Friday , December 4 2020

How to Plan a Road Trip to view Mount Everest – India to Nepal

In this blog article, I am sharing all the tips and information that you will need from my personal experience of this road trip. Read on to find, how to plan a road trip from India to Nepal, to view Mount Everest. Recently, I completed an eventful motorbike trip to view the highest point on the face of planet earth, Mount Everest. There are no direct roads to Mount Everest in Nepal. However, you can go to the end of the road at the last motorable town in Nepal and further trek to get a closer view of Mount Everest.

There is an alternate motorable route which has directly led to the base camp of Mount Everest from the Tibet side. However, there is a lot of paperwork involved as the road is built by China, and Tibet comes under Chinese territory. I plan to take this alternate road to Mount Everest sometime in near future.

Preparing for a Road Trip to view Mount Everest

A self-guided tour is a thrilling adventure in itself as you will be your own guide in remote mountains. This also means that you can do the trip at your own pace, as you absorb the mesmerizing beauty of enchanting mountains and the alluring rivers around you. It is quite a spiritual feeling to behold Everest, in all its glory, shining under the dark blue sky, on a clear day.

mount everest from syangboche
High on Life

To start with, let me be clear that I enjoy my mountain road trips in December. While many people will question the choice of season, to me, it’s the best time to travel for numerous reasons. 

  • December means that the skies are mostly clear.
  • Roads are better than any other month with most parts being dry.
  • There is a chance to catch the early snow of the winter season.
  • There are fewer tourists around which means you have the whole mountain to yourself.
  • Better availability of homestays and hotel rooms. However, a lot of places also close down due to the low tourist presence.
  • Bone-chilling cold to harden your spirits. I spent my Everest View road trip and trek at -25°C. It’s an absolute adventure given that you are at 3500m above sea level.
  • Early winter is the most suitable time to travel to the mountains. There are fewer landslides which mean lesser road blockages.

If you want to avoid steep prices, hotels packed with tourists & professional climbers, then December is the best season. From January it starts to snow heavily and access is blocked in many parts until it opens in March. March to May is the peak spring climbing season for the Everest region. Another reason to pick December is that you can get instant helicopter or flight tickets from the airports in the Everest region. I will come to that part later.

How to Plan a Road Trip to view Mount Everest – India to Nepal

Planning for The Everest View Road Trip Route

You will need to divide the Everest View Experience into two parts of your journey.

  • Riding in the last motorable road to Mount Everest.
  • Trekking further up the Namche Bazaar. If you wish, you can trek all the way up to the base camp of Mount Everest. But you will have to hire a Sherpa guide and costs will flare-up. It will need additional 6-8 days of trekking at an extremely high altitude (4000m-5500m).

Riding in the last motorable road to Mount Everest

To enter Nepal from India, there are multiple entry points on the border. Indians don’t require any passport to cross the border into Nepal. However, you will have to pay a fee to obtain permits for your bike to get into Nepal. This permit is called Bhansar. Bhansar translates to ‘customs’ in the Nepali language. There will be middlemen around who charge you excess money to get this done but try to avoid them. I will link to a detailed post on obtaining Bhansar as well as the multiple entry points to Nepal from India.

Read about the documents and permit required for Bhansar while entering Nepal by India registered vehicle.

Bhansar Permit Office at India Nepal Border

Once you get through the process of obtaining Bhansar, you can enter Nepal. There is no cellular connectivity on Indian SIM cards in Nepal. Download the offline map of the entire route in advance because you will not instantly find people around, to get directions in remote areas.

The motorable route for Everest View

Bhittamore – Janakpur- Mithila – Gauridanda – Sindhuli Gadhi – Ramechhap – Ghurmi – Siddhicharan – Okhaldhunga – Pattale – Phaplu

Assuming that you crossed the border by 9 AM head straight to Okhaldhunga Bazar in Siddhicharan, Nepal. Okhaldhunga is 233km from the Indo-Nepal border at Bhittamore and will take you around 7-8 hours including tea and lunch break. The roads are mostly fine but very bad in some patches.

Tea, fruits and Maggi Shops on the road trip route to Everest

Okhaldhunga is a little town and very basic facilities like Lodges, ATM, Repair shops and Fuel Station are available. Most ATMs charge a fee of over NPR 300 every time you take out cash. So consider taking out the required amount of cash at once to avoid multiple charges.

Leave for the next destination, Phaplu, around 8 AM in the morning. Phaplu is the last motorable town towards Mount Everest and is around 52km from Okhaldhunga. The roads will now be a steep uphill into the mountains till you reach the top of Pattale. Okhaldhunga is at an altitude of 1561m and Pattale is at 2800m. This means that the altitude will almost double in just 22km. There was a minor snowfall on the previous night and the views were cold and beautiful. We could see some massive illuminated mountain ranges from Pattale in the distant background. While returning we stayed overnight at this place and in the evening trekked to a Holy place on the opposite side. It had 360-degree views from there.

At 2800m, Pattale welcomed us with stunning views

Then you drive downhill to Phaplu which is at 2400m, further 30km away from Pattale. Okhaldhunga – Pattale – Phaplu will take around 2-3 hours. The road ends here. Phaplu has a small but active airstrip. Daily flights go to Lukla from here. There are also Helicopter services directly to the Syangboche helipad near Namche. You can literally walk into the airstrip and negotiate with the manager for the charges.

Air Strip at Phaplu Airport. You can walk straight to airstrip to reserve seats in next flight.

If you are lucky you will find a good deal on empty seats in the small plane. Else, you may have to wait for the next day’s flight and book in advance. If you don’t take flight then you will have to trek all the way to Lukla, which is not a bad idea. It will get you physically ready for the tough trek to Namche Bazaar from Lukla while also saving some money. There are also helicopter services directly to Namche but you miss the trekking adventure and it may give you altitude sickness.

First experience in a small plane, Phaplu to Lukla

You will need some haggling skills with the flight manager as charges are double for anyone who comes from outside Nepal. We were able to get through by paying NPR 8000 (INR 5000 or US $65) for two seats in an instant flight to Lukla. Haggling is a useful skill. Never act sophisticated when you haggle and be a desi person. The manager refused to take Indian currency but later agreed for 100 rupee notes. Please carry enough Nepali currency as now even locals refuse Indian currency, especially higher up the mountains. And forget about using any bigger denomination of Indian currency anywhere in Nepal.  

The Tenzing–Hillary Airport (IATA: LUA, ICAO: VNLK), also known as the Lukla Airport is infamous and is also known as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. However, things stay safe on clear days. The flight that we took, skidded and crashed into a parked helicopter at Lukla, a week after our journey.

Lukla Airport is also known as one of the most dangerous airports in the world

If you don’t get a flight the same day, then confirm for the next day and stay at the lodge. There are quite a few lodges around, in Phaplu. If you get a confirmed seat the same day, then park your motorbike outside any motel after taking the owner’s permission. I parked my motorcycle right next to the airport outside a small food cafe where the owner lived. She did not want the responsibility but agreed when insisted and also paid NPR 200 for 4 days in advance. People in the mountains are usually honest and down to earth and your motorbike will be absolutely safe.

Walking directly into the plane without any security check is like a chartered experience. However, the waiting hall on the way to the airstrip did not inspire much confidence about a safe journey. In place of chairs, it had seats taken out of some airplanes.

A few minutes later we were in Lukla. Safe and relieved.

Trekking to Namche Bazaar from Lukla for Everest View

When you reach Lukla, start your trek immediately for as much as you can cover before sunset. The entire route is a well-marked trail with steep climbs and slopes with moderate to extreme difficulty. Right before leaving Lukla, you will have to get your first entry done on a check post. 

The trek route for Everest View

Phaplu – Chiwong – Ringmo – Traksindo La – Nunthala – Jubing – Kharikhola – Bhupsa – Khari la- Puiyan – Chheubaas – Surke – Mushe – Chaurikharka – Chheplung – Thado koshi – Ghat – Phakding – Zam Phute – Tok tok – Bengkar – Chumoa – Monjo – Jorsalle – Namche – Khumjung

Get a place to stay before the sunset. Days are warm even in December but it gets below freezing after sunset. There are plenty of lodges and hotels dotted along the trail. In December most of them are closed but there’s still a lot of options to stay for the night. You will have to pay two different feels at different locations. One is for entry to Sagarmatha National Park and the other one is implemented by locals to keep the trails tidy. Together they cost around INR 2000. However, we are not sure about the legitimacy of second fees at the second checkpoint.

Entry ticket to Sagarmatha National Park

There is a specific rule where you need to have your dinner at the hotel where you stay. This is their business model. Since lodging is extremely cheap at NPR 100 per person in December, they charge around NPR 300 for each meal. This is still a good deal considering the difficulty in getting any resource in such a remote area. There are no charging points anywhere in the room and you will have to pay additional NPR 100 to NPR 200 to charge your battery bank, mobile, or camera. Food is very basic Daal-Bhaat (Rice and Lentils) but palatable. There were other options too, but the prices were royal high. Alcoholics should not be disappointed as they have some options too if you can afford it.

There are over a dozen Suspension Bridges, some almost 200m from ground

After taking an overnight stop midway, leave early for Namche Bazaar. The second part of trekking is extremely steep and demanding. It may very well test your limits, to the point you consider giving up. People who trek from Phaplu are in a better position as their body is more acclimatized. While you struggle uphill the Yaks and Donkeys will overtake you happily while ringing their neck bells. Although they look intimidating with carrying up to 2 cooking cylinders equivalent of weight on their back, they are calm and mostly mind their own business. However, there is no guarantee that they will not hit you off the trail. 

Steep uphill in the last phase of trek to Namche bazaar

It will be sunset by the time you reach Namche Bazaar. In December almost 70% of the lodges and hotels stay closed. We found a nice hotel buzzing with guests and Sherpas who were going all the way to base camp. There have been dorms available at just NPR 200 but I don’t think one will survive to see the morning in that soul freezing cold and low oxygen level. We were lucky to find a better room with 2 beds, a private washroom, and electric blankets at NPR 2000. Dinners were slightly expensive at NPR 450 for a meal, but the stories of the Everest Summit, we overheard, while Sherpas having dinner with their base camp group made for it.

At night the temperature plummeted below – 25°C and little hallucination, as well as headache, kicked in due to low oxygen levels. We quickly realized that it’s a typical high altitude symptom and took medicines for altitude sickness. I had the worse experience from the road trip to Upper Mustang in Nepal, where we barely survived the altitude sickness.

Namche Bazar view from above in month of December
Namche Bazar as seen from Syangboche

Leave early morning around 8 AM, to trek up to the Syangboche Helipad to get a clear view of Mount Everest. It’s better to trek further 300m above Syangboche to get good views of Mount Everest. It was so cold in the morning that my lips started to sting and tingle like it was frozen even when I had it fully covered. Don’t even attempt this trek without a parachute jacket and multiple warm liners. Temperature only turns bearable after 9 AM when the Sun rises above mountains.

Getting a glimpse of the highest point on the face of planet earth, the mighty Mount Everest took away all the pain and turned it into an escapade to remember. It’s absolutely surreal experience and immensely spiritual to witness Mount Everest with naked eyes as it touches the sky. The mountains all around are no less than 6500m. The prepossessing beauty of Ama Dablam is unlike anything I ever witnessed. The mighty Lhotse stood tall, shoulder to shoulder with Everest.

motologs.com

Returning from Everest View

Enjoy the Everest View as long as you wish before you return to Namche Bazaar or can go up to Khumjung. We saw a helicopter coming to Syangboche to drop essential supplies and walked directly to inquire if they can drop us at Lukla or Phaplu. To our delight, the manager agreed and we boarded the mighty MI17 Russian helicopter to Phaplu. If you can’t get a helicopter ride then will have to trek back to Lukla. Trekking down is easier and can be done in a day.

Got a ride on the powerful Russian MI17 helicopter Syangboche to Phaplu

Please be aware that Syangboche is not a commercial heliport. It’s only to drop supplies and for emergency evacuation. But again haggling and requesting is always helpful. It was cheaper than the Phaplu-Lukla flight and almost a gift from the spirits of Everest to get our tired souls, down the mountains safely. I had planned to trek down, but the Co-traveler needed urgent altitude lowering.

People who wish to go beyond may take a Helicopter ride directly to Everest Base camp from Namche Bazaar but we did not inquire about the prices. If trekking in Everest Base camp, then the guide is required as there are just a handful of lodges on the way after Namche Bazaar. Sherpa guides arrange everything from food to stay on the way to base camp. Places like Gorakshep (5200m) had winds blowing over 70 kmph in December as narrated by a fellow traveler who returned from Base Camp. It’s too dangerous to go without a guide.

Helicopter ride from Syangboche to Phaplu takes just around 10 minutes. Went straight to check my motorcycle and everything was perfect except some good Samaritan tried to straighten my number plate, which I intentionally keep curved at corners for aerodynamic reasons. It’s a good idea to eat at the same place and so we had heartful of Daal-bhaat.

Drove back to Pattale and stayed overnight. Then the next day drove directly back home. Coming down the mountains is always faster and may get boring if you take the same route. So we tried to change our return route and it was close to hell with extremely bad roads and tire sinking deep in the dirt. Definitely not the adventure we wanted to end with but then we got another chapter to add in the Everest View Road Trip story.

This is how to plan a road trip to view Mount Everest – India to Nepal. Let us know your query and suggestions in the comments below and we will respond with more details.

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