Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bhutan | Nub Tshona Pata Trek

March 26th to March 31st 2018
A South Col team trekked for five days in the valleys south west of Haa. What started as a spring outing changed into wintry conditions from the second day evening. Here is a short description of the route.

Day 1 March 26th 2018 Paro to Haa 3 hours drive
We left Paro around 3 30 pm after lunch and a trek to Tigers Nest in the morning. The weather began to break around 400 metres below the Chele la and soon we were in a furious snowstorm. We reached the pass around 5 pm in a blizzard - the prayer flags at the top were bent over in the snow and wind. We left the pass and drove down – we were very lucky to see a number of different Khaleej pheasants male and female, a barking deer which sped across the road and the ever popular yellow billed blue magpies flitting from bush to bush. We reached Haa around 6 pm in the fading light - the rain and snow had stopped and Haa was dry. We checked into the fabulous Soednam Zingkha heritage lodge with beautiful heated rooms, plenty of hot water and a great dinner with excellent wifi connection to boost.  It was really a beautiful spot to spend the night before our trek.

Day 2 Haa to Bjanadingkha Monastery by vehicle 45 min and then trek to Tshebjo 3965 metres
 We  left the lodge around 8 am and drove through Kajena village and  started climbing  for the monastery. It took around 45 minutes. We met our ponies and support crew at the monastery. We started out from the monastery at 9. 20 am and started walking in a southerly direction. Within 20 minutes we came to an open pasture with pink primulas denticulata in full bloom. The trail then started climbing gently through the forest and in another 40 minutes reached a clearing which made a good first stop.  The clearing was at 3500 metres. From the clearing there is a broad path to the left which we followed and the trail soon started climbing steeply through the rhododendron and pine forest. In around two hours we crested a hill top above the tree line at 3895 metres where we stopped for lunch. Below us was the valley of Ha which we had seen on our walk up and to the north west were the peaks of Chomalhari and Jitsu Drake clearly visible. It was a bonus to see these 7000 metre peaks on the first day itself. After a 45 minute lunch stop we headed on a fairly level trail which skirted the hillside to the west and following a series of undulating ups and downs we came to our camp site at Tshebjo near a stream at 3900 metres. It was 75 minutes from our lunch stop to Tshebjo. We could see the Tshebjo la  Pass above us which we would cross tomorrow. It had been a satisfying day in good weather.

Paro 2332 m 27 26 14N 89 22 49E  Ha 2937m  27 25 11N 89 13 10E Monastery 3273m 27 23 41N 89 15 11E Tsebjo 3965m 27 21 56N 89 13 47E
Monastery to first stop clearing 1 hour Clearing to meadow for lunch 2 hrs meadow to Tshebjo camp site 1 hr 30 min

Day 3 March 28th 2018 Tshebjo 3965m to Womji 3716m to Gochula 4194m to Chhosolumpa camp 3966m
The day dawned clear and sunny though the night was very cold - the water in the stream had frozen and the night temperatures would have been around 5 to 6 degrees below zero. We left the camp around 8.20 am after a good breakfast and climbed gradually in a southern direction towards the Tsebjo La pass. The trail was not very distinct but we saw a stone cairn on top of the ridge and climbed gently skirting the hill and reached the top in 45 minutes. There was a great view from the pass behind us - the way we had come-  we could see Chomolhari once again and towards the south were the hills covered in fresh snow. We took a fairly obvious right hand  southerly  trail from the pass which skirted the hill side on a level trail for around 15 minutes. It then came to a fork the trail left plunged down to the forest - that was the correct trail  (not the trail going straight ahead and level) which went down to the clearing of Womji.

Descending to Womji
 We could see a small white hut in the clearing below - that was our destination.  The trail dropped steeply for an hour through rhododendron and pine forest until it reached a small stream which was bridged by a single log - we crossed the stream and in around 20 minutes reached the clearing of Womji which would make a good camp site.  We rested for 10 minutes and then started the 400 metre climb to the Gochula pass. In around 15 minutes from Womji the trail crossed a log bridge and then started to climb through the rhododendron forest - none of the flowers were in bloom in late March but would probably be spectacular in May. Snow lay on the ground and across the path in the shadows. In around 2 hours we crested 4000 metres and stopped for lunch in a sunny clearing just below the tree line. After lunch the trail climbed steeply through some snow patches and suddenly we could see the prayer flags of the pass in front of us. From this point it still took 30 minutes to reach the top 4194 metres. From the pass there is a sharp trail to the right - do not take the trail which plunges down into the valley. The correct trail skirts the hillside in a westerly direction and in about 20 minutes descends to some black rocks on a dry river bed. Cross the rocks and proceed up the hill along a narrow trail from where you can see below a broad flat clearing which is the camp site of Chhosolumpa. This is a long day of around 7 to 8 hours in total with breaks. 

Our breakfast table in the sun
 Tsebjo 3965m 27 21 56N 89 13 47E Tsebjo La 4117m 27 21 42N 89 13 24E Womji 3716m 27 21 44N 89 12 0E Gochula Pass 4194m  27 20 57N 89 11 3E Chhosolumpa Camp site 3966m 27 20 50N 89 10 13E

Top of Gochula Pass
Tsebjo to top of Tsebjo  La 45 min to 1 hr Tsebjo La to Womji 1 hr 45 min to 2 hrs Womji to top of Gochula pass 2 hr 45 min to 3 hrs Gochula to camp site 45 min to 1 hour.

Day 4 March 29th 2018 Plan to cross Tshejela Pass and stop at Tshona Pata
After dinner it started to snow. The weather soon changed to gale force winds and shook the tent all night. The snow kept falling continuously and eased up only around 5 am in the morning. A watery sunrise greeted a white world. All trails had been obliterated. We toyed with the idea of not going ahead to Nob Tshona Pata but after discussions decided to give it a try. We left around 8 45 am and started climbing the out of the meadow through the forest. There was no trail and we were sinking knee deep in the soft powder snow. We came to the top of the ridge in around 40 minutes. Ahead we could see the trail skirting the hillside - we started up the trail but in places the trail disappeared and there were steep drops into the valley. In some places steps had to be cut in the snow to make the trail. Ominous clouds were rushing in as well and we could see that it had started snowing to the east of the pass. I took a decision at that point around 4125 metres to turn around. Even if we had crossed the pass we would have encountered very heavy going through deep snow on the descent - inclement weather would have further added to our miseries. We headed down and reached our camp site in 30 minutes. The sun was now out and we rested for a while and then started out to climb the Gochula pass once again at 10 45 am. The climb went quite well and by 12 noon we were on top. The weather had packed up and it started snowing as we left the pass - the temperature must have been close to zero degrees Celsius . We followed the trail to Womji for about 15 minutes and then took a higher trail climbing above the main trail.  From the top we could see the tents of our camp situated in the far side of the valley below. This trail skirted the hillside once again and climbed steeply before descending through dwarf rhododendron bushes to a broad meadow where we stopped for lunch for thirty minutes. We walked in a northwesterly direction to pick up a trail which eventually led to our camp side above a stream at Tsang (pronounced Chong)  in another 30 minutes. .
Chhosolumpa campsite to top of Gochula pass 1 hour;  Gochula  Pass to our lunch stop 1 hr 15 min Lunch stop to camp 30 min.
Tsang Campsite 4077m 27 21 59N 89 11 1E

Day 5 March 30 2018 Tsang campsite to Tshokham
It started snowing again in the night though much less than the previous night. There were strong gusts of wind at periodic intervals which rocked the tents. The morning dawned sunny with a layer of clouds towards the Tshejela pass which we had not crossed yesterday. We started out at 8 45 am and followed a trail to the northeast which would skirt the mountain range and take us across the range of the Tsebjo La which we had crossed through another divide on Day 3 above. From here we would have to descend to the camp at Tshokham above Haa monastery.  By 11 am it started to snow and soon the conditions turned almost blizzard like. We crossed the pass 4151 metres  at around 12 30 pm with the snow easing off. Across the valley the mountains very covered in the fresh snow backed by an angry grey sky.  Across to the north west we could see Chomolhari emerging through the clouds encrusted in fresh snow. It was a wild landscape – angry and threatening.  We started descending into the valley - the snow had stopped by then and the trail was also visible.  Suddenly below us to the west  we saw the gilded roof of the  monastery where we had started our trek and our destination for tomorrow. The trail then skirted around a hillside and began to drop into the forest. Snow lay on the ground making the going difficult and slippery. This was mainly a rhododendron forest and some of  the varieties were coming into bud - flowering would probably start in late April and continue into June.  The track continued to drop steeply for around 500 metres from the pass until it came to a broad sunny clearing besides the forest - the meadow of Tsokham which was our campsite for the last night  We reached the campsite at Tshokam around 2 30 pm.

Tshokham 3606 metres 27 22 55N 89 14 31E
Tsang campsite to range of Tsebjo la pass crossing 3 hours; Pass down to Tshokham campsite 2 hours

Day 6 March 31 2018  Tshokam to Monastery  - this day can also be combined with Day 5 saving a day and staying the night in Ha.
It was the last day of our trek and spirits were high. We had a late and leisurely breakfast the low altitude and warm sunshine had lulled us into a delayed start. We set off eventually around 9 am and found that we were just an hour above the monastery. Our path down was the way we had come up and within 40 minutes we found ourselves at the clearing which had been our first day’s first stop. Instead of taking the right fork down we took the broad flat trail this time and passed several clumps of primulas. It was a sunny pleasant morning with a lot of birdsong in the forest. We could see Haa valley below us with the houses. In about another 20 minutes we descended through a steep downhill path and found the roof of the monastery and the nearby buildings below us. Our bus was waiting for us as we had left it parked five days ago. We drove down to Paro in time for a late lunch. 

Tshokam to Monastery 1 hour.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Cost of an Everest Base Camp Trek

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  an  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 $ 3000 to 4000 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 2500 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 $35 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 return - US $356 for foreign passports holders and USD $212 for  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. In Namche good lodges like Hotel Namche would charge between $25 to $35 for rooms with attached bathrooms, hot showers etc.
  • Food at lodges - You can budget US $ 25-30 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 $ 18 to 20 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 $ 1300-1400 per head or so per person. For Indian/Nepali  trekkers you can budget US $ 1100-1200 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 $ 900-1000 per  person  and for  Indian/Nepali citizens US $ 800-900 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 $ 3000 to 4500 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 11th to 24th 2018.   For more details do visit

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Everest Region in Black and White

The Everest season is here again and trekkers and climbers have started making their way to Base Camp. Though the view of Everest itself is not very spectacular as you walk through the Khumbu region, there are other so called "lesser peaks"that are tantalizingly beautiful. This essay looks at the Khumbu in monochrome.

Ama Dablam and Kangtega on the trail from Dingboche to Dugla

Thamserku from Luza on the Gokyo trail

Setting moon behind Kwangde, Namche Bazar

Pumori and Kala Pattar


Thamserku on the Gokyo trail

The Scott Fischer memorial above Dugla

Kangtega and Thamserku last light from the lodges of Kyanjuma
For more information on our treks in Everest and the Himalaya do visit

Monday, April 2, 2018

Moods of Macchapuchhare

One the trekking trail near the village of Dhampus

The Fishtail Mountain of Nepal Macchapuchhare has not been climbed. Attempted in 1962 by a British team led by Jimmy Roberts,  the climbers failed to make the summit. Soon after the Nepal Government put the mountain "out of bounds" and no further expeditions were permitted.

I first saw the mountains of the Nepal Himalaya from the lawns of the Crystal Hotel in Pokhara. It was December 1978 and in the grey light of a chilly dawn with my first and new SLR camera, I attempted to take some photographs. The garden was full of red poinsettia blossoms but in the pre-dawn light they looked dark crimson, almost black. And then behind them in that half light, there was the Fishtail mountain, Machhapuchhare, her razor sharp ridges slicing the inky blue sky.  Next  to her impossibly high were the Annapurnas and to the west peeking over the lower hills was Dhaulagiri. I have seen variations of this Himalayan vision in different incarnations all through the years, and it never fails to arouse a feeling of awe and amazement each and every time.

This essay shows the some of the moods of this iconic mountain:

Winter sunset Pothana

Unexpected spring snowfall Annapurna Base Camp

Telephoto close up near Doban on the ABC trek

On the trail between Upper Sinuwa and Bamboo

Dusk Annapurna Base Camp
Dhampus village

Poon Hill winter evening

Moon rise Macchpaucchare base camp

 For treks in Nepal and other regions of the Himalay please do visit for more information.


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