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Nepal’s little-known ‘To the Airport’ trek

Today I leave Nepal and fly to the UK.

Yesterday Government officials killed several homeless Maoists in Nepal and the Maoists are not happy.

This morning five of us load ourselves into a small car outside the Shanker Hotel. The car steams up as three of us squeeze on the back seat, and one takes her place on the front seat next to our host and guide Major Ram.

On the roads outside the hotel angry young Maoists are patrolling. The Maoists had previously announced they would strike in a few days’ time; I’d seen the red posters around the capital; but yesterday’s killings have fuelled tempers.

My right shoulder is squashed uncomfortably against the window and the car quickly steams up making it difficult to see out. Behind us our luggage accompanies a taxi driver and the Major’s assistant, Vhola.

I see a sea of faces cross the front of the car through the fog of window. One face carries a red flag in its hand, and I think of Mongolia where a red flag on a car means ‘learner driver’. Surreally I think this is a learner driver walking infront of the car. My mind is blocking the reality and it is only when the first strike is made that I realise what is happening.

They carry sticks and angry voices. They shout at us and hit the car with their weapons. Major Ram turns the car round, but he is understandably nervous and reverses into the high curb. Vhola and the taxi driver arrive on the road behind us, blocking our exit. The young men turn to them as well and I see Vhola’s terrified face through the window.

In a blur we manoeuvre ourselves round and make our exit, but one Maoist is still not satisfied and with a sharp hit to the back of the car smashes the rear window. They are angry at the Government and, fuelled with anger, they are making other people angry. Anger breeding anger.

‘Is there another way to the airport’ another passenger asks Major Ram.

‘Yes. We walk’

So this is how we end up walking with our luggage through the streets of Kathmandu to the airport.

‘Why is this happening?’ I ask Vhola.

‘The Maoists are on strike.’

‘What for?’

‘Actually I don’t know.’

‘Does this happen often?’

‘Yes ma’am.’

We stop a minibus and ask for a ride but the young driver refuses to go that way. At a junction a gang of riot police appears, smiling and regaled in bullet proof vests. I can hear marching feet and the young Maoists come towards us, smiling and shaking hands with the riot police. When they realise they have an audience a cry breaks out and the gang runs after a motorcyclist, showering him with stones (well, one stone. I’m using artistic licence here).

Then a rickshaw driver appears. First one, then several more appear, and one by one we load our luggage and ourselves into the rickshaws.

It takes half an hour, maybe more, to reach the airport. At steep ups we get out and push.

And so this is how I arrive at Kathmandu airport…hot and sweaty, and pushing my luggage up hill in a rickshaw.

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