It was the beginning of monsoon season, and there were some very black clouds on the horizon. I thought I felt some raindrops on my neck as we headed for Tribhuvan Airport.
We had flown into the same airport when we first arrived in Nepal on a flight from Bangkok, but we had come into the international terminal. The security check at the domestic terminal involved separating into male and female lines. To enter the departure lounge, we first had to enter a special curtained room, so that a gender-appropriate official could check us.
“Oh, you’ll love the domestic terminal,” an American friend had told me. “It’s straight out of Indiana Jones. They sell whips and knives. There’s a snake charmer in the corner.”
He was joking, of course. When I passed through the heavy curtains, I found myself in a very normal looking departure lounge, with powder blue walls and large posters advertising Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air. The plastic benches were full of people waiting for their flights. There was a table in the corner where a man was selling instant coffee with yak’s milk.
I sat down on the floor with my mom and another friend from Hope Partnership Nepal. We had come to Nepal to create a music festival and to do some service projects. But we had this morning off, and we wanted to fly around Mt. Everest!
We were told that our flight might be canceled because of the weather. We waited quietly for over an hour, wondering if our plane would be allowed to take off. The mood in the lounge was very somber. There was a smell coming from the restroom, which featured a hole in the ground and a bucket of water but no toilet paper. Finally, a crackling voice came over the loudspeaker. “Buddha Air, next flight departing at 7:06.” Everything was announced in both Nepali and English.
As we boarded the tiny plane, I tried to remember some Nepali phrases that my friend Rabin had taught me: तपाईंलाई कस्तो छ? (How are you?) मलाइ सन्चै छ । तपाईलाई नि? (I’m fine, thanks. And you?) I could never make the words stick in my head.
We ascended slowly, leaving the rooftops of Kathmandu far below. Suddenly, we broke through the clouds into a bright, sunlit world! Nobody dared to speak. We were in a magical place.
“Mom, we’re at the top of the world!” I whispered.
The tour guide ticked off the names of the mountains as we passed each one: “Nuptse. Everest. Lhotse. Makalu.” We took turns going up to the cockpit to see the pilot’s view, which was even more spectacular. Fluffy white clouds were nuzzled against the peaks, and the sky was azure blue. The mountains themselves were absolutely vast; you could actually feel how big they were.
Later, I tried to put that feeling into my music as I was singing, but I couldn’t make a sound that was both earthy and ethereal at the same time.
It’s been three years since I was on that little plane in the Himalayas. But I’ll never forget that breathtaking moment when we broke through the clouds. That memory helps me get through less beautiful moments.
I didn’t actually climb Everest, and I may never go trekking in the Himalayas. But I know those mountains personally, and I think about them often.
Once again Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs, That on a wild secluded scene impress Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect The landscape with the quiet of the sky. - William Wordsworth "Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"