Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lukla to Phaplu: The Long Road back to Kathmandu

In May 2013, I was returning from a South Col trek to the Everest region when for two consecutive days our Tara Air flights from Lukla  were cancelled due to bad weather and strong winds over the Lamjura Pass. My clients who had connecting flights to their home countries left Lukla by chartering a helicopter and finally my sirdar Shyam Tamang and myself were left in Lukla. Helicopter fares were very expensive and more than what Shyam and I could afford. So after seeing off  the last group by "chopper" from Lukla, we decided to take the long walk to Phaplu, 50 km away. From Phaplu there is a jeepable road of sorts which takes around fifteen hours to Kathmandu! We were dead beat after walking for 17 days in the Everest region and another 50 km did not look inviting but there was not much choice.

This is the route map of our walk:

We took Prakash one of our porters on the Everest trek and the three of us descended from the Lukla airstrip into the forest above Surkhe. These are some of the photographs from this rain drenched journey.

The trail from Lukla (2800m) plunges down to Surke, a drop of about 500 metres in about an hour and a half! We were soon enveloped in the wet forest and cocooned in the damp mist amidst a cacophony of bird calls!

The trail from Surke then crosses a bridge and starts a long uphill climb to the village of Puiyan (2780m)  On the way we passed these porters making their way to Lukla. 

Before reaching the small village of Puiyan there is an old tree surrounded by these prayer flags and ceremonial scarves ( khadas).  

Our sirdar Shyam and Prakash look down into the Dudh Kosi river valley  as the trail plunges down to Bupsa (2350m) from the Khari La pass. 
The Sonam Lodge was welcome for a  tea break at the Kari La pass (2885 metres)  about an hours  walk after crossing Puiyan.  

Numerous hills and dales  had passed by  and we were wet and tired. It was early evening. Our destination for the first night out from Lukla was Kharikhola (2050m)  which was still some distance away. We found the Everest lodge at Bupsa and stopped to have tea and noodles with the owner in this attractive kitchen. 

The next day we descended from Kharikola to Jubing (1700 metres) and then started on the 1300 metre ascent to the pass of Traksindo. On the way after crossing Nuntala (2350m) we found this man weaving baskets outside his home on the edge of the trail.

The weather was packing up again and clouds rushed through the valley where this donkey is carrying rice and atta for his owner on the way to Lukla. 

After crossing the Traksindo Pass (3071m) the trail drops through the valley and enters this beautiful village of Ringmo (2700m) , known as the "apple capital" of the Everest region. The valley is studded with apple trees and beautiful forest all around the village. Ringmo was possibly the most attractive village on this route.

Leaving the village of Ringmo and before entering Phaplu,   the trail passes through several neatly terraced villages like this one!  

After more than 18 hours of walking and 50 km later we reached Phaplu in the late evening on the second day. It had been a long, wet and tiring walk and the exhaustion is evident on Prakash's face! On reaching Phaplu we found that no flights were operating out of this airport as well due to bad weather! As luck would have it we managed to get a ride on a Tata Sumo heading for Kathmandu the same evening. Fifteen hours later at around 9 am the next morning we reached Kathmandu after jolting through the night on dirt track roads! The entire journey had taken us 45 hours since leaving Lukla! The flight from Lukla to Kathmandu takes 30 minutes!


  1. Sujoy, Nice write-up and awesome pics as usual! I did part of this trek (i.e. from Ringmo to Surkhe) as a part of my Jiri-to-EBC trek in 2007. I had seen the trail junction at Ringmo to Phaplu. I found Nunthala (and Junbesi, ofcourse) as wonderful villages on that route. More details of my trek here: -KS

    1. Thanks KS, will definitely take a look at your site!

  2. Sujoy, Brings back memories of my 2003 trek. A few photographs of the Taksindo monastery and of the jagged peaks from the Lodge next door owned by the late Babu Chiri who once held the record for climbing Everest (10 ascents) would have given me additional delight....... You are brilliant.

    1. Sadly Traksindo was enveloped in mist when we reached and we missed the famous view!

  3. Wonderful images of your trek.

  4. I loved this brief account of The Road Less Travelled in this part of Nepal - these are the journeys that remain memorable in your heart even decades later, however tough it might have been while actually doing the trek! And as always, lovely pictures accompanying the text - I especially like the one of the man weaving on the side of the trail! Here is wishing that your optics may be free of moisture in the most demanding conditions, Sujoy! Cheers.



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