The Spiritual Capital of India – Varanasi

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By Telma | 24 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

“Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.”

~ Lonely Planet

If there is a city that inspires love and hate at the same time, that will be Varanasi.
In India, where some of the most important religions were founded, Varanasi is one of the most sacred in the world. Known as “the spiritual capital of India” it is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Hindu pilgrims believe that visiting this holy city and bathing in the Ganges River’s sacred waters will purify their souls. Everyday men in underpants, women in saris, children and the elderly go to these Ghats (stone-paved cremation platforms with steps leading down to the water) and bathe in the holy water to wash away their sins or to attend cremation ceremonies. From dawn to dusk spiritual practices take place in public, in devotion of their Goddess – Ganga. Thousands chanting Mantras, bathing into the icy-cold water, every day, every hour as they “free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth”. These rituals, the river, smells, cows, goats, dogs and people, all at once around the Ghats can be overwhelming, to say the least!
But Varanasi isn’t only one of the oldest and most religious cities in the world, it is without doubt a city that captivates you, that leaves you speechless. Varanasi is an experience.

things to do varanasi

varanasi everyday

ganges river varanasi

sadhu varanasi

About Varanasi

Arriving in Varanasi and looking around, our first impression wasn’t great, in all honesty. Is this a “Holy city” or a “Chaotic mess”? We have seen dirt, experienced crowded places and unpleasant smells lingering around but Varanasi it’s on another level. This is real!
From the first step outside the Guesthouse to returning back, it was a constant struggle with things, animals, people! Touts following us trying to sell anything and everything to the point they would grab our arms to get our attention. Sadhus (Holy Man) trying to shake our hands and touch our heads, shouting in the end because they were actually demanding money. Rickshaw and Tuk Tuk drivers wouldn’t leave us alone and literally followed us everywhere. Children begging for money, no I am not talking about one child at a time, I mean 8-10 children surrounding us at once. The stray dogs it’s heartbreaking! We lost count how many there are roaming around; broken legs or legless, covered in wounds, skinny, starving…So sad to a westerner’s thinking.
And last but not least…let’s talk about the cows. They are everywhere! Ok, it’s fine, they are cute and harmless. But there were roads that it was impossible NOT to step on cow’s dung. I mean seriously? No, I am not exaggerating. Perhaps I can show a few pictures…

holy cow varanasi

cows everywhere varanasi

india sacred cows

Besides all the madness Varanasi has its good points: interesting people, great vegetarian/vegan food, amazing history sites and a relaxed pace of life. No wonder there are so many westerners. After all, Varanasi might be the place to be.

Top Things To Do in Varanasi

Walking around the Old City

Ditch Google Maps. Get lost and enjoy the experience! Yummy street food, some of the coolest, trendiest cafés in town, vegetable markets, street vendors, hidden temples, thousands of people, rickshaws, cows, goats, chickens, dogs… the list goes on.

people streets of varanasi

what to do varanasi

travel guide varanasi

Visit the River Ganges Ghats

There are 80+ Ghats bordering the river and most were built 1700 AD. Yes Varanasi is an old city, dating back 3000 years ago. So how can anyone not feel the goose bumps while there?!
Anyway a good start would be from Assi Ghat all the way down to Manikarnika Ghat. Some are busier than others, due to its religious practices and number of attendees.

varanasi people at the river

Here are the most important Ghats in Varanasi:

Assi Ghat – A place of worshiping Lord Shiva, pilgrims bathe here before any rituals take place. As its location is at the far extreme south of the river, the area is less crowded.
Chet Singh Ghat – The old Fort represents more of a historical symbol than a cremation site itself. Maharaja Chet Singh built the fort during the 18th century battle with the British.
Darbhanga Ghat – The Royal family of Bihar built the palace early 1900s. The Ghat is amongst the favourites in Varanasi due to its architecture.
Scindhia Ghat – There is a partially submerged Shiva Temple at the water’s edge. Some cremations happen here during the day.
Dasaswamedh Ghat – This is the main Ghat and ultimately the oldest and holiest of all. It’s where the Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place every evening.
Manikarnika Ghat – Here is where it all happens! The busiest Ghat in Varanasi. According to one of the locals “up to 100 bodies are cremated here every day”.

assi ghat

chet singh ghat

ghat to visit varanasi

varanasi ceremony ghat

cremations varanasi

things to do varanasi

Boat Tour on the Ganges River

Hold your breath! You will be haggling a lot for this boat ride! Be smart, if you have time (and patience), ask around first and see what these men have on offer. Some might be knowledgeable of the Ghats, others not so much. And that is why time is needed here, so you can get a glimpse of what they know. Our boat ride, along with our friend Peter, was at Rs100/USD1.50/GBP1.20 each.
Now, were we 100% satisfied with the service? Not bad, but could have been better because we agreed one hour and only made it to Dasaswamedh Ghat within 45 minutes. Also, the man refused to carry on, saying he had to row back and it would take time. At the end he demanded a tip… me being me, I laughed and walked off. Obviously!

boat ganges river

Attend the Aarti Ceremony

Every day, regardless of the weather, the Aarti Ceremony takes place at sunset (7pm in the summer, 6pm in the winter) at Dasaswamedh Ghat. The flow of pilgrims, Sadhus, Priests, beggars, homeless and flower sellers, is enchanting. Oh, and the cows, of course!
It is a spectacular, must-see ceremony with a lot of meaning in a spiritual context and for non-Hindus it is still a fascinating ritual to be able to witness.
The ceremony is a devotion for the Goddess Ganges, Lord Shiva and symbolizes the five elements: Akash (Space); Vayu (Wind); Agni (Fire); Jal (Water); Prithvi (Earth). A group of young pandits (Hindu Priests) perform the highly-choreographed ceremony using fire, water, incense, and many other elements. During the ritual, there is music and dancing in circular movements that represent the presence of the Gods in everyone’s life.
The ceremony lasts for one hour and cannot be missed!

evening ceremony varanasi

evening ceremony varanasi

Travel Tips for Varanasi

  • Don’t be fooled, man will try and get you on a rickshaw for twice the money or will convince you to hire him as a Guide for the day. Always ask the host at the hostel/guesthouse for recommendations.
  • Don’t lose your appetite. For us, the street food in Varanasi wasn’t very appealing to say the least, but don’t worry there are some options. Check the list of Restaurants in Varanasi. Aum Café located in Assi Ghat was our favourite!
  • Say NO more often. People will grab your hands, arms and chase you. It’s exhausting. Be prepared for the odd man shouting back because you ignored him. Don’t be embarrassed ad walk away.
  • Observe the everyday life and immerse yourself in Varanasi!

varanasi cremation ghats

boat at varanasi

varanasi itinerary

varanasi ghats and people

holy man of varanasi

varanasi people

So after all, you must be thinking “I would have left straight away!” But you know, this is it, this is part of India. This is why there is no other place like Varanasi; its uniqueness makes it one of a kind. Thousands come for “soul searching”, for its spiritual practices, a “once in a lifetime experience”. Although we both don’t share the spiritual connection, we did “enjoy” the chaos.
There is a love-hate relationship towards Varanasi amongst travellers, and I don’t blame people for it. In all honesty isn’t the most pleasant place to be. And one massive piece of advice, for people that are planning a visit to India, DO NOT start in Varanasi. I feel not many will be able to cope with it.
After all, who said people come to India for a holiday? You don’t see India, you experience India.

Thanks to our friend Peter we had delicious meals in Varanasi! His recommendations were spot on! While in Varanasi we spent a lot of time together. And it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by good energy. We met him in Kathmandu, a few weeks after coming back from Everest Base Camp. And by the look of it, we will meet many times more in India. Cheers buddy!

Is Varanasi on your travel list? Let us know in the comments below.

india varanasi

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Agra Travel Guide – Beyond the Taj Mahal

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By Telma | 10 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

Visiting Agra is like stepping down from a time machine. The city located on the banks of the river Yamuna has many splendid Mughal-era buildings, dating back the 15th and 16th century. Early morning, a very slow start: vendors setting up their shops, dogs and cows hunting for the first meal of the day, rickshaw drivers gather and the streets start filling up with people and cars. Just another day in Agra.
Understanding the lifestyle and the everyday life is not easy for a westerner; life here is different, but its people are proud of their roots. Even though for us, it is like living hundreds of years back in time.
Once in Agra, the most visited city in India, we already knew that one of Agra’s points of interest was the Taj Mahal, but surely there was more to explore. The city has amazing sites; a splendid fort, fascinating tombs, beautiful gardens, the bustling of the local vendors and its people, make it a very exciting city to explore and worth spending a few days wandering around. Agra, as many other Indian tourist destinations, must be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s busy, loud, not so clean, too many rickshaws, everyone wants to take a picture with you and the constant pestering of children offering to be a guide for the day or insisting that you visit their uncle’ shop! All of this is a huge culture shock and can be tiring and stressful if you are not prepared for it. But not enough to forget the magical attractions of the city.

agra travel guide

The obsession of visiting the Taj Mahal draws people from all over the world and regardless of all the hype, the monument really does live it up to its fame. People often visit for the day, coming from Delhi on a tourist bus. After being here, we cannot believe that people chose a day-trip. Not only is it a very rushed visit but also because by the time they arrive at the 
Taj Mahal it’s nearly impossible to take good pictures, appreciate it and make the most of it. As early at 10 am, there are already endless queues. If you can, extend your trip.

However, there is a world beyond the Taj Mahal. Let us convince you to to stay longer with our Agra Travel Guide.

agra points of interest

people of agra

everyday india

Agra Travel Guide: Why Agra is not only about the Taj Mahal

Things To Do in Agra

The history of Agra is complex, it’s easy to shut your eyes and imagine the emperors, the battles, the palaces, its princes and princesses; it’s a fairy-tale city. Not wanting to waste any time, we started exploring this little gem.

Beyond the Taj Mahal located in the city-center are Itimad-ud-Daulah and Agra Fort (UNESCO World Heritage site). To the west Akbar’s Mausoleum and a little further, on the other side of the river, Mehtab Bagh.

Itimad-ud-Daulah

baby taj mahal

agra baby taj mahal

day trip baby taj mahal

baby taj looks like

places to visit agra

what to visit agra

Also known as Baby Taj, is considered the first Mughal structure in India built out of white marble. Apparently, it was built as a draft for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan for her father who was honored with the title of Itmau-ud-Daula (Pillar of the state). It’s quite a small site to visit, but worth it for its architecture.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

Agra Fort

places of interest agra

agra tourism

inside the red fort

Located on the banks of the river Yamuna was built in the 15th Century by Emperor Akbar and was the main residence of many emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. Also, known as the Red Fort, beyond its walls are palaces, both in red sandstone and white marble, all added by the Emperor’s grandson, Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal). Due to its structure the fort is described as a walled palatial city as it had later become a palace. It’s an impressive site to visit!
Entry Fee: Rs500/USD$7/£5

Inside the fort, these are a few places that caught our eye:

agra palaces

Khas Mahal – white marble palace

red fort palace

Diwan-i-Aam – used as communications ground between the public and the aristocracy

places to visit agra

Musamman Burj – octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal (where Shah Jahan spent his last 8 years imprisoned looking at the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife)

Akbar’s Mausoleum is the tomb of Akbar, The Great Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty. Built by himself while still alive, Akbar could not complete the entire work, leaving his son with the responsibility to make it the final resting place for the greatest emperor of the Mughal rule. The red sandstone mausoleum is a beautifully carved four-tiered building and its upper chamber is made of white marble. The three-storey minarets at each corner are also built of red sandstone with white-marble geometric patterns.
A curiosity regarding the tomb, is that contrary to other Muslim structures, the mausoleum is turned towards the rising sun and not towards Mecca.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

interesting places agra

visiting agra palaces

places to visit agra

interesting places to visit india

Mehtab Bagh or “moonlit garden” is situated to the north of the Taj Mahal across the river Yamuna. The garden was an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex comprising of the mausoleum (Taj Mahal) set in a charbagh (a Persian-style garden layout). The aim of the garden was to provide a tranquil and magical setting to view the Taj Mahal in moonlight across the river. We decided to go only because we had seen beautiful pictures of the Taj Mahal across the river, but this is just an ordinary garden. Worth it if you are into photography.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

beyond taj mahal

Last but not least…

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Of course, once in Agra, we could not ignore a visit to the famous Taj Mahal.
Built stone by stone with a story of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People from all the world visit the mausoleum of white-ivory-marble, built between 1631 and 1648. And the truth is, the monument simply captivates you. Taj Mahal, one of its kind in the world is a monumental labour of love from the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child. This enchanting mausoleum took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20,000 workers. Taj Mahal is “the jewel of Muslim art in India’, as per UNESCO and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. The details of the structure are enough to leave you speechless.
Entry Fee: RS1000/USD$14/£11

taj mahal agra

Best Time to Visit the Taj Mahal

We were intrigued by its beauty but the weather in Northern India in December is not at its best and at 8am the fog partially covered the monument. And by that time, the site was crowded. Not a good start! But there was nothing we could have done. Arriving at the opening time of 6am, would have been a waste of time because the fog is dense and sometimes impossible to see anything as far as 50 metres. We walked around taking as many pictures as we could, filmed our Christmas Message video, appreciated the architecture and wondered around the mausoleum for a few hours. By 11am, it was “impossible” to walk around due to the number of people.
The best time would be October-November (after the monsoon) and just before it gets really hot, February-March.

taj mahal best pictures

best tips for taj mahal

taj mahal visit tips

best time to visit taj mahal

Agra has a rich heritage, culturally and architecturally. But, as any other Indian city, it has its downside. Often seen by the western world as the “not-so-nice-India. Poverty, litter, dust and smells are real, and enough for anyone to hate the city. No road signs, cows, monkeys, goats, rickshaws, cars, buses, children begging….it’s chaos. But all runs smoothly, for them!! Don’t be too hasty, beyond the negatives it is really a fascinating city. The only way to enjoy is to see beyond the dirt, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural side of the city.
Coming to Agra is to understand and accept that people live differently, they have their own ways. We are there for a mere few days or in many situations just for a few hours. While there we made the most of it: walked around, talked to people, took pictures, slowed down and observed the daily life. The results were fascinating, we got amazing pictures out of it.
The monuments, the palaces and the strong religious influence in Agra is enough to leave you with a taste of what the Indian life was like a few centuries ago.

people of india

Special Thanks:

We would like to thank my dear friend Rahul Jain and his wife Priya for driving us to Agra and organising some of the sightseeing. Thank-You brother for being a great friend and welcoming us in your family home.

Is the Taj Mahal on your bucket list?

taj mahal guide

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Trekking to Everest Base Camp Independently

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By Telma | 5 December 2016 | Nepal | Adventure Travel

There’s no doubt that everyone knows Mount Everest and that is the reason why trekking to Everest Base Camp became so well-known. Being able to say that we have been to the base of the highest mountain in the world is something that not many people can claim and that was what trigged us, the challenge, only dreamt by many. But is trekking to Everest Base Camp independently even possible?
And the answer is simple – Yes! No Guides, no Porters, only us. – And thousands of other people that have done the same.

The Himalayas are the most obvious scenic attraction, but soon into the journey we realised that isn’t just about the peaks but also about its people, the villages, the monasteries and the history. The journey offers some of the most beautiful scenery that we have ever seen. The constant passing of people on the trails is as interesting as the scenery itself. Along the way we were greeted by one the most interesting ethnic groups, the Sherpa People. Their hospitality, and kindness made us feel very welcome, like we were back at home with our families. Also being able to follow in the steps of famous climbers like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who summited successfully on May 29 1953 and being able to walk in the footsteps of many other adventurers, who tragically didn’t make it and perished either on the trek up to the summit or when descending from it, was not only a dream come true but the ultimate achievement for both of us.

As we planned and re-planned our itinerary and had this ideal vision on how superb our trek was going to be, things changed – we changed. The truth is, the itinerary below isn’t the original one. I struggled. I am not going to deny. Ironically during our travels, Thomas, who is the one that is often ill, during the trek he became Superhuman and I was the one struggling to get my act together. On our second day, upon reaching Namche, and facing the challenges on how tough it actually is, I realised that I had underestimated my capabilities but I wasn’t uncomfortable about it. I had to accept it in order to carry on. Many times, I thought “Why am I doing this?”. It was hard and physically challenging. This trek hit me and hit me hard. I kept reminding myself that was not in a race and it was up to us to decide our own pace. As the itinerary changed, having a flexible schedule and able to add extra rest days was very sensible and helped us to get through the tough challenge.
Obviously, I am proud I did it and managed it without a Porter to carry my bags but now looking back and knowing how my body reacted and how miserable I was during the day, I still pinch myself on how I survived those 17 days! Looking back, my advice to everyone would be to spend the extra money on a Porter, if you really want that support; carrying heavy bags where the air is thin and limited oxygen is an extra challenge that can be avoided. But as I hate petty complains and I am not the “moaning type of person”, I tried to balance the positives and negatives of the journey. Against all odds, we made it to Everest Base Camp! It took longer than planned, but we are so proud of our achievement. It was never about “how quickly can we make it” but “how amazing is that we DID it!”.

Anyone can trek to Everest Base Camp who wants a challenge. You really do find out what you are made of in this adventure!

trekking to everest base camp

A Journey to Everest Base Camp

Day 1 – Lukla to Phakding

Distance: 6.2 km/3.8 mi
Time: 5 hours
Elevation: 2610mt/9383ft

Once in Lukla Airport, at around 10am, we picked up our backpacks and grabbed breakfast at the European Bakery & Café. We were both fighting some “gastro issues” and the start of the trek was delayed because of the toilet runs! And this was only the first day! The plan was to go straight to Monju on the first night because it’s at a higher altitude and better for acclimatisation but by the time we arrived in Phakding it was 4pm. We were both exhausted and very hungry. After finishing eating it was too late to carry on.
The Journey: Although Lukla is located at 2800mt/9186ft on the first day we descended nearly 200 meters until we reached Phakding. Along the way we walked through beautiful scenery and had an easy walk with the river by the left side. We crossed our first suspension bridges, passed the first yaks and encountered several little cute villages.
Accommodation: Green Village Guesthouse, Cost: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50 per night. Basic rooms and a very cold dining area. Glad we had sleeping bags as the blankets provided were very thin.

everest base camp plan

mani wall sherpa community

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche

Distance: 7.4 km/4.5 mi
Time: 8 hours
Elevation: 3,440 mt/11,286 ft

During the evening of Day 1 my phone stopped working, it literally died on me. I couldn’t get it back on and we had no option but to ask the owner of the teahouse to wake us up the following day. But he forgot! So again we had a very late start and left Phakding at 9.30am. We arrived at Monju by 1pm and stopped for lunch at Monju Guesthouse, owned by a Deaf Sherpa. Pemba and his wife kindly offered us lunch and tea. Thomas and Pemba chatted away but soon we had to hit the road, there was still a long way to Namche, at least for us! Phakding to Namche took us 4 hours. Before Namche there is a check-point (they check your TIMS Card and flight dates) and we nearly missed the “opening hours” as we arrived at 5.30pm. When we finally arrived at Namche village it was 6pm; pitch black. We couldn’t believe our luck… just on time. Our backpacks were heavy; despite the fact we had reduced the clothes and gear, hours before leaving Kathmandu. On our way to Namche, reality kicked in and we soon realised that the trekking to Everest Base Camp was going to be tougher than expected. We were disappointed with our pace, but we just couldn’t walk any faster. I am not going to lie, I was struggling.
On the way, we would see people walking freely, and next to them, their Porters. No wonder they walked so fast. At that stage we started thinking if the saving of $150 on a Porter had been a wise or a very dumb idea.
The Journey: Along the way we walked past several Sherpa villages, witnessed the hard life of the Porters, all of them carry heavy loads on their backs, crossed more suspensions bridges and faced our first big challenge of the journey; going uphill and ascending nearly 630 meters of elevation before arriving at Namche.
Tip: From Monju to Namche, after the first suspension bridge there is no water on the way. Glad we both drunk 1 litre each from one of the streams and filled our bottles for the trek. It’s a long and tiring walk.
Accommodation: Khumbu Lodge, Cost: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50 per night. Amazing hospitality, very warm dining area and the food is very yummy. The lodge is well-known and preferred amongst trekking groups. The founder of the lodge, Pasang Kami Sherpa was reputable and well-known in the Sherpa Community. Khumbu Lodge is the oldest family run hotel in Namche.

trekking to everest base camp itinerary

how to trek to everest base camp independently

Day 3 – Rest day at Namche

Once at Namche we agreed that our original itinerary was no longer feasible. The trek to Namche, apparently, was the easiest and the worst was yet to come. But we were already exhausted on day 3, and the “killer hills” were coming our way. There was no way we could reach Base Camp on day 8, our bodies could not make it that fast. And it’s fine, we accepted it and took it slow, enjoyed more and started adding extra “rest days” along the way when needed. People usually stay in Namche for two nights, we opted to stay three and it was a great decision! We spent our day resting, drinking tea, washing some of our clothes and trying to figure out how could we reduce the weight of our backpacks once more. Our bodies were aching and we both had a light headache so the rest day was well deserved!
Tip: Every day at the Irish Pub and Liquid Bar there are Documentaries about Everest being shown. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. The internet connections here are good, both from the wifi and SIM Card.
Accommodation: Khumbu Lodge, Cost: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50 per night. Next to Khumbu Lodge is the Himalayan Café, where we stayed for hours enjoying the warmth, charging our electronics for FREE and eating their famous walnut brownie.

acclimatisation day everest base camp

planning to trek to everest base camp

Day 4 – Acclimatisation day at Namche

Elevation: 3,880 mt/12,730 ft

Today was Acclimatisation Day at Namche. We walked to the Sherpa Museum and to the Everest View Hotel at 3,880 mt/12,730 ft and had our first glimpse of Mount Everest! It was surreal. Everest was there…in front of us. The views of the Himalayan Range are superb: Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Nuptse and many others. The walk was “easy”, considering that we were not carrying our backpacks. We opted for a different route on the way back, so we had time to visit Namche Monastery and one of the longest Mani Walls in the world. On the way up, was like leaving Namche behind, on the way down was like facing Namche as we were arriving. It was a big loop and from start to finish took us around 5 hours. At the Khumbu Lodge we met Tommy, a Swedish man that lives in Namche for 6 months, the rest of the year he travels around the world. On that day we asked him to use his laptop, as my phone was no longer working. At night, I tried to resuscitate my phone…and it worked! Maybe it was the rest and acclimatisation day!!
Accommodation: Khumbu Lodge, Cost: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50 per night. At the Himalayan Café we met three climbers, they were on their way to climb Ama Dablam. An American guy called Jo and an Italian couple, Guido and Marina. We spent the afternoon chatting away with them, not only they were super cool but also had tons of great advice for us.

travel blog about trekking to everest base camp

the view of namche bazaar

Day 5 – Namche to Tengboche

Distance: 5.9 km/3.6 mi
Time: 7 hours
Elevation: 3,860 mt/12,665 ft

On Day 4 we sorted out our backpacks and managed to reduce the weight, leaving unused clothes and unnecessary gear behind at the Khumbu Lodge, free of charge. We left Namche at 8.30am, stopped at Phunki Thenga for lunch and trekked an extra 2.5 hours to Tengboche. The weather once again was great and at 3.30pm we had superb views of Everest. Once settled, we visited Tengboche Monastery, which is the largest in the Khumbu Region. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norway were blessed at this monastery before their summit trek on Everest.

That night, after dinner I started to count the money and realised that the money left was only enough to trek to Gorak Shep, leaving us without money on the way back down to Lukla. Not wanting to panic, I did! And there wasn’t much we could do, no ATM’s and we couldn’t use our credit cards. That was the worst night during the trek, I woke up at 2 am and started crying because we had no money and there were only two options left: Carry on hungry or turn back.
“How could have we budget it so wrong that we would run out of money half way?” – that was the question that gave me a sleepless night. The dream of reaching Everest Base Camp soon started fading away. There was no way we could carry on without eating as much, trekking in the Everest Region is tiring and people must and should eat as much as they can. This was not the place to start skimping.
The Journey: Leaving Namche was challenging; the uphill is a killer. The next 2 hours were fine and ascending slowly. After lunch, the ascending to Tengboche is endless, we were happy once we arrived at the top! Along the way we stopped several times, not only because we were very tired but because the views are breathtaking. The walk through the Dudh Kosi River Valley and the mountain views nearly had us forgetting how difficult the trek was becoming.
Accommodation: Gomba Lodge, Cost: Free, but we had to eat all our meals there. Out of all the teahouses we stayed, without sounding horrible, this was the worst accommodation on the trek. The rooms and the dining were extremely cold, beyond freezing! That night we met Pascal and Angelika, two German friends with plans to trek to Everest Base Camp and the infamous Cho La Pass, exactly what we wanted to do. But we unfortunately had to drop out upon reaching Namche.

trek to everest base camp itinerary

how to plan to trek to everest base camp

Day 6 – Tengboche

In the morning, I broke the news to Thomas and we both sat in silence for a while. At 7am, before breakfast we had to decide whether to carry on or go back. As expected Thomas was speechless but we had to figure out what we could and couldn’t eat for the next few days, to the point we no longer could afford to drink tea. This was bad, I couldn’t believe that we were going through this. As I switched my phone back on and logged onto Facebook, Linnea (a Swedish girl that we had met during our stay at Kantipur Hotel in Kathmandu), had just commented on our picture, taken at Namche. She was making her way to Tengboche later that day. BINGO! Perhaps she could lend us some money…like Rs20,000!! Without her, we would have had no option but to turn back. We are, obviously, forever grateful for her generosity and willingness to help us out! She was part of a group, where her friends were part of, so she had the spare money. Not to mention that I was glad the internet connection was still working….very slow but enough to send texts. We made the most of the day by trekking two hours uphill for the most magnificent views of Tengboche and we could see Namche to our left. Now that was high and great for acclimatisation at 4000 mt/ 13,125 ft.
Accommodation: Gomba Lodge, Cost: Free, same as day 5.

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Day 7 – Tengboche to Dingboche

Distance: 9.1 km/ 5.6 mi
Time: 7 hours
Elevation: 4,410 mt/14,470 ft

Left Tengboche at 8am, just after breakfast. One hour into the trek after the bridge there is a very narrow path uphill. We couldn’t quite figure out how to walk through it. While stopped and looking at the map, a group of Guides passed by and told us to take the longer route, on the opposite direction, because the night before a man had fallen to his death into the river by trying to walk in the narrow path walked only by the Porters. The option to save 10-15 minutes had cost his life. It’s a scary thought, just what looks like a simple and wise decision can be a fatal one. Porters know the terrain and have been walking it for years, but the independent trekkers who don’t know, need to think twice while walking through the valley. On that day we “learnt” and decided that we were no longer to follow the path Porters walk through.
We stopped at Shomare for lunch and after carried on trekking for a further 3 hours, reaching Dingboche around 3.30pm.
That night we both felt very hungry. Our appetites started to grow the further we went up the trek and we had two dinners each, at 6pm and at 8pm we order food again. It was no longer possible to stick to 3 meals a day. From Dingboche onwards the only way to access the internet is buying Data cards, enough for sending a few emails.
The Journey: The walk through the valley is as beautiful as it is scary. The narrow edges make you very weary where to walk and one foot wrong and you are gone down the hill! During the trek the views of the Himalayan Range are beautiful as ever. Ama Dablam, at 6812 meters, lies just above the village, giving people great photography opportunities.
Accommodation: SnowLion Cost: Free, but we had to eat all our meals there. The family’s hospitability is outstanding. Very warm dining room and very spacious. The food is great too.
Next to the lodge there is a bakery, with freshly baked cheesecake, apple pie, brownies, etc. With all the offer, you nearly forget how cold it is at this stage!

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mountains in everest base camp

Day 8 – Acclimatisation day in Dingboche

Elevation: 4,410 mt/14,470 ft

Woke up at 8am. Had a relaxed morning and washed some clothes. The weather remained beautiful and we were welcomed every day with blue and clear skies! Climbed an extra 200 meters for acclimatisation and had great views of Dingboche, Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Nuptse. Spent the afternoon at the bakery eating cakes, drinking tea and chatting to Pascal and Angelika, whom had made it to Dingboche as well.
That night we both had a headache. Thomas felt better but mine wouldn’t go away. We took paracetamol before going to bed.
Accommodation: SnowLion Cost: Free. Same as day 7.

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Day 9 – Dingboche to Lobuche

Distance: 6.6 km/4.1 mi
Time: 7 hours
Elevation: 4,940 meters / 16,207 feet

Left Dingboche at 8.30 am. The first climb is a little challenging and now due to the altitude our backpacks felt twice as heavy. I was walking very slow and kept stopping constantly. Glad the weather was great and the views were just breathtaking. It took us 2 hours to arrive in Dughla. At this stage I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other as my mood started to change. During the trek, I did ask Thomas not to talk to me so we could both focus on the walk and I could keep it to myself: the frustration of wanting to go faster but my body wouldn’t let me.
We had plans of staying in Dughla for the night but upon reaching it for lunch we both felt reasonably good and pressed on to Lobuche. During lunch, looking up we could see what was coming our way – Dughla Pass. It was no joke and we had to tackle the beast. It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the top, on the way up we probably stopped 20 times, my body was fighting with my head, so I was just taking it slow and walk at my own pace. I know Thomas often felt frustrated but the last thing I wanted was to argue especially under those circumstances. I would catch him up when I could or he would be waiting for me.
During the evening I had a very bad headache, so after dinner we decided to stay one extra night, in order for our bodies to acclimatize better.
The Journey: Leaving Dingboche was extremely difficult and we did take our time during the climb. Dughla Pass is a “monster” and we were relieved to have reached the top without any Altitude Sickness symptoms. Once at the top, we visited several memorials from famous climbers and Sherpas who have perished while summiting Mount Everest. The memorial for American climber Scott Fischer, who died descending from Everest in 1996, can also be found here. It’s hard to explain the scenery on the way to Lobuche, but it looks like “a journey through middle-earth” out of Lord of the Rings film set. The mountains, walking though boulders, steep ascending, the valley and the no-where! It felt surreal, that we were there at 4,940 meters / 16,207 feet of altitude!
Accommodation: Sherpa Lodge, Cost: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50. The facilities and food were nothing special, the toilets are far from the rooms, and waking up in the middle of the night when it’s 10 to go to the toilet is no fun. I wouldn’t recommend this place, there are other options, although this is one of the cheaper accommodations in the village.

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Day 10 – Lobuche

In the morning, the headache has disappeared and during breakfast after hearing the horror stories that four people had to be rescued at Gorak Sheep for not acclimatising and walking too fast, we soon began to think that we were actually extremely lucky to have the extra days and a flexible schedule. And after all, glad we were trekking to Everest Base Camp independently, no Guides and no groups adding stress or pressure on us. At this stage we were becoming a little fed up. The original plan was to reach Everest Base Camp on day 8, and it was now day 10. But our health was our priority, obviously.
Opting for a relaxed day, we spent the afternoon at the bakery watching movies. There was no need for walking or ascending, staying at Lobuche was enough for our bodies to acclimatize at higher altitude.
Accommodation: Sherpa Lodge, Cost: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50. Same as day 9.

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Day 11 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep – Kala Patthar

Distance: 11.5 km/ 7.2 mi
Time: 5 hours
Elevation: 5,545 mt/ 18.190 ft

Left Lobuche at 6.30am and it was -10 degrees. Without doubt the journey to Gorak Shep was the hardest day on the trek, a real endurance test to our bodies. Although, walking through boulders and the glacier was phenomenal and the scenery was astonishing! We had planned to go to Everest Base Camp after lunch at Gorak Shep, which meant we would go to Kala Patthar the next for the sunrise. But after talking to some people we changed the plan and went to Kala Patthar for sunset instead. And we were not disappointed!
The climb took 3 hours, some people do it in less than 2 hours, but we again just took it slow. The views of the Himalayas and Everest are enough to leave you speechless! On the way to the top, we took pictures, filmed and embraced ourselves in the moment, a one-off opportunity.
Tip: The strong/freezing winds at the top are enough to knock someone out, both literally and physically. I had a very bad cold and temperature during that night. The altitude hit us both hard during the climb, was no laughing matter. It’s real. The best way at this stage, all your movements are slow.
If you can, choose the sunset over the sunrise. First, the wakeup call it’s at 4am and secondly, the morning sun is blinding, and it’s nearly impossible to take good pictures.
The Journey: The trek follows along the moraine of the famous Khumbu Glacier all the way to Gorak Shep, a village in the middle of no-where. And Everest never looked so close!
The climb to Kala Patthar will put anyone to the test, at 5,545 mt/ 18.190 ft no one can expect an easy walk! The views at the top? Beyond words! INCREDIBLE! At the top we were rewarded with of the most epic views at all times, Lhotse, Nuptse and of course the Almighty Mount Everest just in front of us! And It’s the closest we will ever get. Looking at the right, far away Ama Dablam looked now so “small”!
Accommodation: SnowLand Cost: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50. The food isn’t that bad but what can you expect at higher altitude? The rooms, the toilets and the service from the staff was mediocre. Also, there are no taps, so washing hands is out of the equation. The drinking water is grey/muddy and we were thrilled to have our filtered bottles, everyone else was just drinking dirty water.

the view from kala patthar

best time to climb kala patthar

Day 12 – Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp

Time: 5 hours (return)
Elevation: 5,364 mt / 17,598 ft

Before breakfast we both had a horrible headache and started having double-vision. It was so scary that we both drunk 1.5 liters of water each and sat by the dining area for a good 2 hours. Later in the morning we decided that going to base camp and after making our way down to Lobuche was too much, so we stayed at Gorak Shep an extra night. I wasn’t looking forward to an extra night in all honesty but seeing the circumstances, there wasn’t much choice.
And after 12 days of trekking we finally reached Everest Base Camp! The round trip took us 5 hours, once we were there at base camp we stayed for an hour. Appreciating the views, the Khumbu Glacier and pinching ourselves for making it this far! What a dream come true!
I had envisaged jumping and posing with my Portuguese flag, taking lots of pictures…but I could barely walk that day, let alone trying to be creative for pictures.
Tip: During our trek we met several people that bragged about Kala Patthar and advised us, if running out of time, we should choose Kala Patthar over Everest Base Camp. And we are so glad we didn’t have to make any decisions and made it to both! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to choose because both offer different feelings. The views are superb and if like us, anyone chooses to go trekking in November when the weather is just crystal clear, the trek to EBC will not disappoint.
The Journey: Simply breathtaking! We were literally dwarfed by the enormous Himalayas Range and the Khumbu Glacier. Words are not enough to describe both the feeling and the scenery, so we leave a few pictures.
Accommodation: SnowLand Cost: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50. Same as day 11.

Mission accomplished: Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp was now ticked off on our bucket lists! And regardless the struggles, up’s and downs of the long trek, we were so proud of ourselves. Yes, it did take us longer than expected but that is not important. People congratulated us for the achievement, and no one cares, neither do we, if it took 12 days.
But the trek was not finished! Now was time to start walking back down.

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Day 13

Left Gorak Shep at 8.30am and reached Periche at 4pm. It was the easiest and most pleasant walk on the trek, because it was always downhill! At Lobuche we stopped for lunch and saw a girl being airlifted by the rescue helicopter, she couldn’t even walk due to the altitude sickness. It was a horrible scene to witness.
Accommodation: SnowLand, cost Rs100/USD$1/GBP£0.80 per night. The best blankets and the cosiest rooms on the trek.

Day 14 & 15

Set the challenge to walk from Periche to Namche, are we crazy or what? Online and from the people that we spoke with, the trek should last 4-5 hours, but ours took nearly 10? What went wrong? And the only answer I have is, exhaustion. I was no longer walking; I was literally dragging my body through. I had zero energy left and if I could and had the money I would have paid a helicopter to take me down all the way to Lukla!
Tough…I still had to walk for the next few days. And guess what? We reached Namche at night time – pitch black…exactly like day 2. I wish there was a camera filming the way we walked through the reception, it must have looked like two ghosts. Our bodies were aching. For dinner, we ordered pizza, french fries, momos, a small pot of tea and banana pancake for desert. Went to bed at 8pm.

We decided to take advantage of the yummy food, the big bed with an electric blanket and the hot shower at the lodge and stayed an extra day.
Accommodation: Khumbu Lodge, cost: Rs2000/USD$20/GBP£15. Yes, we treated ourselves to a bigger, warmer room with a private toilet/shower and power sockets. The budget was already blown out of proportion because we were so hungry all the time, and kept adding meals throughout the day, so splurging on a better room with hot shower was, at the time, the best decision ever.
We had our first shower in 14 days.

Day 16 & 17

As we had two extra days to spare until our flight from Lukla to Kathmandu, we opted to stay at Monju with Pemba and his wife. Accommodation: Monju Guesthouse. While Thomas and Pemba chatted away, I spent my day resting and drinking tea. Day 17, after lunch we walked to Lukla. Accommodation: Himalaya Lodge, cost: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50.
YES… We were back in Lukla! I swear I was teary on the return day, it all got a bit emotional. But we were both really looking forward to go back to Kathmandu. This was a hell of an adventure, out of our comfort zone, more than anything we could have ever had imagined in our wildest dreams.

General Information About Trekking to Everest Base Camp

Accommodation – From Lukla to Namche there are plenty of options. It’s quite overwhelming during the trek, because there are so many. The higher it gets the options are limited. We went peak season and never had problems on finding a room for the night and never booked anything in advance.
Average Prices: Rs100-Rs300/USD$1-3/GBP£0.80-2.50 per night (basic accommodation – no bedside table, power sockets. It’s literally just a bed, bed sheets and a blanket!)

Food – It’s quite amazing to see the variety of food on offer along the trail, even at 5,164 m /16,942 ft we could get noodles, pasta, pizza, burgers, curries, stews, pancakes, cakes and the list goes on. The higher we went the prices increased, and the quality of the food decreased! Or perhaps at higher altitude everyone’s taste buds aren’t as accurate. Some people suffer loss of appetite and struggle to eat but we were just the opposite and couldn’t stop eating. After Tengboche we started eating a lot more at each meal, which was a big dent on our budget.
Average Food Prices:
From Lukla to Namche – Rs300-Rs400/USD$3-4/GBP£2.50-3.50 per meal
From Namche to Gorak Shep – Rs500-Rs700/USD$7/GBP£5 per meal
Note: There is no differentiation between meals, breakfast costs the same as lunch/dinner and desert.

Wifi & Charging electronics – Back in Kathmandu and because we stayed in Nepal for nearly three months we had bought a SIM card, so accessing the internet during the trek was not an issue. The bakeries at Namche “offer” free wifi but a cup of tea costs rs200 and a slice of cake costs Rs500. Expect a very slow connection. Wifi data cards are sold through the trail, the ones we saw were Rs500 for 200mb and Rs1000 for 500mb. To charge electronics, phones, cameras, power banks, the average costs are Rs250-Rs400, per hour. The higher in altitude the more expensive it gets.
Average Prices: Rs250-Rs400/USD$2.50-4.50/GBP£1.50-3.50 per night

Money & Budget – This is where we failed miserably and had to borrow money from a friend that, luckily, was also doing the trek at the same time. Thank you, Linnea 🙂
In this section, some people will disagree with us and argue that it can be done much cheaper. It’s true.
But we started to add extra meals and days, and drinking a lot of tea, so our budget blew out of proportion. Our friend, Monica ate twice a day and was fine with it. We were just too hungry and refused to skimp on food. Also for this section, we strongly recommend to budget way above just in case.
Average daily average costs for one person:
The minimum

Food: Rs500 per meal x 3 meals = Rs1500/USD$15/GBP£10
Accommodation: Rs200/USD$2/GBP£1.50
The extras
Tea/cakes: Rs300/USD$3/GBP£2.50
Charging electronics: Rs250-Rs500/USD$5/GBP£3
Hot showers: Rs400-Rs500/USD$5/GBP£3
Water bottles: Rs100-Rs350/USD$3.50/GBP£2.50

The last chance to withdraw money from a ATM is at Namche, but some lodges all the way to Gorak Shep accept card payments, and add 10% service charge.

Acclimatisation Days (Altitude Sickness, Health Issues & Water)

Dealing with Altitude Sickness & Health Issues

Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the major concern when trekking at high altitudes and most trekkers get an upset stomach. AMS can strike if elevation is gained too rapidly and without proper acclimatisation. Suggestions for acclimatising smoothly are: Keeping warm, eating well, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep/resting, and avoiding alcohol. All of these will reduce the chances of developing AMS.
The golden rule is don’t go too high to fast and high hike, sleep low.
Our bodies had plenty of time to acclimatize due to how slow we walked throughout the trek and that explains why we barely suffered from it. We had light headaches and it wasn’t until Gorak Shep that we had some symptoms. But we did pretty well, drunk a lot of water every day and managed the whole time without taking Diamox. Taking Ibrobufen also helped the headaches

Water – There are many water streams on the way, especially from Lukla to Lobuche. But as we went higher up the water became scarce. Our routine was to drink 4-5 litres of water every day. The first few days we drunk 2-3 litres, but once at Namche we increased our intake up to 5 litres.
Although we both normally drink a lot of water during the day, forcing ourselves to drink up to 5 litres was hard, because it became monotonous and the toilet breaks became annoying during the day. Drinking bottled water is always the safest, but as you are trekking in remote areas and buying water can get expensive for a litre, the best solution is to buy water purifying tables, or like us have a water filter bottle.

Tips and Suggestions before trekking to Everest Base Camp

Don’t underestimate the sun at higher altitude, it burns badly. Wear SPF 30+ factor every day.
Warm thermal layers, a fleece, a warm cap and good sturdy boots are a must amongst all the clothing that you bring for the trek.
Don’t skip the acclimatisation days, because it can have serious repercussions. Not only you are not giving your body enough time to adapt to higher altitude but also because you will end up missing out on the lookout for the best views of the Himalayas.
Trekking to EBC independently is great but at times, I thought “why didn’t we hire a Porter?” – So on that my advice is: If you are “reasonable fit and CAN carry a backpack for 7-8 hours a day through steep ascends, you don’t need a Porter. But, if like me, you have ZERO fitness levels maybe you should consider hiring one. I am still proud we didn’t though!
Eat well, skipping meals is not a good option because the body burns a lot of calories during the trek. Also, being hungry will not help if you suffer from altitude sickness.
Bring more money that you think you will need. We budgeted very badly and nearly had to turn back. Food prices soars the higher you get and your appetite might increase as well.
Water purifying tablets is an easy and cheaper option but the we would highly recommend a water bottle with a filter. Not only it will last for over 6 months, just in case you are travelling for a while but the water you drink is 99.99% clean. The water at Lobuche and Gorak Shep was grey and muddy, we were glad we had our filters.
Have a flexible schedule and extra days to spare on the itinerary. You never know when Altitude Sickness strikes, or maybe you just want to relax one extra day.
If trekking during the colder months, November-December, you must bring a -20 sleeping bag and a -20 down jacket. Those can be hired in Thamel, Kathmandu. It’s freezing during the evenings/early mornings, every day we thanked ourselves for having those items. We saw many people struggling with the freezing temperatures.

There you go…all you need to know about trekking to Everest Base Camp Independently!

After starting the descent and walking back the only thing that went through our minds was “We made it!”. As the days passed by, the struggles were now a distant memory. Besides the long and tiring days, we loved every moment of it. From the infamous flight to Lukla, the intimidating days and only one route leading to the base of the highest mountain in the world, all made this trip an unforgettable experience. It is a formidable journey, the long days, the aching, the thin air, carrying a backpack, the forcing yourself to get hydrated and drink 5-6 litres of water a day…it’s not easy. Alarming and actually scary at times. I believe, it’s actually a massive challenge for anyone and if to be contemplated seriously before committing. But those days spent in the Himalayas, the remote locations, the breathtaking scenery, standing at 5,545 mt/ 18.190 ft of altitude, walking on Everest Base Camp, looking at Khumbu Glacier and facing Mount Everest…was more than a dream come true, was adrenaline and excitement, a moment that we both will cherish forever. It is certainly a trip where you discover your character and grow in spirit through the personal challenges that you are confronted by every day.

During our flight, back to Kathmandu while I was looking at the window plane and saying my goodbyes to the Himalayas, Thomas tapped me on the shoulder and signed: “I want to climb Kilimanjaro”!………!!

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Special Thanks:

We would like to thank Linnea for lending us money, so we could finish our trek! Monica Keller for all the tips, information and advice regarding Everest Base Camp. And last but not least, to our new friends Pascal and Angelika, whom we met during the trek: to our many nights chatting away!

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Nepal: A Traveller’s Guide

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By Telma | 1 December 2016 | Nepal | Travel Guides

Surrounded by land between India and Tibet, Nepal is a unique, eclectic brew of her neighboring cultures. The land is a dividing line between ancient, historic, civilization and cultures that in their mystery and passion are often associated with a more spiritual way of life and therefore alluring to many travelers seeking an alternative lifestyle and inner contemplation. At the same time the diversity of ethnic groups within Nepal is often complicated for a westerner to understand before they immerse themselves in the sensual experience that is Nepal. It is a staggeringly beautiful country with mountain, jungle, country, and urban landscapes to explore, all in rich techni-color to delight and enrich the soul.
The history of Nepal makes it a unique place that draws visitors from all over the world every year. Often people assume that Nepal is just an extended part of India, but it’s not. Nepali are very proud of their culture, diversity, its people, heritage sites, religions and its unique attractions. Nepal is best known for having the world’s largest mountain range; the Himalayas. This range provides eight of the ten world’s tallest mountains and the highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest reaching 8848 meters high. Other unique treasures are the biggest pilgrimage Buddhist Stupa, Kumari– The Living Goddess and Lumbini – birthplace of the Buddha.