Today’s headlines screamed “Nepal plane crash: Builders’ holiday turns into mourning for Trichy”. A mountain flight on its way back into the capital city had ‘nipped’ a hill on approach. The terrain only helped blow it into smithereens. The sad news reminded me of my own flight into this city a few months back.
It wasn’t my first visit. As a child all our summer vacations were spent there with my grandparents and rest of my mom’s family. Then we used to travel by road mostly. Air tickets were way too expensive. It was in this recent journey of mine I realized how treacherous the air-route really is.
Kathmandu valley is quite big, big enough to house two cities in addition to the capital itself. But it is the nature of the valley that makes it difficult to reach. It is like a deep bowl surrounded on all sides by high mountains. Planes cannot descend until the very last moment in order to clear the mountains first. Then it literally nose dives into the runway for the landing. As breathtaking as it is, it can be quite terrifying for the uninitiated. Any error will not be forgiven!
The road journey is no smooth sailing either. Traveling from Bihar there are two roads into the valley from the border city of Birgunj. The older one meanders over several hills and mountains on steep curvy roads. The second travels beside the Trishuli river and is comparatively less dangerous. The latter was constructed in 1987, ahead of the 3rd SAARC Summit.
Prior to 1987 we traveled by the upper mountain trail. It used to be a day-long journey on a crowded bus. The journey itself was beautiful with clouds wafting in and out of the windows and cattle looking like ants down below. Inspite of the bumpy and rather tiring journey we used to really enjoy it (although mom used to be konked off on an Avomin, unable to bear the meanderings).
Once the lower road was constructed, the journey converted to an overnight trip. It was a smoother, wider road and more or less ran level. Buses became bigger, faster and were generally much more comfortable. It also meant that more bus companies and drivers entered into the foray. Now mountain driving has its own unwritten rules. Locals are well adept at it and much more familiar with the terrain, having grown up in it. But drivers from outside are prone to errors often leading to fatal accidents.
There was once an Indian bus full of pilgrims that had got stuck in a landslide. Running on a tight schedule they had decided to proceed, not comprehending the seriousness of the warnings. Thankfully no one was hurt. Then another time a driver had apparently dozed off and rammed his bus into a truck standing on the roadside. A few inches to the left and the bus would have headed for the surging waters below.
By road or air, the journey into Kathmandu became easier. Have you wondered how it was in the yesteryears? By foot, ofcourse. We have heard tales from our grandfather of his trips in and out of the city. How it took several days, traveling by day and resting by night, staying over in villages on the way. Carriers used to come along to carry their luggage as well as the food for the journey. Tedious maybe, but even today, it sounds very adventurous to me. Someday I hope to shed the weight of an airline ticket and recreate the magical path into one of my favourite places in the world!