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Kathmandu and trekking in Nepal

Kathmandu and trekking in Nepal
via Etihad First Class
November 2014

Last year SFO777Jr. and I spent 6 days in India when Mrs. SFO said "no way am I ever going to India".  Sensing another golden opportunity for a "no way" moment from mom, he suggested Nepal.  I've always wanted to go but knew that Mrs. SFO would not be interested.  So here we are with Jr. scoring another all expenses paid vacation with dad.  Pretty smart kid.  LOL.   Of course he comes by it honestly as Mrs. SFO is no slouch herself, last night deciding that she wanted to see Lebron James in Denver this Friday and can I please get her a good seat?  Happy wife, happy life.  Just take pics dear.

• United First Class Denver-Washington Dulles
• Etihad First and Business Class Lounge at IAD
• Etihad First Class Washington-Abu Dhabi
• Premier Inn at AUH
• Etihad First Class Lounge at AUH
• Etihad Business Class Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu
• Shangri La Hotel Kathmandu
• Kathmandu
• Flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara
• Trekking in The Annapurna
• Ker and Downey Lodges
• Flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu
• Kathmandu
• Etihad Business Class Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi
• Westin Abu Dhabi Golf and Spa Resort
• Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles
• United First Class Washington to Denver

With the US-ification of American Airlines by Discount Dougie, I cancelled our DEN-DFW-IAD AA flights and rebooked on United nonstop.  Hey Doug and Hector, if you're going to serve me garbage, I may as well fly nonstop on United and save a couple of hours.

United 795
Denver-Washington IAD
Ancient 757-200
12:45P-5:50P
November 2, 2014
First Class

Great DEN-based crew with open bar PDB and a refreshingly honest admission that this was "an old 757 with no power or wifi".  

Despite our lead FA Donald bouncing around the cabin taking lunch orders from 1Ks, we had our choice of Beef & Cheddar sandwich on an Asiago Cheese baguette, or chicken salad.  And onion soup.  Don't know it was three weeks of inedible US Airways food on AA, but the salad was actually pretty good.

Unlike AA, a substantial towel.

And very good soup and salad.

And chocolate chip cookie in a bag and still using the laughable "Made fresh especially for you" line.

On time arrival and after the long walk thru the C terminal we arrived at the IAD Train.

And a few minutes later, we were in the A terminal.

 Less than 2 minutes from the train is the beautiful Etihad First and Business Class Lounge.

Wonderful staff welcomed us and took our passports to process check-in and boarding passes.  We arrived about 3:30 before departure and were the 2nd and 3rd persons in the lounge and had our pick of seating areas.

With the Broncos playing the Patriots we opted for the comfy TV area and watched Brady dismantle the Broncos.

Time for some food.

Hummus was excellent with a lovely Chablis.

The Spicy Lebanese parsnip and leek soup was delicious.

As was the Marrakesh style tagine of chicken.

Jr. enjoyed the Zaatar crusted bass.

Up next: 13 hours of Etihad First Class... but we have to share the cabin with others tonight.

Etihad 130
Washington-Abu Dhabi
A340-500
9:50P-7:55P +1
November 2, 2014
Departed 11/12
Seats 2DG

At around T-50, one of the lounge attendants stop by to tell us that the door to the jet bridge was open and we could board at our leisure.  Another nice feature of the IAD lounge is direct board from the lounge.   With all but 1 seat occupied, not nearly as private as our "charter" last year.  Cabin pics, including some from a previous flight.

As we settled into our suites, time for a glass of Gosset Grand Millésime Brut 2004.

 

And dates and Arabic coffee.

The current EY First Amenity kit.  Meh.

 

Our Chef Alex taking dinner orders.  

Tonight's menu...

And the wine list...

 

Once in the air, time for a movie.  Our A345 came with Wifi and cell service.  I bought the 24 hour Wifi pass for $21.95.  Speed varied during the flight but on average slightly slower than an average domestic gogo flight.

Excellent inflight entertainment guide.

Not as good as SQ, CX or EK, but adequate for today.

Time for a cocktail.

Johnny Blue for Jr.  

And Showtime.

For wine, I went mostly with an old standby, the outstading 2010 William Fevre Grand Cru Les Bougros. The Pea and Mint soup. 

 

Our raspberry palate cleanser.

For my main, the Rib eye with mixed veggies.  With nearly a full cabin and only two bottles of the 2006 Chateau du Tertre 5e Grand Cru Classé Margaux, I missed out on that one.  None of the other reds I tried did anything for me... the 2011 Xanadu Margaret River Shiraz or the 2012 Fattori Valpolicella.

Completely stuffed at this point, I went with simply vanilla ice cream.  Not sure about the grape garnish. 

Soon after, time for bed and a great 5 hours sleep.  Pics from an earlier flight.

At about T-2.5 hours, time for a delicious breakfast. 

And Arabic mint tea.

Cool live cockpit camera showing our approach.

Another excellent Etihad flight... 13 hours tonight went by very quickly helped by a very attentive crew.  

 

With an early morning departure and no Mrs. SFO to please, I opted for the Premier Inn conveniently located adjacent to the T3 parking garage, and only 5 minute indoor walk from the terminal.  Nothing fancy here, but clean and inexpensive overnight stay.  About $110 including two waters and free Wifi.

After a few hours sleep, we were both awake by 5AM so decided to head on over to the airport for breakfast in the lounge.  The walk from the hotel to the terminal.

 
 
 
The Etihad Business Class check-in counters.
 
 
The security line was short and we were in the secure area in no time.  The close in lounge is now closed, apparently to be converted to a First Class only lounge.  That should be interesting.  Apparently, improvements at DOH are having a ripple effect here.  
 
 
So off we go to find the Gate 35 Premium Lounge.
 
 
 
Nice and big, although no where near as nice as the new Qatar Business Class lounge at DOH.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Three dining areas and buffet stations with a very nice selection of breakfast options.
 
 
 
 
A little later, breakfast was replaced by some very nice snack offerings.
 
 
 
 
 

Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu
Etihad 290
A320
10:00A-3:50P (sked)
10:15A-4:30P (actual)
November 4, 2014
Seats 3AC

At around T-50 we headed out for Gate 28 which sounded like and indeed turned out to be a bus gate.  

Business Class gets a separate bus although there were more than 16 pax on our bus today.

Very pleasant and comfortable regional A320 Business cabin with lots of leg room.  And a wonderful crew today.

 

And the latest project to try to keep up with DOH and DXB.  I'm thinking EY and EK don't really like each other as every EY flight ends with this reminder "Thank you for flying Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates serving the world from our capital city of Abu Dhabi."  LOL.

Once in the air, our outstanding cabin service continued.  IFE is excellent for a regional plane.  Pop-up screen with HD quality video which was actually better than the A345 and A346 video screens we've experienced.

Today's menu.

And wine list, both of which surpass food and beverage offerings on any US domestic flight including JFK-LAX/SFO.

 

Table cloth and a very nice tray setting.

I went all chicken today starting with the Tandoori chicken salad with marinated marrow and carrots and raita sauce.  Delicious.

And the Arabic chicken kabsa with spicy saffron rice, garnished with fried onions and roasted cashed nuts.  Yummy.

Completely stuffed, I passed on dessert and stayed with water the rest of the flight.  As we got closed to Kathmandu, Captain Joe announced that those of us on the left side of the plane would get spectacular of the Himalayas today.  Indeed, the views were magical.

And our approach.

After a brief spacing hold, we landed at KTM and taxied to a remote stand with every other plane and were bused to the "terminal".  

Up next: Welcome to Kathmandu, a city that Mrs. SFO will never visit.  LOL.

I had opted for Nepal's visa on arrival program instead of sending my passport to the Nepalese Embassy.  Turned out to be the right call as we registered online at home (new service) and were out of airport in less than 10 minutes.  If more flights had landed when we did, it might have been a different story.  Our local tour company manager Deepak met us inside customs and helped direct us to the fastest counter.

Once outside, feels and smells like India.  Deepak handed us off to our guide Mahesh and driver Anik for some late PM sightseeing.

And the sights and sounds of Kathmandu.  Slow rush hour traffic thru congested streets with some of the worst pollution I've seen and smelled in long time.  Felt like I smoked a pack of cigarettes last night.  Wow.
 

With an electrical grid hookup system just like Delhi.  LOL.

Our first stop was a small lane...

... which led to the impressive Boudha Stupa.  Dating from the 15th century, the stupa is one of the largest and most significant Buddhist monuments in the world.

The stupa is surrounded by shops and buildings that almost makes you think that you're somewhere in Europe.

Before we drove to the hotel, we stopped for a beer at a rooftop restaurant.

And back to find our car and driver, and enjoy the "fresh" Kathmandu evening air, which tonight seemed what I might envision the air would be sitting in a running car in a closed garage.  Wow.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at The Shangri-La Kathmandu.  Dated but comfortable hotel with a lovely inner courtyard that is a wonderful oasis from the noise and bustle of Kathmandu.  The view from our room.

We had arranged every element of our trip with a tour company that booked us in a standard Lilliuputian-sized room at the Shangri-La.  No where near the most luxurious Shangri-La in the chain.  It's a pretty dated hotel but an oasis of calm away from the noise and smells of the city.  But a wonderful and friendly staff made this a pleasant choice.   

Yeah, it was tiny but the beds were comfy, TV had lots of satellite channels and the Wifi was good.

Nice view of the lovely courtyard.

We ate all of our Kathmandu meals in indoor-outdoor-lawn seating "Coffee Shop" which featured a variety of excellent dishes at ridiculously cheap prices.  Our dinner with 3 beers, a starter and two mains was $23 including VAT and service.

My staple evening dish, the Kathi rolls... pulled Tandoori chicken in an fajita-style egg fried wrap.

And excellent breakfast.  

The Yak cheese was delicious.

Today we are off to Pokhara, gateway to Nepal's Annapurna region.   And what could be more comforting than flying Buddha Air!   Today is our first look at the "rustic" KTM domestic terminal.  A new terminal is under construction and apparently has been for some time... and will be for quite some time.

After a rather primitive security check which involved a pat down we are in the departures lounge.

Hey, there is even a lounge.  

The door wasn't locked... so I went in.   Whoa, this is one butt ugly lounge.  Snapped a couple of quick pics before security came in and asked why I was there and told me to get out as this was "only for VIPs".    I debated whether to have fun with the guy but decided to shut up and apologzed and left.  LOL.

Meanwhile over near our "gate"

Risked that they didn't really mean this like in the UAE...

Kathmandu-Pokhara
Buddha Air 611
ATR-72
11:00A-11:40A
November 6, 2014
Economy Class
 

On the bus to our gate.

Not sure if our FA was welcoming us or telling me no pics.  Ha.

If you fly to Pokhara, DO NOT fly Buddha Air.  Crappy old ATRs but the worst part is the window are so filthy and scratched that is very difficult to see anything.  Fly Yeti or GOMA.

 

Our local guide and driver were waiting for us and we headed into Pokhara, a much cleaner and more attractive city than Kathmandu.  

Our first stop was the interesting Ghurka Memorial Museum.  The museum celebrates the history of the Ghurkas, a proud Nepali regiment whose history dates from the 19th century Indian Uprising thru two world wars and today.  The Ghurkas fought for the British and Indian armies, and currently are part of the British army and Singapore police force. 

Next stop, we headed towards the beautiful Lakeside region.

And for a private row boat on Phewa Lake.   All of $9 for the boat and driver for 45 minutes. 

The temple on the island in the middle of the lake, popular with locals.

After our boat tour, we met our trekking guide Om and headed for a late lunch lake side.   A little reminiscent of Lahaina.

Great lunch.  Nepali Thali...

And my chicken masala.

Back outside after lunch, we picked up our porter Sumich and hit the road for the hour drive to our drop off point, just south of the town of Birethanti.

 Not exactly the smoothest road with lots of rough patches from erosion from the past summer's monsoons.

And off we go, with a 45 minute teaser trek to get us to our first lodge of the night.

The town of Birethanti.

And our first lodge of the trek, The Sanctuary Lodge.

And a great first night meal.

Delicious Nepali Mo-Mo's.