Kathmandu, Nepal (8th Nov 2007)
Today we set off to our final destination in Nepal, the capital city, Kathmandu. Every time we looked out of the stinky small bus windows we got a reminder of how nice the scenery and the countryside was, Nepal really is a beautiful country even away from the mountains; although this contradicts what was said before, now we have seen much more and it really is a great view no matter when you look on the road to Kathmandu.
We arrived here late afternoon after a rather treacherous and little bit scary mountain bus journey, I mean how it can possibly be safe to drive so fast up winding mountain roads, overtaking on bends which are accompanied by 1000ft sheer drops though, I will never know!
Anyway, we made it to Kathmandu safe and sound and it is literally full of westerners who have come here to trek in the Himalayas, many of them looking as though they have just stepped out of the North Face catalogue. There was a lot of, "yah, we've just done %u202Athe Annapurna circuit" or "yah, we did base camp last year". It made us roll our eyes at first but now we're a bit gutted we didn't schedule in any time to do the base camp trek, maybe next year.... Kathmandu is much more relaxed than Delhi ad we are both so glad our trip ended here rather than in Delhi. When we arrived at the hotel room, Mark realised that he had left his much loved off roaders (shoes) on the bus.You see, whilst elephant bathing Mark thought it would be a good idea to keep his shoes on to clean off all the dirt from the previous two days adventures, unbeknown to him at the time that they would take days to dry off. When we came to leave Chitwan they were still wet and so Mark stuffed them with newspaper, put them in a plastic bag and when his attempts to tie them to the top of the bus failed, he put them in the overhead baggage area...which is where they now remain or so we thought until the last day when we saw a man walking round in Kathmandu wearing the exact same shoes, coincidence? Mark thinks they were his but who knows! Anyway for about a tenner they were replaced by some nicer ones and they do the job so all is ok.
Nepal is a wonderful country. The people are very friendly with greetings of "Namaste" wherever you go and everything here is surprisingly modern and clean. The scenery is amazing - even in the middle of Kathmandu you are surrounded by enormous, densely forested mountains. Our hotel was right in the middle of Thamel (the main tourist/backpacker area in Kathmandu). It was quite a nice place, the location was great and facilities much more than we could have expected on a budget tour.
Exotic architecture, dilapidated buildings, ancient temples and modern bars make up the streets of Kathmandu all with their very own touts and guides trying to lure you into their particular place or to buy whatever they are selling. There are three types of people you will find on the streets apart for the touts, all in similar numbers, busy locals, lazing backpackers, and the determined trekkers ready to scale Everest, aside from that you will also find an copious amounts of motorcycles, bicycles, cars and rickshaws all diving in and out of the tightest gaps with no regard to the foot traffic and all too often dodging each other at the last second barely avoiding a crash. Engines revving, constant honking, temple bells ringing, bicycle bells clanging and market stall owners shouting, make up Kathmandu's soundtrack. The temple squares and crowded alleyways both suffocate you in the mild pollution and simmering heat that makes up the atmosphere. Common sights on the streets of Kathmandu are, A starving baby in it's mother's arms; porter's carrying incredibly heavy loads on their backs; cows, dogs and humans all eating from the same rubbish pile on the street corners; children begging for money and drug dealers trying to sell hashish.
As for the weather it can be torrential rain beating you one minute and blue sky and sunshine warming you the next. We got caught out one day and fell victim to the weather as we set out in the morning wearing flip flops and summer clothes which was fine until dinner time when we were the furthest from our hotel we had been yet and it started to pour down, the rain drops were like footballs and in a matter of seconds were we soaked to the bone, and having flip flops on proved not to be the best idea, as all the disgusting rubbish and dirt that made up the streets and pavementsdissolved and ran through our toes... L
As we don't have the time, money or physical ability to undertake a massive trekking expedition we had to figure out the best way we could get views of the Himalayas. So we booked a mountain flight which goes into the Himalayas and weaves between the mountains before cruising past the top of Everest. We got up at 05.00 the in the morning for our Everest flight which was due to take off at 06.00 and to our surprise it left on time. We couldn't land at base camp (I don't think they actually let people anymore) so we just flew around it - it was pretty amazing to see "the top of the world" up close, See Photos. It's hard to explain the experience of actually being there and seeing the mountains, because as with the Taj Mahal it's such a well known site you just expect to feel nothing since you have seen a 1000 photos in books and stuff, but we both agreed, you really need to go and see it to understand the size and how impressive it really is.
We flew with Bhudda Air in a small 18 seater plane, so everyone got a window seat it was quite strange inside as the whole plane seemed smaller than a prison cell, but surprisingly we got good seats and flew in relative comfort. The flight took us up to 8,000 metres, level with the snow-covered mountain peaks which were just outside the window. It was a beautiful experience to fly along the impressive Himalayas. During flight, access to the cockpit was not only possible but encouraged and as you would expect, the view from there was even better.
We got the most fantastic views of a load of mountains as we flew east towards the big one - Gauri Shankar (7134m), Melungste (7181m), Cho-Oyo (8201m), Gyachungkang (7652m), Pumoki (7161m), Nuptse (7855m), Lhotse (8516m), Chamlang (7319m) and Makalu (8463m). Impressed by our knowledge of the Himaylayas?...Well don't be, it's all copied off a brochure we were given. Everest (8848m) did not look as tall as Makalu, tucked away as it is behind Nuptse and Lhotse. We could clearly see it's very distinctive triangular shape as we got nearer to it, though we weren't close enough to spot anyone waving from the top!
In the afternoon we went to The Great Stupa of Boudhanath which is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. We had to walk around the bottom of it in a clockwise direction together with loads of Buddhist monks and people who were praying to Buddha by stopping every 4 steps to touch their foreheads to the ground and then lie down.
We then went to Swayambunath, the "Monkey Temple", on the banks of the Bagmati river which flows into the River Ganges in India. Because of this, they had a couple of burning ghats here as well so we were lucky enough to see even more burning bodies - think we seen enough now though, thank you very much. As the name suggests there are several troops of monkeys that live on the site which sits right on top of a mountain overlooking Kathmandu, although this way a great place, the monkeys were surprisingly scary after we got told a story about how recently a group of them attacked and killed the vice prime minister of India.
We then had our last night out with the group in a restaurant/bar where we all got to sign our names on a giant foot and pin it to the roof to hang there in Kathmandu forever! We were obviously up for a pretty big night but unfortunately, getting a drink after midnight isn't that easy in Nepal and apparently it's not that safe for us white folk to be out in the dark on our own, so everyone except us two and another couple, Ben and Aran, went home to bed. We on the other hand stayed out and went to an Ex-Pat bar which was good, cheap and played western music, until it closed around midnight. After this bar closed we decided to call it a night and head home, but just as we thought it was the end of the night, we somehow managed to find a Nepali nightclub, which was booming. The music was similar to what you might find in any dance club but with a Nepali beat in the background, however every now and then you would get a classic western floor filler pumping out. At 03.30 we called it a night and headed home to bed.
We woke up late for the first time in ages since our tour had now finished and we had a couple of free days; we managed to do virtually nothing. Kathmandu is a traveller's paradise... especially if all you want to do is eat, drink and buy dodgy traveller's trousers. So that's what we did, except of course the dodgy traveller's trousers which were pretty god damn horrendous. The rest of the week was spent haggling for things we didn't want anyway and checking out a couple locals sites.