Touring Kathmandu and Patan yesterday was surprisingly interesting and exotic. However, the main purpose of our trip to Nepal was to go up Mount Everest. Since Kathmandu is already at an elevation of 4,600 feet, we only had another 25,000 feet or so to climb to reach the summit.
I had been warned to be prepared for bitter cold, and I had four layers of protection when I left my hotel room to meet the guide at the scheduled time of 5:50am. Masesh is an interesting young man, who loves trekking and mountain climbing. When I had asked him why he did not drink coffee or tea, he had an unusual response: “My father is a farmer and we have a cow in our home, so we drink milk”. Makes sense, I thought.
The local news are headlining the increased security measures being taken by Nepal around Mount Everest because of scuffles between the many climbers who are making the trek up the mountain. Climbing Mount Everest is not as hard as it used to be, thanks to very well defined tracks and oxygen masks, and hordes of people are crowding those tracks.
Nowadays, the most terrifying thing about climbing Mount Everest, from what I have read, is the first leg of the trip, the landing at the LukLa airport, built on the side of a cliff at an altitude of about 9,200 feet, and the beginning stage of all climbs of Mount Everest.
Masesh is late showing up, and I am getting concerned that we will miss our flight. When he finally shows up, he explains that he had been trying to find out if the flight was going to take off as all of Kathmandu is enveloped in a dense fog. We decide to take our chances and leave for the airport.
The domestic terminal of Kathmandu airport is a sight to behold. I would not be surprised if the building predates the first flight of the Wright brothers. Looking around the terminal at the scruffy crowd around me, I was expecting Indiana Jones to appear at any moment. We had gone through numerous security checks to get to the boarding gate area, yet nobody had questioned the electronics in my pockets: American cell phone, Indian cell phone, Nepal cell phone, mobile hotspot, battery charger, ipad, camera, etc…
By 7:30am, there was still no information available on our 6:30am flight, despite the numerous airport and airline personnel standing around sipping coffee and pretending to be gainfully employed. An announcement came on the loudspeaker system: “All passengers flying to @$#%^$% on $%#$&%^$, please URGENTLY %$#$%$#$%!”.
Finally, at about 8am, the sad news came. A test flight had taken off and gone up towards the mountain only to turn back because of the fog. All flights were cancelled for the day. We would have to try again the next day.
We repeated the same routine the next morning, and again sailed through all the security checks and found ourselves comfortable seats in the boarding area of the windowless cold-as-an-icebox terminal. “All flights are a go this morning”, we were told when we arrived at the airport. The weather forecast called for a sunny day, all day long.
However, nature continued to interfere. At about 7am, we were able to find out that our 6:30am flight would not take off on time. At 8am, we were informed that the airport was closed down because of the fog but that it would reopen half an hour later and the flight would then leave.
At 8:30am, the news was that we would get the all clear at 9am. At 9am, our flight was cancelled for “visibility” reasons. Outside, the cloudless sky was clear and blue.
Clearly climbing Mount Everest was going to be a lot harder than I thought!
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