Nepal Day 14 – Everest

The final day had arrived with me getting up at 04:45 to be ready and outside the hotel for 05:30. I hadn’t intended to get up quite so early, but the noise in Kathmandu finishes late and starts early so not much chance for proper sleep. Good ear plugs is something I’d definitely recommend – unfortunately mine didn’t work great.

When we got to the airport we had to figure it out for ourselves. Fortunately I noticed in the small print of the ticket receipt which airline it was so was able to queue in the right place. Although our booked flight said 102, the one we were given tickets for was 100. It didn’t seem to matter though as in the departure hall there were multiple fights with Buddha Air all at the same time.

The scheduled flight time arrived, but they updated their PowerPoint presentation used for departure information to say it was awaiting a weather report. Apparently domestic flights are frequently cancelled or delayed depending on how much fog is about. This delay was only for 15 minutes, and although ours was the first in the list, when the time came ours was delayed a further 15 minutes and the others boarded. I started to keep a close eye on the time as each delay would eat into the time I’d have between flights.

By the time the plane finally took off it was 08:00 and the flight lasted for around an hour. To start with the left-hand side of the plane got to see the Himalayan mountain range including the all-important Everest. Whilst this was happening the other side got to visit the cockpit, and once the plane turned I was able to do the same. As my seat was at the front of the plane it also meant that I got in there quickly enough to see Everest from the cockpit which was quite cool!

Upon landing my only thought was making sure I got my luggage from the hotel to make it back to the airport in time. As my fight was scheduled for 13:05 (and delayed until 13:15) I wanted to be at the airport for 10:00, but Trek Nepal had insisted that I leave the hotel at 10:00 instead. They must do this a lot so it made sense to trust them, though I’d definitely feel more comfortable about it once checked in for the flight.

I was back at the hotel for 09:30 so quickly got my luggage moved to the lobby and found I’d got 15 minutes to have breakfast. As we were late having breakfast there wasn’t much left and what there was didn’t taste that appetising so had a few bits, a cup of tea and then made a move to check out. At this point the hotel said they’d just ordered the taxi and it’d be 15 minutes meaning I wouldn’t catch it until 10:15!

I waited and waited, but the taxi didn’t arrive until 10:25 – much later than had been agreed. It meant I wasn’t at the airport until 10:50 which gave me less time than normal. Fortunately it was still enough to go through airport security, check-in, and embarkation in plenty of time. The embarkation queue and form was far simpler and more organised than the visa on arrival. In fact, all of the departure area seemed more organised!

Before going through security I bought a Buddha statue for $12, and bought some lunch. For 1000 rupees I was able to get a chicken burger, snickers duo, and a can of Coca Cola. The burger was the most appealing of what they had, but still wasn’t great.

At 11:45 I started queueing for security and was surprised that they have a queue for men, and a queue for women. The queue for men was twice as long so they moved some of us into the business class queue which moved far quicker and I got through in 15 minutes. It was then a long wait, almost until the departure time, before a gate was announced. This was due to the plane getting in late and causing a 35 minute delay. When leaving the gate they pat you down one last time in case anything has changed since the last two security checks.

It was the second time I’d taken off on a flight from this airport in the space of 6 hours – it can’t be often that happens! During the flight I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and then Now You See Me 2, Everest, Eddie the Eagle, and Birdman. It was a lot to watch but it helped me to keep my eyes open during the flight so it’d help with adjusting back.

The Everest film told of how during a tourist trip up to the summit the weather had turned and stranded people there – some people losing their life as a result. It was based on a true story and demonstrated just how difficult a climb it is. It also reminded me that after the marathon some had gone on a trek to it’s base camp.

There were two meals served during the flight, a chicken dinner early on, and then some sort of vegetable dish covered in grease about an hour before landing. I wasn’t keen on either which meant it’d worked out well that I’d had the chicken burger in the airport.

The eventual landing was just before 22:00 Nepal time, so around 19:15 local time. Before I could make my connecting flight I then had to get through security once more, a process that was now becoming tedious – four checks for the journey even though I’d got international transfers. Fortunately this last one didn’t have a queue.

On my way to the gate they made the first call for passengers for the flight so had to speed up getting across the airport. When I got there though there weren’t yet many people about so had probably put the message out to get people there early.

This flight was a little more comfortable than the last and again served some food I didn’t bother with. I spent the time on this flight watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the 5 hours seemed to pass in no time at all and I was back in the UK once more, and home after 26 hours of being awake.

It’d been quite an adventure over the past two weeks, and quite different from trips in the past. The organisation and execution of the first week had been amazing, and went well enough that I’d recommend an Impact Marathon Series race to anyone. It had been a chance to look closer at what the country was really like, and then in the second week to see more of the place, and do the sort of activities that tourists usually go there for. This was definitely an adventure in the Himalayas.

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Nepal Day 13 – The Long Drive to Kathmandu

The long journey home began today after a 07:00 breakfast with a bus ride from Chitwan to Kathmandu. The bus left Chitwan at 08:30 and took almost an hour to get across the city. We then continued along the same road we’d arrived from Pokhara on a couple of days previous for a further 2 hours. This time though we were heading past the junction and on to Kathmandu.

Our first stop was a 10 minute one fair early on, if you exclude the stops we made to pick up extra passengers. At 12:00 we made a stop and it seemed this would be the only chance for a lunch stop so I bought a tube of pringles for 300 rupees as it seemed the best option, just not a very healthy one.

Unexpectedly we stopped 30 minutes later for a 30 minute break and on this one I photographed some monkeys in the tree there. The hotel owner next to these trees didn’t seem to like monkeys and threw a brick at them.

Later in the afternoon we made one final stop just 21km away from the city. This was another short break and at the time I thought it pointless, but when we reached the city limits we soon hit traffic and it took over an hour to get through.

Whilst in the queue I noticed one Nepali cleaning windows whilst standing on an upturned bucket, on a ledge over a four story drop. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to have fallen!

We finally got through the traffic and reached the final stop a 16:45, but this wasn’t the place we’d taken the bus from near Thamel originally and there was nobody from Trek Nepal to meet us either. We asked a taxi driver to take us there, but he had no idea where Mandala Street was so we had to walk 2.1km carrying bags and heavy suitcases. It was fortunate I had an offline map with me on my phone otherwise we’d have had no idea what to do.

At the Trek Nepal office they briefed us on what would be happening on the next day before telling us to go and check in to the hotel we’d been in at the start of this 7 day adventure.

Once checked in we looked around the shops for a while before meeting up with a couple of other marathoners for one last Nepali meal at the Electric Pagoda. I had a Himalayan Steak and apple pie – this together with a drink and tip cost me 1050 rupees, so was pretty cheap!

I packed one last time, and got some sleep ready for one last early start.

Nepal Day 12 – Chitwan Day 2

Breakfast today was served at 07:00 so I decided I’d get up at 06:45. For breakfast I had a couple of slices of “almost” toast and then had a cereal bar when I went back to the room.

The tours for the day started at 08:00 when we were driven to a place to board a dugout canoe. We took this along the river passing many mugger crocodiles as we went. Due to it being early morning there was also a kind of haze hovering above some of the water. The canoe itself seems to get very close to the riverbed in places, but I was pretty sure it was the light being refracted to make it look shallower. It’s also steered at the back by a guy with a big stick, something that kept dripping on me as he changed sides.

Eventually we got off the canoe and started a nature walk. This lasted for about an hour and we saw many termite mounds, a spotted deer, and a wild boar. Whilst hiking through the forest I did hear the sound of other wild boar once but didn’t get to see those. We also saw what the locals call “tree killer vine”, named such due to the way it takes the moisture away from the tree and kills it.

Once we’d finished this we walked to an elephant breeding centre where we first had to read the signs in an information centre. This told us things such as how at a very young age the elephants are taken away from their mother and have their food and water restricted. This form of torture effectively breaks them so they can then teach them to be beasts of burden. The torture of these animals doesn’t stop there though, it then described how they’re burnt and washed to desensitise the skin and how they can sustain injuries during training.

After reading this we were then shown the elephants in captivity with the older ones chained up by the foot, no longer able to roam like their instincts tell them to. I saw one calf also chained up, trying to get to one of the other elephants but it couldn’t and looked distressed. Female elephants such as these are herd animals, they’re not used to a solitary life.

I got closer to the young elephants and whilst watching them one of them used its trunk to pull on my leg to bring me closer and tried to pull me into the enclosure. It then started to pull on my shoe laces as well – you could tell that despite this harsh treatment, some were still quite playful, and I know that they’re protecting these elephants, but it doesn’t make it right.

We were then taken to the elephant bathing area and this was just as bad. You could see the spiked tool they used to control the elephants and the pink scar tissue across the top of the neck where it gets used. Those that were in the water weren’t getting it any easier though – pulled around by the tusk or trunk. For those wanting to pay to be washed by an elephant the handlers would then scrunch the elephant’s ear and pull them to the side to make the elephant roll to the side when their time was up.

I decided I couldn’t watch them do this and instead spent most of my time there photographing the birds and dragonflies that were about. After about 15 minutes of this we were taken back to the jeep and driven back to the hotel ready for lunch at 12:00. I was glad I’d chosen the jeep safari option instead of the elephant back safari.

Today’s lunch was rice, chicken, vegetables, and fries – so pretty much the same as yesterday’s but with a tomato soup starter instead. We only had 30 minutes for lunch before we had to be ready outside for the start of the jeep safari.

The jeep safari started in the hotels one and this took us to where we’d seen the dugout canoes the night before. After hanging around in the midday sun for about 10 minutes we then put on life jackets and boarded the boat bound for the other side. Once over there it was a short walk to where some jeeps were parked up. I also noticed the occasional elephant footprint – apparently these would be from wild ones.

The jeep ride went a long time without us seeing anything, even at the watering hole it seemed like we weren’t going to see anything either. Then we saw a rhino on the other side, some deer, and a couple of crocodiles. This was almost everything we saw until just before we got to the conservation centre when we got a lot closer to a rhino, but it was still very well hidden by the bushes. It was a shame we weren’t able to get out and move around – but obviously this was for safety.

At the conservation centre I didn’t go in, though from the description it sounded like they were doing good work to conserve crocodiles and turtles. Instead I photographed a signature spider located just outside the centre. We were then the first group to leave and from there until we left the park at 17:00 we didn’t really see anything except for a monitor lizard up a tree. It was getting cooler too due to the setting sun.

For tonight’s meal it was finally something slightly different, dal baht, though what it compromises of is mostly the same as the previous lunches and dinners. From there we then went to the Tharu Culture Program which lasted an hour and consisted of various dance performances based on local traditions. I thought some of them looked like a type of fighting kata that may have been used originally to teach warriors.

When the show was over we were driven back to the hotel one last time, but this time I knew that the music we’d hear late into the night and start again early morning was likely from these culture shows.