I arrived in Kathmandu after a long and exhausting series of flights which took a little over 24 hours. I flew first to from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where I met up with Chloe, an intern interested in world peace that I selected to accompany us. Chloe is a student from Saint Mary’s College, and this will be her first experience ever doing anything like this. Needless to say, Chloe is thrilled. Following that, Chloe and I flew to Seoul Korea and changed planes to take Korean Airline’s flight #694 to Kathmandu.
After another 7 hours of flying and some turbulence as we crossed into the high mountainous area of Nepal we could see from the plane’s window a miraculous and exciting site, Kathmandu. Kathmandu sits in a high valley spread out like a cluster of sparkling gems as the morning sun reflected off the corrugated steel roofs. Steep and twisting trails and occasional watercourses dot the surrounding landscape, and green mountains thrust up jaggedly, still retaining their sharp edges even after millennia of torrential rains every monsoon season.
As our plane landed in the small international airport, the actual buildings and homes of the city come more closely into view, and one begins to see the unique character of the fabled city. Shining gem like roofs from high in the air quickly shift and change into the reality that one confronts when taxiing down the runway. Nepal is generally a poor country, and the shining roofs quickly change from bright shining tin into weather-worn rusting corrugated steel. As we touch the ground, I am fascinated to see a man carrying a huge bundle of carefully selected trash, as he makes his way across the runway heading to market. You would never see that at an international airport in Los Angeles or Chicago.
We taxi to the front of a small brick building (brick seems to be the material of choice in Kathmandu), and make our way into the terminal. Chloe and I are greeted by Nepali customs, and our bags are x-rayed as we enter the country through the airport, twice. I remark to Chloe, that I don’t recall ever having my bags checked, leaving an airport before.
We work our way out through the front door of the terminal onto the street, and guards quickly motion us to move on. There is a cacophony of people clothed in a wide array of color and dress, competing to drive us, to carry our bags, to offer us some service. We gently decline, as we are to be met by Jimmy Lama, the young man who has inspired our trip and who is working diligently to improve the quality and education of his people.
Jimmy arrives with a driver, and we quickly load our suitcases and back packs and move out into the intimidating mix of bicycles, motorcycles, cars and people, with an occasional large cow lying here and there in the street, and head for our hotel. While there are obvious directions meant to be traveled on the winding streets of Kathmandu, it is clear that there is only the slightest veil of cooperation that holds everything together, and many choose to ignore it. It only takes a few moments on the road; to learn that the horn is the weapon of choice, and everyone has their own unique way of using it.
As we travel a few miles to our hotel where we will get a good night’s rest before venturing out into the mountains, hundreds of small shops dominate the narrow streets on both sides. Many of the buildings are literally falling down and there are piles of rubble and large puddles of water everywhere. And the slight wind carries the scent of a thousand different colliding smells, as spices, and refuse, and smoke, and fruits and cooking food fill the air. Just before we arrive at our hotel, we pause in traffic, and I watch a dozen men and women, barefooted, sitting among piles of refuse on the side of the road, as they search for marketable merchandise. Jimmy remarks that we are in the more affluent part of the city, and his comment makes me wonder what we will see going forward.
We turn down a narrow passageway filled with more tiny shops and people, and at the end is an entryway with multiple guards. And on the other side, is a meticulously manicured open area, and a Six story hotel with the sign, Radisson Kathmandu, and we are home, at least for a day or two.
At the hotel after checking in, we say goodbye to Jimmy, and meet with Diane DeTerra and her grown son, Luc, fellow travelers on our adventure, and members of our team. Diane and I have traveled before, and she is welcome sight.
We decide to venture out into the city to find a place to eat, and make plans to go watch the burning of the dead bodies down the street from our hotel in the morning at a sacred place where Hindus bring their dead …. before we go too pick up our Treking permits. Strange conversation over dinner. We also go over some of safety precautions we’ll need to follow on our trek into the remote villages. Luc fills us in on the poisonous spiders and snakes to watch out for, and we discuss strategies in dealing with the aggressive wild dogs and other predators that are sometimes encountered on the trails. We are cautioned about possible encounters with less than friendly factions looking for Ex-patriots and aids workers on the trails, and weigh the fact that some of those venturing into the mountains don’t return. We jokingly throw around the comment that even if the worst happens, that it’s better to have had the adventure and done the great work than to die in some hospital bed never having the opportunity.
We finish the night deep in the center of the city in a quaint candle-lit café above the street, listening to the pounding rain (which we’ve been well introduced to) sitting on the floor around low tables, and eating delicious local vegetarian fare. The menu proudly advertises that our food has been meticulously washed multiple times in bottled water mixed with Iodine and that we can enjoy a delicious meal with full confidence that we will see tomorrow.
At the end of the evening, after the power has gone out (which we have been told happens regularly here), we are joined by a number of enthusiastic young international volunteers who will not journey on our trek with us, but who will participate on our return as we make our presentations to Nepali teachers, government officials, honored religious leaders, Nepali youth, and the press. We order rounds of Everest beer in the dark, and make introductions loudly over the sound of honking horns and meandering people, and there is a sense of adventure, that takes one directly into an Indiana Jones movie.
Finally, exhausted, we make our way back through the dark and wet streets, laughing and negotiating holes, and other obstacles, keeping as aware as we can of who’s around us and what they are doing… with a strong hope that we can find our hotel again. We pause for a moment at one of the few still open vendors, and examine a wide selection of the famed Nepali Ghirka knives, and discuss the pros and cons of selecting a few for our journey.
To be continued…..