Chilling in Kathmandu
Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
58Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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We'd been to Kathmandu before; this would be Phil's fourth time and my second, so we were prepared for the frenetic energy, the noise, the traffic smog and the dusty, narrow streets that cycle-rickshaws, motorbikes and battered suzuki taxis would all try to squeeze down at once, all honking their horns. They were reassuringly all as before, but the surprise was Thamel, Kathmandu's tourist hub, had had a major 'clean-up'. The huge piles of sun-warmed rubbish and their flies and smells, the mangy dogs that scratched all day and barked all night, the beggars with missing or contorted limbs and the street children with their huge dark eyes and tiny dry fingers, had all but vanished. It was a strange feeling to walk down clean, swept streets, with only the smell of incense sticks wafting up from the shop doorways, no small grabbing hands impeding us, and even more disconcerting to see way more Western than Nepalese faces wandering the streets
Swyambunath Stupa is a hugely important place of worship for Buddhists that also provides a stunning view out over Kathmandu and the valley. It's also a great place for sitting, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching. We watched waves of excited tourists snapping away at the golden prayer wheels, the dazzling white Stupa and the baby monkeys, the quiet Nepali pilgrim doing their three turns while repeating the mantra 'Om mani padme hum' and the orange-robed monks in contemplative meditation. We even sat long enough to pick out the young pick-pockets too, their eyes darting from dangling Nikon to bulging money-belt.
En route to Swayambunath Stupa we crossed Nepal's most sacred river, the Bagmati River, which assaulted our nostrils way before we set eyes on it. Its banks were solid rubbish, some of which was smouldering away sending caustic black smoke across the road and through the windows and washing lines of the nearby suburbhttp://www.friendsofthebagmati.org.np/), and to hear how things haven't improved in eleven years here's an interesting, old BBC news piece: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/395316.stm
For a break from the intensity of the streets we spent half a day within the high walls of The Garden of Dreams, just east of Thamel, which has only been open now for 3 years. This is a stunning Edwardian-inspired garden with immaculate green lawns, striking planting, white pavilions, carp ponds, fountains and verandas, pergolas, balustrades and birdhouses. It was built in early 1920 by Field Marshal Kaiser Sumsher Rana as a private garden. It fell into disrepair after his death and it was not until 2000 that restoration work started in cooperation with the Austrian Government. Have a look at: http://www.gardenofdreams.org.np/ for more info
Between enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, we spent some time getting prepared for our pending big trek into the Everest region. Intent on stocking up on calories we ate at the popular 'safe' tourist eateries like New Orleans, KC's, The Third Eye, Fire & Ice, Roadhouse, Northfield Cafe. Unfortunately 'popular' doesn't equate to 'hygienic' and we both came down with tummy bugs and had to delay our trek by a few days, which strangely also coincided with a complete cancellation of all the flights to Lukla, the trek start point. We shopped for down-jackets, bartering hard for a good price, booked our flight tickets to Lukla and arranged our TIMS Green Card (for free-trekking) with the TAAN office (a purely bureaucratic process to relieve you of $20 it seems), and it was a hugely satisfying jumping the huge queue of Westerners, having completed the registration forms and sorting out our photographs in advance. We left three-quarters of our kit under the care of our hotel in Kathmandu (with a request that they please put a padlock on their laundry cupboard if they're going to use if for left-luggage*) and got out to the airport to see what state the flights to Lukla were in. It was a complete scrum at the Tara Airlines check-in desk and a seemingly random process as to who got to go on which flight. I managed to get to the front, surrounded on all sides by burly trekkers and Nepali guides, and despaired that we'd ever get noticed
And then we were off, flying to the Himalayas, for a bit of an adventure..........
*The Nepali hotel manager was concerned about the safety of our kit bags so he actually ended up storing them under his own bed, unbeknown to his staff. Unfortunately, while we were trekking, he got the sack and it took the hotel staff an age to find them. We bumped into the ex-manager in one of the city squares and the first thing he asked was 'did we get our bags?'. He'd been worrying for weeks. Thankfully we were able to put his mind at rest.