Going to Nepal was outside my comfort zone.
Nepal was a place that my brother would go. (And did go – and wrote an entire book about it – you can read it here.)
Mountains are his thing.
Still, as I traveled through India, the idea of going to this small country famous for its Himalayan peaks crept into my mind and stayed.
I toyed with the idea of doing some volunteer work in Nepal, which is more “my thing.” But I didn’t really have enough time to devote to make it meaningful.
And I kept thinking about doing a trek in the Himalayas.
But that was REALLY far outside my comfort zone.
Again, hiking is Daniel’s thing. I’ve never enjoyed it much, though I’m ashamed to admit that as a Coloradan. And I’ve always thought that I’m not very good at it. The Himalayas seemed like they might be more than i could handle.
But the idea kept coming back: Maybe I should go to Nepal and go trekking.
And while it scared me, I resolved not to let fear make my decisions.
Growth is about doing things that are uncomfortable. I figured that if it made me nervous, that was even more reason to do it.
And, my friend Eva, with whom I traveled in India, happened to be in Nepal and was available as a trekking partner. So I decided to seize the opportunity.
You might remember me saying that I bought a very last-minute ticket from Delhi to Kathmandu, somewhat impulsively. Doing so meant that I left India in such a flurry of activity that I forgot one of the major things I had feared about Nepal: flying into the Kathmandu airport. It is known as a somewhat dangerous airport, located in a valley, having only one runway and lacking some of the technology that other airports have. It has seen a few plane crashes, including two in 2018. And though I do a lot of flying because I love going places, I actually have a slight fear of flying, based on an illogical belief that planes are huge pieces of metal which will eventually fall out of the sky.
So anyway, it was good that I forgotten about this. That is, until we had almost arrived and the captain made an announcement that the weather was bad over Kathmandu and we would need to circle the airport until we could make an attempt at landing. An attempt? What did that mean? My heart started beating faster and I turned up the music playing through my headphones as I told myself to breathe, that it would be fine.
Some time later, the pilot announced that the weather still wasn’t great but we were going to try to land. However, he said, we only had one chance to attempt the landing because of the location of the airport. There was that word again, “attempt.” Why was he telling us this? What happened if the attempt failed?
As the plane descended through seemingly endless clouds, bumping and shaking like we were driving on a massive dirt road, I gripped my armrest until my knuckles turned white. I honestly thought I might die that day. And oddly, I made my peace with the idea, and I didn’t regret being on that plane. If I didn’t live past that moment, I thought, I had used my time on earth pretty well. Of course I wanted more. But if it had to end there, I realized, at least I felt like I had lived. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and went over happy memories in my head.
Suddenly, the wheels touched the ground and I was thrown forward in my seat as the plane slammed on its brakes to slow down before the end of the short runway. I blinked my eyes open, unclenched my hands, and looked at the Nepali woman sitting next to me. We both took a breath and smiled.
Still alive. One fear conquered.
When the plane came to a stop and we climbed down the roll-up stairs onto the tarmac, the air felt cool and fresh compared with the air in Delhi, where I had boarded the plane. Beneath the curtain of clouds, everything was not nearly as scary as I had imagined it to be. There were no mountains in proximity to the runway, extremely ample space for a commercial plane to land, and the actual airport was small and cozy-looking. The outskirts of Kathmandu were visible from the tarmac and it looked different than anything I had ever seen.
I felt the excited little leap in my heart that comes from experiencing something totally new and a sincere gratitude to be alive.
Eva and I spent a few days in Kathmandu after my arrival, but we didn’t leave the tourist/trekking section of Kathmandu, called Thamel, a place that I found pretty oppressive. Completely void of Nepali culture, Thamel features rows and rows of trekking agencies, stores selling knockoff trekking equipment and/or traveler clothing, and expensive restaurants featuring foreign foods.
The trekking industry in Kathmandu seemed to me like a huge monster, with tentacles reaching out and sucking money out of the many foreigners who are clogging the streets of Thamel at all times. There are so many people who fly into Kathmandu and go trekking every day that I had the distinct feeling of being an item passing through an assembly line – just one of many identical things that goes through and deposits money and leaves.
Paying for our trek (the Nepali rupee is ridiculously inflated, but it was also a lot of money)
It was a strange place and I was relieved when we finally had procured all the necessary gear and permits and we left the city for the mountain town of Pokhara, the launching point for most treks in the Annapurna region of Nepal.
Despite horror stories that I had heard about reckless Nepali driving and of buses plunging off the sides of mountain roads in Nepal, the 8-hour trip went smoothly and was pleasant, with a bus that stopped nearly every hour for bathroom breaks and snacks. Eva and I couldn’t believe the luxury of this after traveling in India, where buses sometimes stopped only once during a long journey for a bathroom break and even then sometimes there was actually no bathroom, just an opportunity for the men to pee on the side of the road.
That evening, we met our guide, went over our route and agreed to leave early the next morning. Eva and I were both a bit nervous as we had dinner and shared an Everest beer. The Himalayas loomed in our minds, though we couldn’t see them from the town because of cloud cover. We both took mountains seriously and knew there were risks involved in an endeavor like this, just like any time one goes into nature.
We mused about what the next week might be like. We communicated with our families, let them know they might not hear from us for a while. We re-checked our supplies and re-packed our bag. We sent some prayers into the universe for a safe and meaningful trek, and the atmosphere was serious as we went to bed early.