Although Nepal is on the US Government Travel Warning list, that did not stop me from going. There have been some Maoist uprising in the past that have literally shut down Kathmandu, however, things have settled down recently (especially since the end of Nepal’s 10-year People’s War in 2008) and the Nepali government is hugely promoting foreign visitors (2011 is the being advertised as The Year of Nepal). I was a little nervous about the safety situation so I did my homework and talked to a lot of other people who have visited Nepal. I heard over and over again that it was fine and remembered that I have probably been to less safe places before (such as interior Mexico, Peru and South Africa). While there, we heard over and over again the common acronym for Nepal = Never Ending Peace and Love. I never felt threatened and in fact felt very comfortable with the kind, docile Nepali people.
In my opinion, probably the scariest thing about Nepal was the transportation by road and by air. The roads are poorly maintained and the driving is insane, just like India. Given Nepal’s mountainous geography, only small (and very old) planes can be flown into many of the airports such as Lukla in Everest region and Jomson near the Annapurna. Most of the flying is down through the valleys and weather can change quickly. Lukla has experienced the highest share of crashes and is considered one of the most dangerous airports in Nepal, however, it is the easiest, fastest way of getting to Everest. So you have to often balance safety versus the odds. Driving to some of these remote places is probably much more dangerous than flying, that is for sure.
I have flown a lot in my life, however, I still am fearful of small planes and had worried a lot about the internal flights. The flight at the end of our trek from Jomson to Pokhara was NUTS but I survived. We flew at low altitudes (@ 10,000 feet) on an ancient looking plane, through the valley of the mountains which rose over 15,000 feet above our plane. The entire time I held on tight to my Buddhist prayer beads that I got along the trek in Manang from a 95-year-old monk, and somehow tried to feel safe. Twenty-five minutes later, after feeling like I was in some kind of Indiana Jones movie, we landed safely in Pokhara and it felt nice to have my feet on the ground again, safe and sound.
Here are some pictures of the crazy flight:
Inside our 14 person plane. It didn’t feel safe yet the flight was surprisingly smooth. We flew along the riverbed between the 25,000 foot mountains at an altitude of only 10,000 feet (barely over the trees!). We even had our own flight attendant.
Not the best picture, but you get the point! View directly outside plane window….the mountains are a little too close for comfort!