Kathmandu - hoorah we made it!
Well here we are back in Nepal - the country of Never Ending Love and Peace.
Kathmandu is as crazy as ever, lovely to have Ewan meeting me the other side, and this time I was the only foreign person on the flight from Bahrain (the rest of the plane was full of Nepali people going home from the middle East where they work, or England where they now live or study) so immigration was a breeze compared to the normal hour long queue to get your visa. It was quite a strange feeling, it is now so familiar to me that it feels a little bit like coming back home again.
Fresh from the airport and we walked into the hotel at Lazimpat, the expat and Embassy part of the city, and bumped straight into a girl from Sark, who I know from surfing many years ago. Small world. Straight out that night for something to eat at the nearest eatery, which happened to be an Irish bar with a few expats inside. We didn't stay late, not our scene, but eases you into a new culture gently.
The next day and we totally threw ourselves into it, walking about 1.5 hours along the dusty, dirty and pollutant ridden streets of busy Kathmandu down to Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu with the spectacular Durbar Square with the rumoured finest collection of temples and palaces in Nepal. It was certainly a sight.
I can't really begin to describe Kathmandu as it hits all the senses. There is the sweet smell of incense, the rancid smell of the Bagmati river strewn with plastic rubbish and no doubt human waste, the disgusting smell of the public toilets under some of the bridges, the pungent smell of cooking spices, and then the "hits the back of your throat and congeals in your nostrils" smell of all the many, many traffic fumes, which literally coat the city in a haze.
Then the noise. I have never seen traffic like it, it gets worse each year, and with it an increase in noise pollution as everyone loves to beep their horns over here. There is the horn to warn you that another vehicle is present, a horn to warn you that you are about to be overtaken, a horn to say "hi, Namaste" and a horn just for the sheer hell of it. All the time, beep, beep, beep. If you don't beep your horn at least once every 30 seconds then you shouldn't be on the roads, simple as that.
Walking back to Thamel, the tourist capital of Kathmandu, was an experience in itself as managed to time it perfectly with rush hour. Lovely. So not only were the cars bumper to bumper but still the bikes try to weave in and out, a chorus of beeps filling the air and the stench of the fumes causing a few breathing problems (believe me, one is trying to breathe as little as possible in such circumstances) but we were now having to fight our way through (in a peaceful way of course) the throngs and streams of people everywhere. And it was getting dark. And there is not much outdoor lighting over here, I mean they only have electricity for around 8 hours a day at the moment, so you kind of have to go with it past all the many people with their wares laid out on the busy pavements, all manner of things from fresh vegetables (covered in fumes of course) to watches and clothing too.
Of course we finally made it to Thamel, the tourist are of Kathmandu, small streets full of shops selling the same stuff - trekking gear filled with fake labelled trekking clothes, pachminas and shawls, hippy clothes, cheap CDs and DVDs and tons of jewellery - and noisy and busy and hectic so with that we took sanctuary in Sam's bar, run by a Dutch lady. It has a chilled out feel to it and gets you off the streets and away from the many hawkers trying to sell you all manner of things, mostly tiger balm (how much tiger balm can one own), and mini wooden violins (what is that all about, never, in the 5 times I have visited Nepal, have I seen a single visitor strumming up a chord on such things), and marijuana of course, although this question, whispered as they pass you close by, is always directed to Ewan not me.
You see with Ewan here, I have now become rather irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, all questions are directed to him, I have lost my equality over here (not that I have ever been a fan of feminism but strange the difference when I am travelling here on my own) although I do still try and barter my way through it all with relative success - Ewan is, admittedly, now much better at it than me.
Later that evening, when the streets had calmed down and with the generators providing power we had a great laugh dancing with some young Nepalis in one of the music-orientated establishments, something I have never done before in Thamel. In fact I have never really gone out and socialised in Thamel on any of my previous visits so this was quite an experience and makes me realise how much the country is changing, well in terms of the younger generation in the city in any event. I could have been in London, same music, same choice of drinks, the girls wearing jeans and short skirts - only that of course the price was much different! There is clearly a new generation with money over here though, and a push for Western living to an extent.
So all good fun. Nothing like throwing yourself into it. Not a late night of course, all bars and restaurants are closed by midnight at the latest over here, so just enough time to shake off that jet lag and excess energy before our flight to Pokhara, to chill out with the spirit of the mountains and get stuck into real Nepal the next day.