After a zippy 13 hour flight without delays on Turkish Airlines, I touched down in Tribhuvan airport on Saturday the 25th at 11am. I managed to be one of the first off the plane so got ahead of the other 250 odd passengers, promptly sorted out my visa, collected my bags and got out of there.
I was preparing for a long hunt trying to find my driver who would collect me as unfortunately all the flights tend to land at the same time. There were hundreds of arriving climbers and trekkers and equally hundreds of taxi drivers holding up name cards. After a couple of minutes I saw a guy called Mohan who collected me last time for IMG, I went to say Hi and explained to him that I was with Tim Mosedale and luckily enough his friend standing next to him was the man to collect me.
Bags in the car, marigold flower necklace over the head and onto the chaotic streets we go. The traffic was good for Kathmandu, anywhere else, it would be considered a nightmare.
I arrived to the Hotel Manaslu (which coincidentally is next to Hotel TIbet where I stayed last time), got to my room and tried to sleep a bit as I had been awake for about 24 hours at thus point. Jetlag made sleeping futile. I ended up meeting the rest of the team which consisted of 7 people who would trek to Base Camp, 2 guys who would climb Lhotse (a mountain next to Everest and uses most of the same route up until near the top when they turn right and we turn left), and 3 other Everest climbers which made 4 of us for Everest in total. We all went out for dinner to get acquainted then onto a classic dodgy bar called ‘Sam’s bar’ which is a great bohemium, ex-pat dive which attracts the random travellers in Kathmandu who are in the city for their assorted reasons.
Sunday and Monday were spent racing around Thamel – the go to area for western travellers which contains oceans of restaurants, equipment shops, phone shops, bars, souvineer shops and spas. The evenings consisted of more restaurants and more bars.
One interesting point was on Monday afternoon I found myself out of Thamel and down in the local markets of Ossn, where everything is VERY different I was on the hunt for a throw away rug for my Base Camp tent (for added warmth). I thought Thamel was dirty and chaotic, this place was jaw dropping. I’ve never seen so many people in one place. Walking in a straight line was impossible. Small temples everywhere with markets selling everything you could think of on the streets. Layed out on the roads were fresh vegetables, spices, fish etc. There were plates of food outside all the doorways of shops, homes and temples which I assume are daily offerings to Buddha..? The idea is nice in practice but they quickly turn from a plate of well presented food to stomped on muddy mush in the heavily packed streets which just adds to the existing rubbish.
Despite these markets selling everything you could think of, it seems rugs were not to be found. I left after my lungs started to labour in the thick dust and pollution and exited back to Thamel and found a taxi to get me back to the hotel.
Tuesday 5am we were up, checked out and in the hotel lobby with all our gear and equiupment duffels sorted into their relavant piles (some for Base Camp, some for the trek, some for a bit of climbing elsewhere). We loaded up the van and off to the airport we go. The city is just waking up at this time so we managed to get to the airport without any significant traffic issues.
Kathmandu domestic terminal was a nice surprise as last time I was there it was a bare earth floored construction site with a half finished roof and no lights. This time we had a brand new shiny lit up terminal. We weighed our bags, got our tickets and then moved onto a place I like to call – The Waiting Room. The weather in Lukla changes constantly and the incredibly steep and short landing strip is regularly covered in cloud making it absolutley impossible to land. It is incredibly dodgy on a clear day! Last time I was in The Waiting Room we waited around 6 hours, finally got onto our designated bus, onto the plane and were told the flight was cancelled and we had to return back to the hotel in the city to spend another night. This time round we spent about 2.5 hours in The Waiting Room with bad news about the weather coming in. Suddenly there was activity and it was on! On to our bus which took us out to our little twin prop 16 seat Tara Airlines plane and…waited some more. Maybe 45 minutes later with pilots getting in and out of the plane and passengers deciding they needed to loo and having to run back to the terminal, the twin prop engines fired up and we were off.
We ascended through the thick, dense, pea soup of pollution and dust which is Kathmandu air and pointed our nose to the snow capped Himalayan giants on the horizon. After a fairly smooth flight skimming through the mountains we had Lukla airstrip in our sights. I was lucky to be sitting front and centre so watched and filmed the entire flight through the cockpit. I was surprised at the angle we were coming in at, this is because the pilots need to come in from high due to surrounding mountains and the fact that the actual runway is on an angle itself so when you look out the cockpit windows, it looks like you are nosediving directly into the ground. The strip got closer and closer, the proximity alarm sounds and with a thud we were on the tarmac. The pilots slammed on the breaks to avoid smashing into the wall of earth with hotel atop at the end of the short runway.
We were here. I was finally back on on the trail which has occupied my every thought for the past two years. The air was fresh. The chaos of Kathmandu well behind us.