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Nepal - Rural Tourism Information

Solukhumbu

Brief Overview

Trekking in the eastern region of Nepal provides a wide range of wilderness and cultural encounters - especially in the Everest region. There are those who wish to reach the highest point on earth. While there are those who choose to live out their dreams by standing at the foot of Mt. Everest (8,848 m). Still others prefer a middle ground south of the Khumbu such as Solu.

Walking through the middle hills of Solu and trekking in the higher altitudes of the Khumbu to the base of Sagarmatha, or Mt. Everest, the world's highest peak, is an opportunity to observe and participate in the daily life of the legendary Sherpa people. The Sherpa people who rank among the hardiest and most egalitarian people in the world are as great an attraction as the mountains.

Solu, or Sho Rung as the Sherpas know it extendsfrom Jiri to Dudh Kosi River in the east. The climate is temperate, forests and pasturelands are well watered, the farmlands cultivated with maize, wheat, barley and apples.

Buddhist lamas, monks and nuns led by Rinpoches (reincarnate lamas) serve the predominantly Sherpa communities from gompas (monasteries). Solu has two separate destinations, Pikey and the Dudhkunda Cultural Trail. While it is also a path to the high country of Khumbu, Solu invites a leisurely pace. Spring rhododendron and magnolia blooms are more profuse here than almost anywhere in Nepal. Solu used to be part of the traditional route used by early Everest expeditions., but nowadays treks begin from Jiri (1,905 m, 6,250 ft.) cutting several days off the old trail that began from Lamosangu. Frequent lodges and wholesome meals allow the independent trekker to travel light. Campers have more flexibility to get off the beaten track.

Beyond Solu and recognized as a World Heritage Site, the Sagarmatha National Park in the Khumbu is one of the few places on earth that has a unique bio-diversity and the highest and youngest mountain system in the world. For those with sufficient time, a 10-12 day trek through Solu to the Khumbu and the Sagarmatha National Park is an excellent itinerary both in terms of acclimatization and to experience the changing customs, traditions, and lifestyles as you pass through lower altitude settlements to those in the higher altitudes.

A part of the Himalayan ecological zone, the Park was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 and is spread over 1,148 sq. km. in the Khumbu region. The Park contains three of the world's seven highest mountains Sagarmatha or Mt. Everest, Lhotse, and Cho Oyu and is also home to several other prominent peaks most of which are above 6,000 meters. Climbers and trekkers continue to trek to Everest Base Camp and not surprisingly the "Roof of the World" continues to be the scene of some of mountaineering's most significant accomplishments and a favored haven for alpine enthusiasts.

Mt. Everest is the prime attraction of Solukhumbu. New trekking trails: Dudhkunda-Khaling Rai-Pikey Trail, offer additional choices and a peek at the Himalayan lifestyle, culture and a wide range of nature experience.

Ethnic Diversity

For the people of both Solu and the Khumbu, the hard grind of daily life in the high Himalayas is interrupted by seasons of feasts and festivals, marked by dancing and general merry-making. Most festivals are of religious nature and center on the temples and monasteries, with rites conducted by lamas (priests). These festivals are spread out through the full-moon days of May, June, July, August and November in different sections of the Himalayas. While the Sherpas are the most predominant people of Solukhumbu, in the lower region of Solu, the Khaling Rai culture prevails as well.

Khaling Rais
Khaling Rais have their own language and practice both joint and nuclear family ties. Chhang (locally fermented millet/rice wine) is an indispensable part of their food and culture. Some of their more important rituals are the Bhume dance, the Chandi dance and the Naghi puja. The Khaling Rais believe that in order to continue human existence, it is necessary to worship their ancestors and the earth deity. Some degree of Shamanism can also be seen in this culture. Although the Khaling Rais belong to the Kirant ethnic group and have their own festivals, they celebrate the Hindu and Buddhist festivals as well.

Sherpas
Though best known for their accomplishments as high-altitude porters and mountain guides, the Sherpa people have traditionally been traders, herders and subsistence farmers. The best known and most admired of all of Nepal's ethnic groups, the Sherpas migrated to the high valleys south of Mt. Everest from eastern Tibet about 450 years ago. The name Sherpa means "people from the east." Their Tibetan origins are reflected in their language, customs, and religion. Ancient mountain gods, the most sacred of these being Numbur in Solu and Khumbu-ila in Khumbu, dominate the Sherpa homeland. The development of mountaineering and trekking has become an added source of income and a means to international recognition for the Sherpa people.

A deep adherence to the Tibetan Buddhist religion dominates their home lives, and their biggest festival - the dance-drama known as Mani Rimdu - depicts the victory of Buddhism over the ancient Bon faith. Mani Rimdu is held at Tengboche and Chiwang during the full moon in November-December or during the full moon in May-June at Thami monastery, a short day's walk west of Namche Bazaar.

Prime Attractions

Dudhkunda Cultural Trail (Lower Solukhumbu)
Dudhkunda (4,560 m), a holy mountain lake, in the lap of Mt. Numbur is a popular trekking destination of Solu. The trek to Dudhkunda starting from Phaplu can be done either only around the Dudhkunda Lake or combined with cultural experience passing through Khaling Rai settlements and then back to Salleri through dense forests of rhododendron and a variety of wildlife. The trail combined provides one with a close encounter with the unique Khaling Rais of this area. Dudhkunda, which literally means lake of milk, is said to be a sacred lake and is revered by the local people. It is believed that taking a dip in its holy waters will fulfill one's wishes. During full moon nights in August a weeklong celebration is held here by pilgrims and jhankris (Shaman priests).

Suggested Itinerary for Dudhkunda Cultural Trail 9-11 Days, 11-13 Days

Sagarmatha National Park
Sagarmatha National Park is home of the highest peak in the world - Mt. Everest (8,848 m). The area was declared national park in 1976. The Park which also has several other peaks all above 6,000 m, was established as a World Heritage Site in 1979. With most of the Park above 3,000 m, Sagarmatha is full of rugged terrain with deep gorges, glaciers and huge rocks. The Park boasts of a variety of wildlife and over 118 species of bird. While the forest is dominated by silver fir, birch, rhododendron and juniper trees, animals such as musk deer, the Himalayan tahr, the ghoral, the serow, the wolf, and the Himalayan black bear may be spotted by trekkers in this region. Endangered species seen by a lucky few include snow leopard, red panda, and two varieties of dazzling pheasants - the crimson-horned and the impeyan, Nepal's national bird. Smaller animals like marmots, pikas and martens are also found here. The best time to visit the park is during the autumn months of October-November and from March-May in summer.

Namche Bazaar (Upper Solukhumbu)
Namche Bazaar (3,500 m) is the staging point for expeditions to Everest and other peaks in the area. It is also is a prosperous market town selling everything from Tibetan artefacts to trekking and climbing equipment. The visitor center at Park headquarters has detailed information on various climbs in the area, memorabilia from different mountaineering expeditions, and information on the lifestyle and culture of the Sherpa people.

Phortse Ecotourism Village (Upper Solukhumbu)
Phortse (3,950 m) is a unique Sherpa settlement of about 80 households. With the aim of adding cultural aspect to the Everest experience, Phortse is being developed as model ecotourism village in Sagarmatha National Park.

Community-run home-stays are available in Phortse for experience of the mountain life. Teashops and lodges are also available here. Staying at the home-stays as house guests, trying out wholesome Sherpa and Nepali food, and observing the the local peoples' everyday life, may provide experience of a lifetime. Cultural show and Sherpa dance are also performed on the request of tourists. This Sherpa village in the lap of the mountains also offers wonderful views and wildlife experience. The village is lush, surrounded by birch and juniper trees that shelter endangered musk deer different varieties of pheasants. Peacocks, Himalayan tahr and bear are also spotted around the region every now and then. The rare snow leopards found in the mountains, have also been reported to be seen here. Phortse is about 4-hour walk north-east from Sagarmatha National Park headquarters. One also has the option of returning via Phortse, while coming down from Everest Base Camp.

Pikey Cultural Trail (Lower Solukhumbu)
Pikey Hill (4,065 m) is one of the tallest hills of Solu. From Pikey you can see most of the central and eastern Himalayan peaks Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna, Gauri Shanker, Lhotse, Numbur, Khatang, Karyalung, Shishapangma, Mera Peak, Thamserku, Lhotseshar, Nuptse and a little of Ama Dablam. The peak also offers breathtaking sunrise and sunset views during good weather. The trail passes through some of the most beautiful settlements of the region. A trail through Jiri-Chaulakharka-Ngaur- leads to the Pikey Danda area. The trail starts at Phaplu and passes through Kerung, Pattale, Jhapre, Pikey peak, Lamajura, Junbesi and ends at Salleri.

The name Pikey is derived from the name of a Sherpa clan deity. During the month of July the locals hold celebrations to worship their clan god, the eastern Chyabo Pikey, as Pikey Hlapchen Karbu. There are other interesting possibilities of undertaking tourism activities at Pikey such as paragliding, mountain biking, birdwatching, pilgrimage and meditation. From here the trail descends through dense forest finally meeting the Everest trail at Beni. July is a good time to take a trip to Pikey, as this is when the local people hold their celebrations of the clan god, the eastern Chyabo Pikey. From Pikey one can also continue on to the Dudhkunda trail. Rumjatar and Jiri are other alternative entries to Pikey Cultural Trail.

As mentioned above, after reaching Pikey one also has the option of taking the Dudhkunda Cultural Trail via Taksindu. The trail passes through Junbesi, Phaplu, Taksindu, Beni, Dudhkunda, Taksindu and back to Salleri. This trek goes through beautiful settlements and landscapes. One of the most beautiful Sherpa villages, Junbesi, is on the way from Pikey to Dudhkunda. One can also visit the famous Thuptenchholing monastery on the way.

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