My journey to Nepal started with a conversion of incidents and luck. My husband, Dick, had just won a $10,000 hole-in-one golf prize at the O’D Open held in August at the Napa Valley Country Club. The day before I had just received a flyer from Call of the Wild, an all-women’s adventure travel club, a group I had traveled with years ago. They were planning a trip to Nepal. Armed with unexpected cash, good health and family blessings I was off seeking an adventure.
All but one of the women on the trip was over 50, ages I knew I could keep up with. They came from all over the United States — Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, California — and from Canada. We were new to one another, but not new to hiking or camping. We each came with our own past adventures to share.
The plan was to spend two days in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, then trek from inn to inn from Lukla to Thyangboche, a village famous for its views of both Mount Everest and Ama Dablam, another Himalayan peak that reaches 22,349 feet in height. (Mount Everest, the tallest in the world, is 29,035 feet high.)
The arrival in Katmandu was an assault upon our senses. About 1 million people live in a city approximately 20 square miles. Crowded with cars, motorcycles, bikes and sacred cows, the roads were nearly impossible to navigate. There were no stop signs, signals or right-of-ways. It was who could crowd in the fastest, and it was not a drive for the weak at heart. Everywhere, the buildings and streets showed signs of decline and misuse. The current government is basically dysfunctional; Nepalese live in the ruins of the royals’ past and the indecision of the future. The average person in Nepal makes about $400 per year. Yet an unbelievable spiritual awe sweeps across the streets. Monasteries and temples of worship adorn every block.
After two days of sight-seeing and shopping, we left our hotel and boarded our 13 passenger prop plane to Lukla, where most people begin their journey to Mount Everest. In 2010, a History Channel program titled “Most Extreme Airports” rated the Lukla airport the most dangerous airport in the world, and none of that was lost on us ladies. Riding in the plane with cotton balls in our ears, we all heaved a sign of relief upon landing.
Our six-day trek began in Phakding, which sits about 9,000 feet above sea level. We ate and slept in tea-houses where we were served by the families that lived there. There was little or no meat served, as most of the population is vegetarian. Potatoes, pasta, rice and lentils were the key dinner ingredients. Eggs and naan (bread) and tea were breakfast. We hiked for five or six hours a day going up the main trail that would eventually lead to Everest Base Camp. We passed over high suspension bridges and climbed over rock stairs and switchback trails while hugging the path with yaks and sherpas. They say that more than 30,000 travelers will walk this same trail in fewer than four months.
Our trek took us through Namche Bazaar, the largest of the villages and our first chance to catch a glimpse of Everest. The weather was beautiful during the day, but became bitter cold at night and the comfort of the tea houses was well appreciated. The local residents and owners of the tea houses were open and welcoming. Although physically I was prepared and in good health, I still struggled with the altitude, often finding it laborious to walk and breathe at the same time.
Our final destination, Thyangboche, rests at an altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level. A village famous for its views of both Everest and Ama Dablam, it is home to the sacred Thyanboche monastery where we attended an evening prayer service. This was to be our last stop, so a visit to its famous bakery was a must. It took little coaxing to eat brownies, cookies and apple pie. Apple pie is a regular treat and served often in Nepal, where apples are a local mainstay.
We spent one day and night in Thyangboche, taking pictures of Everest and walking around the small village. Here, there is an eco-center established to educate trekkers and climbers about the history and ecology of the region. Within the center is a small museum, with a picture of President Carter and his wife. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how far I have traveled that I can always find evidence of American presence.
Our return trip to Lulka took two days, many hanging bridges and lots of steep switchback trails. Always, there were many smiling faces along the path. I saw people making life work under harsh conditions. I saw a simple, peaceful way of functioning in a beautiful, but unforgiving, landscape, and the faces of little children smiling toward the future.
My flight home from Nepal was a jaunt of six hours to Hong Kong, and then 14 hours to San Francisco. It gave me more than enough time to reflect on all that I had seen and experienced. With this trip I truly received the meaning of “namaste,” the word of greeting used in Nepal and India. I was shown respect and caring by a loving and gracious people.