Delay at Durbar

Kathmandu, Nepal

Except for the occasional burning garbage fire, the city was nearly pitch black when we set out for the airport this morning at 5:15 a.m. Some of that could be attributed to the early hour; but Kathmandu’s overloaded electrical grid necessitates frequent power cuts, often for up to 18 hours a day. Without generators, darkness sets in.

At the tiny domestic terminal, we settled into some stiff plastic seats while the smell of an overflowing lavatory drifted into the waiting area. We were originally scheduled to depart on a Tara Air flight at 6:15 a.m., which given low-hanging smog in Kathmandu and overcast conditions in the mountains, was quickly delayed.

7 a.m. became 8 a.m. which became 9 a.m. Soon, the city weather cleared but the weather in Lukla remained poor.

Safety has been — and continues to be — an issue when flying into the Himalayas. Most recently, there was a crash in Lukla just two years ago. The country’s aviation authorities have taken a very cautious approach to flying into the mountainous area, so while we grew frustrated as the hours ticked away, we also understood that little could be done.

At 1 p.m., the garbled announcement came over the loudspeaker: “All flights to mountain canceled.” Crushed, we grabbed our bags and navigated the chaotic streets back to our hotel.

After some Thai food and a couple of Everest beers to commiserate, we walked to Durbar Square, the traditional heart of the old town that once served as the palace residence of the royal family. The entire area, a Unesco World Heritage site, is comprised of temples that date back to the 17th and 18th century.

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Surrounding streets were brimming with vendors selling smoked fish, banana leaves and marigolds. As the city’s biggest tourist attraction, we were actually pleasantly surprised by the lack of touts — certainly there were some begging children and the harassing guide offering his services, but for the most part, we were left alone to enjoy our time there.

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Back at the Manang, we watched as the skies rapidly darkened and a monsoon with pelting hail and howling winds blew through the city.

We hoped that this would the last of our weather woes.

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