A Flight From Kathmandu to Tumlingtar
Travel Blog • Rob Verger • 05.06.09 | 11:22 AM ET
It’s been gray and drizzly for a few days now in New York City, and this dreary weather gives me a kind of itchy wanderlust. The airport beckons. It makes me nostalgic for what was perhaps the most adventurous flight and trip I’ve ever taken, now almost a decade ago.
I suspect that many travelers out there have such a trip in mind—the kind that, while it may have been grand and seminal for you at the time, might live on even larger in your mind in the years afterwards.
I was studying abroad in Nepal at the time, and we had reached the point in the semester when we all were required to pursue independent study projects. I had decided to venture out and try to collect legends about something called the Khembalung Beyul in northeastern Nepal, which is a Shangri-la-type “hidden valley” that exists more in story than in actuality.
My friend Jordan, also an American student, was heading to the same region, so we joined forces. The school sent along a Nepali language teacher named Chandra Rana Magar, and without his help there is no way we could have ever completed the journey.
We flew east from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar airport, and I remember the flight: It was in a small red, white and blue Dornier 228 twin-prop plane, and after leaving the smog of the Kathmandu valley and cruising for a while, we descended over a series of mountain passes until a large valley spread out before us. Two rivers joined in the valley, and above them was a grassy field on a plateau: our runway. It seemed to be the only flat place in a land of all hills.
We touched down gently on the grass and came to a stop. Jordan and I paused for a picture at the front of the plane, where, somewhat surprisingly, our bags had been stored in a compartment in the nose. That shot of us standing there, and another of a plane leaving the airport after ours arrived, was originally taken on slide film; last year I scanned them in and digitized them. For that reason alone the trip seems like it was taken in another era.
We spent the next three weeks or so trekking, all the way up to near the base of Mt. Makalu. I still remember eating boiled potatoes in a tiny mountain village, crossing rivers on bridges both sturdy and modern and improvised and shaky, and seeing the bright pink flowers of rhododendron trees.
It’s perhaps the furthest flung I’ve ever been, and there are some days when I feel surprised that I actually did it, and that flight on Gorkha Airlines to the field in eastern Nepal, and the trek afterwards, seem like more a dream than a memory.
Going to Nepal that semester—specifically, the adventure of that flight and the rest of my trek in hills above Tumlingtar—was my life’s first big trip. What was yours?