A Travellerspoint blog

A Dip in the Ganges?!

overcast 41 °C

Wow, the heat really is stifling, to the point of being debilitating here in Varanasi.

It was 7pm on the roof terrace and even at this time it would be possible to cook an egg on the burning concrete floor. The heat was intense and there was no escaping it, I felt like I was trapped in a sauna. I browsed the hostel menu, but my appetite had vanished over these last few days of Indian summer. It was difficult to concentrate my mind on anything other than the temperature and I was starting to get insanely frustrated “We are moving to an aircon room tomorrow and I don’t care how much it is!” I insisted. Even a few hours of cooling down a day could probably lift my mood tenfold; it was the inability to even be able to dash into an aircon café or a chilly mall that was the problem. We are exposed to the heat 24/7.

My wish came true. To our surprise there was an aircon room available right here and we could move our things that very moment. Yes, the aircon was more of a dinosaur ‘air cooler’ than an ‘aircon’ and there certainly was no cranking it down to 16 degrees, but the few degrees difference it did make was heavenly. Unfortunately at this moment there is a monsoon lightning storm raging outside and so the electricity is more intermittent than usual and when it goes, so does our precious aircon. Oh! There it goes right now.

Back to this morning: I peeled my damp body off our church Pugh mattress at around 8.30am; we needed to make it out before the sun did. We agreed that breakfast would be at ‘The Brown Bread Bakery ‘ which is not only a restaurant that serves up a whole plethora of cheeses and breads, but a charity organisation as well! We left the labyrinth of winding back streets and headed straight for the main road, hoping to more easily navigate ourselves to the Ganges and Assi Ghat from there. The people and cows of Varanasi were already out in force, lining the edges of the roads. Snacks sizzled in vats of oil, rickshaws kicked up dust as they trundled across potholes, goats rummaged through mountains of rubbish, while I was watching my every step to avoid the messes these animal city dwellers had left behind! Touts tried to point us in the wrong direction, but with a huge overhead sign ‘Assi Ghat’ for assurance, we remained steadfast and veered off the main street and arrived at the Ganges.

There on the shore was a huge tree surrounded by small phallic statues, between these phallic statues there was a goat which was feasting on the colourful floral offerings scattered about the statues; it seems there is never a dull sight in India.

Goat Feasting on Petals

Goat Feasting on Petals

Ganesh

Ganesh


The river front was unusually quiet and absent from the sorts of hustle and bustle we had seen on our previous two boat tours. We braved the heat and soldiered on, snaking our way though the clothing and bed linen that lay drying on the grubby stairs of the Ghats. People were dotted along the water line, performing ceremonies, washing clothes and bathing. India (so far) is pretty much how I imagined it to be, a country of contrasts. As I walked along I was blinded by the beauty one moment and repulsed by the stench of excrement and sewage the next. Everything here appears to come in extremes.

Hungry Goat

Hungry Goat

Water Tower by the Ganges

Water Tower by the Ganges

Melting in the Heat

Melting in the Heat

'Ganges Wash'

'Ganges Wash'


It was not long before we were joined by a polite fellow (obviously a tout,) who joined us on our stroll. At this moment we were just approaching the Harishchandra Ghat where I could see the smoke rising from the funeral pyres – this is one of the two areas where they “burn the bodies” in Varanasi. Harishchandra is actually smaller and secondary in importance to the Manikarnika Ghat, but it one of the oldest Ghats in Varanasi. Every piece of wood composing the pyre is individually weighed to work out of the costing of the cremation. There are even different qualities of wood to choose from – Sandalwood is the most expensive. I had previously seen the burning from the safe distance of our boat, but now we were going to walk within inches! I could see two fires directly on the shore, but was shocked as we drew closer and I saw a freshly lit fire atop a huge concrete slab, right next to the path. I looked a moment too long and caught sight of the man’s face protruding from the flaming wood. I didn’t look back though, as I didn’t really want to have a detailed image scarred into my mind. Usually the bodies are wrapped in white linen, but I guess by this time the cloth must have burnt away.

However, I didn’t have much time to contemplate mortality and suchlike with this nattering tout by my side. He spoke about the cremation as you would speak about what you ate for lunch! He must have been completely desensitised over the years, especially bearing in mind that they are burning bodies 24 hours a day down by the Ganges! Or maybe he is just content in knowing that when his time comes, he too will be cremated in this auspicious place down by the sacred Ganges.

Ghat

Ghat

Colourful Ghats

Colourful Ghats

Striped stairs of Kedar Ghat

Striped stairs of Kedar Ghat

Grafitti on the Ghats

Grafitti on the Ghats

Fabric Drying After 'Ganges Wash'

Fabric Drying After 'Ganges Wash'

Dressing After Bathing

Dressing After Bathing


We left death and the tout behind us and continued our stroll. By now the heat was building and I was finding it difficult to function. It was unbearable without so much as a whisper of a breeze. We met another couple of unusual types along the way; a group of men who insisted on asking my “husband” if it was okay to take a photo with me and also informed me that my name sounds like the word for black in Hindi! Hmmm maybe it is significant….black, like my black heart! There was also a small boy, who demanded I take his photo then scurried off into the Ganges for a bath. This was followed by another small boy who demanded I take a photo of him and then pay up! The cheeky little…!

Good as Gold

Good as Gold

Cheeky Monkey!!!

Cheeky Monkey!!!

Far From Camera Shy

Far From Camera Shy

Colourful paintings on the Ghats

Colourful paintings on the Ghats


I was at breaking point; I was going to get heat stroke if we didn’t find cover soon. I was starting to hate everyone and everything, especially the man who was insisting I needed a haircut (which is undeniably true) while Ste was trying to purchase water. For a second it was a possibility, if there had been aircon…but no…his ‘hairdressers’ was just a chair in the street under direct sun. “How are these people functioning?” I cried. Even a dip in the Ganges was starting to look tempting by this point. Maybe I could throw caution to the wind and…no! I needed to get out of there.

Every next person that stood in my way of finding ‘Brown Bread Bakery’ was met with a vicious snap “No! I’m too hot!” No one seemed to know where the damn place was. Touts circled likes hawks in these narrow old town streets and asking directions was futile as the only direction they would be pointing us in was to their silk shop. I eventually collapsed onto a step in the shade, there were people sleeping in tiny concrete alcoves on the sides of the buildings. So it wasn’t just me being affected by the heat!

We were there seconds before we were collared “Where you from?” “What are your names” “How long you in Varanasi” “I have a shop…you come look?” He then didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer, even an explanation of our quest to find breakfast wasn’t good enough and he invited us to his house for tea. We refused and refused some more, leaving with a promise to pop round after eating.

To cut a very long story short, brown bread bakery was closed. The German owner had fallen out with his Indian collegue two days prior, for stealing from the money saved to support local charities. The original building was still in operation, but it was operating illegally under the charity organisations name! The German owner had purchased a new building directly opposite but it was not due to open until that evening! We honestly had no idea who to believe and so we just sat on the steps outside. We rambled around for a while longer and decided to giveup when Ste put his naked foot directly in a huge Cow turd... we settled for another eatery listed in Lonely Planet to avert further disaster, where I had mashed potato with onion and yak cheese which was decidedly average. I would have like to have opted for a curry, but there was no way I was going to inflict further damage to my fragile belly.

Washing the Cowpat off His Feet...YUM!

Washing the Cowpat off His Feet...YUM!


With the unrelenting heat we had to give in for the day and grab a rickshaw back down to Assi Ghat. On stepping out into the main streets I realised how much of a difference the narrow streets made to the temperature – it was Searing on the main roads. I felt substantial guilt sitting back and relaxing in our rickshaw as our driver pedaled us through the torrid streets, with only a loose fabric turban to shield his skin from the direct sun. The heat, the dust, the nomadic animals, the saris, the rickshaw, the colour, the dodgy belly, the Ganges…we had undoubtedly arrived in India.

Rickshaw Driver Working Up a Sweat

Rickshaw Driver Working Up a Sweat

Squeezing into a Rickshaw

Squeezing into a Rickshaw

Mental Inidan Roads

Mental Inidan Roads

IMG_6119

IMG_6119

Fantastically Decoratated Bovine Beast

Fantastically Decoratated Bovine Beast

Posted by CarlaTracy 04:09 Archived in India Tagged people food india river ganges varanasi cows heat Comments (0)

Leaving the Lakeshore - A Bumpy Bus Ride

sunny 30 °C

It was time to stop lazing at the lakeshore and get our groove on back to Kathmandu to pick up our Indian visa this morning. I was a little reluctant to leave our Harvest Moon retreat and return to the chaos of the city, but it had to be done. Good bye beautiful poinsettia garden and relaxing roof terrace, we must depart for the smoke! As we were loading our bags into the Reed ‘Tourist only’ bus at 7.30am, the mighty Annapurna range, after 5 days of hazy skies, finally revealed its snowy peaks to us. They were faint and virtually imperceptible through my camera lens and so it was an awesome scene to be kept only as a memory. I took a virtual photograph.

Reed Tours and Travels Bus

Reed Tours and Travels Bus


When boarding the bus, I caught sight of something familiar sitting on the front seat. It was Ste’s pillow! The one he had lost on our way over from Kathmandu, five days prior. The driver, obviously taking shine to it, was using it to cushion his rump, but not for long. “This is my pillow” Ste cried, snatching it from under the guys nose and clutching it to his chest. “I left it on here last time!” At first the driver looked a little confused, but he soon caught on after seeing Ste’s genuine joy at being reunited with his long lost friend; a travel pillow is everything to a traveler on these long, arduous journeys. But looking at the state of it, it was better off in a plastic bag for this trip “I hope he didn’t fart on it” was my only comment.

The rejoicing didn’t last long. We had been appointed the back seats. “I specifically requested NOT to be on the backseat!” Ste growled at the guy with the clipboard. “I said ANYTHING except the back seat!” He then offered us the front which had about enough leg room to accommodate a munchkin. We turned up our noses and huffed when he came up with the excuse “I want you to have most comfortable so I put you in the back seat.” We took our seats…on the back. “I do what I can” he called down, I gave an abrupt “Thanks” accompanied by a pursed smile and squinted eyes. We continued to have a muffled grumble through mouths of Danish pastry while the rest of the bus boarded. The engine started and the man with clipboard came to the back “You can sit there for one and half hour” “There’s no point” we snarled.

“You booked a certain seat?” The guy next to me asked and we explained the dilemma. It may seem so trivial to anyone reading this, but if there is anywhere you don’t want to be on the back seat of a bus, it is Nepal. The roads are littered with huge pot holes and the surface is cracked and extremely uneven which means you will spend more time out of your seat than it. We took off and it was worse than expected, the vibrations wobbled our speech and with every rut or bump, we were tossed 10 inches into the air. “Don’t open the window too much!” I cried “we will be thrown out!”

The first hour out of Pokhara was the worst, and even though we were engaged in travel conversations with our new Swiss friend Sven, none of us could really enjoy the ride. “My boobs are going to be down to my knees!” I proclaimed. But we only had to endure it for a couple of hours. A few people hopped off and we clambered into their seats before the other two people with us on the back had a chance to! It was like heaven in comparison, we could even recline our seats!

Service Stop

Service Stop


After four hours we pulled over at my favourite service station by the river and grabbed some tasty noodles. We had a fleeting conversation with an old couple from Australia. The wife was originally from Market Harborough of all places! Small world! There was only half an hour to soak up some sun and down some Mountain Dew before we were back n the bus.

View From the Service Station

View From the Service Station


Sven showed us some of his marvelous photos from his 9 day trek to ABC camp at Annapurna, which had me really jealous. It looked so stunning, but I know I would have never made it up there with my chest in the condition it was! I never imagined I would be coming to Nepal and not seeing the mountains, but this is just the way it had to be this time.

The last two hours was ipod time, as we made the hairy ascent up to the Kathmandu valley. The views are phenomena,l but I wished the road conditions could have been a little better when we teetering on the edges of the cliffs. It also didn’t fill me with great confidence when bus filled with a burning smell part way up and the driver jumped out to check the wheels. Sven glanced back at me with raised eyebrows. The engine revved as we crept up the mountainside. We passed a small car filled with a family of 11 and the local buses hurtling the other way had people clinging to the roof. There were trucks pulled over at the side and men tacking showers in the water that is piped off the mountain. There were concrete barricades crumbling down the Cliffside, which had either been taken out by a vehicle or a landslide! Our bus held out to the summit and then it was back down the other side and into the city.

As usual the streets were teeming and the traffic was insane and so it was a good 45 minutes before we reached the bus stop. As we approached I could already see a mass of people waiting to offer us their services, but Sven had been informed that Thamel was just around the corner and we were more than happy to accompany him to the guesthouse he had stayed at previously. He forewarned us that it looked a little strange from the outside which I was glad about, otherwise I would have been a bit worried when we disappeared up the dark little alley.

He was right, the rooms were spacious, bright and had decent clean bathrooms. Another plus was that they had 24 hour power, unlike pilgrims. The woman initially wanted 15 dollars a room, but when Sven insisted he was not paying more than the first time, she settled on 10 dollars for him and 12 for us. “But it is the same sized room!” we laughed “you don’t pay by person, you pay by room and if you won’t do it for 10 dollars then we will go elsewhere!” – “Okay 10” she replied. We moved our stuff in, showered off the dust and then went up to the roof terrace.

Our Room in Hotel Nepalaya

Our Room in Hotel Nepalaya


It was a glorious evening and we pulled up a pugh with Sven and his friend who had just completed the Everest Base Camp trek. Of course he had some great stories to tell and his Sherpa even showed up to join him for a beer. It was good company and great views on the hotel roof terrace. We even had some entertainment; a group of men building a flat, Nepali style, no safety equipment, nothing to stop the bricks dropping down into the street and no fear of heights. There is never a dull moment in this city.

Head for Heights

Head for Heights

Kathmandu from Above

Kathmandu from Above

Vibrant City Scape

Vibrant City Scape

View From the Terrace

View From the Terrace

Building Work

Building Work

Posted by CarlaTracy 03:34 Archived in Nepal Tagged travel bus trekking everest friends road nepal kathmandu journey pohkara Comments (0)

Monkey Temple

sunny 30 °C

We woke, the power was out once again and our room was as dark as night. Ste went on a mission to book us into another hostel and as long as the room didn’t need a candle during the day and didn’t have a mattress like a sack of potatoes, I didn’t really mind where we ended up. I packed my bag by candlelight, praying that the popular ‘Kathmandu Hostel’ could accommodate us. He returned with bad news, this was peak season and everywhere was full! I slumped onto the bed in despair; I didn’t want my memories of Katmandu to be tainted by this dumpy, rat infested hole! Our only option was to take up the manager’s offer of changing rooms. He took us up to see “The best room in the house” and we were pleasantly surprised! Big window, normal beds…it was fine! He wanted an extra 2 dollars a night, but Ste contested “after we had to sleep in THAT room, for 10 dollars!” “Okay Okay, 10 dollar” The room wasn’t yet ready, so we left our baggage in the lobby. The manager had an attempt at trying to persuade us to “have breakfast in the sunny garden” but we declined. We just wanted to do our own thing! We finally made it out of the gates and into Kathmandu.

Now Kathmandu is the largest and pretty much only city in Nepal, any other ‘cities’ are really just large towns. But for what Kathmandu lacks in size, it is certainly making up for in atmosphere. Take your mind off the game for a second in these heaving narrow streets and you’ll be swept away into the sea of Tiger Balm sellers, pashmina pushers and trekking touts. We soon realised that engaging in any sort of conversation with the seemingly friendly locals in Thamel was a mistake. As a developing-world city, Katmandu is certainly on the ball when it comes to milking the tourist money.

Curios Shop in Thamel

Curios Shop in Thamel

Streets Near Thamel

Streets Near Thamel

Palm Reading

Palm Reading

Hawkers on the Streets of Thamel

Hawkers on the Streets of Thamel


We didn’t want a guide but we soon had two of them by our sides. Ste didn’t want to go in the art shop but that didn’t stop his over obliging feet from carrying him in there. My only safety from these nuisances was my camera; I could spend a good 10 minutes composing one shot, far too busy to engage in any sort of chit chat about the small Stupa we were currently at. After a good 15 minutes we finally managed to break free and with a “have a good day” they vanished.

We then circled the blinding white Stupa in a clockwise direction, turning the mantra scrolls as we went; one useful piece of information the terrible twosome gave us! There was a lot going on in this tiny square, under the fluttering prayer flags that radiated from the central spire of the Stupa. All around there were Stone Buddha’s with colourful paint splashed onto their foreheads.

IMG_4952

IMG_4952

Peak of Stupa in Thamel

Peak of Stupa in Thamel

Stone buddhas

Stone buddhas

Stone Buddha with Painted Third Eye

Stone Buddha with Painted Third Eye


We kicked off our shoes (much to my relief in the sweltering heat) and entered a small temple. The decoration was all very gaudy but there were some great intricate painted details on the doors and walls. I loved the tiny dragon bells that hung on the corners of the outside walls.

Gaudy Effigy in Small Temple in Thamel

Gaudy Effigy in Small Temple in Thamel

Ornate Dragnon Bells outside a Stupa in Thamel

Ornate Dragnon Bells outside a Stupa in Thamel



We weren’t really sure where we were going, so we aimed for one of the larger Stupas called Swaynambhunath, or the more easily pronounceable’ Monkey Temple’ that was marked on our city map. It was a fair distance, but it would give us a chance to explore our new Nepali surroundings. A couple of sharp turns and we bid farewell to the tourist hub of Thamel, wandering into the unknown. We were met with smiles by the curious locals, some even stopped in their tracks to give us a “Namaste.”

There was so much to take in and So much going on in so little space. The sights, sounds and smells of Kathmandu were intoxicating. Women draped in vibrant saris hawked fruits and vegetables beside dormant cows amongst the piles of rubbish. Ancient men gathered in their masses to watch the world go by from some steps above. People scrunched fabric across their noses to avoid inhaling the asphyxiating dust thrown up by the oblivious taxi drivers that drove a gnat’s breath from their feet. The tiny dollhouse-like shops were also fascinating to peer into, where you could catch a glimpse of some overripe meat festering in the heat, or a man meticulously weighing out curry powders and the like. It would be impossible to walk these streets and not be bowled over by what you see every foot of the way.

We stopped at a junction and I snapped some kids playing on a railing; they put on quite a show when they spied the camera! “Namaste!” They shouted, jumping to get in the photo. The children in Kathmandu are far from shy, everywhere we went they loved to shout “hello!” “How are you” at the top of their lungs. This was more often than not accompanied by “Rupees?” “I am hungry” or “I am Thirsty” “You buy me Water?” – water which they then take back to the shop and get a part refund!
Your Chariot Awaits...

Your Chariot Awaits...

Friendly Local Kids in the Backstreets of Kathmandu

Friendly Local Kids in the Backstreets of Kathmandu

I thought we had left China..!

I thought we had left China..!

Hanging out the Washing

Hanging out the Washing



Yes I feel sorry for their situation, but we passed a drinking water outlet on our way to the Stupa and so we were not falling for that one. It is very difficult to say no to young children especially when they speak very good English, but it was something we were growing accustomed to fast in Kathmandu.

We had to ask for directions once along the way, which seemed to interest every man and his dog, as there was soon quite a gathering around our map. With this ease of interaction, Kathmandu had more the feel of a local village rather than a 1.9 million strong city! We were not far from the Stupa now and so we continued in a straight line. We crossed a bridge and my god, the stench from the river is something that will never leave me. I peered over; putrid waste lined the shores and the stink emanating from the detritus was of raw sewage, it wasn’t a pleasant sight but it was one that I felt compelled to take a photo of nonetheless. There were even a couple of pigs that’s called this garbage dump home!

Rubbish Dump River

Rubbish Dump River


By the time we reached the stairs of Monkey Temple the sun was low in the sky and was illuminating the thick dust that hung in the air. We grabbed a drink from a corner shop before commencing the 20 minute climb to temple summit. We made our way through the crowds of beggars congregated outside the main entrance; many of the women hoping to stir our emotions by forcing a bedraggled looking child into our path. As we climbed further we left the majority of them behind and joined the mass of tourists heaving themselves up the steep stone stairs. As we neared the top, we were pulled to the side to pay the 200 Rupee (each) entrance fee at a little booth; only the European tourists were being asked to cough up. I was thankful for the breather before tackling the remaining few, near vertical stairs.

Stupa Statues at Entrance of Monkey Temple

Stupa Statues at Entrance of Monkey Temple

Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

Kathmandu from Monkey Temple


We finally reached the giant stupa of Swaynambhunath that was basking in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. We had risen above the dust bowl streets and into clouds of incense and crowds of monkeys! The troop certainly looked like they ruled the roost, swinging from the ornate brass edgings of the stupa, probably scouting out who their next meal would come from. Not wanting a repetition of the water bottle thieving monkey scenario that occurred at Angkor Wat, Ste tucked our drinks safely away in his bag.

Stupa at Monkey Temple

Stupa at Monkey Temple

Monkey Mischief at Monkey Temple

Monkey Mischief at Monkey Temple

Prayer Flags at Monkey Temple

Prayer Flags at Monkey Temple

Pigeons Feeding on Coloured Grain

Pigeons Feeding on Coloured Grain

Prayer Wheels

Prayer Wheels

Prayer Bells at Monkey Temple

Prayer Bells at Monkey Temple

View of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

View of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

Ste with Kathmandu in the Background

Ste with Kathmandu in the Background


It was at that moment while craning my neck back to admire the towering dome of the White-washed Stupa, with its watchful eyes gazing out across Kathmandu that it hit home that I had finally arrived in Nepal. During both the planning and beginning stages of the trip, Nepal had always seemed as though it would occur in some obscure distant future, and now here we were after travelling over a total of 50,000 miles. Beautiful though it was, this stupa seemed to mark the culmination of a year’s worth of travelling. Both Nepal and India are the home straight of what has been an epic journey.

It was very relaxing up there, despite the crowds and it was intriguing to watch the comings and goings of the Buddhist devotees. We took our time, ambling though the small village of curios shops where we could have picked up anything from a goat shaped brass door handle, to a Chinese style tea set.

Masks on Sale at Curios Shop at Monkey Temple

Masks on Sale at Curios Shop at Monkey Temple


We rested on a wall to the chanting sound of ‘Om mani padme hum’ before a rather large monkey moved us onward, down to the western side of the complex. It was prayer flag galore down there! Stand still for long and people will assume you to be an object to secure a brightly coloured string of mantras to! The trees were laden with them, with every available branch put to use.

Tangled Prayer Flags

Tangled Prayer Flags

Small Stupas at the Base of Monkey Temple

Small Stupas at the Base of Monkey Temple


Not wanting to be left traipsing unfamiliar streets in the dark, we agreed to head back to Thamel before sunset and so we looped our way back around to the Eastern gate. On our descent we were collared by a group of kids who were insistent that they would escort us safely back to Thamel. We kindly declined their offer a good thirty times “You should really go back to the temple, we have no money to give you” before they left us in peace. If only it weren’t true!

Posted by CarlaTracy 02:22 Archived in Nepal Tagged people temple city hostel nepal kathmandu Comments (0)

Touchdown in Kathmandu

sunny 32 °C

Snacks and Drinks on Thai Airways

Snacks and Drinks on Thai Airways

this Plane Food Gets a Thumbs up from Me!

this Plane Food Gets a Thumbs up from Me!

A Tired Looking Ste Tucking into his Chicken Curry

A Tired Looking Ste Tucking into his Chicken Curry

Orchid Given to all the Women Aboard Thai Airways at Disembarkation

Orchid Given to all the Women Aboard Thai Airways at Disembarkation


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!

Welcome to Nepal the Home of Everest :D

Welcome to Nepal the Home of Everest :D

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.

When the Powers Out

When the Powers Out


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!

Posted by CarlaTracy 08:37 Archived in Nepal Tagged travel city transport visa border hong_kong kathmandu pilgrims_hostel thai_airways Comments (1)

"Where You Go?"...."CHINA!"

Lao Cai to Hekou

rain 19 °C

With burning eyes and crooked backs, we disembarked the Hanoi to Lao Cai night train, stepping down onto the misty grey platform. We hadn’t yet decided whether Sapa was the next port of call, but the rainy weather made up our minds for us, China it was. A barrage of drivers greeted us in the foyer, offering lifts at extortionate prices. A bit of peace and quiet to flick through our guidebook would have been nice at that moment, but the onslaught continued. So we played them at their own game – “Where you go? Sapa?” …”In a minute”…”Sapa now?”…”No china” …”I take you border”…”We are going to Sapa” This continued and confusion ensued. With a growl and a scorned look, they left. Result.

I had been dying to use the loo for the last couple of hours of the journey, but had been reluctant to use the grotty one on board. Well that turned out to be a mistake. I walked into the station toilets, which was basically a 4 metre square room, with 3 squat toilets and no cubicles. Two of the toilets were occupied by a couple having a mothers meeting while crouching, doing their business. This is not something you want to see at any point in your life, let alone 7 in the morning, after being cooped up on a night train. After managing to overcome my stage fright, I thought it was about time for breakfast; I wasn’t making and moves to the border with this rumbling belly.We dodged past the transport stragglers and dived into the nearest café. Boiled eggs, baguettes and a cup of steamy Vietnamese tea, it was sure to wake me up. We didn’t want to hang around too longw now the decision had been made to leave Vietnam and so we found a taxi that would ferry us 5 minutes down the road to the border.

It was in sight! The border was in sight! I found myself getting excited for two reasons a) I was leaving Vietnam and b) Its was China, actual China. My friends have told me a great deal about it and now I finally had the chance to visit their country and experience it for myself. Checking out of Vietnam was simple; they were probably glad to get rid of us! Only the snide money changers stood in our way now and we practically bowled them over to get by, there was no way we were giving our precious dollars to these random badgers. STAMP! And we were out.

China Here I Come! POW!

China Here I Come! POW!


Ste was next and we breathed a sigh of relief that our names didn’t flash up on the screen as ‘CRIMINALS’ for not paying for our hostel that we were evicted from in Hanoi. We had a silent rejoice at the other side, but were rudely interrupted by an irritating sound “so you change dollar now?” It was that bloody money changer! How did he get here? He certainly wasn’t stamped out, the cheeky…”NO!” we chimed in unison. We turned our backpacks to him and headed outside. We posed for the obligatory ‘pointing towards the China sign’ photos and then crossed the river that forms the natural border between Vietnam and China.

So Long Vietnam..

So Long Vietnam..

Helllllo China!

Helllllo China!

Dreary Morning at th Border

Dreary Morning at th Border

Bridge Crossing from Lao Cai to Hekou

Bridge Crossing from Lao Cai to Hekou

We were met with smiles and curious glances, even a giggle or two. But a man assisted us with getting our arrival card which was printed directly from a machine by scanning our passports and visas…nifty! This was a breeze. The only thing that could go wrong was to get our China Lonely Planet confiscated! It has been known to happen quite often because China don’t like that fact that it lists Taiwan as its own country! Odd, very odd, but then again facebook is also banned in China, I guess it just one of those things. The smiley border controller spent a good minute comparing photo to face before letting us pass, but we were through. Ste was asked if he had books in his bag and was asked to remove them! But he just pulled out the Thailand bible and this was satisfactory. Thank god!

Hekou was clean, organized and instantly different to Vietnam. For a start there were pavements without cracks the size of the grand canyon to fall down. But as we hunted for an ATM we soon came to realise that no one spoke ONE WORD of English. People were extremely forthcoming in helping but it was no good with such a huge communication barrier. Even when people hadn’t spoken English in the past the word ‘ATM’ would get us by…it was an international word! But not here. Our efforts were futile and we could walk no further with our heavy packs. I sat on a step with our bags while Ste disappeared off. I was soon becoming the towns latest attraction; people were literally stopping in the street to stare and poking their heads out of their shops. It was like being back in Malaysia again. If this is what its like to be famous, I think I’ll pass! Ste eventually walked back past me, but this time with a young guy leading the way. “He’s taking me to a money changer (which was a little old lady sitting on a stool in the street) there are no ATMS”

With money we headed to the bus station, only to find from an English speaking guy, that there were no more buses to Yuangyang today (we didn’t believe him at first) and so we “should stay in his guesthouse.” It was a very kind offering, but the room turned out to be a complete dive; it was just so dirty! We couldn’t sit in there all day and so with great difficulty we checked into a hotel, which took about 20mins of drawing pictures and writing numbers.

We collapsed into our room and we were so tired that it took us a good five minutes to notice that the bathroom had a glass wall that you could see the toilet through. Maybe going to the toilet is not such a private affair in China?! Who knows?

Nothing Like a Bit of Privacy...!

Nothing Like a Bit of Privacy...!


We didn’t do much apart from relax and get plenty of sleep for the journey ahead. We made a trip to the supermarket to pick up a bag full of jellies (they are really obsessed with jelly over here) and noodle pot. Welcome to China.

Three Course Dinner

Three Course Dinner

Nutritionally balanced Dinner of Jelly

Nutritionally balanced Dinner of Jelly

Posted by CarlaTracy 08:12 Archived in China Tagged hotel crossing vietnam china border hekou border_town Comments (0)

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