10 years ago one of my closest friends and I hiked the Camino the Santiago, the famous, today unfortunately very touristic, pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. We heard that the Camino del Nord along the north coast of Spain is even more beautiful. And we decided that we will hike this one as well one day. Last year though, we both had the feeling that Nepal and the mysticism behind the Himalaya is calling us more than the Camino del Nord. And we booked our tickets. We flew to Kathmandu and the world’s most dangerous airport Lukla. 12 days later we arrived back in Kathmandu – with an additional backpack full of intense impressions, epic adventures, recharged batteries, clear views, inspirational acquaintances and unforgettable memories. Memories, that are still so strong and working inside my mind and body that even three months later I can recall every single shaping moment.
We decided that our final destination and goal is called Gokyo in the Everest region and Khumbu valley. The crowds, commercialism and nightly competition for beds drove us away from the famous Everest Base Camp trek into the arms of the lovely Gokyo trek. This approx. two-week spectacular climbs almost as high as the Everest Base Camp trek and offers similarly jaw-dropping Everest views, but the trails are less crowded and the lodges quieter.
Our diary looked like this:
Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu.
Day 2: First attempt to fly to Lukla failed. We spent one entire day at the domestic airport, which was a (pretty loud) experience for itself. Make sure you have some buffer days as flights to Lukla are a game of luck.
Day 3: Second attempt to fly to Lukla. Luckily we made it because if not we would have been forced to change our complete trip. At the last second because fog made the view and thus the landing an adventure (thank God I did not tell my parents anything about this airport. And you better don’t watch youtube videos). Simply the whole excitement about reaching Lukla on time made the beginning of our hike extremely pulsating. They say, the mountains decide if they are ready for you. Thank God they were. First stage to Phakding.
Day 4: Second stage from Phakding to Namche Bazaar. The first quite steep stage to 3.500 m. But we already fell in this magical meditation called hiking and putting one step in front of the other. There is absolutely nothing so good and healing as to get into that routine of exercise and rest, day after day. Your body and mind become completely adjusted. Luckily also to the altitude. The attention is put on every step, being right there in the moment, until you stop to rest and completely lose yourself in this wonder of this magnificent setting and powerful landscape where for centuries holy men and pilgrims have lost and found themselves leaving their good energy permeating the land itself. Or where the bravest and most probably craziest summit the world’s highest mountains.
Day 5: Acclimatisation day. They say once you reach 3.000 m you should rest for 1 – 2 days in order to acclimatize to the altitude and to avoid AMS (acute mountain sickness). We stayed one day in Namche and made a side trip to Hotel Everest View. AMS has lots of symptoms such as head ache, nausea and dizziness and you should be aware of how your body is reacting to the heights. Ours decided to respond with lots and lots of ridiculous laughter. And today we still don’t know if it was only us being extremely funny or was it indeed the thin air that made us feel uplifted and happy.
Day 6: Namche Bazaar to Phortse Thenga. It is recommended to make only 300 – 400 m altitude difference a day after you reached 3.000 m. Which means you walk only 2 – 3 hours. And the fact that you wake up at 6 am, have breakfast at 7 am and start walking at 8 am makes you having a full day of rest after you arrived at your destination and lodge. I definitely needed to adjust again to this feeling of “ok, what now??”. No wifi (or at least with a very slow connection and at the end of the day you really did not want to check your mails and think of work), no telephone connection, no nothing. But nothing is the wrong definition. Because once you grabbed a seat and sat down in front of your lodge with all these magnificent views of the mountains around, adorned with colorful prayer flags, you actually had “everything” in front of you. Spectacular views that changed every single second because the dance of the wind made some peaks appear and then disappear again and all you could do is just stare.
Day 7: Phortse Thenga to Dole. “Do you have a guide, girls?” – “No.” / “Do you have a porter?” – “No.” … Everyday conversation with trekker companions that looked at us a bit confused after our two no-s. We quickly realized: you don’t need a guide. And you don’t need porters. Only if you are used to “luxury”. You can’t get lost in the Himalaya (or at least not on this trek to Gokyo) and you can carry a backpack with max. 10 kg if you and your back are fit. And the routine of packing and unpacking your sleeping bag together with only carrying the most important things you need makes you realize how beautifully simple life can be.
Day 8: Dole to Machhermo. We made it to 4.500 m and I felt my head aching for the first time. Thank God two pain killers and a good sleep later the feeling vanished and we could continue our trek the next day.
Day 9: Macchermo to Gokyo. We left the foothills and finally entered the desolate tundra of the high mountains. On the way to Gokyo you come to a portal that releases you onto the lateral moraine of the so called Ngozumpa Glacier, the longest in the Himalaya. Wedged between the mountain walls and this crumbling mound of sand and gravel are six sacred lakes. We reached the first of these six lakes and the only thing that came to my mind was: if God is “living” somewhere, then this must be the place. I never felt such a peace and silence and tranquility radiating in one place. This special turquoise color of the lake, the clouds and mountain peaks mirroring on the surface made this moment simply unforgettable. Memorable was also the afternoon side trip to the “hill” behind the sherpa village of Gokyo and my very first view of a glacier.
Day 10: Gokyo Ri and back to Phortse. It was Friday, the 13th (of October). 13 is my lucky number and if you believe in the secrets of life you know that it was of course not a coincidence that we reached our goal and the ultimate highlight of our trek just on that day. We woke up at 4:30 am to start conquering the 5.400 m high hill opposite of the village in order to see the sun rising behind the world’s most highest mountains. The kind of view that is normally only reserved for balloonists or mountaineers. And lucky girls such as we were. From the summit, that we reached 2 hours later, there are panoramic views of Cho Oyu, Mount Everest, Lhotse and Makalu with the Ngozumpa Glacier cutting across in front like a massive tear in the landscape. Standing on the top of Gokyo Ri on 5.400 m and in general during these days of walking, resting and staring at these mountain peaks of the Himalaya, I always tried to find the right words that can describe what my eyes saw, my mind thought and my heart felt. I had to face: it was a mission impossible. And still is. No superlatives of this planet, or at least my language spectrum, can describe what nature built, what our amazing earth offers, what impact these energies have on us and how small and powerless we human beings in fact are. The Himalaya – more than anything else – intensively shows you how grateful one can be to live on this planet and to experience and cherish this vast beauty around us called nature.
Day 11: Phortse to Namche Bazaar. Back in one of our favorite lodges with the best coffee place attached we sat down in the common eating room to enjoy our daily meal and Everest beer. Dal Bhat, a delicious nourishing combination of rice, vegetables and a lentil soup, is the traditional Nepalese dish also famous by all the sherpas and mountaineers. It’s the only food on the menu where the waiter offers you constantly more – all you can eat style.
Day 12: Namche Bazaar to Lukla. Melancholia spreaded all over. Hiking back and thus mentally closing this mystic circle of the last 10 days made us think a lot and we started to plan our next adventures. Once you experienced these magical heights and saw the highest mountains you can understand what motivates all these crazy alpinists to summit the highest peaks.
Day 13: Flight from Lukla to Kathmandu. Back in the capital we realized for the first time how exhausted and tired we actually were. Only our first real shower after 11 days made us feel like new born.
Day 14-16: Kathmandu and surroundings. Beside visiting the obligatory sight-seeing spots of Kathmandu (Pashupatinath temple, Durbar square, Thamel) and the UNESCO world heritage center Bhaktapur I dived into the fascination of the Nepalese cashmere production and met a couple of producers and suppliers. The result is a collection of super soft and cozy cashmere plaids or scarves, all delicately handwoven at the footsteps of the Himalaya (you can read more about the production soon). They are available in my Vienna based store and online on http://www.silviagattin.com.
Nepal, this was a love letter in words and pictures. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the laughter tears, for recharging all batteries, for surrendering, releasing all fears and for letting go. You will see me again soon.
You can read the German version of my diary in Austria’s WOMAN Magazine: