For last few years our trips during summer vacations had been restricted to 3-4 days and we covered most of the Southern part of India. Leaves are always saved for our annual trip to home during Durga Puja. Being in IT Industry, more than one long vacation is next to impossible. But this time we were desperate, we wanted to visit North and at least for 7 days; showing Himalaya to my daughter was a long-time desire. This time we were lucky to have two more friends and their families, who were looking for same kind of holiday.
Initially we thought of going to Shimla and around. But while looking for the air tickets I found there is not much difference in airfare between Bangalore-Chandigarh and Bangalore-Kathmandu. And hotel rates also looked reasonable. With proper planning Nepal can be a nice foreign destination without burning pockets. I discussed with others and finally Nepal was locked as destination!
We planned well in advance for this trip. I have checked several tour packages form some of the prominent travel websites and received quotes. That helped to
> Create travel itinerary and identify the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal. I strongly suggest doing this specially if you have lots of grounds to cover in limited time.
> Have a tentative budget. Travelling is expensive, especially foreign travel. So for having a stress free vacation it is always better to have a tentative budget. More granular you may go better it is. Then you may pick and chose activities, accommodations and destinations based on your affordability.
Once we have a budget and itinerary next step was to define action items, which broke down to
Booking of Air Tickets: We used skyscanner.com to find out the cheapest and best options. Instead of cheapest one, which had inconvenient stopover in Delhi we chose Nepal Airlines direct flight from Bangalore. It costed us 2K more per ticket but considering the time and hassle saved clearly this was a better option. Moreover, cheaper ones were non-refundable. In country travel booking: During our trip we planned to cover Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan; plus, lots of local sightseeing trips. So, we needed some vehicle and someone to take us around. I did some research and came across this agency "Kailash Journeys Pvt. Ltd. aka KJ" and talked to them for booking the travel. They had very good review in TripAdvisor, FB and Google and we decided to go for them. Later we found that was a good decision. I would explain why in a separate section. Booking Accommodations: The problem with package tours is you are pretty much restricted to whatever hotel they offer. The company may give you 2-3 options but those may not be the right ones you would like to stay. Plus, almost always their options would come with fine prints like "or similar" which legally allows them to change the hotel they promised.
On the contrary if you are booking your own hotel you have huge flexibility. In our case we decided to book our hotels in Kathmandu and Pokhara by our own and for Chitwan took all inclusive (accommodation + meals + safari) package from KJ.
Our flight of Nepal Airlines from Bangalore was scheduled at 4.50 PM, but it started 1 hour late! Never mind, happy time; after so much of planning and waiting finally the vacation started!
Everything was going well; the flight was jam-packed, we were served good food all were getting ready for landing. In fact, we were just 40 KM away from KTM when Captain announced of not getting ATC clearance due to bad weather in Kathmandu. We kept hovering around Nepali airspace for 40 minutes before captain decided to call it off and diverted the flight to Delhi! And they could not comeback same night because KTM airport was shutdown between 10 PM to 8 am for routine maintenance work.
We were in deep soup because our Mt. Everest flight was scheduled for next morning and there was no way we could make it. First thing I did after landing at Delhi is to call Richard from KJ and explained him the situation. He helped to reschedule the mountain flight. It was a relief, specially as we paid INR 81K to book the tickets for 9 of us.
Flight attendants ensured us of arranging hotels for night stay but when we came to terminal to collect our transit boarding passes, it was a completely different story. Representatives of Nepal Airline told they could not arrange hotels as the only one in T3 had no room and we are not allowed to go outside of terminal!
There were chaos, anger and panic among all passengers! It was close to midnight, everyone was tired and hungry, plus frustrated by possibility of their holiday getting jeopardise. However, airline did arrange Holiday Inn Express Lounge for us and provided dinner and breakfast which were the least they could do.
We tried to find some sleeping pods, but everything was full that night. So, some of us slept on the floor, some by putting lounge chairs together.
Airline told us previous night that flight would start by 8 but it flew by 10. After reaching KTM and collecting luggage and all immigration formalities it was already 12. So half of the day is gone and our schedule, badly compromised.
We had a hotel booked at Kathmandu for previous night but lost our money due to no show. Luckily, we had Manoj, the driver from KJ waiting for us. Just had a quick call with Richard and he arranged a guest house room for us to freshen up (paid INR 1500). Though we wanted, there was no time for elaborate rest and shower ☹. We were running severely behind schedule and needed to reach Pokhara by the evening.
During quick lunch Richard came to meet us and briefed about our activities for next 6 days. He also handed over a Nepali mobile SIM card which is a bit difficult (but not impossible) for a foreigner to get.
Around 2.30 we started our journey to Pokhara. Our original plan was to visit Manokamana Temple enroute. More for the famous cable car ride that takes people on top of the hill, over the beautiful valley and Trishuli River. But it gets closed by 5 PM so we decided to park that activity for return leg.
As we crossed Kathmandu city and valley; hardly we could find difference with any north India city. But once we hit highway, things changed. There were beautiful rivers and hills by the side of road and scene were quite nice.