30-08-2014 – Saturday – Kathmandu Arrival
(This post is trip notes & comments/thoughts added later)
Never flown to/via Kuala Lumpur before but, like the flight to Vietnam, the trek across Australia seems endless. You cross the Tasman on a curving course from near Sydney up to the Northern Territory. It's a reminder how big New Zealand's nearest neighbour is! Once the northwest coastline slips off the progress map it actually feels like you are getting somewhere!
The Malaysian Airlines 777 was fine but the seat back screen showed it wasn’t the most recent addition to their fleet. You could see the pixels on the low resolution screen. There was plenty of content but nothing that really appealed enough to spend hours looking at that screen. Still, a near midnight departure combined with little sleep the night before—thanks to the ‘oh shit’ nearly miss the flight malarkey—meant I slept or just listened to podcasts/music off my phone for most of the flight.
Kuala Lumpur Airport is huge and the Kathmandu gate was at the far end of a terminal arm. It has all the usual luxury brand stores but seems this was the chocolate wing as most of the stores were confectionery and every type of chocolate you could desire. Trouble was at 10:00am after an 11 hour flight I didn't feel like any!
The Malaysian Airlines 737-800 on the Kathmandu leg was much newer. Comfy leather seats and high resolution large seatback screens. Our departure was delayed by a medical emergency just after we'd boarded. One way to discover that there are at least two nurses on the aircraft, one on our trip, as they jumped in to assist. I was surprised how long it took to get airport medical response considering we were still at the terminal gate. It appeared to be resolved ok, some sort of epileptic fit or similar, and after the poor passenger & his bag were offloaded we were away.
After that the flight was uneventful, the approach to Kathmandu interesting as you spiral down into the valley. We got through the airport ok, although a bit of deft manoeuvring was needed to get through the crowds, barriers and doors with boxed bikes on the luggage trolley!
Kathmandu reminded me of the less developed delta cities in Vietnam in feel (my only other Asian reference before this trip). First impression was of a city attempting to develop but still pretty basic with an overwhelming hustle, bustle of people & chaotic traffic.
31-08-2014 - Sunday - Kathmandu sightseeing
Late'ish start after a good nights sleep for me. I went for a walk, about 5 hours, around Kathmandu. Didn't really have a plan to find the sights, there's a guided trip tomorrow, so just followed my nose wherever was interesting.
Saw amazing mix of street life but some things stuck in the memory.
Got back to the hotel mid-afternoon to find a few more had arrived with the rest due soon on the next flight. Turned out ‘soon’ was a bit longer thanks to a thunderstorm meaning half an hour circling and Sunday rush hour traffic adding another hour twenty minutes to the twenty minute trip from the airport! (this would be a factor later in the trip for me!)
After a welcoming drink and some Tibetan Visa related paperwork we walked to a nearby Nepalese restaurant for dinner. Tomorrow is a tour of Nepal and repack day. Complication might be the need to make our stuff (we take bikes on aircraft) porter friendly as they may have to walk it around the slip.
01-09-2014 - Monday - Kathmandu sightseeing
After a pleasant hotel breakfast we had the briefing that was supposed to happen last night. Much better for those who'd had a
day on the plane to get all the info after a good nights sleep.
The group was now complete: Bas, Kirsten & Eric, Helen, Ollie & Paula, Jan & I had arrived from NZ, joining Aussies (B, Robbie, Tim), Brits (Andy, Ian) Americans (Bob, Craig) and Nicola, a Kiwi based in London who had a fun trip via India thanks to an extended stopover in Doha.
I’ve done several Adventure South ‘returning clients’ trips with Robbie, B and Nicola and knew Andy from an Adv. Sth. “West Coast Escape’ trip in 2004!
In addition to Bas, who organised the group/trip, we have a Nepalese Guide: Sujan. He is bringing some staff from Nepal and we’ll join a Tibetan guide and drivers when we get there.
There are some logistic requirements around vehicles and drivers not crossing the Nepal/Tibet border and that we take our bikes into Tibet. Combine that with 20kg luggage limit on the flight (to one of the highest airports in the world) means we’ll take a carry-on bag only with the bulk of our kit travelling overland to meet us in Lhasa. That sounds complicated but is made even more so by a massive landslide on the (only) road.
We then had a tour of a couple of temples: Hindu & Buddhist. The Pashupatinath Temple dates back before the 14th century and is still in constant use. The part I found most fascinating was the funeral pyres. Hindu cremation on the river bank which place death at the forefront of daily life. Something western culture tends to avoid facing. Along with the historic buildings we got to se many aspects of Hindu worship. There's a constant stream of hawkers selling religious trinkets, hand work and small silver/teak cups, or singing bowls. I managed to avoid being tempted. Perhaps the most disturbing sight were a few severely crippled beggars at the temple gate. I wonder what their faith does for them.
The Great Boudha Stupa was rather more westernised. The Stupa itself is about a 40m dome surrounded by a walk with prayer wheels. It's surrounded by a very pleasant pedestrian plaza ringed with shops, cafés and art galleries of all kinds. Even if not seeking religious solitude you could enjoy being away from the constant bustle of daily Kathmandu street life.
I was surprised to see pigeons being feed but later learned they are seen as a sign of good fortune,
Most of us were dropped off at Thamel district for lunch, a great pizza place called Fire & Ice. I was craving something salty and a wood fired pizza with black olives & anchovies fulfilled that need.
Have just finished repacking, had to take some weight out of my bike box for the flight into Tibet. The bulk of our luggage leaves tonight going overland. There's still the not inconsiderable matter of a 2km landslide to traverse. A temporary alternative track was also washed away and the newspaper showed bags being walked across by porters!
02-09-2014 - Tuesday - Leaving Kathmandu
Today it's breakfast then on the flight to Tibet. Although Kathmandu has been interesting it felt like the prelude to the real thing. After about a year of anticipation it feels like the trip is really about to start.
We're carrying minimal hand luggage as have to fly our bicycles, seems odd our luggage can cross the border without us by road but an unaccompanied bicycle can't. There's a 20kg weight limit, my bike in its box is 19 so the relatively small back pack intended for cycling is about to explode as had to carry our medical supplies, electronics (have my old netbook) and a change of clothes to last until the overland truck arrives in a couple of days.
Kathmandu Airport was busy, in addition to the locals there was another cycle trip, Russian, Latvian tours on our flight. Biggest hassle was manoeuvring the bike box through the terminal and security scans at the door, then check in.
Once through that, and the complications of travelling on a group Tibetan Visa (seemed to cause a fuss at every counter & screening point) it was nice to have some time in the departure lounge to get a drink (it was hot work). The China Air aircraft was a nice new Airbus A319, quite small I thought but the bikes must have fit. Another Guide told me this flight, barely an hour, costs at least us$500-750 but there is no alternative...