Saturday, July 25, 2015

Green Lakes Trek: Panorama from Rest Camp

South Col Expeditions trekked the route to the north-east base camp of Kangchenjunga in the Zemu Valley, North Sikkim. Here is a video from  our Green Lakes trek which gives a good idea of the terrain and the vews

Green Lakes is controlled by a strict permit system which some times takes months to get. However, those who are tenacious enough to follow this up usually get the permit and will be rewarded with a superb trek through pristine country.

The forests of the Zemu valley are quite amazing as are the mountains.

This was my second visit to Green Lakes after 1987 and I was saddened to see that the fair size pool of water had now dried up and become a small muddy pond.

For more information on the Green Lakes trek please visit the following links

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Mountain Range on Pluto named after Tenzing Norgay

  NASA today named a mountain range on the planet Pluto as Norgay Montes after  Tenzing Norgay, who was the first person to  reached the summit of Everest with Edmund Hillary on May 29th 1953 after seven expeditions spanning eighteen years! 

Despite repeated requests to the Indian Government to honour Tenzing with the Bharat Ratna, this has not yet happened. 

The honour bestowed on him by NASA, coming out of the blue, is more than welcome. The video below (courtesy NASA) gives a flyover of the mountains of Pluto

For more information on NASA's mapping of the planet Pluto please visit

Friday, July 17, 2015

Kangchenjunga and Makalu | Sixty Years since the First Ascent

Kangchenjunga as seen from above Green Lakes in the Zemu Valley, North Sikkim

It is sixty years since the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1955. Kangchenjunga was first climbed on 25 May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, who were part of a British expedition followed by Norman Hardie and Tony Streather the next day. They stopped short of the summit as per the promise given to the Chogyal that the top of the mountain would remain inviolate. But the route from the Zemu valley shown in this photograph remained unclimbed until an Indain expedition led by Col "Bull' Kumar summitted the peak from the north east spur in 1977. This was only the second ascent of the mountain. This was the same difficult route that had beaten the Germans under Paul Bauer in 1929 and 1931. But, as far as I know, the east face direct route on Kangchenjunga is still waiting  for world class alpinists. This may remain one of the last great unclimbed faces in the Himalaya!

Makalu as seen from the Rhenjo La pass above the lakes of Gokyo
It is sixty years since the first ascent of Makalu in May 1955.A spectacular mountain it is not seen very often from the Everest region. Makalu was first climbed by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy on May 15th 1955. They were part of a  French expedition led by Jean Franco. Franco, G. Magnone and Sardar Gyaltsen Norbu summitted  on May 16th 1955  followed by Bouvier, S. Coupe, Leroux and A. Vialatte on the 17th May. This was an amazing achievement at the time to have the majority of expedition members summit, especially on such a difficult peak. Prior to this time, summits were reached by 1-2 people at most with the rest of teams providing logistical support before turning around and heading home. The French team climbed Makalu by the north face and northeast ridge, via the saddle between Makalu and Kangchungtse (the Makalu-La), establishing the standard route. The trek to Makalu base camp from Tumlingtar is a route which is also not very popular in the Nepal Himalayas mainly due to the long approach to the mountain. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nikon | Three New Lenses Announced July 2015

Nikon announced the introduction of three new lenses to be available from July 2015:

AF-S DX Nikkor 16-80 2.8-4 ED VR

  The AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR is constructed of 17 elements in 13 groups, and features a seven-blade diaphragm to create a circular, natural bokeh. It weighs in at 16.1 oz. / 480 grams. For fast, accurate and quiet AF performance, the 16-80mm also features Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology.  This lens will replace the ever popular 16-85 VR which was one of the much loved standard zooms for DX bodies. It will be available in July for a suggested retail price of $1,069.95 (USD).  Recommended for DX shooters looking for a light and fast  standard zoom.

AF-S Nikkor 500mm F4E ED VR

The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR super telephoto weighs 6.8 lbs./3090 grams and combines two fluorite elements and three Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements. It will also be available in mid-July for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $10,299.95 (USD). It measures 15.2 in. length (387.0 mm). The lens replaces the earlier 500 mm Nikkor. Both the 500mm and 600 mm below have a F4 aperture and VR so the decision between the two is the 100 mm extra on the 600, the weight and length of the lens and the price of the 600 vs the 500.

AF-S Nikkor 600mm F4 ED VR

 The AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR super telephoto weighs 8.3 lbs. /3810 grams and features two fluorite lens elements and four ED elements. It will be available in mid-July with a suggested retail price of $12,299.95 (USD). It measures 17 in. length (432.0 mm). This lens replaces the earlier 600 mm lens and it targeted at wild life and sports shooters.

For more information on these new lenses do visit

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Cost of an Everest Base Camp Trek

Thamserku from the high route between Phortse and Pangboche
There has recently been  a flurry of articles on the internet and also in print medium on the cost of climbing Mount Everest as part of a guided group with full support.

But, more often that not, I am asked the question" how much does it cost to trek to Everest Base Camp?"

So this post attempts to answer that question given the many options available! I have assumed that the trekker will fly in and out of Lukla as that is the route majority of trekkers would take. In case you walk in and out of Jiri you would save your air fare but spend another ten days or so on lodge accommodation, food and porters/guides!

1 Luxury Trek with  International Trekking Company
These treks are usually run by leading  international companies and provide you with all the frills:
  • Five star accommodation in Kathmandu
  • Best lodges in Namche often with plush attached toilets, abundant hot showers for free and heated electric blankets!
  • Best possible lodges on the trail many with attached bathrooms and nice sunny rooms
  •  Knowledgeable English speaking guides from overseas, many of whom have done the Everest route many times and once in a while you may get an Everest summiteer guiding you!
  • Special food, snacks, freshly ground coffee from overseas to supplement the lodge meals - once in Gokyo I found that cognac was also being served after dinner!
  • Boiled or filtered water would be provided every day to the group!
The cost of one of these treks could range between US $ 2500 to 3000 depending on the facilities!

Kwangde from the airstrip of Shyanboche

2 Trek with Local Nepal Trekking Company
These treks are usually run by Kathmandu based trekking companies. They could be fixed departure treks where you sign on to an existing trek or they could be customised for your group only provided you have a decent number - four is usually acceptable.
You would usually get:
  • Three star hotels in Kathmandu usually located in Thamel.
  • Reasonable lodges on the route, some with attached bathrooms in Namche and Lukla usually.
  • A local Nepali guide who would lead the team along with the porters to carry your bags - he would speak some English!
  • Meals would be usually at the lodges and would be fixed in some manner. 
  • Flights in and out to Lukla, airport transfers, permits etc would all be covered.
The cost of one of these treks would be between US $ 1500 to 2000 depending on the company concerned!

3 Do it Yourself Trek hiring a Guide/Porter as you need
You could decide to do your own trek to EBC and work out your own cost as under:
  • Sagarmatha Permits and TIMS-  US $30 for foreigners and US $15 for SAARC citizens; TIMS US $20 for independent foreign trekkers and US $10 for SAARC citizens.
  • Flight to and fro Lukla - US $326 for foreign passports holders and USD $200 for  Nepali/Indian citizens presently.
  • Room at lodges - can vary from US $ 5 to 35 per night depending on where you stay - this excludes the top end lodges like Yeti Mountain Home, Summit Lodges etc.
  • Food at lodges - You can budget US $ 20-25 per day on an average, This does not include cokes, beer, apple pies and yak steaks! It includes three good meals, tea, coffee, hot water etc.
  • Guide - the cost of a guide with his meals and stay included would be between US $ 25 to 30 per day. A guide would not carry your load.
  • Porters - The cost of a porter would be US $ 15 to 18 per day with meals and stay.
So if two trekkers are doing a fifteen day Kathmandu to Kathmandu trek with one guide and one porter and sharing an ordinary  room,  the cost should be around US $ 1200-1300 per head or so per person. For Indian/Nepali  trekkers you can budget US $ 1050-1150 per head. Hotels in Kathmandu are not covered in this cost. If you take the guide from Kathmandu then you have to add his Lukla return fare as well!

4 Do it Yourself Trek carrying your own Backpack
You could eliminate the cost of the guide/porter from No 3 above- for two persons it would be US $ 850-950 per  person  and for  Indian/Nepali citizens US $ 700-800 per person due to the differential in the Lukla air fare.

View from Luza - Thamserku
5 Speciality Photography Treks and Workshops 
  • These treks to the Everest region are often conducted by companies who specialize in photography tours, treks and workshops. They are sometimes conducted by individual photographers who have vast experience in the Himalayas in general and Everest in particular. Like the luxury treks these treks are top end as they provide for fifteen days, the services of a dedicated top notch photographer on the trail who mentors and assists the team of trekkers. Other than the photography leader, the  team would have a Nepali guide and porters who would look after local logistics, loads, lodges, meals and other creature comforts for the team! The photography leader would know the best spots for photographs, the time of the day, off the beaten track locations, local colour, interaction with the local population, monastery interiors, night photography etc.
These photo treks would be around US $ 2500 to 4000 per person including hotels in Kathmandu on the way in and out and would include most of the luxuries of No 1 above maybe with the cognac left out!

So which of the options is for you?
South Col Expeditions runs treks and photo workshops in the Everest region every year personally led by Sujoy Das. Our next Everest trek is November 8th to 24th 2015.  For more details do visit

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trailwala | Adventure Trips

I recently came across a new adventure travel marketplace that connects travelers directly with trip organizers for experiences such as trekking, water sports, paragliding, safaris, camping and biking.

As  most of us who have tried to book a trek know, it can be pretty time-consuming and frustrating to find that perfect match: one that meets your dates, your budget, and your preferences when it comes to things like safety equipment, reviews, eco-friendliness, group size, etc.

Trailwala is a one-stop-shop that immediately gives you multiple options to compare when you search, and makes it easy to contact trip organizers to customize your trip.

The company was started by a bunch of outdoor fanatics who felt that there had to be a better way to go about researching and booking an experience that you’ll hopefully remember for the rest of your life. Moreover, the market is teeming with new options as adventure tourism grows, but most operators are small, fragmented and under-the-radar, and so there’s a good chance you’ll never hear about something you would have loved.

By bringing the market onto one site, Trailwala promises to make it super-easy to search, compare and connect with your dream adventure.

Check them out at and book a trip today!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nepal Earthquake Support II - Update on Sundara Devi VDC

As many of you who have supported the twin villages of Kaaule and Bhangeri in Nuwakot  district of Nepal know that  I had made a visit to the villages last month to assess the situation there and chalk out a plan of action with the villagers.  My earlier report is found is this link below:

Today,  I am pleased to report that 350 bundles of GI zinc sheets for roofing have been delivered to the villagers from the  contribution made by the donors. 

Santaman Tamang one of the village leaders sent me this message last night  which I reproduce verbatim: 

"Dear Sir Sujoy 
 Yes I have distributed the 350 bundles for the villagers for the moment and soon going to bring the ordered 50 more bundles to my neighboring houses. You can see the attachments. Thank you very much for your great support which is most effective support for us.
Wishing you all the best and Looking onward to see you.
With Kindest Regards

Santaman Tamang
Your friend from Himalaya"

The photos sent by Santaman are below: 

Villagers waiting for the sheets to be distributed

Carrying the sheets home

The lorry which carried the sheets

Making a frame structure from wood for the temporary home

The sheets have not been permanently fixed as they will be re-used for the permanent houses


Trekkers, well wishers and friends of South Col Expeditions had raised an amount of USD 20,000 for the villagers. This entire amount was remitted through banking channels to Santaman Tamang. The bills received till date from Santaman are below and they cover the money which has been sent. The amounts are in Nepali Rs. Santaman still has another 50 bundles of sheeting to provide for the remaining villagers which he should manage through all the other donations he has received and he should also have some funds left over for future use.

I would like to thank all of you once again for the very generous support which you have given the people of Nepal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Das Studio | Darjeeling

For many years now, one studio is Darjeeling has been at the forefront of mountain photography in the region. Durga Das Pradhan,  who is now in his eighties and is still active in running the studio spoke to me in Darjeeling a few months ago.

From large format film cameras to 35 mm single lens reflex models to digital cameras and D-SLRs and now phone cameras, Das Studio has seen them all.

When I was a boy in Darjeeling, a daily visit to Das Studio was a must. I would stand before the photographs of  the great mountains and look in awe at those wonderful pictures. Many were to places I have never been to like Everest Base Camp, Kala Pattar, Poon Hill, neighbouring Sandakphu and Phalut, Dzongri and many more. And as I looked I imagined that I would be there one day!

The postcard section was a great attraction and over the years I built up an album of Das Studio postcards. I have that green album even today - dog eared but treasured.

Durga Das Pradhan was and still is a wealth of information on everything photographic. While we were chatting this March, he suddenly mentioned some huge Ansel Adams prints which he had seen in the USA. " For tonal quality you can't beat large format film" he said " hopefully film is making a comeback." In his heart Durga Das is still a "film man".

Ratna Das Pradhan, son of Durga who now lives in Australia  writes this about Das Studio on  his web site :

"Our firm, Das Studio of Darjeeling, was established by my grandfather Thakur Das in 1927 at Mount Pleasant Road, a site near the present day bazaar. When the opportunity presented itself, he expanded his business and moved into shops in Commercial Row  (Nehru Road). In 1949 he scraped together a down payment to purchase the premises that housed Whiteaway Laidlaw, a haberdashery. 

He made the move to 15 Nehru Road in 1950. The history of the the family business is an interesting one not only to us family members, but also for the long time permanent residents of the town and the surrounding Tea Plantations.  

Darjeeling being a tourist destination and an escape for many plains dwellers during the scorching summer months meant many a visitor came to Darjeeling regularly during the hot Indian summer. 

Das Studio was always a familiar meeting place as the visitors strolled along Nehru Road to Chowrasta and a walk along the Mall to savour the cool Himalayan evenings. In a manner of speaking, the story of Das Studio has been somewhat linked with social history of Darjeeling, in that the business provided a popular social hub for visitors as well as the locals."

Sadly given the present situation of Darjeeling that is all changed.

Some photographs from the Das Studio archives are  below:

Setting up  a plate camera near Tonglu

Burdwan Palace and Darjeeling town 1950s
Das Studio in the 1940s

For more information on the history of Darjeeling and this historic studio visit 


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