I was right. Knowing I needed to be up early and the reason why, sleep was patchy and when I saw my watch showing 3:50am, a little horrifying, but I was able to snatch another 40mins before the alarm was going off.
I was dressed in record time and when I received the message my guide was 5mins away, I went downstairs to find the front door was locked. No worries, unlocked the door to let myself out and had a moment of wondering what this would mean for the hotel, but forgot this when I saw the locked gate.
The problem was, there was no one around to unlock the gate for me!
As I stared at the locked gate and wondered if I would be able to scale the gate and feeling a bit panicked that I would miss out on an amazing experience because of one stupid gate, I fortunately remembered I had receieved a What’sApp message from the hotel.
I called the number, which turned out to be someone’s personal mobile and I had clearly woken them up. When I rushed out the words of my problem, there was silence and I heard the word text. I hung up without another word and typed faster than I ever had before, detailing my issue. A simple word back – ok.
I was rattling another section of the gate to see if I could open it enough to get out when someone came out of the hotel and thankfully let me out, just in time for my car arrival.
Kathmandu is a city that is unbelievably hectic and chaotic during the day, but come 10pm until 6am, this chaos strangely disappears with minimal traffic on the roads. It was nice being able to sit back and observe the city without the blur of that chaos distracting every sense.
Raju, from the tour company had met with the driver and stayed with me until I met the person to take me through to security and on to the helicopter. I can understand their positive google reviews.
We were taken to an office and paid the airport tax and permit fees, weighed and taken through another security check. Once we were all through, we were a little aimless as the man who had been pointing us where to go and what to do each time, suddenly disappeared and we were standing in a gate hall with no idea which gate to be at.
I was with two other couples, both from India. One of them spoke to an airport staff member and we were directed to a gate showing a number of flights.
When someone made the comment we were obviously now flying to Lukla in a plane, my heart stopped and my stomach sank. Lukla airport is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world, owing to the extremely short runway, with a mountain wall at one end and a straight drop down at the other. I had made the final decision to do this on the basis the helicopter would take us to Lukla as it would have an increased chance of safely landing!
To my enormous relief, someone noticed that none of the airlines listed matched our boarding pass, so we went off in search of someone else who could help and our original man popped up and shepherded us out a door, on to a waiting bus before dropping us off next to our ride.
We had our safety briefing before the pilot arrived. He seriously looked like the type of pilot who had flown in the Vietnam War and was crazy enough to take on the dangerous rescues no one else would attempt, chewing a cigar the whole way, yelling “yippee-ki-yay!” I don’t know whether that terrified me or reassured me…
Before I knew it though, we were lifting off in the air.
The views from the helicoptor commanded attention and when I saw the snow capped Himalayas, I nearly bounced in my seat.
There were a couple of moments where it felt like the pilot was taking an extraordinary amount of time to fly up over a mountain, feeling like we were just below the top of the mountain which was eye level and we were very close to it. I just kept turning my head outwards and pretended I couldn’t see out the front, while repeating the mantra that the pilot could!
I briefly saw the runway of Lukla (I did say it was short) before we landed and were sadly hurried inside so I couldn’t get photos of this infamous airport.
Inside the tiny base, it was a hive of activity with trekkers coming in, more pilots, film crews and ground control staff all squeezing into the available space. We were placed on seats in a corner and told to stay together and to not move.
This proved a little difficult for one of the couples as it turned out they had friends also at Lukla. The couple had been trekking to base camp when one of them was hit with altitude sickness and needed to return to Kathmandu. They kept walking off to talk to their friends until in frustration, the airport staff member managing us told them in clear enough instructions that even I understood the intent behind them, made them stay put. The friends came to us. 😆
The other couple were a little older, and it was a little worrying they did not have appropriate cold weather gear for when we went up higher. The lady explained she had asked the tour company if they would need hats, jackets, gloves etc and he had told them no. All they were wearing was a long sleeve top and fleece with light scarves.
We’d been told we would be taken to the highest point in batches, so I offered her my gloves, hat and jacket if I didn’t go at the same time as her.
Amazingly, one of the friends of the other couple recognised this woman. She explained to me her grandmother started a school and now her family have six schools. She had been a Principal at one of the schools where the child of this couple had gone and was why they recognised her!
When this couple discovered that she and her husband did not have enough protective clothing, they selflessly gave their hats and gloves. She told them she would return the items when she returned home.
I had assumed we were going in batches from Lukla, but we were all directed back to the helicopter with a new pilot before taking off again.
We came to a place known as Panbonche with an elevation of 3930mtrs above sea level. The helicopter descended and I hopped out with the trekking couple while the older couple remained and the pilot told us he would be back in 10mins.
I didn’t notice the time at all because I had stepped out into another world. It felt like the filming location for a Star Wars film, but the mountains were spectacular.
I was relieved though (and a little worried for the older couple) when the helicoptor returned as standing there waiting, even with our warm gear on, had started to get quite cold.
I jumped in, but ended up on the wrong side of the helicoptor because the pilot was pointing out various mountains, Everest Base Camp and eventually Mt Everest, but it was all on the other side and I couldn’t see anything. What I could see though was still amazing, including frozen waterfalls, mountains and bodies of water that somehow weren’t frozen over.
Finally, the helicoptor landed at Kalapatther, with an elevation of 5545mtrs above sea level. We had been told we could only be here for two minutes due to the lack of oxygen here. 😳
We jumped out and I was overcome by the view. There in the distance was the most famous mountain in the world, Mt Everest. Not in a picture or in a movie, I was looking at it with my own eyes and I still wasn’t seeing it in full.
I had two missions that I needed to fulfil while I was there and with only two minutes, I knew I needed to move.
I had one photo of a beloved child whose mother had specifically requested this location, so I gently pulled Lierre’s photo out of my pocket and hung it on a post with prayer flags, facing the imposing Mt Everest.
I then placed Bree’s final heart for Nepal on a post next to Lierre and gave myself a moment to reflect on the journey for us all.
We had definitely been given more time, as I was able to take more photos and film my surroundings, as well as take photos of the other couple and have them take some photos of me (though many of them were rendered useless as either cut me out or cut the mountains out!)
Eventually though, I could see the pilot waving at us to return, so I made my way over. I think I had been running on adrenalin up to that point as I hadn’t felt any affects of the altitude, but as I made my way back to the helicoptor, I felt light headed and very aware how short my breath was.
I climbed into the front seat and stared out again at the majesty of the mountains, feeling highly emotional. I could barely comprehend being there. I thought of how many amazing things I have done in my life, more than what many do in a lifetime and felt incredibly blessed to be there.
Even back in the helicoptor I still couldn’t get enough of taking in the view.
We collected the older couple from Panbonche and took off for Hotel Everest for breakfast in the highest restaurant in the world.
Once again we had a feast of mountain views.
Far too soon, it was time to go. We made our way to the helipad and climbed back in. To my dismay, I was sandwiched in to the very middle and we went direct to Kathmandu without stopping at Lukla first. I was very happy once the helicoptor landed and the door opened to fresh air as I was starting to feel a little queasy by the end.
I messaged Jill as soon as we were back in the Domestic terminal to try to see her as she was was flying home today. I had made it back in time to catch her before she left, so jumped in a cab to take me to her.
Too quickly, it was also time for Jill to go and I had to hug her goodbye. After the Camino, I didn’t wonder at the strong connection I felt with Jill. Sometimes, I think there are just people you’re meant to meet in your life and she was one.
I made the brave (crazy) decision to order a motorbike to get me back to Thamel. It was equal parts terrifying and thrilling, being in the open air, with other bikes or cars coming so close to me I could feel the rush of wind on my legs. I had to resist lifting my arms up to the sky.
I was catching up with Dan who had also arrived in Kathmandu today, before he moved on to India, then home. I took him to the tour company I had used for my heli tour so he could book one in also, before heading to the Third Eye Restaurant for dinner. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as my previous visit, but still tasty.
After such an early start, I was falling asleep at the table, so I needed to say my farewells. Dan was another person I just clicked with and was very happy to meet.
It had been the most magical day, and a wonderful way to end my last evening in Nepal, but now, I needed sleep more than anything.