I think it's fair to say I was bricking it about going to Nepal. A country and culture I knew very little, if anything about. I had the good fortune of meeting Suman at Dubai airport, who is a Nepalese living in Seattle. He quickly reassured me that I'd love Nepal and it's people (so far I can't fault his comments). And that it was festival time, the equivalent to Christmas so the city would be less manic (still hard to imagine)!
I was looking forward to flying in to see the mountains when a thunderstorm scuppered that! Instead we had to circle the same spot for an hour waiting for it to pass. I'm fairly sure the pilot got bored of circling and decided to land as we hit some impressive turbulence. I hate it and it terrifies me but with a plane full of men 'arghing' I burst out laughing, ok So I was also gripping both arm rests like I was never going to live at the same time.
The best advice for Nepal is get your visa beforehand. I was the only tourist to have one and flew through customs and straight into the taxi. The visa took my mate and a few people I've since met over an hour. Instantly Nepal hits you with everything...great views of mountains, immense amounts of people and traffic, tons of rubbish everywhere and strong sickly smelling incense, oh and goats slung over the back of mopeds heading to their fates. I couldn't help but feel happy and at home in the chaos.
Eventually the taxi driver and I found the Happily Ever After hostel in Kathmandu where I dumped the bag and met Naomi, who booked a holiday to Nepal once she heard I was heading there. Maybe it was the tiredness but all the streets just looked the same, spending the whole time looking down and jumping out the way of every vehicle until we found the first Buddhist stupa. A great structure adopting Buddha's eyes on all four sides. It's amazing how quickly distinguishable each 'identical' road becomes though. With me travelling and limited to space and cash I did get totally carried away and blow 95p on a yak wool hat! It was too nice and cheap to walk past! Ok, probably won't get worn for some time since the temperature is in the high 20's. Nepal is definitely a cheap place to visit.
They say it's a small world, so when the first person (other than Naomi) I met is from the same county as me, you know it's small! So we adopted Laura and went in search of some hearty Nepalese food! I forget what we ate now as all I remember seeing on the menu was Tibetan hot beer...sold. It was weird, it came in a large wooden tankard (and sits in a bowl) and filled to the rim with seeds and hot water, starts off tasting like Horlicks but it must ferment in the tankard as the alcohol gets stronger and stronger. Well worth a try!
The next day Naomi and I headed to the Kathmandu Durbar Sq full of old Hindu temples. It's pretty good and has a living child goddess (Kumari Devi) who is worshipped. And with every tourist attraction comes the touts, all wanting to be our tour guide. Some get we were not interested and some will not let it lie, until they eventually get the message. After ambling about all the temples and watching the worshippers, we chilled out in the Garden of Dreams, literally a little bit of tranquility away from the hustle and bustle. Following which we jumped in to a taxi and headed to one of the largest stupas in Boudha. Again, so impressive and easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of it all. We thought from there it would be a nice easy walk to Kopan monestary (at least that's what lonely planet led me to believe...I've never trusted lonely planet)! There are no signs and no road names and every road is like a back street, we adopted the head in the general direction of the nearest mountain...it worked, granted up a rather steep mountain in the midday heat!! (And only had to ask to confirm a couple of times). The views were beyond worth it, overlooking Boudha and the surrounding mountains and soaring eagles. Yep already a country you can easily adapt too, well less the literally choking car pollution of the city.
On the way up to the monastery we passed a few guys lugging two massive freshly cut bamboo trees down the mountain, at the time i just observed them trying to carry them down but when we came back down the mountain the lads had built a massive bamboo swing for the kids in some open space. I can't lie, I was so envious not to be able to join in.
As a blow out evening is required once in a while, this was it. That evening Naomi and I met up with Laura and two Nepalese guys (Ashwini and Nitan) that Naomi had met. Starting with a beer and a few cocktails in the Tom and Jerry bar. A little fact the lads told me - in the countryside the average age to marry is 16, whereas in Kathmandu it had now risen to 25/26. Either way I guess they'd consider me as 'left on the shelf'. The night continued with plenty of chilli foods, beers, shisha and then the shots started in Zibro which oddly means tongue. Not sure why we had a jäger bomb where beer was the bomb, an interesting choice...FYI burp quickly after. Then off to the OMG nightclub. I fitted in perfectly with the Nepalese sporting my day rucksack. Then I head back to my hostel, bear in mind it was only about 1.30am, to find it was all locked up and no lights on...marvellous. Thank god for rattling the shutters and the poor member of staff I woke up!
Planning to meet at 9.30 the next morning was always going to be ambitious. Anyway Laura and I managed 10am and Naomi a bit further behind. We headed to Patan, similar to Kathmandu's Durbar Sq but on a larger scale. All the children in Kathmandu area seem to love playing with handmade kites and it's amazing how high they get them. I'm determined to get one and give it a go. Definitely seen the adults pretending to help the children because they are loving it as well. This was all followed by a lazy meal and few bottles of wine at New Orleans restaurant (very Nepalese I know) with Fatima, a lovely Aussie from my hostel, Naomi, Laura and her trekking buddy, Kimberley. This is very much a you had to be there things, we were in stitches at the live singer who was probably in his 60's and putting on quite a performance with air punches, pelvic thrusts and we were fairly sure he was holding the words on a bit of paper! Either way he was certainly entertaining.
The next day Naomi and I met for breakfast at the Funky Buddha, where we also ended up for cocktails and food that night with Laura, Kimberley and Fatima. We thought we'd go cheap and try and find a local bus to take us to Bhaktapur, a massive Buddhist area of old palaces, temples etc. the bus itself is worth the experience, with as many people crammed on as possible and it won't leave until it's full. But at 25 rupees (16p) each way well worth it! Especially as the taxi is 800 rupees (£5) each way.
Luckily, as the Dashain festival is going on at the moment which is their biggest festival, I'm told the streets and number of people is at it's lowest as they all move out to the villages to celebrate. So I think the bus would normally have been more packed, if that's even possible. I knew that on this day in the festival, they scarified animals as offerings and when we arrived to Bhaktapur it was clearly we had just missed one. Blood everywhere and meat been chopped up. Even one guy was washing the intestines inside the slaughtered animal, which I'm guessing was once a goat. There were also a few goats being led to their sacrificial deaths.
Bhaktapur itself is beautiful and the most impressive out of Patan and Kathmandu Durbar Sq on it's grandness and size and where I sampled my first Nepalese Lassi drink...a yoghurt drink, I picked sweet so they just threw in a ton on sugar, a logical solution. Again we went on a treasure hunt to find the bus stop back to Kathmandu, the taxi guys love trying to get a fare by telling us that no buses where running due to the festival. But final it arrived.
Once arriving back in Kathmandu we walked up to the monkey temple (Swayambhunath) which is another stupa set on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. Having walked a few miles to get to it, I was overjoyed to see there was about a thousand steps up to it! Half way up I think a full on sweat had kicked in. But like the Kopan monastery, the views alone made it worth while and watching the monkeys shamelessly stealing people's juice cartons. Sadly as a massive rain storm was moving in, and man did then come down later, the mountains were obscured for the ultimate flawless photo.
So the last day in Kathmandu (for now), resulted in us not being able to get to the Shirapuri National Park as we had no idea where the bus went from, but whilst looking we found a bunch of noisy bats just chilling out in the street (up a tree). They were monsters and I never knew they liked the sun!! Instead we trekked over to the Pashupatinath temple, where they cremate the dead. After umming and arguing for ages about whether we could be bothered to go in, we did. And wow, they were preparing a man to cremate. The family uncovered the man's head and chest to sprinkle it with some red dye and water. I nearly burst into tears when I saw the daughter of the dead man trying to uncover him again to hold his face while she sobbed her heart out but her family were trying to pull her away. I found it surprisingly emotional, particularly when the father of the man was also struggling to cope. I didn't wait to see them put the body on the fire but it would have been interesting. Other than the actual cremation the site is not as impressive as others I've been too.
Kathmandu is so quiet and everything shut with the festivals main day taking place. But after getting chatting to Henrik from Sweden in the street, the three of us went to find food and beer...but strange struggling to find something open. As it was Henrik's first day he couldn't imagine Kathmandu being as chaotic as it is! On the way back to the hotel, and as things are so cheap, I invested in a yak wool shawl (not like I need it!!!) but as the woman went down to 300 rupees (£2) I couldn't turn it down!
My last night in Kathmandu with Naomi, Henrik and Fatima was great...cocktails, food and roof top views (plus a couple of cockroaches for good measure) perfect night before a change of pace. So far Nepal has been a great experience with good food, being cheap and very friendly people. The only thing I've really had to get use to is the grebbing up (hate that noise) and spitting, but with all the pollution and dust I kind of get it.
So with a bus ticket for a none air conditioned bus with a journey time of seven hours (but hey, it cost me 650 rupees (£4) so TFL eat your heart out) let's see what else Nepal has to offer.