We took one last day to relax and enjoy the culture of the mountain region before deciding to head back down to the landing strip at Lukla to fly out. The lodge owner, Mingma Sherpa helped us organize plane tickets for two days time to wrap up our trekking adventure. Fun fact – apparently in Sherpa culture, most people are named for the day of the week on which they were born; Mingma means Tuesday. This has naturally resulted in a multitude of Mingma Sherpas. Much as we found ourselves stuck behind yak trains and multitides of trekkers at the higher elevations, on our way down, we found ourselves running to a considerable amount of mule traffic. At one point, we waited almost 20 minutes as a seemingly endless stream of pack mules crossed a suspension bridge, carrying propane, fuel, beans, and other supplies up to Namche.
Upon reaching Lukla, we found ourselves with some time to explore the town, which we didn’t have when we first arrived. We enjoyed hot drinks and treats at a bakery, and even stumbled across a ‘Scottish Pub,’ which turned out to be little more than a basement painted blue and white, decorated with tartan, and devoid of any customers, except us. Heading back to our lodge for dinner, we found that we were also joined by the group of French climbers we’d seen in Chukkung, who had successfully summited Island Peak. They were celebrating their last night in the mountains with a dinner for their guides and porters. Each group member took their turn giving a speech and toasting the group, on the back of multiple bottles of Vat 69. This was followed by exorbitant dancing, which I was initially reluctantly drawn into. It was great however to see them all so happy, and to be sharing their achievement with the locals who had supported them.
The next morning it was finally time to fly out of Lukla and conclude our Himalayan trek. We were scheduled to be on the first flight of the day, departing at 6:30am. Naturally, we were there well before, although it quickly became apparent that this was perhaps not necessary. We lined up at our airline’s check-in kiosk, behind a very chatty Israeli fellow, and waited for things to open up and get rolling. Yet again, we would learn that queuing in this part of the world is essentially pointless. As more people started showing up, and airline staff finally arrived, people were clearly checked-in on a who-knows-who basis. First-come-first-served would not be the order of the day. This was another instance where having a guide was of significant advantage. Fortunately, we did manage to get ourselves ‘checked-in’ for the 6:30 flight, and as it turns out were the last 2 people to do so. The Russian couple waiting behind us also had tickets for the 6:30 departure, but got bumped to the next one. It became evident that your booked flight time didn’t mean much, and this perhaps explained how we were able to get on an earlier flight when we’d originally left Kathmandu to start the trek in the first place.
As we’d mentioned in an earlier post, the Kathmandu airport was undergoing runway maintenance every day from 10pm to 8am, meaning that our 6:30am departure would not be able to land there. We ended up landing at a smaller regional airport and would need ground transportation back to Kathmandu. Luckily for us, Mingma knew this, and had made sure to book us through to Kathmandu on airline organized transport. Many other trekkers were left to try and find someone to drive them in the relative chaos of the local airport. After being shuttled to a tent with 2 guys and a laptop, we were told to wait ‘5 minutes’ and a bus would be there to take us on our way. A half hour of waiting later, we were told to follow a random guy who seemed to appear out of nowhere, and found ourselves and 6 other travellers piling into his van to head to Kathmandu. 4 hours of twisty, turning, switchback mountain roads later and we were back in the Thamel neighbourhood of Kathmandu! We checked into our hotel, picked-up the non-trekking related gear we’d stored with them, and promptly headed out for food. After 3 weeks of vegetarianism, I was looking for some meat! Luckily, a small spot just up the street called Hity Cafe had everything we needed. I gambled and ordered the chicken wings – they did not disappoint. For the third time in just a few days, I felt as though I was having one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life!
A few notes for anyone heading to Nepal in the near future
After doing a considerable amount of research before getting to Nepal, there were a few things that we found had changed compared to what we’d read, and there were a few questions that we couldn’t find answers to before we arrived:
- You CAN pay for your visa with credit card upon arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu – They won’t like it, and will make you wait at the side for a while, but they do take credit card. They will charge a small fee though.
- Cell Phone Coverage – We had read that NCell was better in the cities and Nepal Telecom was better in the mountain areas. This didn’t prove true for us. We bought a SIM card from each company, and NCell worked almost everywhere, while Nepal Telecom was near useless to us. Even in the mountains, the only time we got reception was with our NCell SIM. Moral of the story, in our opinion, just get an NCell SIM. Also, if you’re in Thamel – there is a small shop across from Tibet Peace Inn called KR Mobile Shop that sells SIM cards at reasonable rates. We found them to be half or even a third of what other sellers in the central part of Thamel wanted. They spoke English and were very nice and helpful.
- Money while Trekking – Prices seem to have increased significantly from what was being reported even just a few years ago. You can easily take 1000 Rupee notes on treks now. Everyone will have change, and prices are high enough that they can be easily used for payment.
- Indian Rupees – We arrived by flight from India, and as such the Indian airport exchange kiosk wouldn’t exchange our remaining bills to another currency for some unexplained reason. We also found that currency exchange kiosks in Thamel wouldn’t change them either. However, our accommodations would accept them as payment, so keep that in mind. Otherwise, try to unload your Indian Rupees before departing India. There are ATMs through Thamel to withdraw local currency.