“My toes haven’t been the same since we went to Everest.”
This is what one of my friends told me on an icy cold morning in London as we recalled the adventures we had been on the previous year. Her not-quite-the-same toes were a remnant and reminder of the unforgettable experience of flying to the foot of Everest in a helicopter and enjoying the most delicious breakfast when we got there.
It is perhaps my extreme impatience, or maybe the instant gratification culture that we live in today that led me to the discovery that no, I do not need to trek through the wilderness to reach Everest, all I need is one free day and a few willing friends. Everest was once an elusive destination that only the most daring among us could ever hope to lay eyes on. But not anymore. A forty-five minute helicopter ride from Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu is all it takes to see the roof of the world, all while sipping ice cold champagne.
However, before I could bask in the glory of the Himalayas and wonder at the beauty of the Solukhumbu region, I had to get to Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu at 4.45am and go through a thorough safety briefing and explanation of our itinerary from our very helpful pilot. After this, we got on board our helicopter and I lay back, closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. I was awoken by the pilot’s voice coming through my headset, telling us to look down.
I opened my eyes to a world completely different to the one I had left behind. The clouds were far below me and the hills peaked through them. On the hilltops I could see yaks grazing and to my side was a wall of rock and snow. A little later on, the pilot pointed out the small town of Lukla and the infamous airport there. From our viewpoint high above the mountainside town, the runway whose reputation preceded it looked even shorter than I had imagined it would be. I was grateful that my transportation of choice did not require a meeting with a runway that looked no longer than Durbar Marg, and I will forever be in awe of anyone with the courage to take a flight to this daredevil’s paradise. It was not long after the sighting of Lukla that we reached our destination: the Everest View Hotel. The helicopter landed gracefully with the mountains as its backdrop and the doors opened.
I tumbled out of the helicopter into the cold sharp Himalayan air and looked toward the hotel where my much anticipated breakfast was waiting for me, just a short walk from the helipad. As I walked up the gentle incline towards the smoking chimney that promised warmth and food, the only thought I had was “wow I am so unfit.” Thinking that I am much too young to be this out of breath, I slowed down and let my friends overtake me. I could not let them hear my excessive panting, nor should they see my turtle speed walking. I reached the lobby of the hotel, and realised that everyone was out of breath too! That is when it hit me: it was the altitude that was making it so hard to breath and not (just) my very questionable fitness. It amazed me how quickly the lack of oxygen in the air began to affect me, as I was light headed by the time we reached our table.
With a perfect view of Everest in front of us we popped open our bottle of champagne, which incidentally was much more bubbly at such a high altitude than what we were used to, and tucked into the eggs, sausages and pancakes that were brought out. A useful tip to note at this point is to eat quickly! You see, if you wait any longer than it takes to butter toast to dig into your meal, it will be the same temperature as the air, specifically -13 degrees centigrade. Speed eating is therefore a must, and this is not a difficult task considering that the pancakes served at Everest are the best I have ever had.
Following breakfast and a couple of glasses of champagne, which will go straight to your head due to the altitude, we took countless pictures of Everest. The world’s tallest mountain sat proudly right in front of us, as though the whole scene had been laid out just for our enjoyment. The snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies could not have been more perfect if they had been created on a green-screen. With nothing man-made between us and the highest peaks in the world, it was obvious why people come from all the corners of the world to take in this view.
And just like that our time with the mountains was up. It is dangerous for people who have not acclimatised gradually to be at such high altitudes to extended periods of time, so we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the mountains and after a quick trip to the gift shop for souvenirs, we climbed back into the helicopter.
Altitude sickness, exacerbated by the few glasses of champagne I had consumed, meant that I once again closed my eyes and fell asleep to the rumbling of the engine, waking up in Kathmandu and wondering how a place so other-worldly was only a nap away.
Nausea and headaches aside, I could not imagine a better way to have experienced Everest. I am sure the brave and much more fit people who have completed the arduous trek to base camp, or even the much more dangerous climb to the summit would disagree, but flying above clouds and under the watchful gaze of the mountains can only be described as magical. An accidental collision of tectonic plates many millions of years ago has created a place of the truest beauty I have ever seen. Regardless of how you choose to experience Everest, this is a place everyone must visit.
Breakfast at Everest can be booked through most major helicopter and travel agencies in Kathmandu