Another day, another thunderstorm. Imagine laying there in bed before the sun had risen, listening to the pounding rain on the roof, slightly being drowned out by the sound of barking dogs down below. This morning felt different though, I just knew that we would get to Lukla today, somehow.
We packed our bags, said goodbye to the luxury hotel room once more and devoured a mountain of toast for breakfast. After food we sat in the lobby, contemplating our fate, dramatic right? Well, it was exactly that. Shankar paced the reception hall on and off his phone, Kashi sat chill as anything with his feet up and boots laced, ready to go. We had to wait here, Shankar didn’t want us waiting again at the airport again so we sat around in the warmth watching the rain and waiting for a call. We jokingly started to make plans, for if we had to spend another day in Kathmandu when Shankar came running over, grab your bags, hurry, hurry we have to go! What, who, where, what… there was a mass scramble. Exclamations, hiking boots, and poles flung everywhere. Every member of our group grabbed everything they could and piled into the minibus. Emotions were high, higher than they had been the whole trip, this was it, we had the all-clear and the airport was in sight.
Knowing the check-in procedure and airport staff now by name we breezed through into the departure lounge. Was this even real? Did I have time to pee, could I squeeze in another tea? I was a wreck, it was hectic. That was until we were told to wait once more, the plane wasn’t quite ready for us. Unfortunately, as we had missed the previous two days we were now at the bottom of the queue, two hours passed and a press-up competition later we finally saw Shankar move like lightning across the departure lounge. We ran to that bus, airline tickets waving around in our hands, this is progress. The whole group now sat on the bus waiting to cross the runway; one step closer to that flight to Lukla. I can’t describe the feeling when the bus moved and the plane, our plane, the plane that was solely for our group was in touching distance.
Again, we waited, even having time to run to the makeshift runway toilets before finally getting the all-clear from the pilot. If you have ever flown to Lukla or even read about it, you may know that the left side of the plane is where it’s at. The left side of the plane only has four seats, we were a group of 13. As much as our bonding session over the past few days had solidified group relationships all niceties went out of the window as we rushed across the tarmac to secure those four precious seats. I got one, and boy was it worth it. I felt sick, the plane took off, we were on the way. After the world’s most pathetic safety briefing by the poor air hostess who couldn’t even stand upright in the plane a basket of treats and cotton wool was passed around.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. The Himalayas shining bright under the afternoon sun, mountains as far as the eye could see and the mass of Kathmandu city unfolding below. We felt every single bump, cloud and turn, some more than others and motion sickness was rife in our tiny tin can.
The airport soon came into view, that famous runway perched on the edge of a cliff. I held on to my seat expecting a bumpy landing. Just as the plane started to descend it took a sharp right turn, I assumed for another run-up, after all this is the world’s most dangerous airport, if our pilot needed another go then I am all for it. Less than 30 seconds later the plane erupted with applause, we had landed. I quickly glanced around the plane to see the confused faces of our guides, Kashi mouthed to me, ‘this isn’t it’ over the propellers and then we came to a stop. Yes, we had landed, yes, we were safe but no we hadn’t landed in Lukla, in fact, we were now a four-minute flight away from Lukla, or a two-day walk, we later learned. Apparently, upon descent, the pilot had to make an emergency landing here, a huge gust of wind had forced the three planes on route to Lukla away.
Confusion spread but also laughter, only us, right? So, we set up camp on the runway watching the other failed attempts landing beside us and not knowing how or when we might get there. Two hours passed as we sat in the sunshine at this random airstrip in the hills.
The boys played that old horseshoe game with scrap metal found on-site, Robbie taught them how to juggle and we delved into our snack bags. Dan even had a nap in a wheelbarrow, it was all fun and games being stranded. Our pilot was classic, looking like he stepped right out of movie, leather jacket, aviators, even a dodgy tash to match. I saw it before anyone else. He gave the nod, he had just spoken to air traffic control and after three hours in no man’s land, we had a window. Seat belts buckled quicker than I’ve ever seen in my life and take off before anyone really knew what was happening. Back in the air we all prayed to land and guess what, four minutes later we FINALLY landed in Lukla. Like the good old bunch of Brits (majority speaking) we were the plane erupted with applause and exclamations, we were here! We had made it.
A wave of emotion hit me, just like the heat does when you step off a plane, but we had just entered the mountains, it was already cold. Walking across the tarmac has to be up there with one of the best moments of my life. Lukla airport was built in 1964 with the help of the Edmund Hilary trust fund and has since been coined the world’s most dangerous airport. Why? Because the runway sits on the edge of a cliff, so when you’re flying in all you can see is the cliff edge, the runway is short and at the other end lies the mountains. The pilots have to not only navigate the landing they also have to break in time and move out of the way before another plane comes into land.
We grabbed our bags and started walking through Lukla town surrounded by the most insane views and the sun slowly starting to set. I just wanted to cry, I did of course. We called into our first teahouse for food, we all opted for veggie burgers before filling our water bottles, digging out our head torches and setting off toward the next village, the village where we would be staying for the first night of our trek.
We set off at 6pm, knowing that in a few short hours we would be hiking in the dark, but we didn’t care, there was spring in everyone’s step, we were finally on our way to Everest Base Camp. The walk was fine, and we soaked in all the views we could before the sun finally disappeared behind the mountains.
The scariest part was navigating the bridges in the dark, you know those metal swing bridges with dangerously large drops underneath, but we did it and before we knew it had made it to the village of Phakding.
The lodge owners were very happy to see us, even if it was way past our intended arrival time. Dahl Baht for all was dished up along with hot drinks and refilled water bottles, all ready for our first night’s sleep in the Himalayas. I think we all underestimated how cold it was going to be down here, I mean it was freezing. I slept in so many layers and getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night was only a sign of things to come. BUT I am 100% not complaining. I snuggled into my minus 20 sleeping bag and counted all my blessings. Tomorrow would be our first official day on the trek, we would be walking in the day time and my mind couldn’t quite sleep knowing it was going to be blown away tomorrow.
The wakeup call came earlier than my tired eyes could handle but I jumped out of bed and got ready quicker than ever, I had some trekking to do.