The two flights between Seoul and Kathmandu were rather uninteresting except for the fact that I got kindly upgraded into First on the second flight (thanks for the champagne, Cathay Pacific!), and that I managed to smash my iPhone in the toilets of Hong Kong International. However, the nice young man in the airport shop managed to transfer all the contacts and all the data from what was left of my iPhone to my new Samsung, so I did not even lose any indecent pictures some people may have sent me. Also, immigration at Kathmandu Airport at midnight is an unnecessary hassle. Not because they are unpleasant, but because you have to queue for everything (first the machine that prints out your visa application, then for the payment (no cards accepted, or rather, the terminal does not work, so bring foreign cash), and finally for the guy who stamps your passport). Therefore, it’s late when I at last meet the taxi kindly provided for by the company I booked my trek with, but the short ride to the airport is very dark and very bumpy, so no Kathmandu by night sightseeing.
My only day in the capital when I can do some sightseeing. My hotel is right in the centre of Tamel, Kathmandu’s bustling old town. This is the real Asia, or at least how I imagined it. Winding narrow streets, where vendors and scooters try to avoid each other and everybody else, the perfumes of fragrant spices mix with the odour of decay of ever-present garbage, and entangled electricity wires hang from everyone, more often than not naked. Friendly (or rather imperturbable) stray dogs chill or sleep in most inconvenient places (like in the middle of junctions), confident that no one will run them over. No one does. Crossing the street is a lottery. There are policemen supposedly directing the traffic, they are likely to be spotted sitting around junctions (usually in the shaded corner) with a cigarette hanging from their lips and without any intention to launch themselves into any action required by their job description (if such a thing exists) – although they do occasionally help confused tourists to get to the other side of the road. To stretch their limbs, presumably.
I chose to visit the Pashupatinath hindu temple, some 5 km walk from the city centre (which is also a great way to see Kathmandu). Pashupatinath is a reincarnation of Shiva, I believe, the protector of animals, the most worshiped deity in Nepal. The complex is populated by sacred temple monkeys, who in real life are not at all friendly cuddly animals, but nasty grumpy creatures, who spend their days fighting with stray dogs who also inhabit the grounds, and it’s the apes who seem to be winning most times. The temple complex is located along Bagmati river (eventually an affluent of Ganges), considered holy by both Buddhists and Hindus, the latter cremate their dead on the platforms on the banks of the river and disperse the ashes into the water. They also take ritual purifying baths in the same river, children swim in it, and everybody else in the capital uses it to dump their garbage (and I don’t have any illusion about where the sewage ends up).
People of Kathmandu:
October 8 – 18
Annapurna Base Camp 10 days trek (see Entry 61 fr details).
I have booked with Green Valley Nepal Treks & Research Hub (http://www.greenvalleynepaltreks.com) and I cannot recommend them enough. There is reason of them being no 1 trekking agency on TripAdvisor. They take care of everything, from trekking permit to booking the tea houses. You don’t really need a guide for ABC trek, there is nowhere you can go astray, but it’s less hassle this way and you are also supporting local economy, which is much-needed in this country. My advice: hire the porters (we had 2 between 3 people). I was feeling a bit abashed about other people carrying my stuff, but paying for a porter is an insignificant expense for a westerner, and for them it means money to feed their families. And the trek is also more enjoyable if all you carry is a camera.
October 19 – 22
Back to Kathmandu. It’s Diwali, the Hindu new year, and it’s an enchanting moment to be in Kathmandu. On the eve of the festival, people create mandalas from brightly coloured powders at each doorstep. It also means that the city is closed down for the three days of the festival as everybody rightly celebrates with their families. For me this means a little drama, because I desperately need a laundry (each pair of my trekking socks alone could kill an adult elephant and I used four of them) but eventually I manage to resolve this minor issue, too. I force myself to pay a quick visit to Durban Square, or what is left of it after the earthquake 2 years ago, but apart from that it’s just relax and catching up with the blog. To be honest, there is not much to do anyway, because the town is deserted, except for crowds of bored western tourists who struggle to fit in the few restaurants left open. I leave Nepal on the night flight for Kuala Lumpur, which offers a fantastic vista over the city all lit up for Diwali.