Monday 23rd October
My wake up call at 7 a.m. was not needed because I woke up early. Round the corner from KGH is Le Bistro Restaurant and the breakfast there seemed reasonable. There is a large open courtyard that is ideal for outdoor dining. The good value breakfasts are particularly popular. Two eggs, toast and tea costs as little as 50 rupees. Breakfast was banana porridge, scrambled egg, fried potatoes, fried tomato, and toast with black tea.
After breakfast I walked through the streets that were slowly coming to life and looked for the Central Immigration Office. The main road from the centre of Kathmandu into Thamel runs into a chaotic intersection where taxis and rickshaws wait. This is where the office is situated. It was quite easy to find. Several people were sitting on the steps outside the entrance waiting for it to open. Taz and Andy soon arrived, and we were joined by more people. A couple from Canada, who had been teaching in Japan for several years, told us about their recent trip to Vietnam. They said it was brilliant.
At 10 a.m. on the dot the doors opened and we surged in. Contrary to expectations, obtaining a trekking permit did not take hours of waiting and needless bureaucracy. It was a pleasant surprise to find it was a quick and painless process. I filled my trekking permit application form and handed it in with a couple of passport photos, 800 rupees, and my passport. The administrative assistant told us that our passports and trekking permits would be ready for collection at 2 p.m. Taz, Andy and I agreed to share a taxi to the airport at 4 p.m. to see if our luggage had arrived. We did not want to make any wasted trips after yesterday’s experience, and wanted to get to the airport in time for the last flight due in.
I was free to do what I wanted until 2 p.m. There were a few things to sort out like confirming my internal flight. It took an age to find the RNAC Office. A receptionist told me that my ticket was invalid, and that aeroplane flights to Lukla have been suspended indefinitely due to the airstrip being repaired. The manager said that I would have to get my refund back in London, and gave my ticket the RNAC stamp that rendered it invalid. Unfortunately the airline does not operate helicopter flights. Asian Air, Necon Air and Everest Air were suggested as possible alternatives. By this time I was a little dismayed. Nothing seems to have gone right so far. From reading the travel guides, it appears that there is no guarantee of a seat on flights during the peak season.
Being an optimist there is always the Annapurna Circuit should things not go to plan. Had I come all this way for nothing? Nothing was going to stop me achieving my goal of seeing Everest. I trudged down Tridvei Marg and found Everest Air’s office. My luck was in; they had seats available on the same dates that my plane flights had been scheduled for. It was also a relief to learn that they accepted payment by Visa, because some airlines like their fares paid for in hard currency such as US dollars. It cost approximately ï¿½110, not much more than the price of the plane ticket.
After sorting that out, the next stop was the Biman Bangladesh office. My seat on the return flight to London was confirmed. Although it is four weeks away I am not taking any chances after the palaver some passengers had to go through to get here.
Today I moved to a different room, this time without a TV. It is cheaper at $17 a night rather than $25. By budget standards it is expensive so cheaper accommodation will be found on my return.
At 2 p.m. my trekking permit and passport were ready for collection. There was still one more thing left to do. That was to go and pay the National Park fee for the area we were going to trek in. Taz and Andy lent me some money because I didn’t have enough to pay the National Park fee. We obtained our National Park entrance permits then returned to KGH, where we got a taxi to the airport.
On walking through the doors to the baggage collection lounge I immediately spotted my rucksack and gave a whoop of delight. Taz and Andy could not see their luggage anywhere. Some others who had also been on our flight had the same problem. Taz looked like she would cry because it appeared that her rucksack was going to spend another night in Dhaka. The problem is that she and Andy are flying to Pokhara tomorrow.
The last flight from Dhaka was due in half an hour so we waited for that, and this time everyone got their luggage. Taz’s expression on her face said it all – a mixture of relief and delight. She said it was like getting your Christmas presents as a kid. That’s one way of summing it up!
The taxi driver was still waiting patiently for us outside, and drove us back to KGH. It felt so good to have a shower and to put on clean clothes. Outside, I scanned the notice-board for potential trekking partners. There was one possibility, Marysia, so I went to the Holy Lodge to look for her, but she wasn’t in. On the balcony I talked to a young lady from Ireland who has only just started her round the world trip.
Marysia, from Derby, was at the Rum Doodle Doo restaurant across the road. She was with her friend from New York. They had just returned from trekking the Annapurna Circuit and were worn out. I said Marysia could join me if she wanted but knew she was in need of a rest. The food looked appetising so I decided to check out the restaurant later.
Just outside the restaurant was a money exchange office that offered the best rate seen so far. All the banks are closed due to the Festival of Lights. Some money was changed here before going for a stroll round the shops. They are really interesting and there is a lot to see and buy. The needs of trekkers and mountaineers are catered for, and you can hire or buy whatever you want for your trip. There are rucksacks and clothing bearing all the familiar names: Berghaus, Karrimor, The North Face. They are mostly fakes. Rickshaws constantly pass by and there are street vendors hawking for trade, but I am an old hand at travelling and ignore them.
At 6 p.m. my tummy started rumbling. Dinner was a pasta dish and a vegetarian dish that were quickly devoured. Back at KGH I joined Taz and Andy for a drink and paid back the money that I owed them. We bade farewell and wished each other luck. All the groundwork and preparation have been done for my trek. Tomorrow is free for me to take in the sights around Kathmandu at my leisure.