It’s very early in the morning. I find myself slumped in a chair inside Bangalore airport, deprived of sleep and drearily staring at my photo in the new passport which I received only a week back.
I have changed. Ten years back in the old passport photo, I have a lot of hair and look like a boy with abundant youthful energy. In the new one, I’m balding and don’t remotely look like a man who can walk one mile let alone trek. I think I’m aging faster than I should.
I wait for my trekking partners Mr. AP and Mr. SV to join me. Together we are flying to Delhi, then to Kathmandu and then to Pokhara.
It’s been three weeks since the trekking plan hatched. AP was quite religious in his preparatory efforts. He woke up every morning and ran around a lake with his wife in tow on some occasions and an angry dog on some other. He spent days and nights watching YouTube videos of the trek and made notes. He wrote to people who had done the trek and trekking organizers and collected elaborate information and made more notes.
SV and I were like the backbenchers in college who waste their time in reckless abandon waiting for the eve of the exam to take a photocopy of Mr. AP’s notes. Mr. SV is quite lax about the whole trip. He’s the youngest of the three at 27 and a bachelor – AP and I are in our late 30s. SV waited for the right time to start his fitness preparation, but the right time never showed up at his door. The problem is, he doesn’t like to sweat. No surprise he isn’t married yet.
My preparations were predictably haphazard. Only three days back I realized that my bag was still empty, oh, I didn’t even have a bag.
I rushed to the trekking gear renting shop which Mr. AP had discovered. Weirdly named X-Dog Trekking, the shop is placed in a location no one can ever trace without expert guidance. Mr. AP deserves a trophy for this. There, I got myself fitted with a rucksack, then at another store, I threw money on a thick winter jacket and a pair of bright orange-sole trekking shoes. The idea is to make the job of search and rescue teams a little easier in case I’m ever stuck hanging upside down in a tree.
In the evening that day at home, my little daughter watched me with guarded amusement as I paced the room, wearing the orange shoes and the huge backpack and snapping selfies. I asked her, “Do I not look like a mountain man already?”. “Actually…” she paused, “You look like a food delivery man”.
I see AP come in through the entrance door dragging a suitcase large enough to accommodate a cow. I throw the passport inside my bag and walk up to greet him.
“Why such a big case?” I enquire, walking around the suitcase and looking at it with amusement.
“I have packed as much cold-weather clothing as possible. Yeah, it’s too big. I’m sure I will put all other suitcases in the airport to shame today”
AP’s tolerance for cold weather is as low as a Greyhound’s.
Before long SV also shows up. He walks in his usual casualness. A small backpack hangs by his shoulder.
After an hour and a half of flying from Delhi, the plane hovers over the capital city of Kathmandu primed for landing. I look through the window and only see the endless ups and downs of mountains. It doesn’t look like there’s a strip of flat land where the plane can land but of course, there’s an airport somewhere down there.
The clouds are thick and the plane shudders violently every time it comes in contact with the clouds, and the fact that Kathmandu’s airport doesn’t feature even in the top 100 safest airports in the world, falls considerably short of giving this experience a jolly-ride feel.
If you would like to know some numbers, from July 1992 to March 2015, there were four crashes resulting in 314 deaths. Interestingly, most of the accidents occurred while approaching the airport. It’s baffling how Nepal’s air control authorities allowed that to happen time and again. If it’s India, we would have built a floating temple to Hanuman in the clouds to lift the curse.
The plane descends low and suddenly, like magic, a sprawling expanse of a mud-colored landscape dotted with buildings as far as eyes could see, shows up. I just didn’t expect such a vast flat land to exist within the folds of these mighty mountains. This is the Kathmandu Valley.
With bated breath, I wait for the plane to land.
Four months after our visit, a Bangladeshi flight crash-landed in the airport killing 49 passengers.
To be continued…
Link to the previous post: Notes from Nepal – Post 1 – The Opportunity