We landed at the Kathmandu Airport (elevation – 4300 ft) with all of the associated crowds and insanity, standing in line to get our visas, customs, changing over money and then trying to find our connection and ride to the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH). We did find our connection and a large crowd of gentlemen happy to help us with our bags for a tip of course. The other thing that happened, of course, was we had to wait for another flight and other guests before going to the KGH. While waiting we got familiar with all of the operations at the airport including the taxi line, and it became obvious that gas prices are high in Nepal as the taxi drivers were not willing to waste money idling.
During the ride from the airport we would find out there was a general strike on, we saw marching crowds in the street and the traffic was unbelievable. At one point our van driver actually leaned out fo the window and tried to push the vehicle next to us out-of-the-way. Then suddenly traffic would part for a cow in the middle of the road, it is a Hindu country after all. Finally we made it to the KGH, checked in and met our guide briefly, we were told when dinner would be and were left to relax and nap. Eventually we crawled out to the dining area and met a couple of folks from our trek and sat down for a beer and a snack. It felt good after traveling for two days to finally just sit and relax with nothing to do. We had dinner at a place called the Road House, met the whole gang and got instructions for the next morning, a very early morning call for our flight to Lukla. We did a quick bit of last-minute shopping, had a beer and crashed for the evening.
Up and out pre-dawn we piled our bags and ourselves barely into the van and made our way to the airport. The airport was already bustling with other trekkers and we hustled through the ordinary madness of the airport morning to finally find ourselves waiting on the tarmac for our Yeti Airline’s twin engine otter to be ready to go. It was a spectacular morning as the sun came up and gave us our first clear views of the big hills.
We boarded the plane, listened to the props start to fire up and a lovely tiny flight attendant in full uniform came through the cabin, I believe she actually sat on some of our luggage in the back the plane was so full. She came through the cabin with a tray that contained cotton for earplugs and Japanese Melon candies, actually one of my favorite candies. We rolled down the runway with the engines roaring and took off, flying the route to Lukla with the Himalayas out my window, it was truly spectacular and Lukla loomed in the distance.
Now let me tell you a little something about the Lukla airport, it is the exact minimum length an airport can be. When you are landing in Lukla the runway ends with the vertical rock face of a mountain. When you take off from Lukla, you take off downhill and the runway ends in a 1000 foot vertical drop off. About 10 month before our journey a plane full of German trekkers had not quite made the take off and crashed in the valley. We had been warned, this would be the most intense part of our trek and this is what I was thinking about, looking up through the aisle and out the window past our pilots to see the runway below us. When you land in Lukla you come down to the runway at a desperate angle and can see the runway screaming at the windshield at what seems like an impossible speed. You hit the ground violently and then you see the pilot literally jump on the breaks as the co-pilot drops the throttle and you start swerving back and forth as you fly up the runway. Just as you think you are about to hit the face of the mountain the pilot whips a right turn and drives into the unloading zone. If you don’t like to fly, don’t go trekking in the Himalayas, this was as intense flying experience.
The link below has a perfect set of images of what the trip into Lukla looks like:
It was both a joy and a relief to make it to Lukla (9350 ft), we ate a quick breakfast and hit the trail, our first day walking would effectively take us downhill with our first day ending in Monjo at (9300 ft). We hiked for 5 hours at a calm pace and arrived at Kailash Lodge, a really nice place, albeit with a cranky hiker on his way back down, the lodge even included in-room hot showers. One of the things that you hear before you trek is how horrible the conditions are going to be, smoky lodges with bad beds, no chance to shower, human fecal matter on the trail and terrifying wooden bridges across the gorges. It’s not true for the most part, over my 22 days I saw only one small wooden bridge, only one slightly smoky lodge, enough showers to feel comfortable and absolutely no human waste on the trails. The beds, well hell, you can’t complain about anything that can reasonably be called a bed, even if it is a wooden frame with a piece of foam for a mattress.
Here below are my exact thoughts that I wrote that afternoon as I made it to Kailash Lodge:
“It was beautiful all along the trail, big mountains, crazy blue rivers, yaks, shrines, paintings, the bridges are all steel cable so not nearly as terrifying as I expected. Sherpas carrying insane loads, happy, dirty, crying and playing children, smiling people greet us, Namaste.”
A good meal, a shower, a snoring roommate and a surprisingly good night of sleep.