We get up at 4:30 am and get ready to go to the airport. Through the window I see that it is raining cats and dogs. That is not a good sign. It is very unlikely that our flight will take off in this heavy rain. Ngima comes to our room around 5 am and tells us that the first flight has been cancelled. He tells us to go back to bed; he will wake us up, if the rain stops and a flight is scheduled later in the day. We go back to bed. I am worried whether we will be able to fly out of Lukla today.
Perhaps we misunderstood what Ngima told us. At 5:48 am he comes back and frantically knocks at our door. I stagger out of the sleeping bag and open the door. He tells me that the rain has stopped and that he just got word that a flight is leaving soon. We must get to the airport by 6:00 am. He is a good crisis manager: He quickly helps us pack our bags. He tells us to have a quick breakfast, which he will order. He and Pramod will go to the airport with our bags.
We run downstairs to the dining room, quickly eat the breakfast kept ready for us, and run to the airport. Fortunately, at this lower elevation we are able to move fast. And, the airport is conveniently located next to the lodge. At 6:15 am Ngima checks us in, even before we reach the airport. When we reach the airport, the security asks us to open the luggage for examination. Finally, we enter the waiting hall of the airport. The first flight from Kathmandu has still not arrived. We wait in the lobby with several other passengers.
At 6:45 am a Tara Air plane lands, and the passengers of the first flight are called to board the plane. At 6:54 am we are seated inside the airplane, barely one hour after we were woken up. It appears that the plane will take off even earlier than the schedule time of 7:40 am. I can’t believe our luck. I was resigned to the possibility that we might be stuck in Lukla for another day.
The plane takes off, flying initially between mountain ridges on either side of its path. Their dark outlines look ominous, seen against the sky lit by sun’s early rays. About ten minutes into the flight, our plane gets completely immersed in a white cloud, which makes everything around us invisible. I hope the pilot knows the location of the dark ridges, which cannot be that far.
Slowly, the cloud disappears. And it is clear again. Soon, I can see distant mountains and the zig-zagging trails etched on their sides. There are small communities scattered all over the trails. I marvel at the force that drives humans to seek and occupy such remote parts of the planet. Survival and economics seems too simplistic an explanation for that force. The trails are the only way to reach those communities. Previously, I would have watched the trails from the air plane with curiosity, but with no other feeling. Now, I look at the trails with some trepidation; I know that those lines may look faint, but they inflict pain on the hikers.
At last, I spot a paved road winding down a mountainside. A tiny white dot, a vehicle of some sort, seems to flit as it moves down the road through the woods. Kathmandu comes into view, looking dusty, buildings up to five stories tall, scattered all over. There is little traffic on the roads this early in the morning.
Our airplane lands smoothly and speeds past the large aircrafts of Oman Air and Nepal Airlines parked on the tarmac. As we taxi toward our gate, I notice Nepalese army trainees, mostly men and a few women, exercising near the tarmac.
We take a taxi to our hotel. With our unkempt appearance, we must have looked out of place in the posh hotel lobby. An elegantly dressed receptionist checks us in. Ngima tells us to take rest the remainder of the day. Tomorrow Madhav will take us on a tour of Kathmandu and later to a farewell dinner. I ask Ngima whether he will join us for the farewell dinner, and he says no. We bid Ngima farewell. He says goodbye and leaves the hotel lobby, carrying our rented sleeping bags, which he will return at the rental shop. The two weeks of companionship with him comes to an end abruptly, indicating the end of our trekking trip as well.
We go to our clean, modern room. Finally, we get to take a hot shower, such a sweet relief. We give our sweat-soaked clothes for dry cleaning. A woman from laudry service carefully counts and records the items of clothing. She tells us that they can also clean the trekking boots. I am glad to hear that as I was wondering how to clean the boots with yak-dung stuck to their soles.
After relaxing in the lobby for a little while, we decide to go for lunch. We search the Internet and find a place called Rosemary Kitchen & Coffee Shop off of Thamel Marg. The restaurant has a high rating on Trip Advisor, a rating based on input from a large number of customers. We find the restaurant on GoogleMap. We walk through crowded streets lined by shops on either side. We stop at some shops to buy gifts. When we reach the restaurant, we notice that most of the customers are western, and the menu seems designed to cater to them. The food is good, and it feels good to have a relaxed meal.
After lunch we walk toward our hotel and decide to go to the nearby Hotel Yak and Yeti for a coffee. We sit in the spacious hotel lounge slowly sipping coffee. Waiters are walking around catering to the many customers sitting in the lounge. A boastful, middle-aged Nepali businessman is sitting at the next table with two South Korean businessmen. They seem to be in the construction business and meeting to make a business deal. The Nepali businessman talks almost nonstop; the South Koreans listen and occasionally make a brief remark.The Nepali businessman gives the impression that he knows the Prime Minister well and tells that he has gold frequent flyer status in Thai Airlines because of his frequent international travels.
A greying American healthcare professional is talking to a woman from Australia, whom he met in the lounge. He has been here for attending a medical conference. He enjoyed his two weeks of stay here and is returning home tomorrow. He says that he is struck most by the diversity he finds in Kathmandu.
Through the tall, large glass windows of the lounge we can see the green lawn outside. There are tables and plastic chairs set out on the lawn. But nobody is sitting there now. Suddenly, violent winds start to blow. They send dust, bits of paper and leaves swirling up into the air, obscuring the view through the window. They topple some of the chairs and tables on the lawn. A lawn umbrella flies through the air, crashes into a lounge window with a loud thud, and falls down. The window is not broken, fortunately. Just as suddenly as they started, the winds subside suddenly. The hotel staff walk around the lawn, straightening the chairs and tables. One staff member inspects the damage done on the window by the umbrella.
I want to get a haircut. I leave Rahul in the lounge and go looking for a salon. I find that the salon in the hotel is closed now. I walk out into the city and find the Sherpa Mall nearby, which features a number of shops. The mall is not very big or crowded. Walking around, I am able to find a salon. The manger is a pleasant young woman in her late twenties. She speaks good English and has a slightly surprised look seeing me. There are no other customers. She finds me a barber. He is also in his twenties, Indian-looking, and speaks to me in Hindi. He is probably not very experienced and seems proud to have a customer.
After the haircut I return to join Rahul, who is still sitting in the hotel lounge. We decide to go for a massage. We would like to get Shiatsu massage. But there is only one Shiatsu masseuse. The other masseuse knows only Swedish massage. We decide that one person will get Shiatsu and the other, Swedish, so that we can get the massages done at the same time.
I do Swedish massage. The masseuse is Suman, who is Nepalese, but born in Amritsar, India. She prefers to talk in Hindi, although she understands a little English. She tells me an endless tale of woes in Hindi: She is 37, widowed, and have two children. She is poorly paid and finds it hard to make ends meet. Her brother, a policeman, is in a hospital in Allahabad, India. His leg is fractured. Once, when she was doing the massage for a customer, an earth quake started. Her scantily clad customer got up and ran and urged her to run as well. When she tried to run behind him, the door got shut and locked, and she could not get out of the room. She was saved only later… As she keep talking, I get the feeling that many of her stories are simply made up.
We decide to eat dinner at a middle eastern vegetarian restaurant called OR2K, located about a mile from our hotel. We leave Hotel Yak and Yeti and walk toward OR2K. The sun has set, it is getting dark, and the streets are becoming less crowded. We remove our shoes and enter the dining hall of OR2K with its distinctive decor. Low tables are set out on either side of the dining hall. The tables are surrounded by cushions set on the floor. We sit on the cushions and stretch our legs under the table. The restaurant is crowded; almost everyone other than us and the waiters are of western descent. The name of the restaurant is derived from the word OR, which means “light” in Hebrew, and 2K, which stands for year 2000, the year when the restaurant was started. The menu is in English, but has a few notes written in Hebrew. The menu is highlighted at places with coloring that glows in the black light. We eat potato and cheese buerre, which tastes good.
After dinner, we walk back to our hotel. It is past 9 pm. An occasional car or motor cycle zips past us. The streets are mostly deserted. The city has become quiet and is ready to go to sleep.
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