March 6-22, 1999
Allen & Nancy Chartier
Day 1 Day 10
Day 2 Day 11
Day 3 Day 12
Day 4 Day 13
Day 5 Day 14
Day 6 Day 15
Day 7 Day 16
Day 8 Day 17
|We had investigated a number of tours to Nepal offered by
various birding tour companies, but found them lacking in a couple of
ways. None of them provided any real chance of viewing Mt. Everest, and
didn't really do any trekking as a result. Most of the other
reasonably-priced tours also made no effort to find the Spiny Babbler,
one of only two species endemic to Nepal, and findable within an hour's
drive of Kathmandu. So, we contacted a friend, Will Weber, who happens
to run a tour company (Journeys International) that does cultural and
adventure tours, including Nepal. They arranged a two-week itinerary
which included a 7-day trek from Lukla to Thangboche Monastery for
montane birds and for views of Mt. Everest, and a couple of days at
Royal Chitwan National Park, in addition to birding in transit and
around Kathmandu while waiting for our trekking permits.
Will and his very capable staff (Pat and Donna) arranged guides that were aware of our interest in birds, and in a couple of cases arranged guides with some birding experience to accompany us. For the most part, however, we were on our own for the birding aspects of our trip.
Prior to the trip, we purchased some books that would prove valuable in helping us to find and identify the birds of Nepal. For bird finding, we purchased a copy of "A Birdwatchers' Guide to Nepal" by Carol Inskipp, published in 1988 and out of print. We got our copy from Buteo Books. This book was generally still useful, although in a couple of cases the habitat was no longer present. These cases are mentioned in the account that follows. We also obtained some useful information from "Where to Watch Birds in Asia" by Nigel Wheatley, published in 1996.
As luck would have it, a new field guide, "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp and Tim Inskipp, was published in December 1998. We obtained an early copy for 50 pounds (it is now 55 pounds) from Natural History Book Service in England. The book is not your typical field guide, as it weighs about 8 pounds, is more than two inches thick, and hard-cover, with 888 pages and 153 color plates. It is, however, an excellent new field guide, and our identifications of flycatchers and, in particular the Phylloscopus warblers, would have been impossible without it. Prior to this new guide, the only other field guide to Nepal was "Birds of Nepal" by Robert L. Fleming, Sr., Robert L. Fleming, Jr., and Lain Singh Bangdel published in 1976. This much more compact field guide has 150 color plates, most of which provide reasonable renditions of most species, but they aren't detailed or sophisticated enough to be useful for groups such as flycatchers (females), warblers, and many babblers. We had also recently purchased "Warblers of Europe, North Africa, and Asia" by Kevin Baker, published in 1997, and had an opportunity to study it before we left for Nepal, but it wasn't practical to bring it along, especially given the bulk of the new field guide.
Weather conditions in Nepal seemed to be affected somewhat by La Nina, as is likely for anywhere on the planet! Apparently, there were almost no winter rains, so the Kathmandu Valley was extremely dry and dusty (combined with the world-class pollution, it was pretty bad). It had been unusually warm where we were to be trekking, so heavy clothes weren't particularly necessary, and the trails were also quite dusty. They were apparently having an early spring in Nepal, as many of the lowland wintering birds were not found there (some weren't found anywhere), and a few species were found apparently in-transit to higher elevations, or on their way to breed in Siberia.
|Day 1, Saturday, March 6, 1999|
|It seems unfair that, in many parts of the world, March is
an excellent time of year. Many parts of the tropics are experiencing
the dry season, with resident birds beginning to nest and migrants
molting into their breeding plumages, preparing to migrate north. Some
subtropical areas (including parts of our destination) are awash already
with migrants. March in Michigan, and Detroit, however, can be very
unpredictable. Possibly the only thing more unpleasant than enduring
this month, is trying to leave the state in order to avoid it.
And so it was, this morning as we awoke to the winter's second major snowstorm and 8 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. We had been targeted again, much like our 12-hour ordeal in Chicago in March 1992, although they closed O'Hare airport that time with only 2 inches of snow on the ground. We were concerned that we might be snowbound, but we made it to the airport in plenty of time. It appeared that all was well. March prevailed, however, and instead of leaving at 12:35 p.m., we left at 2:30 p.m. We'll now have about 20 minutes to make our connection on arrival in Tokyo.
Once airborne, March looks different, not nearly so ugly. So we're glad we're on our way at last. We had a good view of Mt. McKinley as we flew over Alaska.
|Day 2, Sunday, March 7, 1999|
|We arrived in Tokyo at 5:15 p.m. local time (3:15 a.m. at
home) after a 12 1/2 hour flight. They were able to make up a little
time in the air, but we still had no time to spare for our connection as
we had to go out, then come back through security, including x-ray, with
a couple hundred other people, consuming any precious time we had
gained. In addition, they had moved our departure time up five minutes,
to 6:15 p.m. It was raining, and the only birds we saw were
White-cheeked Starlings from the plane. We didn't take off until 6:45
p.m. After another long flight (6 1/2 hours) we arrived in Bangkok,
Thailand. Local time there was 11:20 p.m., exactly 12 hours different
from home. We were half way around the world, and we sure felt like we'd
traveled 12,500 miles. We spent until midnight in the immigration and
passport control line.
|Day 3, Monday, March 8, 1999|
|Baggage claim and customs went faster, and we exchanged a
few U.S. dollars into Bhat (36 to the dollar at the airport) so we would
have enough for the departure tax tomorrow (500 Bhat). A woman at
baggage claim turned and sneezed on Allen, without covering her mouth,
and without saying anything or apologizing. We wandered around the
airport a bit until we found the right place to book our taxi to the
Rama Gardens Hotel (recommended to us by someone on the Birdchat
internet chat group). We paid for the taxi at a counter, so there
wouldn't be any surprises about the fare when we got to the hotel 10
minutes later. The taxi cost us 250 Bhat, about $6. We got checked in
and settled. We were pleased to learn that a breakfast buffet was
included for the room rate of $30 per person per night. The room was
extremely nice, with a king-size bed in the room (two twin beds are
apparently the norm in Asia). The hotel was palatial, and had grounds
that we were planning to bird in the morning. We arranged for our taxi
through the front desk, with a pick-up scheduled for 7:30 a.m. We turned
in for the night at around 1:15 a.m.
We were up at 5:00 a.m. for the breakfast buffet, then we tried to find "the gardens." It was great, and unusual, that they were open for breakfast at 5:30 a.m. We asked a couple of people at the desk, and working in the lobby, where the gardens were (hence the hotel's name?), but they just gave us blank looks. It was still pretty dark at 6:00 a.m. when we headed out the front door of the hotel, but it lightened up pretty quickly. It turned out that there were plantings along the long drive to the entrance to the hotel, and there was an adjacent area marked as a "green area." It was a nice arrangement.
The first birds singing were the Oriental Magpie-Robins, which we eventually saw quite well. We also saw a male Asian Koel as it sang in a bare tree, but it was still too dim to see his green bill. Eventually, we found a total of 27 species in about an hour and 15 minutes. Not bad for a big city. We found 10 life birds, with two of them awaiting confirmation after we return home to consult other southeast Asian references, which we didn't bring along. One was a Phylloscopus warbler and the other was a female Muscicapa/Ficedula type flycatcher.
We checked out, and got our taxi to the airport at 7:30 a.m. We paid in advance at the Concierge desk for the taxi, which was 350 Bhat (about $9.50) for this direction to the airport. The reason for the higher rate became apparent right away, as we had to go a couple of miles south along the main highway before there was an opportunity to make a U-turn back north to the airport.
We had a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke at the Burger King at the airport while waiting for our flight to depart. Our Thai Airlines flight departed at 10:45 a.m., only 15 minutes late. We flew northwest over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bangladesh, and Calcutta, India, into Nepal. We had good views of the Himalayas on the right side of the plane, including Mt. Everest, as we came in to land in Kathmandu. We landed around 12:40 p.m. local time (a strange 1 hour and 15 minute time difference from Bangkok). We had to put our carry-on bags through the x-ray on arrival, which was very strange.
We were met by one of the Journeys International staff, Baburam, who seemed to have a serious cold, and were driven from the airport on the east side of Kathmandu to the Hotel Marshyangdi in Thamel on the northwest side of Kathmandu, near the tourist center (very narrow crowded streets).
Shortly, in the hotel lobby, we were met by Ngawang who reviewed our itinerary with us. We gave him our passports and two extra photos so they could get our trekking permits, and gave him our airline tickets so they could reconfirm our flights home when the time came. This also kept our tickets and passports safe in the Journeys office while we were out. There was one minor mix-up with the itinerary where they thought we were to have this afternoon free when in fact we were scheduled to go with one of their bird-knowledgeable guides to the Shivapuri (sometimes spelled Sheopuri) Reserve. Shortly, Kumar met us at the hotel, still in street shoes, along with a driver and car. It was great that Journeys was able to get them on short notice for us. Kumar is a cultural guide who has an interest in birds, but isn't really an experienced birder. We knew this going in.
We went to the Shivapuri Reserve northeast of Kathmandu for the afternoon, with our primary objective to find the endemic Spiny Babbler. It was a really hot and sunny afternoon (temperature was probably in the mid-70s, which is hot after you've left Michigan with a temperature of about 25). As a result, there was almost no bird activity, and very few birds were singing. Most of the birds that were calling were hugging the bushes far downslope of where we were. Almost the only birds we did see were lots of those pesky Phylloscopus warblers and a Steppe Eagle overhead, along with the abundant Black-eared Kites. There wasn't anything that we'd call forest here, but rather just dry shrubby hillsides. But, apparently the Spiny Babbler inhabits these brushy areas, they just weren't giving their Sage Thrasher-like song. This was too bad, since this was the only place on our itinerary where this species could be found. We ended up leaving the area through the guard gate at around 7:00 p.m. Apparently, we were supposed to be out much earlier, and it seemed that the driver and Kumar were getting a gentle scolding for this from one of the guards.
We returned to the hotel and had dinner around 8:00 p.m. We tried to turn in early, with a rock concert going on somewhere down the street. It seemed to end around 10:00 and we got a good night's sleep after that.
|Day 4, Tuesday, March 9, 1999|
|Kumar and the driver picked us up in the hotel lobby at
6:00 a.m. for our full-day birding trip to Pulchowki Mountain about an
hour's drive southeast of Kathmandu. The day started out poorly, with
Allen inhaling a lifetime's worth of air pollution and oil-laden exhaust
in one breath as we made our way through busy, and heavily-polluted,
Kathmandu. The valley is in a similar situation as Los Angeles and
Mexico City, where there is no escape route for the smog produced by
badly-tuned cars, trucks, and buses (not to mention dust from the lack
Our plan was to drive straight to the top of Pulchowki and walk down various portions. It didn't end up that way, as we began stopping where there were birds on the way up, and so we walked mostly uphill most of the morning.
At the top, at about 8500 feet elevation, we had a good view of the Himalayas across the valley, including a distant view of Mt. Everest. By the time we started walking back down it was pretty hot (probably at least 80 degrees) in the intense sun, and birds were quieter. There was some activity all day, however, unlike yesterday afternoon. We took a shortcut across a couple of the road's switchbacks, but we didn't find much there, and Allen strained his left knee coming down the extremely steep slope.
Most of the way down, we stopped at the Godaveri Botanical Gardens, but things were pretty quiet there, except for way too many Phylloscopus warblers. There were lots of them on Pulchowki too, and they seemed to be at the peak of their migration through the area.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Royal Palace in Kathmandu to see the Indian Fruit Bats (Flying Foxes) that roost there. Back at the hotel we met Pemba Sherpa, Will's Nepali business partner, and reviewed the schedule for our trek over the next 7 days. Hopefully, the raging sore throat and cough that Allen had developed today would disappear once we left Kathmandu.
|Day 5, Wednesday, March 10, 1999|
|Day 5, Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Ngawang met us in the
hotel lobby at 5:45 a.m. to take us to the airport to catch our 7:00
a.m. flight on Royal Nepal Airlines to Lukla. By 9:00 a.m. we were still
in the airport, breathing in lots of cigarette smoke despite being in a
well-posted no-smoking area. They soon announced the cancellation of all
fights to Lukla due to high winds up there. Apparently the runway is
quite short, runs uphill, and has the face of a mountain at the end of
it. We were glad they wouldn't risk a landing here in high winds.
We went back to the Hotel Marshyangdi, where they gave us the same room (they were still making it up when we returned). We tried to rearrange our itinerary to go to Royal Chitwan NP today or tomorrow instead, so that our trek wouldn't be affected by this delay, but the Temple Tiger, where we were booked, was completely full with no openings.
So, when the going gets tough, the tough go birding! Ngawang was able to arrange a driver and guide (though Kumar wasn't available) to take us out for the afternoon. We had asked to be taken to the Gokarna Forest east of Kathmandu. According to A Birdwatcher's Guide to Nepal, this was a forest with no understory where some deer species had been introduced for the king to hunt. It was also a good place to see a couple of interesting species of roosting owls. Our guide (we don't remember his name) said that this forest was no longer open (he didn't explain), so he suggested another one to the northwest of Kathmandu, the Nagarjung Royal Forest. This was a nicely forested hillside with an interesting assortment of birds, especially considering it was a hot afternoon again. It was also the dustiest place we had birded yet. We found a few birds we had missed on Pulchowki Mountain yesterday, and it seemed particularly good for thrushes.
We returned to the hotel and Allen was feeling sicker than he had so far. He had a pretty decent fever and chills, and a really hard cough. We went out to a local pharmacy to get some cough syrup, and when we returned there was a message from Ngawang that he would be at the hotel tomorrow morning at 5:45 a.m. again to pick us up for our rescheduled flight to Lukla. We tried to call the Journeys office, but it was closed (they work from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., six days a week, in Nepal). Allen was feeling terrible, and with the hard cough and fever it was clear we had to cancel our trek. We called Will Weber in the U.S. and explained everything. He said he would e-mail and try to call Pemba at home (though the phone service was often unreliable) to let him know the situation. Will also had some interesting alternative suggestions for birding and recovering from what was now undoubtedly a full-blown, pollution-aggravated case of the flu.
|Day 6, Thursday, March 11, 1999|
|Ngawang met us in the hotel lobby at 5:45 a.m. He had
received our messages via e-mail, and said that he would be able to work
on some alternative plans for us, all in the Pokhara area as Will had
suggested. Our preference for accommodations in this area was Fishtail
Lodge, which was fairly expensive. It was also booked for this evening,
so Ngawang was only able to come up with a trekking lodge about 30
minutes north of Pokhara. We didn't think that the rustic conditions
would be conducive to Allen's recovery, so we insisted that we try to
get something that at least had a bathroom in the room. Ngawang then
called back with the good news that we had four nights at the Fishtail
Lodge booked. We would fly out tomorrow instead of today, so there was
nothing to do except relax and for Allen to try and break his fever.
We went up on the roof of the hotel for a little while near sunset to see if we could see the flying foxes leave their roost at the Royal Palace, but they were quite far away in the binoculars, and difficult to distinguish from the numerous House Crows that were coming in to roost in the same trees. They probably left the roost after dark anyway.
|Day 7, Friday, March 12, 1999|
|We went up on the roof in the morning to watch the sunrise
and see some of the Himalayas north of Kathmandu. Allen's fever seemed
to be much better, but not completely gone. His cough was still
vigorous, and he rested more while Nancy went out to the local shops for
Ngawang met us up at the hotel at 11:30 a.m. and told us our guide would pick us up shortly to take us to the airport. When our guide showed up around 11:45, it was Baburam who had picked us up the first day. He was still quite sick. Our 1:10 p.m. flight took off around 1:40 p.m., not too bad. On arrival in Pokhara (about 2000 feet elevation) we were met by the nice air-conditioned bus of Fishtail Lodge. We were driven a short distance to the dock, where we were pulled across by rope on a barge by a hotel "boatman." We had arrived at Fishtail Lodge.
Baburam said he would meet us at the dock for dinner, and he went to his hotel somewhere in town. He had been given money for meals, but the lodge was so expensive that we couldn't eat our meals there if we were to stay within the budget that our trek provided. It was the heat of the day when we arrived, and there weren't many birds around the lodge, but there were lots of butterflies.
We met the manager of the lodge restaurant, Hari K.C., who also happened to be a "free lance bird watching guide around Pokhara Valley" according to his card. He told us so many wonderful things that he could show us that we wished we could stay a week or more. We could tell that he was an experienced birder, as all the birds he mentioned were birds that were known from the area. The most enticing trip that Hari offered was a 38 km drive west of Pokhara and about a 2 km walk to the top of a hill (about 6500 feet elevation) where he often sees Lammergeiers. He also mentioned a number of other higher elevation species we could see there. We tentatively set up Sunday morning (7 a.m. - 2 p.m.), his day off, to do the trip, for which he charged $42 total for two people (lunch not included).
Baburam met us for dinner, which we had in a part of town adjacent to Phewa Tal (lake) across from the lodge. There were lots of restaurants to choose from, and all offered reasonable food at extremely reasonable prices (it was hard to spend more than about $2 per person). We talked with Baburam about Sunday's trip and he sounded interested, and was happy to accompany us. We told Baburam we were going to take it easy tomorrow, and that he should meet us at noon for lunch.
|Day 8, Saturday, March 13, 1999|
|We were up at 6:00 a.m. to watch the sun rise on the
mountains, Annapurna and Machapuchare (Fishtail), across the lake from
the lodge. The mountains were so gorgeous, and close, that we could
almost ignore all the birds in the gardens on the hotel grounds, except
for the beautiful White-throated Kingfisher that perched right in front
of us. Green Magpie was a highlight. We had breakfast at the lodge at
7:00 a.m., which had the advantage of being payable on our Visa card.
According to A Birdwatchers' Guide to Nepal, there was a good forest behind the lodge. We had discovered yesterday that there was a stone wall entirely around the lodge, so we would have to cross the river, walk into town, walk down a sidestreet, walk a ways along a channel, and cross over a swinging bridge near a dam in order to pick up the trail into the forest. This was quite a circuitous route of more than 1 km to reach a forest that is just over the wall of the lodge! The guide book had a trail map that turned out to be generally OK, but it didn't have enough detail and the scale seemed to be off somewhat. We managed OK with the first part of the trail, but since it had taken us a while to get there it was pretty quiet in the forest (it was 9:30 before we got into forest). The trail we were on eventually deteriorated, or we made a wrong choice (probably the latter). We ended up on a very steep, rocky, winding, slippery (due to dry leaves), and indistinct trail (we lost it twice). We finally ended up on the beach where we flagged down a boat to take us across the lake (100 rupees each) where we walked east to the boat dock, and back to the lodge.
We met Baburam as he was preparing to take the barge across the river to the lodge. We went into town for lunch and worked out plans for the afternoon. We abandoned our original plans to rent a boat and row to the far western end of the lake, as it seemed like it would take too long, and there was now a road along the north side of the lake there now. The road was not shown in A Birdwatchers' Guide to Nepal as going this far. We thought we could take a taxi there, to a small town called Khapanti, and scope the lake, while also searching the scrubby hillsides for Spiny Babbler (according to the guide book, that is).
Apparently, a lot has changed since Inskipp's book, as there seemed to be little but cultivation and barren ground over the entire northwestern end of Phewa Tal. The taxi driver couldn't go as far as we wanted, so we ended up walking about 1 km farther west, then backtracking through some rice paddies. There was no nearby habitat for Spiny Babblers it seems, and there was little on the lake except Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots. Apparently all the waterfowl had left for their migration north. We walked all the way back to town and had dinner, then walked back to the lodge for the night.
|Day 9, Sunday, March 14, 1999|
|We were all up early to meet Hari at 6:30 a.m. He was a
little late, and we got underway around 7:30. He got a taxi for us to go
west about 38 km to the town of Khare at 1695 m elevation. Then we took
a trail to a ridgetop to the north that was at about 2000 m. The birding
was pretty good, and the scenery was great, especially after we got to
the top and went around the back side of the hill to get great views of
Annapurna South and Machapuchare. Hari was a decent birder and a very
nice man, though he walked up the hills ahead of us quite fast! We would
recommend him to other birders visiting Pokhara. The few birds he
misidentified were not very easy to identify with the older Nepal field
guide. We got to see our Lammergeier, as well as Himalayan Griffon,
Cinereous Vulture, and Black Eagle. There were several interesting
smaller birds too, including Rufous-breasted Accentor, the accentor
occurring at the lowest elevation. On the way back to the hotel we
checked a couple of spots along a river where Wallcreeper winters, but
with no luck.
We rested during the afternoon, then went out with Hari to bird the lodge grounds for a while before it got dark. We met Baburam again for dinner in town.
|Day 10, Monday, March 15, 1999|
|Our plan to go to the top of Sangarkot with Baburam this
morning for early views of the Himalayas was thwarted by the weather. It
was so hazy (misty?) that the mountains weren't visible from the lodge
We asked Baburam where else he thought we could go that might have some forest to walk through. He suggested Begnas Tal (lake) to the east of Pokhara. There was some scrubby forest on the southeast side of the lake, and a steep trail into it, but it was very quiet. We did better with the open country birds and water birds. A big surprise was the group of eleven Greater Painted-Snipe. One or two at a time would wade out into a small pond near the dam, then wander back into the vegetation. One small (4 square yards) area had 8 birds. There was a flock of Yellow-breasted Buntings in the rice paddies here, with many near-breeding plumaged males. The cement fish ponds here had the most bird activity, with lots of wagtails, including Citrine, and a Wryneck sitting in a small bare tree.
We returned to the lodge and had lunch in town with Baburam. We arranged to meet him again for dinner, this time at the lodge, and this time our treat. We hadn't seen him eat anything since he started being our guide, and we felt bad that he might be having to eat very cheaply to keep within the budget, so we hoped he would join us at the lodge even though he said he had to meet our driver for tomorrow and might not make it. We did a little shopping in town, mostly for books and t-shirts, then rested in our room for a while.
At 3:00 p.m. we met Hari again for more birding southwest of Pokhara. For this short trip he charged a total of $20. He got a taxi for us and we went to a dry gorge where he has frequently seen various raptors. There wasn't much there, but luckily along the road we saw the rare (in Nepal) Red-headed Vulture high overhead. We left the taxi behind and walked across an area of rice paddies, then up into the forest behind the lodge. There were good numbers of Scaly Thrushes in the forest this time. We took another steep trail down to the lodge, but this time it wasn't as bad as before. We walked a short distance along the lakeshore back to the lodge. We had dinner without Baburam as he didn't show up, and had asked that we not wait for him if he didn't show.
|Day 11, Tuesday, March 16, 1999|
|We were up early to catch our car to Chitwan NP, scheduled
to leave at 6:30 a.m. We left on time, and Baburam came with us about
half way (apparently to keep within the budget by saving on bus fare).
We stopped to bird a few times along the road, but there wasn't really
We arrived at Chitwan just before noon, and we were dropped off right at the river by our driver, Sanu. We made sure that he would meet us at this same spot on Friday at 6:30 a.m. and he agreed (or we thought he did, as his English wasn't very good). We had to be paddled across the Narayani River, then taken on a bumpy truck ride to Temple Tiger Lodge. We relaxed a bit, had lunch, and birded a bit. Our first "nature walk" was at 4:00 p.m. with a group of tourists. Our guide, Jitu, knew his birds, but didn't have any binoculars with him. In any case, it was just an introductory walk for the five of us. We did see about 9 Indian Rhinoceros, including the ones we saw from the overlook at the lodge.
Dinner was at 8:00 p.m., about an hour after dark. Jitu gave us our schedule for tomorrow prepared by the lodge management. We were scheduled for a standard tourist itinerary all day, beginning with an 8:15 a.m. elephant ride after breakfast, with a large group of tourists, and a jeep and boat ride in the afternoon. Apparently, no arrangements for our interest in birds was on hand. We complained to Jitu about this standard tourist itinerary, and being stuck with a potentially noisy group, and he got the lodge manager to talk to us. The manager did allow us to have our own elephant, to go out with Jitu, and to go a different direction from the tourist group. Our start was still to be 8:15 a.m. though. A frustrating beginning to our stay here.
|Day 12, Wednesday, March 17, 1999|
|Birds were singing by 5:30 a.m. and we were up a little
after 6:00 a.m. We didn't know where we could walk, so we just killed
time at the overlook on the grounds of the lodge until breakfast at 7:15
a.m. We met Jitu, who was the best birder at the lodge, and our
elephant, Shampathkali, and got aboard. With such a late start
(bird-wise) at 8:00 a.m. our expectations were low. There were a few
birds, but it was already slowing down a bit by the time we got out into
the grassland. There were tons and tons of Spotted Doves and Red-vented
Bulbuls, but not as much diversity as we expected. Oh well, at least it
was neat riding an elephant for the first time. We had one semi-distant
encounter with a rhino.
From 11:00 - 12:00 we got stuck with the tourists again for an Elephant Talk, which was stuff we mostly knew already. But we did get to pet Shampathkali. This place is pretty superficial and touristy as far as the eco-tourism aspect goes.
After lunch we walked the roads around the lodge a bit before joining up with the tourists for a "jeep and boat safari" to see Gharials along the river. Luckily, with the help of Jitu, we got our own jeep, and we went last with Jitu on board, leaving space for the dust and wildlife to settle down for us. Jitu spotted three Gharials from the jeep, but we didn't see any from the boats. The only birds of note along the river were wintering Ruddy Shelducks and resident Small Pratincoles. Dinner was very late again at 8:00 p.m.
|Day 13, Thursday, March 18, 1999|
|Although we had seen a couple of good birds from the pond
near the lodge, the diversity there was generally low, with lots of
Common Moorhens and Indian Pond-Herons. So, we asked Jitu to arrange a
jeep for us to visit a nearby lake. We met the jeep at 6:00 a.m. (that's
more like proper birding time) and headed out to the lake about 45
The morning was quite chilly and there was a lot of mist over the lake. It slowly cleared and we saw a few birds. A highlight was when Jitu noticed Tiger tracks in the road. According to him, the Tiger had been through only a couple of hours prior. When at the lake, we heard a loud grunt that may have been a Tiger. There were a few birds at the lake, including one Asian Openbill and a good number of Lesser Whistling-Ducks.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast, then Jitu took us around some of the trails nearby. Highlights of this walk were the woodpeckers and the Leopard tracks. After lunch we birded the grounds a bit more, then met Jitu and a jeep. We originally wanted to go out on an elephant again, but two of them were sick We were going to have to go with the group again, and we couldn't get our own. So we took the jeep to another pond that Jitu knew about, but it only had a single Oriental Darter. So, we returned to the same pond that we went to this morning, but there weren't any new birds there. On the way back to the lodge we encountered a rhino very close to the road, which was pretty neat even if the driver was quite nervous. We had our middle-of-the-night dinner again, and talked with the lodge manager about tomorrow's departure. We told him we planned to leave at 6:30 a.m. as we had told our driver to meet us on the other side of the river at that time. He said they don't do departures that early and we were scheduled to have a 7:15 a.m. breakfast and 8:00 a.m. departure. They don't seem to understand early starts for any reason at this lodge. He assured us that our driver would know about this change as he was staying in the lodge's garage with other drivers.
|Day 14, Friday, March 19, 1999|
|Since we had extra time, we got up and out at 6:00 a.m.
and birded some of the trails around the lodge on our own. Highlights of
the morning were the Rufous Woodpecker and four Great Slaty Woodpeckers.
At 8:00 a.m. we crossed the river only to find that our driver wasn't there among the ten or so cars, jeeps, and buses. We ended up being stranded here for two hours before one of the luggage truck drivers offered to drive us the 10 km into town, hoping we might cross paths with our driver. We finally got to the town at the main road, and he was there waiting for us. He asked us if it was OK if his sister rode with us to Kathmandu, and since her bags were already in the car we didn't think we had a choice to say no. As she hopped in, it turned out she had her son with her, who Sanu hadn't mentioned previously. He was coughing and obviously sick. Sanu got upset with us when we asked him why he didn't meet us at the boat as he had promised before. He said he told us he would meet us in town (he didn't), and that he always meets people in town. He didn't offer any suggestions on how we'd make the 10 km with our luggage, or explain why there were so many other drivers at the boat. Ngawang explained to us later that the Temple Tiger was supposed to provide a vehicle for us from the boat dock to the town, but it wasn't there!
It sure was crowded in that small car. Sanu asked two or three times if we wanted to go through Hetauda (our intent was to look for Ibisbill there, but it was a long drive), and we finally got the hint that he didn't want to go that way, but directly to Kathmandu. His English was not good, and he couldn't communicate very well. Apparently, the child needed a hospital and that is why he was taking them to Kathmandu. Since it was now 10:30 a.m. there was no point in going through Hetauda as it would be extremely late when we got to Kathmandu, and would be extremely tedious with the extra passengers (both for us and for them). We were angry and upset, mostly because we still didn't know what was going on due to Sanu's poor English, and by the fact that we were going to miss out on yet another birding opportunity that we had arranged and looked forward to.
We managed to get to Kathmandu in about 4 1/2 hours, with the little boy getting carsick once on the way. An extremely disappointing day.
|Day 15, Saturday, March 20, 1999|
|Ngawang picked us up at the hotel at 7:00 a.m. for our
8:15 mountain sightseeing flight that we had him arrange a few days ago.
It was a one-hour flight to view Mt. Everest, departing from the
Kathmandu airport, and costing $100 per person (plus $5 pp for
transfer). It was a hazy (polluted) day in Kathmandu, and on arrival we
were told our flight was delayed. Then they told us the airport was
closed. At 8:40 a.m. they loaded us onto a bus to be driven out to the
plane. The airport was open, they said. On arrival at the plane (2
minutes later), we had to wait to board because the airport was closed
again! We stood on the hot tarmac until 10:00 a.m., when they cancelled
our flight. Ngawang negotiated the refund at the counter (to be paid to
us in U.S. dollars through Journeys in the U.S.), then drove us back to
our hotel to pick up our bags and check out.
When we got to the hotel, the road construction that had been down the street a few days ago now stretched completely across the front of the hotel in a deep, wide trench. It's amazing how much digging can be done in a couple hours without any machinery. We had to walk about a block to the hotel, and the poor baggage porter had to carry our heavy bags down the street to our waiting vehicle. Nancy finally remembered what Kathmandu reminded her of - that town in the movie "Star Wars" where the cantina was located. It only lacked a Yeti.
At the international terminal, we did the chaotic departure tax, immigration, and check-in process, said goodbye to Ngawang (who draped us with ceremonial good-luck cloth), and arrived at the gate at about 12:30 p.m. We had a cheese sandwich and a Sprite for lunch, which used up all our remaining Rupees. We sat in the no-smoking zone, and breathed cigarette smoke for the next five hours as flight after flight was delayed, then cancelled. There were no announcements, so we had to find somebody official who was willing to tell us what was going on in order to learn anything. We found out that the radar in the control tower was down and the airport was closed. Our flight was coming from Bangkok and was forced to land in Calcutta, India. At 5:30 p.m. we were told that our flight was cancelled. By the time we got more information, it was 5:45 p.m., and an attempt to call Ngawang at Journeys found that all the phones in this part of the airport weren't working. By the time we dealt with the chaos of claiming our luggage and getting vouchers for a night in a hotel, it was nearly 6:30 p.m., so their office was closed. In any case, Thai Airlines was promising to take care of everything. We had to wait another half hour for the van to the Blue Star Hotel, where we were also treated to a free dinner. The hotel was adequate, and so was the dinner.
|Day 16, Sunday, March 21, 1999|
|Even though the Thai Airlines representative said they
would contact us at or through the hotel about our flight schedule, they
did not. Luckily, we called the reception desk last night and were told
that breakfast (free) was at 7:00 a.m. and pick-up for the airport was
at 8:15 a.m. Several of us were ready early, so one bus took us to the
airport at 8:00 a.m., but nobody was at the Thai Airlines counter until
9:00 a.m. We got checked in and were told that a TA representative would
meet us in Bangkok to reschedule our Northwest Airlines flights (our
connection left Bangkok at 6:00 a.m. this morning). The flight was
scheduled to depart Kathmandu at 11:15 a.m., and finally did at 12:00
after a spell of sitting at the start of the runway where we thought
sure we would turn back for the terminal. But at 12:00 it was goodbye
We arrived in Bangkok at about 4:15 p.m. local time and a bunch of us with various connection problems swarmed the single TA rep at the gate. After only (!) two hours, we had a standby seat on tomorrow's Northwest flight to Tokyo, which was fully booked, and had confirmed seats on the Tokyo-Detroit flight. They also gave us a voucher for the Amari Hotel at the airport, dinner, and the airport departure tax.
We found a bookstore in the adjacent shopping arcade and found a few books on Thailand natural history that we had to have (orchids, national parks, etc.). Allen went to the business center to send an e-mail to the people at work telling them he wouldn't be able to make it in to work on Monday as we would (if lucky) arrive in Detroit around noon on Monday. It was a nice room, as it was an expensive hotel, but the bed was actually two single beds pushed together, difficult to sleep in.
|Day 17, Monday, March 22, 1999|
|We were up at 3:00 a.m. so we could be at the Northwest
counter at 4:00 a.m. We had to wait until 5:30 a.m. before we finally
got seats on the flight (whew!). Miraculously, they were even together,
though in an exit row which had the advantage of more leg room and the
disadvantage of no storage nearby for all our stuff. The flight pushed
back on time. We arrived in Tokyo at 1:45 p.m. local time after having
good views of Mt. Fuji (our first views, as it wasn't visible on our
Japan trip last November). By the time we parked on the tarmac (all the
gates were full) and got bused to the terminal it was nearly 2:00 p.m.
One of the engines was spewing out fire after we parked, but the flight
attendant said that wasn't anything to worry about!
We went through a security check on arrival in the terminal (what for?) and immediately heard last call for our flight to Detroit! We had a long way to go, and when we got near the gate, had to pass through another security check, complete with x-ray (ridiculous)! Luckily, it wasn't as crowded as on our outbound flight, and we raced to the gate to get our boarding passes (they couldn't issue them in Bangkok). We handed the ticket-taker our boarding passes and he asked for a flight coupon. We gave him our original tickets (and everything else we had accumulated), but what he was looking for wasn't there! Another agent came up just then and said everything was OK and we were allowed to board. Whew! We pushed back and it appeared we would have an on-time departure, but it was so windy, with 60 mph winds, that we had to let four planes land first. The wind was rocking the plane while we were still on the ground! We took off at around 2:45 p.m. and they were expecting a flying time of 10 hours and 25 minutes, no doubt due to the ferocious tailwinds.
We arrived in Detroit around 11:30 a.m., an hour early and with 35 mph crosswinds! We got home around 1:00 p.m. and called our jobs to let them know we were home, and what happened to us.