Our plane to Lukla was due to leave at 8:30am which meant that we had to be up by 6 to catch a ride to the airport by 7. Nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle that is the Kathmandu domestic airport. We pulled up to the airport parking lot for the third time in two days only this time we were immediately inundated by eager Nepalese men. They grabbed our duffel bags out of the car before we even had a chance to get out and started stacking them onto a luggage cart. They were literally fighting over who would help transport our bags the short distance to the airport terminal. After an obligatory tip, we were inside the terminal which was so full of people and luggage that you could hardly move. Next thing we know another little man had taken control of our bags and he was rapidly leading us through the crowded maze towards the check-in counter. The line was backed way up with throngs of people jostling for position around the counter. But the crowds did not seem to bother our guy at all. He grabbed our flight printout and our passports and pushed his way through the masses, straight up to the front of the line and placed our documents on the counter in front of the official. Now, keep in mind that we had no idea who this guy was but somehow we trusted him- we had no choice in the matter. Gerard stayed with our bags while I followed close behind, determined not to lose possession of my passport again. Within minutes he wants our bags and so I yell over to my brother to bring them up. People were obviously getting pissed off at us and at all the chaos and crowds. One Australian guy had reached his limit and starts laying into us. "This is a line and the line starts here- now get to the back of line!" Everything was happening so quickly- it was out of my hands by that point. I just shrugged and continued to push on. Our bags were passed up and tagged and our random little man handed us our boarding cards and passports. After another tip- this one well deserved- we thanked him and made our way to the boarding gate. Who that man was I'll never know, but I can tell you this: we may not have asked him for any assistance, but without his help we would never have made our flight. A half hour later we were airborne in a tiny plane headed for Lukla and the beginning of our trek.
I have heard so much about the flight to Lukla that reality had a hard time catching up with my imagination. Above the thick brown layer of pollution that sits over Kathmandu and the surrounding foothills there were sweeping views of the Himalayas. The plane ride only lasted about half an hour and then the pilot expertly touched the plane down on the world's most dangerous runway. The runway at Lukla is short, sloped, and perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Descriptions of the runway really can't do it justice so I included a photo.
Upon landing, we met up with our guide, Gopal and he took is up to a restaurant where Dad, uncle Geoff, and Dave were waiting for us. After a short breakfast we took the first steps of our long journey. We had a mellow 3.5hr walk past countless prayer wheels and stupas. We followed Dudh Kosi river valley crossing over a few sketchy suspension bridges and came to rest at our first guesthouse in Phakding. Our guesthouse was named the Beer Garden. We took the name as a sign from above and celebrated our first day together with some beers and some friendly games of pool. I am still impressed that they were somehow able to lug a slate pool table up and down all of those hills and over those suspension bridges. That took true commitment.
Geoff, Dave, and Dad, all 65+, had hiked all the way from Jiri over the last eight days and were visibly exhausted. After dinner we all retired to our rooms early to rest up for the big hike up 3,000 feet to Namche Bazaar.
A prayer wheel. Soul = Purified