Saturday 3 January 2015

Days 187-188: Dolpo days 18-19 - Get Me Outta Here

A Twin Otter arrives at Juphal...
The peace of Dunai was disturbed the next morning by police loudspeakers.  "It's the fifty-ninth anniversary of their presence in Dunai," Uttam translated for us.  "There's a procession to celebrate."  As we left the village we watched hordes of military uniforms file past.  Sixty-four, we counted.  I wonder how that compares to the number of teachers in Dolpo?  Or the number of doctors?  If only they too totalled sixty-four!

...and leaves again... but we're not onboard!
A donkey raided a boy's apple stall and Guy asked a policeman to arrest it for theft, but nobody giggled in reply.  One does not joke with policemen.

If our humour had reached its lowest point, we were hoping the footpath hadn't.  The end of a trek should lead downwards into a valley - no more straining up hillsides, no more ragged breath - but this trek had other ideas.  Remembering the airstrip high on the hillside, we sweated our way 200m back up to Juphal, showing ever less interest in the cries of "hello, pen".  We had photographed this area at the start of the trek, but on the way back we just wanted to get home again.

We lined up eagerly at the airport check-in desk the next morning (a table next to a pile of building debris almost its own height).  I visited the airport toilets while awaiting the plane (a patch of weeds behind the terminal) and we all put our baggage through the high-tech security system (a line of police glancing through our tents and smelly t-shirts, speaking the single word "open").

The Tara Air check-in desk at Dolpo airport.
Someone get them a broom!
A plane arrived, picked up yesterday's stranded passengers (there was a backlog after the storm) and then departed.  We picked up our boarding cards and awaited its return, only to be told a few minutes later that weather conditions had deteriorated and no further flights would take place.  The other airline that operates out of Juphal nonetheless continued to fly for the next four hours.  Were weather conditions really the problem or did Nepalganj lack enough Juphal-bound passengers to make another flight economic?  More cynicism.

More dal bhat was eaten, more rounds of cards were played.  Dilli and the crew deferred their departure (a week's journey on foot and by bus to Kathmandu) so they could cook for us.  (I hope they received an extra day's pay.)  Then we had another crack at leaving Juphal.  This time we climbed the hill to the airport at six am, arriving before the police.  Our baggage was not even inspected as it had been checked the previous day and clearly we could not have added anything to it in the twenty-four hour interim!  But we did not mind.  We just wanted to get to Kathmandu.

If you thought the check-in desk was bad, here are the
baggage handling facilities!
Finally, we found ourselves in one of Tara Airline's few remaining Twin Otters, praying we would make it into the air before the runway ran out and ditched us off the waiting precipice.  The flight was as exhilarating as before, with each frond of each leaf on the pass below us revealed in close-up.  But we made it - made it onto a ten am flight in Nepalganj (goodness knows what strings were pulled to get the tickets), and made it to Kathmandu in time to catch afternoon flights to our various international destinations.  Dolpo had relinquished us.  Next stop China!

The plod up to Juphal tool us through some of the most intensively worked fields in Dolpo.
A Tara Air Twin Otter is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains
We finally manage to leave...
The mountains look fabulous in the morning light
Just before arriving at Nepalganj the pilot executes a neat 90 degree turn to line us up for landing
A blurred Annapurna I seen from the plane from Nepalganj to Kathmandu
A cloud-shrouded Manaslu from the KTM flight
Final night "porter party"... but where are the porters?!?
The local lady who hung around the campsite with her pet goat!

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