Wow! This experience is incredible. I never thought, my mind could be absorbed by a single question or a place: What exactly is happening right now? Am I out of this world or entering an amazing air-conditioned realm? Just 32 minutes ago, I was in Kathmandu, Capital City of Nepal, country of the Himalayas, where lies the world’s highest mountain peak. This peak has many names in many languages, such as Sagarmatha and Chomolongma, but the most popular name in the world for a mountain which soars to an elevation of 8,848 meters or 29,029 feet is “Everest”. The highest elevation on the planet.
The most popular and the only aerial port of entry to the Everest region is Lukla. Lukla is a small village based around a primitive airport. The Lukla airport, officially named the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, has been time and again rated by National Geographic and others as one of the most dangerous airports in the world. I look out from the window of my plane, and the runway looks like a small, very short alley way. The airstrip is so short, barely more than 400 meters or a quarter of a mile, that I have a major adrenaline rush as we take off! After take-off my excitement sky-rocketed even more from just looking out the window at the incredible landscapes we flew over.
The main settlers of the Himalayas, known individually as a “Sherpa”, are equally renowned and unique when compared to Mount Everest, and were completely different from the Nepalese People I am familiar with in Kathmandu. Born and brought up in the lap of the Himalayas, Sherpas have adapted to high altitude and are one of the most pleasant people by heart and spirit. They are short in height, healthy with huge red cheeks, and have a Mongoloid facial structure that makes them very distinct from the rest of Nepal’s population. The attire of the Sherpa People was hugely influenced by Tibet; they wear thick dark robes to protect them from year round extreme cold weather. The most amazing thing about their robes was that they looked very dirty and hideous as if never washed for their entire lifetime. The whole village and all its people smelled like their primary livestock, known as the Yak. The conclusion I drew about the Sherpas in my first visit was that the entire village smelled like Yak cheese and homemade rice wine. In my future visits I realized that the unique odor from the Sherpa community was due to geographical and weather constraints. Whatever the smell smelled like, I felt very nice and comfortable and honored to be in their community, and I gave the smell a name: “The Smell of Everest”.
Mount Everest Base Camp was our destination. The name itself made me feel so pumped. It was a moment of pride, as none of my friends nor family had ever been to the Everest region of Nepal or even seen it while on a mountain flight. The journey would take 12 days from where we were to arrive at Base Camp and return, but the thought of seeing the tallest peak of the world made the days seem insignificant. The entire region was full of serenity when compared to the bustling city of Kathmandu. I come from a place where nothing is quiet; where many elements contribute to the noise pollution in Kathmandu. The trek to Mount Everest was completely different, filled with birds chirping, fresh air, and the sound of wind gushing into the ears was nothing other than soothing like a song which touches your heart. Although there were plenty of steep ascents and descents to come across, our entire expedition team was relaxed as even hiking on the trails of Everest felt like meditating in a peaceful ambiance.
The sun was warm most of the time, and even burning at times. Every step ascending on higher on the trails of Everest made me feel like I was ascending to the Heavens. As we went higher it became more beautiful and more awesome. At the same time, we felt the air becoming thinner which made our trek more difficult and slowed our pace. I felt how it feels in higher elevation and to see far, as from my viewpoint everything looked so much more clear. The sky looked the best blue it could possibly look, and the snow-capped mountains were as white as milk. After walking a couple of hours further up towards our destination, we completely surrendered ourselves to the mountains which surrounded us from all sides. Just above us was a sparse forest, and beyond were captivating, huge, gigantic mountains… huge milky-white mountains… and silence and nothing else.
We walked in and out of forests of Sagarmatha National Park, crossed many small villages with small settlements, but in the most genuine state displaying their heritage. We stayed in tea house lodges and ate three course meals of Nepali staples: rice, lentils and vegetables. There is a saying in Nepal: “Dal Bhatt Power 24 Hours”, which means that rice and lentils give people 24 hour power. It seemed like it, as throughout our trek this staple provided us with the power, the strength to cross rivers, passes and many hurdles.
Crossing the biggest tributary of the region named Dudh Koshi, which means “River of Milk”, was one of the most remarkable experiences that I came across in life. The main source of Dudh Koshi is from the lake called Gokyo, formed from waters of the Island Peak Glacier at 6,200 meters or 20,380 feet, and from Everest’s Khumbu Glacier. Crossing Dudh Koshi we reached the biggest and most beautiful village of the entire region, Namche Bazaar, an arc-shaped village with a terraced settlement that seems like a melting pot for locals and tourists. Namche Bazaar, at the elevation of 3445 meters or 11,302 feet, offered us the first remarkable view of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. I felt truly alive for the first time on this trek; I felt that the dream I had seen for many years was very close to becoming true.
My Kathmandu to Mount Everest Base Camp journal continues…