When we had crossed the border, I was still suffering from the chill of Mt. Everest and my only thoughts were dread at the 3 week hike we had planned in the Annapurna Circuit of the Himalayas that Curt wanted to start on as soon as possible. It was not fun for me to be that cold and the hike would be extremely challenging
. Although we had planned on employing a Sherpa for my pack, I was still concerned about my knees on the steep ups and downs that would be required of them everyday of the hike in cold weather and for up to 6 hours of hiking per day. Curt was really excited to be in Nepal and I wanted to share that with him but the dread of the impending physical punishment was too much for me to overcome. I finally admitted my fears to him and much to my surprise and pleasure, he told me he would be fine if I chose not to go with him on the trek!
This combined with a pit stop at a toilet in a gas station that I expected to be as bad as China, but turned out to be a clean and pleasant experience (the sensible Nepalese have deep squat toilets, so no splatter!), my mood lightened considerably and I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the many villages, waterfalls and cliff edges we passed on our way to the capital. I still hadn't decided whether or not I would join him, but I was relieved to know he wasn't counting on me to do it!
What a noisy and hectic city Kathmandu is! Once we were dropped off (at the wrong hotel) and made our way through the city, we were assaulted by the noise of the place. Small narrow streets, lined with shops and restaurants and filled with touts offering hashish, tiger balm or trekking adventures are choked by tourist foot traffic, dozens of motorcycles beeping at you with the loudest horns you've ever heard and the occasional taxi or truck attempting to squeeze through the mayhem
. It is a lively city and pulsing with energy. I loved it right away. Sadly, the incense burning outside every store and the smog from the vehicles has been wreaking havoc on my allergies, but nothing a little Allegra can't handle!
One of the refreshing things about Kathmandu is that you can find anything you want here! In China, we would spend hours trying to find 5 things on a simple shopping list. Here, anything you want (and more) is on offer and you can actually compare prices before you buy! We were blown away to find things such as the exact brand of sunscreen we use at home (in China you can only find versions that include skin whitening agents!) and book stores with English books on every corner.
Our hotel turned out to be a nice one, in the heart of Thamel, the popular tourist district, but it was very loud, as is most of the city. Below us every night was the De La Soul bar thumping out groovy tunes to drunk tourists and in the building next to us was a live band that played nightly and butchered such classics as "Cocaine", "Rock the Casbah" and I swear they were singing "Another Break in the Wall". Added to this was the constant honking of those damnable motorcycles, the less ear shattering honks of the taxi's, the shouts of the street goers and the firecrackers being set off in honor of the Dipawali festival - we were very grateful for our earplugs!
We discovered that we had arrived in Kathmandu just in time for the annual 5 day festival that celebrates something to do with inner light or good over evil or something. It's not really clear but it is a Hindu celebration that seems to also be embraced by the Buddhists. Our first clue that something was up was the dogs we saw on our way in to Kathmandu who were decorated with garlands of flowers around their necks and colored smudges on their foreheads. Turns out that was the day to celebrate the dog. The next day, one of the most important in the holiday, was the day to honor the cow. We were excited to see cows decked out in flowers, but we only found a few. However, that evening, we were delighted to discover that the colorful bags of powder we had been seeing around town were being used to decorate the streets outside businesses with elaborate designs meant to attract Laxmi, the goddess of good fortune. Around these beautiful paintings were candles and marigolds and a painted line leading Laxmi (pronounced Lak-shmi) into the business so (it would appear) she could bless the cash register. The following day provided more of these elaborate street designs at dusk and lots of Nepalese whooping it up as they rode down the street packed in trucks.
There is a lot of poverty here in Kathmandu and it is really hard to say no to the street children who approach you and ask for food. They aren't kidding, either, because they will follow you and point to a shop and beg you to buy them something
. Our book says it's important not to do this, as it only encourages them to stay on the streets where they live free, have no rules and get easy food. There are many organizations here to help the kids, but often they aren't interested in the rules and schooling that the organizations offer. So, I have to remain strong against both them and the elderly and refuse to help them, although it goes against all my instincts. While on a long walk to find the permit office for the trekking we were planning on doing, we spotted a boy in a park who looked like he was stalking a cow. We realized later he was stalking an egret that had been blocked by the cow. He was very determined and patient and we watched for a while as he tried to slither through the tall grass and get close to the bird who was quite aware of his intent. We stopped watching as the bird flew away and he went running after it.
After much deliberation, I decided that the Annapurna Circuit Hike just would not be enjoyable to me and that I might ruin Curt's fun too if I attempted to tough it out to be with him. So we agreed that he would do the crazy hike, which will probably only take him 2 weeks, while I stay in Kathmandu and then explore Pokhara before meeting up with him to do a much more sensible 5 day hike to lower elevations. So, two days ago I said good-bye to my husband and have now been spending my time in Kathmandu alone. Eventually I plan on relaxing with some shopping, reading and maybe a massage
. But for now, I have work to do: catching up on blogs, securing airplane tickets to our next destination, registering with the embassy in case we get caught in an avalanche on our hikes, etc. On the first day without Curt, I missed him terribly. Especially when I discovered that that day is the day of the festival where everyone stays home to celebrate and there were almost no restaurants open. I spent a lot of time trying to find a place to eat. That night, the celebrants were once again out on the streets in their trucks. Traditionalists were dancing to local instruments of horns and drums that made a cacophany of what seemed to be some sort of music. The more progressive crowd was thumping to the Black Eyed Peas for their pomp and circumstance.
There is a lot about Kathmandu that has left us a little confused. The traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism seem to blend together and no one quite knows where one starts and the other stops. The prices on trekking gear, clothes and souvenirs can vary greatly for the same items from place to place. It's confusing to know whether you have been given a good quote or you can cut it in half and still have room to haggle (wish you were here, Barry!) What really stumped us, though, was a phenomenon we discovered called Dance Bars. The first one we spotted was called "Teenage Girl Dance Bar with shower". It was far too intriguing not to go in and see what was up with that. I don't think we've mentioned before that the seemingly professional dancers we've watched on pop video karaoke in China were pretty awkward dancers with lots of jerky movements and simple choreography akin to a production ones 5 year old might put on in the living room
. In Tibet, it was line dancing, but even on the videos, you could see the dancers concentrating very hard and almost sticking their tongues out in their quest to get that step just right. In Nepal, at the Teenage Dance Club, things weren't much better. There was a stage, and on that stage was an attractive Asian girl (we never saw Nepalese up there) in heels that were too big for her to wear (althought I'm quite sure she wasn't a teenager!) She literally shuffled 5 steps forward while swinging her arms and then shuffled 5 steps back throughout the whole song. Sometimes, to mix it up, she would turn around and watch herself in a mirror as she shuffled backwards towards the audience and then forward away from us. This was clearly not a strip club. There was a shower on stage, but if this wasn't meant to be illicit, why was it there (and we never once saw it used!) Confused, we determined to check out another Dance Bar and see what that was like. Our investigation took us to the Pussycat Dance Bar. Ah-ha! (we thought). They ARE strip clubs - a bar with this name could only be that. So we went in just to confirm, and there on stage in a full (and hideous) bright pink Sari was a not very attractive, rather large Indian girl acting out a Bollywood song about love with a young man playing the appropriate male parts for her (if you know anything about Bollywood, you know that they are so conservative that they aren't even allowed to show kissing on film.) It was the next step in Karaoke evolution; acting out the song while you sing (or lip sync). There was nothing illicit about the Pussycat Dance Bar, in fact, I would give it a G rating! Now we were more confused than ever. Our next stop, the Disco Dance Bar had a girl at least dressed attractively, and contorting to a contemporary pop song, but again, it was unclear exactly what was meant to be happening here. We finally gave up and headed home, no wiser about what a Dance Bar actually is then when we started. Upon internet investigation, though, Curt found that these are apparently strip clubs and sometimes brothels
. I just don't see how what we saw at those clubs could lead to either activity.
Anyway, I have moved into a single room at a quieter part of town and I will remain here in Kathmandu for another week or so and see if I can't figure out a little more about this confusing culture (for instance, why is Tiger Balm such a hot commodity that it is offered on the streets like a black market drug?) In the meantime, Curt's alter-ego Max Power has taken over and he's somewhere out in the mountains conquering the Himalayas in true demigod fashion. So from here on out, I imagine there will be a his and hers Nepali blog. Also, I'll post what pictures I have of Kathmandu here, but I don't have Curt's pics, which I'm sure are far better, so we'll probably add to this in a week or two. Cheers!
Once we crossed the bridge into Nepal, the border was pretty lax. You could easily walk into the country with no visa as you have to walk a while along a row of shops. One of them just happens to be the Immigration Office, but if you didn't know to look for it, you would walk right by it and into the country. Once we got our visa stickers, we had to find a ride to Kathmandu. We had decided to stay at the same hotel as Uri & Claire, so we stuck together and spent some time negotiating a fair price for a Jeep into the city. The ride is a long one and we stopped once for a flat tire as well as for a lunch break. It took about 5 hours to reach Kathmandu.