Walking to Rara Lake
"Bring a bottle of imported whiskey," Shiba advised. "I'll get one, too." Our trekking agent had been trying for months to book us on a flight to Jumla, a remote village in western Nepal. We wanted to visit the national park at Rara Lake, and we either caught a plane or walked in for 10 days. He had decided it would take more than buying tickets to get us in the air and thought he had hit on the proper inducement.
We had already abandoned flying from Khatmandu. "We could charter a plane," Shiba proposed. "That will cost a couple of thousand dollars." "Not likely," I replied. "Any other suggestions?"
"I can take you to Nepalganj. It's a town on the Indian border, where I take my wife when she wants to cross over for shopping. We might be able to get a flight from there."
It seemed worth a try. It would also give us a chance to visit Karnali Preserve to view game. We scurried around Khatmandu, trying to find whiskey at an affordable price. We finally gave up and bought a fifth of Johnny Walker Red from our hotel for $80. The price of our plane ride had doubled.
A guide and driver from Karnali picked us up when we arrived in Nepalganj. We piled into a beatup land rover and headed for the Royal Nepal Air office. "You stay here," the guide instructed my wife Diane. The rest of us trooped in to meet the Regional Manager. He was a jovial rotund man with beady eyes blurred behind the coke bottle lenses of his spectacles. "Namaste," he welcomed us with the by-now familiar greeting. "Where are you from? Do you like Nepal?" We settled in for the pleasantries that precede any business in Asia.
Eventually the talk turned to our quest. "The flights to Jumla are full. Many people want to go there and we do not have enough planes." I smiled, confused as to how this game was played. The Karnali driver brought out our blank tickets. "If I give seats to foreigners," the manager continued as he handed the tickets to his assistant, "people will think I am selling places on the black market." Shiba picked up a signal from someone and shuffled through his bag. He pulled out a bottle wrapped in newspaper and motioned to me. I laid my bundle beside his.
As his assistant validated our tickets, the manager slid the packages into his desk. "You are lucky. Some Americans came last week and I could find no seats.. They got very mad. I told them they would have to hire a charter." I had learned enough about Asia to know that anger was a fatal mistake. That group might as well start walking.
We concluded our visit with a friendly farewell. A couple of days later, we jostled our way onto a plane, wondering what we would find when we touched down a 10 day hike into the Himalaya. Jumla did not sound like a place where we could check into the local bed and breakfast. "Don't worry," Shiba assured us. "Dendi started walking in with your trekking crew almost two weeks ago. He will meet you."
As the crowd began to disperse from the field where we landed, we looked around with trepidation when no one approached us. Finally a thin young man came forward. "Namaste. I am Dendi." We smiled with relief, and excitement at the adventure ahead.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication