Kat Man Doooo!
Our first week of travel in Nepal's crazy and surprisingly hazy capital
In a daze, we woke up around 6 am, confused about that strange noise and what seemed like a LOT of crowing/chirping/singing. Once we figured out that it was just 6 am and we weren't on some plane or in some airport anymore, we realized we had slept for nearly 10 hours after a 36 hour flight from California to Nepal. We got up, dressed and went outside and finally figured out what the strange noises were: hundreds and hundreds of birds were flying ALL over the place and the tea-shop owner three stories below had just opened up his shop and was sweeping the entrance -- "ppffffftt!! ppfffftt!!". This was the second day of a three-day 'strike'; apparently a very common occurrence in Nepal. Even though our guesthouse had promised that they would pick us up from the airport the day before (like, 99.9% of the reason we picked it in the first place!), no one showed up at the airport even after we waited for about an hour. They then informed us that the 'strike' we heard about from the taxi drivers at the airport was indeed real and that the guesthouse driver was not able to get through the traffic jam. We were upset initially but we then laughed about it as we remembered what our friends who had been to Nepal before warned us about: expect nothing to go as planned and you will have a blast!
Kanghsar Guesthouse in Thamel, Kathmandu wasn't all that bad. For 16 bucks we had a 'soft' bed (later on we'd find out how much of a luxury this was), our own bathroom (a western toilet would also become a luxury), a hot shower AND breakfast. Plus, there was a pretty cool rooftop garden with some tables that offered a spectacular view of... the haze. Apparently it's 'not pollution' but there is a crazy dense haze that hangs out around Kathmandu Valley around March/April and visibility just, well, pretty much did not exist.
Thamel is the most touristy area of Kathmandu. We usually don't like doing the 'touristy' thing but we just wanted to start off easy. Plus we heard that there was very good and very cheap food all over the place, all within walking distance. Our first week in Nepal, thus, consisted of lots of eating, walking around and trying not to pass out before 7 pm - the jetlag was intense. Our favorite place to eat was this Pilgirm's bookshop/restaurant that served freshly prepared organic, vegetarian food and had an amazing selection of food and literature (plus fast wi-fi).
Hygiene in Nepal needs some work, especially seeing the butcher shops scattered down the dusty, unpaved alleys. It is hard to recount how much raw meat we saw just sitting out in the open with dozens of flies all over.... refrigeration is hard to count on when there is very little electricity due to very limited supply of energy in Nepal (most of which is imported from India; the oil is imported too and there are multi-hour lines for gas). Even though we purchased a Steripen at REI before we left (it sterilizes tap water with UV light), we bought bottled water: the tap water was literally brown and the rivers that go through the city were just a tad too smelly and littered with garbage and raw sewage.
|How would you like that cooked?
|Day at the beach?
After overcoming the initial shock, we sought out some culture: we visited the monkey temple, walked around the neighborhood of Boudha and we went to a Hindu festival in what they call "little Varanasi", i.e. where they burn/bury dead bodies along the river. The monkey temple is actually a very significant Buddhist Stupa (religious center) in Asia and many mothers come with their sick children to pray to one of the goddesses for their children's recovery.
|Swayambunath, aka, 'monkey temple', it's watching you...
Boudha, east of Kathmandu is a really beautiful spot and we even liked their Stupa even better. We discovered that Boudha has the second largest concentration of Tibetan refugees (outside China), second only to Dharamsala in India. We also visited a very beautiful Tibetan monastery (Kopan Gompa) sitting on top of a hill right above Boudha and enjoyed wonderful conversations with some of our friends who were living there, learning and practicing meditation. That same day it just happened to be one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year so we walked on over to Pashupattinath and it was crowded with literally THOUSANDS of people burning/burying their dead in the river. We couldn't really see much but it was really cool to see the crowds and feel the energy. Boudha was by far our favorite part of the city and we will spend a few nights there before we leave Nepal.
If they're looking for places to stage the sequel to The Hunger Games, Kathmandu might be a good place to start. With it's crazy mixture of diverse humanity, medieval sanitation and network of monochromatic alleys that could fool the most nefarious pickpocket, Nepal's capital felt, well, post-apocalyptic!
Our first week had started with a bang but we were ready to breathe pure Himalaya air and get our trek on! The mountains beckoned...
This post was co-published on www.eliotpeper.com