Red for fire, yellow for earth, blue for wind, white for air and green for water are the colors on prayer flags. According to Tibetan, health and harmony are aided through the balance of these five elements. Buddhist writings of hope and peace are printed on each of them. The Sherpas believe prayers and mantras on the flags disperse the message of goodwill and bring harmony. The string of fading flags are frequently replaced by new ones metamorphosing life’s changes. We found these prayer flags on mountain peaks, across river streams, on bridges, almost everywhere but seeing them at the Chola pass meant we had conquered our biggest challenge on the Everest high passes route, a tough 5000+mts pass.
I am not sure what I woke up to that morning, the alarm going off or the constant rattling of the tin roof over us giving way to the wind. We got ready for a promising day and a new challenge that waited ahead, the Chola pass. Unlike Renjo la pass which has a marked trail and is often also used by yaks, the chola pass was much more wild and untamed. The last section leading to the top is incredibly steep and notorious for falling rocks. Careful footing and diligent attention was needed throughout the trail. Steep was the word for the day.
Note: This is part 3 of our travelogue on Everest high passes trek to the base camp. You can read part1 giving an account on our first time in Himalayas and part2 where we cross Renjo la pass.
Thaknak and it’s tin roofed tea houses
Navigating the trail to chola pass
The last section wasn’t marked and we had to mindfully negotiate our way. It was strewn by rocks stacked so flimsily that a strong gust of wind or anyone hiking above us could easily push them down our way. The pass suffered a major landslide in 2012 and was in a bad shape. Crossing it in bad weather would be a real challenge. For us, the constant need to focus, thinning air and aching lungs made the hike to the top an exhausting affair. A wave of happiness ran through my heart when I made it to the top. What makes Chola pass stand out isn’t really a grand view in the end (Renjo la and Kongma la offer better) but the exhilarating route to make it to the top. I have never experienced such rigor and adrenaline while hiking like I did getting to the top of Chola pass.
View from the top of Cho la pass
Watch the below video for some epic moments flying a drone during this trek through the Everest region
Despite the altitude we took a rather long break at the top of the pass. We exchanged stories with another group of hikers who were crossing the pass from the opposite end. We nibbled on our packed lunch of fruits, bread and some chocolates. Although the tired body could have done away with a heavy lunch, the excitement of the day and possibly the appetite loss didn’t allow for it. The heart longed for a piping hot meal in the warmth of a tea house. But the day was just half done and a glacier crossing awaited us on the other side of the Chola pass.
The tribe at the top of Chola pass
Crossing this glacier at a different time of the year would certainly mean putting on a pair of crampons but in spring it was possible to tackle it with hiking boots alone. We kept walking on the glacier, it’s sunlit surface felt like a soft ice cream, melting in the afternoon sun. We could see streams of water on its surface creating myriad patterns. Lurching in those patterns were crevasse which we had to diligently avoid with every step. Thankfully this walk on the glacier isn’t very long, it soon turns into slush and then a steady stream. We veered right and scrambled up and down a boulder field that morphed into a regular trail farther away. I could finally turn my attention to the big mountains that lined the edges of the valley I was now going down on.
Careful footing on the Cho la pass glacier, yeah we didn’t have any crampons on 😉
The monolithic face of Cholatse loomed on the right, I could trace my gaze from the gorgeous meadow at its footsteps far below to a cracked up glacier that made way for a steep rock face devoid of any snow. But what stood out most impressively among all the mountains I was surrounded by was Ama Dablam. Like most people who come to the Everest region to see the highest mountain but instead fall for the charm of Ama Dablam I did too. There is something so majestic in how it stands tall and yet looks so humble with its gracefully curving ridges, it is hard to not get swooned by it. It is rightly called the “Mother’s Necklace” by the locals, so protective and so loving.
Praveen dwarfed by the mighty Cholatse, can you spot him?
The views were incredibly rewarding, hiking though was getting tougher, the descent much steeper and the day’s fatigue was already taking over. We slowly walked through a barren basin of high alpine tundra only interspersed by the intertwining streams flowing from the glacial melt of the Chola glacier. The streams softly burbled while for me walking felt like a long tiring endless grunt. The final couple hundred meters towards Dzongla were the longest, the hills kept going up and down and I coerced silently. Each time I crested a hill, I anticipated seeing the village of Dzongla only to find more uneven hills. I couldn’t see the village until we were just a few feet shy. We arrived at the lodge in time for a late afternoon tea. But first we relieved our battered feet off the sweaty hiking boots and slipped into comfy flip flops.
View out of our tea house in Dzongla
That evening the sun as it set left behind beautiful colors in the sky and brought huge smiles on our tired faces. As the day drew to a close we sat down for an elaborate dinner in the common hall of the tea house listening to the crackle of firewood and celebrating completing yet another high pass.
Sunset over Ama Dablam, a sight we will remember for years
The trail for the next day towards Gorakshep was a welcome reward. In stark contrast to the Chola pass we had just crossed, the route was mostly flat following a mountain side before curving left. Just as the valley was about to end, the trail joined the usual EBC route. There was the familiar dusty trail and the crowd of hikers headed to base camp. Can’t blame them, they have come here for the same experiences that Praveen and I love. We were also sharing the well trodden trail with the train of Sherpas and yaks catering loads to sustain the ongoing life and people at the base camp. The sherpas carrying the ladders on their shoulders, the yaks loaded with climbing gear and supplies had a steady gait. We would always give them way, let them pass and wait a bit longer to allow the dust to settle as they went by.
A herder and his yak enroute to Gorakshep
At Lobuche we stopped for a brief lunch of the familiar Dal Bhat. The weather was deteriorating and we paced up to reach Gorakshep before it started snowing. We walked along the edge of the Khumbu glacier that was covered in rubble. Nuptse’s sharp spire rose from the other edge. Everest remained concealed behind a veil of thick clouds. We churned our way through stones and dust, cloud swirling above us continuing to intimidate. We arrived at Gorakshep just as a helicopter tried making an unsuccessful landing owing to the heavy winds and eventually had to turn around.
Moon rise over Nuptse, what a magical moment!
It’s impossible to go to the mountains and not find your passion. We found ours in hiking, in walking the uneven paths and spending days at stretch in the company of the mightiest of the mountains. These mountains strip away prejudices, often shake up the confidence and the only thing that will shine is your abilities, raw physical and mental abilities.
(Continue on for further here )
If you like hiking and backpacking as we do you will surely love these posts from our earlier trips.
Visuals from dolomites to inspire you from Italy
Climbing a stratovolcano in USA