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kathmandu nepal- Annapurna Mountains from valley

Annapurna Mountains from gorgeous lower valley


As I was winding up the last two days of my Annapurna Circuit trek in western Nepal, I started to see soldiers along the route. Hmmm…? Soldiers definitely weren’t around when I set out on my trek two weeks earlier. I wondered if there had been an accident? Was there a trekking rescue underway, perhaps? A different incident of some sort? Or… were Maoist guerrilla activities re-surging in the area? The presence of soldiers certainly indicated that something must be wrong, out of the ordinary. Worse, I had a creeping feeling that I might be unsafe.


On the last day of my trek, I came upon progressively more soldiers. Groups of them started appearing. I began hearing minor whisperings of Maoist activity. And then I heard rumors about bombs! I began thinking I’d feel relieved to get back safely to Pokhara, where I’d be surrounded by people. I felt a bit uneasy and vulnerable out there in the Himalaya mountains.

Luckily, except for coming across troupes of soldiers, nothing happened and I made it back to Pokhara just fine. There I found out the issue wasn’t a small, localized Maoist stirring. On the contrary,  gigantic news had reached Pokhara: Maoists had set off several bombs! In Kathmandu! Bombs in Nepal’s capital city? That really shocked me, since I’d believed all Maoist guerrilla activity in Nepal occurred in rural areas. But now they’d struck the capital city. Wow- was it safe to return to Kathmandu? If not, how was I going to leave the country? My flight departed from there.

Lash trekking Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

What’s more, all foreign countries had issued urgent warnings to their citizens in Nepal to GET OUT. PRONTO! Holy s**t! There I’d been, happily stomping through the Himalaya mountains, while out in the rest of Nepal, totally oblivious to me, there was a guerrilla war blooming. Yikes! Now, because of the travel/departure warnings, it would probably be very difficult to get a flight.

I spoke to many people in Pokhara about the situation, both travelers and locals. I gathered that it was probably fairly safe to return by bus to Kathmandu. The bombings had already taken place. Since then masses of military and police had been stationed in Kathmandu to secure peace and prevent  more bombs.

Hmmm… so back to Kathmandu it was for me, my fourth bus trip across a long Nepali valley, then up over a steep thrilling mountain pass and down into Kathmandu Valley to the city. Luckily, the trip went without incident. Back in Kathmandu, nothing actually felt wrong or different, surprisingly. I didn’t feel fear or danger. The city appeared to be running as usual. The only small difference was that the main tourist areas were somewhat deserted.  A lot fewer westerners were in Kathmandu, that was certain.

temple plaza in Kathmandu

My first, most important task was to book a return flight to Bangkok. I had an open-end return ticket.  To do so, I had to find a tiny airline booking office. I eventually managed to locate it, only to face the next shock: no available seats on any flights. Not anytime in the next week. The best they could do was issue me a seat on a flight in two-day’s time, with the understanding that the flight was over-booked. Even though they issued me a ticket, it didn’t guarantee I’d actually get on the flight. I’d have to go out to the airport, wait around, and hope to be one of the lucky passengers who got on board.

I envisioned having to go out to the airport 2 or 3 days in a row, wait around, be denied a seat, return to the city, then do it all over again the next day. That ordeal would be made much harder because I was cycling to the airport. I’d have to load up my bike with my backpack, pedal out there, and possibly pedal back again, to start all over the next day.

bike packed up, on my way

All I could do was try. On the designated day I packed up and cycled Kathmandu’s hilly pot-holed roads over to the airport. When I got inside, I was in for yet another huge shock: the airport was completely crammed with people hoping to get on flights. Most surprisingly, hundreds of Nepalis were trying to get flights. That I hadn’t anticipated at all. I had imagined the airport would be simply filled with westerners.

Were all those Nepali men trying to leave Nepal because of the Maoists? The bombings? Were they afraid they’d get killed if they stayed in Nepal? Were they running for their lives? I asked around, and was told they were all trying to go overseas to work. Apparently it had nothing to do with the guerrilla war at all.

“Well, great timing guys! We westerners are trying to escape a war. And you’re just trying to go work overseas. Of course work is important, too, but right now? This is a crisis!”

As it was, not only did I have to compete for a seat with all the other tourists, but also with several hundred Nepalis standing in lines at my check-in counter.

I proceeded to politely but persistently push myself forward to the counter. Once there, I presented my ticket and stuck close to the counter area, making my presence known. As suspected, having a ticket issued did not mean I had a seat on the plane. The check-in attendants put me ‘on hold’. They weren’t sure if I’d have a seat or not. I had to wait and see if x,y,z guests showed up or not. I actually got myself behind the counter, calmly but persistently holding my ticket out. They put me off and put me off. I started suspecting they were holding out to see who would give them the most ‘bribe money’? I didn’t offer any. I just stayed there behind the counter holding out my ticket to them.

To my amazement, it worked! They finally issued me a seat. I think I was given 1 of only 2 or 3 seats still unoccupied. Wow! How lucky was that? I looked out at the massive lines of hundreds of Nepalis hoping for a seat, along with a few westerners also waiting to get on board. Whew.

Lash boarding Nepali flight

I’m not sure why I got that seat. Was it my calm persistence? All I knew was that I was flying out of Kathmandu that day, on the very first flight I attempted to board. I’d been blessed with a lucky, easy escape from a war zone.

I don’t actually remember anything more of the airport that day, or boarding the flight, or even the flight itself. All the drama had already unfolded. With a sigh of relief, I headed back to Bangkok, and prepared to go home for Christmas.

Q: Have you ever been in any hairy situations while traveling?

If so, please share your story here!

You might also like:

Trekking the Annapurna Circuit

Photo Gallery: Kathmandu

Photo Gallery: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit

1 ping

  1. NEPAL: FIRST IMPRESSIONS - LashWorldTour » LashWorldTour

    […] afterwards, to round things off, I experienced a very exciting and dramatic exit from Nepal (see Dramatic Departure) in the midst of Maoist bombings that lead to most countries issuing urgent warnings to all its […]

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