At first, saying yes to a trek in Nepal initiates thoughts of Mount Everest in your mind and you hear yourself say: OK guys I will join the Island Peak trek with you, but only if I can do the shorter version and stop at Everest Peak View Hotel, the highest hotel in the world, the one that promises a breathtaking view of Ama Dablam – Lhotse and of course the legendary Everest. In your mind you see yourself walking with spectacular views and blue skies with a big smile attached to your face.
In reality this fantastic journey starts with chaos at the Kathmandu domestic airport. A place that repeats 40 to 50 times a day the same routine of transporting groups of people to their dream journey, yet, the unruliness and turmoil of the process makes you believe that the staff is always caught by surprise. The pandemonium clears up when you hear your flight number so right away you go back to having your heart and mind racing with expectations and dreams of what you are about to live and see. These WOW moments that are sometimes bigger than life.
But suddenly the rush is compressed in fear at the sight of the plane you step into. It is not the size of the plane that is the concern, but the state of its maintenance inside out. At this very moment you think and hope that this is your lucky day. You succeed to control your fear simply because the beauty of the sceneries insist on taking your mind space.
Although you are up in the air, you are not out of the woods. The mountains are high, so high that they seem to tickle the belly of the plane. Before landing in Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world, you find yourself holding your breath, praying that this plane will hit the runway and not the side of the mountain. I don’t think anyone remains indifferent to this 45 minute flight, not even my daredevil husband who was amused by my concerns at first and changed his song three days later upon hearing the news of the plane crash that killed 19 people. Trekkers just like us with their Nepalese porters and guides, all going to Lukla.
But the moment you touch down the fear subsides, this is it, this is the moment long awaited, this is the start of the long march, the journey of incredible scenery, beautiful children and courageous people, happy to have nothing. Right there and then you know that all is fine, that all will be as sunny and bright as your imagination had pictured it.
From Lukla, we trek the great mountains, sometimes through beautiful pine forests, open view stone paths with deep vertical cliffs of 300-500 meters, long winding milky light green rivers that would make a jade stone envious of its delicate shade – we cross long suspended bridges giving way to porters who’s head down walk and large loads take priority on these unstable wobbly structures. A tradition is to tie your blessed scarf to the structure to make your mark or to hope that the gods will be protecting you.
Think for a moment here – oil, food, fridges, wood structures or anything that is a daily need of life for villagers and tourists must be transported on foot, carried by men, horses or yaks. Most villages are a day walk from one another and to reach Everest base camp, you can easily count a week. These Porters are stronger than anything and more courageous than anyone.
Along the path mostly formed of stones, you climb giving way to either yaks with long twisted horns, the large loads of the porters that can sometimes be as wide as the trail, the groups of tourists that stay clustered as if an instant alone is a lost moment. But never you want to miss an instant where the children are going to school running, dancing and laughing, never omitting to turn the prayer wheel, to ring the bell or take the path on the left side of the rock to respect the Buddhist tradition.
I went to the edge of my strength and it was great. While trekking to high altitude in steep paths you reach farther than your second wind. You learn that there is a third, fourth and fifth one somewhere deep inside of you. You are out of breath and your heart is pumping hard to meet demand. But, at some point, when you think you need another break, you turn a curve on the trail and out of the blue, Everest along with the fabulous Lhotse and Ama Dablam appear before your eyes. At that moment the same phenomenon is transformed; your breath is taken away and your heart is beating fast but no longer from fatigue but from the emotion rising in you. You look around and see the deep blue sky, the strong sunshine and the picturesque scenery, and a big smile forms on your face. At this instant you think: it is not as I had imagined…. It is better; it defines the meaning of breathtaking.