April 23: Leaving Lukla

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We’re up to April 23 (the correct date!), the day we leave the mountains. We awake early, as we must be at the airport with all our luggage by 6 AM. Mercifully, the day is clear, smoke-free and calm, good flying weather. There is a backup of people in Lukla because flights didn’t go out for several days due to strikes, and there are still curfews and unrest in Kathmandu. Since this day the flights are going to fly and this is our scheduled departure day, we don’t anticipate any delays. . . but no one is really confident that things will go off without a hitch.

All bags are packed and in the hall before breakfast; we eat a hurried meal, much anxious talk about weather and how many planes will make it in, whether we will be on an early flight. We head for the airport, check in, pay our exit tax, and gather with other travelers in an overcrowded lounge after going through security.

And the planes begin arriving. Lots of them. By 7 AM about five or six had come and gone. Our Agni Air flight finally arrives! We are ushered out to the plane, where we stand as other planes come and go around us and people mill about while an impossibly large amount of luggage is unloaded from the plane, and another impossibly large amount is put back in, including our bags — another reassuring sign that maybe we will make it back with all our belongings.

We get on board at last. We taxi to the flat spot at the top of the runway, the plane revs up, and then the nose tips down as we drop onto the downslope, like a skier heading off a ski jump. We actually lift off before the end of the runway — everyone cheers — then people fall silent as they watch the now familiar scenery fall away below. It is a bittersweet moment — will we ever come back to this magical place?

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