I’ve stood at the edge of molten lava flowing from the world’s largest volcanic crater (Mauna Loa, Hawaii), touched the Equator in the Amazon Jungles of Ecuador, descended to the bottom of the deepest canyon in North America (Copper Canyon, Mexico), and stood on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the world (Superior). I’ve looked down upon the lost city of the Incas (Machu Picchu, Peru), marveled at the fearless animals in the Galapagos Islands, been pummeled by spray from the largest waterfall in the world (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, more than a mile long), and climbed the steep, unguarded stone steps to the top of the largest temple in the world (Angkor Wat, Cambodia). But as I headed for Nepal, the place in the world where I probably spend the most time, it occurred to me that I’d never bothered to see the world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest.
Serendipity intervened. The very same day, an email arrived in my Inbox from “GetYourGuide,” a company that aggregates local tours from all over the world and makes them available on their website. The firm inquired if I would care to try their service and offered me a free tour, anywhere in the world they operated. I browsed through their Nepal tours and was amazed by the variety on offer. In addition to popular activities such as Annapurna Circuit Treks and visits to Chitwan National Park, they also offered a selection of cultural activities, such as “Throw Your Own Souvenir Day Tour,” where clients visit craftsmen in the small township of Thimi, just east of Kathmandu, who are renowned for their pottery. Artisans demonstrate their skill and then invite participants to try their hand at throwing a pot; the creations are glazed and fired and given back as souvenirs. Since I love writing about culture, I debated long and hard, but in the end my desire to see the highest mountain in the world won out and I booked their one-hour Flight Over Everest.
Everything happened like clockwork. My ticket was delivered to my hotel the evening prior to the flight, a car picked me up promptly at 5:45 a.m. and drove me to the airport despite the fact that there was a bandh (general strike) underway across Nepal, and the driver waiting for me at the end of the flight. My only disappointment was with Agni Airlines; upon boarding the 29-seater craft I was crestfallen by the fogged-up and scratched condition of the windows, which would make it difficult to get good photos. Soon we were up and away, leaving behind the relentless dun-colored pollution that drapes the Kathmandu Valley. We pierced the low cloud ceiling and broke through to azure skies; moments later the Himalayan panorama spread before us. Jagged, snow-crowned peaks jutted through the cottony clouds and stretched across the horizon. Veering to the north, we flew so close it seemed our wingtips might graze the crags, while our flight attendant roamed the cabin, naming the various mountains.
A murmur of excitement rippled through the plane when Mount Everest finally came into view. Fierce winds tore snow off the twin peaks: the south face of Mount Everest on the left and it’s companion, Nuptse on the right. I was underwhelmed. “It’s just another mountain,” I thought. There was nothing to differentiate it from thousands of others I’d seen around the globe. And then I thought about the forces required to thrust this massif to its 29,029-foot height. Mount Everest is the world’s most dramatic Continue reading