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Welcome to Nepal

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Lukla to Sinara to Kathmandu [Day 20]

Early flight out

I wake at 0515hrs in readiness for an early departure at Lukla Airstrip... the first flight out. I shake the two lads and then pack away my sleeping bag for the last time. A quick 'wash' with wet wipes and climb downstairs with the holdalls, so the porters could take these for security clearance.

My thoughts return to home and I am quickly reminded that today is the anniversary of our grandson who sadly passed away a year ago. Goodness knows how my son and daughter-in-law must be feeling. I wish I was at home so that I could be there for them. It is also my dad's 79th birthday... and the poor chap is suffering from dementia in a care home.

Arriving at the departure hall, we find it is already full of trekkers who are trying to get on the first flight out, but magically we have been allocated this luxury. Our Sirdar and Trek Leader must have been up very early to get this sorted for us.

The time comes for us to say our goodbye to the Nepali staff and it is really quite sad. We have been with them 24/7 for almost three weeks and they have become good friends. Llakpa seems genuinely upset to leave us... but as he is off to guide yet another trekking group up to EBC, I'm sure he'll be over us.

We breeze through security and sit airside waiting for the first flight to arrive. As it touches down, the last few snaps are taken.

Lukla Airport

Our flight awaits

Our holdalls are stowed, we are herded on-board, given cotton wool for our ears and a sweet to suck. I manage to get myself in a good position right behind the pilots, so I can take a video of the hairy take-off. The turnaround time for the aircraft is very short. Our own airport authorities could learn a trick or two from Lukla's slick operation.

The engines rev to a crescendo, the brakes release and we shoot off downhill towards the valley at the end of the runway. The pilot uses every inch, right to the warning lines at the bottom, only then rising into the air... what a buzz. I capture the whole thing on my Olympus camera (no sound).



As we approach Kathmandu, there is clearly something amiss as the two pilots become very animated with their contact over the radio. It transpires there is a security incident at the main airport and we are to be diverted.

I look at the fuel gauges and we have less than 400lbs in each wing tank. A dangling warning tag informs me that there should always be a minimum of 200lbs retained in each tank... that doesn't seem to give us much leeway considering each tank has a maximum capacity of 2400lbs!

We fly for a further 15/20 minutes or so and land at Sinara Airport. I get out of the aircraft into tropical heat, especially compared with the early morning cool of Lukla.

Sinara Airfield (photo courtesy of Ralf)

Every bit of shade helps

There is the sound of insects and heat shimmers up from the ground... and here am I, dressed in my winter salopettes and a long sleeve wick away shirt... not exactly the type of garb for this type of climate. I sit under the wing trying to keep cool, as the pilots wander off to get an update on the security position.


Pre-flight checks

Within about 15/20 minutes we are on our way again and land at Kathmandu without any drama. We double up, carrying a couple of holdalls each, to the waiting bus... fighting off the many people who want to take our bags for a tip. Once on board, we are off through the manic traffic of Kathmandu.

I take a rather shaky video of the arrival back at the Summit Hotel (no sound).




As soon as we arrive, the XE medical staff take control and we are whisked away to be weighed - I have lost over 3kg and am now down to 63kg. I was aged 17 the last time I was at this weight - remarkable. To make up for this weight loss we all dive into breakfast, looking forward to the change of diet. I eat fresh fruit, a bread roll and jam, fruit juice, omelette, coffee and tea.

Mike and I are allocated Room 104 this time... it has nice parquet flooring, cane furniture, a ceiling fan, twin beds and a conventional loo and shower in an en-suite... and hot water... downright luxury.

There is a knock at the door and the hotel porter brings Mike and I our spare clothing that we had left behind as part of the baggage weight reduction. I had made sure I left two sets of trousers, shirts, underwear and handkerchiefs... for the final two days. I am so glad I planned in advance, as it is great to get into clean clothing. Now, sitting here in my underwear, I am waiting for Mike to finish his ablutions so that I can have my own shower and shave. It is so nice to be back in civilisation again.

The Summit Hotel is such a tranquil place to be - birds tweeting in the trees, the hustle and bustle of attentive staff meeting all ones needs. It is just nice to be chilling out again, with no destination to be walked to.

I must take the time to sort out my holdall for the flight home. First priority will be to make sure I have everything I need in my back pack... then everything else can be stuffed in the holdall... and sod the excess charges.

Summit Hotel

Gardens

I book a head/shoulder massage for this afternoon as a treat for myself. This will cost 950NR. Some lads have already visited a barber down the road for a cut throat shave, haircut and head & shoulder massage... all for 200NR. Bargain - the only problem is that they all look like clones of each other.

Mike and I put all the costs of lunch, drinks and telephone calls on our room, so we can split the cost before we leave tomorrow. We can then get rid of the remaining rupees and dollars. Our flight is scheduled for 1700hrs tomorrow, so we have to leave the Summit Hotel at 1300hrs. I do hope the flight isn't delayed.

I manage to phone my wife to let her know I was back in Kathmandu and looking forward to coming home. I decide to exchange £40 into rupees as we are out for a final 'Trek D' meal tonight - Thai I think. Rather than take a taxi, Mike and I set out to navigate our way across Kathmandu to Thamel... and what a cultural experience that is!

Thamel

I am armed with my trusty Silva compass, Mike with the map. We wander down little side streets, looking at all the micro businesses operating out of shanty shacks. Some are recycling wire cables, burning off the outer plastic to get at the copper wire within - toxic fumes everywhere, with no protection at all. Health and Safety - what's that?

We come across an old pedestrian suspension bridge which spans a filthy, polluted river that carves its way through the city. The locals stared at us as if we were the only Westerners ever to venture down these parts. We pass a couple of sleeping dogs, only to find them dead and left to rot in the street. One was a little puppy, its glassy eyes not registering the living world anymore. A harsh end to 'man's best friend'.





The busy traffic expresses its frustrations at pedestrians and vehicles alike... you take your life in your hands when choosing to wander through streets like this. Drivers lean on their horns at the slightest provocation. After breathing in pollution and deftly dodging traffic, we manage to locate the Kathmandu Guest House and close by, the Yin Yang Thai in Thamel.

Mike and I order two large bottles of San Miguel and settle down to watch the street life. Julia and Harriet were first to arrive, clutching many shopping bags... what else. The rest of the team then begin to surface... with some unexpected visitors too.

A Radio 4 journalist carrying out research on porters in Nepal joins us. She is intending to walk from Jiri to EBC to do her feature. Another Jagged Globe leader is present, accompanying a chap from Trek G or H, who had been advised to return to Kathmandu because of shortness of breath whilst trekking.

We have a lovely meal and the chatter was incessant. Harriet asked me to say a few words on behalf of Trek D in thanks of Deborah's superb leadership. I jot down a few words, following the keep it short and simple mantra:

"Deborah, on behalf of trek D I would like to say a big thank you for your professionalism, your care and assistance and your friendship throughout the last 20 days or so. You expertly managed us, from the novice walker through to the more experienced adventurer. This is a little token of our appreciation. (Harriet to hand out presents). Please raise your glasses for Debbie."

After the meal we all jump into taxis which race back to The Summit Hotel. Rather than retire for the night, I decide to go in the bar and have a last beer. Lynn (Kathmandu XE Medical Centre head) was there and came over to chat with me. We have a good discussion about what had happened to me and I was pleased that she was interested in updating herself on my medical position.

I then depart for bed and some rest ready for tomorrow.

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