Thursday, August 1, 2013

North or South: The Two Faces of Everest by Anirban Mahapatra

Anirban Mahapatra is a multimedia travel journalist based in Kolkata. He authors travel guidebooks, shoots photo features and produces travel videos for publications and companies worldwide. For more information on his work and travels, visit

If Everest were wine, then 2012-13 was a vintage year in my life. Travelling through Tibet on a cultural expedition in May 2012, I had the opportunity to visit the north base camp of Everest in Rongbuk and see the legendary North Face of the mountain from the Tibetan side. Then, in April 2013, a trek to Kala Patthar in Nepal with South Col Expeditions culminated in lofty views of the world’s highest mountain from the south. My Everest pilgrimage, in every sense of the phrase, was complete.

Back at sea level, people now often ask me how the two journeys compared with each other, and if one trek was indeed more worthwhile than the other. To be honest, it is a bit of an apple-orange situation, and having travelled both the routes, I’m still a little unsure when it comes to choosing between the two. Here’s why.

When it comes to views of Everest, the journey on the north side wins hands down. Nothing matches the overwhelming visual delight of looking at a sheer wall of rock and ice shoot almost four kilometres into the thin air ahead of you. Grand, majestic, sublime – I could go on with the adjectives here, but words would fail to approximate the awesomeness of the moment when you find yourself towered over by a mountain that looms with the collective enormity of a thousand Goliaths. On a clear day, those with a keen interest in mountain lore can see the Northeast Ridge (the route most commonly used by climbers from the north side) cutting a sharp profile against the sky, with the famed First and Second Steps clearly etched into the ice. You could sit there staring at the mountain all day (or as long as the fickle weather would allow you) and never have enough of the sight. More than a year later, the apparition of the North Face still haunts me in my dreams, albeit in a nice way!

On the Nepalese side, the view is much less outstanding, owing to the fact that Everest is obscured by other mountains (including one of its own lower walls when you look up from certain angles) that stand between the mountain and yourself. Lacking the definitive profile of a classic mountain, Everest can only bee seen as a summit peeking above its neighbours – Nuptse to your right, Changtse to the left. The fact that the west wall of Nuptse is better defined and closer to where you stand often conjures an optical illusion of Everest being shorter than its wingman. No prizes for guessing, the grandeur of the mountain is somewhat undermined.

Sunset view of Everest from Kala Patthar
However, despite its visual handicap, the trek on the south side does hold an ace up its sleeve to trump its northern counterpart. Thanks to Chinese enterprise, Rongbuk is now serviced by a fair-weather road that allows 4x4 vehicles to drive all the way to the north base camp. From the village of Tingri, serviced by the Friendship Highway connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu, it takes just about four hours these days to visit the mountain. In other words, what used to be a weeklong adventure on foot has now been reduced to a mere day trip from the fringes of civilisation. Needless to say, the development has made the journey somewhat prosaic – a walk in the park being an apt way to describe it.

The southern route, on the other hand, still calls for an arduous 10-day walk, requiring trekkers to pay the price for the premium experience that awaits them at the end of the road. Personally, I thought the gruelling hike to Kala Patthar only made the final sight more rewarding, like the sweet fruit of one’s hard labour. As a mountain junkie, surveying the sweeping landscape from the summit of Kala Patthar and looking upon fabled sights such as the Khumbu Icefall, the saddle-curve of Lho La and the singular summit of Pumori standing tall behind me were worthy bonuses, and the compelling sense of a completing great crossing was more palpable than I had imagined it to be.

But now that I’ve spoken my mind, I’d urge you not to jump to conclusions from the comfort of your living room. Put on your hiking shoes and go see it for yourself. Everest awaits you! 

For more photographs of the Everest Treks do visit


  1. Thanks Sujoy for the nice post. The photo of "Sunset view of Everest from Kala Patthar" is very beautiful.



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