“Ladies and gentleman we are just beginning our descent into Kathmandu, Nepal. If you look out of the right hand side of the plane you will be able to see Mt Everest alongside us”
Cruising into Nepal at 30,000 ft and being almost level with Mt Everest, high above the cloud line on a beautiful sunny morning. It’s fair to say we were excited to be here!
And then we landed at Kathmandu international airport…Perhaps one of the worlds most bleak and uninspired airport (think Broad Street Mall with a plane or two) we were then treated to a 2.5 hour queue at immigration to appreciate the surroundings before finally being issued our visas.
We spent the first few nights at the Yellow Inn on ‘Freak Street’. Perhaps like me you’re thinking “that doesn’t sound very Nepalese” – well that’s because the street was renamed in the 60s by the locals reacting to the influx in (predominantly European) hippies that tended to stay here. Unsurprising given a hotel room here in the 60s would have set you back 3 rupees a night I’m told, about 2 pence!
Kathmandu was perhaps even more hectic and ramshackle than I had been led to believe. From where we were staying it was a 30 second walk to Durbur square – the closest thing to a centre the city has. More accurately a fascinating collection of buildings spanning all ages, styles and conditions, the majority of which are firmly on the “barely standing” end of the spectrum.
From here it was about a 15 minute walk through the labyrinth of backstreet’s and traffic-jammed alleyways, teeming with the sounds and smells of life which lead to the main tourist end of town – Tamel.
Given the Himalayas are the main draw here and the overwhelming majority of tourists are Europeans on trekking holidays, the proliferation of outdoors stores came as no surprise. What did was how they would consume the next few days of our lives, as it very quickly became evident that we were woefully unprepared for a 14 day trek in the highest mountain range in the world a month or so before winter. Boots, buffs, daypacks, thermals, gloves, socks, walking poles, medical kits, water purification tablets, maps…all lacking from our backpacks.
A couple of days and we’d pretty much been to every outdoor store in Kathmandu. Compiling a list of which had the best quality reproductions (everything is fake) and snapping up everything we needed at knock-down prices.
Luckily we had plenty of time to get this sorted owing to the fact that obtaining an Indian Visa abroad, is, it transpires, a bewildering and utterly exhausting process, which on several occasions left me staring into the face of the indifferent bureaucrat with utter incredulity as they once again told me something was wrong with my application.
Thankfully after 8 days, 3 trips to the Indian Embassy – the first of which required queuing for 3 hours and 5 visits to said bureaucrat, and then paying the tidy sum of £90 we were finally issued with a visa…for 3 months. We’d paid for 6, as this is the only duration available to purchase…no explanation, no refund of the difference.
The other task we had whilst based in Kathmandu was to organise our trek. This had been a talking point for some time, would we do Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit. For a long time we had agreed on doing the Circuit, as it is arguably the better trek (continuous loop, more varied scenery, better lodges etc) whereas Everest Base Camp, well it’s got the name hasn’t it! And once in Kathmandu it was hard to look past all the companies pushing Everest Base Camp and before long we had started speaking with Agents and making arrangements to set off in a few days. Almost at the point of agreeing to a trip we deciding to sleep on it for a couple of days (we couldn’t book the flights to Lukla – the starting point for Base Camp anyway until the bloody Indian Embassy gave us back our passports) so we packed up and left Kathmandu for a couple of days to get out of the city and to celebrate my birthday somewhere different…far away from the Indian Embassy.
We left Kathmandu perched upon a rusty motorised chassis, held together with bungee cords and tape. The little taxi rattled its way out of the city amid all the other cars, bikes, buses, cows, tractors, pedestrians and dogs that share the road – all of which have their own understanding of what a road is and how to use it!
We spent a couple of days in the medieval town of Bhaktapur, exploring its three main squares with their large ornate temples and religious architecture, as well as wandering aimlessly through the narrow cobblestone streets soaking up the atmosphere.
The town is far more peaceful than Kathmandu despite being only an hour or two away, and you really get a sense for Nepalese culture here. With Artisans weaving in the streets, pots on the roofs of the buildings drying in the sun and locals bathing and washing clothes in the large communal reservoirs dotted about the town. Rather endearingly at 8 o’clock each night the electricity to the town is shut off and with the exception of the handful of confused tourists on their first day, within minutes the entire town has gone to bed.
From here we made a day trip on the local bus to the town of Patan for my birthday. Similar to Bhaktapur in that the town is based around a central square, except that Patan has arguably the countries best collection of medieval temples and palaces. It’s also renowned for having some of the best restaurants in Nepal, catering to the growing ex-pat community and aid workers that live in the neighbouring districts. We found one of those restaurants for a lavish birthday lunch before taking a leisurely bus back to Bhaktapur during rush hour. Think people on the roof, sacks of rice in the aisle, ten times as many people than the bus was designed for, goats etc.
Back in Kathmandu and we’d made up our minds…it was over to Pokhara and the Annapurna Circuit!
"Kathmandu, Bhaktapur & Patan"
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