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 www.southcol.com.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trailwala | Adventure Trips


I recently came across a new adventure travel marketplace www.trailwala.com 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 www.trailwala.com 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:

http://www.sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2015/05/nepal-earthquake-support-report-on.html

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


FUNDING

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 www.ratnapradhan.com :

"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 https://www.facebook.com/DasStudio.Darjeeling?fref=ts 

Monday, June 8, 2015

George Mallory: 8th June 1924

" I cannot tell you how it possesses me...." George Mallory

The spectacular Kangshung face of Everest seen from the Kharta Glacier on the 1921 Reconnaissance expedition
On 8th June 1924, two men left  Camp VI (26,700 feet)  to make an attempt on the summit of Everest. Camp VI  was the highest camp of the British 1924 Everest expedition.

On the same morning, another British climber, Noel Odell, was making his way up from Camp IV to Camp VI. Odell was a geologist and he was collecting fossils from the slopes of Mount Everest. Odell recalls that it was not the perfect morning to climb Everest. " Rolling banks of mist" were sweeping  across the mountain and covering the north face. Neither the face nor the summit ridge could be seen by Odell. There was also a sharp wind which was making climbing very difficult.

Suddenly at 12.50 pm the mist cleared and Odell spotted high above on the ridge, a black dot climbing a rock step, which Odell at that point identified as the Second Step. Soon after Odell saw another black dot following the first black dot. But before Odell could be sure that the second black dot had joined the first,  the mist rolled in and blanketed the mountain and this fantastic vision was lost forever.

The two dots that Odell saw were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine "going strongly for the summit of Everest". Mallory and Irvine were never seen again.

But even today, ninety one years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, the legend of Mallory is still alive. Books are being written about Mallory, expeditions are being planned to find Andrew Irvine and his camera because Everest experts believe that the camera will unlock the secret of Mallory's last climb.

In this post we take a look at some photographs and other memorabilia from the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924.

" Higher in the sky  than imagination had ventured to dream, the top of Everest itself appeared" George Mallory

Odell's photograph from the pass of Pang La shows the entire Himalayan chain from the Tibetan plateau with Everest standing just 35 miles away

A  current day telephoto view of Everest from the Pang La  identifying the important features of the mountain - please click on the photo to enlarge.

Mallory and Irvine before boarding the ship S S California  which they took to India on the 1924 expedition

Members of the 1924 expedition - Standing from left Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Odell, Macdonald. In front: Shebbeare, Bruce, Somervell, Beetham. Members not in the photo : Noel, Hingston, Hazard.

" Again and for the last time we advance up the Rongbuk Glacier for victory or final defeat" George Mallory 

The last photograph of Mallory and Irvine leaving for Camp Six for their summit bid from the North Col 

The list of provisions for the summit climb found on Mallory's body  - he planned to be on 2 cylinders of oxygen. Please note the rations on the left!

Original oxygen cylinders of the 1924 expedition preserved at the Planters Club, Darjeeling

The 8 pm in the note is a typo Mallory meant 8 am!

The note that Odell recovered from the tent at Camp VI  - Mallory had no compass on  his last climb

Before leaving for Everest - Mallory with his daughter Clare

A letter from  Mallory to his  children  from Everest



"..... some day you will hear a different story..." George Mallory

Friday, June 5, 2015

Nepal Earthquake | Rebuilding the Villages

Re-building a home at Kaaule village, Nuwakot, Nepal
With the monsoons just around the corner, most villagers are looking to build quick temporary shelters which can protect them from the rain. Most of these shelters will be built with galvanised iron sheets with zinc coating and there is a huge demand for G I sheets in Nepal right now. The villages which we have been supporting  - Kaaule and Bhangeri - in Nuwakot district are yet to receive their full quota of sheets.

Along with this architects and planners are thinking of low cost prototypes which will be better equipped to handle earthquakes and these will form the bulk of the permanent housing in the villages.

Ashish Sharan Lal is a conservation architect who visited Kaaule and Bhangeri villages one month after the earthquake to see for himself the damage and plan for the future.

In this video shot at Kaaule village, Sharan shares his thoughts on re building the village.



I also quite liked the design of the houses using earthbags which has already been used in Nepal.

Do visit http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/finished-earthbag-school-in-nepal/ which describes how to make these buildings in details.

Bond beam on earthbag school in Nepal.
Copyright www.naturalbuildingblog.com

For anyone interested in building with earthbag construction in Nepal contact:
Travis Hughbanks, Edge of Seven, Edge of Seven Blog, U.S.A.
hugh2834 [at] gmail.com 




Friday, May 29, 2015

Everest: 29th May 1953


Tenzing and Hillary at Advance Base after the successful climb
Today is sixty two years since the historic first ascent of Everest.

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain, enshrined in controversy, has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with rich clients paying upto sixty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” In order to make it possible for inexperienced clients to summit Everest, the entire mountain has fixed rope from bottom to top. Climbers assisted by their sherpas clip onto the fixed rope and move up the mountain. There have been stories of sherpas dragging clients up difficult pitches in order to get them to the summit!

And human traffic jams are the order of the day. In May 2012, a German climber Ralf Dujmovits published a photograph which went viral on the internet showing a long line of climbers stuck on the Lhotse face all bunched one behind the other - human jams on the Hillary Step has also become a great bottleneck on the mountain.

 This  year 2015  has been a "lost season" for Everest due to the great Nepal earthquake which caused an enormous avalanche at Everest Base Camp on 25th April 2015. Last year the loss of sixteen sherpas in the Everest icefall effectively ended the Everest season from the south side.


However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.



From left: John Hunt, Hillary, Tenzing and Ang Nyima. Standing : Alfred Gregory and George Lowe at Advanced Base after the return of Tenzing and Hillary from the summit

Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon at the South Col after coming back from the South Summit on 26th May 1953, a decision which Bourdillon regretted for the rest of his life

Returning from the South Col: Evans, Hillay, Tenzing, Bourdillon and George Band

Nawang Gombu crosses a ladder over the Everest ice fall- Gombu later climbed Everest in 1963 and again in 1965

Tenzing and Hillary at Tengboche monastery after the successful climb 
The team of climbers and sherpas at Base  Camp after the successful climb
The coded telegram which meant " Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit on 29th May 1953"

Tenzing on the summit of Everest 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am




The entrance of Tenzing's home in Darjeeling

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nepal Earthquake Support - Report on a Visit to Sundara Devi VDC



THE VILLAGES OF KAAULE AND BHANGERI  

At the very outset, I would like to thank all the donors who have opened their hearts and  contributed for the South Col Relief Fund for these two villages in Nuwakot district.   All our donors are individuals and we have been able to raise US $20,000 till  date. This is an incredible performance beyond my wildest imagination and the funds are being put to good use as you will see in the course of this post. 

LOCATION AND ROUTE
The red box below indicates the district of Nuwakot which is the area where these two villages are located. Kathmandu lies immediately south east of the red box.

The two adjacent villages of Kaaule and Bhangeri are located in the Sundara Devi VDC of Nuwakot district around 85 km from the capital Kathmandu. The road goes to a point around 7 km from the village from where there is a dirt track which is suitable for a Toyota Land Cruiser or similar four wheel drive vehicle. The two villages are up on the hill at an altitude of around 1800 metres with an excellent view into the valley below and the river. We went up in the Land Cruiser and came down on foot to a school from where we were ferried on a motor bike to a place called Battar near Trisuli Bazar. From here,  we were able to get a micro bus to Kathmandu. The journey took around five to six hours on an average both ways. The dirt track will in all probability become unusable for vehicles during the monsoon and then there would a problem of ferrying supplies up to the villages.

The maps below give the location of the region. Nuwakot district is circled in blue in the map  below which gives the most affected areas of the earthquake.  


Sundara Devi VDC is marked in red in the map below which shows the VDC’s of Nuwakot district (click the map below to enlarge).



AT THE VILLAGE


We reached the village around noon on May 22nd 2015 and found the villagers waiting for us near the old school building which had been damaged in the quake. We waited for the rest of the villagers to come and soon the crowd was about four hundred strong. 


 We were introduced by Santaman Tamang and the villagers presented us with khadas and garlands amidst a lot of cheering - it was quite embarrassing and something we were totally unprepared for. Then followed a round of speeches by the important people in the villages explaining the plans to rehabilitate the villages and our contribution and effort. Finally I spoke to the villagers in Hindi, as they would not be able to understand English – I mentioned quite clearly that our contribution was from individual donors not from an NGO or corporates and we would continue to help them to build their village as best as we could. After I completed my speech, Sharan also spoke in Hindi and mentioned that he would be working on a design using local materials at a  low cost to ensure that the permanent housing that would be built would be earthquake proof to the extent possible so that  the devastation and loss of life and property would be much less if another disaster was to take place. 













 This was followed by distribution of galvanised iron sheets (9 feet in length and around 30 inches in width) to some of the villagers from the funds provided by South Col.





PLANS FOR UTILISATION OF FUNDS RAISED BY SOUTH COL

In my first meeting with Santaman in Kathmandu on May 1st 2015, which was soon after the first earthquake, he had mentioned that the villages needed blankets, tarpaulin sheets and rice to provide immediate relief. Our first appeal had mentioned these items and we had also drawn up a budget for the same. 

However after May 1st 2015, Santaman was able to get some relief from for these items and so in consultation with the villagers, they decided to use the South Col funds to buy galvanised iron sheets which are zinc coated for housing. This was because the tarpaulins which they were using were not likely to last very long especially with the monsoons around the corner. These iron sheets would be used initially as temporary shelters to be built by the villagers themselves. Once the monsoon was over and the construction of the permanent housing starts, the same sheets could be used for the roofing of the permanent houses. This is the present plan for the village using the funds provided by South Col and has been explained to the villagers.

FUNDS NEEDED FOR ROOFING FOR AROUND 200 HOUSES IN TWO ADJACENT VILLAGES KAAULE AND BHANGERI

It has been estimated that each house will need two bundles of sheets (each bundle has 8 sheets of around 9 ft by 30 inches) so they will get 16 sheets each.

The cost of one bundle of 9 sheets is around NPR 6,500 or INR 4,063 or USD 65.

The target quantity needed is 200 houses x 2 bundles = 400 bundles x NPR 6500 = NPR 26 lacs or INR 16.25 lacs or USD 26,000.

South Col has so far raised INR 12.50 lacs or NPR 20 lacs or USD 20,000. There are some contributions in the pipeline which would be around USD 2,000 awaited from UK, USA, Australia, India etc. 

From the remittances made by us we received one bill for NPRS 9.03 lacs (USD 9030) for the first lot of sheets. On delivery of this first lot,  an order will be placed for the second lot and supplied accordingly. There is also a shortage of sheets in Nepal due to the high demand at present. There are apparently a few factories that make these sheets and all are working at full capacity. The Government of Nepal has asked these factories not to export these sheets to India at present but to deliver the full capacity to Nepal until this crisis is over. We will receive the subsequent bills once the sheets are supplied.

Hence, with the total South Col contribution at present,  we would be able to do around 170 houses or so. Santaman expects some further support from other donors around the world and so the immediate need for providing shelter through the monsoon months will be met. The framework to support the sheets would be made with the existing materials which are presently lying in the village. 

However, other than the housing for the villagers, the school for the children is also damaged and will need repairs. Presently the school benches are out in the field and school is taking place outdoors. This will not be possible once the rains start in mid June 2015.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

At present the villages have not received any support from the government though a fixed amount for every family has been promised. However, this amount is small and will not last long. It is my gut feeling that private donors and NGOs working on the ground will have to help villages like Kaaule, Bhangeri and so many others all across Nepal. 

TOUR OF THE TWO VILLAGES

After distributing some of the zinc sheets to the villagers, we took our sirdar Shyam Tamang and made a tour of the two villages. The photographs below will give an idea of the villages but we found that all the houses had sustained damage and most were on the ground.






 The houses were mainly built with mud and stone and these must have crumpled like a pack of cards. The villagers were mostly in shelters covered by tarpaulin – some of the broken houses were being used to store their belongings wrapped up in large cloth bundles. The cattle sheds with their tin roofs seemed to have suffered less damage and many of the buffaloes goats and chickens were still in the sheds. 




Some of the villagers had started working on re-building walls and repairing the damage to the extent possible. It was heart breaking to see the monastery at Bhangeri in total ruins with the statues of Buddha and Padmasambhava lying amidst the rubble. 




PLANS FOR PERMANENT HOUSING

Architect Ashish Sharan Lal who accompanied me on this visit has made a review of the existing materials available on site as well as the indigenous materials available in and  around the villages. He has also measured a house which was destroyed with the intention of creating a suitable prototype plan which could be possible in this village. Sharan will give an update on this once he is ready with his plans.




























=================
Sujoy Das
May 28th 2015


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