Everything is negotiable in Nepal, though I’ve never found myself on a tarmac, knocking on the cockpit door of a recently landed plane, in an attempt to convince the pilot to change his destination. (Now that I say that aloud, it sounds remarkably like “hi-jacking.”)
Our strategy began with telling him that one of our team members was extremely sick, and since there were no real hospitals to speak of in Humla, we wanted to get her to Nepalganj immediately, where there was a hospital. When this tactic failed, we began to intimate that the source of the sickness was “feminine” and we rolled our eyes, as if say that he really, really did not want us to go into details (none of which we could have provided anyway), and couldn’t he just fly us there?
When even this failed to sway him, we resorted to the “Come on! Let’s just go – come ON!” which is what I would call the Finn argument, in honor of my two year old son.
Farid and I got him to the point where he looked out the window in thoughtful considering, seemed to weigh how he might explain to the other passengers, mid-flight, that we were not in fact going to Surkhet but rather to Nepalganj.
We were not successful in the end – we ended up spending much of the day in Nepalganj, as we would miss our connecting flight. (Keep in mind that the planes we were flying looked like they had been based on the specs of a 4th grader’s design, and the airport, at least in Humla, was something akin to a lean-to.) I had spent much of the journey into Humla telling our team how lucky we were to not have to spend a day in Nepalganj, the hot, humid, dull southern town in Nepal. Now that we were doomed to spend five or six hours there, I talked about it as if we were on our way to the Taj Mahal, a sight not to be missed.
As it turned out, that stay in Nepalganj for the better part of the day was something of a Godsend.
“You think you can arrange it, Gyljan?”
Farid was asking our house manager, Gyljan, to find us porters to carry our stuff. We had decided to camp that night up the mountain, on the road to Tibet. Even the word “road” in the remote region of Humla was misleading in our current definition – it was a road as Chaucer might define it – a path wide enough for two horses to pass each other once they had decided who was going to take the edge that dropped down thirty feet.
“I find, no problem Farid,” he said. “You leave soon, yes?”
“In half an hour.”
It was only 2 p.m., but the sun would dip behind the insanely tall mountains by about 5 or 5:30, and by that point we had to be where we needed to be. Not only would it be too dangerous to walk at dusk, but we would also have to set up our camping gear.
“Okay, Farid, I find.”
He didn’t find us the three porters we needed but he did find us a guy who had three donkeys and off we went, hiking slowly up and breathing heavily and trying to remember to stay to the inside of the path when the yak-type creatures came skidding down the path, loaded with giant bags of Lord knows what.
Nine of us flew to Humla on a tiny charter plane – it was the only way we could be sure to secure a flight. This was high season, after all, and most of these 15 seat prop planes were on their way to tourist destinations like Lukla, which is the start of the Everest Base Camp trek. Others were flying to the eastern part of Nepal, having been booked months earlier to bring families home after the largest festival of the year, Dassain. And what was surely on everybody’s mind, which nobody particularly wanted to talk about, was that there was one fewer of these planes in Nepal after one of them crashed in the mountains just a week before we arrived in country.
There’s a saying in Nepal that pilots don’t fly through clouds, because in Nepal, clouds have rocks in them. We waited on the tarmac in the southern town of Nepalganj to board our little charter, and in the chaos of disembarking one flight and piling our stuff onto this little charter we all found time to comment – apropos of nothing, of course – on what an exceptionally fine, cloudless day it happened to be.
When you find yourself in a heated negotiation, demanding to know whether the proprietor of a shop takes you for a fool because he is charging you the equivalent of a $1.25 for a product you know is worth only $1.10, well, my friends, you know you’re back in Nepal.
Fifteen cents. That’s what we’re talking about. In my house, I find dimes and nickels scattered like dust bunnies, ever since Finn started his new hobby of “collecting money” as he calls it (some people collect decorative spoons, my son collects money) and then promptly losing track of that money (after deciding that throwing money is a far more delightful hobby than collecting it). These are dimes and nickels that I would rarely think to pick up, and now I’m storming out of shops and accusing shopkeepers of thievery over them.
If Qatar wants to spend its natural resources on its national airline and its airport, well, that’s just fine by me. Liz and I are flying to Kathmandu. It’s a grueling flight. Thing is, it’s usually made worse by transit through Delhi, which either keeps you in some tiny transit lounge for thirteen hours or forces you to buy a transit visa a week before even flying for the privilege of driving an hour across town to some dingy hotel with no heat. But not this time, my friends. This time, we’ve landed in the pillowy softness that is the Doha Airport.
Despite the fact that I have no idea what day it is at the moment, having flown twelve hours east (though we somehow seem to have missed Saturday, Oct. 8th, altogether – how did it go? Nice day?), I’m feeling pretty groovy about the start of the trip.