Day 15: Silent Five Hour Van Tour

November 18, 2022
Start: Lukla 2800m (9381ft)
Via: Ramechhap 1416m (4646ft)
Stop: Kathmandu 1324m (4343ft)

The 4:20 wakeup is a bit rough given last night’s late repacking. After our slightly late 5am breakfast, each porter presents every client and Tiger with a white khata scarf. Bikram presents everyone with a red khata scarf and Dipak presents everyone with a yellow khata scarf. The scarves are to bless us for safe travel to Kathmandu. With backpacks slung over our shoulders, we walk the short distance to the airport in the dim early morning glow. The porters assist us one last time and carry our duffel bags.

We say a sad goodbye to Bikram, Dipak, Jiban, Mangal, Santosh, and Arjun as we make our way inside the airport. We manage to be first in line for our gear weighing at the Summit Air desk. More and more people pour into the tiny airport and the gear stacks up all around us. After our gear is weighed, our duffel bags are checked by hand before they are lugged onto a cart for our flight. I can’t help but notice the wheezing lady (who’s no longer wheezing) is there with her group as she sits atop her duffel. There are two lines separated by gender for the security check point that inspects our carry-on backpacks. I get through relatively easy but Susan is stopped for a long time as she has to take every single thing out of her pack. It might have something to do with her super stuffed pack and accessory bag.

Because of the cloudy morning, our flight is delayed for two hours. As soon as the clouds dissipate, planes start to touch down in Lukla. Just after 8:30am we march out onto the sunny tarmac for loading. As before, no time is wasted as duffels are unloaded and loaded in the blink of an eye. Amazingly, the whole team has waited for our departure and they stand on the cliff above us waving one last goodbye.

Take off is quick and we fly close to the mountains to my right. We’re close enough that I can easily see the terraced land full of homes and gardens. One difference about our flight today is that we have to fly to Ramechhap instead of Kathmandu. Kathmandu airport is diverting many local flights like this one to Ramechhap in an effort to avoid delays for larger, international flights. Flight time of 20 minutes is about the same between each location but then it takes 4-5 hours to drive from Ramechhap to Kathmandu. We were so lucky to have been able to fly out of Kathmandu instead of Ramechhap two weeks ago because a 5 hour van ride in the dark would have been brutal.

Our descent takes us down right next to the Tama Koshi River. It almost looks like we’re going to land on the river or farm land, but we touch down safely on the tarmac. We pile out and wait for our duffel bags to be unloaded. We heft our duffels and walk towards the front of the airport where a van is waiting to transport us back to Kathmandu.

I buy a bottle of water from a kid on the side of the road before loading into the back of the van. On dirt road, we depart town and start to climb up above the Tama Koshi. We weave through the contours of the mountain on a road that at times is barely wide enough for two vehicles. When we meet busses full of people, we have to creep past each other, only missing by millimeters. We bounce to and fro as I look out through the hazy valley. Susan, who gets motion sickness, sits in the front seat next to the driver with the window open. In Africa, they joking call this kind of rough road experience an African massage. I can only surmise that here it would be called a Nepalese massage. If you’ve spent your whole life driving on paved roads then today’s cross country road travel might be a tad too much adventure. After the hypnosis of the bumpy road, most people seem to have fallen asleep. I’m definitely tired but don’t want to miss this opportunity to see some Nepal countryside. Despite all the shaking, I somehow manage to take my morning dose of calcium with a few bites of energy bar. I can see very long suspension bridges with people on them as they cross the Tama Koshi. We drive in a giant V from the banks of the Tama Koshi, crossing a bridge to the cliffs above the Sunkoshi River.

Around 11am after a few hours of driving, our van and one other tourist van stop for a break at the Dware Bako Hotel and Lodge in Dumja. Everyone tumbles out of the van except for Sophie. We use the toilet, buy soda and cookie snacks and stretch our legs while enjoying the vast view. The Sunkoshi River is on the far side of the valley from us. In the parking area of the hotel there are plants that look very similar to some I’ve seen in Tanzania. There are chickens and crows hanging out and finding scraps to eat. Out in the valley there are people working and I’m fascinated by the giant thatched storage huts.

At about 11:20am as Caspar and I are getting back in the van, Sophie says that she has canceled our group dinner and celebration tonight. The plan was to gather for a Nepalese meal complete with traditional dancing. Tiger and the tour company manager Anuj would also be joining us for festivities and tipping. Caspar and I don’t ask any questions and just take our seats. Everyone else soon loads into the van and we are on our way. I check to see if I have cell service and receive a WhatsApp message from Sophie to our Everest Base Camp Trek Group. Caspar and I look over and can tell that Clearance has also now seen the message. We just kind of make googly eyes at each other and shake our heads.

The now mostly paved road climbs up out of the valley and away from the Sunkoshi River. The curvy road snakes through the steep terrain and points us in the general direction of Kathmandu. My brain keeps going round and round trying to solve the mystery of our canceled dinner. The van is quiet and mostly people are sleeping as the traffic constantly hums past us. Two hours after departing Dumja, we are pass through Bhaktapur which is the largest city we’ve seen in weeks. This van life is starting to feel a bit tedious so I check our location and figure out that Kathmandu is still about an hour away.

Everyone except Sophie and Susan are now staying at Hotel Butsugen so the van stops there first. Clearance, Jeremy, Silke, Caspar and I unload our duffels and backpacks and head into the lobby. Sophie still doesn’t get out for a bathroom or anything. Silke wants us to join her for tea but we tell her that we need to immediately head over to the Hyatt to get tipping money from the ATM. We tell her that because dinner has been canceled we want to resolve the tipping money immediately. Silke, who didn’t have any cell service, is shocked to just now be finding out about dinner even though we were all in the van together for hours. Silke immediately messages our WhatsApp group asking why the dinner has been unilaterally canceled. No response is ever given to the group.

Clearance and Jeremy join us back in the van because they have luggage to pick up from the Hyatt. Caspar and I give the required tip money to Sophie and there are no thanks or goodbyes. First order of business back at Hotel Butsugen is for the first hot shower in two weeks. Susan still very much wants to go to dinner with everyone. Clearance and Jeremy end up going to the Hyatt buffet so they’re too full for dinner. Ready to relax, Caspar and I head down to the Butsugen outdoor dining area for a few beers. Silke shows up too and we share beers and trail mix. Around 6pm Susan meets the three of us and we walk down to the Boudhanath Stupa for dinner. We talk in circles, trying to find any understanding as to why Sophie canceled tonight’s dinner without group discussion. It feels like a lot to process at the end of this long day and such a bummer way to end our grand trek.

Below are some TRIP DATA TOTALS. Steps and pulse ox over elevation profile.