Friday, 30 December 2011

Flight to Kathmandu

Our flight from London to Kathmandu seemed dark. By the time we flew into the bright lights of Bahrain for a 1.5 hour stop-over it was early evening. Then it was on to Abu Dhabi in the twilight hours. A two hours delay in a dome-shaped terminal, with little to do in the middle of the night.

We were travelling Go Air, an Arab-based airline which serves curry flavoured meals whatever the time of day. Tasty, but lamb curry at 3 am in the morning local time was a big adjustment and just the first cultural challenge for a momentous trip ahead.

There was a delay on our morning flight into Kathmandu international airport as a bank of fog formed on one end of the sloping runway. Our pilot circled for 30 minutes then went into land - but just 30 seconds or so before touchdown, as dropping into the cloud tops, he pulled out in a steep climb, up and out and away.

We flew on to Dakar where we landed for refuelling. Just over an hour each way and about 45 minutes on the ground before returning to Kathmandu. It had been a long ‘day’ since leaving London Heathrow but at last we had arrived.

Stepping off a plane into Kathmandu is an exhilarating shock - the sights, sounds and smells quickly lead to sensory overload after the confines of several aeroplanes.

Buzzing around the crazy traffic in a local bus, trundling down the narrow winding streets of the old town in a rickshaw, marvelling at Durbar Square or dodging the tiger balm sellers and trekking touts in Thamel - it is an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place.

As the largest (and pretty much the only) city in the country, Kathmandu also feels like another developing-world city rushing into a modern era of concrete and traffic pollution.

But a walk in the back streets and the Nepali capital's amazing cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself in hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillis and rice, and tiny hobbit-sized workshops.

At an altitude of 1336 metres above sea level, Kathmandu is an exotic and fascinating showcase of rich culture, art and tradition - and for us, of course, an important gateway to the Himalayas.

Late afternoon we arrived at Hotel Shanker, a stunning former royal palace full of character and charm. The weather was warm and sunny, if a little bit muggy.

Beautiful manicured gardens with potted plants, many of them Marigolds. We were all given garlands of Marigolds on alighting bus from the airport, a traditional form of Nepalese welcome. Darkness had descended by 6 pm.

Our hotel for the night had a restaurant called Kailash restaurant and two bars - the Kunti Bar and the One Eyed Bar. The former boasted a traditional setting of intricate wood carving and lattice windows.

At 21:50 local time we had a buffet meal in hotel dining room. Pick up remaining gear and back to room for bed to grab as much sleep as we could. The mountains of our dreams beckoned.