Thursday, February 17, 2011
Landing in Kathmandu was an experience. On the flight in I was hoping to look out the windows and see the Himalayas, but there was too much cloud cover. From some of the readings that I did about Nepal I learned that this is a long standing condition and flights are never guaranteed to leave when they are supposed to, just as ours did from Delhi about 4 hours behind schedule.
However, within an hour of leaving Delhi we were breaking through the cloud cover and descending into the Kathmandu Valley. I must admit it was beautiful. Steep mountains and terraced farms surround the outer limits of the city and because of the availability of space the plane descends rapidly adding to the experience. Unlike many other flights I have taken I could not see the airport or the runways until we were almost on the ground. Very exciting.
Planes stop on the tarmac and then buses are sent to fetch passengers. The terminals themselves are very small and the airport in general seemed more fitting of a city of 100,000 rather than 1 million. Again, I imagine this is because of space considerations as the valley is slightly smaller than the country of Singapore. Thankfully we got through customs very quickly. Aya and I had both packed for our trip with bags just small enough to be considered carry on luggage. We never had to check our rucksacks and so never had to risk losing them or having to wait for them upon arriving and of course it was much easier to carry them around than large bulky luggage. Of course this means that what we had in our bags was limited, but we never wanted for anything and to keep our clothes clean we paid for laundry service every 5 days or so. It is one of those things that I have learned in traveling, pack light, move fast.
A man from our hotel and a driver were waiting for us and soon enough we were off into the city. We soon learned that our guide, Ram, was actually the tour operator for the hotel we were staying at and he had learned that we were interested in a trip to Chitwan National Park south west of Kathmandu. We were and within the hour we were checked in and at Ram’s office talking over details of the trip. Unlike a lot of the tour operators we met in India Ram and his associates seemed to run an honest business. We booked for a few days in Chitwan and then planned to return to Kathmandu for a few more to see the sights of the city.
By this time it was late in the afternoon and we decided to walk around a bit, get some dinner, then head back for showers before bed. We had to be up pretty early the next day to get our bus to Chitwan and we assumed the hotel’s solar heated showers would be best in the early evening after a day of charging. They were ok, but because of the night chill in Kathmandu it was still a bit of a dance to shower and get dressed as quickly as possible. We learned that night that Kathmandu has periodic power outages and so the main power would go off at different times of the day throughout all of Kathmandu with private businesses and households running small generators of their own to keep essentials going. Assuming that we would not have anything more than our flashlights and some candles to pack the next morning we made sure to pack before going to sleep.
Early the next morning we left our hotel in darkness and arrived at a nearby bus stop in the neighborhood of Thamel. We put our bags in the back of the bus, I stood outside until the bus was ready to go, and we were off to Chitwan.
The ride itself was long, grueling, beautiful, and scary all at the same time. The seats were not comfortable and for the first hour or so we stopped at places around the city picking up another person or two. Once we finally left the city we entered unto a narrow two lane highway that wound its way around steep precipices almost the entire time. This time around, driving in the left lane further away from the ledge was not as nerve racking, but we could see a few cars and trucks along the way that had tipped off the edge, I can’t imagine what happened to the people inside. Another hour into the trip and we had made our way out of the suburbs of Kathmandu and started following the Trisuli river, which was a beautiful shade of turquoise adding to the already beautiful landscape of the valley with its occasional narrow rope bridge crossing.
After a few stops along the way for food and bathroom breaks the mountains began to recede and we entered into a flat area, the Terai. It is here that Chitwan National Park was located and here that royalty and big game hunters used to come to bag tigers. The tigers are still there, but are no longer hunted. As the bus pulled into a parking lot outside of the town of Sauhara we were met by two gentlemen from our hotel and escorted to it nearby.