Luckily, I was on the side of the airplane to get a panoramic view of the Himalayas, and my excitement mounted with the sight of one awesome peak after the other.
Soon I would be trekking toward Everest. Incredible! But first, I spent 30 hours in Kathmandu getting used to the high altitude. Then I boarded a plane barely larger than a super sized eagle and soared above the hills to the village of Lukla, gateway to the Everest region. The little 20-seater somehow landed successfully on a mountain-side airstrip that defied logic, dramatically setting the feel of looming adventure that permeated the village.
Everywhere, hikers and sherpas busily readied backpacks and supplies. Aromas both sweet and pungent filled the morning air, including the acrid smell of outdoor toilets.
I explored the village, sharing the anticipation of all those around me. Adrenalin began pulsing through my body.
I found the teahouse where I would meet Laxman, the guide I had prearranged. Waiting was excruciating. My feet hungered to be on the path. When he finally arrived, I could no longer contain my en- thusiasm. I handed off my suitcase to his sidekick, Sri, a lanky young porter who balanced it atop my sleeping bag and the other supplies that would be his burden for the week. Quickly explaining my urgency, I took off at a run, leaving Laxman to adjust his thoughts on the first night's goal.
I didn't feel the pangs and pains that I feared would accompany me. I was energized by the overwhelming beauty and wished I had more than two eyes to take it all in. The first unencumbered view of Everest was about the only thing that could make me stop. Day after day, my mood was as high as these mountains.
The constant diet of potatoes with garlic, fried or souped, along with nasty energy bars did nothing to deter the delight of hiking on the edge of the world. I contentedly shared the earthen highway with fellow trekkers, villagers, and people-trucks carrying lumber, food, and other necessities as I traversed through the villages of Namche, Thame, Khumjung, and Thyangboche at a height of 3,870 meters (12,679 ft).
The yaks, however, were my nemesis. I hated it when they came toward me on the trail, especially when on one of the swinging bridges. With their horns aiming sideways they seemed to demand even more room than the hikers who liked to travel two by two with their poles outstretched.
One time, I was horrified to watch the yak in front of me tumble with its heavy burden off the ridged path, down some 20 feet through thickets and rocks. I think the herdsman thought I pushed it over the edge. They leave those fallen yaks there to find their own way out, but they do clamber down to get the luggage and other cargo.
A second episode with yaks occurred by the light of the starriest night yet. It was as if I were in a magnified Van Gogh painting. I finished supper and went to the outhouse before retiring. This particular building was resting precariously adjacent to a steep precipice. In fact, the rope on the inside of the door was not to keep the door closed, but to hang onto so you would not fall backwards, causing the whole shed to descend the mountain side.
I finished my business as quickly as possible only to discover that the door was now blocked by two yaks. I didn't want to aggravate them. My demise was only a short "butt" away, and I swear I could see their eyes twinkling gleefully at the prospect.
I started yelling. "Help! Help! Help! Nothing. I shouted louder.
"Shut-up!" yelled back some nearby campers.
With nobody about to come to my rescue and left to my own resources, I tentatively pushed on the door. The yaks moved aside without further ado, and I, much humbled, ran to the safety of my cot.
Those yaks I won't forget any time soon, but my most memorable moment came on my second to last day when I started earlier than Laxman, a little contrary to his opinion as he claimed there was a turn-off I might easily miss.
Normally, I might have been deterred as I am somewhat directionally challenged, but this brisk, beautiful morning I was not to be daunted. The morning has always been my favorite time of day. There were few people on the trail, which was all downhill, and speed was my companion.
An hour into my trek I stopped for coffee and was joined on the patio by two young Buddhist monks, one only 7 or 8 years old, the other in his early teens. We greeted each other with a "Namaste," and I realized the older of the two could speak English.
They expected to walk twice as far as I had planned for the day, but I admitted that I might have to go a greater distance as well if I got lost. The monk assured me I was headed in the proper direction and painted a word picture of the turn-off.
Thanking them for the help, I wished them luck and headed out before they finished their tea. Feeling well prepared now, I kept a rapid pace for the next hour then slowed, expecting to see a fork in the path around each curve I encountered.
Fortunately, my ears proved to be keener than my eyes. A sound much like tinkling bells caused me to look up to see the smaller of the two monks sitting serenely with his legs crossed on a huge boulder. He nodded his head slightly to the right. I looked, and the path I needed seemingly appeared out of nowhere. I certainly would have missed it.
At that moment, high in the Nepal Himalaya, I felt closer to God than I had in a long time.
Trekking in Nepal can mean anything from short, half-day walks in and about the Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys to month- long hikes of upwards to 5,000 meters (18,000 ft) or more. Yet trekking is not mountaineering in the sense of scaling the peaks with all of the equipment and required expertise such expeditions entail. There are scores of accessible trails all over Nepal, the most popular treks being in the Everest (Sagarmatha) and Annapurna regions. Anyone fit enough to endure rigorous up and down climbing for six or seven hours a day may consider a trekking holiday in Nepal, but advance preparation will be helpful.
I'm not sure I would have gone had I realized beforehand that hot water was a rarity, and that the toilets were truly public and without plumbing. But now that I've done it, I know the splendid mountains and the sense of accomplishment will draw me back someday.
As some trails are more strenuous than others, it's wise to do some reading and match the trek to your ability and endurance levels. It's also important to learn something about the cultural, religious, and political background of the country so as to be sensitive to the environment as well as Nepalese customs.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U S Department of State. Official travel warnings are being updated regularly. Due to increasing potential for violent actions in tourist regions, including explosions and extortion at gunpoint, travelers are advised to consider deferring travel to Nepal for the time being, or at least exercise more than normal caution.