Summit Dreams: Trekking Tales from Everest Base Camp

There’s a joke among climbers in this part of the world. A Nepali’s idea of “flat” is a little up and a little down. It’s not a joke. It’s the cold truth.

There are no easy days on this trek. This is big-mountain country and the steep ascents and descents never let you forget that. No leisurely strolls through meadows here. There are only two kinds of terrain on the trail – steep and very steep. 

Over 8 days, we ascended from an elevation of approximately 9000 feet to over 18000 feet and then all the way back down again over the next 3 days. It tested both my physical and mental fortitude to their limits.  

But all tiredness disappeared when, on Day 9, I stepped out at 3:30 am from our tea house at Gorakshep and saw the snow-capped mountains all around me shimmering in the glow of the near-full moon. Surreal.

Setting out for Kala Paththar under a moonlit sky

The temperature was a bone-chilling -15 °C.  After a 2.5-hour long, steep climb I was on top of Kala Pathar. It is the peak that offers the best views of Mount Everest. The spectacular panoramic view has not just Mount Everest in it but Nuptse and Lhotse as well. 

At more than 18000 feet, Kala Pathar is the highest altitude I have ever attained. Just as the first rays of the sun began to bathe the peaks in a yellow glow, the still-bright moon started going down behind the peaks. At that moment, the grind of the last eight days felt completely worthwhile. I counted my blessings.   

Ever since I started trekking, a trek to the Everest Base Camp has been on my bucket list. My resolve strengthened when I saw the movie Everest. To attempt the summit, I will have to wait for the next lifetime. A pilgrimage to the Base Camp would do for now. Hikers come here from all corners of the world, from Canada to Australia. Being right next door in India and not going would be a sin. 

I had booked my trek through Bikat Adventures. The 12-day trip ex-Kathmandu cost around INR 60,000 excluding food. The return flight to Kathmandu was approximately INR 30,000 and food on the trek cost around INR 35000. Including miscellaneous expenses, one can budget approximately INR 150,000 for the trip. Our group had only three hikers and was accompanied by a guide and a porter. 

Day 0 – Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

I had a spare day in Kathmandu which I used for a spot of sightseeing. Boudhanath is a giant, whitewashed stupa with a glistening golden crest painted with the eerie-looking Boudha eyes. It is beautifully adorned with colourful Tibetan prayer flags. It’s one of the most important Buddhist shrines in Nepal. The stupa is surrounded by a circular gallery with some very atmospheric cafes and beautiful stores selling exquisite Tibetan handicrafts. I enjoyed lunch at one of the many rooftop cafes with a glass of chilled Coke and arguably the best views in town.  

In the evenings, Thamel is the place to be in. This neighbourhood in downtown Kathmandu is backpacker central. Trekkers and tourists from all over the world congregate here. It is packed with affordable accommodation, cafes and pubs serving all manner of global cuisine, trekking gear stores and handicraft shops. The bustle around the place has to be felt to be believed. It really comes alive in the evenings, with the music overflowing into the streets from its many excellent pubs. 

Day 1 – Kathmandu to Lukla by flight and onwards to Phakding 

The trip got underway with a flight to Lukla. Lukla Airport consistently features in the list of the most dangerous airports in the world. The tiny airstrip is only half a kilometre long and has a steep gradient. Our landing was uneventful (thankfully) but looking at the airstrip does induce a generous dose of trepidation. The 20-minute flight through the Himalayan foothills almost skirts the hills at times. With an outstretched hand, you may be able to touch the huts on the hills. Okay, I am exaggerating. But only a little.   

Lukla Airport – it doesn’t any prettier

At Lukla we met our guide, Chandra, and porter, Mahesh, had some tea and set off right away. The first day starts with a comfortable descent from Lukla to Phakding. The route passes through postcard-pretty villages and is dotted with teahouses every few metres. 

These tea houses are the lifelines of treks in Nepal. They provide frugal but cosy accommodation and simple but fresh, hot meals. The dining halls here are the centre of all activity where trekkers gather after the day’s toil to unwind, sip some hot ginger lemon or chilled beer, play cards and chat. Owing to a long tradition of hikers from the West coming in large numbers, one will find Pizzas, Pastas, Noodles and Pancakes on the menu, apart from the local staple Dal – Bhat. 

Nepali Daal-Bhaat

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazar 

The steepness of these slopes hits home today. It’s a long day’s walk to Namche. With every zig-zag turn, I prayed for a small flat stretch to catch my breath back. But the slopes are relentless. The scenery though was breathtaking. Most of the day’s trek is through a forest and multiple times during the day, we crossed the famous suspension bridges across the Dudh Kosi river. The Dudh Kosi is aptly named. The rapidly gushing water appears as white as a stream of milk. Crossing these suspension bridges, also used by yaks and mules, is a mini adventure in itself, especially when strong winds rock them vigorously.    

Gorgeous Namche Bazar

We entered Namche Bazar at dusk and immediately fell in love with this postcard-pretty town. Namche is the capital of the Khumbu region, the region in which Mount Everest is situated. Namche is a weird, out-of-step place on the otherwise spartan trail. It has cafes serving Salmon Sushi, Live Music bars and North Face stores. It’s a good place to stock up on any provisions one may need because supplies get scarce and scarily expensive beyond this point.  

Day 3 – Acclimatization at Namche Bazar

My idea of acclimatisation is a lazy day spent in bed with a book and some hot beverages. Our guide, Chandra, thought differently. 

Starting from Namche Bazar, we hiked up more than 1500 feet to the Everest View Hotel. The views from the hotel are spectacular. While Everest bestows the region with its fame, several other peaks in the region are strikingly beautiful. Ama Dablam, meaning “mother’s necklace’, a 20,000-foot-high peak that we encountered often on the trail, just mesmerised me. 

The snow-capped peak on the right is Ama Dablam

Near Namche Bazar is the Sherpa museum which does a fantastic job of documenting all facets of Sherpa life. It traces the history of the region from ancient to modern life, gives numerous glimpses of the colourful sherpa culture and documents the mountaineering feats in the region meticulously. It is an absolute must-visit for anyone wanting to understand this mysterious region. 

Day 4 – Namche to Tengboche 

Another day of gorgeous mountain views. Another day of back-breaking climbing. 

The unexpected highlight of the day was a bakery next to Tengboche Monastery. After days of eating the bland food at tea houses (the diminished sense of taste at high altitude was more to blame than the food itself TBH), this was a carnival for my tastebuds. The quality of their cakes was exceptional and a bakery like this won’t be out of place in Paris or Stockholm. Their cakes can do as much good for the soul as prayers at the monastery next door can. 

Coming to the monastery itself. The Tengboche Monastery is a 100-year-old gompa that is not only sacred to the Buddhist faithful but also to mountaineers who wish to summit Everest. They make it a point to seek blessings here before proceeding onward.  Listening to the monks chanting in the chorus was deeply moving. 

The teahouses in Tengboche were all full so proceeded to the next village enroute, Debuche to stay the night. If you are beginning to spot an obsession with names ending in “che”, well, “che” apparently means “ a place that the guru’s feet have trodden”. The stretch from Tengboche to Debuche passes through a beautiful Rhododendron forest. Though the flowers were not in bloom, this stretch still was among the prettiest we encountered in the entire trek. 

A walk through the Rhodo forest

Day 5 – Tengboche to Dingboche 

Today we left the greenery behind and climbed above the treeline. After this, the scenery would get increasingly stark. We passed through pretty little villages, Pangboche and Shomore on the way. 

While I was lucky to evade altitude sickness ( a fairly common occurrence) on the trek, there was no escaping homesickness. We weren’t halfway through yet. The most testing slopes were still ahead of us. The temperatures and oxygen levels would keep on dropping sharply. My taste buds were betraying me and all food was tasting bland. The prospect of enduring this for another week, without any friends for company, was weighing me down. I was beginning to feel that I had bitten off more than I could chew. 

The antidote for homesickness – this letter from my daughter

Day 6 – Acclimatization

One more acclimatisation day. But Chandra’s got no chill! 


We hiked up to a viewpoint and I must confess, the views made the climb well worth the effort. Once back, I spent the rest of the day catching up on sleep and some light reading.  

Day 7 – Dingboche to Lobuche 

Once again, today’s highlight was gastronomical. For lunch, I feasted on Indian-style Puri-Tarkari at a teahouse in Thukla. Soul food. No disrespect to the Daal-Bhaat or Pastas, but Puri is love. As more Indian trekkers start frequenting this region, a trend that has picked up after the pandemic, I hope some Indian food will also make its way to the menus here. 

The landscape continued to be starkly beautiful. The weather was bright and sunny and I have never seen bluer skies. The anticipation of nearing the Base Camp also buoyed my spirits and today’s climb, despite the challenging terrain, felt a lot more relaxed. 

Day 8 – Lobuche to Gorakshep & Everest Base Camp

Today was the big day. We started early in the morning and reached Gorakshep around 11 am. 

Enroute Gorakshep

Gorakshep, situated at nearly 17000 feet, is the highest settlement on the trek. It is a tiny patch of flat land surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. It has no source of water. The water here is airlifted through choppers. No wonder a bottle of water that costs NRS 30 in Kathmandu costs NRS 500 here. 

After a quick lunch, we headed off towards the Base Camp around 1 pm. The climb towards the Base Camp is along the famous Khumbu Glacier. The landscapes were nothing like anything I had seen before. The glacier looks beautiful and ominous at once.  

The fabled Khumbund Glacier in the foreground

The base camp itself is somewhat anticlimactic. It’s merely a relatively flat stretch of snow-free land covered in rocks and pebbles, the last such stretch before the glacier and ice fall. Its symbolic significance cannot be overstated, but it isn’t the prettiest sight you will see on the trek. The Everest peak itself is quite distant and hardly looks imposing from here. Add to that about 500 people jostling for the perfect photo at the same spot. 

Base Camp at last!

Nevertheless, the feeling of making it to this spot is indescribable. Legendary mountaineers who submitted Mount Everest would have all started their climb from here. I was standing at a spot with unparalleled significance in the world of mountaineering and I could not be more grateful.   

We slept early once we got back because we would leave for Kala Paththar in the dead of the night. Kala Paththar is, both figuratively and quite literally the high point of the trip. 

Days 9-11 – The descent!

After summiting Kala Pathar early on the morning of Day 9, we came back for a hearty, well-earned breakfast. And then we started the descent. On Day 9 we slept in Pangboche and the next night at Namche. By the evening of Day 11, I was back in Lukla. 

During the three days of descent, I felt truly relaxed to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Freed from the tyranny of ascent, I paused now and then to gawk at the majestic mountains. 

Himalayan Tahr

I was also fortunate to spot some rare Himalayan wildlife, a Musk Deer (which sprinted past me too quickly to be photographed) and a Himalayan Tahr (which did not mind posing for some clicks).  

I won’t brush aside the feeling of accomplishment lightly. This was the longest, highest and steepest trek I have done so far. If you want to hike for the joy of it, there are many alternatives in India that are easier on the eyes, on the body and the pocket. But if you want to trek for glory, there’s no better playground to test out your mettle and endurance than this big mountain country. 

Buran Ghati: A Tale in Green and White 

We went to sleep in our tents at 8 pm, not knowing what the following day would hold for us. We had reached Dhunda, the last campsite on the trail before Buran Pass, at a lofty 13000 feet. After braving the biting cold, inclement weather and treacherous terrain, we were here. But whether we would cross the Buran Pass, the raison d’etre of the trek would be decided by the weather gods. The trek leader would wake us up at 1:30 am, only if the weather stayed clear to the pass-crossing. 

The wake-up call never came. Instead, I woke up at dawn to find the campsite bathed in powdery white snow. I was instantly overcome with the disappointment of not getting a chance to cross the pass. It was to be the high point (quite literally!) of the trek. Not crossing over felt like unfinished business. I would forever wonder what lay beyond on the other side. But if something had to deny me the opportunity, I am glad it was the first snowfall of my life. 

The Essentials

Buran Ghati in Himachal Pradesh is considered among the most beautiful treks in the country, and justly so. It is a moderate-difficult trek because it climbs up to an altitude of 15000 feet. Indiahikes does a fantastic job of documenting treks and you can read the detailed itinerary on their site. I’ll focus more on my personal experiences and reflections here. 

I and a group of friends trekked with Trek the Himalayas (TTH) in May’23. The trek takes 7 days including transportation from and back to Shimla. The fee including all stays, meals, guide charges and transport was approximately Rs 16,000. 

The Journey Begins

Enroute Janglik

After a scenic 8-hour drive from Shimla, we reached Janglik, the tiny, postcard-pretty village that’s the base for the trek. With its charming traditional houses in wood and stone, beautiful temples and meandering paths through terrace farms, Janglik is a delight to walk around. 

Postcard-pretty Janglik

Here we met our trek leader, the local guides and our fellow trekkers. Our trek leader, Satyaprakash, was a stoic man of the mountains who would awe us by completing the entire trek in a pair of slippers. The local guides were a jolly bunch from Janglik, very hospitable and always at hand to help. Techies from Bangalore made up most of our trekking group. A welcome exception was 13-year-old Aarav, a spirited young boy who had already done other Himalayan treks and always stayed at the head of the group. 

We spent the night in a dorm in an austere homestay. The spartan homestay was a nice bridge between the comforts of city life and the frugal tent stays that were to follow. 

Our Homestay in Janglik

Paradise Found

Out on a walk the next morning, I crossed a lady who was carrying a big basket full of firewood from her farm on the slopes to her home up the hill. When I requested a photograph, she not only obliged happily but also invited several of her friends to get their portraits clicked! Soon a gaggle of Himachali ladies was crowding around my camera, giggling at their photos. Their faces were full of character and their easy, confident gaze had none of the bashfulness that characterizes their counterparts from the more conservative lowlands. They make light work of the arduous task of carrying manure, firewood and cattle feed up and down the hill between their farm and home. 

And on that note, we set off. Over the next two days, we trekked through gorgeous pine forests and lush green rolling meadows, soaking in the incredible Himalayan landscape. The big, snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar range kept us company throughout. The only people we met were either goatherds or fellow trekkers. 

The Campsite at Dayara Thatch
No words to describe this setting

Each campsite on the trek outdid the previous one. The campsite at Dayara, set amidst the meadows with grand mountain views, was absolutely gorgeous. The next one at Litham was set on deep-set snow with nothing but white snow all around and not a speck of green in sight. 

We also got used to being pampered with delicious, warm meals. The modern trekker need not bother with carrying provisions and cooking for themself. The good trek groups all provide simple but delicious and nutritious hot meals. Over the course of the trek, TTH treated us to an array of desserts including Shahi Tukda, Custard and Jalebi.    

Atop Frozen Chandranahan Lake

On the third day, we made an excursion to Chandranahan Lake from Litham. This alpine lake, flanked by tall mountains on all sides, is the source of the Pubber River. After the challenging hike up, we reached the top and found the lake completely frozen. The expansive mountains surrounded us on all sides and made us realize just how puny we are when juxtaposed with the might of nature.    

Nature dwarfs us

Not All’s Well

The excursion to Chandranahan had been taxing for some in our group. Their bodies were not acclimatizing well to the increased altitude of almost 14000 feet and they had struggled to maintain pace. Some of them were also experiencing increased heart rates or low oxygen saturation levels, both of which can be potentially dangerous. The trek leader had to turn some of them back. The news from the next camp at Dhunda was not great. It had been snowing incessantly, the tents were wet and the chances of pass-crossing were dwindling. All this prompted more than half of our party to turn back from Litham. 

Now this was my first trek with TTH and I have no major complaints. But I strongly feel they should have taken greater care to ensure that trekkers came prepared for the challenge. Indihikes is extremely professional in this regard. They insist that trekkers furnish proof of meeting their fitness goals before commencing the trek. TTH pays no heed to such stipulations and takes along everybody who shows up, irrespective of their fitness levels. They seem happy making a quick buck.  

Those of us who stayed back were dejected to see so many of the group leave. But we were determined to take our chances at crossing the pass. After all, that’s why we were here. 

Ascent from Litham to Dhunda

The ascent from Litham to Dhunda on the fourth day was a mild one and our group made short work of it. The Dhunda campsite is well above the treeline and entirely engulfed in snow. The first look at the Dhunda campsite took my breath away. Summit or no summit, this alone was worth soldiering on for. This winter wonderland was enveloped in fresh snow as far as the eye could see. 

Dhunda Campsite

Uncertainty & Speculation

We were all sitting clustered together in the common dining tent, discussing our prospects of crossing the pass, when suddenly, magically, it started snowing. This was bad news for our chances of crossing the pass the next morning but my heart spontaneously leapt with joy. This was the first time I was experiencing snowfall. I immediately sprinted out of the tent, rediscovering the child within. Within minutes, powdery white snow had covered all our bright red tents.

After a spell of fresh snow

We spent the entire afternoon observing the shifting weather and speculating how it would turn out the next morning. And the frequently changing weather kept us guessing. Rain and snow followed overcast skies but every now and again the sky would turn clear and the sun would peek out, giving us hope. I told myself that I had already gotten more on the trek than I had bargained for and the pass crossing would only be the cherry on the cake if it happened. After an early dinner, we went to sleep with nervous anticipation.


The weather gods were not kind. After relatively clear skies till one in the night, it had started snowing again and it continued to snow incessantly till dawn. We all woke up dejected but took it in our stride and saw it as an excuse to come back again to cross the pass some other day. As if we needed an excuse to come back to this paradise!    

We started our descent along the same route we had taken to climb up. Along the way, we were rekindling memories of crossing these same places on our way up. The stretch from Dhunda to Litham was laden with foot-deep fresh powdery snow. What’s more, it was still snowing. Trekking down amidst the snowfall felt surreal.  

First sight of green while descending

Coming back below the treeline and rediscovering the specks of green after being surrounded by a sea of white for three days was deeply refreshing. We completed the last hour of the descent towards Janglik in incessant, piercing rainfall. But the allure of reaching the base camp to a flat bed and a warm, dry blanket brought a spring to our strides.

The last mile

The homestay at Janglik which had seemed spartan when we had arrived at the beginning of the trip now felt like the epitome of luxury for our wet, muddied and tired bodies.     

This was the end of a memorable adventure. We headed back to Shimla the next morning, to civilization as we know it. 

Why do we trek?

I have often wondered what makes me want to trek. The terrain is strenuous and often treacherous. Sleeping inside tents in cramped sleeping bags is certainly not my idea of comfort. The toilet tents, despite best efforts, are invariably stinky. But the opportunity to experience the majesty of nature, away from the maddening crowds, trumps all manner of discomfort and has made trekking an addiction. 

I have also thought deeply about the morality of trekking. Trekking takes us to untouched but fragile ecosystems. We leave our biowastes behind which can, despite precautions, seep into the water stream and impact communities downstream. Most trekkers and trek operators are very conscientious and try their best to leave no plastic waste behind but lapses certainly occur. The mules carry heavy loads of provisions and tents for the group up and down the treacherous slopes and fatalities are not unheard of. 

The dark side

But on the credit side, the revenue from the trekking groups is a vital income supplement for communities hitherto dependent entirely on animal herding and seasonal agriculture. Many young men from the surrounding villages now choose to guide trekking groups over herding cattle. It also draws away the tourist load a little from the more commercialized hotspots.    

For trekkers, it’s a motivation to invest in one’s fitness. It certainly has been the driving force behind my attempt to maintain at least modest fitness levels. Trekking also stirs up consciousness and a leaning towards a more minimalistic life in harmony with nature. At least some of it stays with us, even after we are back in our urban jungles. 

But whom am I kidding? All said it’s just a drug that keeps me coming back for more.