Saturday, February 4, 2012

Asian Adventure: Day 28 to 30 Getting Out of Nepal

Day 28 Pokhara

Pokhara is famous for its views of the Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre. Every postcard, poster and guidebook of Nepal is plastered with the iconic photo of the high Himalayan peaks soaring over the picturesque Phewa Tal lake.

Classic Pokhara view

We didn't even get a glimpse of that view. The fog was so thick that we couldn't even see the other side of the lake.

Our Pokhara view

Still wanting to make the most of our day in Pokhara, we set out towards the World Peace Pagoda set high above the lake in hopes that the fog would clear. We walked around the dam side of the lake and attempted to follow the forest trails towards the view point. The forest was beautifully tropical and offered a wonderful view into the surrounding rice paddies and suburban life. Unfortunately the main trail eventually disappeared and we ended up getting lost in the maze of local paths and goat trails forcing us to cut across the farm fields and neighborhoods to the main road.



Rice paddies

Water buffalo

Forest trail

Water buffalo


Thankfully we quickly located the correct trail up to the pagoda (with a giant billboard saying Peace Pagoda This Way) and completed the climb to the top of the ridge.

Band on a bus

World Peace Pagoda

Unfortunately the fog had not relented making it impossible to see the lake below let alone the mountain ranges beyond.

View to the lake below


Painting the roof

Prayer flags

Proof that planes do fly in Nepal

Giving up on the view we hiked back down to town stopping at a local shop for a lunch of samosas, curry, doughnuts and chai. We headed to the Tibetan settlement to explore the market and spent over an hour searching the carpet showroom to no avail. On the walk back around the lake to our hotel we stumbled across the Maratha Cave where the river plunges into a deep cenotaph which of course has been turned into a bustling Hindu shrine.

Lunch stop

Cooking doughnuts

Maratha cave

Day 28 Pokhara to Kathmandu

We woke up early, eager to get on our way and catch our flight back to Kathmandu. Despite our previous experience and the continuing foggy weather, we were optimistic. When we had missed our flight from Jomsom to Pokhara our guide assured us that the flights from Pokhara to Kathmandu are never canceled. The previous two days we had heard and seen plenty of planes flying through the fog over Pokhara.

However, when we arrived at the airport at 7:45 AM, we were informed that there was a weather delay and that our flight would hopefully leave late morning. Still holding on to our optimism, we set up camp in the crowded airport cafeteria to wait for the fog to clear.

And we waited... and waited... and waited...

By 12:00 PM we were beginning to get skeptical that we would actually be flying anywhere so Dave managed to talk his way into the control tower to get the official weather report. Not good news - in order for flights to leave Pokhara, the control tower had to be able to see the hills to the south and the north, they could only see the hills to the south so no flights would be flying today.

Pokhara airport

With our flights to Delhi booked for the next day, we had no options - we had to make it back to Kathmandu. We managed to locate a Scottish couple who also had an international flight the next day and agreed to share a taxi back to Kathmandu. We managed to find a driver willing to make the 200 km trip for 6800 rupees ($90), stocked up on snacks and then hit the road once again.

The highway between Pokhara and Kathmandu was as windy, busy and hair raising as ever. Our driver managed to make the trip in six nerve-wracking hours. That is almost 35 km per hour - mark speed compared to our previous drives!

We arrived in Kathmandu at 8:00 PM - only ten hours after our flight was supposed to arrive - and immediately headed to Cafe New Orleans to celebrate surviving our last drive in Nepal with cheese burgers and beers. Then it was back to the hotel room to re-pack our bags and prepare ourselves for another flight in the morning.

Day 30 Kathmandu to Delhi

Once again we woke early, eager to get on our way and catch our flight to Delhi. Once again we were optimistic - Kathmandu is an international airport with modern radar technology, planes should be able to land in cloudy weather. Once again we made our way to the airport for 9:30 AM and checked in for our flight. Once again we were informed there was a weather delay.

Trying to hold onto any ounce of optimism we had left, we made our way towards customs.

Apparently the 90 minute wait to clear customs to enter the country should have been a warning - it took almost an hour to clear customs to exit the country as well. Due to the weather delays there were several flights worth of people lined up waiting, including a flight to Lhassa full of Chinese tour groups. Getting impatient with the delay and not understanding that no flights were actually departing any time soon, the one Chinese group decided to re-arrange the rope barriers putting them in first in line. This did not go over well with the others in the room who had been patiently waiting for an hour and things quickly began to get tense. We managed to get out passports stamped just in the nick of time and exit the room just as things began to disintegrate in to full out shouting matches.

Once we made it through security into the waiting lounge it became obvious that we were not going anywhere fast. Dozens of flights had been delayed and the small departures lounge was packed. We grabbed ourselves two of the last available chairs...

And we waited... and waited... and waited...

Thankfully for the first time in three attempts, planes did actually begin to arrive and depart but not until almost 1:30 PM. Our flight finally boarded at 3:00 PM. only to wait on the tarmac for another hour before we could take-off, then wait another hour before we could land in Delhi. By time we landed in Delhi it was past 7:00 PM - only 7.5 hours late today!

View of the Himalayas from our plane

We caught the metro to New Delhi Station where we attempted to get a taxi to our hotel. We knew the hotel was not far from the station but the taxi driver tried to convince us that there was a "festival" and all of the streets between us and the hotel were closed to traffic and that we should find a new hotel. We were out of energy and in no mood to be scammed so we grabbed our bags and set out walking. Thankfully we were able to locate our hotel in about 15 minutes - a shining white palace glowing complete with white horses and a marching band out front! The horses and marching band were actually for a wedding taking place across the street.

Jyoti Mahal Guesthouse


White horses

After another long day of travel we were exhausted so we simply stretched out on one of the large couches at the roof top restaurant of our hotel and enjoyed a fantastic dinner of lamb chops and vegetable korma while watching the fireworks from across the street.

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