Day 20: Flight to Kathmandu

The alarm was set for 6:30 this morning but like most of the mornings on the trek, we didn’t need it. We’d set up for tea and a Mars roll at breakfast before our 8:30am flight and wanted to make sure we were prepared to go. As it turned out, it was really a rush for nothing. Weather in Kathmandu was preventing (or at least significantly delaying) flights to Lukla.

We waited around, the sort of patient nervousness that accompanies you when you’re not sure exactly when you’re going to need to bolt. The man running the lodge we were at, an uncle of Dorje (Dorje has so many uncles in the region I actually wonder if it was the word he used to describe any sort of general family relation), worked for the airline so as it turned out we were almost the first to know that flights were starting up. It was about 9:30 before we left for the airport where we waited till almost 11 before finally getting on the airplane. Since Dorje knew the system so well, or at least manipulated it to his will, we walked right into the terminal and put our bags first in line, cutting significantly in front of a huge pile of luggage that was headed back to Kathmandu from an Ama Dablam expedition. While waiting, Dorje would walk in and out of the terminal and onto the tarmac drawing a stark contrast between the security at airports in the US and that of the Lukla Airport.

Flights were coming and going in waves, stopping only long enough to unload and load before taking off again. Indeed, the turnaround was so fast that the planes only ever turned off the engine on the passenger side. We hustled out, first in line again, and boarded a Dornier 228. Looking at flights leaving, it appears almost like a carnival ride at takeoff. The airplanes sit at uphill end of the runway, spool up the engines as high as they’ll go, and then launch over the threshold to the 12 degree slope. It reminded me in no uncertain terms of the first drop most rollercoasters have, the slow buildup to the precipice.

What looked somewhat frightful really wasn’t, as we sped down the runway and took off with smoothness that was simply uneventful. The flight was a little more fun since we traveled at relatively low elevation, whizzing past hilltops at barely 200 feet and experiencing the jolts that came with the wind patterns as they blew over the hills. The scenery was great and since there are really no FAA regulations I was able to pull aside the curtain between me and the cockpit and see everything that was going on.

30 minutes after takeoff we’d landed in Kathmandu and now I was wondering how we’d get to the hotel without a trip through Dorje’s living room for tea. AS we picked up our bags and made our way towards the taxi stand, Anne took the lead and told Dorje that we really just wanted to go back to our hotel. He made minor protest so Anne and I figured it would be best to part and make our own way back. We broke out the tips and gave them to both Renche and Dorje. Apparently relieved, Dorje lit up and took off to try and find us a taxi.

No long after, we were back in Thamel where we dropped off Renche (it turned out that Renche lived close to Thamel so he shared a taxi with us) and made our way back to the Hotel Ganesh Himal. We managed to score the last open room, something we’d not figured would be a problem. The room was a deluxe room, with a large King bed and a tub, so by our standards we’d scored big! We had some immediate errands to do, so we ran out to return the sleeping bag Anne had rented from Shona’s, gorged on Mexican food at Northfield Café, grabbed some treats (Mars and Bounty bars and some Pringles), and hustled back to the room where we took hot baths and lounged around for the rest of the day playing on the internet.

All up, it was a great trek. We saw great mountains, had some wonderful cultural experiences, and really just had some good times. Though to make it all roses wouldn’t be right. It was hard too. The altitude takes a toll and the food left something to be desired, especially at higher elevations. The dismal bedding makes it hard to sleep comfortably. Anne and I are both worse off for the wear, hacking and coughing and generally just having some miserable cold like conditions. So we’re really happy to be back in civilization where we can get hot baths, throat lozenges, and toilet paper. After being in teahouses for 20 days, it makes you really appreciate the things you take for granted at home. While I know we’ll eventually lose that sensitivity again, it’s nice to be able to see it so clearly right now.

We’ll take a couple days to recover before we head off for our next adventure, probably taking some time to see the city before we head to Chitwan to try and see rhinos and tigers.