When the battery of heavy black duffels has been deposited at the Tara Air check-in desk, the group is told that one person will have to stay behind to catch a second flight with a second guide. The twin prop plane is a petite thing that will just take fifteen passengers. The smiley Londoner, Don, who has been reunited with his lost luggage, is volunteered as the splinter passenger. His smile lessens for just a second as the group disappears through the empty airport hangar towards the waiting aircraft. Acutely aware of the YouTube videos detailing accidents at Lukla airport, there is a quiet sense of fear as everyone boards. Known as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, Lukla's Tenzing-Hillary airport sits at an altitude of 2857m and boasts a runway of just 527m. It is notorious for suffering from the Himalayan mountain weather conditions and is prone to regular closures and delays. Thankfully, today the flights are operational. Prayers are said. People buckle in.
There is an embarrassment of peaks to view in all directions as the Himalayas show off. Hamlet villages perching close to summits are breathtaking in their boldness. How do people survive up there? Just how resilient are they? The plane is noisy. The lovely American girl, Rachel, laughs every few minutes at nothing apparent. She's as nervous as everyone else. Smile back at her. Keep your palms locked. Invoke St. Christopher's support: patron saint of travellers.
Twenty or so minutes later, after rounding several proud peaks, the plane seems to slow. Lukla is in sight. The grey strip of runway is a dot on the horizon. Nearing it, it becomes clear that the runway starts at the very edge of the mountain; a tarmac ledge that drops away into thin air. Heart in mouth, watch the green slopes grow closer as the plane approaches the tiny airport. Enormous sighs of relief all round when it touches down. Even more when it stops safely.
Hop off and notice how sweet the air is, how cool. The airport is cast in morning shadow but sun is lighting the mountains around it and the place is a sea of green. Trees climb the slopes in verdant splendour. Above, the skies are empty and blue. The place feels special, as though it has an adventure in store. And it does...
But first, the group heads to a guesthouse to wait for the guide and Don to arrive on a second flight (which takes an hour longer than expected). Local menus are studied and food is ordered. Ginger and lemon tea is complemented. It is beautiful. One of the group cracks his head on a low door frame. He is bloodied but fine. The hole-in-the-floor toilet raises some eyebrows. A garden of cannabis beside the guesthouse raises even more. And a rousing cheer rises from the group when Don and Kashi, the guide, finally arrive to the guesthouse.
Collect your belongings, turn some prayer-wheels along the street in Lukla and begin to trek a fabulous green valley on the way to Sagarmatha National Park.