Nepal was still on strike when we were to fly from Pokhara to Jomsom. The strike didn’t officially start this morning until 6:00 am, so our hotel van dropped us off at the airport in time to get back to the hotel before 6:00 am.
At least we didn’t have to walk back to the airport, though Hem had a back-up plan with porters in case there was a change in strike plans and the van couldn’t take us.
We are anxious to get to the trail and start hiking.
In these smaller airports the cowboy pilots, dressed in blue jeans and T-shirts, are expected to be back in the air within ten minutes of landing. That means unloading passengers and luggage, refueling, loading the next batch of passengers and luggage, and taking off again.
There may be some form of air traffic control system here, but if there is, it’s invisible. Pilots taxi the moment the door closes and are in the air in less than a minute. There’s no competition for the runway, usually.It’s now 8:00 am and our plane is already an hour late. The airline only owns one plane to service this sector of Nepal. The first two flights to Jomsom have the same flight number and are scheduled for the same departure time. We weren’t chosen for the first flight, so we are waiting for the plane to fly back from Jomsom and load the flight-two people (us). I’m sure there is some arcane system (undoubtedly involving either personal connections or baksheesh) that decides which passengers are allowed on flight one as opposed to flight two.
Finally! Our delayed flight to Jomsom began with a long climb from 3000’ up through Himalayan valleys, often coming within 100′ of the mountainsides. The plane was filled to capacity, seventeen plus pilots, attendant, and tons of trekking gear. As we neared the 10,000′ level, the pilot banked a hard left and dove for the runway, needing every yard of it to land and stop. I try to remember it as a fun ride. Sure it was beautiful, with the landscape changing from scrubland to terraced barley fields on the left to the row of stunning surreal, snow covered, 25000′ peaks on the right, but fun?
After landing in Jomsom, we walked to the guesthouse where the porters and cooks stayed the previous night after taking the bus from Kathmandu. They took a couple hours to rearrange our gear and pack the mules while we did last minute shopping in a few of the tiny shops in town. Somehow I’d left my belt in Kathmandu. In all the shops, there were only two choices of belts, a pink designer Levis belt and a size 46 black belt. The Levis was too expensive. (Just kidding). I bought the black, size 46, which we had to re-notch at our first campsite to fit my smaller size. Expecting to lose the usual 10 – 15lbs. on the trek, I knew my pants would be hanging half way down my butt like a ghetto rapper without this belt. We’ll see, but I’m prepared to poke more holes in that strip of leather with a buckle, as pounds are shed along the trail, along with worldly worries and concerns.
We were finally packed and taking the long walk out of town. Not wanting to miss getting that photo of the first step on our Trek to Mustang, The Last Forbidden Kingdom, I asked Hem, “Are we on the trek yet?” He’d shake his head no. Ten minutes later I’d ask, “Are we on the trek yet?” Again, no. The third time I asked, he just shook his head, laughed in disbelief, and said, “Yes my friend, we are now on the trek to Mustang! Let’s get that photo.”