Gokyo Trek in Nepal

When trekking in the Khumbutal you have to admonish yourself from time to time to look at the path with amazement. But even more than the omnipresent six-, seven- and eight-thousand-metre peaks are the inner views. The mountain hiker learns humility.

Hythmic clapping echoes through the lounge of the Lukla Guest House. In no time a circle has formed around the dancers. Somewhere a Sherpa has organized a Damphu, a small hand drum, for himself and accompanies the dancers with fast blows. “I am a monkey, you are a donkey”, sings Surendra Ranjit. No, he screams more as he makes high jumps and gently squats when landing on the wooden floor.

His colleagues join in in the “Resham Firiri”, the most popular Nepalese folk song – provided with an English chorus, so that the tourists can also sing along. It is a cheerful, exuberant song and Surendras dance is also exuberant. His trekking group, just before arriving at the lodge from the last eight-hour stage of the Gokyo trek, is bass amazed at the performance. The tired but happy faces reflect the efforts of eleven days with many meters of altitude, light sleep and little body care.

So their guide sings and jumps – and everyone asks themselves: Where does he get the energy from at almost 3000 meters? Actually, the Newar, a Hindu caste in the Kathmandu valley, to which Surendra also belongs, dance the “Newari Dhime” at harvest time. As thanks to the gods. This could also be true for the spontaneous performance in Lukla, the starting and ending point of almost all trekking tours to the Khumbutal in the direction of Everest base camp. The Newar Surendra Ranjit and his three Sherpa Jangbu, Mingma and Sidh are grateful that the 13 trekking tourists and the three Doz pack animals, a cross between yak and domestic cattle, have returned to Lukla unharmed.

One could not assume this automatically two weeks before. At that time, among the Gokyo aspirants in Kathmandu, the Malla Hotel soon had a theme: the flight to Lukla. Superlatives like “the most dangerous”, “the most difficult”, “the most strenuous” are common for small talk on journeys. Regarding the forthcoming transport with the propeller machines into the Khumbutal, the attribute “highly dangerous” is unfortunately appropriate. In 2008 a plane of the “Yeti-Airline” crashed during the landing approach, 18 trekking passengers died. The runway starts at a rockfall and ends at a high wall; in bad weather it is not usable. The problem: fog can also suddenly rise.

Fear of landing

The group starts in Kathmandu under a steel blue sky. The atmosphere in the 16-seater is nevertheless subdued, everyone wants to get the flight behind them as quickly as possible. All the cameras are in place, videos are being shot as the 500-metre runway from Lukla appears. The runway built by Sherpas in 1964 under the supervision of Sir Edmund Hillary (it was only asphalted in 2001) looks like a set piece of a Carrera model railway, which was set into a mountain landscape rising diagonally. Unfortunately without connecting piece to the back, because there is end of terrain.

The pilot sets down perfectly and steers his plane in a bold right turn onto the “tarmac”. Safety personnel use whistles to warn the climbers to get off and leave the runway quickly, as the next plane will soon land. In the main trekking seasons in spring and autumn, up to 55 machines land and take off daily. Everything has to go zigzag.

“Hinduism, Buddhism, tourism – that goes well together”, says Surendra and knows about the effect of his Bonmots. He himself is the best example of this: Born in the middle town of Patan, which is known for its craftsmanship, the Hindu first manufactured prayer wheels after studying business administration. The low income frustrated him, so he changed to a souvenir shop. He liked to look after tourists. Parallel to his job, he studied at the Goethe Institute.

His additional training as a tourist and trekking guide gave him something that many Nepalese dream of: a life of relative prosperity in the bitterly poor Himalayan state. The Sherpa tribe has also succeeded in doing this. Only that the Sherpa have to buckle to carry the load in the literal sense and ruin their health in the long run. The other reality of Nepal: Many men have to earn a living for themselves and their families for lack of work abroad, which they often see only once a year.

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Shining stupas

Hinduism, Buddhism, tourism – that this combination works has to do above all with the origin of the guests: Most trekkers come from Western Europe and North America and have little experience with the two world religions. Even if it probably takes decades to keep all Hindu deities apart and to live the central theme “Karma” correctly in both faiths: Just the exotic touch of a multi-day tour past mountain monasteries and white and golden shining stupas enchants the majority of the visitors.

One then likes to generously overlook the fact that in the morning it can sometimes be difficult to thread from the lodge along the way into the path overflowing with trekkers and pack animals.

“You have to set the indicator,” says Jochen Walter from Munich with a twinkle in his eye. Jochen undertakes the trekking trip together with his wife Manuela. Two years earlier it was the Inca Trail in Peru, now for the first time the Himalaya. “We are fascinated by foreign cultures and mountain worlds,” says Manuela, who is not a regular mountaineer, but will end up standing on the Gokyo peak (5357 m) without any problems. With a radiance on her face that perhaps only the Himalayas could conjure in this form.

But there are still nine days between the group and the summit experience. It quickly becomes clear that most people are less concerned with the final altitude than with the route itself. Because on the second day it already offers spectacular passages. As soon as the group has passed a collapsed iron bridge on a newly laid out path, a double pack appears in front of the hikers: two suspension bridges of a good 300 metres in length, one about 30 metres lower, over which the pack animals cross.

In the past, our Sirdar Jangbu, the Sherpa boss, tells us in the evening, that man and animal used to share the bridge – with the result of long waiting times. Because running towards the brawny Doz on a swaying bridge 100 meters above ground is not everyone’s cup of tea. On the steel cable railings prayer flags blow in the sharp wind, down below the Manjo Khola roars, fed by the glaciers of the big ones.

After a steep ascent the view for the first time: A clearing in the forest reveals Everest, flanked on its right by the Lhotse. Even from a great distance you can see the wind vane that rages at the summit of Everest. Every newcomer wants to be in the first row, not knowing that he will get many spectacular views in the next days. The picture has to be in the box now!