A luxury weekend away.
After three weeks in Kathmandu and at DNC Kath and I are off for a weekend break.We're leaving the traffic, noise, dust, dirt, pollution and jippy tummies behind and heading for the clean mountain air at Nagarkot, renowned for its spectacular views of the Himalayas.We're looking forward to a night in a luxury hotel with soft bed, clean sheets and good food.Oh, foolish optimism!This is Nepal!
No tiny, battered Suzuki for us.Our personal luxury saloon and chauffeur pick us up at Gaia and whisk us silently through the traffic, firstly to the world heritage town of Bhaktapur.We are seized upon by a guide who pretends to be a friend of our chauffeur and who leads us on a 1½ hour route march round all the sights.Fair enough, he's useful and knowledgeable but tends to concentrate on sacrifices.We see the factory that rears thousands of chickens to meet the great demand, we see the goats corralled and the buffalos for the big festivals.We've decided that once you've seen a hundred temples you've seen 'em all and the hundreds of gods in their various forms only serve to confuse.A pleasant, if a bit hurried, couple of hours in a quiet, clean town.
We wind steeply and smoothly up into the foothills but also into the mist and cloud so that when we reach our hotel there is absolutely nothing to see.But the air is clean, chill and crisp and we have all the hotel's facilities to look forward to.The manager's appearance in a suit, bare feet and flip flops would perhaps have been a little odd anywhere but in Nepal but, out of respect for his new guests, he quickly changed into shoes - no socks.It is gone 2pm, we ask if we can have a bit of lunch and an extensive menu is produced of which only sandwiches are available.We choose sandwiches, and tea with milk.There is no milk.After waiting ten minutes we are told the sandwiches will be another half an hour.We sit and relax in the lounge and take in the old colonial style of the building and decor but half an hour is a long time when you're waiting and the eye begins to fall on things such as the dust, dirty windows and old curtains, filthy table mats and dingy furnishings.The hotel has fallen on hard times, into a glorious state of Nepali dilapidation.The sandwiches arrive but the bread is so old and stale that much of it crumbles at a touch.We eat.
We are shown to our room.It's freezing but the boy turns on an ancient electric fire which works for 10 minutes before the power goes off.In the bathroom the basin has collapsed into its surround and both taps flop in the air on the end of flexible hoses.There's no hot water.I mean nothing comes out of the hot tap.The loo works.In the bedroom the formica forms elegant arcs as it peels off the cupboards, the carpet curls up at the edges and seams.The wallpaper is worn away at corners of the wall, wires hang from holes and only one light in the room works.
We decide to walk into town and, in the foyer, meet the manager who asks us what time we would like to eat."From what time is dinner served?""Dinner is served at 7pm."We decide we'll eat at 7.
'Town' consists almost entirely of shacks selling food and trinkets to trekkers and tourists.Without them, attracted by the views, no town would exist and they are obviously not big spenders.We pass a school from which happy children shout Hello and Namaste and everybody else greets us with a smile.When we glance into the huts some of them live in we are, as usual, amazed at how happy and content they seem and how well turned out most of them are.We watch women carrying enormous loads on their backs; stones, firewood, greenstuff, presumably food.Dogs, goats, chickens, ducks, buffalo mingle in with everybody else.In three weeks we've yet to see a cat.
7pm arrives and we enter the dining room muffled up in puffer jackets and fleeces, as are all the other guests, 10 of us in all, Japanese, Indian, Austrian and us. The manager asks if we would like a drink and I ask which beers he has.He has one beer so I order it.Kath has a coke.The set meal appears, starting with grey soup, immediately followed by a plate for each of us of chicken, kebabs, momos, mushrooms and vegetables, a plate of fried veg, a plate of raw veg, bowls of rice and spaghetti.A lot of food and it's reasonably tasty but it started luke warm and, as it all came together, we give up, not because we've finished, because it's gone cold.A frisson of excitement is added half way through when all the lights go out and we are plunged into such total inky blackness you can't see your hand in front of your nose.But this lasts less than a minute.Kath and I discuss what might be on the sweet trolley but no such conveyance appears.In fact nothing else appears so I bravely ask for coffee - with milk.There is no milk so we decline.
When a rat scuttles across the dining room Kath decides it's time for bed and we retire hoping that our meal would not put in an unwelcome reappearance during the night, nor would the rat.We have 2 double beds, soft as snooker tables and we transfer some blankets from the spare onto our bed in the hope of keeping warm.We contemplate our luxury weekend and the luxuries enjoyed by the stone-carriers in their tin shacks and by our DNC children who never complain.We decide to adopt the Nepali attitude to life - or our interpretation of it:-"Life's a b**** - just take what it throws at you - get on with it."
We are woken with a banging on the door at 6.30 so we can be up in time to see the sun rise at 6.50.We draw the curtains to beautiful misty views of the world's highest mountains.Hurriedly we dress and get up on the roof for one of nature's great spectaculars - sunrise over the Himalayas.Our photographs fail to capture the magnificence of what we see as the east grows more pink, then orange and then bursts with light that picks out peak after peak across the entire horizon.This is what we came to see and it doesn't disappoint.At 2,200m (7,200ft) we can see way down into terraced valleys, across the distant foothills to the snow covered mountains beyond.After breakfast we set out to other vantage points for different views.With only 78% of the oxygen than at sea level it's surprisingly hard going but worth every puff.By mid morning all the other guests have gone on their way but we decide to sit out on the terrace as the air gets warmer and we read our books in the total silence and drink a beer, the nicest beer we've tasted in Nepal.Above us eagles float on the thermals and beyond are the mountains.This is the life!