossed be­tween Yak and Cow, are driv­en through this sec­tion of the trek, so you have to be sure to let them pass on the val­ley side of the trail, as they can eas­i­ly bump you.

Around Gokyo

Second emerald lake of Gokyo
Sec­ond emer­ald lake of Gokyo - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

I spent a to­tal of four days stay­ing around Gokyo, which is at an al­ti­tude of 4800m. The tea house where I stayed, and was rec­om­mend­ed to me by a few dif­fer­ent peo­ple, saw quite a few so­lo trav­ellers vis­it, so each night I had some­one to talk to. There were quite a few in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters that passed through; in­clud­ing a Eu­ro­pean who had been to Nepal 22 times, ev­ery year for the past 22 years; he spoke Nepali flu­ent­ly. The host­ess of the tea­house each night cooked pop­corn for us, from corn that was grown lo­cal­ly by her fa­ther, so it was quite a spe­cial treat.

View of Gokyo and third emerald lake from Gokyo Ri
View of Gokyo and third emer­ald lake from Gokyo Ri - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Around Gokyo there are a few side treks which of­fer some fan­tas­tic scenic views. The first is the climb up to the top of Gokyo Ri; a dusty out­crop that juts up to 5400m al­ti­tude at the edge of Gokyo town. This is quite a spec­tac­u­lar van­tage point as it of­fers 360 de­gree views of Hi­malayan moun­tains, in­clud­ing Mt. Ever­est. This view is con­sid­ered to be one of the best in the re­gion, with Lone­ly Plan­et claim­ing that such a view is usu­al­ly re­served for Bal­loon­ists and rock climbers. The day that I vis­it­ed had bright blue skies and very few clouds; it was the view for which I had trekked for weeks to see. I spent a few hours at the top just en­joy­ing the view, be­fore slow­ing de­scend­ing down. At 5400m al­ti­tude, it was the high­est that I had climbed in my life, and pos­si­bly the high­est that I’ll ev­er climb again. Let’s see!

One of the key rea­sons for Gokyo’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is the six emer­ald lakes which sur­round it. They are tru­ly breath­tak­ing with hues of blues shouldn’t be­long to any body of wa­ter. When you are walk­ing in to Gokyo you pass three of the lakes, and you can see the re­main­ing three as part of a side walk. Un­for­tu­nate­ly it is quite a long trek to get to the sixth, so most peo­ple who vis­it will on­ly see the first five, and this was the same for me as well. I tried to trek up to the sixth lake, but I was alone; no one else walked that far, and as I was get­ting clos­er to the lake a big storm-front was start­ing to roll in, and be­ing three hours away from the town I de­cid­ed to walk back. This was one of the most spe­cial days of walk­ing for me, it of­fered some amaz­ing moun­tain views, due to the glacial high­way break­ing all pos­si­ble in­ter­rup­tions.

Glacier moraine leading to Gokyo Town
Glacier moraine lead­ing to Gokyo Town - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The fi­nal side trek that I did while stay­ing in Gokyo was through the glacier it­self. I spent one day walk­ing through the glacial moraine and back again, just to ex­pe­ri­ence what it was like. It was like walk­ing on the moon, with rocks creak­ing around you, and rub­ble cas­cad­ing off near­by hid­den ledges. There are many small glacial lakes through the moraine, some of which I hiked down to see. The lakes were bor­dered by walls of sol­id ice veined with blue cracks and the wa­ter was a steely grey colour, with im­mense blocks of ice break­ing their sur­faces. The walls of ice are the on­ly hint of the for­mer glacier, most of the time all that you saw was the grey rub­ble, ground away in mil­len­nia past in to a fine sand by a long since re­treat­ed glacier. How­ev­er, if you at­tempt to walk up to the sixth emer­ald lake, then you can see the re­main­der of the glacier. It is a shad­ow of its for­mer glo­ry, it took hours of trekking along the moraine be­fore even see­ing the start of it.

Over Renjo La

Yak frozen in the early morning
Yak frozen in the ear­ly morn­ing - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

From Gokyo I trekked back to Nam­che Bazaar via Ren­jo La. I had the op­tion to trek back via Cho La and take the Ever­est Base Camp route back to Nam­che Bazaar, but I re­al­ly wasn’t in­ter­est­ed in walk­ing with vast num­bers of large tour groups, and to have to sleep in din­ing rooms on ac­count of the guides book­ing ev­ery­thing up. But aside from that fact, I was strong­ly in­ter­est­ed in the his­tor­i­cal el­e­ment of the Ren­jo side of the re­gion. Ren­jo was an an­cient trad­ing route be­tween Nepal and Ti­bet, but closed down since the Chi­nese in­vad­ed. Ren­jo is al­so in the rain shad­ow of the moun­tain range and there­fore has much harsh­er veg­e­ta­tion, with rich or­ange grass­es, green moss­es, and sparkling graphite coloured stone. I can un­der­stand that it’s not ev­ery­ones pref­er­ence to be in such a des­o­late area, but that is why I want­ed to see it; to wit­ness harsh­ness which brings to your mind im­ages of Ti­bet.

The trek it­self was quite a chal­lenge; you first had climb 600m in al­ti­tude from Gokyo to the top of the pass, then de­scend 1000m down to the next town. There is no tea­house from Gokyo for eight hours of trekking, which means you have to car­ry your own food. This is in com­par­i­son to pret­ty much ev­ery­where else in the re­gion where you have guar­an­teed food stops ev­ery three to four hours, and of­ten less.

For this sec­tion of the trek I was walk­ing with a Pol­ish cou­ple that I met at Gokyo. They were a love­ly cou­ple, and helped me with my in­jured knee; I slipped over and strained it when walk­ing down from the Ren­jo pass.

From Gokyo it took three days to get back to Nam­che Bazaar, but could eas­i­ly have been down in two.

Staying at Namche Bazaar

Now that I had fin­ished the main por­tion of my trek I had some time to kill and de­cid­ed to take a rest stop in Nam­che Bazaar. In Nam­che I spent some days writ­ing ar­ti­cles about my past year, and about my plans for the fu­ture. A lot of those ar­ti­cles you can now see on this site. This was quite time­ly, as I had caught a light cold some­where so it took me a few days to get over that.

Lawudo and Tengboche

Trail from Lawudo to Thame
Trail from Lawu­do to Thame - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

For the fi­nal por­tion of my trek, my mum was go­ing to come to vis­it me. She flew in to Luk­la then hired a porter to car­ry her bag up to Nam­che Bazaar. At Nam­che Bazaar I took some of her ex­tra weight and we trekked to­geth­er up to Lawu­do Gom­pa. Lawu­do Gom­pa is quite fa­mous with­in Ti­betan Bud­dhism, as the head of the FPMT (Foun­da­tion for the Preser­va­tion of the Ma­hayana Tra­di­tion), a pro­lif­ic Bud­dhist or­gan­i­sa­tion, is said to be a rein­car­na­tion of the Lawu­do Lama. We spent two nights here with a vis­it­ing nun from Aus­tralia, and the nun who looks af­ter the Gom­pa; Ani La. While we were stay­ing here we helped to make wa­ter of­fer­ings to each of the Bud­dhas in the Gom­pa, a process which took a num­ber of hours to com­plete, but was deeply spir­i­tu­al.

View of Khumjung and Ama Dablam
View of Khumjung and Ama Dablam - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

From Lawu­do my mum and I did a small trek through the moun­tains; we spent a week trav­el­ling be­tween each of the ma­jor val­leys in the re­gion. First we vis­it­ed Thame Monastery in the west­ern val­ley; one of the big­gest monas­ter­ies in the area. From Thame we trekked for two days to vis­it Phortse in the cen­tral val­ley; which was quite a chal­lenge for my mum as the trail was long and steep, yet she made it through. I am proud of her as most trekkers are half her age, and most­ly they give their bags to porters to car­ry. As is of­ten the case, the most chal­leng­ing day was one of the most beau­ti­ful; the trail we walked on was less than one me­ter wide and dropped off sharply down to riv­er be­low, but of­fered un­par­al­leled views of the deep val­ley and the soar­ing Hi­malayan moun­tain range. The fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of our trek was to be Teng­boche in the East­ern Val­ley; a ma­jor stop on the way to Ever­est Base Camp. Teng­boche is an awe­some stop­ping point, perched on the shoul­der of a moun­tain, with steep climbs in to and out of it, and with­in Ten­boche is a beau­ti­ful Ti­betan Gom­pa. I think we may have got­ten the last room in all of Teng­boche as we ar­rived quite late and nor­mal­ly it is booked up in ad­vance by the big tour groups. We checked ev­ery tea­house in the vil­lage for a room, and the very last one in town had just one room left; we were very lucky for we had just fin­ished quite an ex­haust­ing day of walk­ing.

Returning to Kathmandu

Walking past Tengboche Monastery
Walk­ing past Teng­boche Monastery - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

From Teng­boche all that was left was a two day walk back to Luk­la then a flight to Kath­man­du. These fi­nal two days were very nice; com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent to the high­er al­ti­tude ar­eas. Gone were the spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain views, re­placed by thriv­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties nes­tled in green tem­per­ate forests. By this point we had left be­hind the harsh­ness for which the Hi­malayas is fa­mous for.

Walking up to Tengboche Monastery
Walk­ing up to Teng­boche Monastery - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

On the 11th of No­vem­ber, our tiny plane leaped from the in­fa­mous­ly short Luk­la run­way to car­ry us away from the Hi­malayas and my five weeks of trekking. Such a jour­ney it was! Think­ing back on it now I sore­ly miss my time there, and am blown away by the mem­o­ry of snow capped peaks, Yaks, Naks, Hi­malayan Thar, and smil­ing vil­lagers. Yet at the time I was hap­py to be fi­nal­ly re­turn­ing to the crea­ture com­forts of our mod­ern world.

Fin!

Thanks for read­ing! Af­ter my time trekking I par­took in a one month med­i­ta­tion course. If you are in­ter­est­ed in that jour­ney, then please read about it here.

You may al­so con­sid­er sub­scrib­ing, to re­ceive up­dates on my trav­els.

Tags

AsiaNepalTravel

About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.