05.05.2011 - 05.04.2011 32 °C
It was only a three hour, hassle free Thai Airways flight, from Hong Kong’s hi-tech hum to Katmandu’s dusty brawl; it was a short transition time wise, but an immense shift culturally. Teleporting from slick stainless steel to dirty dustbowl in the blink of an eye, we were bound to suffer some sort of ‘culture shock,’ but when we handed over $25 each for our visa on arrival and stepped out of the gloomy redbrick airport into the blinding midday sun, only to have our luggage whipped from our trolley by at least twenty pairs of grappling hands, well I just wanted to run back inside and jump straight back on the first plane out of there!
We booked our first nights stay at ‘pilgrims garden hostel’ in the airport only minutes before and were now being marched to the taxi by the agent, who instructed us to hold on to our valuables. I tracked our luggage like a hawk as it crowd surfed its way across the car park, whilst having my ears bombarded with everything from tiger balm to trekking sales. The agent was talking, but I was watching; as far as I could see, our luggage had made its way into the boot of the busted up Toyota estate. I would like to say I felt safer once inside, away from the mob, but this vehicle was seriously on its lasts legs. A hand shot inside and wound down the window for me; it seemed that everyone in Kathmandu was at our service, for a small fee of 5 dollars a hand!
I glanced back, the luggage was still there. I glanced forward and we had an extra passenger on board. We had not even reached Thamel (the main tourist hub, reputed for it’s irritatingly persistent trekking touts) yet and already we had encountered our first trekking tout and there was no escape. And so began the spiel that we would come to know and love/hate throughout our stay in Kathmandu…”First time in Nepal?” “How long you stay in Nepal” “Where you from” “You think about trekking?” “I think 6 day trekking for you.” and it goes on, and on….and on. This guy, who for lack of a better name I will call ‘Mr Trekking,’ played the cool card, he didn’t want to pile on the pressure or make us feel uncomfortable, or so it seemed. I tried to listen about Annapurna and the likes, but I was more interested in what was going on outside of our tin can transport.
Everything was happening on these streets, it was seething. Basic rules of the road don’t apply in Nepal – if you snooze you loose basically! Traffic was bonnet to boot, wing mirror to wing mirror; there we were inching our way along the warren-like roads, barely missing the people who squeezed their way along the edges, when our taxi rolled back pinning the motorcyclist behind, who then started banging on the boot. Our driver mumbled something out of the window, and I looked back into the cloud of dust as we drove off, to see the motorcycle toppled onto its side, with a red faced driver standing over it. This, what I would consider, pretty major accident, didn’t even halt the conversation. It was not even worth batting an eyelid about! It seemed that in Nepal, potentially injuring a fellow citizen, whilst simultaneously damaging their property and then leaving them in the dirt was ‘no biggie!’ I couldn’t help crack a slightly bemused smile to Ste. The only thing on the road worth giving way to, was the odd cow that dozed peacefully in the centre of the hot concrete chaos.
When we arrived at Pilgrim’s Mr Trekking joined us for a welcome tea so he could further harass us. There were some uncomfortable silences and we had to turn on the weary, sleep deprived traveler mode, to try and send him on his way. With a promise to call into his office later that day, we managed to shake him off and then we vacated to the garden.
The commotion of the morning had my nerves rattled and we both agreed that we lacked the stamina to venture into the chaotic streets. We retired to our room which could only be described as a hole. We were not aware of the sporadic electricity situation on arrival in Kathmandu and thought that the current powercut must be a one-off, as the manager had assured us “It will be back on soon.” It would not have been such a problem if our room actually had a window, but we had drawn the short straw and our home in Kathmandu distinctly resembled a dungeon. It came complete with one candle so we could scrabble our way onto the duff mattresses, so lumpy that they couldn’t possibly be stuffed with anything other than egg boxes and watermelons! This was THE worst bed I faced sleeping on throughout my entire travels. ‘We are checking out of here first thing in the morning, it is beyond a joke” I huffed. Ste was equally as unhappy, but we still managed to sleep for a couple of hours.
It wasn’t unitl about 7pm that the generator roared into action and the lights flickered on. I let out an exasperated “finally!” We speculated as to whether this was a one off or a regular part of life in Kathmandu. Was the power always run from a generator? Was it always off during the day? If this was going to be a daily event, then we definitely needed a room with a window and not some sort of hermit hole. The manager had promised us a better room for the following night, but I wanted somewhere that was straight up about the electricity situation, as being uninformed was more infuriating the problem itself.
The candlelit patio garden was buzzing with people enjoying dinner and we settled at a table and placed an order for a pot of Nepali tea (sweet gingery tasting tea with or without milk) a set Nepali curry meal and Ste ordered some fried rice. We had a catch up on skype with dad and Glenn, until our food arrived. The Nepali Set meal arrived on a circular, silver tray with several small silver pots; much like when you order curry at some Indian restaurants. One pot had what seemed like a pureed lentil curry paste, another had chicken curry, a pot of greens, a pot of curried vegetables and a pot of pickles. It was pretty damn tasty to be honest, but the prices were not as we were expecting; this dish set us back three pounds, which is pretty steep when you consider that our room is 7 pounds a night between us! Bellies full, we returned to our room to watch ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ before bedding down on our furrowed mattresses. At least we had the sounds of nature to lull us to sleep that night – the rustling sounds of ‘Mr Scratchy,’ Pilgrim hostels resident rat who lives in our ceiling! “Namaste” from Nepal!