We returned again to the Katmandu airport and found many other trekkers from the day before there again as well. A sense of comradely arose as we were all struggling to get out of a Katmandu and up into the mountains via helicopter. The final cost for everyone in our group was $480.00 each for the helicopter. As people we knew headed out to the runway for their trip, we would high five them and hope to do the next group to go. Our helicopter was supposed to take off between 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. We all felt for the locals who have to deal with this daily. It is a tough way to live and reminded me of how lucky I am to live in NYC (although it certainly has its challenges). We all hoped to get called next to head out to a helicopter and begin our journey. We all felt the majestic beauty of the mountains would be worth the current difficulty. At about noon, our helicopter finally takes off.
It’s funny how a 45-minute helicopter ride through the stunning Himalayas can radically improve your mood. As the helicopter took off over Katmandu, the city became a kaleidoscope of colors. Ancient stupas still dominate the skyline and the smoke rising from the Hindu burial grounds gave the city an eerie feel. However, soon we were no longer in an urban area but rather flying over ancient terraced farming villages dotting the mountainside. We then headed into the clouds and when we emerge above them, we realize we are getting much closer to the snow-capped mountains that are legendary. My group gets real excited as we see a few and get a taste of what is store in in the days to come. Our helicopter slowly descends into Lukla, the start point of the ancient trail that will ultimately take us to Mount Everest.
Lukla is surprisingly modern. I’ve seen Lukla on television and in movies. Seeing it in person though is completely different. Over the last twenty years it has developed quite a bit and its streets are lined with pastry shops, barber shops, restaurant, bars, and “tea houses”. These tea houses are very basic accommodations, some with and some without running water. They are everywhere and you can go from a simple tent to mountain luxury, that means a bathroom and luke-warm water to shower. The town has a wild west feel to it which makes it exhilarating. This is the jumping point to all the famous treks in Nepal, Everest Base Camp and the Three Passes, among them. After a quick stop at a pastry shop, we begin our trek.
Right away, the breathtaking beauty of this place starts to become clear. Almost everywhere you look are stunning vistas, prayer wheels and mountain peaks. The trail runs along the Dudh Koshi River. The sound of rushing rapids is the dominant noise as we trek higher. Waterfalls fall from high atop the mountains and look like silver bands extending all along the mountain.
The river is spawned from melting glaciers on Everest and other nearby mountains. It’s the source of the Ganghes, the holy river that travels through Nepal and India. The river is a crystal clear aqua color that is unmistakable of run off from a glacier.
We crossed three suspension bridges along our five-hour trek. These bridges were my biggest fear and part of the reason I wanted to participate. I am afraid of heights! Not in the sense of climbing a mountain but being near a ledge with a steep drop off. I took deep breaths but I was terrified as I crossed. I seriously thought about dropping to my knees and crawling on all fours the entire way across. How embarrassing would that have been? Seriously embarrassing and I would never have lived it down.
I kept breathing really deeply and repeating to myself “it’s time to overcome this fear” and “I’m not turning around; I am overcoming this fear”. I got over the three bridges which was great practice for the days to come. After five hours or so of trekking, one hour in the dark which was very scary as most of the trek was along a steep mountain ledge, we arrived at our tea house in the Village of Phakding at 8,700 feet for the night and settled in.