For many years I have made sure I am home with family and friends in Nepal for at least two weeks in the spring. This year, two days before I was flying back to New York, I took up a spontaneous offer to have breakfast with Mt. Everest—or Sagarmatha, as it is called in Nepali—the world’s highest peak, at (29,029 feet). Day 1: Gateway To Everest I had arrived at Kathmandu’s airport at 6:30 a.m. for my 30-minute flight at 7 a.m. to Lukla. But weather-related delays had us grounded all day, and when our Pilatus Porter aircraft finally landed at the Lukla Airport it was just past 4 a.m. Lukla is the “Gateway to Everest.” It is located at 2,650 meters above sea level (8,694 feet), and the landing strip was built in 1964 with the help of Sir Edmund Hillary, who, along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, was the first person to scale Everest in 1953. The small town is vibrant with Internet cafes, restaurants and bars, coffee shops, and bakeries. In a street corner, local children with chubby red cheeks played carom-board as trekkers walked by.
Our rest stop for the night was Yeti Mountain Home-Lukla, first of the chain of five Yeti Mountain Homes in the region. My host was the late Pasang Lhamu Sherpa’s family. Pasang was the first Nepali woman to climb Everest (1993) and tragically lost her life during the descent. A mountain, among other things, has been renamed after her and a stamp issued in her honor. It is her family that owns and operates Yeti Air, which flew us here, as well as the Yeti Mountain Homes and Thamserku Trekking. In the late afternoon, the hostess at Mera Lodge served us Alu-Roti, a traditional potato crepe eaten with butter and a freshly made green chili paste spread on it. Downstairs, locals played a game of pool by the bar. A short walk away was the Kemgon Monastery, whose bright colors on the exterior and intricate murals inside were gorgeous, to say the least. Back at our hotel, I updated my Facebook status and checked my E-mails before treating myself to a delicious traditional Nepali meal for dinner: white rice, black lentil soup, spinach with chopped garlic, seasonal vegetables, grilled tomato pickle, and tender marinated chicken in thick, spicy gravy with a ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato base. Outside, sparkling stars dotted the clear sky as the Gateway to Everest closed for the night. Day 2: Breakfast With Everest At 5:30 a.m., my requested wake-up call knocked on the door. The soft-spoken staff asked my preference for tea and soon reappeared with a thermos full of hot milk tea. I poured myself a cup and opened the curtains. The sky was shades of faint blue and gray, but the morning sun had already painted the silver mountaintops on the horizon in a warm orange glow, as colorful Buddhist prayer flags hoisted in the garden fluttered in the breeze. As I walked through the stone-cobbled streets and alleys, shops were being set up and mules being prepped for the day’s work. At 7 a.m., after picking up a take-away cup of freshly brewed Italian coffee at the Illy Café, we reached the airport, where a helicopter awaited. Three minutes of breathtaking sights later, we landed just outside the Yeti Mountain Home-Kongde in Sagarmatha National Park. Hiking to Kongde from Lukla would take about a week, a direct helicopter flight from Kathmandu about 50 minutes. I stepped out, and all around me were marvelously shaped rocks that reached for the skies thousands of years ago as the earth settled on its shape and form. Today they stood serenely, some with a coat of thick, white snow, others barren and rocky. I am told that the last winter has been terrible, with little or no snow, and that temperatures in the Himalayas have been gradually rising. Who knows how much longer some of these things will remain as they have for so long.
We made our way into the hotel for breakfast. All the Yeti Mountain Homes are a blend of traditional and contemporary styles, with local staff and solar-powered hot water. In 2008, Travel+Leisure magazine had noted Yeti Mountain Home-Kongde as one of the highest-altitude lodging in the world; it is located at 4,250 meters above sea level (13,943 feet). As I sipped tea, I looked out the sunroom’s wall-size window in awe: In the distance, high above the deep Kumbu valley and piercing through a layer of misty haze, the unmistakable dark pyramid tip of Mt. Everest. It was surreal and quite fabulous. And it was overwhelming. Twenty-four hours ago I was in Kathmandu. Forty-eight hours later I was going to be half-way to New York. But at that moment, in one of the most remote parts of the world, I was having breakfast with Mt. Everest and some of nature’s most stunning works around me. I was humbled, and I had fallen in love with Nepal all over again.