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North America:

Will You Find Enlightenment on the Teahouse Trail?

The world’s crossroads intersect in many far flung places, but none more spectacular than roadless Namche Bazaar and Tengboche. Sometimes only a hiking trail brings the world together.

At 11,286 feet, Namche sits on a ridiculously steep terraced mountainside, its green and blue roofs reflecting the sunshine upwards to Thamserku towering over the town at 21,729 feet. On Namche’s dirt streets Nepalese and Tibetans rub quilted elbows with trekkers from across the world. Monks, mercenaries and mountain lovers buy and sell in the markets then share tea and stories in the teahouses.

Namche is the capital of the Khumbu Valley, the gateway to Mt. Everest. Welcome to the Teahouse Trail.

Magnificent seven

On Tusker’s 11 day trek to Everest Base Camp you will ascend through seven villages—Lukla, Namche Bazaar, Khum Jung, Tengboche, Pheriche, Lobuche and Gorak Shep— where you will meet many people, stay in small lodges and visit more places of worship than you thought you ever would. It’s both a wilderness and a religious experience and as on many long treks, the journey is more climactic than the destination. Enlightenment could be around every opening in the canyon and inside the vibrant monasteries.

On your trek through the upper Khumbu Valley along the so called Teahouse Trail, the views get better, but the higher you go the accommodations become more Spartan. Despite its popularity this route remains one of the most rugged, still primitive treks in the world. There are no cars or trucks; yaks wander the streets and do the heavy lifting. Flush toilets and hot showers are hard to find above 15,000 feet, but it’s a welcome trade-off because you’re in the Himalaya heartland where the views more than compensate for sacrificed creature comforts.

Teahouse misnomer

The teahouses along the EBC route are actually small lodges and the quality varies greatly. “Many of the teahouses on the EBC trek are reliable, because 30,000 people a year trek this route. The lower altitude teahouses have flush toilets and hot water, but the higher you go the more basic it gets,” said Eddie Frank, Tusker’s founding guide. “Some of these above Pheriche will give you a pot of water warmed by a yak dung stove to wash yourself and serve basic food in a communal dining room where you meet your fellow climbers.”

Tusker’s big distinction is that it brings its own cooking crew on all its EBC treks and you won’t have to eat tea house food that is often compromised by poor sanitation. Eddie and Amy Frank found that the biggest problems EBC trekkers have are stomach bugs that they pick up when eating teahouse food and drinking its water. By preparing all meals, Tusker travelers are assured of Tusker sanitary standards.

Tengboche’s yen for Zen

If Namche is the market capital of the Teahouse Trail, then Tengboche is its spiritual heart. It has the largest monastery in the Khumbu and its 60 Buddhist monks are welcoming of Everest aspirants who seek their blessing of good health and safe passage to the top of the world’s highest peak. At 12,687 feet Tengboche provides the best panorama of the Everest massif that includes its smaller, but equally spectacular sisters, Lhotse, Tawache and Ama Dablam.

Tengboche teems with sacred sites, but its monastery built in 1916 is its core. The historic paintings inside offer a window into the region’s history, but when you wander through the village you get a strong sense of its connection to Everest and its Sherpa culture. Tenzing Norgay lived here and his most famous client Edmund Hillary built the hospital in the Khum Jung Valley outside Namche.

Go to the daily prayer recital, sit quietly with the monks and try to bridge our cultures. There is a wide chasm, but the mountains are the bridge between our ego driven lives and the Zen apostles of Tengboche. If you must use your camera to capture this amazingly colorful vigil do so discreetly.

Less ego more fulfillment

The trek to Everest Base Camp is not about conquering a summit or achieving a bucket list checkmark. Your ego didn’t push you to attempt an Everest expedition, instead you opted for EBC. That says a lot about your ego and you have the mindset to embrace the Teahouse Trail where it’s about being at one with the world’s most spectacular and spiritual place. Get ready to spend time in the markets and monasteries surrendering some of your Westerner’s attitude and edge for a more understanding and selfless approach.

Who knows – you could find that elusive enlightenment you have been chasing all your life.

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