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On the Lap of the Mighty Sagarmatha - Solu Khumbu or Everest region


Submitted by aneel on 2008-08-29

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by aneel


The Everest or Solu-Khumbu region lies on the eastern part of Nepal. Inhabited by the mountain people who have lived in harmony with their surroundings for hundreds of years, the Solu-Khumbu region has still retained its age old practices. The region which has some of the world’s tallest peaks gained fame with the identification of the world’s tallest peak Everest (8848m) in this region. In terms of popularity among trekkers,this region ranks second only to Annapurna region. This maybe because of its high elevation. The villages and places lying in this region are situated above the 2000m mark. Solu at the south includes villages like Junbesi ,Phaplu and Chiwong. Pharak is situated between Solu and Khumbu. Khumbu include villages Namche bazaar, Thami, Khumjung, Kunde , Pangboche and Tengboche.

The major mountains are the Mt.Everest, Mt.Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Nuptse, Pumori, Ama Dablam, Thamserku, Kantega, Mera Peak and Island Peak.

Mt. Everest, which is part of the Himalaya range, is located on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Rising to a height of 8848m, the world’s highest mountain was named in 1865 after Sir George Everest. The mountain got its Nepali name Sagarmatha during the 1960s, when the Government of Nepal gave the mountain the official Nepali name. In sanskrit Sagarmatha means "mother of the universe”. The Tibetan name for Mount Everest is Chomolungma or Qomolangma, which means “Goddess Mother of the Snows". Climbers wishing to scale the peak have to obtain an expensive permit from the Nepal Government, often costing more than $25,000 (USD) per person. Base Camp, which serves as a resting area and base of operations for climbers organizing their attempts for the summit, is located on the Khumbu glacier at an elevation of 5300 m (17,400 ft); it receives an average of 450 mm (18 in) of precipitation a year. The climate of Mount Everest is extreme In July, the warmest month, the average summit temperature is -19° C (-2° F).

When George Mallory, the British climber was asked why he wanted to climb Everest he replied ‘Because it is there’. After two unsuccessful attempts, in 1924 he again tried to climb the peak with Andrew Irvine. They started on June 8, 1924 to scale the summit via the north col route and never returned. Their bodies were later discovered by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition near the old Chinese camp in 1999. Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay from Nepal were the first two climbers to set foot on the summit of Mt.Everest. They reached the summit at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953 by climbing through the South Col Route. More than 300 climbers have scaled the highest mountain since then. Also there have been more than 100 deaths on the mountain where conditions are so difficult that most corpses have been left where they fell, some of them visible from standard climbing routes.

Mt. Lhotse (8516m) is the fourth highest mountain in the world. It lies south of Mt. Everest. It was first climbed by two Swiss climbers F. Luchsinger and E. Reiss in 1956 from the West face. The Czech scaled it via the South face in 1984. An impressive ring of three peaks makes up the Lhotse massif: Lhotse East or Middle, Lhotse and Lhotse Shar. The South Face of Lhotse is one of the largest mountain faces in the world.

Cho Oyu, (8201m) the sixth highest mountain in the world, has gained popularity among climbers just recently. The mountain sits on both sides of the border of Nepal and Tibet, about 30 km. west of Mount Everest. Cho Oyu in Tibetan means "the turquoise goddess ." The south face of Cho Oyu, facing Nepal, is quite steep and difficult, and is rarely climbed. The north side, accessed from Tibet, is more moderate, and there is a relatively safe route to the summit. In the autumn of 1954, an Austrian team made the first ascent via this route.

Ama Dablam (6856m) which means ‘mother’s jewellery box’, in sherpa language is considered to be one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Seen from below, the mountain looks like a woman with outstretched arms or a woman wearing a long necklace. Ama Dablam lies alongside Everest in the heart of the Khumbu valley. Mt Lhotse, Mt. Makalu, Mt. Cho Oyu and Mt. Everest can be seen at close quarters from Ama dablam.

Nuptse (7,855m.) lies south west of Mt Everest. It is situated in the Khumbu Himal. From the Thyangboche Monastery Nuptse appears as a massive wall guarding the approach to Everest. The name Nup-tse in Tibetan means west-peak. The main ridge, which is separated from Lhotse by a 7556m high saddle, is crowned by seven peaks and goes west-northwest until its steep west-face drops down more than 2300m to the Khumbu-glacier. Nuptse I was first summited by a British expedition on May 16, 1961

Pumori peak at 7145m is just 8 km away from the world’s highest peak Mt.Everest. The ascent to this peak is described as a classic climb in the 7000m peak category. In Tibetan, ‘Pumo’ means girl and ‘Ri’, mountain. The peak was named by George Mallory, the famous English climber who lost his life trying to ascend Everest in 1924. The German climber Gerhard Lenser was the first to reach the summit of Pumori peak in 1962. Pumori is a popular climbing peak and the easiest. The best season to climb this peak is during autumn and spring.

Mera Peak (6,475m) is the highest of Nepal's trekking peaks. By its standard route, it is also the highest peak in Nepal that can be climbed without prior mountaineering experience. It was first climbed on 20 May 1953, by J.O.M. Roberts and Sen Tenzing, from the standard route at Mera La. The mountain lies to the south of Everest, dominating the watershed between the wild and beautiful valleys of the Hinku and Hongu.

Island Peak also known as Imja Tse at 6160m was named by Erick Shipton's group in 1953.It was so named as the peak resembles an island in a sea of ice when observed from Dingboche. The peak was first climbed in 1953 by a British group as preparation for climbing Mt. Everest. Among them one of the climbers was Mr. Tenzing Norgay. The peak is part of the south ridge of Lhotse Shar and the main land forms a semicircle of cliffs that rise to the north of the summits of Nuptse, Lhotse, Middle Peak and Lhotse Shar. Cho Oyu and Makalu lie to the east of the Island Peak. Baruntse, Amphu and Ama Dablam lie to the south.

Lobuche(6,119m) is known as Lhauche among the Locals. It rises above the town of Lhauche which is just a few kilometer from Mt. Everest. The first ascent on this peak was done by Laurice Nielson and Ang Gyalzen Sherpa on 25 April 1984.

Kalapattar is a small mountain 5,545 m (18,500 ft) high on the southern flank of Pumori (7,145 m). It is a trekking peak and every year tourists climb this peak to enjoy the fantastic panoramic views it offers of the Khumbu glacier, the Everest and nearby peaks like Lhotse and Nuptse. To the east, Makalu, Amadablam, Pumori, and Cho Oyu are visible.

Climate, Flora & Fauna

The climate in the Everest region can be divided into four climate zones owing to the gradual rise in altitude. The climatic zones include a forested lower zone, a zone of alpine scrub, the upper alpine zone which includes upper limit of vegetation growth, and the Arctic zone where no plants can grow. The types of plants and animals that are found depend on the altitude. In the lower forested zone, birch, juniper, blue pines, firs, bamboo and rhododendron grow. All vegetation that is found above this zone is shrubs. As the altitude increases, plant life is restricted to lichens and mosses. At an elevation of 5,750m begins the permanent snow line in the Himalayas. From this point there is no sign of greenery or vegetation. A common animal sighted in the higher reaches is the hairy animal yak. Dzopkyo a sterile male crossbreed between a yak and a cow is used to move goods along the trail. Red panda, snow leopard, musk deer, wild yak, and Himalayan black bear are some of the more exotic animals that are found in this region. A variety of birds can be sighted in the lower regions.

Sagarmata (Mt. Everest) National Park

The Sagarmatha National Park is the highest national park in the world. It was formally opened to public in July 19, 1976. The park covers an area of 1,148 sq km. It rises from its lowest point of 2,845 m (9,335 ft) at Jorsale to 8,850 m (29,035 ft) up to the summit of Everest. The park’s area is very rugged and steep, with its terrain cut by deep rivers and glaciers. It includes three peaks higher than 8,000 m, including Mt Everest. In 1979 the park was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site. The park's visitor centre is located at a hill in Namche Bazaar, where a company of the Nepal Royal Army is stationed for protecting the park. The park's southern entrance is a few hundred meters north of Monjo at 2,835 m. Trekking and climbing groups must bring their own fuel to the park (usually butane and kerosene), and the cutting of wood is prohibited. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control, funded by the World Wildlife Fund and the Himalayan Trust, was established in 1991 to help preserve Everest's environment. About a humdred species of birds and more than twenty species of butterflies have made this park their home. Musk deer, wild yak, red panda, snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan thars, deer, langur monkeys, hares, mountain foxes, martens, and Himalayan wolves are found in the park

Places

Jiri
Early expeditions to climb Everest from the Nepalese side started from Jiri. Before the airstrip at Lukla came into existence all the trekking and climbing expeditions to the Everest region started from Jiri. Starting from Jiri, the route passes through the Sherpa villages of the Solu Khumbu, many of them having beautiful Buddhist monasteries.

Lukla
Lukla, a village in Khumbu boast of the region’s sole airport.Lying at a height of 9000ft, most travelers to this region usually begin and end their adventure in Lukla. The airport was built in 1964 by Sir Edmund Hillary as part of his project in Khumbu region during the early 60s to transport the supplies for the Himalayan Trust projects in the Khumbu region. Today, somewhere between 90-95% of the foreign nationals who reach Lukla, arrive by a half hour flight from Kathmandu.

Namche Bazar
Namche Bazar is known as the sherpa capital. Namche is actually a village lying at the junction of the Dudh Koshi and a valley that leads to the frontier pass of Nangpa La . It is tucked away in a niche at a height of 7,845 ft. W. H. Tilman and C. Houston were the first westerners to enter it in 1950 and many more have come since then. Facilities like a bank, a post office, hotels and shops where one can purchase climbing equipment as well as tinned food have sprung up over the years. Namche Bazar is the major regional trading center. Its Saturday market or haat is the place where most of the trading takes place. The headquarters of the Sagarmatha National Park is located in Namche.

Thyangboche
Thyangboche is famous for the Thyangboche gompa. It is one of the most important centers of Buddhism in the region. The gompa is the largest in the Khumbu region. It was first built in 1923. Destroyed by a fire in 1989, it was rebuilt later on partly with foreign aid. From Thyangboche, one gets a panoramic view of Kwangde, Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Amadablam, Kangtenga, and Thamserku.

Pangboche
Buddhism is believed to have been introduced in the Khumbu region towards the end of the 17th century by Lama Sange Dorjee. According to the legend, he flew over the Himalayas and landed on a rock at Pangboche and Thyangboche, leaving his footprints embedded on the stone. He is believed to have been responsible for the founding of the first gompas in the Khumbu region, at Pangboche and Thami. Pangboche is the highest year-round settlement in the valley. The Imja Khola, coming from the right, joins the Dudh Koshi River a little above the village. The gompa (monastery) in Phyangboche is thought to be one of the oldest in the Khumbu region.

Khumjung
Khumjung , a village lying west of Thyangboche, is famous for the gompa where the skull of a supposed Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, is preserved under the supervision of the head Lama. The skull seems more like the outer skin of Himalayan Brown Bear, and this is proved by the report of a scientific exploratory expedition conducted by Sir Edmund Hillary, a copy of which is kept in the gompa.

Pheriche
Pheriche is located at an altitude of 13,845 ft. It lies on a level patch. Apart from the basic facilities available here, there is a medical-aid post maintained by the Himalayan Rescue Association of the Tokyo Medical College with Japanese doctors in attendance. Among other facilities, there is an air compression chamber installed for assisting victims of high altitude sickness

Gokyo
The scenic village of Gokyo lies below the hilly Gokyo Ri(5483m). The village is a cluster of stone houses and walled pastures.One has to pass by the holy Gokyo lakes on the way to the village. The Ngozumpa Glacier Nepal’s longest glacier at 25 miles has to be traversed enroute to this remote village. Gokyo Ri looms above the village on the northern edge of the lake. The summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu are visible from the summit of Gokyo Ri.

Thami
Thami at 3750m is in a large valley. The village has a police checkpost and a few lodges and tea shops. A little above the village is the Thami gompa, which is the site of the annual Mani Rimdu festival.

People

Sherpas live in the upper regions of Solu Khumbu. They emigrated from Tibet about 600 years ago. In the past they were traders and porters, carrying butter, meat, rice, sugar, and dye from India, and, wool, jewelry, salt Chinese silk and porcelain from Tibet and beyond. The closure of the border between India and China undermined their economy. Fortunately, with the mountaineering expeditions and trekkers, the Sherpa's found their load carrying skills, both on normal treks and high altitudes in great demand. The Khumbu region has provided a strong group of able bodied, hardy and fearless Sherpa porters and guides. The sherpas are Buddhists.

At the lower elevations lives the Kiranti Rai. The villages of Jubing, Kharikhola, Okhaldhunga, are inhabited by the Rais. Of mongoloid stock they speak their own dialect. Reference is made of their fighting spirit in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The people from this group have supplied recruits to Gurkha regiments both in the British as well as Indian armies. The Rais follow a religion that is partly animistic with a strong Hindu influence. They revere their ancestors by observing Kul or Pitri puja every year.

The Jirels live in the area around Jiri. They are mongoloid and follow Buddhism.

Festivals

Losar is celebrated in the month of February by the Sherpas. ‘Losar’ means New Year in Tibetan. Apart from the Sherpas and Tibetans, the Gurungs and Tamangs also celebrate Losar. Buddhist monks offer prayers for good health and prosperity at monasteries. People exchange various goods and gifts among them. Families organize feasts and perform dances.

Dumje is celebrated to mark the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava).The celebration takes place in June and lasts for six days. It is celebrated in a big way in the villages of Namche, Thame and Khumjung.

Mani Rimdu is a festival that celebrates the victory of Buddhism over the ancient animistic religion of Bon. This festival is celebrated in the monasteries of Thyangboche, Chiwang and Thami. At Thangboche the celebration takes place during the November- December full moon. At Thami the Mani rimdu is festival is celebrated during the full moon in May.Chiwang Gompa generally celebrate this festival during autumn. The lamas wear elaborate brocade gowns and papier-mâché masks while performing. Through the dances, symbolic demons are conquered, dispelled, or converted to Dharma Protectors as positive forces clash with those of chaos. The dances convey Buddhist teaching on many levels from the simplest to the most profound, for those who do not have the opportunity to study and meditate extensively. It gives an opportunity to the Sherpas to gather and celebrate together with the monks.

Sakela (Chandi Dance) is a harvest festival celebrated by the Rai community. The harvest ceremony involves the worship of mother earth, called ‘Bhumi-Puja’. The festival is celebrated twice a year, once in spring before planting begins and once during autumn before harvesting. Ubhauli is celebrated during the spring season on Baishakh Purnima. In the autumn season on Mangsir Purnima, Udhauli is celebrated. The spring worship is done to propitiate mother earth for a good harvest and the rain god to bless the earth with enough rain. The festival is celebrated with more fervor in the remote hills. The Rai villagers celebrate it with priests (dhami) who perform rituals to worship their ancestors. The elders of the community begin the dance with a puja. Later on everybody participate in the dance forming a circle by holding each other’s hands. With drumbeats, they begin dancing at a slow pace but moves faster later with the drumbeats. The dance steps and hand gestures imitate the sowing and harvesting of crops .The festival also provides an opportunity for the Rai people to socialise.

The Classic Everest Base Camp Trek

Mt Everest Base Camp is the most popular destination for trekkers in Nepal. Its popularity has grown since the first expedition to the Nepalese side of Everest in the 1950s.One can do this trek the old way, by beginning the trek from Jiri. From Jiri it takes around nine days to reach Namche. On the way you will come across Rai settlements. The other (quicker) alternative is to take a flight to Lukla and to begin the trek from there. The trek follows the Dudh Kosi valley route with an ascent up to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar. From Namche, you traverse along a high path from where you have the first good view of Everest. You head towards Thyangboche Monastery located on top of a mountain ridge and then descend the Imja Khola and continue to the villages of Pangboche and Pheriche. After that you arrive at the Khumbu Glacier. The trek through the glacier takes you first to Lobuche and then to Gorak Shep. From Gorak Shep you can climb up to Kala Pattar for even more spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Everest's south west face. Yhou then reach your destination, the Everest Base Camp at the foot of the Khumbu ice fall.

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