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Champagne picnic at 13,000ft

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-04-2017 Nikki Ekstein

In December, chefs from Noma and London’s Ledbury built the world’s highest-altitude pop-up restaurant at the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

It sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and in many ways it was. But in fact you can pop up to the Everest for breakfast almost any day of the year, if you’re so inclined. All you have to do is know the right people.

Catherine Heald of Remote Lands has been planning quick-stop trips to the Everest for her guests since December. They travel by helicopter from Kathmandu to the South Base Camp, where they explore the surroundings for a 15-minute visit (that’s all an un-acclimatized traveller can usually bear at around 18,000ft). Then it’s back in the chopper to the adjacent peak of Kongde Ri, where the Yeti Mountain Home, at 13,000ft the world’s highest-altitude luxury lodge, sets out tables for a private Champagne picnic with the Everest in full view. Nicola Shepherd, of Explorations Co., also coordinates morning trips to Yeti, minus the stop at Base Camp; that’s an avalanche risk she would rather not take, she says.

Both outfitters work with the same summiteer to lead the adventure: Tashi Tenzing Sher, the grandson of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who, with Edmund Hillary, took the first steps atop the Everest in 1953. “He’s climbed to the top a couple of times himself,” says Shepherd, “so while you’re flying there he’s giving you blow-by-blow, first-hand accounts of what it all entails. He really brings it alive for you.”

The logistics

Both Shepherd and Heald tend to book Everest breakfasts as part of larger packages—10-day treks through Nepal, most often—but the experience can be booked à la carte. Heald charges $10,000 (around Rs6.4 lakh) for groups of up to three; Shepherd charges $7,163 for two. Full 10-day trips cost around $25,000 (everything is affordable in Nepal except for choppers).

Two things are key. First is your health: Even though you’re not spending much time at altitude, those with heart or lung conditions can struggle with the elevation. As for your hotel, it’s best to start in Kathmandu, where an AS350 helicopter will pick you up early in the morning—as early as 6.30, depending on anticipated weather patterns. From there, it takes 45 minutes to fly around the Everest and land at Kongde Ri, not including the optional stop at the South Base Camp.

The highest meal of your life

Breakfast itself is a private, white-tablecloth meal of eggs with bacon and sausages, croissants, and jam made from Nepalese fruits, plus plenty of Moët & Chandon, all served by a talented team of Sherpas. But you’re not here for the food, but for views you will never forget.

“This is as close as you can get to the Everest without being on it,” says Shepherd of being on Kongde Ri. “Nobody does it closer.”

Heald concurs, adding that on your fly-around alone, you will get views of four of the world’s six tallest peaks: Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Everest. Don’t worry about sitting outdoors in the extreme weather; you will be given appropriate clothing.

Beyond Everest

Nepal is a country deeply in need of tourism dollars. After a 7.8-magnitude earthquake left nearly 9,000 dead and 22,000 injured in 2015, the country has made an incredible (and successful) effort to rebuild—but visitors have yet to return. That means it’s a great time to find yourself in the Himalayan country: You will be welcomed with unparalleled warmth, have sites largely to yourself, and scarcely see a European face.

Both Shepherd and Heald speak emphatically about the forbidden kingdom of Mustang, a wildly rugged expanse of countryside roughly 320 miles north-west of Kathmandu. Driving there can take 11 hours due to difficult conditions, but Shepherd also organizes helicopter transfers to cut the journey to 1 hour, making it doable in as little as one or two days (heavy winds can bar afternoon return flights). Stay in Dwarika’s Dhulikhel, says Shepherd, and enjoy the surroundings for a bit: The resort is the perfect place to go horseback riding along the edge of the Tibetan plateau, learn to throw traditional pottery, and take Nepalese cooking classes.

In Kathmandu itself, make a pit stop at the art-filled temple of Bhaktapur, which many local experts prefer to the crowded monkey temple of Swayambhunath Stupa, and don’t miss the beautiful restoration work at Durbar Square, whose temples date back to the 12th century. Do your exploring by bike or by foot, advises Shepherd, or you risk getting stuck in terrible traffic.

For one last dose of luxury, round out your visit with a few days in the Chitwan National Park, just two-and-a-half hours south-east of the capital by car. There, the ultra-plush Taj Meghauli Serai safari lodge fills your days with tiger-focused game drives. Bloomberg

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