This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas

Mt. Everest - Chomolungma - Goddess Mother of the World, with Kangchenjunga

On the 2006 trip, the weather was too cloudy to see the Himalayas so here are a couple of flashbacks to get a good view of the mountains.

In January 2000 after leaving Jerusalem, I became trapped at Frankfurt airport for three days, because Lufthanza had inadvertently canceled my reservations, when my son, who was no longer traveling with me, changed his, and they couldn't fit me on the flight I had originally booked to Delhi. In the end they kindly offered to fly me on to Bangkok and provide a leg back into Kathmandu, knowing I could get a visa on arrival and an Indian transit visa in Kathmandu with only 24 hours notice, rather than the 3-4 day world security check back to New Zealand demanded by the Indian Embassy in Frankfurt for fear of terrorism.

This enabled me to travel back into India overland and fly out of there back to Bangkok again in a loop en route to New Zealand, and provided a unique opportunity to both see virtually the entire sweep of the Himalayas from the air and to witness some of the deforested foothills that have caused concerns about flooding and land destabilization.


As things would have it the day was peerless and there we uninterrupted views of the sweep of the Himalayas, starting from far off as we crossed the North Indian plains.

I think this is Nanda Devi much further to the west

Aerial panorama of a wide sweep of the Himalayas from the North Indian plains, traversing from
Nanda Devi (left) through Dhaulagiri to Everest (centre) and on to the far Eastern Himalaya

The Nepalese region spanning Nanda Devi, Dhaulagiri, Everest and Kangchenjunga

Map of the sweep covered in the above image

Google Earth pan of the region surrounding the Kathmandu valley
showing Nagarkot and the valley to the north from the Himalayas

Kathmandu is situated in a flat valley surrounded by Himalayan foothills on all sides forming a natural basin which provides a difficult approach and departure for aircraft.

As we approached Nepal we crossed the layer of steep foot hills that lock the Kathmandu valley in from both the north and south.

This region appears to have vegetative cover on the steepest slopes

It can be seen from the image below that some areas of the foot hills are very bare, except for the isolated areas of cultivation on precipitous regions where there are pockets of land that can be contoured into paddies.

This region is bare except where there are cultivated patches

Farming regions here are isolated summit areas, although major areas of very steep hill country have been terraced over centuries into paddy fields for cultivation, as shown in the Annapurna trek images.

After crossing these steep foothills, the plane began to descend into Kathmandu valley.

On my arrival, I ran into an unexpected snag. Although I had started out in South America stuffed with thousands of dollars cash, by the time I got to Nepal I had clean run out of US dollars. Although you could get a visa on arrival, they wouldn't accept a VISA card - you HAD to have $30 US cash - and there were no ATMs in arrivals. So they promptly seized my passport, let me into the country and told me to come back to reclaim my passport when I had $30. Worse still, at the time there seemed to be only one place in Kathmandu where you could get a cash advance without a passport.

On my return to the airport I wasn't departing and I found there was no way back into arrivals. The airport building was surrounded by a large crowd of touts and other people waiting for emerging passengers and the exit doors were firmly locked with a military guard. So I had to create a disturbance, banging aggressively on the doors and alternately being threatened by the guards inside, until finally a superior came to see what the fuss was about who could speak English and let me in. From there the Indian transit visa was a straightforward one day's wait.

Kathmandu valley shields the view of both the plains below and the mountains above except for occasional views. To see the himalayas from the valley it is necessary to go to a vantage point.

Nagarkot provides a particularly gripping view of the Himalayas near Everest, because it stands on a ridge above the valley which overlooks a deep river valley passing right up to the mountain range proper.

Bhaktapur with the Himalayas lurking almost invisibly in the sky over the hills

On the 2006 trip we tried to get up to a vantage point to see the Himalayas before we set off for Tibet, but the weather progressed from cloudy to outright deluge. However I had already seen the view before. On my first visit to Nepal in 1969, we took a taxi at dawn up to Nagarkot to see the mountains, where the rim of the hills surrounding the valley overlook a deep river valley that runs all the way back to the main mountain range.

The mountains were already visible over the foothills as we passed Bhaktapur, but they are very fickle so that if cloud doesn't cover them shortly after dawn, the dusty haze that pours up from the Indian Plains rapidly obscures visibility.

The Himalayas from Nagarkot in 1969

By the time we reached Nagarkot, the haze was already obscuring the mountain tops. Here you can at least see the outline of the main range of the mountains around Everest, which lurks elusively behind the peaks in front because we are looking upward from below.

Looking down on the contoured foothills from Nagarkot

Flowers for sale

For comparison, here I have included an internet image showing what the mountains can look like from Nagarkot on a fine still day with little or little haze, although you can see there is still an obscuring line of low cloud and haze below.

Himalayas from Nagarkot (internet image)

Other parts of the Kathmandu Valley have foothills which obscure the mountains views unless one travels to some other high vantage point.

The forest park behind Swayambunath is another possibility which I haven't explored.

Swayambunath Temple is on a hill in the valley just outside Kathmandu (1969)

Two views of the valley on the way to Nagarkot

View of the surrounding valley and hills from Kathmandu itself

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