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Kangchenjunga Trek - Day 3 - Biratnagar - Suketar - Lali Kharka

Off to the airport for seven a.m., then after another weigh in and having boarded the small seventeen seated plane we were off. The sky was virtually cloudless affording stunning views of the mountains ahead and to the port side. Soon, lying dead ahead, flanked by Jannu to the left, was Kangchenjunga, a bright snow capped massif standing proudly against the azure blue sky,. We began to descend; flying towards a small patch of grass on a narrow ridge, surely this wasn't the airfield? Then, with a bump accompanied by sound of the reverse thrust of the engine, we were down and taxiing up the slope. This was Suketar.

On leaving the plane I felt the cool rush of breeze, a reminder that we were now at 2355m. Meanwhile, the plane having taken its return passengers on board, taxied up to the top of the grass strip, revved up its engines, and like a downhill skier shot down the slope and off into the air, avoiding the precipice below. I was not alone watching this spectacle; several of the local people were lined up along the slope watching with interest. I wondered if they were they running a book on the chances off the plane not making it? Had other flights crashed? And why were there so many prayer flags lining the runway?

Leaving the small plane at Suketar airfield (note the grass airstrip)As we were collecting ourselves we had chance to speak to some other trekkers who had just finished the trek we were about to do. The weather had been great, but it was really cold up at Pang Pema, down to minus twenty with damp boots freezing over night. One cheerful chap described the trek as being hard and getting harder each day. Armed with this useful information I began to think - couldn't I just get back on the aeroplane, after all, hadn't I just seen Kangchenjunga on the way in out of the comfort of the plane.

Soon our trekking crew were busy sorting out the gear ready for the trek. Whilst this was happening there was an almighty row going on between the Sirdar and a local woman. Apparently, the row had arisen as the woman was supposed to be recruiting porters for the trip but, as it was festival time, they had been unable to get sufficient porters for us. This created a problem for our tour leader who had to make some critical decisions as to what to leave behind. Whatever was left behind would have to be carried out later by the additional porters, whenever they could be recruited. I learnt that as they can cover the ground so much quicker than us, they would catch us up later on during the trek.

After some introductions to the crew and a bit of lunch, we were underway; the trek had begun. We soon lost sight of the distant mountains as we entered forested areas and made our way to arrive, some two hours later, at Lali Kharka, a collection of three or four buildings on a cleared terrace overlooking the valley and surrounding tiered hills. It was a pleasant spot. One of the group soon got into a sort of discussion with some of the local children drawing and imitating the sound of motorbikes. The kids thought this great fun.

I had taken a glove puppet with me (Eyore, the ass from Winnie the Pooh) and began, using my limited Nepali, to give the kids a small show. They were quite intrigued and seemed to be enjoying it, or perhaps it was just intrigue looking at an adult westerner making funny noises as I tried to imitate a donkey. One of the young boys who had been hanging back from the others came forward, punched the donkey, and started grabbing its mane. It then dawned on me that perhaps he hadn't seen a donkey before and wondered what it was, particularly as it was coloured purple. I realised after the trip was over, having never seen a donkey the whole time I was there, that perhaps they don't exist in this part of Nepal, unlike the Annapurna region where they are a common site carrying loads.

It was all taken in good fun, and having broken the ice, everyone was in good spirit. One of the young girls then started to dance for us and we joined in the clapping to keep the rhythm going. Throughout the trip I was to learn that the Nepali people really enjoy singing and dancing and took every opportunity to show it. This was a great start to the trek!

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