Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Kathmandu (Part One)

Day Seventeen

We left Chengdu, China and flight number nine took us to Nepal.  On the way we saw Mount Everest sticking up from the clouds (The first of three times we would see the highest point on Earth).  Later the Wife would say she wondered why we were flying so low before realizing the mountain was just very high. Heh.

Mount Everest from the airplane.
We arrived in Kathmandu and worked our way through customs.  We stood in line to find that we needed to fill out a form.  The bored customs agent point us across the room to a table with forms stacked on them.  We went over and filled out our visa applications and got back in line.  The bored looking agent asked us where our pictures were, rolled his eyes, and pointed at a small booth not far from the table with all the forms.  For a small fee we get our pictures taken and ... got back in line.  This time everything met the bored agent's requirements and our passports were stamped.  We actually made it out of the airport in short order despite our having to get in line three times.  We exited the airport and found our guide.

The guide introduced himself (Dinesh) and we got in a car and headed out into the traffic nightmare that is Kathmandu.  What a shock to the senses.  China was crowded but it was also clean and rather orderly.  Kathmandu was chaos.  Nepal had changed governments recently.  After years of civil war between the monarchists and the Maoist factions, peace was brought to Nepal after both parties agreed to democratic elections.  The Maoist faction won the majority.  Unfortunately the four or five years since the elections the Maoist haven't figured out how to run their country.

Rickshaws and motorcycles.
The city was noisy, crowded (8.8 million people - nearly a quarter of the countries population), dirty (piles of garbage everywhere), and not what I'd expected.  The number of motorcycles out numbered the cars nearly two to one and the number of horns out numbered the vehicles three to one I'd guess.  The Nepalese drivers sure like the sound of their horns.

Our guide dropped us off at the hotel after pointing out a few interesting places nearby and places to eat.  It was noon and we had the rest of the day to ourselves.  The hotel was older but nice enough.  We left the hotel and walked to a nearby neighborhood popular with expats.  The area was filled with restaurants and stores.  Most of the stores were trekking and camping supply stores.  You could tell what the main tourist activity of Nepal was.

We ended up at a small cafe/restaurant a short walk from our hotel where we had something to drink and a small snack.  We returned to the hotel and we both crashed hard.  I was feeling a little unwell, looking back, it was probably a mix of altitude and lack of a decent meal.  After a nap we went swimming in the hotel pool.

That evening we went back to the cafe/restaurant and had a spaghetti dinner and plenty of water.  This made me feel much better.  From this point on we would end up eating a lot of western meals by choice.  Most of these for me would be some sort of pasta.

Day Eighteen

After breakfast at the hotel restaurant we met our new guide.  Dinesh turned out to be the boss of the local travel agency (Yeti Travels)  and our daily guide would be an older gentleman with bad teeth.  We were introduced but neither the Wife nor I caught his name.  By the time we realized that neither of us knew his name it was too late to ask him without embarrassing ourselves.  Between us we called him Mr. Jones.

Mr. Jones was very intelligent.  He read a lot and was the largest donor of books to the Kathmandu library.  As we drove through the noisy streets of Kathmandu he pointed out trees and birds - both common and Latin names - which made me think about the teachers from San Diego.  They would have loved this.

Swayambhunath stupa - The Monkey Temple.
Our first stop, not on our original itinerary, was the Swayambhunath stupa located on a hill overlooking the city. The Stupa, or dome shaped Buddhist/Hindu shrine, was also known as the monkey temple.  This became apparent after we entered the temple complex and saw all the monkeys in the trees and wandering the grounds.  After a history lesson and a brief explanation of the site we were given time to wander the temple.  Hindu/Buddhist temples are rarely only one building and are more often a collection of small and large shrines.  There was a pool not far from the temple where the monkeys gathered to swim and jump into the water.  We probably could have spent all day there watching the monkeys enjoying the water.

Mother and Child.
One funny little thing.  Everywhere we stopped the driver and guide would jump out of the car to open the door for us.   Being the down to earth middle class mid-westerners we are we would always open our own doors.  It soon became a race to see who could open the doors quicker.  This would become an ongoing game throughout Nepal, Bhutan, and India.

Next we went to the ancient royal quarter of the city to visit Durbar Square and the temples surrounding the area.  We toured the area.  There were several men dressing in orange and elaborately painted faces.  I wondered if this was part of a religious ritual until I realized that they would let you take their picture for a price - it was just a tourist thing.  I didn't take their picture.  I did take a picture of our first wild cow wandering free in the square.

Holy cow!  Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
The wife took some time to look at some scarves.  When it came time to buy them I pulled out the credit card and ... their machine wouldn't work.  We ended up leaving without buying.  We ran into a few places with sketchy credit card machines.  The Wife said this was a sign and, sure enough, it turned out for the better as we found cheaper, but just as nice, scarves later.

Women in colorful Sari.
The next stop was the city of Patan.  The itinerary describes this as a drive "into the lovely Nepalese countryside".  On the short drive we saw absolutely no countryside.  The itinerary description was obviously from an older time before Kathmandu and Patan had grown together,  now separated only by a bridge over the Bagmati river.

Patan Durbar Square.
In Patan we visited  an impressive temple complex with an ancient and still active aqueduct system.  The Wife got her picture taken with some school girls having lunch there.

After Patan we returned to the hotel.  I was a little surprised by this.  I'd expected a full day especially since the itinerary divided activities between morning and afternoon.  We'd done the whole day by 2:00 PM.  The days in Nepal were less packed than the China portion's had been.  This felt weird to me and left me feeling a bit empty.

We spent the rest of the day having our laundry done (Nepal was by far the cheapest place to do laundry - China, Bhutan, and India were much more expensive), receiving our Bhutanese visas, and napping in our room.

We continued our western food trend when we both ordered hamburgers at the same cafe/restaurant we'd eaten the day before.  The burger turned out to be a little too spicy for my tastes but the Wife like it.

Pictures from days seventeen and eighteen (07/08 - 07/09/2012) can be found in my 2012-07 Nepal Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

2 comments:

  1. Katmandu is a good place, especially for hiking lovers as Himalayan range always fascinates people. Also with good nature around any one will fall in love with Katmandu.

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    1. James: Thanks for visiting. My expereince there wasn't so good but I think that was mostly my fault. Having said that, not sure all the nature in the world would make me like Kathmandu. I would prefer just being in the nature and out of Kathmandu.

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