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The North or the South face? Pick your side of the Everest story


Climbing Everest is undeniably glorious and considered a rare feat. However, to touch base with the highest mountain of the world, at the base camp is also a matter of pride and a sublime experience in its own. While EBC is a destination for trekkers, it is a fort from where the ambitious summiteers get ready to battle the countless difficulties on their way up to conquer Everest.

The ascent to the Everest base camp via the familiar route from Nepal entails an 8 to 10 days trek including minimum days for acclimatization before you may reach the base camp. On the flipside, you may reach the Northern base camp without any trek, in the comfort of your vehicle. It may come as a pleasant respite for those aspiring to reach the base camp, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of trekking hours form the Southern face. However, both the routes offer an experience worth reminiscing over a lifetime.

Lhasa (3,650 m) is your first stop if you choose to reach the Everest base camp from Tibet. You can fly to Lhasa via Mainland China or from Nepal. An eventful road trip via Kathmandu, Nepal can also be taken. While at Lhasa, as you brace yourself for the long and bumpy ride ahead and spare yourself sufficient time for acclimatization, you get to experience the Tibetan civilization in this mystical plateau, without which your trip would be albeit incomplete. There are quite some places of significance that can make your stay of a few days worthwhile in this historic city of Lhasa. One of such places is the Potala Palace, perched atop the Red Hill – a world heritage site and a marvel in itself. The view of the entire city from up here is breathtaking. The Norbulingka Palace housing a premier horticultural park, considered the biggest in Tibet is another one. Both these palaces not just served as administrative centers, but also as the hub of the Tibetan Buddhism. Also fascinating are the Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Jokhang temple. These sacred shrines are a representation of the grand history, rich culture and religious beliefs of Tibet. Also worthy of a visit is the Tibet Traditional Hospital which is a treatment, training, research and production center of Tibetan medicine. Your next stop is Gyantse, which involves a pleasant drive featuring picturesque views all along. The Khamba La pass and the Yamdrok Tso lake which is almost like liquid turquoise, and thus the name ‘Turquoise Lake’, are the highlights of the trip. In Gyantse, you may visit the Phalkot Monastery, Khumbum Stupa and Gyantse Dzong, a well-preserved fortress with ancient relics and head to Shigatse, the next stop before heading to Rongbuk. On your way to Rongbuk you can visit the Sakya Monastery.

As you relinquish the fine asphalt road across the Tibetan plateau to take the offbeat one along the Rongbuk Valley, a stronger sense of adventure grips you. The scenic views become more welcoming and the Rongbuk River keeps you company alongside. The historic Rongbuk Monastery, the highest in the world, is your next stop. It has a guesthouse that offers you the basic accommodation services and meals. Rein in your expectations and you should be fine. With the base camp only another 8 km drive away, the location is a wonderful overnight stop that offers a stunning view of the Everest within comfort zone. If you love outdoors, you may opt to stay at the tent hotels which are about 3 km shy of the Everest base camp, the closest you can camp at without a climbing permit. The tent hotels are a group of about 30 traditional yak wool tents that locals turn into guesthouses, available only during the high seasons. It offers basic beddings and meals. Camping outdoors is a great way to witness the star-studded sky at night.

Also in line for your amusement is the view of Everest silhouetted by the golden sun rays imminent from the other side. The sunrise is delayed here since it is the Southern side that is first touched by the rays of the rising sun.

This trip to the Everest base camp, via the north face route is a lot less strenuous and saves you several days, but is not for drifters or solo travelers. To get to the base camp, you would first require a Tibet Entry permit and a special permit to the Everest region, which can both be availed via a licensed travel agency in Tibet. Some travel agencies based in Nepal like- Himalayan Glacier also assist the travelers to avail such permits. However, much to the inconvenience of the foreign tourists, the Chinese government sometimes resorts to restricting permits to foreign tourist without prior notification.

Reaching Everest base camp is much easier from the Tibetan side, but for those trekking enthusiasts who also look to relish the adventurous journey and not only the destination, the Nepali route may be more appealing. The most common Everest base camp trek using the popular South face route starts from Lukla airport. The trek commences with the first stop at Phakding. The trekking trail goes through pine forests and beautiful small villages. Making your way through narrow trails, you cross paths with the Dudh Koshi and Bhote Koshi Rivers. You may be welcomed by the sights of Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse, provided the weather is fair, as you reach the celebrated Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar. The small town of Namche Bazaar is the largest in the Khumbu region, bustling mostly with tourists, trekkers, crews and porters and it is the last place to shop for gears and supplies that you may have missed out. A well spent acclimatization day at Namche gives you an opportunity to explore Namche, in all its glory and take a peek into the distinctive lifestyle of the Sherpas, their culture and how they are entwined with the mountains in the Everest region. You also have the option of hiking to the Sagarmatha National Park, where you may be delighted with a sunrise view and the panoramic view of Mount Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Kongde and others.

You further make your way through monasteries, breathtaking passes and rivers. The fact that you are travelling on foot opens up so much avenues of picturesque landscapes, rare floral and faunal encounters and direct engagement with the socio-cultural aspect of this region. The highlight of the trek is the natural world heritage listed, Sagarmatha National Park, house of Mount Everest and the Tengboche monastery, the largest in the Khumbu region of Nepal. The trek sets an amazing rendezvous with 4 of the 6 highest Nepali peaks in the world and if you move up higher to Kalapatthar at 5,643 meters, the humbling view of the golden sun rays mingling with the silvery snow at the highest point in the planet makes it so much rewarding of the struggle.

The first summit ever of Everest was from the South face, making the route renowned worldwide. The base camp on the Nepali side at 5,380 meters is comparatively quite low on the elevations, but contrarily challenging. The base camp is virtually on a moving block of ice surrounded by Pumori and Khumbu ice falls and can resemble a small settlement bustling with activities during peak seasons.

The Everest is like a story you are looking to narrate and the North and South faces, the two scenarios. The North face allows you what the South face does not – driving right to the foot of the gigantic Everest in the comfort of your vehicle while the South face demands more bodily effort and rewards you with dividends in the form of mesmerizing views and a sense of rigorous accomplishment.

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Pratap Shrestha

Pratap Shrestha

Explore. Take risks. Stay Alive!
An avid traveler who also happens to blog.
Pratap Shrestha

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