Arrived back in Kathmandu late LATE on the 25th with exactly one single day in the city to prepare for a sixteen day trek up through the Himalayas towards Everest Base Camp, the launching point for international expeditions making their way up to the highest peak in the world. A whirlwind of a day...ten hours and about a hundred US dollars later, I'm enjoying what I (correctly) think to be my last Western-style meal, and some time around midnight finish packing up hiking boots, GoreTex jackets, pants, fleeces, socks, sleeping bags, etc for two and a half weeks in the mountains.
6AM. Showered, packed, in the taxi and late, heading helter-skelter towards the airport for our 6:30AM check-in and flight. Sita Airlines happily takes our "luggage": sleeping bag, sleeping-bag-sized duffel impressively containing all gear for 16 days, and hiking boots. Fundamental to the success of any trek, Himalayan or not, is high quality broken-in hiking boots, and we've effectively thumbed our noses at the trekking gods by embarking on the long and difficult hike with brand-new, low-quality cheaply made imitation boots, purchased in the tourist ghetto of Thamel the day before. Manuje (our Nepalese friend, trekking companion and guide) respectfully smiles without laughing over our breakfast of chai at the airport.
12 other passengers board the tiny plane and the 16 of us (19 including airline staff) are off...the thirty five minute flight is spectacular, awe-inspiring and surreal. We glide over villages, hill terraces, monasteries and emerald ridges, easing closer and closer to the not-so-distant eastern mountain ranges, swathed in misty cloud cover. Effortlessly (and laughing, even), the pilot edges us over a low peak and heads up northwards now. Our plane navigates the descent through the clouds to the bright picturesque hillside village of Lukla, and it's not until the plane hits the runway that we're jarred back into reality from the movie of the flight that's just been painted for us.
Crisp air, cool air, smoky air, heady air meets the edges of our noses when the plane door opens. Bundling up in the nearby airport lodge, we sit for a quick breakfast of "hot milk tea, savory vegetable soup and warm chapati" (says my notes, by the way, foreshadowing of many many MANY identical meals I'll have over the next two weeks).
The day's short three hour trek from Lukla takes us through the wildflower-sprinkled kelly green mountains and cobalt blue skies of Colorado, the simple clean Austrian-reminiscent architecture of the lodges and villages, by the coffee coloured warmth of the People bundled up in woolen blanket and past the Buddhist stupas, inscribed stones, golden tops carved against the cobalt sky, and the all-seeing eye of Buddha on buildings, stones, walls and monasteries, until we reach Phakding and stay for the night.