You step off the plane in Lukla, and it only takes a short while to realize you are leaving behind the roads of the world and entering a walking culture.
There are rest stops which are tea houses. There are stone benches cut into walls so porters can drop their heavy loads without having to set them down and pick them up again.
There are exits and the occasional signs to other destinations, and people coming in from side trails to join the main trail. But it is all walking, established by walkers, evolved for Trekkers, a complete culture based on walking.
The only air pollution is in a smokey Sherpa lodge and there is far less noise. The noise that is there are peoples voices, conversations, kids chattering on their way to and from school, stones being cracked for new buildings.
A few hours into the walk you become aware of the sounds of nature, of birds and wind, and as you go higher, of avalanches on the big peaks and the sound of the big winds roaring up high. Your senses become alive to the earth.
Another day or two into the walk, you realize that as you are really walking every day – how you treat your body is important. If you expect it to perform for you, the simple needs of fueling and sleep become all important. You can get away with staying up late and eating whatever in the city. When the day is 7 hours of walking up hill and you didn’t prepare yourself properly, you just won’t be very comfortable. Your body, your food, your sleeping – the real basics rise to the fore.
In the walking culture, you’ll soon realize it isn’t all about Trekkers. Porters pass with all the provisions you will see in the shops, a virtual storefront on their back headed up the hill. School kids will gallop past with a jacket around their waist, in a school uniform of ties and dresses. You will have probably carefully considered the weather, the trail, the distance and the altitude for the day. They will have run past their friends house, met up with other friends and now gallop off a few kilometers to school with a couple of books and a half-empty back pack.
Your own porters will have been up and down the trail so often they will know every rock, stump and turn. Watching them you will see they don’t waste steps, they don’t need double cushioned vibram soles and you are very unlikely to see them ever slip, even when ascending a sandy slope in flip-flops. Your decision making process for choosing and taking the ideal pair of shoes will perhaps be a bit humbled when your porters only put on canvas tennis shoes when the snow falls. Why wear out a good pair of shoes otherwise?
In the lodges at night, the food will vary from things that sound familiar but taste nothing like you expect, to things you have never heard of and with perhaps a hint of home. And there are always deep fried snickers bars.
Most lodges will still have the Sherpa tradition of benches around the edges and big tables, stemming from a past of being the social center of the house, or traditionally the only room, with kitchen attached and the benches becoming beds as the evening progressed. And there is nothing better than being close to the warmth of the fire at night when the temperature drops. The stairs leading to the rooms above will most likely squeak and creak, the walls will be paper thin, and unless you are lucky, the toilet will be shared and at the end of the hall.
Yet in the morning, with windows looking over the valley, at the monastery next door or out and up at the peaks you will be quickly reminded of where you are. And how magnificent it all is. And hopefully, how lucky you are to be here.
Outside in the crispness of dawn, having now walked into the heart of the Himalaya and being immersed in the mountains, looking up you will truly begin to realize the heights of the peaks. If the Rockies and Alps lift your eyes above the horizon, and the Andes make you look into the clouds, the Himalayas tower right up into the heavens.
When an avalanche rumbles down so high above and the sound reaches you many seconds later, the scale and the immensity starts to come home to you. We are truly fortunate to live on an earth that has so much height to enjoy.
Almost inevitably, one afternoon, the clouds come in, the wind rises and snow blows in with a blast, belying what could well be days of clear walking. At altitude when the wind comes in there can be a fearsome intensity, a sense that for all the simplicity of walking a trail, of having a pack full of wind clothing, there are powers in the Himalayas that leave you with little control.
It can be both a bit frightening and enlightening as you come out the other end of the storm, or arrive at the lodge at end of day and sneak in to dry off by the fire.
While Ama Dablam towers up and disappears into the clouds, it’s shapely form is more elegant than immense.
Drawing closer to Everest, it becomes more distant, the snow slopes now recognized as multitudes of hanging glaciers. The cliffs that were dark masses before shape themselves into multicoloured hues, with ice cliffs, cut by rock cliffs and threaded through with waterfalls of ice. They stack themselves one on top of the other all the way into the sky.
The top of Everest sits above it all, as connected to the sky above as the earth it floats above below.
With so few absolutes in life it is good to touch the top of the world with your eyes, to see the highest point of the earth we all call home.
Then it is down and down and down, almost inconceivable, having just reached the base of the top of the world, and now finding that getting down again can be so far.
Now the senses are alive to sounds, the jangle of a Yak bell warns you where to step off the trail, a ‘Namaste’ to a passing porter is natural.
Walking all day is now the expected, the feet knowing where to go and what to do to lead you safely home.