No one taking a daytime flight into Nepal should miss the jaw-dropping sight of the Himalayas along the northern horizon. In the Bangkok Airport my daughter and I requested window seats on the right side of the plane in hopes of seeing the massive peaks.
TIP: Arrive at the airport early to snag a window seat. Pre-assigned seats are not given before the day of departure for many short flights in Asia.
JC, my 19-year-old daughter, and I flew over the flat, checkered plains of the lowland Teri area, then over the ochre-red farmlands that melted into the plunging flanks of the first mountain range, sliced by deep gorges of turbulent Himalayan rivers. In the distance the snow-capped Himalayas soared to unbelievable heights. As we approached Kathmandu Valley tiny terraced fields blazing with yellow mustard ringed the steep hills. And nowhere did we see roads!!!
For me, that’s part of Nepal’s charm; it is largely without roads. Access to the interior – its villages and valleys, its mountains and hills – is by ancient foot trails on old trade routes, filled with villagers going about their daily life. Kathmandu is another scenario – crowded roads, twisted lanes, chaos, traffic jams, and choking pollution. And we did suffer from the air pollution in Kathmandu.
TIP: To soothe your dry, irritated eyes, always pack a small bottle of liquid tears or saline solution in your carry-on bag. The dry air during long plane flights as well as the smoky pollution in Asian cities is tough on your eyes. Lemon drops or hard candies soothe irritated throats.
Why would we go to the Himalayas in January when it’s cold and it’s not trekking season? (March-April and October-December are the best months for hiking). But the purpose of our trip wasn’t long hikes. We came to Nepal to visit a friend, and learn about her work with impoverished Nepalese children. We planned to visit children’s homes and a nutritional center and getting to know the kids personally, in addition to seeing the sights around the Kathmandu Valley. And we hoped to take a short trip to the rim of the valley to see sunrise over the mountains and trek for two days.
Since my first trip to Nepal in 1983, when I spent 5 months trekking the most popular trails in the Everest, Annapurna and Langtang areas, I have been lucky enough to returned to Nepal 7 times. As the wheels of the Thai airplane touched down at the Kathmandu Airport, my arms were tingling with excitement and my heart was pacing. I wanted to squeal with excitement but I contained my enthusiasm to avoid embarrassing my teenage daughter. My dream was coming true — to return to Nepal with one of my daughters. I hoped she would love Nepal as much as I love this tiny Himalayan Kingdom. She has read my stories about meeting my husband (her dad) at the Kathmandu Guest House, climbing Island Peak (20,000’ in the Everest Area), and engaging with the open-hearted warmth of the people. During her childhood several Sherpa friends have stayed with us in California.
Welcome to Nepal! The electricity in the Arrival Hall of the airport was off for a few hours (every neighborhood in the city has fixed times, several days each week, when the power is turned off). As we waited for our luggage JC tracked down the unheated ladies restroom, but decided to pass, since it was pitch black and less than inviting.
TIP: Always use the airplane bathroom before landing and stuff some tissues in your pocket for the next toilet break. You never know what lies ahead.
As we descended from the cold, gloomy terminal, we caught a glimpse of our white-haired friend Olga, bundled in a puffy indigo-blue parka waving to us. Olga, who has been a girlfriend for many years, was the inspiration for our trip halfway across the globe. After retirement from the legal profession working for the State Supreme Court, Olga fell in love with the children of Nepal and founded NYOF (Nepal Youth Opportunity Foundation, www.nyof.org ), a non-profit to help educate, feed, house and liberate Nepalese children. My next blog entry will tell more about her efforts to free girls from bondage and tales of our experiences in Kathmandu and beyond.