Birganj (Nepal), 15.07.2013
Since we didn’t manage to see the Himalayas in Nepal so far, we decided to resort to extreme measures to verify if this country really has the highest mountains in the world: we took a plane to check out the world on on top of the clouds hanging low over the Kathmandu valley these days. We woke up at 04:30, left the hotel and arrived at the airport at 06:00, half an hour before take-off. We waited, and waited, were told there were some delays, then some maintenance works on the runway, then something else. The staff was very relaxed while we wondered why we had woken up so early. At 07:45 we were about to give up and leave, since we had a long way ahead of us, when suddenly the boarding started.
The small Buddha Air turboprop aircraft was almost full, and shortly after we climbed up through the clouds. Past the last layer, the sun welcomed us and we flew over a carpet of white cotton balls. Then the first peaks came in range. Yes, they do have mountains here in Nepal, and what mountains! We were handed a small flyer with the shapes and names of the peaks, and we started to recognise them. One by one we were invited to the cockpit to share the captain’s view. And from afar we saw the one mountain, the highest in the world – Mount Everest! What a view! All 17 passengers were excited about the panorama, asking questions, taking pictures. Fantastic! The second time we fly on this journey (after Cappadocia, Turkey), and the second unforgettable experience. On the way back a little Ryanair-like show was served, the sale of souvenirs and T-shirts (with mediocre success).
Once on the ground again, we were picked up by a shuttle bus and brought to the domestic baggage claim, that in Kathmandu was outdoors and a few meters from our parked car. It was 09:00 as we drove into the city traffic, still amazed by the flight. We were 1,5h late, and drove into bad traffic, adding another half hour of delay. An hour later we finally were on the highway out of town, just to have to stop twice at road construction sites that blocked traffic. More time lost. Finally we left the main highway to Pokhara, from which we had come, to take the Tribhuvan Highway through the mountains to the border with India. It is the straight route from a few km west of Kathmandu down south to India. We were pretty much alone on this road, the main traffic (mostly trucks and buses) continued on the westward highway. Although we were in a hurry to reach the border early, as the road climbed into the jungle covered mountains, curve by curve we lost the pressure and started relaxing, enjoying this beautiful mountain highway. We passed several small villages, saw the kids come back from school, peasants at work on the fields, and climbed up to 2488m altitude shortly after the village of Daman. The lush vegetation, fading out into the fog it emits that converts into clouds was breathtaking. Hungry, we stopped for lunch at a village where we had seen an eatery as we drove by. And indeed, at what revealed to be a bus stop, a metal pot full of momos waited for us at the entrance. We had some, then a noodle soup, and then more momos since they were sooooo tasty, with their spicy sauce! 180 nepalese rupees (€1,44) for a fantastic lunch!
Roughly an hour later we stopped for a coffe break on the way down the mountains. As we paused, cleaned up the back of our car and organised the food reserves, a bus stopped right behind us. A dozen guys came out to urinate with a view, then to inspect our car. There seemed to be no need for discretion nor privacy. I asked one of them if I could help with something, since he stood like 1 meter from our stuff and almost jumped into the Evoque. “No” was the reply as he kept looking. We kept driving down into the valleys for quite some time and finally reached Hetauda. Here the roads got bigger and we could move on faster and faster, the closer we got to the border. What also changed was the increased traffic, and on the last km to the border the driving style faded into Indian-aggressive and chaotic, the use of the horns increased, dust and litter appeared. We could feel India reaching out for us again. At 17:00 we stopped in front of the Nepalese customs office.
I tried to find someone who could stamp our Carnet de Passage here, but nobody seemed to know what this was about and I got passed from one official to the next. At some point I stood in the sensibly cooler, climatised office of what seemed to be the chief of customs. He knew what I needed, instructed his assistant to fill out the easy form and get it stamped by the guy in front of the door. While I waited, he engaged in a very pleasant conversation with me about Nepal, India, Pakistan, our trip, travelling in general, the places we had seen in Kathmandu etc. 15 minutes later everything was done and I could leave, shaking hands with the officer. As I left the room, I had the intuition to check the Carnet, and found a mistake in the date on it. I went back, and got offered tea as the assistant corrected the date. Again we shook hands, this time for good. I left thinking that in all these months on the road I hadn’t had such a pleasant customs control at any border.
This post stops here, since we would like to leave our readers with the very positive, pleasant accounts of this day. The next post will tell you more about the rest of it.
Trip data for the day (includes the next post’s time too)
– Km driven: 354
– Hrs on the road: 17h
– Diesel l/100km: 11,9