The access point for the most popular trekking route in Nepal, to Everest Base Camp, is Lukla. There is only one way to get to Lukla: by flight. Or so I thought.
Certainly that is the fastest way, or the way most people prefer to get there. The fast factor is relative, especially in Nepal. Due to weather conditions, people are often incapable of flying for days. The flight is an adventure in itself, with a small, noisy plane navigating through the narrow Himalayan valleys to (hopefully) land in one piece at one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
However, I didn’t have the chance to test it first-hand. As a budget traveler and adventurer I don’t like to take the easy road. I also prefer avoiding the tourist crowds. Flying was not the only option: the trek in was the other.
One way of doing this is to hire a jeep from Kathmandu to Salleri. This is a 12-hour ride (give or take, depending on road conditions). The price is somewhere between 2000 and 3000 Nepali rupees (20-30 USD) depending on your negotiating skills.
From Salleri it is possible to get to Namche in 3 to 5 days. You will walk up and down between valleys and villages and get a glimpse into the local Himalayan lifestyle.
There are enough teahouses on the way in which to find rest and food at a more affordable and negotiable price than on the EBC itself. You will also be treated in a much friendlier manner as you will be one of the few tourists on the way.
If you have the time and you want to really experience and explore the countryside and hill village life, then take the longest route in, the trek from Jiri.
You take a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri (11 hours, around 500 rupees) and walk for 6 to 8 days from there to get to Namche Bazaar. Be aware that from Shivalaya to Kinja you are in the Gaurishankar Conservation Area and you will need to pay a 2000 Nepali rupee local tax.
It is a tough walk. You go up to 3000m for 2 days, crossing the Deurali Pass and Lamjura Pass, and then back down to 1500m. Your knees are going to protest. You will feel like the hills will never end. You will regret, at times, your audacity to have taken this route. I painfully remember the last descent, from Bupsa to Surke. I had a piercing pain in one of my knees. It was getting dark and I was basically going on one leg down the steep, never ending slope.
However, the trek from Jiri is highly rewarding. You spend the days on an off-the-beaten-path trail. You will find smiley locals looking at you with wonder. They greet you and cheer you up while they go about their daily chores.
You see the valleys and aspects of the villages change. Every valley is different: some are poorer, and you can see it in the state of the houses, that the people are less clean and organized. This is the case up to Jubing. Other villagers are richer, with colorful clean houses, painted nicely and decorated with flowers. I especially liked Jubing, Bupsa and Kharte villages.
The best part of the trek is between what you see on the map as Everest View Lodge and a bit further than Salung. It is a pleasant walk on the hillside, with stunning views over the high mountain ranges, including Everest. Buy delicious and cheap yak cheese from Everest View Lodge but go and sleep in Salung for the most wonderful sunset views over the mountains and Everest. The sky cleared up for sunset and we stood in awe, looking at the full mountain range, majestic, painted in shades of red. It was my first time seeing Everest, its cone lit on fire by the last rays of sunshine.
For moments like this, the pain of any trek is worth it. I did this trail as a way of getting to the Everest Base Camp trek but it can also be done as a stand-alone trek. A nice loop can be made from Jiri to Namche, and then down to the other valley to Salleri, getting a jeep back to Kathmandu. Also, in the Gaurishankar Conservation Area, there is a multi-day trek that can be done. It is called the “cheese route”. The Himalayas offer so many marvelous trails, beyond the highly popular Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit and Langtang trek.
Want to go there? Have a look at what Royal Mountain Travel can offer you in the Everest region: