13th April, 2002. We have an early start and there is a spirit of expectancy among the group as, illnesses forgotten, we gather for a ride to the airport. After a lengthy check-in at the Buddha Air desk we wait impatiently for our delayed flight. Cameras click nervously at every opportunity – even while we wait on the apron for the signal to board our 16-seater aircraft.
We fasten our seatbelts; the plane rises into a thick layer of clouds; and through to the other side. Mountains emanate from the mist, a majestic series of snowy peaks and crannies; deep valleys and ragged ridges. Our charts show us which peak is which, as the plane flies westwards along the range, not close enough for my liking, and I wish that my porthole is clearer and less scratched. One by one we go to the cockpit and are blinded by the brightness of the vista through the pilot’s spotless window. At least my photo, catching the cone-shaped tip of Mt. Everest with a wisp of flying snow wafting at its peak, will come out well; but the light is too bright, and I have to settle for an inferior shot. Perhaps there’s method in muted light, after all.
The plane turns and flies back, giving those on the other side a chance to gaze in wonder and angle their cameras through the murky portholes. On my side, dark deserted ridges and deep valleys stretch southward through the foothills. Then we bump gently down through the clouds, and it is all over. How short a time.
We enjoy a late breakfast and some quiet time to ourselves before embarking for a final bus journey. The afternoon visit to Bhaktapur is a leisurely stroll through the cobbled streets accompanied by soothing Nepalese music. Our guide is a wealth of information supplied in a monotone, which is too easy to tune out of in the subdued clamour of the city around us. Again, we pass many temples, goats, chickens, cows – blood and gore, the occasional gory head abandoned in a doorway. A few motor bikes growl past. Today is Nepalese New Year’s Eve and there is an air of expectancy and preparation. Tomorrow it will be 2059. We pass an enormous crudely-made chariot, undergoing preparation for the festivities.
Blocked streets delay our return, and then we gather at the Rum Doodle for a farewell dinner. What a contrast; it is full of tourists. Upstairs, large footprints cover the walls, bearing names and messages of climbers down the years. Edmund Hilary’s tent adorns one corner. Loud ‘70’s music fills my ears as I watch gyrating Nepalese in the garden below getting ready to greet the New Year. I am disappointed that dal bhat is not on the menu. Instead, I have an eggplant lasagne which I cannot finish.
I say goodbye to my fellow travellers; my adventure is not over, and I look forward to experiencing yet another angle to this multi-faceted city.