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57,000: That’s how many tourists ventured through the Khumbu Valley, home to Mount Sagarmatha—Everest’s true name—during the 2022–2023 season1. Just for comparison, the Kanchenjunga region had only a handful of visitors2. Before setting out on this journey, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But if I was going to do it, I thought, why not make it an exciting adventure? So, I invited Umesh, a young Nepali I had befriended a few years earlier. He had dreams of becoming a mountain guide, and this expedition was the perfect chance for him to explore the Himalayan peaks.

First Days in Solukhumbu

Most tourists opt for a plane ride to reach the starting points of their treks. As for me, I prefer journeys that come with a dose of challenge. Buses that slide on slippery roads, breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, jeeps stuck in riverbeds, modest roadside eateries, and run-down hostels, all contribute to the allure of traveling, in my view. They act as a sort of mental preparation before embarking on a multi-day trek with a fifteen-kilogram backpack on my shoulders. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), we make it to Salleri, a quaint village nestled in the Solu Valley, without any major mishaps. From there, we set out early in the morning to kickstart our Three Passes of Everest trail adventure, a journey that, including some side treks, will span three weeks in total.

The first day of our hike proves to be rather easy. Enveloped in mist, we traverse vast rhododendron forests, encountering scarcely anyone along the way, except for a delightful girl whose home we seek refuge in to cook some noodles during a sudden rain shower. Umesh seems to be quite smitten by her and, to our surprise, even manages to obtain her phone number. He confesses, “I’d like to marry a Sherpa; they are reliable and hardworking women.” However, the following day presents an entirely different challenge. To be honest, it’s one of the most arduous days of the entire trek: a 2000-meter ascent followed by an almost equivalent descent. The surroundings are plunged into darkness. Exhausted and fatigued, we take our final break, a mere 100 meters away from the village where we hope to find lodging. There’s only a short, treacherous stretch left to climb, and a dog awaits us, barking in the distance. We pause for a few seconds, contemplating our next move. If need be, we’re prepared to throw stones to ward it off, but it neither appears particularly menacing nor aggressive. The initial days of a trek in Nepal are undeniably among the most challenging. Your body must adjust to the new pace and the additional weight, and sometimes even adapt to the warmer temperatures at the “lower” altitudes. Yet, perhaps more than anything, it’s about maintaining high spirits as you continue the cycle of ascending, descending, and ascending again… seemingly ad infinitum.

Welcome to You Mass Tourist

Phakding: our initial encounter with Himalayan mass tourism—a rather jolting one, to be honest. Despite the absence of motorized vehicles in this location, it resembles a bustling city. Dozens of hotels are stacked next to each other, alongside souvenir shops, snooker halls, pubs, cafes, and even a “reggae bar.” Additionally, we encounter children who hurl insults my way because I decline to give them money: “You fuck up!”3. Thankfully, it’s not overly crowded. Nevertheless, we heeded the advice of some experienced guides and booked a room in advance, a practice entirely unfamiliar to me during treks. Yet, Phakding merely serves as a foretaste of the renowned Namche Bazaar, once a trading post and now a bustling tourist hub. We learn from a friendly hotel manager—an uncommon find in this region, where tourists are often regarded as walking wallets—that the streets were exceptionally crowded the previous day. He informs us, “Due to the recent inclement weather, many flights were canceled. When the sun reappeared, over a thousand people arrived on the same day. It was chaotic, and some even got into fights!”

Staying in Namche’s comfort may be appealing at the conclusion of a trek, but I’m not inclined to linger here. We unanimously decide to continue acclimatizing further afield and set out early in the morning for the first pass, Renjo La. As we progress through the valley, it offers us our initial glimpses of the snow-capped peaks and their majestic glaciers. Along the path, I spot someone ahead of me, wrapped in a Buff and sporting sunglasses, who seems oddly familiar and, in turn, appears to recognize me. Raising my sunglasses, I inquire, “Dhili?” Indeed, it’s him! He identified me by my array of hanging cameras. We share a warm embrace. I had crossed paths with Dhili five years ago in Kanchenjunga when he was guiding a group of French tourists, with whom I had joined for a portion of their journey. However, he’s currently on his way back with his client. Sadly, our encounter will be all too brief 🙁

On the Way to Renjo La

We journey through several villages surrounded by yet-to-be-planted potato fields. The reception we receive is in line with the prevailing weather, but at least there are no more shops or bars in sight. The wind howls relentlessly against the lodge’s thin glass windows as we huddle around an unlit stove. The room feels drafty, and we’re shivering from the cold. A small group enters, led by an overweight middle-aged man accompanied by his wife, who is wearing makeup, and a team of Nepalis. They sit down, exhausted, and the man proceeds to order a Wi-Fi access card, working on his laptop well into the evening. His guide, a seasoned and humble mountaineer, explains in a composed manner, “He’s wealthy and had originally planned to summit Everest. I managed to persuade him that it was too perilous, but he still insists on attempting to reach Camp 2. With a bit of luck, we should be able to make it.”

In the early morning, frost covers the grass, and the valley still lies in the shadow of sleep. Wrapped in warm layers, we start our ascent toward Renjo La. Along the way, we encounter numerous tourists catching their breath, and the first rays of sunlight gently warm our spirits. Two ducks gracefully touch down on a shimmering lake beneath a crisp blue sky, creating a serene tableau… until a group of Italians, loudly shouting and snapping selfies, disrupts the tranquility. As we continue, we strike up conversations with other travelers, with whom we’ll share parts of our expedition. These serendipitous encounters and the memorable moments we share with these strangers, whom we’ll likely never cross paths with again, are also part of the charm of trekking in Nepal. Surprisingly, I feel invigorated, while Umesh appears exhausted but refrains from complaining. “Are you okay, man?” We’re perched at 5,200 meters, and this altitude is new territory for him. He admits to feeling tired. We take a brief break to nibble on biscuits and rejuvenate our energy. “Bistari, bistari”4, as the Nepalis say. Half an hour later, a row of prayer flags, silhouetted against the sun, appears above us. We finally reach the pass. About twenty tourists join us in awe of the breathtaking view of Mount Sagarmatha—Everest—which undeniably overshadows the surrounding peaks5, while jackdaws elegantly glide through the air, snatching up leftover picnic crumbs.

Gokyo, Not Tokyo!

On the other side of the pass, bordered by a deep blue lake and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, lies the village of Gokyo. It’s an eyesore of stone and tin-covered hotels in a rugged glacial valley. Once again, we encounter the “mass tourism” atmosphere, but I have to confess that we appreciate the warmth and comfort of the lodge—which also doubles as a bakery. Besides, it is Umesh’s birthday, so I treat him to a triple-chocolate cake. After such a hard day, all vices are permitted. What’s interesting in Gokyo is not the village itself, but the numerous lakes that, when followed for several hours, lead you to the base of Cho Oyu, a white and quirky monster whose glacier carves the valley. Its charm reveals itself once the clouds roll in, playing hide-and-seek with lights. But to enjoy this spectacle, one mustn’t forget to ignore the yellowish layer of pollution that blankets the glacier just before the clouds arrive.

The following day, my alarm rings at 3 a.m. The last time I glimpsed at the clock before finally drifting off to sleep, it was 1:37 a.m. So, I managed just about an hour of rest. I’ll be grumpier than usual—poor Umesh. The light from my headlamp reflects in the eyes of the drowsy yaks and mingles with the clouds of steam I exhale. I make my way up Gokyo Ri, a peak that stands 600 meters higher, all in pursuit of witnessing the sunrise. In the distance, I can spot other headlamps in motion. I’m not the only idiot climbing through the frigid night. I feel weak, ascending in slow motion: one step, one deep breath, one step, one deep breath… It takes me two hours in automatic mode to reach the summit. It’s undeniably beautiful up here, but in terms of photography, it’s kinda meh. I did the efforts, so I do my best to capture something, but it’s not exactly enjoyable: my fingers are frozen as they press the tiny camera buttons, my nose drips onto the screen, and the tripod remains unsteady among the rocks, irritating me… it’s not a pleasant experience at all. However, the view is awe-inspiring, and the “mountain chickens6” are there to brighten my descent, showing me their ass and flaunting their plumage, feathers splayed like peacocks, perhaps with the intent to startle me—or maybe their motives are entirely different? With the sun now risen, the first tourists start to appear on the path, moving slowly and envisioning what awaits them up there. I descend swiftly, daydreaming about the hearty breakfast that awaits me.

Fuckin’ Hell, Traffic Jam…

Having crossed the first pass, our next destination is Cho La, which happens to be the busiest of the three passes. After navigating a rocky glacier under the scorching sun, we encounter a group progressing like a horde of zombies. One of their members, clearly exhausted, is riding on horseback. This sight becomes increasingly common in the region where the trek merges with its XS version. While the pass itself is relatively easy to climb, there’s a caveat. Climbing Cho La in April means dealing with… traffic jams. It feels like rush hour on a busy highway. People cut in line, jostle one another, and forget all forms of civility and courtesy. Upon reaching the pass, we find dozens of sunbathing individuals indulging in a selfie orgy. The ground is littered with garbage, which I attempt to collect as much as possible, but it’s evident that this isn’t a concern for many. It’s only at our next stop that I fully grasp the extent of the issue that the locals would like to get rid of. On the far edge of the village, boasting a breathtaking view of one of the world’s most magnificent mountains, Ama Dablam, lies the ruins of an old house that serves as a dump occasionally set on fire. However, at this high altitude, fire struggles to ignite properly, and lighter waste items such as plastic bags are carried away by the winds that sweep through the valley daily. I feel powerless. If looking for faith in humanity, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

Read the rest of the story…

This text has been translated with the help of an AI. The translation sounds so much fancier than me that I found it really funny and kept it like that except for a few bad words which I inevitably had to keep to « make it real ». 😜

  1. Source : ↩︎
  2. Source : ↩︎
  3. Literally. What made me laugh after I scared them and they ran away. ↩︎
  4. “Bistari, bistari” means “slowly, slowly” in Nepali. ↩︎
  5. This is the only place where we could see how gigantic this mountain is. From other viewpoints, it appears all compressed. ↩︎
  6. “chukar” is their real name. ↩︎

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