#31 – Nepal, Kathmandu

Tired, jetlagged, and with an expert knowledge of Delhi’s Terminal 3 departure layout burned into our minds, we arrived in Kathmandu from a marathon 40 hour transit trip.

We were fortunate enough to have beautifully clear skies as we flew into Nepal, with stunning panoramic views of the Himalayas. Unsure if we were able to catch a glimpse of Mt Everest on the way in, the air steward we asked helpfully added ‘Well, it is a mountain range so it might be’. Very helpful!

In this day and age rendezvousing with someone shouldn’t be a problem, but I guess Nepal isn’t really this day and age. Electricity and Wi-Fi are a scarce resource, as we were about to find out.

Exhausted and in a serious need for a shower, he (and the key to the room) was nowhere to be seen. Even after scouring where he would usually be located: a rooftop, it was clear that he was out and about exploring. Fear not though, surely we can still be let into the room? A confused worker first told us that there was no way of opening the room and that my Dad had the only key. In his wisdom he had taken it with him (an action he later tried – and failed to defend).

A few minutes later the owner appears and after some jovial chat he says there is indeed a spare key, and mentions to the worker who previously denied knowledge, who suddenly remembers where it is. Reluctantly he leads us back up the several flights of stairs and tries to pick the lock with the key, but to no avail. It doesn’t really look like he is trying it must be said, and I wander if he has some deeply held belief that he needs to stop us from entering and having a much-needed warm shower.

This is, of course, way before we realise that there would be no such thing as a Nepalese warm shower, and if you manage to get yourself something resembling lukewarm then you’ve really outdone yourself.

Back to our hunt for my dad and a mythical warm shower, we decided to take a look around the Thamel area of Kathmandu while we wait, which basically consists of fake North Face shops in ever direction possible. I’m not quite sure why North Face particularly are so popular in Nepal, but it they certainly are.

In my naivety and lack of research I expected a more picturesque and quieter city, the sort of place you’d relax after hiking for the last few weeks. In reality it was still reeling from the effects of a huge earthquake the previous year, with rubble and rubbish evident in its tight and loud roads. We were also quick to find out that India was currently in a dispute and fuel blockade with Nepal, something that the majority of the Western world (us included) appear completely oblivious to.

Comparing it to countries such as Vietnam (and later India), the locals were very laid back and allowed you to leisurely walk past the shop without manhandling you inside. Even when inside the shop, we never really felt any pressure to buy anything, which is a testament to the friendly if shy personality of the Nepalese that we encountered throughout the trip.

After getting back to the hostel, we once again headed to the rooftop to try and find the missing man holding the keys. As we come around the corner there he was: the easily identifiable bushy head of greying hair that is my dad – talking animatedly with another man, gesticulating wildly with his hands as he is prone to do. (usually the sign he is telling a long, drawn out story).

Long story short (a phrase Dad often says, and it means the opposite), he had seized upon this guy in the street in exasperation of his first cold, sleepless night alone in Nepal. A night in which he retells in so much detail and self-pity that he looks ready to get up and run for the border that night.

It transpires that the two met in the street, as my Dad seized upon a western-looking man, begging to be shown where he can get a cup of warm tea. What must have been a strange looking duo took to the streets and there Dad was introduced to Nepalese tea, an experience he wouldn’t forget (or keep going on about). But we had found him, which meant that we could finally get into the long-awaited room after his hour-long recount of the ordeal.

A cold bathroom straight out of a murder scene greeted us, with even colder water running from the tap. We quite quickly learnt that warm showers were out of the question, as was expecting much electricity but we didn’t let that dampen (whey) our spirits as we rambled around Kathmandu in search of this now legendary Nepalese tea.

We did indeed get some and I can confirm it was delicious, and the first was probably the best of our whole trip. How I imagine taking heroin would be, the first time being so magical that for the rest of the trip we were all hunting for something with the same effect, but always coming up short and disappointed. The taste of that magical tea the first night, as we watched Nepal beat Bahrain for the Bangla-dangla cup was a great memory to take with us.

Our first venture out was to the Unesco heritage site of Bhakatupu. Seemingly a beautiful and ancient part of Kathmandu, it had been hit particularly hard by the earthquake the previous year, with severely damaged and collapsed buildings at every turn.

We wondered away from the main tourist area and into an increasingly damaged and humble area of the town, where we managed to play a bit of cricket, football and Dad’s new found hobby of handing out oranges.

Bordering on poverty-porn at times, it wasn’t the most comfortable experience and I couldn’t help wondering what the locals must think, with tourists wandering around their town on a daily basis, taking snaps of their collapsed houses and moving on. Far from being upset, the Nepalese almost always greeted us with a smile and politeness.

Fortunately our stay in Kathmandu was only a couple of nights, as although there was nothing terrible about the city, it wasn’t particularly enchanting either. We were My dad’s newly found friend had also disappeared, and along with him there was another strange English man that turned up at the hostel. Another older English fellow, this time Escaping to the countryside, we had a room booked for a couple of nights at the nearby Changu-something-something (edit: Changunarayan), that we could never remember the name of, or indeed get any locals to understand where it was.

After passing what seemed to be the national industry in Nepal (brick making), our taxi wound its way through increasingly barren civilization until we started to ascend the nearby mountains (later referred to as hills by our homestay owner).

We were hoping for a break from the smog, loudness and litter of Kathmandu, and we managed to achieve one of these at least, as Changunarayan provided a quiet haven, thoughbut there was still a dense amount of fog/smog and a surprisingly large amount of litter scattered around the village.

The devastation of the earthquake was far more prominent up in the hills, with several of the houses still reduced to a pile of rubble and bricks. After a bit of waiting around with a woman who appeared to be the village’s official greeter, and paying for the privilege of entering (a common occurrence in Nepal), we managed to evade her pleas for entering her shop for the time being. (Dad was later caught and made to buy tea). After a while we were eventually met and chaperoned to the house by a young English guy, who we all took an automatic disliking to.

Over here to allegedly volunteer, but effectively doing nothing other than sitting on the rooftop of the house eating nuts and enjoying free accommodation, he wasn’t our favourite person. He was accompanied with a German who seemed equally unable or unwilling to do any work around the place, even with dozens of houses in the rebuilding phase.

One night we ate with Dhuba (our host) and his family, which was a delicious meal but slightly saddened for me by the spoilt English ‘volunteer’ demanding Nepalese tea and extra food, from a family that were clearly not flush with money and had been working away for hours on the meal.

It was a fascinating couple of days in the village however, as we were greeted warmly wherever we went. Although the types of views of the Himalayas we had hoped for never quite materialised, it was an insightful and rewarding experience into Nepalese life. We were able to see the heavily guarded ‘oldest temple in Nepal’, along with taking a walk down into the Valley to a neighbouring town, which caused a local media frenzy. Dad put away about 5 cups of Nepalese tea and took part in a local game which looked more like gambling. We meandered our way back through farmland, through a roughly created walking track and over a bizarrely modern road bridge that neither had a road to or from it.

We had also gained some dogs for the journey by this time, no thanks to Dad for giving them some food at the start, but they refused to leave us. That was until we got all the way back to the village and they were mobbed by a pack of other dogs, we can only hope they got away okay.

Watching the village struggle from the Indian blockade and fuel crisis, combined with the devastation of the earthquake was a sobering experience, making sleeping in 4 layers of clothes and taking cold showers in the morning a relatively easy experience to endure.

Dhuba explained to us one night, over a stunning sunset in what he called the ‘hills’ in front of us, that the small percentage of Nepalese in government and politics didn’t care for the land. In his eyes, caring and using the land is the way the Nepalese should live, while just getting on with life, taking their struggles on the chin without complaining being the Nepalese way. It was an interesting concept to ponder as we had a kick around with some local kids, with Mairead banging in a couple of goals before Dhuba’s face told us it was time to leave, cueing the sun to set on our time in Changunarayan.

Heading back to Kathmandu via a much-talked about taxi, we accepted Dhuba’s request that his wife and him join us for the lift into the city. Six of us piled into a tiny car, winding our way down the mountain and through the brick fields, it felt like a fitting way to be leaving Nepal.

We’d also taken a strangely keen interest in bricks since being here, taking note of and trying to discover a deeper meaning behind the small letters or logos that were printed on them. It seemed each area or business had their own design, or so we guessed.

Dad had booked himself into a hotel opposite the airport for his flight the next day, so after taking our first warm shower in a week, courtesy of his room, we had our last Nepalese tea together (which was sadly the worst tasting of the lot), and headed to the airport.

Sad and a little anxious to be leaving him in a country that had clearly taken its physical and mental toll on him, I hoped he’d be alright as we made our way to check-in. After loading us up with emergency treats we departed into the airport and began to do battle with Air India.

A ferocious barrage of 4 people greeted us and began all shouting at once, seemingly incensed that we only had hand luggage and refused to have it checked. We stood firm and insisted it was coming with us rather then being checked, which they were pretty pissed about.

After a seemingly endless precession of security checks which didn’t appear to make any sense, we successfully collected the right amount of stamps on our boarding pass and luggage in order to let us through, after a number of failed and bizarre attempts.

After all of that our departing flight was 3 hours delayed, and it looked like our chance of catching our unofficial connecting flight to Udaipur was completely scuppered. We only knew that whatever happened we were going to do our best to get out of Delhi as soon as we landed, whether that be by air, train or any other way we could find.

The thought of not knowing where we would end up that night was a strangely exciting experience, as we boarded the plane with all but our faintest chances of getting to Udaipur, hanging by an Indian thread.

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