“World’s most dangerous airports”. It’s 2 am in Kathmandu and the headline lights up my face while scrolling down, only to confirm, and already being painfully aware, that Lukla is one of them. Not exactly what you want to read when you’re flying there in less than 12 hours.
As we enter the small aircraft that is taking us to our start position in the Khumbu Valley the next morning, I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry. The atmosphere in the plane reminds me of a school-exam: forged smiles and high shoulders are everywhere I look. But there’s no turning back now. We take off, we fly and – 22 minutes later – we land.
I’ve always found clapping in airplanes sort of lame but now, as the Chilean fellows next to me starts clapping, I find myself cheering fanatically, sounding more like hooligans than mountaineers as we unbuckle ourselves. What on earth have I signed up for? We’re at the beginning of our 16-day hike and I feel more thrilled than I have for years.
Lukla is situated at 2,860 metres above sea level and is normally the gateway for both trekkers and climbers heading for the endless trekking routes in Solo-Khumbu region, or, for the adrenaline-junkies: world’s highest peaks (almost all of them are situated in the Himalayas!). Everest Base Camp-trek is, by far, the most popular hike of this region, and attracts over thousands of trekkers every year. Due to the altitude of base camp – 5380m above sea level to be precise – trekkers are normally advised to use at least 15 days on the trail in order to acclimatise well.
I remember how I visualised myself trekking in the Himalayas. I pictured the stories I had read in Into Thin Air, one of the most famous non-fiction books about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and how I’d be covered in snow, wearing a huge down jacket while fighting my way forward.
Trekking in the Himalayas was, however, not quite as I had imagined – in fact, it was much warmer and nicer. Yes, you can certainly feel the altitude (because there is less oxygen in the air, the body uses a lot of energy on getting enough of it), and walking 5-6 hours every day makes you tired, but the warm temperatures in the valley, the blooming rhododendron and the sizzling mountain rivers made me think of Norwegian spring, with temperatures rising up to 20 degrees Celsius.
On our third day, as we were crossing beautiful bridges covered with prayer-flags, enjoying the sunshine and also feeling the weight of our packs digging into our backs, I realised how nice walking actually is. Not that I have never realised it before (I’m a frequent hiker) but there really is something about using your body, putting away your phone and only focusing on the path in front of you. It´s almost like a form of meditation, and once you arrive in the zen-like state when all you care about is warm food, dry socks and how incredibly nice it is to take off your backpack after a long day, it’s surprisingly easy to forget everything about 4G, Insta-likes and everyone else, apart from the people in immediate vicinity.
I expected breath-taking views, fresh, crisp air and tough days, but never in my life had I imagined what several days of hiking actually does to you. How I would prefer talking to the others at the tea houses we stayed in, rather than looking at my phone, how I would read two books (more than I have in a whole year), and how my body –and I – would feel happier and more rugged, in a sense. How I would get to know the people I hiked with, and how they would feel closer to me than many of the friends I have at home, how the Nepali people warmly welcomed us everywhere we went, and, most of all, how I started appreciating small things such as water, soft beds and even… clean underwear.
Time in the Himalayas passes slowly, and even though you might be disconnected from the WiFi, it may connect you in all sorts of other ways. I remember how an Indian software-developer I met along the trail talked about how much he liked not being behind a screen: “Everyone at work thinks I am insane, how I spend my two-week holiday doing, I mean, this. Of course, I ask myself the same thing sometimes but I mean… Look at the surroundings! I don’t need to stare at a damn screen every day, instead I look at mountains!”