Ahhhhh, Kathmandu…I have been here for over a week now and I can attest to the fact that it is indeed a very interesting place. The first thing one takes note of upon arriving is how the city is laid out. All the tourists congregate in a section of the city called Thamel which comprises of about 4 main parallel streets and a seemingly infinite number of little side streets and alley ways which turn a relatively small space into a sprawling metropolis. As you walk down the narrow one and a half lane street, old multistory buildings tower over you and people, taxis, animals, bicycles, and motorcycles flow around you like water. Horns honk, people yell, cars zip by, music blares from the many stores and street performers and people all compete for your attention in a desperate attempt to sell you anything from fruit to trekking tours to marijuana.
It’s a trip. Kids walk by you and whisper in your ear “HELLO! (then in a low trancelike voice) marijuanasmokehash?” and keep walking by. Rickshaw drivers ride along side of you and beg for you to let them take you where you want to go (they try to list all the major attractions – including the whore houses). Old women come up to you and show you bracelets, “good price!”, people come up with business cards touting their credentials as a tour guide, old men sit in the front of their shops and when they see you they smile and point inside – “have a look!” And then there are the people who have a scam, but don’t reveal what it is. They are just interested in you and say anything to get your attention. They might ask your name, where you’re from, what the print on your shirt means, where you’re going, the time (despite the fact that they have a watch), if they can feel the fabric of your shirt, how much something you have costs, or something to that effect. You get pretty good at blowing them off – i.e. answering their question then picking up the pace and leaving them in the dust.
It’s really bad if you have a huge backpack because everyone touting a hotel pounces on you. While trying to find my buddy’s guesthouse so I could move to it, a guy greeted me with the usual line. I told him I already had a guesthouse and he asked which one. I wasn’t sure where it was and he told me it was in the opposite direction. I didn’t believe him and told him so.
Once in Pokhara, I had all the taxi drivers compete for me by trying to toss a stone nearest to a bottle I put 20 feet away. The closest won. It was pretty funny because these guys just pounce on you as soon as you get off the bus and they all try to make you feel guilty for not going with them.
The next thing you notice about Kathmandu is that everyone seems to be throwing water into the streets from big buckets. Everywhere you go there is some guy tossing water on your shoes. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to escape it because the streets are so narrow and you’re too busy dodging taxis and motorcycles zipping by mere inches from you. Dogs wander and lounge around on the streets and usually become a lot more active once the sun sets usually playfully following you home on your way home from a pub. And then there’s the random stuff you see for sale.
Guys are set up all over the place selling all sorts of random stuff, from chess sets to piles of bright multi-colored powders (for God knows what). People come up to you with a polished wooden Buddha or elephant wrapped in cloth and offer to sell it to you like it’s some sort of nuclear weapon they have to keep concealed.
But the tourists are one of the funniest groups to watch. It’s got a mix not unlike Bangkok with everything from the first time traveler college kids, to the middle age guys trying to find themselves, to the half brain dead hippies. It’s not quite as diverse though, mind you, seeing as it takes a bit of a different type of person to come here despite the warnings of civil unrest and the like (which everyone finds out isn’t really much of a concern when they arrive).
Seeing as I’ve been here for a while now, I’ve had time to examine the city and am actually getting a bit bored with it. I’ve been sick for a few days (today is the first day I feel back to normal, but I’m still being cautious with my diet) and have been hanging out with my friends from the Annapurna trek quite a bit. I found out that I actually had already met one of the Israeli girls about 4 months ago in Vietnam. What a coincidence! I have full cable in my hotel room, which helps break the boredom. But more than anything, it’s nice to just relax. I’m here until Friday because I have to wait for my Indian visa, and then the race begins again. I found out something about myself and that I wasn’t really ready for, yesterday.
I suck at pool.
I grew up with a pool table and am all right on an American sized table with American sized billiard balls, but everywhere else in the world they have these tiny little balls and pockets. You would think that as much as I’ve traveled and played, I would have gotten good…but no. I suck. The good news is that most everyone else does too.
It’s really funny to watch a bunch of guys around a pool table. Everyone tries to make their intended shot and when it doesn’t make it, they hang on to the pool stick and watch the balls like there is some other secret shot they were actually trying to make even though anything that actually goes in is an accident. It’s so funny. I just want to look at them and say, “dude…just give me the stick.” I have a buddy Tim back home (one of the most talented and modest guys I’ve ever met) that would give you the stick if he made a ball in that he didn’t intend and just admit that he didn’t intend for it to go in.
I did some sight seeing today and went to see the monkey temple and the cemetery. The monkey temple wasn’t anything spectacular and I was actually pretty disappointed by it. Unlike most temples, this one just had people selling stuff in little stalls everywhere you looked. It got put on the map because it’s got monkeys everywhere, which although it’s interesting, it’s nothing spectacular. All the religious stuff was behind bars. The cemetery was a little more interesting but not by much. The tourists go there because they cremate bodies right on in the open in fires next to a little river (in case you were wondering, the burned bodies smell a lot like barbeque). After the bodies have been sufficiently burned, they dump the ashes and stuff into the murky and stinky brown water. Kids walk through it with wheel barrows and scavenge the unburned wood and monkeys swim around in it looking for stuff to eat. Down stream, women wash dishes in the water. I’m beyond the stage where I would be disgusted or in dismay. I just made sure I didn’t eat anywhere near the river.
So I get my Indian visa tomorrow then it’s off to India. If you think what I just described about the cemetery river was something, wait until I tell you about the Ganges!
Hi everyone. I leave for the “Around Annapurna” trek here in Nepal in about 15 minutes and it will take me about 17 days to complete. I won’t have any updates until then, but when I do, expect the pictures to be incredible (and for me to have a big beard).
Until then, watch your backs.
My flight to Nepal entailed a one night layover in Bangladesh. Jesus, what an experience that was…
A quick hint: Never fly Biman Air (Bangladesh Airlines). I have never seen such and inefficient and chaotic business in my life. I am sure they only stay alive because they are subsidized by the state. After several hours of delays, we finally got to board the airplane. Then we waited around for another hour. The chairs were soooo small that my knees smashed into the chair in front of me. There was no movie – only cheesy Bangladesh karaoke shows and people started yelling and getting irate because we weren’t leaving and they wouldn’t tell us why. When we finally arrived, I got into the terminal and had no idea where to go – and neither did any of the staff. I finally made it to the transfer desk where they took my ticket, gave me a token and told me to wait. They forgot about me and after 30 minutes I asked them if they were going to take me to the hotel. They then rushed me to the passport officials where they confiscated my passport and gave me a coupon. They then whisked me away to the outside where they left me. I had to walk around and show my token to a bunch of guys and finally one told me to get in a van with a bunch of Indians. We waited around for nearly 2 hours and then were finally taken to the hotel. The ride over was insane – it was 10:00PM and the streets were still packed with thousands of rickshaws, taxis, vans, buses, people and everything else you could imagine. We spent 45 minutes zipping through, slamming on the brakes, randomly accelerating and nearly rolling over a few times. Some old middle eastern guy next to me was flipping out and I thought he was about to lose it. He kept running his hands through his hair and stomping his feet.
Once I was at the hotel, I was forced to share a room with some weird Indian guy who later told me that he didn’t like being alone (ooookay…) and so he was happy he was with me, and dinner wasn’t ready until around midnight. In the morning, they brought me from the hotel late, but no matter, because they flight was delayed a few hours. I was abandoned at the airport by the hotel staff and I walked in and showed my token. They made me wait for 30 minutes while they got my ticket and then I had to wait another 30 minutes while they looked for the key to the box where my passport was. I had to wait another 2 hours for the flight to leave and the food was ice cold when they finally served lunch after boarding.
What an experience that was!
So I’m in Nepal now. After arriving, I made my way to the town and checked into a hotel. I then met up with my buddy Zach with whom I’ll do the “Around Annapurna” track – which is around 18 days long. We met in Laos and decided to do the trek together. I spent yesterday wandering around Kathmandu and am now pretty settled. Tomorrow we will catch the bus to Pokhara where we will start the trek. Nepal seems pretty quiet and as usual, it reminds me a whole lot of Cuzco, Peru in that it is kind of in the mountains and is made up of a bunch of winding alley ways with touts and beggers everywhere. It’s not anything like Bangladesh, though. As you walk through the narrow alleys, old buildings tower above you on either side and the store owners stand outside with big smiles asking you to take a look at their wares. Guys sit on rickshaws and ask you where you want to go. Cars and motorcycles zip by and nearly run you over as you walk down the narrow roads, but it’s not nearly as bad as I imagine India would be. It’s quite cool, especially at night – which is a welcome respite from the unbearable heat and humidity of Southeast Asia.
As you walk through the streets, the aroma of smokey and musty incense fills your nose. Ahhhh, Kathmandu.
All the news reports of mass protests and civil unrest are blown out of proportion. I’m sure there were a few protests in isolated regions of Nepal, but they were short lived. There are probably more anti-Bush demonstrations in LA.
I will, however, ensure that I take only tourist buses. The Maoists target government entities, so I’ll have to be careful about that. Other than that, I’ll be in the mountains for the next few weeks.
I’m a bit frustrated that I may end up missing out on India. I did a calculation of my schedule and it seems that I’ll make it to India in the middle of the Summer monsoon. India would be a challenge in cool climate and I don’t know if I want to be walking around in 120 degree heat and 100% humidity while beggars and touts attack me everywhere I go. Would you? That frees up a few months so I’ll have to decide what I want to do. Maybe I can add a bit of Europe onto my trip. I can zip through a few countries and meet up with some friends. Or maybe I can drive across the US on my motorcycle for a month or two. We’ll see. I guess I can do India during subsequent vacations from work. After all, I have to leave some of the world for the future!