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It's spring break of 2013, and I'm sitting on a rickety old fifteen passenger Twin Otter airplane with my dad and brother. It reeks of must, sweat, and slightly of mothballs. There's an ear-piercingly loud hum coming from the engine and propellers. *BUMP BUMP BUMP*—Tremendous turbulence starts sending shivers up my spine. We pass over hills and planes, flying along with the curves of the ground while soaring through the sky.
Flying for just over an hour, we finally start our decent into Lukla airport through the valleys of Nepal. My heart starts racing as we approach the airport; I can't tell if its from sheer terror or excitement. Lukla is an airport like no other. It is considered the most dangerous airport in the world. The airport itself is carved into the mountain and is constantly surrounded by a haze of white clouds. At an elevation of 9,100 feet, the airplane will descend onto a tiny strip of concrete. This strip of concrete is the runway, and it's only 1,500 feet long—four times shorter than your normal airport runway of 6,000 feet: danger factor 1. At the southern end of the runway where the plane will first touch down is a 2,000 foot drop into the valley, and at its northern end is a mountain, a stone wall, and a hairpin turn to the gate: danger factors 2 and 3. We land with a *PLUNK* right on the runway. The plane bounces a few times, and then quickly comes to a halt. We think to ourselves, "Oh my god, how are we alive? If the pilot messed up the trajectory even the slightest, we would've crashed into the cliff, and if he didn't brake fast enough, we would've smashed into the mountain. Wait, is the runway even flat? Is the plane traveling uphill?" It's not an illusion; the runway is in fact on a hill, with a 12 degree angle: danger factor 4. Which also means that when a plane takes off, it plunges downwards into a 2,000 foot abyss: danger factor 5.
Right after stepping off the plane in Lukla, we start our week long journey up to Everest Base Camp. "Just keep going. Just keep going. Don't stop. Don't give up" I chant to myself as I make my way up the endless mountain.
We pass through our first town, Namche, which is where we took our last shower for the next two weeks. Here we explore the Namche Bazaar, which happens every Saturday morning. All the local gardeners come together and try to sell or trade their crops and electronic goods carried up from the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu.
The routine is the same throughout the days: wake up with the sun, hike for hours, lunch, hike, dinner, tea, sleep when the sun goes down.
As we continue on and the hike progresses, little everyday aspects of life start to diminish; my last shower passed long ago, electricity starts to fade away, running water no longer exists, heat gets scarce, and food gets simpler. Fried rice, plain noodles, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, string beans, canned tuna fish, chicken broth soup and home grown vegetables become our main diet, and on a good night, a slab of tough, chewy yak meat.
As I gasp for air on the last few steps up to the lodge in Tengboche, the halfway point to base camp, I look over and see a monastery; lion statues stand at the ready, guarding the golden pleats of decor on the gates, while prayer wheels are spun clockwise by the Sherpas, spreading spiritual blessings and well being. I go inside, and as I look around the room I notice statues, wall hangings, and shrines of Buddha covering every inch of visible wall. In the far end of the room is a massive Buddha statue, front and center. I watch the monks perform their praying ritual, and pray along with them. The environment inside the monastery is beyond belief; so tranquil and serene. They pray with the intensity and spirituality like no other. They start humming, getting louder and louder while one monk starts to chant. *BANG BANG BANG TWEEDLE LEE* They start to bang on their drums and blow their horns. I cover my ears and cringe at how uproarious the sounds are. When they finally stop with their instruments, they continue with the prayer. One monk comes out from behind a door with what looks like a teapot. He starts waving it around and an aromatic smoke starts to come out and fill the room with a fragrance of lavender and mint. The room is so still and embracing that you can see the smoke dance and squirm its way out of the pot's nozzle and make its way up to the ceiling.
We leave the beautiful town of Tengboche and continue on our way to Everest Base Camp. We make it to a village called Dingboche, where the mountains are stunning. Every direction you face, they're frosted to snowy perfection, surrounded by wisps of cirrus clouds resting gently on their peaks. We carry on for miles and the mountains carry on with us, seeming to never end. This by far will be the most isolated, marvelous, and coldest night; I'm stinky and sweaty, and haven't showered for days; Our clothes are dirty, our skin grimy, and the thin sleeping bags we have do minimal to keep us warm. Altitude sickness starts to kick in, messing with our heads, making it hard to sleep. Due to the lack of oxygen at 12,700 feet high, I know waking up every ten minutes with a massive headache and a clogged nose will be inevitable. At this time tomorrow, we will be at Everest Base Camp.
We continue our journey. Were exhausted, cold, sleep deprived, sore; Our feet have blisters and our feet's blisters have blisters. But finally we make it. Eight days, 10 blisters, lots of "are we there yet," 6,000 feet of elevation gain, one shower, one terrifying plane ride later, and we finally made it to Everest Base Camp.
We turn around now and start to head back to Lukla, because sadly, I don't have enough time to make it all the way to Base Camp. "TO LUKLAAAA."
Kumjung, my first stop on the way home, happens to be a traditional Sherpa Peoples' village. I look around and I see totally different faces from the Nepalese. The Sherpas have rosy red cheeks, indented eyes, and a superhuman-like characteristic of being able to climb the mountain trails with swiftness and ease.
The Nepalese and Sherpas make me understand how people in first world countries oversee little things in life. Consider this: while I struggle around the Himalayan trails with a small backpack, locals do it barefoot and carry baskets of a hundred pounds of plywood, food, and supplies, or they herd their ox and yaks up the mountain for farming. I now have greater appreciation for assets like running water and electricity. My trip to Nepal turned out more than a pretty hike; it introduced me to a new lifestyle of the world.