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Trekking Nepal’s Gokyo Lakes

The trek to the Gokyo Lakes is widely regarded as one of Nepal’s classic treks. The trek has it all – beautiful alpine lakes, spectacular mountain views and Nepal’s largest glacier, the Ngozumpa. The trek can be continued to the foot of Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang peaks. Less number of trekkers take this route, most take the route to Kala Pathar and Everest base camp. In 1996, when my good friend, Sushil Dawka (a surgeon at Manipal Teaching hospital) had done the trek, lodges were primitive and scarce beyond Namche Bazaar. Common rooms, bunk beds and hole in the ground latrines. After his rather depressing reports we were prepared for any eventuality. The lodges however, went beyond our expectations. In some places they were positively luxurious! The only thing we really missed was the ‘solar showers’ which are ubiquitous on the Annapurna trekking trails.

We were a group of nine from the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara. We were an eclectic mixture of nationalities, Nepalese, Indian, Sri Lankan and German. We had flown into Lukla, a landing strip carved into the hillside at 2860 m. The airstrip originally built by Edmund Hillary’s foundation had been tarmaced and during the peak tourist season was the second busiest airport in Nepal. Lukla has some fine lodges but very few people stay in Lukla on the way in. Most rush to Phakding (3800 m)  by the Dudh Koshi river.

Namche Bazaar at 3446 m is a straggling collection of lodges over a rather barren hillside. The number of shops and lodges keeps on increasing on each of my visits. There are excellent views of Kwangde and Thamserku from Namche. Namche has a bakery, cyber cafes, souvenir shops and is a favourite acclimatization stop for trekkers. We spent the day climbing up to Syangboche and the Everest view hotel. The Everest view advertises itself as the highest star hotel in the world. The mountain views were spectacular and the trails were clogged with trekkers. Kantega, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Lhotse Shar, Ama Dablam and Thamserku, the names just roll off the tongue. It was a spectacular October day. The Sun was on its heavenly rounds and all was right with the world! A few stray wisps of cloud were seen floating around in the azure, blue sky.

The Sherpa villages of Khumjung (3790 m) and Khunde were less crowded than Namche Bazaar and many trekkers increasingly prefer to stay there. It was an easy walk and we were in a delightful mood. Bhavana (our student from Kathmandu) was capturing events on her video camera and we were clowning for the occasion. Lunch at the village of Khunde was chau-chau (Nepalese packet noodles) and Kabita (our paediatrics medical officer) took over the lodge kitchen. Kabita turned out some excellent noodle soup.

The next day it was a long climb to Dole and by the time we reached there it was late afternoon. The views of Kantega as we climbed towards the village of Mong La, earlier in the day were magnificent. As often in the Himalayas it was followed by a steep descent to Phortse Thanga (3643 m). We were trekking through birch and rhododendron forests and it was steeply uphill to Dole (4084 m). The lodge was so-so and the toilets were a hole in the ground affair.

Macchermo at 4465 m was less than three hours away and the Tashi Dele lodge had beautiful, comfortable bed rooms. We spent the late morning and early afternoon lazing around, enjoying the warm sunshine. In the afternoon some of us attended a talk on mountain sickness held in a ‘Eureka’ tent. We enjoyed the wit and eloquence of the English doctor. The food was excellent, the dining room warm and the toilets were a vast improvement over Dole.

The next morning it was a four to five hour trek to Gokyo village (4791 m) located on the banks of the third Gokyo Lake (also called Dudh Pokhari). The Sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze blowing. The first Gokyo Lake materialized. The family of resident Brahminy ducks was missing! I met my student Indrajit and his father (an orthopaedic surgeon). They were planning to cross the Cho La and descend to Kala Pathar and Gorak Shep. The second lake (Longponga) at 4690 m was larger and more beautiful and the play of light on the water was fascinating. The third lake was the largest and the village is situated on its northeastern shore.  

The Cho Oyu view lodge was small but comfortable. The solar heated dining room was by the shore of the lake and we spent the evening watching Sunset on Cho Oyu and the darkening waters of the lake. The rooms were well insulated; we had a warm quilt and an indoor toilet. What more could one ask for!

The next morning we started our climb of Gokyo Ri. The climb was steep and the decreased oxygen level was taking its toll. The view of the moraines of the Ngozumpa glacier was fantastic. Mt.Everest was seen at a greater distance than from Kala Pathar but more of the massif, itself was seen. We could see four eight thousand metre peaks; Everest (8848 m), Lhotse (8501 m), Makalu (8463 m) and Cho Oyu (8153 m). The view of Cho Oyu to the north was out of this world. Gyachung Kang, Cholatse and Tawachee added to the mountain panorama. There were mountains wherever we turned our head.

Five of us reached the summit of Gokyo Ri (5350 m). We were posing for photographs and just resting after the tiring climb. Prayer stones, cairns and prayer flags marked the summit. The wind was picking up strength and the Sun was disappearing behind a bank of clouds. To the south there were views of all three Gokyo Lakes. We drank in the spectacular views, replenished our strength and decided to slowly descend to the lodge.

It was a wonderful day spent among probably the finest mountain scenery on Earth! We stole a last look at Cho Oyu and carefully descended back to civilization! 

Hard facts about the Gokyo trek
Nearest road head: Jiri (1890 m) a day journey from Kathmandu
Nearest airport: Lukla (2800 m)
Biggest town and market: Namche Bazaar (3440 m)
Maximum elevation: Summit of Gokyo Ri (5350 m)
Duration: 11 days from Lukla and back
 Around 3 weeks from Jiri and back
Lodges: Available and good
   Dr.P.Ravi Shankar teaches at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara. He is a keen trekker and often write about his trips in the mountains. 

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