Kathmandu airport was as I expected. A tiny building trying to be an airport terminal, with dimly lit immigration counters, three or four luggage carousels, a foreign exchange counter and a hotel reservation counter. It was raining when we landed and the representative from Ace the Himalaya, Prakash, was already waiting when I reached the arrivals hall. I was swiftly shown to the waiting transportation but was told that I had to wait for another trekker whose flight would land momentarily.
One hour later (to be fair to Prakash, he tried to organize alternate transport for me but failed), we were on our way to the hotel which is located in Thamel - a thriving, buzzing, backpacker saturated area of Kathmandu, with streets and streets lined with shops selling everything from trekking gear to food. People walk up and down these streets and it is evident that everyone finds everything around them overwhelming, intriguing and exciting all at the same time. For me, it seemed to be the perfect prelude to what was to come the next day - the Everest Base Camp tour!
The hotel, Vaishali, is comfortable, clean, basic. After settling in, I roamed around outside the hotel and came across a charming second hand book store, that sells everything from Sidney Sheldon to RK Narayan. Each book is neatly wrapped in a plastic covering, waiting to be read by the next trekker. Made a mental note to return.
We spent the next day sightseeing -- I think we've seen most (if not all) the temples in Kathmandu. Pashupatinath, Boudhanath, Durbar Square and Bhaktapur. All well worth a visit.
The following day we made our way to Kathmandu airport to take a flight to Lukla, the starting point of several Himalayan trekking tours. Our group thought it would be a case of going to the airport, checking in, getting boarding passes and getting on the flight. Boy, were we wrong! The scene at 6.45 am at Kathmandu airport had to be seen to be believed. Bags everywhere, people yelling, porters and guides franctically going from one desk to the next, potential passengers crushing one another to gain entry into the main departure hall. Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. We were told that this was a result of no flights between Kathmandu and Lukla for three consecutive days. We weren't convinced though that this wasn't the scene everyday. Whether we would be lucky enough to get on a flight was a question yet to be answered. We distracted ourselves with the whatever was going on around us while our guide, Raj, tried to obtain boarding passes for us. His red jacket helped us in keeping track of where he was. Eventually, we were off! A mere 45 minutes later we arrived in Lukla and started our trek to EBC, a 75 mile journey that would take us 11 long trekking days.
I do not intend to go into detail of what we did and where we went on each of those trekking days since there are enough pages on the net that can give you this information -- suffice is to say that no one can prepare you for the experience of this trek and no one can make you understand or appreciate the natural beauty that you encounter during the 11 days. You have to experience it to believe/understand it. If you are thinking of doing the trek, go for it! You will not regret it. I highly recommend Raj and the Ace the Himalaya team as your guides for this incredible journey.
On a different note, here are a few life lessons/notions learnt or reinforced during the trek:
1. Happiness lies in the smallest of the smallest things: a hot shower..a warm cup of coffee...gloves that keep your hands from freezing!
2. Complete strangers can sometimes make your day
3. The mind is our strongest ally and our worst enemy. It can make you do anything.
4. Sharing can give one immense pleasure
5. Flexibility is an underrated virtue
6. There is much more to life than wealth, grandeur and making it big
7. There are some incredibly warm, generous, funny and nice people in this world