Monthly Archives: April 2013

We’ll be back!

It’s our last night in Nepal and , as I’m typing this, I’m sitting with my last beer on the roof top terrace of our hotel.

Tomorrow we’re off to Singapore and, while we’re looking forward to our next destination, I’m already “missing” Nepal. The last six weeks were great and, given the chance, we’d do it all over in almost exactly the same way again. Ulrike, Ute and the four of us … we all had a great time in and around Kathmandu, as well as on the trek.

It’s my third time here and I still think that Nepal is a fantastic travel destination with (or without) kids. Kathmandu is interesting, the mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, the prices are very reasonable … and the Nepalese are unbelievably helpful and friendly. What more can you ask for in a holiday?

We all sat around the dinner table today, talking about what we liked (and didn’t like) in Nepal and, except for the pollution in Kathamandu, there wasn’t a whole lot we could find wrong with it. All four of us agreed that we we’ll be back again. There is still so much to see here. Once the kids are a bit older, I’d love to go hiking in Dolpo or Mustang … or maybe do parts (or all?) of the newly established great Himalaya trail.

Quoting Finn and Lara: “It’s great here, why do we have to leave?”

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R&R at Shivapuri Heights

We decided to treat ourselves after the trek and booked four nights at the Shivapuri Heights Cottages. We found it on tripadvisor.com a few months ago and there are good reasons that it’s getting so many fantastic reviews. Situated in the hills above Kathmandu, you feel like being in the countryside, while only being half an hour away from the city.

It’s run by Steve and his wife Neeru and we feel a bit like being house guests in their home. Truth be told, we did very little the last three days … except sleeping late, eating great food, doing quite a bit of reading and enjoying the evenings with the other guests. The kids even have two dogs and a trampoline to play with … and if that get’s boring, there is a stream nearby to catch tadpoles in.

It’s (quite) a bit over our budget, but was well worth the extra money spent!

Here are a few more pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157633406966122

Today it’s back to the hustle of Kathmandu for a night before we’ll be flying out to Singapore tomorrow afternoon.

Bye bye Ute!

Anna and Lara brought Ute out to the airport an hour ago. It really is too bad that she has to leave us. Just like in 2009, it was great to have had her along for a while. Not only is she a good friend and travel buddy, but “managing” the kids is so much easier with three adults.

Tomorrow the four of us are off to a guesthouse in the hills just north of Kathmandu and plan to do nothing but eat, sleep, drink, read and catch up on schoolwork for three days.

Escape from Lukla

The alarm clock went off at 5:30am and, before really waking up, I looked out the window to check the weather. It had been raining all night long, but the runway was clearly visible and the cloud ceiling hung a good 500 meters above it.

Like the day before, I quickly packed up my backpack and walked over to the airport building to look for our pilot. He was busily installing seats into the back of the plane (a good sign) and told us to wait a few minutes … but that we would be getting going as soon as he had fueled up.

While we waited, a Twin Otter landed to take the first 12 regular passengers out (later I heard, that it would be the only one that day … adding to the backlog).

The pilot now told us to hurry, we threw our packs into the cargo hold, crawled into the plane and were on the runway before any of us had figured out how to put on the (very rudimentary looking) seat belts

The take-off was very smooth (a runway that is angled down a few degrees helps) and we airborne.

I had a pretty good view out the front and it was a lot of fun to see the pilot zig-zagging around the clouds. With a single engine (and unlike the Twin Otters) he has to fly by VFR, which means that he can’t fly through clouds or loose visibility with the ground.

The first 15 minutes went fine but then the clouds in front of us got bigger and thicker until I couldn’t see a single opening anymore. We were flying pretty low (in valleys, not above them) and, truth be told, even though I love flying, I got a bit worried at this point.

All of the sudden, the pilot banked hard right, turned the plane around and (just as I was thinking that he would be going back to Lukla) aimed it a field down below in the valley. A minute later we were on the ground.

We all crawled out of the plane and he told us that this is a small grass strip that he uses sometimes if the weather is not good enough to make it all the way to Kathmandu. “Not to worry. Have a cup of team and wait. I will fly you to Kathmandu later when the weather is better”.

We hung around for about three hours, drinking tea, watching kids play cricket and chatting with the pilot. It turns out that he usually flys cargo around Nepal, but also sometimes takes passengers out on the way back … we were pretty lucky, as he happened to be in Lukla after a cargo delivery (roofing material) and was empty for his way back to Kathmandu. He’s been doing this for 15 years and, as you can imagine, had a lot of interesting stories to tell.

After a few calls to Kathmandu, he finally got a “good enough” weather report (apparently, he is only allowed to fly into the airport with at least 5 km of visibility) and we all got back into the plane.

The rest of the flight went very smoothly and we were in Kathmandu around noon.

All in all a very good decision to go with the small plane instead of staying on the waiting list … I’m sure I would have been stuck for a few more days, as the backlog keeps building up.

Stuck

After waking up this morning, the first thing I noticed was that it had stopped raining … and that it looked pretty flyable (see pic above). My flight was scheduled for 9:00am and while I was walking over to the airport building I saw two planes land and take off again.

I was so sure that I would make it out, that I called our guide (who is in Kathmandu with the girls) to arrange him getting me from the airport with his motorcycle. But after another 30 minutes, I noticed the cloud base dropping lower and lower until the final approach from the other side of the valley was no longer visible.

Like the last time I was stuck here, there was absolutely no statement from the airline or airport … everyone just kind of stood around for a few hours, hoping that something would happen or that someone would say something.

After a bit of back and forth with the owner of the lodge that I’m staying in (who seems to be well connected to the airlines), the options are:

1. Wait it out

Get on the end of the waiting list and hope that the weather improves so much that the scheduled passengers all get out tomorrow … and that there are additional flights to start clearing the waiting list. If the weather is bad again, the waiting list builds up … and up … and up. In 1988 I was stuck here for a week and two years ago the situation was so bad that Lukla ran out of food and the army flew people out with helicopters.

2. Walk out

It’s about five days of walking to the next road (and possibility to take a bus). I’ve hiked it before and it’s endless up and down through dense forest with absolutely no views. Would REALLY like to avoid doing it again.

3. Charter a helicopter

Not a bad option. The word on the street is that a seat in a Russian built larger helicopter would go for about US$ 350 (if we find enough people to fill it up). I could get a refund for my plane ticket … which would make it an additional cost of about US$190.

4. Charter a private plane

Apparently there is a pilot here in town, who has a small 6-seater (I’ve seen it on the runway) and is willing to fly people out. He is asking US$200, only about a $40 surcharge if I get my original ticket refunded. He would leave at first light … the most likely time for flyable weather.

After a bit of asking around, I found four others (3 Croatian climbers and a German trekker) and will go with option No. 4.

Wish me luck 🙂

In Lukla again

After a day hiking in the drizzling rain, I made it to Lukla just before the floodgates opened up and it came pouring down.

In spite of the bad weather, some planes flew to Kathmandu today … let’s hope it will be the same tomorrow. Apparently, I’m on the third flight out. Wish me luck.

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