Our time in Pokhara is over, it’s time to return to Kathmandu to finish off. Or Dustmandu as I have heard it called. This was to have been a motorcycle ride, but some of the guys are still needed here so we are sent by domestic flight. As you will have seen in the news recently, it is not particularly unusual for aircraft accidents in Nepal, and no Nepali airline has a CAA licence to fly into Europe. This could be interesting.
We go through security without any hassle and sit in the departure lounge. There is a small shop selling books, trinkets and cold drinks; it’s a hot day so we have a couple each. The flights are delayed by an hour or so. It’s a busy airport with a variety of aircraft taking off and landing regularly. We watch as planes taxi, propellers spinning madly, between queues of people waiting to board. The ground crew are just as blasé with their own safety as they duck under the spinning blades to reach their destination.
Eventually we are called to board the aircraft and it’s full. All 27 seats are taken. It’s a bit like a small 1950’s coach with wings. We are greeted at the top of the steps by the flight attendant, who greets everyone with a smile and a ‘Namaste’. We find our allocated seats. They are in rows of three; two on the right of the aircraft and one on the left. We had been advised to sit on the left to get a view of the Annapurna mountain range but we are seated on the right. With the low cloud today, though, they weren’t visible anyway. So long as the pilot knows where they are…
The safety briefing consists of ‘Please read the card in the seat pocket’. I’m ok, I’m sat by the emergency door so I make sure I know how to work it. I’ll have to be quick if it happens ‘cos Pete is behind me!
At take off the engines scream and it seems an age before the bus gets airborne, struggling with the weight. There is a trekking party with us and their bags seemed a lot heavier than the allotted 20kg. Mind, at least they don’t weigh the passengers otherwise Pete and I would have definitely been ‘Excess’.
The flight is scheduled for 35 minutes and the attendant is busy; first we get a boiled sweet. Then she’s back with a small packet of peanuts. Then it’s a soft drink before returning to collect the rubbish. All complements of the airline.
She then makes an announcement over the tannoy. She struggles to make herself heard over the engines but we get the message; landing delayed by Air Traffic Control in Kathmandu by about 15 minutes. We continue to circle; the unmistakable peak of Mt. Everest peeks above the clouds.
I start to see other planes, I imagine also circling, wondering with some morbid curiosity as to why we aren’t landing. Suddenly the plane slows. I wonder if the pilots are the same as the drivers. Have we got close to the back of another plane, looking for an over take? Do planes have horns?
We then start our descent through the cloud and into the bowl of land that is Kathmandu. The landing is a little bumpy then we are led (literally) onto the apron to disembark. A bus awaits and we sit and watch as our luggage is unceremoniously loaded into what looks like a metal rubbish bin on wheels. This is then attached to the back of our coach and we drive to the terminal building. There is a lot of construction work in the area and here is no exception. A local is angle-grinding a metal frame. As the bus doors open, a shower of sparks enters. A few of the trekkers spend a few seconds politely advising them to point the grinder the other way. They are met by a shrug of the shoulders and a shower of sparks; this time they duck.
We are met by another official and driven in an air conditioned vehicle to the welfare centre; the respite from the heat is welcome. I notice, not for the first time, the wiring on the pylons in the street; the power cuts make more sense now, but imagine finding a loose connection in that lot!
That night we go out in search of a decent WiFi signal, as the centre is having some issues (most of the wiring on the poles is internet, apparently). We find one at the top of a hotel, complete with a horizon pool, eight floors above the city mayhem. Again we are reminded at the huge gaps between opulence and abject poverty; there seems to be no middle ground here…