Destination 1 – Kathmandu, Nepal
The babbling – getting to Kathmandu, Nepal
Well, saying goodbye to our families & friends was totes emosh; neither of us could really believe what we were about to embark on (see ‘about us‘ for background). Neither of us had really thought about Nepal or Kathmandu and what it would be like, let alone the rest of the 9 months.
So after a very long trip via Dubai, where we had a4hr stopover and a pissing nightmare (not literally) of a time trying to figure out how the hell to get to Terminal 2 (the terminal that Emirates don’t fly out of, so they’re not in a keen rush to tell you how the hell to get there)… and after Charlie managed to get into the spirit of travelling and eat a KFC at the airport… we eventually arrived in Kathmandu – not at all cranky or tired.
The driving – ah the driving
We were greeted by a nice driver from our hotel, he took us to our car & we were finally on our way to somewhere we could lie down. Naturally, 30 seconds into the trip, I mean literally still in the airport, the road ahead of us was closed off. Apparently, the Indian president was visiting, and roads would just be shut off to allow him to pass safely. It was funny watching how the Nepalese dealt with this situation. Every square foot of the road was instantly filled with bikes, cars, vans – squeezing into every orifice within the traffic that they possibly could. Then they all just got out of their vehicles and started hanging out together – this gave us an instant feeling of warmth; friendly people. So we sat there for about 30-40 minutes while they figured out if the Indian President had driven past & then re-opened the road. Of course the temporary closure of many roads leads to even more chaos than normal, so we had a somewhat rude awakening to Nepalese driving. I can say honestly, that if it weren’t for the steering wheel being on the right hand side of the car, I wouldn’t have a clue what side of the road to drive on in Nepal.
If I were to sum up the attitude to driving in Nepal, it would probably be – ‘If there’s a space, however small it may seem, or wherever it is – fill it quickly; just beep your horn to let everyone know that’s what you’re going to do’.
So eventually we arrived safely at the hotel, The Royal Penguin Hotel (5 stars, no less – well by somebody’s standards anyway). This was our little treat to ourselves, as we used some reward points we’d collected to get us a few free nights in somewhere fairly pleasant, to help ease the transition. It was quite nice, I mean certainly for Nepal – but I think their online photos aren’t quite representative. Perhaps they have one awesome room that they’ve taken photos of. Still they had some exceptional door signs (pictured on the left), a nice bed, hot running water, electricity and WiFi! (although that didn’t really work either, which I kind of expected). Frankly, having then stayed in different, far cheaper places – we’d highly recommend saving your money (free in our case, but normally $80 a night); the $15 options are just as good.
Charlie and I then ventured out and explored a bit of Thamel, the area we were staying in. There’s something about Kathmandu that’s kind of calming – I mean it’s complete chaos and on the face of it, really quite stressful – but that’s with your western goggles on, so somehow, once you’ve gotten used to being beeped at by every approaching vehicle (to let you know they’re there), and gotten used to choking on the smog and dust – it’s actually kind of peaceful; sounds weird, but it’s true. You don’t get accosted anywhere near as much as in some other Asian countries, and nowhere near as aggressively.
It was getting quite late, and things were shutting down – but we managed to find somewhere to eat, and had ourselves some lovely Dahl Baht and noodle soup – along with the mandatory Everest beer. It was great, and even better when the bill came for £10 (1350 Nepalese rupees – which for some reason I kept referring to as “Kathmandu Dollars” – even to the locals – oops).
Booking the Everest Base Camp Trek & Durbar Square
We spent the following day walking around Thamel, going in to the odd trekking store and talking through the various options; trying to get a feel for how comfortable we felt about the various companies – as the last thing we wanted was to be left stranded, or rushed to climb too quickly then get heli-lifted out.
However, we were temporarily distracted – as we’d wondered quite far from home and stumbled on Kathmandu’s Durbar Square (one of 3 in Nepal). We decided that we may as well have a look around; as we entered we immediately had a whistle blown at us by a guard we hadn’t noticed. Naturally there was a fee we hadn’t spotted – around £8 each (compared to £0 for locals); more than happy with this as we completely understand how heavily Nepal relies on tourism to fund itself; and the money is desperately needed since the earthquake – although one could argue that the fees could be dropped now – given that it’s partly destroyed (I’m joking!)
The temples within the square were quite remarkable, in most cultures I’ve found architecture, religious buildings and am amazed at how some of these structures were created centuries ago. The carvings in the wooden support structures were incredibly intricate – and funny / rude in places (see photos section for more). I enjoyed just walking round taking photos to be honest, like a typical tourist. I read some of the information signs – but couldn’t regurgitate them to you; I’m not great at absorbing historical or cultural information – ignorance is bliss. But it’s a beautiful place, clearly rich with a history of multiple cultures merging peacefully; which in itself makes a nice change.
After visiting the square we eventually made our way back to Thamel. Charlie had significant (if waning at times) confidence in my sense of direction – as we had been walking pretty much all day, interpreting a rather poor map. The long walks gave us a lot of exposure to how vast Kathmandu is – how is it possible for there to be so many independent shops – I mean thousands, tens of thousands – all selling the same stuff! It’s nuts!
Everest Base Camp Trek – booked
Anyway – we did get back to Thamel, and found another trekking store. We spent quite a bit of time talking to Laxman, the manager of Adventure Bound, and he gave us quite a warm feeling, and a slightly better price than some of the others. We agreed on the price, after much negotiation, on condition that we could meet our guide first – as we were going to be spending 15 days with this guy! So we arranged to meet him the next day. The trip we booked was the Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar stop (where the awesome view of Everest is), and then a return trek via Chola pass to Gokyo lakes. We were desperate to see these things during a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was only later that we realised the Chola pass addition basically added another couple of days, with additional climbing! So after getting to base camp & Kala Pattar, at 5500m, we’d descend a fair bit, and then have to climb back up to 5400m! Oops. Good job we did a sterling job of training for this (a couple of walks in Wales, and a few bike rides… Hmm.) The thing we were worried the most about was altitude sickness, which is fairly common and debilitating; requiring air-lift off the mountains, but we were told we’d be able to do it all at our own pace and take our time – and 2 acclimatisation days were built in – so all sounded good!
So – on to dinner – we found a fairly nice, albeit touristy restaurant – actually they mostly are – disappointingly; all serving western food – which for me is actually annoying as I can’t really do Wheat, and the Nepalese have introduced it into all their menus in Kathmandu to please the western tourists – I want Nepalese food!! Anyway, the restaurant had some light entertainment – some traditional dancers, and then a Yak (seen on the right); which came and greeted us during dinner – we took some selfies and paid for the privilege. Was a fun night though!
In case any of you are interested – at this point, it’s been 3 days since I last, you know, ‘went’. I seem to be having the opposite of Delhi belly – and it’s quite frustrating – I want to go before we’re stuck on a mountain somewhere with no facilities! Charlie was having the opposite problem – but it seems to have passed (pardon the pun).
Meeting our guide – getting ‘organised’
Still struggling a bit with jet lag, at about 2PM, we met straight away with Raj, our guide for the EBC trek. We then spent the next hour or so choosing some down jackets and wind proof walking trousers. Never seen anything like the chaos of the place we were taken to; it was a number of tiny rooms, hidden away, filled with local people (Presumably guides), and piled high with clothes. No racks, no displays, not folded clothes – just looked like a massive clothes recycling centre. And we had to find something suitable from that. Oh and it was boiling! See the pic on the left, which doesn’t do it much justice.
Got the stuff, had a nice chat with Raj, seemed like a good guy – paid for the rest of the tour & filled in some forms – signed our lives away.
The Monkey Temple (Swyambhunath)
Then we headed off to the monkey temple (also known as Swayambhunath) in a taxi – brilliant little taxi – reminded my of my first car. Except it was slightly more broken and had no seatbelts. Still, we got there fairly safely, and at a fair, well negotiated price (around £1.50),
The monkey temple was awesome, although the homeless ladies with children on the steps were somewhat upsetting. It’s really sad to learn how easy it is for women to end up this way in Nepal. Many of them are Indian women, and have a number of children! Tourist websites advise not to give money to them, as they’re often being exploited by stronger men, who will take any money from them or their children, so we should give to charities, schools, hospitals instead. However, talking to our EBC guide while on our trek (albeit a little too late), we learned that there’s very little of this that actually happens and mostly the money would go a long way to help these women and children, who in some cases cannot get any help from the Nepalese facilities or government (particularly the Indian ladies) – so when we next see one, we will do; although it’s worth being aware that as soon as you do, you’re likely to be hassled by everyone who saw that you did.
We went to a place called Blueberry café for dinner, on the advice of TripAdvisor – and it was quite good actually… We then popped into the hotel next door to see if they had rooms for when we return from the trek… What do ya know… Laxman is the owner (the manager of the Trek company we booked with)! So we booked a room there, at afar cheaper price than the Penguin place ($16 a night).
Time to leave Kathmandu – for now
We then headed back to the hotel to pack for EBC and figure out what’s coming with us and what’s staying. We needed to be slightly polite to our porter and not give him too much to carry (by the way, we felt bad originally, with the idea of hiring a porter, but again – this is advised and encouraged, as it’s their trade, and is part of the tourism industry – it’s actually considered worse or even rude not to get local help when carrying out the EBC trek- so there!).
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings – I guess the next post will be about the EBC trek, and then hopefully a trip to Pokhara before heading to our next country!