Trekking in Nepal #1: Saturday 21st/Sunday 22nd October – Nepal

Saturday 21st/Sunday 22nd October
The flight left Heathrow on time at 4:30 p.m., but not before there had been disagreements between the manager and some of the passengers. This occurred because they were not guaranteed a seat and were put on standby. Biman Bangladesh Airlines were running true to form; they are notorious for overbooking. Not surprisingly the standby passengers were agitated. What a great start to their holiday!

My problems were minor in comparison. I had confirmed my seat by phoning the Biman office earlier in the week. However, the staff said that sitting in the non-smoking section was only possible up to Paris where we had a stopover. But from then onwards there was no guarantee. This was not satisfactory so I told them that I was asthmatic. This white lie was expanded by telling them that an attack could be triggered by cigarette smoke. The crew said that they would do their best to comply with my wishes.

Eventually everyone managed to get on the aeroplane. We were delayed for two hours at Paris. I learnt later that this occurred because the flight was heavily overbooked. Three people were left behind in Paris!

What really got my goat, and that of the other Brits, was that we were all seated in the smoking section. All the French were in non-smoking and some even had the gall to puff away in the smoking section. What was even worse was that one bugger lit up in non-smoking. Well, that’s the French for you!

Fortunately a French passenger swapped seats with me so it was non-smoking all the way to Dhaka. An attempt at polite conversation was made with the French woman next to me who couldn’t speak any English. Five hours sleep were grabbed before arriving in Dhaka. We landed at 11 a.m., approximately 5 a.m. GMT.

Once off the plane there was the usual rigmarole. A huge crowd converged on an old table that turned out to be the airline desk. There were only two people sorting out our passports and boarding passes for the flight to Kathmandu. I pushed my way to the front and within a few minutes was flying out. The stopover in Dhaka had lasted less than half an hour.

Our next flight was on an Otter plane. Seats were allocated but nobody took any notice. You just grabbed a seat on boarding. The journey to Kathmandu took less than an hour and we could see the Himalaya as we flew over. Some passengers went to the cockpit and took photos. The same thought occurred to me. Unfortunately my path to the cockpit was blocked because the guy next to me was asleep. Oh well, it will not be long before I am walking in the mountains. Refreshments came along, a couple of stale sandwiches and a soft biscuit – yuck!

We arrived in Kathmandu at 12:30 p.m. A queue soon formed in the arrivals lounge with people waiting to obtain a 30-day tourist visa, armed with their completed forms and the $25 fee. I got talking to two guys and two young ladies from, would you believe it, the Halifax area. One lived at Wheatley, another at Luddenden Foot. They knew of Sandbeds Road where I live – small world, eh? One chap was on his eighth visit to Nepal, and they were going to do the Langtang trek.

Once through customs, it was downstairs to the baggage area to collect my luggage. My rucksack was nowhere to be seen as the bags came round on the carousel. This was also true of others who had come from Dhaka on the same flight. Still, there was no need to worry as two more flights were due from Dhaka. The next one arrived an hour later but our luck was out.

The last flight was due at 4:30 p.m. so a decision was made to hang around and wait. Zoe and Darren from London had the same idea. For the next hour we talked about our plans for Nepal – they are going to trek round part of the Annapurna Circuit. We had a longer than expected wait because the flight was delayed. Again our luggage was nowhere to be seen. On seeing the airport manager for Biman we learnt that it would not arrive until the following day. There was nothing we could do except to go to our hotels and return for our luggage tomorrow.

A taxi to Thamel was shared with Zoe, Darren and another English guy. It dropped them off at their hotel, and I at Kathmandu Guest House (KGH). On the way the Nepalese guy, Shambu, asked what our plans were. I told him that my flight to Lukla, the starting point of my trek, was by aeroplane with Royal Nepal Airlines. He looked at me in horror.

“There are no aeroplane flights to Lukla.”
He went on to explain that repairs were being made to the airstrip at Lukla.
“The only alternative is to go by helicopter.”

I didn’t know whether he was joking, but I will find out tomorrow. At KGH a member of staff took me upstairs to my room. It is very luxurious and has a television.

KGH is in the centre of Thamel. Everything is within five minutes walk. You feel you are at the nerve centre. There are various expeditions coming and going. Trekkers are looking for partners and there is a constant hum of activity. There are parking spaces available, a very pleasant garden, a restaurant, a money-change desk, a storage area for luggage and valuables, and a phone office.

I could kick myself because my rucksack is in Dhaka with nearly everything in it. Here I am in Nepal with no change of clothing and nothing to wash with. I will just have to get on with it and hopefully this state of affairs won’t last too long.

Tihar, the festival of lights, is on. It is the second most important Hindu festival in Nepal after Dasain, and takes place over five days. The banks and shops will be closed at some stage this week. Fortunately Central Immigration, where trekking permits are given out, is open tomorrow. Dhana at reception, who is very polite and helpful, has assured me that it will be open. He’d better be right.

After I had deposited my daypack in my room and cashed some travellers cheques it was dinner time. Northfield Caf�, next to KGH, seemed as good a place as any to eat at. I had a chicken dish for dinner. Afterwards I had a look round the streets and all the shops. It was fascinating. Pilgrims Bookshop seems to have every book there is on Nepal, trekking, mountaineering and Buddhism. In the restaurant garden at KGH I spoke briefly to Taz and Andy from Putney before going for a shower and then to bed.