Image Credit: Corina Coda

In the heart of the Himalayas, Mount Everest rises like a giant from the core of the Earth. As a symbol of eternal life and as a proof of Mother Nature’s enormous power, the world’s highest peak is a constant reminder of the incredible world we live in.

As a hiking novice, whose first big attempt was the famous Inca trail leading to Machu Picchu in Peru, I decided to challenge myself and set the bar even higher in May last year. Reaching an altitude of 5,364m seemed like a pretty decent deal to get as close as possible to the foothills of the majestic Everest standing at 8,848m. Little did I know that the 10-day trek amid the lush Himalayan forest would slowly turn into intimidating glaciers hidden in minus 3 degrees Celsius with not much oxygen to breathe. Or just how much control nature had on our existence.

We set out on a beautiful sunny day after a four-hour flight from Dubai to the busy capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. From the moment I presented my passport to the customs officer at Tribhuvan International Airport, I felt that the trip was going to be a memorable one. With my 40-litre orange backpack and a pocket full of hopes I began my exploration into what was, at that time, an unknown world.

With sights such as these, every moment on the 10-day journey felt eventful.

At the beginning of the hike, I was still trying to adjust to my new surroundings and equipment. Starting from the village of Lukla, we walked for six to seven hours. Every step I took seemed surreal. But quickly, I stopped being a spectator and became the actor of my own show, fuelled by the clean oxygen generously donated by the giant trees. Even the background noise of the Dhud Kosi River snaking along the way provided some much-needed tranquillity for my ears. I made it my daily symphony.

The more I progressed, the more confident I became. My boots were a lot more comfortable, my bag became lighter — taking some of the layers of clothes off when the sun was burning without mercy. Small, casual conversations with the annoyed-looking yaks was also a part of the normality during the trek. It was also normal to see silent monks from the region walking side by side with the sixteen-year old Sherpas who were carrying enormous gas tanks on their fragile backs.

After we passed Namche Bazaar on the second day, the reality of the hike kicked in. All of a sudden I realised there was no way back, and I needed to activate all my senses in order to stay focused.

The next day, I noticed that the air was becoming thinner and the dizziness made me weaker. It was like I was between two worlds — it was hard to differentiate between reality and dream. And as the terrain became rougher and steeper, the nature around me was slowly dying. Aggressive clouds were blinding me, and all I could see was just my porter carrying my still orange backpack with a lot of trash and creased clothes inside. Breathing became a mission as the days wore on.

Smiling wide at the foothills of the mountain — we made it!

By the seventh day, I was tired, really tired. The only thought that kept me going was the Everest Base Camp. The last stop in Lotche village, just one day away from my final destination, felt like a never ending suspense. This was the time when people started doubting if they could go any further. The altitude sickness bowled down a couple of really motivated adventurers. As I was looking through the small, squared-shaped window of the wooden teahouse, with a hot masala tea in my cold hands, I braced as if I was protecting myself from something bad about to happen. I put the final words in my journal: “You can do it, Corina, stay strong.”

But the next day’s trip to the Everest Base Camp made me put aside all the fears and doubts I had about myself. I was smiling constantly for no reason, despite the fact that I got trapped in between two huge rocks and fell on my back. I couldn’t afford to spend time thinking about my bleeding hand. I wanted to stay focused and spread the motivation to my peers.

I was aware of the fact that I had to admire the beauty of Mother Earth, but I was also carefully assessing the danger of each threat. Until, all of a sudden, the curtains were lifted. I looked up and my eyes filled up with tears: I was there. I had arrived at the Everest Base Camp!

Getting friendly with the yaks.

I didn’t know the people around me, they didn’t know me, but we hugged each other so intensely like we were sharing the most precious time of our lives. It was an incredible moment of achievement, of self- fulfilment and certainly, happiness.

The way back to civilisation was a piece of cake compared to what I had been through the last eight days. Descent was a lot easier. Easier to walk, easier to think, easier to eat. But everything I did after that was always taking me back to the moment when I stood grandly “almost” on top of the world. I was a little bit sad to let go off that moment. The moment of greatness being at the foothill of the biggest mountain in the world. But I was aware of the fact that all the good things, sooner or later, come to an end.

So, I shook the thoughts out of my head and switched to the other side of the coin. For the first time in my life I think I really understood the meaning of these words of wisdom: “It is not about the destination. It is more about the journey.”

— Corina Coda is an intern at Gulf News.



THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

If you’re up to the challenge, and want to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, here are a few things you should know:

Insurance
Travel insurance, which covers altitudes of 5,000m above sea level is an essential thing to have. In many regions, there is no road access, so helicopter evacuation is the only option. High altitude-related illness, accidents, diarrhoea, cough, and natural disasters like avalanches and rock falls, are expected while trekking to Everest Base Camp. So, the best suggestion is to get the travel insurance that covers helicopter evacuation, repatriation, and independent trekking.

Those extra kilos
It can become quite a stressful process predicting what you might need during your trip to the Everest Base Camp. Don’t overload yourself with the shopping list. Through time, the cosmopolitan capital of Nepal has developed into a great pre-shopping area for the adventure seekers that will allow you to buy the forgotten gear. And then there is the Namche Bazaar — a Sherpa capital in the middle of the Himalayan range from where you can purchase an extra woollen hat for your collection.

Be ready for cold nights
Even though it has been a year, I can still vividly remember the numbness in my extremities before going to bed. It was not easy to sleep with three pair of socks, thermal leggings on, two sweaters and a down jacket covering the tip of my cold nose. Always invest in a warm sleeping bag with proper linen underneath. Trust me, your health is the most important thing you need to think of during the 10-day hike. If you get sick, a chain reaction will start slowing you down.

Expect basic facilities
Along the way to the Everest Base Camp you will notice a drastic change of privileges offered. The tea-houses will shrink in size, the meals portions are going to become smaller. You will realise that taking showers every day will remain an imaginary luxury best postponed to when you return back to civilisation. You will have to get used to the unhygienic restrooms and icy-cold water which will instantly wake you up in the morning.

Get fit at least six weeks in advance
A combination of steep ascents and descents, rocky paths, some moraine walking plus at least five kilos on your back. This might seem easy but in reality you need some physical preparation. The best thing to do is to develop a basic exercise routine like strength, endurance and cardiovascular training. With a dash of determination and repetition you should be fully ready for the trip of your life.

You are what you eat
Since there are superhuman Sherpas along the trek who carry bags that weigh more than 100kg, they also put the effort to bring some proteins all the way to the base camp. Not only is it very expensive, the meat is also not fresh. You should perhap, consider becoming vegetarian for the duration of the trek. It is digested easier and allow you to detox. I felt great towards the last days of my vegetarian experience and I wish I started earlier.

Pose for a picture
A beautiful expression I heard along the way to the base camp was: “Don’t forget to smell the roses”. It made me realise how important is to actually enjoy the journey and absorb every single breath of fresh air. Notice the culminating feeling the tall bridges give you. Notice the scripts on the colourful flags. Take the time to connect with the locals in their villages. Walk in a monastery and listen to the mantras pronounced simultaneously by the children of fate. Watch a documentary with the tired hikers. All of these are going to become the sum of your unforgettable memories.



HOW TO GET THERE

Flydubai, Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines fly from Dubai to Kathmandu, with some starting at Dh480 for a return fare. Air Arabia flies from Sharjah, while Etihad operates from Abu Dhabi. Flights from the UAE to Kathmandu last about four to five hours.

DID YOU KNOW

There are two ways to trek to Everest Base Camp. You could go from Kathmandu by bus to Jiri, followed by approximately 21 days of trekking known as the “Walk In”. Or you fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, followed by about 10-14 days of trekking known as the “Fly In”.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST

Here are some of the expenses you will incur (US dollars are widely accepted, along with the Nepali rupee):

Initial expenses:
• Flight to and from Lukla: Dh880

• Guide to Everest Base Camp: Dh110 per day

• Porter to Everest Base Camp: Dh73 per day

• National Park Permit: Dh121 per person

• Local tax: Dh73 per person

Daily expenses:
• Food: around Dh73 to 110 per day

• Accommodation: around Dh36 per day