The Jiri to Lukla trek: hiking to Everest
The Jiri to Lukla trek was once the start of the famous trek to Everest. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first people to climb Mount Everest, even started their hike in Kathmandu.
It was only in 1963 that a road was built to Jiri. Since then the Jiri to Lukla trek was the traditional route into the Khumbu region. A week long of ascents and descents in the middle hill country before climbing up to Lukla and Namche bazaar.
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay soon wanted an easier option for other mountaineers wishing to climb Everest. In 1964 they started the construction of Lukla airport, opening up the region to everyone who wants to have a glimpse of the highest mountain on earth.
The Solukhumbu region is now one of the most popular areas for trekking in Nepal. The trails are dotted with excellent lodges and restaurants making it possible for those with no mountaineering experience to get as far as Everest Base camp.
Nowadays, most people skip the Jiri to Lukla trek, but I decided to take the traditional route following in the footsteps of the first people to climb Mount Everest.
Why choose the Jiri to Lukla trek
So why should you or anyone still do the Jiri to Lukla trek when one can fly directly into Lukla ? Why add another week of hiking to an already strenuous hike to Everest base camp or the Gokyo lakes? Is the Jiri to Lukla trek still worth the extra effort?
My personal answer is that for me, the Jiri to Lukla trek was well worth the effort. The gradual change from the lush and green hills at the lower altitudes to the rugged terrain and snow capped peaks higher up was something I really enjoyed.
Yes you can fly directly into spectacular mountain sceneries, but the middle hills of Nepal offer a different experience that is just as interesting and beautiful. The Jiri to Lukla trek winds through friendly villages surrounded by farmlands and rice terraces where you will meet few other trekkers.
Villages like Bhandar, Kenja, Junbesi and Khari khola offer a nice insight into rural life in Nepal. People were always out and about, busy with the daily chores like milking the cows, plowing their small plots of land, drying foods in the sun and working in the fields.
It was very different from the villages above Lukla where most are a mere cluster of lodges catering to tourists. Don’t underestimate how crowded it can get after you pass the airport. I soon missed the peace and quiet of the Jiri to Lukla trek.
Another good reason to do the Jiri to Lukla trek is that it helps in your acclimatization. It is not necessarily an easy trek as it involves a lot of going up and down. Climbing to Lamjura La pass and Trakshindu pass only to descend to the depth of the valley afterwards and then ascend again.
By the time those that fly into Lukla make their first steps on the trail, you have already been higher than 3000 meters and your muscles will be fit and strong. You will also carry the more authentic experience of the lower hills with you.
I had another personal reason to do the Jiri to Lukla trek. Lukla is considered to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world and I was quite nervous about flying to Lukla. I did fly out and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Still, I would gladly hike from Jiri to Lukla again the next time. It is more sustainable than flying and it is a wonderful experience.
The Jiri to Lukla trek itinerary
Road construction into the mountains is progressing in Nepal as we speak. In recent years it has changed the Annapurna Circuit trek and will also change the Jiri to Lukla trek. The road now extends from Jiri to Shivalaya, Bhandar and Kenja with plans to go as far as Junbesi.
Another road goes all the way to Salleri and Phaplu where you can connect with the Jiri trek at Ringmo. Plans are to extend this road all the way to Surkhe, just south of Lukla.
Up to Jiri the road is in a good condition, but after Jiri it becomes a pot-holed mud track. In my opinion these would only be suitable for 4 by 4 jeeps, but Nepali’s will still try to drive with big buses and trucks on them. My suggestion is to start in either Shivalaya or Salleri/Phaplu.
In this Jiri to Lukla trek itinerary I mention every day the amount of time it took me from start to finish. I am a slow hiker though. I like to take frequent breaks to enjoy the beautiful views.
If you are a fit hiker, you can probably do it in less time
Day 1: Bus from Kathmandu to Jiri and Shivalaya
You need the first day to get from Kathmandu to Shivalaya, the start of the Jiri to Lukla trek. Like any bus journey in Nepal, it is a long and bumpy ride over winding mountain roads. Delays are common with frequent breakdowns or landslides blocking the road.
In theory, the bus journey to Shivalaya takes around 10 hours. In practice, it often takes much longer. Buses stop everywhere to let in new passengers up till the point that the only place left for more people is on the roof. While this is officially not allowed, it does happen.
Up till Jiri the road was paved and the journey was long, but uneventful. After Jiri the adventure started. Soon enough we had a flat tyre that needed to be fixed. After that the road deteriorated further. It didn’t help either that it was already dark.
The dirt track to Shivalaya would maybe be ok for jeeps, but not big buses and trucks. And yes, soon enough, the road was blocked by a truck that was too big to make a bend in the road and got stuck.
The first hour people waited patiently in the bus. Nobody moved, nobody said anything. There was no phone reception anymore, but I estimated Shivalaya must be around 3 – 4 kilometers further on. Should we get out and walk?
As we were discussing this option with the other foreigners in the bus, the other people started to talk as well. The only way this truck could move was by widening the road. To me, this seemed an impossible task in the dark, but the Nepali men from our bus all came into action.
Bushes were cut, stones carried away and the truck was pushed into the right direction. Us foreigners watched in certain disbelief, but sure enough, after half an hour we were on our way again.
It was almost midnight when we arrived in Shivalaya and stumbled into the first lodge we saw. We got a warm welcome and the owner even still made us dinner.
Logistics: Buses and shared jeeps to Jiri and Shivalaya leave everyday from the Ratnapark bus station in Kathmandu. Get there early as most buses leave between 5 – 6 AM in the morning. It is best to reserve your tickets a day in advance at the bus station or at a travel agency in Thamel.
Day 2: Shivalaya (1810) – Deurali (2800) – Bhandar (2200)
9 kilometers, 5 hours
Today would be my first day of hiking on the Jiri to Lukla trek. Although the road already continued to Bhandar I was happy to start at Shivalaya. Especially after experiencing the road from Jiri to Shivalaya the day before.
The hiking trail from Shivalaya to Bhandar bypasses the jeep road and starts with a gradual but long climb up to Deurali. I still needed to get in shape and it took me all morning to reach the pass at 2800 meters.
Most of Deurali was destroyed by the earthquake in 2015. We had lunch here and then walked for one more hour down the hill to Bhandar. The damage in Bhandar was also significant. Most houses and lodges were still in ruins and only 2 lodges had reopened their doors.
Accomodation: Sobha lodge
Day 3: Bhandar (2200) – Kenja (1600)
10 kilometers, 3.5 hours
The Jiri to Lukla trek is a lot of going up and down. From Bhandar it is a gentle walk through villages and rice terraced slopes to the village of Kenja. It is easy to continue and start the ascent to Lamjura La pass, but we decided to call it a day to do some laundry.
Kenja, or Kenza bazaar, was once a beautiful village, but was largely destroyed by the earthquake. Only 3 lodges were open.
Accomodation: New Everest Guesthouse
Day 4: Kenja (1600) – Goyem (3200)
8 kilometers, 6 hours
Today we would start the long ascent to Lamjura Pass. At 3500 meters it is the highest point on the Jiri to Lukla trek.
We started the day with the intention of reaching Sete (2700). Gaining more than a 1000 meters in altitude I expected a tough day. I can’t say it was easy, but once we reached Sete for lunch, we felt we could walk a bit more.
We climbed another 3 hours through a beautiful forest up to Goyem. The last village before the pass. It was a very cold night, but both the sunset and sunrise was amazing
accomodation: Tashi Deleg guesthouse
Day 5: Goyem (3200) – Lamjura (3500) – Junbesi (2600)
10 kilometers, 6 hours
From Goyem it was a short climb to Lamjura La. There is nothing but a small gompa and lots of prayer flags to mark the actual pass. The views were incredible and we could even see Deurali where we were 3 days ago.
The planes to Lukla were flying right above us. They were so near that we could almost touch them. Being at this beautiful place I did not regret once not taking the plane. We descended to Junbesi. First through dense forests and then through villages and farm fields.
Accomodation: Junbesi Lodge
Day 6: Junbesi (2600) – Trakshindu La (2960)
13 kilometers, 5 hours
Today would be another day of climbing up on the Jiri to Lukla trek. This time to the Trakshindu La pass.
At Khurtang we had our first views on several mountain peaks including Everest, Thamserku, Kusum, Kangru and Mera. The weather was great and we had a clear blue day. The peaks remained in sight all the way up to Ringmo where we had lunch.
Then we started the last bit to Trakshindu La. On the pass was a Buddhist chorten and the views were incredible. We stayed at a buddhist monastery and had the most beautiful sunset on the Jiri to Lukla trek.
Accomodation: Trakshindu resort
Day 7: Trakshindu La (2960) – Khari Khola (2010)
15 kilometers, 6 hours
Yesterday was all about going up and today about going down. The first part to Nunthala and Phuleli was difficult. The trail was muddy and slippery and full of loose rocks.
Sometimes we were joined by caravans of donkeys and horses. The owners were always happy to see us and one even wanted to take a selfie with us. We looked tired, sweaty and dusty while the owner of the donkeys looked like he was taking a walk in the park.
The bridge over the Dudh Kosi river was a welcome sight as it signaled the end of our steep descent. Then it was a gentle walk through the villages of Jubing to Khari Khola.
Day 6: Khari Khola (2010) – Kari La (3010) – Paiya (2770)
12 km, 5 hours
Today there is another pass to cross. Like yesterday we were joined by caravans of donkeys, horses and yaks on our climb up to the Kari La at 3000 meter. We were hoping to have lunch there, but everything was closed and we continued to Paiya.
The path to Paiya was a bit scary. It was narrow and slippery and right next to a cliff. We had a late lunch at the first lodge we came across. After that we walked half an hour more to a lodge in between Paiya and Surkhe.
Accomodation: Everest guesthouse
Day 8: Puiyan – Lukla or Phakding
Today would be the last day of the Jiri to Lukla trek, but not the end of our hiking adventure. We would continue on to Tengboche to see the Mani Rimdu festival and then connect with the Gokyo Lakes trek.
Because most people will do the Jiri to Lukla trek with the intention of going all the way to Everest Base Camp, there is no need to actually go to Lukla itself. The trail goes below Lukla and then connects with the main trail at Chablung.
From Paiya we descended to Surke and then went up to Mushe and Chaurikarka. Two beautiful and quiet villages with gompa’s and mani walls. When we reached Chablung, the trail got much more busy with trekkers that flew in from Lukla.
We entered beautiful pine forests next to the Dudh Kosi river and walked till Phakding, which is halfway between Lukla and Namche bazaar.
The Jiri to Lukla Trek Travel tips
Jiri to Lukla trek Permits
For the Jiri to Lukla trek you need several permits.
Gaurishankar Conservation Area Permit: You will only cross the Gaurishankar conservation area for a couple of hours at the start of the trek in Shivalaya. There is a checkpoint at Shivalaya where you have to show this. You can get this permit at the Tourism Board office at Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu and it costs 2000 npr.
Most people do the Jiri to Lukla trek as a way to walk in rather than fly into the Everest region. To enter the Everest region you need two more permits.
Khumbu entrance permit: This permit is necessary once you enter the Khumbu region. You can not get this permit beforehand in Kathmandu. You must buy it in Lukla or Monjo (in case you walk in from Jiri) and it costs 2000 npr
Sagarmatha National Park Entrance Permit; The actual National Park entrance permit costs 3400 npr. You can get it at the Tourism Board office at Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu or at the checkpoint in Monjo.
Note: In theory, trekkers need to get a TIMS card for every trek they make in Nepal. A Tims Card costs 2000 npr and you need to get this at the Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu. On Everest they felt that most money stayed in Kathmandu. Therefore they installed their own permit (The Khumbu entrance permit). From 2018 they will no longer check your TIMS card in the Everest region. A controversial topic and therefore this situation might change. Check before getting or not getting your TIMS card.
Independent or guide
The Jiri to Lukla trek is moderately difficult, but easy to do without a guide. There is one trail to follow and it is hard to get lost. It is not as busy as more famous treks like the Annapurna Circuit, Poon hill or Langtang, but you will likely meet some other trekkers on your journey.
If you are alone and not that experienced you might want to consider joining a guided trek or hiring a guide, porter or porter guide.
In Nepal there is a clear distinction between a porter and a guide. A guide shows you the way and can tell you more about the history and the culture of the places you visit. A porter will only carry your luggage. Despite their heavy burden they often walk far in front of you and might have reached the lodge when you are only midway. A porterguide is less common, but does both.
Jiri to Lukla trek Accomodation
The villages on the Jiri to Lukla trek were affected by the earthquake in 2015. Many lodges were damaged and because most people fly into Lukla these days, not all of them have been rebuilt.
When I hiked in November 2016 there were still enough lodges open on the way. They tend to be more basic than after Lukla or in the Annapurnas and can’t be booked online beforehand. There is a first come first serve basis.
The prices of accomodation is incredibly cheap, sometimes even free, but they do expect you to order dinner and breakfast at their establishment.
Jiri to Lukla trek Food
The good thing about tea house treks in Nepal is that however basic lodges might be, the food is often quite good if you stick to Nepali cuisine. Yes, many lodges try all kinds of international dishes to attract tourists, but in my opinion often not the best choice.
When trekking in Nepal I eat Dahl bath at least once a day. This national dish of rice with lentils knows a huge variety in how it is prepared. Different vegetable curries from fermented spinach to roasted cauliflower and different pickles to spice it up. Not one dahl bath is the same.
Other Nepali foods to try are Tibetan bread, Thukpa and Momo’s.
When to go
The best time to go trekking in Nepal is spring and autumn. January and February will be cold and foggy. March, April and May are the warmer months before the monsoon. As the rainy season approaches it can become hot, dusty and humid, but the blooming flowers are very beautiful.
June, July and August are the monsoon months bringing lots of rain and leeches at the lower altitudes.
September, October and November are the most popular months for trekking. Autumn brings clear blue skies and mild temperatures before the cold sets in in December. Autumn is also a festive season with the celebration of Dashain and Tihar. Nepal’s biggest festivals.
In October you can also witness the Mani Rimdu festival in Tengboche. Tengboche is a 3 day hike from Lukla. Mani Rimdu is the biggest festival for the Sherpa people in the Everest Region. The 3 day festivities include beautiful masked dances and offer a unique insight into Sherpa culture.
The Jiri to Lukla trek has a very low chance of altitude sickness. The highest point is Lamjura La at 3500 meters high. Here you might experience some mild symptoms like being tired and more easily out of breath. However, as you will descend to lower altitudes on the same day this should not pose a problem.
If you continue to Everest Base Camp or the Gokyo Lakes, altitude sickness is a concern. The Jiri to Lukla trek will definitely have helped in acclimatization, but once you have reached Namche bazaar (3440 meters) you should still be cautious. Experts advise to not ascend more than 300 – 400 meters per day once you are above 3000 meters high.
The key to prevent altitude sickness is to take it slow, give your body enough time to adjust to the height and to drink enough water. Diamox is a medicine that might help your body to acclimatize, but will not cure altitude sickness once you have severe symptoms. In that case, the only remedy is to go down to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
Mild symptoms may include being tired and more easily out of breath. More severe symptoms of high altitude sickness are headache, dizziness, trouble sleeping, breathing problems, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Severe symptoms indicate you are developing high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Both conditions are fatal if you do not get to a lower altitude on time.
Take these symptoms seriously and watch out for symptoms in others, even in your nepali guides or porters. It is a misconception that they cannot get altitude sickness.
Books and Guides
Cicerone and trailblazer both have excellent and comprehensive guides about treks in Nepal with detailed guides about the Everest region. Another option is the Lonely Planet’s trekking in the Nepal Himalayas guide.