Check out Chukung!
P Ravi Shankar
Ashutosh was in a tearing hurry! He was on the “fast track” to Chukung, racing ahead in a pair of skin hugging tights and had uncharacteristically left the maidens far, far behind. It was a magnificent October day and we were on a day trip to Chukung getting acclimatized for the steep ascent of Kala Pathar.
It was well past eight in the morning, when we finally set out from Dingboche, our retreat for the previous night. Snow Lion lodge was cozy and it was difficult for people to leave the snuggly warmth of their quilts and face the bitter cold outside. Bimantha, Ashutosh and I were exceptions. But then we were photo freaks, always aiming for the ‘perfect shot’. Ashutosh and Bimantha as usual were running around with the ‘tripod’ catching the Sunrise on the ‘Himals’. Our gentlemen were chatting with Foreign and Nepali ladies (and gentlemen), taking or rather trying to take a bath in sub-zero temperatures and having a go at the potato pancakes and corn bread. Praveen had demolished the yak steaks the previous evening.
Dingboche at 4343 metres is on the Imja Khola valley and has fields of barley and several luxurious lodges. Our lodge had solar electricity, a beautiful solarium, satellite phones, an internet link, a heated dining room and delightful bed rooms. What more could one ask for! Even the fussy ladies in our group were happy with the arrangements! The mountain views were fantastic! Ama Dablam, everyone’s favourite mountain was seen in a rather unusual perspective. Taboche, Lhotse, Nuptse and Everest completed the mountain panorama. Ashutosh and gang had a nocturnal outing during which they conquered a few surrounding hills. At last everyone was ready. Mobilizing a large group calls for military precision and discipline! Two of our compatriots decided that rest was the best way to acclimatize and walked down to the Pheriche village resort, our halt for the night. We were sorely tempted to follow their example! We were a group of eleven people on a trek in the Everest region during the Dashain holidays. I and Ashutosh were the faculty members and we were joined by our students. Bimantha, Ruwantha, Nuwan, Vishal, Abhishek and Jasmeet were the dashing gentlemen and Sanjukta, Niranga and Suwini were the charming ladies.
The Imja Khola valley was U-shaped (like a well-behaved glacial valley should be) and the walk was gently uphill. Alpine shrubs in variegated colours emphasized the barrenness of the landscape. The mountain panorama was breathtaking! Ama Dablam was on our right, Imja Tse (Island peak) was dead ahead and Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest was to our right. Island peak is a trekking peak and many people we know had climbed it. I was feeling a bit breathless and was having a mild headache. I was taking things easy and Nuwan and Niranga were keeping me company. The irrepressible Nuwan was in high spirits!
The tea shop at Bibre was reached in about one and a half hours. Tea in the company of the Himals is always an exciting prospect! I would not recommend anything stronger, as alcohol has an unpredictable effect at higher altitudes! Nuwan and Niranga decided to call it a day and retraced their footsteps towards Dingboche and Pheriche. Sanjukta, Bimantha and Jasmeet decided to continue on to Chukung. Abhishek was video graphing everything in sight with some rather interesting commentary! Ashutosh and Vishal were far, far ahead and were probably already in Chukung. Ama Dablam was presenting an ever changing perspective. I was trying to capture the ‘prima donna’ of mountains on celluloid but the Sun was defeating my efforts! The massive fluted ice walls of Amphu Lepcha (a 5780 m pass) were impressive. The landscape grew more and more outlandish! Numerous small streams originating from the Nuptse and Lhotse glaciers were partly frozen over.
The lodges of Chukung were espied in the far distance. We (I and Abhishek) quickened our steps. There is an unusual atmosphere about Chukung. A collection of lodges on glacial moraines within touching distance of Amphu Lepcha and Ama Dablam. The massive Lhotse Nuptse wall and the Island peak added to the quaint atmosphere. You had the feeling of being hemmed in by Himalayan giants.
Ashutosh was running around with the tripod as usual and Vishal was striking cinematic poses! The wind was beginning to cut across the barren wasteland and we retreated to the comfort of a heated dining room. The potato pancakes (riltok sen) were wonderful. They just melted in the mouth! Ashutosh and Vishal were having an eating competition, demolishing the pancakes with gusto. I had read that it was the introduction of the humble potato which enabled the Sherpas to settle down to a more permanent way of life. Chukung at 4734 metres was a small summer settlement before the advent of the trekkers.
Chukung Ri (5559 m) offers incredible views of the vast mountain amphitheatre and also the west face of Makalu. Day trips could also be organized to the foot of the Imja glacier. Sanjukta, Bimantha and Jasmeet had enough of the potato pancakes and opted for noodle soup. The temperature was dropping fast and we were in a hurry to get back. It was back to Dingboche and then to Pheriche. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and the wind was beginning to bite. The Himals were wrapped in dark, threatening clouds.
I would strongly recommend Chukung as an acclimatisation trip before going on to Gorak Shep and Kala Pathar. The walk is easy, the lodges good, the hordes are missing and the mountain views are outstanding! The next time I plan to stay over in this wonderful place. So put Chukung on your itinerary if you are planning a trip to Everest. I promise you it will be a decision, which you will never regret!
(Dr P Ravi Shankar has been in Nepal for over five years. He teaches at Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara but likes to get away whenever he can)