Monday 24th February 2020.
Much to our surprise we push back at 0720 under a smokey orange disc turning shimmering silver over our wing. We are due out at 0730 and in this land that redefines procrastination the fact that Air India Flight 466 is ahead of time is worthy of note. We are on the keys at 0929. A train with 20 passenger cars hurtles past on the other side of the fence. The fellow passengers are silent, mostly asleep, including all the toddlers thankfully. Early to the airport (there is no traffic at 0300 thankfully) we were checked in and through to Kathmandu and off to security by 0420, a routine that was particularly thorough but reasonably good humoured. Rotate at 0734.
We had gotten through security and landed in an empty hall by 0430 but needed to eat so made our way to the food-hall – upstairs and out of the way of the rest of the terminal. It turns out it is also off the grid of speakers and we could hear no announcements being made. We were eating our ‘minut’ breakfast and were enjoying the masala tea when we were interrupted by an ill mannered, poor humoured, high handed bureaucrat of India Airlines who suddenly appeared at our table wanting to know our names and demanding to see our boarding passes. The reasons and his instructions were not clear but in the end I followed him downstairs through security, all the while listening to his perpetual rant about no one listening to announcements, and into the baggage screening area where my pack and that of another foreign traveller were stacked. Only then did I understand what he was agitated about. We were grilled about the contents of our packs. Turns out a diligent security type had spotted the AAA batteries in our head torches. Once we explained what they were, she was happy to leave the packs wrapped (we had enveloped them in one of those plastic wrap options you can purchase at the airport) and send us on our way – which we gladly did, together with our grumpy bureaucrat who remained unmollified by the good nature of the security inspector. We board, hoping our packs are with us. I am especially concerned about that given the calls they were making were for Kavitha not me, but it was my pack they had quarantined. I spend the day wondering if our packs will greet us but also making plans for that possibility. There is an Australian guy in Kathmandu who has been there since the 1970s. He makes and sells gear for very reasonable prices. If our packs don’t arrive we will still do this walk.
Flight A1215 boards 15 minutes late for reasons not explained. The young attendant calls rows 20 to 30 then 10 to 20 then abandons the idea altogether in the face of the crush at the single gate. I seem to recall that studies show boarding in no particular order can be quicker than any other order and that boarding from back to front is the slowest. Possibly because of the shambles at the start line. We are due out at 1250. We land at Kathmandu at 1437. Its 15C, a bit cooler than the 32C we left behind at Kochi. At 1545 we are clear of immigration and have our bags, though the long wait for the to appear in the terminal was starting to worry me. Our lift is waiting for us.
Agnees is the usual cheery Nepalese chap who sorts our luggage onto and into the smallest of cars and sees us into traffic. Our timing is not so good – peak hour is emerging. But we muddle through as one usually does in these places and arrive at familiar places in Thamal, winding our way down to Scared Valley Home. Previously it was Sacred Valley Inn but it’s now under new management. And the ‘boss man’ Nabin proves humorous, welcoming and very helpful. In fact its only minutes and he is roaring with laughter and we feel like old friends immediately. He is the patriarchal lead on this business, holding court in the foyer while the rest of the family help out. He comes from a background in tourism but admits this hotel gig is a tough one. He is open and warm and has a keen sense of humour just waiting to bust out. The twinkle in his eye gives him away immediately.
The check-inn complete we walk up town to the Garden of Dreams and have dinner – grilled trout of course. It is winter when we arrive this time, so trees and shrubs are denuded and the grass dried out. But it is a secluded place and I enjoy it immensely. It’s a pleasure to introduce Kavitha to it. And thereafter to the sights and sounds of Thamal. It has its own vibe though at this time of the evening and with the COVID19 virus starting to bite travel it is quieter than usual. We make a couple of purchases, resist the offers of marijuana, demur at the offers from various doorsteps for bars and restaurants and head back to Sacred Valley Home. Given we started the day at 0200 there is no surprise to find ourselves in bed by 2030 and asleep almost immediately thereafter.