Nowhere in the world is the mountain scenery as magnificent as in the Everest National Park. Nowhere else can the mere walker feel such a part of such great mountains. Our trek on this holiday aims at quality not quantity; it is one of superlatives. There may not be the variety of scenery and wildlife that the Kali Gandaki Valley offers but what there is is as spectacular as any in the great Himalayan chain. The brilliantly coloured Himalayan Monal, Nepal’s national bird, the very tame and very noisy Tibetan Snowcock, and that shaggy brown goat, the Himalayan Tahr, both match and complement this most grandiose of mountain scenery.
We have chosen this season to visit the park for two reasons. Firstly, this is the best time to see the flowering rhododendrons and other plants of the park, as well as the breeding birds and mammals which are so active in the spring. Secondly, the region is relatively free of the tourist crowds that flood the park each autumn in order to capitalise on the fine weather for optimum mountain views. These visitors are sadly unaware of nature’s superb spectacle available each spring, when the mountains are still happy to present themselves!
We fly from Kathmandu by Twin Otter to Lukla, a large village at 2,740 metres, in the heart of Sherpa country. For the first two days we walk very slowly up the Dudh Koshi Valley in order to adjust to the high altitude, and enjoy the common Himalayan birds and plants of field and forest. At Namche Bazaar, the large market town of the Solu Khumbu, the drama of this great mountain area begins to unfold. We have time to visit the park’s museum which holds a mine of local information. Whilst during an acclimatisation day here, we are able to climb high above Namche and explore the dwarf juniper and rhododendron forests. Here, and in the fields around the sprawling Sherpa capital Khumjung, we find our first high-altitude specialities: Snow Pigeons, Himalayan Monals and, if we are lucky, the rare Musk Deer.
A wonderful morning’s walk, dominated by our first real views of Everest and Lhotse, takes us to Thyangboche, a small cluster of stone houses perched upon a high spur. Surrounded by rhododendron forests and the highest mountains, many have claimed this to be the most beautiful place on Earth. The protection afforded to the local wildlife for so many years by the monks of Thyangboche monastery has made both birds and animals ridiculously tame. Thus, this is the ideal spot to photograph and get to know these beautiful mountain species — pheasants, thrushes, bluetails, rosefinches and grosbeaks — and another excuse for an acclimatisation day!
Our journey now takes us, via the delightful village of Upper Pangboche (whose old monastery houses the dried hand and scalp reputed to have belonged to a yeti!) into a high and wild valley. As we ascend, only yak herders’s summer settlements decorate the high pastures and stony river valleys, and massive snowy peaks loom all around us: Ama Dablam, Tamserku, Kangtaiga, Taweche, Everest and Lhotse. From here we walk slowly to our high point, the beautiful Gokyo Lakes. Even at 4,570 metres we find a variety of ducks on these lakes, and in the flower-filled meadows and rocky hillsides around them Red-breasted Rosefinches, Himalayan Rubythroats, Tibetan Snowcocks and many other upland breeding birds are to be found. Migrant birds, passing through the Himalaya on their way north to Siberian breeding grounds are also regularly found beside the lakes. We will spend two nights at Gokyo, in order to make the most of the interesting flora and fauna of the area, and to allow time for the ascent of Kala Pattar, a walkable 5,180-metre peak that offers splendid views onto the famous south-west face of Everest, as well as of Makalu, Lhotse, Cho-oyu and the enormous Ngozumpa Glacier.
As we return slowly via high yak pastures to Namche Bazaar, we will see plenty of Himalayan Tahr, and birds such as Snow Partridges, accentors, Mountain Finches and the startlingly beautiful Blood Pheasants and Himalayan Monals. From Namche we return to Lukla and take a return flight to Kathmandu. There we spend a day exploring the forests of Phulchowki, the highest peak of the Kathmandu Valley, and a day sightseeing around the city. A visit to the lowland grasslands, Sal forests and dense riverine jungle of Chitwan National Park is recommended as an ideal complement to this holiday, either before or after the trek, and can easily be arranged for you. Chitwan is very hot at this time of year but it is a good time to see some of the larger mammals, including Tiger, Gaur (wild bison), Sloth Bear and Indian Rhinoceros, and the exciting birdlife is augmented by the arrival of many summer visitors from southern India which breed in the park.