Bandhs and snoopy planes on the way to Kathmandu

Day 11 – Nepal 2008

We had decided on day 1 in Pokhara that our return journey to Kathmandu would be by plane. This was partly a wussy move prompted by the nasty 13 hour bus journey on the way there, but also partly a strategic move because we had then discovered how lucky we were to have escaped Kathmandu at all that day. It turned out

that the population had called one of it’s infamous Bandhs the day after we had (eventually) left to prompt the police into action with regards to the murders which had caused the road block. The whole of Kathmandu shut down, the population on strike, and nothing was moving anywhere, never mind all the way to Pokhara.

Talking to others who were in Kathmandu at the time it sounded pretty scary at some points. Some shops attempted to keep trading, opening their shutters slightly to let people in, but protestors would notice and start stoning the shop, demanding the owner shut down for the day. The government tried to keep essential services running for tourists, such as buses to the airport, and generally this is allowed as even the hardcore protestors know the country depends on tourism to survive, but Marco and Gille had seen some tourist buses come back from the airport with smashed windows and bashed-in side panels. Apparently there were some activists getting a little carried away.

When we heard about this we decided not to rely on the bus to get back into the city and booked ourselves on a flight. The thinking was that even if the strike was still on or the road was still blocked due to the murder investigation we’d at least get through to the airport and could stay there that night to wait for our flight out to Thailand in the morning. So, we stumped up the extra bucks and this morning headed off to the tiny little airport outside of Pokhara to catch our tiny little plane. Pokhara airport has got to be one of the most scenic transport hubs in the world – the cafe is on the roof looking out over the Annapurna mountain range – but even this didn’t quite distract from the fact that our extra money didn’t seem to buy any extra element of reliability. We were due to fly at 9am, getting to Kathmandu about 25 minutes later (yep, that’s one short flight), but on arrival we were told we were delayed until 11am. This is despite the fact that we were the first flight to Kathmandu that morning…

So, we waited. And waited. Flights came and went, 11am came and went and by midday we were still sitting in the airport, with noone but those on our flight still around, the last scheduled flight until later in the day having left at about 11.30. The airport staff had done a runner and we could find noone at all to ask what the hell was going on barring the poor little guy on the snack stand who seemed to have even less idea than us about the state of play. It’s a funny way to run an airport. We could quite easily have gone anywhere we liked, there was literally noone around at all. Finally, around 12.30 someone came in to tell us that there had been a ‘slight’ balls-up and there basically wasn’t a plane for us. Where this mythical plane had gone he couldn’t say, but they were trying to rustle one up as we spoke. Given than I’d seen two flights cancelled with very little reason or apology that morning I wasn’t too hopefull that we would get airborne any time soon. Also, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to fly on something they had just ‘rustled up’ given that even the regular aircraft looked like they had a lot in common, age-wise, with the decrepit bikes we had hired the previous day.

Against all the odds though they pulled a plane out of the bag for us and we were airborne by a bit after 1pm. Our recently discovered flying machine was of the same sort as most of the others that day, a funny looking little twin-propeller 20 seater which you could probably lie down about 3 people in the aisle as long as they bent their legs a bit. I had called them snoopy planes from first sight because they had big long noses with a large black spot on the end.

Anyway, the rest of the day was pretty un-eventful. We got back to Kathmandu and everything was up and running again. We made it back to Hotel Potala after a bit of a rugby scrum at the airport taxi rank in which we went from a 500 rupee ‘fixed price’ to a pretty flexible 200 rupee fare. The Potala guys were as friendly as ever and our room had a bathroom this time, although you pretty much had to stand in the toilet to have a shower. I was loving it though – the place was basic but clean, and hell, it was under a fiver for a night’s sleep and your own dunnie. Awesome.

Marco had headed off Thailand-wards a couple of days before but we discovered Gille still frequenting the Potala restaurant. We met up for dinner that evening and had a few drinks, but I’d managed to pick up a nasty wee cold and couldn’t quite keep up with Cat’s large-vodka pace. I toughed it out to after midnight because Cat was having fun, but much to her dismay I called for bed at about 12.30 and Gille seemed pretty happy to call it a day.

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