After months of planning, all was as I had imagined. I stood in a high altitude pine and rhododendron forest edging a deep canyon. The sun had not yet burned away the morning chill, but a vague, warming aroma lurked in the air. Monks were burning juniper branches, an offering to the spirits.
Here I was in the Nepal of my dreams. But this dream ended abruptly when the ground beneath me suddenly began to crumble and crack. My foot slipped; I felt my body slide downward then tumble and roll, crashing through the underbrush. Desperately, I reached out for something, anything to grasp onto, but it was hopeless. I became airborne, weightlessly hurtling face first toward the canyon floor until a jutting tree root brutally stopped my fall.
There I dangled limp as a rabbit clasped in an eagle's talons. Panic set in. Sweating uncontrollably, unable to catch my breath, I could feel my terrified heart pound with the thought that this must be the end.
Then, strangely, came the feeling of a reassuring hand upon my shoulder.
"Ma'am, are you awake? It's time to sit up and prepare for landing. We arrive in Kathmandu in 20 minutes."
Thank goodness! My dream was only a nightmare. I guessed grandma had gotten to me after all. Two days before leaving on my latest escapade, a journey to the Himalayas, she had summoned me to her home.
"Maybe you should sit down," she said somberly. Had someone died, I wondered?
"Last night," she continued, "I dreamt you were wandering around by yourself and fell off a mountain into a ravine."
She paused then ended with, "I don't think you should go on your trip."
"Grandma, I'll be fine," I protested.
"No. You shouldn't go, because in my dream," she took a deep breath and leaned toward me, "they never found your body."
"Grandma, I'm going to Nepal by myself," I explained, "but when I start trekking I'm hiring a guide."
"You won't be by yourself?" Obviously much relieved, she exhaled, and a slight smile worked its way across her face. "Well, alright then, have fun."
It didn't seem to matter to her that I'd be thousands of miles away alone in the woods with a strange man.
I thought I had dismissed the incident from my mind until it cropped up again in my en route dream. I put the disconcerting images aside as I deplaned and became absorbed in the pandemonium of arrival.
Inside Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, passengers funneled into lines to go through customs and buy their visas. Looking through the front doors of the terminal, I saw dark-haired men vigorously vying for customers, each one shouting out the name of his preferred guest- house. I could hear the men yelling, "Your first time to Kathmandu? Come with me! Come with me!"
I took a deep breath and stepped outside. Choosing the least aggressive taxi driver, I asked him to recommend a place to stay. He drove me to Thamel, Kathmandu's bustling tourist district.
Through the hazy windows of my cab I could see that travelers filled the narrow, store-lined streets while shop owners lowered their aluminum doors, winding down their retail trade for the evening. Dogs barked. Exquisite women in vividly colored saris swept the dirt roads.
My driver dropped me off at the Namche Nepal Hotel, still within walking distance to the shops and restaurants, yet slightly removed from the flurry of touts and tourists. A young boy ushered me to a sparse room with two beds and walls the color of burnt tapioca. A light bulb swung from a cord in the middle of the ceiling. The bathroom consisted of a toilet with half a seat and a showerhead that occasionally spat out a little lukewarm water. Not quite the Nepal of my dreams, but bearable for two dollars .
Originally I had planned to begin trekking in Sagarmatha National Park (Everest region) as soon as possible. However, grandma's prediction and my dream on the plane convinced me I needed to acclimate, not only to elevation and culture shock, but to my own fears as well. After absorbing the exotic sights and sounds of Kathmandu for a day or two, I felt adventurous enough for an eight-hour bus ride to the lakeside village of Pokhara, a starting point for many popular treks.
The streets were dark and eerily quiet as I walked to the Ratta Park Bus Station to catch an early bus. No one was hawking wares or sweeping the streets, and even the incessantly barking dogs were sleeping.
As the rusty, road-weary bus left the station, my mind was spinning with a hodgepodge of colorful memories collected so far. I thought of the Kathmandu vendors selling everything from carved wooden masks, silk carpets, and ornate prayer wheels, to fresh vegetables, live, cackling chickens, and just-killed meat. I smiled to think of the man I saw carrying a refrigerator strapped to his back and forehead.
Soon, however, an alarming reality interrupted those reveries. The bus had begun careening around one hairpin turn after another, all next to cliffs with sharp drop-offs. For the rest of the journey my thoughts revolved around my grandmother's dream.
But for a man who stood by the door and banged on the bulkhead to warn the driver each time he got too close to the edge, we might have plummeted straight down hundreds of feet numerous times. We didn't, but at the time it felt fearfully like disaster would strike at any moment.
Well, after living through that, I figured I was up for anything, so I rode a helicopter up to a precarious landing place in the Everest region, hired one of the waiting guides calling for work, and I finally went trekking. Now that really was a dream come true.