The propellers of the Dornier 228s thundered across the valley as plane after plane landed in Lukla this morning. Clear and sunny skies, today the team would not have to trek, pull rocks and roots out of the ground, or become victims to the ferocious, carnivorous gnats. After a tasty breakfast the team took a tour of the Lukla Medical Clinic, a facility built and maintained through the contributions of generous trekkers and international humanitarian groups. Shortly thereafter, everyone took a walk down to the local school where spectators and anxious Nepalese children gathered in anticipation of a volleyball game between our team and the local “hot shots” – we should mention here that volleyball is one of Nepal’s main sports. Although the U.S. made a valiant effort, the Nepalese team brought their game and put the smack down. Let’s just say we’re all happy no one was keeping score. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and drinking chai with our hosts, reflecting on the journey completed thus far. David and Mike had a meeting with the elders that accompanied the team during the work days to discuss the allocation of funds raised. Everyone was happy to learn that the contribution would support four to six weeks of additional work, the funding of additional workers, and the construction of a temporary bridge connecting Taksendu with Tate. Content with the feeling of a job well done, the team had a delicious dinner, followed by chocolate cake and apple pie for desert.
“Everybody wake up! The plane leaves with or without us in less than 30 minutes!” would be our wakeup call after a late evening of celebrating in Lukla with several of our new Sherpa friends. It was finally time to leave the Solukhumbu. Once the team said their goodbyes we headed to the always exciting Lukla Airport. Deemed the “most extreme” airport in the world, the team was ecstatic to depart on the roller-coaster-like flight and head to the bustling and hustling city of Kathmandu. The plane efficiently used what little runway it had to take flight, after which an aerial view of the long stretch of clearing that was our trail began to come into focus. Once in Kathmandu, the team checked into a luxurious hotel located in the Kapan district of Kathmandu; for a whopping $25 a night per two bedroom suite. Following breakfast and long-anticipated showers, our hotel’s location allowed for an afternoon walk to Boudhanath. This impressive Buddhist stupa is 120ft in diameter and over 120ft tall; the great stupa of Boudhanath is the most important place of pilgrimage for the devout Buddhist. Thousands of Buddhists make the voyage to Boudhanath each year to visit one of the largest and most significant monuments for the religion in the world. The team dined on the rooftop of a restaurant in the main square where they indulged in food catering to the sophisticated taste buds of the American bacon cheeseburger lover – everyone was ecstatic with the options available to them. After cooling off with some banana lassis, a traditional banana yoghurt drink, the team headed back to the hotel for the night. The contrast between the serene beauty of the Solukhumbu with the honking of horns and the high density dust-covered buildings was significant; trading tents and quietude to warm showers and clatter was abrupt but certainly not unwelcomed.
Roused in much the same way as in the tents: with traditional chai black tea, the team awoke to some slight differences: peculiar ethnic music resonating throughout the city and stray dogs barking from the narrow streets. Regardless, we all gobbled our favorite breakfast of boiled eggs, toast, and potatoes. Then, rubbing the sleep from our eyes due to a fun night spent on the roof – adorned with prayer flags and spiral staircases – the team perked up, ready for some classic tourist-y Kathmandu sightseeing. The first stop was historic Patan Durbar Square, or Lalitpur in the local language, where the architecture from the Patan royal family rose in numerous steps, aesthetic elephant sculptures, rustic bells, and nostalgic fountains. Merchants selling Nepalese fighting Gourkhas, singing bowls, and various handicrafts littered the historic district, offering plenty of opportunities to spend our Nepalese rupees. Our next stop was Monkey Temple, a shrine blanketed in vines, prayer flags, and (yes, you guessed it) spirited monkeys that darted after a type of local raspberry thrown by the locals. Adjacent to Monkey Temple was Swayambhunath, a second Buddhist stupa crowned by the enlightened eyes of Buddha, all framed in gold. The history behind these monuments was easy to forget, perusing the carts along the steps lined with trinkets, papaya, and cold coconut slices; however, it’s incredible how the spin of a prayer wheel can bring a simple American back to the ways of life of hundreds and hundreds of years ago. A trip to the Hindu holy sight was marked by a solemn sight: white robes flooding the side of the river – the color worn to funerals. Two cremations were happening that day, and the ashes would soon be thrown into the river alongside a humble woman, robed in a sari, washing her clothes in the same river. The team absorbed the culture difference and weaved through a myriad of Hindu temples. Boarding the tour bus with a slightly different perspective on culture, the team was ready to relax in the Nepalese way back in our Kapan hotel.