Flying into Katmandu is a little like arriving in heaven with a window seat.

The capital of the tiny Hindu kingdom of Nepal is in the center of a large valley nestled in the Himalayas. Mountains and clouds envelop the city of 300,000. Not far beyond the mountains that enclose the valley can be found, to the east, famed Everest and, to the west, the equally spectacular peaks of Anapurna Himal.

The people of Nepal are very warm and friendly. The food is quite delicious, and Katmandu is a shopper's paradise. Prices can be very low: In Thamel, the main area for budget travelers, one can find a room for as little as $3 a night, one can eat well for even less.

Nepal was virtually closed to foreigners until the 1950s. Even now the tiny country has very little contact with the outside, except for travelers who come to trek or climb its legendary mountains.

Landlocked and at the mercy of its two giant neighbors, India and China, Nepal is an extremely poor country whose greatest source of income is foreign aid projects.

I arrived in March 1991 after spending two months traveling in India I had quit my job as an architect in New York to travel around the world, a journey I had fantasized about for as long is I could remember.

The Persian Gulf war had just ended and springtime was in the air. Katmandu is full of pleasant surprises: labyrinthine medieval streets with magnificent public squares cluttered with stupas (bell-shaped Buddhist shrines) and multi-roofed temples on stooped pedestals Prayer flags flutter from roofs, carrying the words of the holy mantra into the heavens.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of Katmandu was the huge number of Israeli travelers. Although there were a number of Europeans, Australians and Americans, there were more Israelis in Katmandu than any other foreign nationality. Since many countries are still closed to holders of an Israeli passport, those who travel in Southeast Asia and the subcontinent largely end up in Nepal, Thailand and, to a lesser extent, India.

There were hundreds of Israelis: invariably young, tough, budget minded and not particularly religious. Most had just been released from army service and were anxious for a change of scenery. Traveling in Southeast Asia and the subcontinent after military service has become a common rite of passage for the more-affluent Israelis; many end up working in Japan. Since Nepal has always had good relations with Israel, Israelis are welcome.

One hears Hebrew constantly on the street. One does not have to look far to find restaurants saying "Bruchim Habaim" (Welcome), menus translated into Hebrew and scribbled Hebrew recommendations taped in guest house windows. Some of the more enterprising Nepalese have mastered basic conversational Hebrew, and more than one shopkeeper can count in Hebrew was a good bit better than mine.

Although they carry guidebooks, Israelis choose their guest houses, restaurants and just about everything else based on the word of mouth of other Israelis; there is an impressive network of Israelis all looking out for one another.

I had not been in Katmandu long before I struck up a friendship with a few Israelis. One of them asked me, "Are you going to Seder?" Knowing well that Passover must be sometime soon, but that the closest Jewish community was in Calcutta (a few hundred miles away, across some rather formidable mountains), I laughed at the question.

It was then that I first learned of the famed "Seder of Katmandu" - a legend of its own sort in this country of many legends.

Every Passover for years, three Lubavitcher chasidim from Brooklyn fly to Nepal to conduct a seder on the first night of Passover. Hosted at the Israeli embassy, this event is well-known among Israeli travelers. All those traveling in Asia who can possible arrange it schedule their itineraries so as to be in Katmandu for Erev Pesach.

Soon enough there were signs in Hebrew and English taped up all over the Thamel district announcing the seder. All one had to do was sign a registration list and return a few days later to contribute 120 Nepalese rupees (about $4) for expenses. One had to bring an Israeli passport to the seder, although I was assured an American passport would suffice.

The sign-up list was at the famed "Pumpernick's Bakery" in Thamel, home of the best breads in Nepal. Its large garden was filled every morning for breakfast with hordes of young travelers, most of them speaking Hebrew.

Upon finding the sign-up list, I was astounded to see that I was already guest number 384 - and there were still four days before Passover.

Two days later, the Lubavitchers flew in from Brooklyn, bringing with them matzah and all the requirements for a strictly kosher seder, including more than a few chickens. (Nepalese are strict vegetarians and, in fact, refer to outsiders somewhat derogatorily as "meat eaters.")

The owners of Pumpernick's Bakery let their business be virtually taken over and it was transformed into a factory. The kitchen had been kashered and dozens of volunteers washed, chopped and mixed for the seder. Charoset had to be prepared, vegetables cleaned and, of course, how could a seder be complete without chicken soup'?

A table was set up to collect the $4 fee. Upon payment, one received a Haggadah, which was to be used as an entry ticket."

In the two days preceding Passover, one could feel the excitement. There were, it seemed, more Israelis than ever wandering the streets of Katmandu. One saw young people carrying their haggadot through the narrow streets of Thamel. Every conversation between Jews of any nationality sooner or later led to the same subject.

Soon enough it was Erev Pesach. I changed into my best clothes (after two months in India, this meant those with the fewest holes and stains) and my new trekking boots - not yet properly broken in. I then walked a pleasant 30 minutes to the Israeli embassy, located outside the center of Katmandu in a residential neighborhood near the embassies of many other countries.

After a brief security check at the gate ("Yes, of course an American passport will do"), I was allowed into the compound. There were a number of uniformed Nepalese soldiers for security, even though it seemed far-fetched to imagine the violence of the Middle East finding its way into this isolated Himalayan paradise.

On the grounds of the embassy there was a huge tent, filled with rows of folding chairs - no tables - all facing one table in the front. There was seating, I was told, for 800.

I entered the tent and found a seat next to two Israeli friends I had met a few days earlier. I looked around to study the crowd. I saw faces I recognized not just from Katmandu but from my travels all over India. And I saw for the first time faces I would see again months later in my travels all over Asia.

It was then that I realized this was not going to resemble any seder I had ever attended. I was about to take part in what may have been one of the largest seders anywhere, here on the rooftop of the world.

The seats were already mostly full and people were greeting one another with laughter and tears; old friends from the kibbutz, the moshav, army, high school; friends who had no idea the other had left Tel Aviv; friends and distant relatives who hadn't seen one another in years. In a country of 4 million, everyone, it seems, is somehow connected.

While the majority of guests were young Israelis, there were also a number of Jews from the United States and there were some older people and a few families.

By the time the seder had started, there were more people than chairs. Many people stood around the periphery of the tent. At the head table, in addition to the three chasidim, there was a follower of the Lubavitcher rebbe from California, who had come to help, the Israeli ambassador and his wife, and a representative of the Royal Government of Nepal.

As sundown approached, the three chasidim came to the front and led the crowd in songs to celebrate the arrival of the holiday. All three were very young and clearly excited to be there. Their enthusiasm as well as their swaying melodies were contagious, as the crowd became wrapped up in the spiritual nature of the evening.

The wife of the ambassador lit the candles and recited the blessing. The seder was conducted in Hebrew, interrupted frequently for an explanation, story or joke. There were diversions to discuss rabbinic interpretations, to pose questions and to reflect on the meaning of freedom in the direct aftermath of the Persian Gulf war. The young man from California spoke in English of what a unique event this seder was.

The crowd participated fully with great enthusiasm and spirit. There was a strong sense of unity among the group. Israelis translated privately for those of us in the crowd who were not so fluent in Hebrew.

The meal was served in a rather spirited, if somewhat haphazard, manner. Despite the complicated logistics, everyone managed to get fed sooner or later. While the quality of the cooking did not live up to that of the 800 mothers and grandmothers to which it was undoubtedly being compared, it was warm and tasty.

There was no shortage of sweet wine, made in Israel and brought to Nepal via Brooklyn. There was no shortage of matzah, either. There was a special plate of matzah blessed by the Lubavitcher rebbe broken up and passed among the crowd.

After dinner, the seder continued; the afikomen was found, and the "Blessing After the Meal" was recited. As the seder was drawing to its conclusion, someone from the crowd began singing "Hatikvah." Even after the conclusion of the seder, quite late by the standards of Nepali nightlife, most of the crowd stayed around for more singing and to help clean up the mess.

The streets of Katmandu were deserted, except for those returning from the seder - their stomachs full and their hearts happy. The silence was broken only by the faintest hints of a few people humming the tunes of the seder to themselves.

Many of those who had gathered for the seder left Katmandu the next morning to begin their trekking. They had come to Katmandu for the seder, and now it was time to move on. The streets of Katmandu seemed a little emptier. I heard the next day from others how empty the restaurants in Thamel had been the previous night.

I also left two days later for a three-week Himalayan trek. More than 800 Jews - from Israel and all over the world thousands of miles from their families, who otherwise would have had no way of celebrating Passover, had joined together in this spiritual gathering in this most spiritual of countries. I had been part of the legend. I drunk the four (alright, maybe five) cups of wine at the seder.

As I traveled through Asia for the next six months, I would meet many Israelis. They invariably would ask me if I was at the seder. I would answer, "of course."