I still cannot really believe that I am here. I first decided I wanted to visit Nepal about 10 years ago when I had a colleague describe the mountains to me. He said you had to crane your neck skyward as they were so high. Well, now I am here and more than ready for some serious neck-craning.
We have a sleepless night ahead of us as we depart our Bombay hotel at 11:30pm and take a taxi to the airport. Our flight leaves at 3:30pm so we have ample time to race through the city streets, have our bags scanned and sealed before checking in. Then we make our way to the gate. We have two hours to wait and I am very sleepy so we decide to buy extremely over-priced tea in an airport café where we can play cards and try to stay awake. I have already washed my quick-dry overshirt once today as the humidity in Bombay made me so sweaty; I was particularly annoyed when I had to visit the restroom and wash parts of it again when I stuck my arm in some unidentifiable "goo" on the café table. No, laundry in an airport sink at 1:45am is not my idea of a good time. After Matt beats me twice at cards we head back to our gate to await the boarding of the flight. The flight staff attempt to load the plane in an orderly row-by-row fashion, but that is virtually impossible here as the crowds converge on the gate and it is every man for himself. The plane is an enormous double-decker giant that delivers us to Delhi in about two hours.
So, now it is 5:45am and we have had approximately 28 minutes of sleep and we are wandering through the Delhi airport to our new terminal. Thankfully the air is slightly cooler than Bombay. We wait for an hour until the Royal Nepal Airlines desk opens and we are the second passengers to check in and we get a window seat on the left-hand side, which is apparently the best spot to see mountains on the descent into Kathmandu. The next few hours are
a blur as we pass the time waiting for our flight. Matt reads and I manage to get about 30 minutes of sleep slumped over in a chair. Eventually we board and we are in the air. The food on the flight is quite tasty and the dessert is gulab jammun, my favourite. I eagerly keep watch out the window for peaks and manage to see a few, but it is mostly clouds. They are quite remarkable and in the most unique shapes I have ever seen. During the last few minutes of the flight we drop below the clouds and I can see the terraced hillsides with trails winding up and over them. We land at the very small airport and move through a very simple immigration process to find our hotel shuttle driver outside with a sign reading "Matt Gibson". We are joined by another traveler who attempts conversation with us on the drive into town, but neither Matt nor I are capable of stringing together coherent sentences. We check in, drop our bags and collapse for a few hours of rest. We don't want to sleep too long as we want to get back on a normal sleep schedule. I am very impressed by us both as this kind of travel is very exhausting and we never once snarled at one another!
After our nap we venture down the road to find a bank and some food. We don't get very far and I request that we simply eat rather than trying to find the ATM on the maze of streets we are in. I am just too tired! Thamel, the neighbourhood we are in is a traveler's haven and it is lined with shops catering to our every whim (outdoor stores, bakeries, clothing stalls, jewelery, convenience stores, cds, Internet cafes, travel agents, money exchangers, restaurants, etc.) It is overwhelming and loud and it comes with the requisite beggars (both young, old and crippled) as well as the bicycle rickshaw peddlers and the Tiger Balm salesmen. It is just too much to take in in such a sleep-deprived state. We go into the nearest restaurant and enjoy pizza and Thai green curry and try to gather our wits. The waiters are friendly and eager to please and everyone we encounter is greeting us with Namaste (hello). It is apparent that they are eager to keep the tourists happy. The decline in the visitation over the past few years due to insurgent violence has had a real negative impact on the tourism operators here.
After an 11 hour sleep on our first night we are much more ourselves for our first full-day of exploring. We begin our day meeting with Arjun of Himalayan Humanity. He was recommended to me by a colleague at Tourism BC who trekked with him a few years ago. Arjun used to be a porter (i.e. carries traveler's packs) and then a porter/guide (i.e. carries packs and guides the group) and then a guide (i.e. doesn't carry pack; only guides the group). Before government regulations changed, porters could act as guides without any medical training or English language skills. In fact, I have even read stories of injured porters being left by a trekking group to get back to help alone! The Porters Progress organization works toward ethical treatment of porters, safety and medical relief and offers free English language tuition and medical training to porters. Arjun told us of his efforts as a porter/guide to get trekking companies to treat their employees better. And now as a business owner himself, he must put his money where his mouth is. He named his company Himalayan Humanity as he asks if we don't look after the porters, who will? Hopefully we will enjoy our trek with the guide and porter he assigns us to. We have decided to try the 14-day Langtang/Helambu trek, so we will be out of reach until after May 7th. We depart tomorrow and will spend the first day driving 5 hours up mountain roads to the start point.
After our meeting with Arjun, we begin our initial explorations of the city by finding an ATM that works (yeah!) and relaxing in the Garden of Dreams, an old palace garden that was recently rescued from the overgrowth of many years. We spend several hours in an Internet café hiding out from an evening downpour that will hopefully help clean the dust from the air for clearer views of the mountains.
Today we spent walking part of Kathmandu to see some temples and the main market area. Fortunately the weather is the perfect temperature for exploring on foot (28 degrees and no humidity!). I am really enjoying Kathmandu so far eventhough I have only seen one tiny part. It is fun to see the mix of Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian locals along with the many travelers here in search of some serious mountain time. Tonight we will stock up on some trekking supplies and pack for our next adventure - wish us luck!