Friday, March 18, 2011

Everest Panorama Trek ~ Day 2. Kathmandu Baktapur.


Day 2 - Our Attempt at Flying to Lukla Airport...

We must give the credit to this team of 24 participants (plus Adrian and Melvin, it will make up a total of 26.), because no one was late for the morning lobby meeting.
At 6:15am, all the backpacks were all guai-guai lined up in front of the reception counter.
And rubbing our sleepy eyes, we were all ready to risk our lives for that run down to Luka Airport's ultra-short runway.

Lukla Airport
What is so special about this Lukla Aiport?
Lukla is the tiny township at 2800m altitude, that is the gateway to Everest Base Camp's trek.
Almost every one that treks to EBC or any of the other towns along the same route would need to enter via Lukla.
There are a couple of ways:

  • either a 10 hours bus ride to a town Shivalaya south of Lukla followed by a 7 day trek to Lukla (to avoid taking the plane to Lukla)
  • or take a tiny 16-seater Dornier popeller-engined flight on a 30 minutes journey through Himalayan countries to land at the short 460m and inclined runway at Lukla.

Most would choose the latter for the ease of it, but the flight to Lukla could really be an exciting adventure in itself. That part comes a little later in our accounts...

The Domestic Airport is just besides the Tribhuvan International Airport.
But a gate outside meant that we all had to hand-carry our big and heavy luggages all the way into the hall, which, not surprisingly, was another brewing pot of old-style loud speaker announcements, tired traverllers, more slow-twitch muscles officials and more confusion.

A classic scene here demonstrates the urgency with which Adrian tried to push for a quick take-off...


 The Excitement of Flying... soon...

The feel of the physical boarding pass in hand worked powerful magic.
It meant that you have been given a place on board the tiny little popeller plane and you should be flying soon.

Unable to conceal their over-flowing excitement, our good team members channeled their energies to poker cards while awaiting the departure...


"Wah! Our flight is scheduled at 7:30am... It's now 7:06am. Only another 20 more minutes or so and we'll be airborne already!"

... Some Delays in our Flight?

7:30am came and went.
But still no movement towards the doorway to the plane yet.
Some official news filtering down from somewhere mentioned that the weather in Lukla was bad and it was foggy with very poor visibility.
The experienced pilots of the various small little airline that traverse this route knew enough of the unpredictability of the condition to risk landing at Lukla.
... hmmm, so it seemed that we had no choice but to wait and hope that the weather over there clear up soon.

Meanwhile, time for some useful activities... like equipment check.
It was really good of Wkcheah to have brought his pair of Motorola Walkie Talkies because only his could marry up with SgTrekker's Motorolas.
Mine was utterly useless. Maybe different frequencies, perhaps. But at the end of the day, wkcheah and SgTrekker's walkie talkies turned out very very useful on the trek.

And more useful activities - someone realised that the Nepali counter girl in the domestic waiting hall was very very pretty and many of the guys started shooting photos of her.
She was pretty sporting and she posed for all of them...

While the guys were busying themselves checking equipment and shooting pretty Nepali girls, other members made themselves useful by recce-ing and finding an important spot - water station for topping up our rapidly repleting water bottles!
This spot would become our home ground over the next couple of days...

It was 10:30am, three hours after our flight was scheduled to fly and still no news yet.
And our Trek Leader decided that enough was enough. And led by example in getting enough rest to recuperate to fight another hour (day).

And it was so cute, the way Steve Wong (Stevewhy) put it across:
"It's great and honor to traveled with you Wee How...and not forgetting XMM as well. You really did serve mankind very well 'Salute to you'".
Here Kai Sing captured some very interesting shots of us waiting in the airport...
Kai Sing: "Here are some shots at the airport while waiting for our flight to Lukla.
Day 1....All smiles!"

[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]

and while waiting...

And Melvin took some really funny snap shots of us while we were all waiting in the airport...
[Click on the photo below to go to Melvin's post on the ClubSNAP thread]
[Photo: Melvin Tan]
And we broke open a packet of our well-hidden Bakkwa and distributed to every body!

Photo: Melvin Tan

Flight Cancellation..?!?!

Finally after 5 hours of wait, the loud-speaker lady announced the cancellation of all flights to Lukla due to unrelenting bad visibility over at Lukla Airport's side.

We grabbed our heavy luggage and trudged out of the airport's X ray door frames...

... and across the messy carpark filled with cars and taxis, to reach the end of a field where we threw down all our luggage and waited for our buses...


Day 2 - Durbar Square at Bhaktapur

Adrian and Acpical entering Bhaktapur's Durbar Square... in Infrared 535nm.

Despite the flight cancellation, SgTrekker got things arranged very quickly, made a last minute change of plan, and we arrived at the ancient city of Bhaktapur just in time for lunch.
Our team was split into two - each group had lunch in a separate restaurant.
From the table where SereneXMM, francis chia and I sat on the second floor, we could oversee the whole Durbar Square, the old Palace square of Bhaktapur.

Like what was written in one of the many reviews, roaming the cobblestone streets of Bhaktapur was like taking a walk back in time through the medieval periods of Nepali history.
I could see all my team mates firing away with unrestrained enthusiasm at anything that moved or didn't move in Durbar Square.

The history went like this:
When one of the Kings of Kathmandu passed away, he split his Kingdom into three for each of his son: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.
It was during this period, when intense rivalry and competition between the three Kingdoms brought Newari Architecure to a new heights as evident from the intricate designs and carvings on the temples and buildings in Bhaktapur.
It was precisely why there were three Durbar Squares - one each in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

We all went crazy - shooting and shooting right after lunch...

... and many of us found ourselves learning something in the form of social education from the wall carvings of the temple in Durbar Square...

The golden gate of Bhaktapur
This was the gate leading into the old Palace ground. We could see that even now there were still military guards stationed at the gate.

From what Mr Nepal described, right inside the palace there was a temple of the Goddess Taleju, with whom the old King paid patronage.

It was told to the King he had to keep a young virgin 4-7 years old girl as a Living Goddess, known as the Kumari, in the Temple as this virgin would be Goddess Taleju's reincarnation.
And up till today, the practice of Hindusim in Nepal still maintained their Kumaris.

Every one of the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley (namely, Kathmandu, Patan and Baktapur) has its own Kumari.
The Kumari of Kathmandu is considered the holiest as she is the only one out of the three Kumaris who follows strictly the doctrine and stays in the temple. The other two Kumari of Patan and Bhaktapur, however, stay in their own house.

Mr Nepal said:

"The Kumari has to be a virgin and always before she reaches menstruating age, she would have to be replaced by a new Kumari. The old one would be given a small sum of money and would continue to live life as a commoner. But the problem is- No one dares marry a Kumari, for it is believed that the man who does so would have bad luck befalling him."

Some more shots to share.

SereneXMM #7
A lady carrying her water pot on Durbar Square in Bhaktapur. She looks like in pain. Maybe the water pot was heavy. Keke..

SereneXMM #8
The Golden Gate.

SereneXMM #9
And the soldier guarding The Golden Gate. He has a bored look on his face.

SereneXMM #10

SereneXMM #11

Some sights of Bhaktapur's Durbar Square...

I remembered it was here that every one of us went snapping snapping and snapping.
And Kai Sing captured another excellent shot of Goose and Johnny:
[Click on the photo to go to Kai Sing' post on the ClubSNAP thread]
Photo: Ng Kai Sing
And here was a shot by Cheah Wai Kit of the children of Baktapur, which I enjoyed a lot.
Photo: Cheah Wai Kit
And another Infrared shot of Baktapur by Cheah Wai Kit, which I thoroughly appreciated.

Photo: Cheah Wai Kit

The Naga Basin

Right after the Goddess Taleju's Temple, we right turned and squeezed under a low doorway to The Naga Basin.
This is where the King used to take his bath.
Mr Nepal said that until not long ago, the water from the underground system still supplied this basin.
But it has since dried up.

And who could forget the most important symbol just situated next to the bath Basin?
I am sure every day the King would be caressing and caressing his favourite symbol for the effect that it would bring him...

The Thangka Painting School (...Shop?)

Un-beknown to us, we were led by the guide to a Thangka Painting School.
Well, honestly, this was the very very first time while traveling with SgTrekker that we were somewhat led to an institute with a 'commercial agenda'.
Nothing against visiting the school at all, I must clarify. Just that it was really really funny to see the look on Adrian's face when he decided that enough was enough and gave a small donation to that lovely young lady who described and explained so much to us about the Art of Thangka Painting.

And here was the photo that Adrian took which made us famous as it appeared on the newspaper...
The Singapore Trekkers at Baktapur. Photo: Adrian Loh

The sun began to set as evening drew near.
And a drizzle started. I remembered very well Mr Nepal announced to all of us (especially those at the back) at this point:

"It is getting dark and we still have to walk about 15 minutes before we will reach our bus. So it would be good to pick up your pace right now."

Here were some of the portraiture shots we managed to catch while walking at semi-top speed... Hahaha...!

For some strange reason, this girl in modern school unifrom caught my attention, especially the way she was bathed in a swarm of coloured-clothed people behind her.
The contrast in colours was obvious.
But more apparent was a certain air about her. An uppity-up kind of demeanour that she possessed.
As if she belonged to an Upper Caste as compared to those around her...

Actually on that day in Bhaktapur, there was plenty of opportunities for portraiture shots of the local Nepali.
I regret not shooting more on my 70-200mm...

Here are some more street shots...

A few of us found this pretty little girl on the window of the second floor of a house as we walked past.
She was very happy and was smiling and laughing as we shot her.

It got darker and darker and even darker as we walked along the main thoroughfare of Bhaktapur.
And I found myslef having to resort to higher and higher ISO to capture my shots with sufficient shutter speed.
The lighting was going, going and gone.
And the last couple of shots I had here were really dark, low key ones...

And here was a lovely shot by Patrick Papin Lim:

Photo: Patrick Papin Lim
And a most unforgettable shot by Melvin Tan on his 21mm!!!
[Click on the photo below to go to Melvin's post on the ClubSNAP thread]
Photo: Melvin Tan

Day 3 ~ Out Attempt at flying to Lukla again, and Holi Festival!