Kathmandu

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
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Trip End Oct 15, 2006


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Where I stayed

Flag of Nepal  ,
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Walk towards central Kathmandu down one of the main streets, Kantipath. The road is busy - but the traffic fumes are not as bad as I had been led to believe. Every few yards a taxi or cycle rickshaw pulls up and asks if I want a lift - but I prefer to walk. Passing the Royal Palace there are lots of huge, noisy fruit bats in the tree tops.

I turn off the main street down one of the many narrow side streets. The smells are incredible - spices, fruits and leather mixed with a bit of two-stroke motor oil. The street is only about 4m wide - and the shops on either side spill out into the street, so that you are left with a walkway only about 2m wide. It is packed with people - but incredibly bicycles, motorbikes, and even the occasional car manages to squeeze past.

Every few hundred metres the narrow streets open out into a square. Each one is filled with stalls selling everything imaginable. One stallholder has a tarpaulin covered in a huge mound of shoes (mainly western-style trainers). The shoes are not even paired up - so how anyone manages to find a matching pair is a mystery.

Everywhere you go people are trying to sell you things. I try to just give a polite 'No thank you', but after stopping to take a photo I let my guard down, and end up talking to a necklace seller. Before I know it I am holding half a dozen of these necklaces. I have no intention of buying a necklace - and certainly not at the asking price of 20 US dollars each - so I hand the necklaces back and continue walking. But this guy is persistent and follows we for about 200m, gradually reducing the asking price to $7 for two, before he finally gives up.

Finally I reach Durbar Square. What a relief it is to be in a wide street. There are no cars or bikes - and hardly any salesmen! I walk along the side of the old royal palace, past the Basantapur Tower. The detail in the wooden carvings on these buildings is absolutely incredible.

I am absolutely exhausted - partly from a combination of jet-lag and the heat - but mostly as a result of sensory overload and of having to say 'No thank you' 200 times to all the people who have tried to sell me stuff. I buy a bottle of Coke (just 15Rs, about 12p) and climb up the steps of the Maju Dega - one of the many impressive temples in Durbar Square.

This is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. Down below the cars and bikes are hooting their horns, but up here it is comparatively peaceful. Tomorrow is the 8th day of the Nepali festival of Dasain - the day of sacrifices - and it looks like everyone had been buying something to sacrifice. People are walking round with live chickens and ducks under the arms. In some cases the poor creatures are hanging by their feet from the handlebars of a motorbike!

A young Nepali man comes and sits next to me - and begins talking in English. He says he is a student and wants to practice his English. He tells me that he is visiting his family for Dasain, but that he doesn't have much money. He then starts telling me about each of the buildings in Durbar Square. After a while it is getting a bit tiresome - and it is clear that he is not going to leave unless I give him some money. However, when I offer him some money he says that it is not enough! He claims that he has given me a tour of Durbar Square, and that I need to pay him more. So I decide to leave - but he follows me for the next ten minutes all around Durbar Square. Eventually he spots one of the Tourist Police and says that he will report me to the police. I say 'fine' - and head towards the policeman - but before I have got there my 'guide' mysteriously disappears.

Wandering back towards Thamel I discover Kathe Simbu - a large temple almost hidden down a small alleyway. It is very peaceful here, with no one trying to sell you anything.

Back in one of the shopping streets I am accosted by a guy who runs up to me. 'You want to buy hash? Very cheap.' He unwraps a tiny paper bundle. I say 'No thanks' and he runs off. A few minutes later some one else comes up. He holds open a tin. 'You want tiger balm. Very good. I also have marijuana.' He is a bit more persistent than the other one - but eventually takes 'No' for an answer.

Later at the hotel I meet Dave and Enid - who will be my fellow trekkers - and our guide, Jagan.
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