Compassion is, by nature, peaceful and gentle, but it is also very powerful
Day 1 – Kathmandu
The best that we could arrange with our frequent flyer miles for the air travel was a two-stop itinerary that would take us into China and its interior before reaching Nepal. The trans-Pacific first leg was from San Francisco to Hangzhou, China. After a brief layover, we flew to Chengdu for a late night arrival and overnight stay. The next morning, we would have the final 3-hour flight to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
As we approach Kathmandu by air in late December, we see a mostly brown urban sprawl across a large valley with scattered hills. Once we deplane and get into the terminal, we notice that it’s surprisingly shabby and quaint. Nepal is a developing country and this is well evident with an overall familiar theme of run-down along with abandoned half-complete projects. Ours eyes see an interesting mix of low- and high-technology. Low-tech in terms of developing world realities, such as dirt roads, polluted air, and not safe-to-drink water. High-tech in that cellular networks are everywhere and everyone seems to have the latest smartphones and constantly using them.
A big part of our trip research was the guide service that we would use to do the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. You can trek on your own, especially since this isn’t a technical mountaineering trip. We opt for using a local guiding company for several important reasons. A devastating earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015 and the following hundreds of aftershocks (a few very big quakes in their own right) killed around 10,000 people and produced widespread damage to the country. There were also multiple avalanches near Mount Everest that made the 2015 climbing season the deadliest on record. The earthquakes also heavily affected tourism, so it was important to visit the country and support their local businesses.
We got our 15-day visas after we deplane, exchanged some US dollars for Nepali Rupees, collected our bags, and headed outside to a sea of waiting Nepali offering taxi rides and other services. We look through the mass of people and eventually pick out a representative from our guiding company, who leads us to our shuttle and we head towards our hotel. The driving and traffic in Kathmandu is the usual thing you see in places like India — controlled chaos. There are cars, trucks, and motorcycles all weaving and honking horns as they make their way. You struggle to find any real flow to it all. It seems that whoever has the most nerve to make a move and get in front of someone else is the person with the “right of way”.
After about 20 minutes of driving, we reach the tourist-oriented section of Kathmandu called Thamel. At a certain point, we get tangled up into a stalemate of vehicles that are all trying to make their way in different directions through a bottleneck. Just when it looks hopeless, we turn into an entirely too narrow alley and are suddenly out of that mess — whew! We twist our way through one alley to another even narrower one. We finally end up in a final alley that looks more suitable for a motorcycle than a car, let alone our small shuttle bus. We somehow squeeze into the alley and we shortly reach the gate for our hotel.