Wednesday, July 2, 2014

DAY 11 – 26 June 2014; In Kathmandu

Lal and I had been booked on the 6.30 am Buddha Air flight for a view of the Himalayas from the air. Baiju had done the flying round the last time he had been to Kathmandu, and hence, ducked it this time. Knowing the congested route to the airport via Koteswar we decided to leave the flat by 5 am, and we did. The check in and security were informal events and we were through it soon. There were not many at the airport for the early flights operated by three airlines, Buddha, Yeti and Simvrit. Boarding would begin at 6.15 am, I was told at the check in counter for flight 102. While waiting for the flight to be announced flight 101 lit up on the board for 6.30 am. I went to the counter to check if there had been a change. One of the airline personnel took our tickets and gave me two others for flight 100, saying that it was a bigger aircraft. I reasoned that as long as it was at 6.30 am it would not hurt. In a few minutes flight 101 started boarding and flight 100 was announced for 7.30 am. I lost my shirt and created a fuss at the boarding point. Fortunately, a lady, who seemed like the supervisor, arrived and asked the airline official who had exchanged my tickets to eturn them to me. She said that the confusion was caused due to poor patronage on one of their flights leading to clubbing of passengers for two smaller aircrafts into a bigger one. I explained how we had scheduled many activities based on the 6.30 am departure. She profusely apologized for what had happened. Interestingly, after I had done my song and dance many other passengers realised they had been ‘tricked’ on to a later flight and demanded their original tickets back.

Finally the flight took off after 30 minutes delay, which was attributed to the wait for weather report from flight 101. Most of the 16 passengers who boarded the flight expressed astonishment at the size of the aircraft. The plane has two window seats and a narrow aisle. We were strapped in while instructions for the flight were given. Candies were distributed and I helped myself to a few. The take off afforded good views of the city. The airhostess and the co-pilot kept explaining the peaks as we flew past them, first on the left and then on the right. The Shisha Pangma at 8013 m, Gauri Shankar at 7134 m and Melungste at 7181 m were the earlier ones to be sighted. The views, I must admit, were not as spectacular as I expected because the peaks were not clear of clouds and the sky was not blue enough; talk about being demanding of Mother Nature! Then came what we were all waiting for – Mt. Everest. She formed a cluster with Nuptse at 7855 m, Lhotse at 8516 m, Ama-Dablam at 6812 m and she herself towering at 8848 m. it was easy for the ao-pilot to point out Everest. It was as if she had worn her crown for us – a silver cloud framed her peak. The 1 hour flight landed back after 8 am after numerous opportunities to visit the cockpit and take loads of pictures. Lal shot the entire experience on GoPro camera. While deplaning the airhostess gave us each a certificate that said: I did not climb Mount Everest…but touched it with my heart. I got the certificate filled in and signed by the pilot.

I bought eggs and bun from the provision store at the entrance to the flat. The attempt to hard boil the eggs was not fully successful. However, it was a more successful attempt than what my father had a few decades ago. I cannot recollect a day when he stepped into the kitchen. That was my mother’s citadel and he had no business in it. Once my mother had to leave for Kanjirapally in a hurry as my grandfather had taken ill suddenly. While she had arranged with the family next door for lunch and dinner, my father expressed confidence in handling breakfast. My mother rang up the next day morning to find out how her hubby had managed breakfast. What he told her was fodder for wisecracks for many years; it still rings in my ears and that’s why it is being narrated now. He discovered he had no idea of how to light up the gas burner; he abandoned attempts to boil water after the whole house smelt of cooking gas. Not to be outsmarted by a gas stove he did what only he could have done. He decided to boil eggs in hot water collected from the water heater in his bathroom. The eggs were left in the hot water long enough, he thought, for it to be hard boiled. After about 20 minutes he shelled the eggs only to find them still raw. He could not fathom where his recipe had faltered!

After breakfast we decided to go to GoFord once again, for the yellow lamp lit up yet again suggesting some malfunction. This time around they suggested it could be because of fuel octane difference. When we drove out an hour later the problem was solved, or so we were told. Anyway, we were assured that it is nothing major warranting a full scale berthing of the car. I hope it stays that way till we complete the journey, for the toughest leg starts tomorrow – 4 weeks through Tibet/China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The next destination was the Pashupatinath temple, located on the banks of the Bagmati River and steeped in legend. It is one of the most important Shiva temples in the world and is a must visit pilgrim centre for Hindus. It is the place where the ‘pasu’ (human condition) gets sublimated to ‘pati’ (divine condition). Till recently non-Hindus could only observe the temple from the other bank of the river. Today the temples are closed to them but they are welcome on the premises. The premises hold a Sankaracharya temple; it is understood that the Travancore kings played some role in the installation of priests here. Adi Sankaracharya held aloft the belief that priests from various parts of India would help unify the country through such cultural exchanges. The ‘Bhatts’, temple priests, are all powerful, being accountable only to the King of Nepal!

I got a call from Ram of Nepal Tours that the Chinese visa had been received. That was music to our ears. We made haste to Thamel where the agency had its office. When I saw the Group Visa I was overjoyed. The rest of the permissions, I was assured, would be carried by the guide to the border where she would facilitate our smooth entry into Tibet/China. A Group Visa is not stamped in the passport. It is a separate document in duplicate; one has to be given to immigration officials at the post of entry and the other at the post of departure. The strict condition is that the members mentioned in the Group Visa have to enter and depart the country together, except under exceptional medical conditions. Thus, the final visa was done – now we have documents to cover us for the 25 countries left over in the journey.

I have heard that extreme pain can cause hunger; we experienced something different after we obtained the Chinese visa. The joy of holding the document in our hands made us ravenously hungry. Moreover, it was close to 3 pm. Ram suggested the Cha Cha Café. I trusted his selection for it was he who had suggested the Chikusa Café a few days earlier. The added attraction was the free WiFi. We feasted on rice, chicken and a plate of spaghetti with bacon. The coffee was marvelous. Mohan had arranged and re-arranged meetings with the Indian Ambassador to Nepal; the changes were brought about by changes in our schedule. This morning I had requested Balbir Saini to reschedule the meeting for this evening due to the departure from Nepal tomorrow. While at lunch Saini confirmed a 15 minute meeting at 4.15 pm. He suggested that we be in time for the Ambassador had other engagements after 4.30 pm. I did not want to be a minute late. Hence, I hired a taxi to guide us from Thamel to the Embassy. Fortunately, it was not very far from where we were in Thamel. We reached ahead of the appointed time; information had been passed on to the gate whereby we gained access to the Embassy premises. The car did attract a lot of attention at the gate.

We met Saini who introduced us to Abhay Kumar, who is in charge of the Press, Information and Cultural affairs. The ebullient poet-diplomat accompanied us to meet the Ambassador, Ranjith Rae, who warmly welcomed us all. Over a cup of tea he patiently enquired the details of the journey and suggested that we visit the Buddhist caves en route to Kashgar. He also explained how Buddhism had travelled to China via Pakistan and Afghanistan as also the route taken by Huen Tsang. I suggested an annual friendship drive from Kanyakumari to Kathmandu, which the Ambassador found interesting. We presented the Ambassador with a commemorative coffee mug. After the meeting Abhay affixed green stickers on the car to signify that we had completed another leg of the journey, Nepal. We spent a lot of time with Abhay, who was shepherding the development of an anthem for the planet. We have promised to pitch in too with visuals and ideas. He told us that UNICEF will shortly run a competition to develop the Anthem. The one he has done called the Earth Anthem has been translated into 8 languages and has been rendered by a Nepalese artist. He presented us with an autographed CD and a collection of his poems. He also promised to get us in touch with Embassies of the countries we are going through.


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