Trekking in the Himalaya’s

I have always been intrigued by anything to do with Nepal and particularly Mount Everest. My visit to Nepal fulfilled a lifelong ambition to travel there and experience the country, its culture and its people firsthand. It did not disappoint! From the moment I arrived, I was greeted by warm hospitality and a vast array of new sights and experiences, but most importantly, I made some lifelong friends and cannot wait to return to visit the country with my own children so they too can experience firsthand, the beauty and diversity that is Nepal.
I spent 5 weeks in total in Nepal. I am a keen hill walker and it was only natural that my visit to Nepal would include some trekking. But Nepal has so much more to offer…..On arrival I initially spent 3 days in Kathmandu. It is a magical city with so much to see and do. It is bustling and busy, with an endless stream of taxis, bicycles and rickshaws. Thamel, the main tourist area of the city is full of atmosphere, with so many shops, restaurants and bars that one is really spoilt for choice .  It is well organised for dealing with tourists. But Kathmandu has much more to offer. The Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, Boudhanath Stupa, and Durbar Square are just a few of the bigger attractions, but get off the beaten track and you will find many smaller squares and temples with hidden idols, lingas and engravings to feast the senses. The worn and aged facades of the buildings, sometimes restored, sometimes not, all add to the beauty and the charm of the city.
The next stage of my trip was a four week trek to Everest Base Camp via Gokyo and the Cho La Pass. Our itinerary started with an internal flight from Kathmandu to Lukla Airport. Often said to be the most dangerous airport in the world, our flight was uneventful  but the views of the Himalayas as we approached were second to none.
On arrival, we were met by our porters who were to look after us for the next few weeks. Over the coming weeks we got to know these hardworking men and it never ceased to amaze me how they could put together fantastic meal after fantastic meal in less than ideal conditions. They were the people who made life much easier for us “Westerners”, working long hours to always make sure we were comfortable. Many had no English but they always had a friendly smile or a NAMASTE for us. Our guides, on the other hand had an excellent command of the English language and throughout the trek were always happy to answer any questions we had about the culture and history of their country of which they were so proud.
We trekked from Lukla via Phakding to Namche Bazaar ““ the Sherpa capital of the Khumbu region. Namche is a settlement of about 60 dwellings and has many choices of accommodation in the village. It has a Saturday Market which is well worth wandering through for some photo opportunites. It has some excellent cafes (bakeries) and has internet access which is useful as most people choose to stay here for at least two nights to help with acclimatisation. Above the village there are a number of acclimatisation walks which offer  the first views of Everest (weather permitting of course). The museum of Sherpa life is about an hours trek from Namche and also worth a visit.
We carried on trekking through the various villages of Gokyo Valley until we came to the famous Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo village just to the west of the Ngozumpa Glacier ““ the longest glacier in the world. The nearby peak of Gokyo Ri gives superb views of Mount Everest and 4 other peaks over 8000m, making it well worth climbing. After 2 days in Gokyo we carried on to the Cho La Pass (5420m) and crossed to the Khumbu valley to hike in to Gorak Shep.  This is the highest inhabited village in the world and is the last area of civilisation before Everest Base Camp.
A 3 -4 hour hike will take you in to Everest Camp itself but there are no views of the mighty mountain from here. One must climb the nearby hill Of Kala Patar to get the best views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. It is best to set out in the early morning to obtain the views before the afternoon clouds begin to roll in! From here, for the trekker ““ there is nowhere to go but down….
For me this was when the real cultural joy of my visit to Nepal began.  Having achieved my goal of reaching Everest Base camp, I was now able to concentrate more on learning more about the people and their culture. My experience of the Nepalese people was one of warm friendship and acceptance as a foreigner. We were made to feel so welcome everywhere we went and in many ways it reminded me of what Ireland would have been like 150 years ago ““ people had very little wealth but were always willing to share. We visited Tengbouche Monastery, Khumjung School (founded by Sir Edmund Hilary) and Khunde hospital. We listened to monks chanting prayers in Tengboche monastery which was a wonderful experience.
My experience of the area was one of respectful awe. The people work very hard to make ends meet. Nothing is wasted yet even with so little material wealth they were wealthy in other ways ““ family traditions are extremely important. One of my abiding memories is of sitting in a Lady’s house one day while she cooked a most delicious lunch of fried rice for us. We were made feel most welcome in her meager surroundings. It is a memory I will never forget.
After our return flight to Kathmandu, we spent a day visiting the old city of Bhaktapur. This was a superb day trip and one not to be missed. The city is rich with culture, from bustling market traders, to stone potters to women in the fields bringing in the harvest. It has temples galore in Durbar Square and the carvings alone are worth a visit. Lying only 20km from KATHMANDU, Bhaktapur is rich in architectural beauty and filled with religious Hindu and Buddist sites. It is a must see for any trip to Nepal.
Nepal , with its ancient culture and Himalayas as a backdrop, has a romantic image. It has so many reasons to visit. It has outstanding natural beauty, from the terai plains to the high Himalaya. It has friendly people who leave great value on hospitality and manners. It has delicious food varying from region to region based on climate and soil. It offers many diverse types of adventure from full blown mountaineering, to trekking, to white water rafting. It offers mountain biking, or for a more tranquil journey, balloon flights over the Kathmandu Valley. One can even go on Safari in the Terai region of the country.  For those more interested in culture, Nepal has a hugely diverse base evolved over centuries of folklore and tradition. It can be seen through the various types of music and dance, festivals, art and craft, folklore and religion. To quote Lonely Planet ““ Nepal is “a heady mix of natural beauty, fascinating culture and warm hospitality”  It is a truly unique destination.
For anyone considering either an adventure or a cultural holiday, I would strongly recommend they choose Nepal. It will educate them in many ways. If they plan on trekking any of the many spectacular routes available, it will allow them to attain a huge sense of personal achievement. They will meet fantastic people along the way and experience many culinary delights for the duration of their visit.
My visit to Nepal  touched me in many ways, but probably the thing which stood out the most to me was the lack of proper education and facilities available to many of the families in the Khumbu area where I spent 4 weeks. As a result, I vowed to do some fundraising on my return, which happily I was able to do. The money raised has been sent to a school project in the Khumbu area and I am delighted to have been able to -give back’ to the area from where I have so many happy memories.
I definitely plan to return in the not too distant future, when I hope my own 2 boys will begin to learn about and experience the wonderful country that IS NEPAL!
Alison Irwin

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