Certain experiences and sights stay with a person all his life and one such moment that about tops my list is my experience of seeing Mount Everest. Ever since I studied a lesson on Mount Everest in my high school second year, my little heart craved for a glimpse of the highest point in the world, and I guess my soul made a tryst with Everest.
Mamatha and I were staying along with a group of 45 members at Kathmandu on our way to Mount Kailas trek in the Himalayas in June 2016. We booked our tickets for the Everest flight operated by ‘Buddha Air’ for the next morning. The receptionist at the hotel instructed us in fairly understandable Hindi that we should be at the reception by 05:15 a.m. sharp since the Everest flight that took off before 6:00 am. I asked him to give me a wake-up call sharply at 4:30 a.m.in a more understandable Hindi.
As they say, the universe has a way of working with you when you really wish for something from deep down your bones. I was desperate to see Mount Everest. In spite of my instructions at the hotel reception to give me a wake-up call at 4:30 in the morning they did not wake me up, and I can only call it cosmic intervention that I got up suddenly in the middle of my deep sleep at precisely 4:35 in the morning in spite of a long and tiring previous day. ‘Thank God Mona”, Mamatha said as the elevator door closed after we got ready and left in a Jiffy; “If you had not gotten up at the right moment, we would have missed the flight” expressing gratitude to God but not to me.
As I got into the aircraft, a Beechcraft 1900D’s 19 Seater, I was delighted to see that each person had a guaranteed window seat. With two parallel rows of single seats, everyone could enjoy the view from the window stains on the windows notwithstanding.
The flight would be of fifty-minute duration and was supposed to be an experience by itself. The sky looked cloudy from the ground when we took off but fortunately became clear as we ascended and at a cruising altitude of 8000 feet the view was clear, and the landscapes were breathtaking. ‘Budha Air’, operators of the Everest flight sell nice T-shirts on their flight that says ‘I never Climbed Everest, but I touched it with my heart. I bought it and wore it right away on the flight. Mamatha kept quiet since she thought I was doing that to keep myself warm. I was as excited to wear the T-shirt as I was to see the tallest point on Earth.
I had no idea about the artistry of the landscapes that would be revealed within minutes of take off from the Kathmandu Airport. It was just after six in the morning, we were in the white landscapes of the mighty Himalayas even before the aircraft attained its cruising altitude. The picture of Lord Shiva with the background of snow-covered Himalayas was so firmly embedded in my mind from the thousands of Calendar images from my childhood that an involuntary divine and the natural feeling arose in me at the view of the snow-covered Himalayan mountaintops up close.
As our aircraft attained cruising altitude, our pretty Stewardess gave us a leaflet with details of all the mountain peaks we were about to see on our 1-hour flight. The outlines of the sketches in the flyer matched precisely with the overview of the mountain ranges in the scenery outside. As the snow-covered peaks became more visible with the stronger rays of the rising sun, I could imagine why these mighty mountain ranges have mesmerised poets and authors since the early ages.
As the plane moved closer to the mountains, the landscape outside became more and more spectacular. Any view of the Himalayas certainly has a humbling effect on you and takes you into a different mental zone. Gauri-Shankar, spiritually a significant mountain for the Hindus came into our view right after a few minutes of attaining cruising altitude. This mountain is very sharp and has been climbed successfully for the first time only in 1979. Gauri-Shankar really offers a spectacular view from the plane. The mountain has two summits, and that is why it is called Gauri Shankar, the higher northern peak called Shankar, as in Lord Shiva, and the southern summit called Gauri(AKA Parvati), His spouse.
Several peaks come into view one after the other exactly like in the leaflet handed out to us. From Kathmandu, we passed more than a dozen peaks before we got to Everest. “You will see Mount Everest in a couple of minutes” the pretty flight attendant said in her Nepalese accent. I looked at the mountain range with my hunting eyes and did not see any towering mountain standing alone. But once we located it between the other peaks, my eyes were transfixed on and it suddenly dwarfed everything else amidst the white background. It was also challenging to take my eyes off the other mountains, the tops of which appeared like the abodes of several of our Gods. But whether it was real or it just felt so in my mind, Everest looked conspicuously more divine and nobler than all the other peaks. There is something magical about that moment you first see Mount Everest, or Sagarmatha, to use its Sanskrit name. It was like sighting a celebrity that you have adored all your life.
I suddenly got a very curious thought in mind. I uttered it aloud to another member sitting behind me without taking my eyes off the mountain; “Ganesh, I think I can climb it. Why don’t we ask the pilot to drop me off here?”; “Sure Mohanji. Why not”? he trumpeted. I really wondered if I could climb it.
“Do you know which mountain is the tallest Mountain in the world?” I asked Ganesh without taking my eyes of the peak.
“We just saw it. Mount Everest” he said.
“you are wrong. ‘Tall’ is measured from base to summit. Using that measurement, Denali in Alaska is taller than Mount Everest. Denali rises about 18,000 feet from its base, which is more than Everest’s 12,000-foot rise from its base at 17,000 feet” I said
“then Mount Everest?” Ganesh asked me.
“Mount Everest is called the world’s highest mountain because it is the highest point on the planet when measured from the sea level and sea level is the surface of the earth” I flaunted my Alpine wisdom.
“Which is more difficult to climb, Everest or Denali?” he wondered aloud.
“The peak of Mount Everest is 29,035 feet above sea level. Denali is 20303 feet above sea level. There is 40% more oxygen available on top of Denali than Everest. At the summit of Mount Everest, there will be approximately 33% of the oxygen that is available at sea level and on top of Denali it is 47%. That is why climbing Everest is tougher than any other peak in the world” I said
‘How far are we from the Everest?’ I asked the flight attendant. “About 5 miles” she said. I felt that we were at least 20 miles away.
Everyone was allowed inside the cockpit for a closer view, and it was an additional icing on the cake. Luckily the day was bright and sunny, and we had a beautiful view of the Everest tip. The flight attendant claimed that we were a mere five miles away from the highest peak in the world, but I had my doubts.
The flight from Kathmandu to Everest takes you past more than half of the ten highest mountains in the world. We were fortunate since we could see very clearly all of them.
The remaining flights for the rest of the day to Everest were cancelled due to inclement weather and very poor visibility.
By the time we returned to the hotel, it was around 10 in the morning. We were scheduled to leave for Nepalgunj by flight in the afternoon. The after-effects of the Everest flight were still lingering in my mind as I kept remising. Even though I did not hoist a flag at the summit of the Everest, even the mere sight of it from a plane gave me an enormous amount of contentment. Seeing the Everest from such close quarters is something that will be embedded in my soul.
Ever content after Everest, Mamatha and I.