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Published: October 8th 2018
The flight time from Dubai to Kathmandu is about 5 hours so I decided to splurge an extra $60 for a front row seat with lots of leg room (both ways). It is amazing how few people are willing to pay a few dollars for a little comfort on generally uncomfortable aircraft. Total cost at this time of the year is $400 return, this is the only good thing about living in Dubai.
I cruised through the airport so quickly that my hotel transfer had not yet arrived, so we had to wait for about ten minutes in the muggy evening heat, I pack extremely light these days with one 35 litre backpack which makes quick airport access and exit assured. We arrived at the hotel, confirmed some arrangements for the next day and got to bed around midnight. The hotel is located on the edge of the tourist ghetto of Thamel and at $35 a night for a twin is probably mid-range.
The alarm went off at 530am and I am really tired after a very busy month of travel, our ride arrived a short time later, who would have thought I would see the Pamir, the Hindu
Kush and weather permitting mighty Everest within a four day period. It was a relatively quick ten minute ride to the airport at this time of the morning, having arrived in darkness we were able to see Kathmandu for the first time and it is not what I expected. I was shocked see how ugly and Indian the city looked. On arrival we were lead through the airport to the office of a helicopter company, we were weighed, charged an airport fee and told to wait. Two hours later the weather gods had spoken and Shane and I and six others were leaving the airport disappointed, we waited way to long for the agency to send a vehicle to return us to our hotel.
After an excellent breakfast we hired a car and driver for the day and headed out into Kathmandu Valley which is mostly Kathmandu city.
The city is probably one of the ugliest capitals I have ever seen, urban sprawl at its worse, horrific traffic congestion, filthy and polluted not what I had imagined at all. So, in essence it took all day to visit three of the valley's seven UNESCO world heritage sites. The
first was the Patan Durbur (Royal) Square where we were approached by a guide who quoted some ridiculous amount for his services, I said no and walked away but he wouldn't stop following Shane, so I told him he was a cheating bastard and to fuck off. They think everyone is a virgin they can shag if they tell the right lie. The complex is an expansive royal palace full of beautiful Newari architecture the majority of which was built between 14th and 18th centuries. As we wandered through under beautiful pagoda roofs and through stunning wood carvings the would be guide thought he would have another go so I did too.
Next, we wandered a little around the area's back streets, the palace area and neighbouring temples are being restored so it is a bit of a mess, as we left I smiled and waved at the guide the nasty scowling creature. Next, we moved on to Bhaktapur's Royal Square circa 17th century which although damaged by the 2015 earthquake was under restoration, our guide here was much more pleasant. He very informative in his description of the palaces and monuments, we stopped for a beer in a
café on the square then headed into the tourist shops in the nearby alleyways, a gaggle of women following us everywhere we went trying to sell us cheap rubbish.
Last stop of the day was the 17th
century mountain temple Changu Naryan where I screamed at some bastards abusing the dogs, the concept of animal abuse is foreign here the temple and the views of the valley were worth the visit.
It took an hour or so to return to the hotel and so I napped most of the way, in the evening we walked miles in search of a traditional restaurant located in the former mansion of a king’s head priest, the decor and the cultural show were interesting, the food too Indian for my liking and the multitude of screaming marauding children a nuisance. One child decided to climb up my back, arms around my neck, not amused at all.
Again, an early start I slept well, perhaps too well for Shane's liking. Our driver arrived to take us to the airport, no mucking around this time we hardly had time to check out the simian welcoming party before being ushered through the airport and
into the back of a bus, three Aussies, one American, one Malay and a retired Indian army colonel. We were soon zooming across the Kathmandu Valley towards the mountain village of Lukla. It was a tight uncomfortable trip with four fat blokes squeezed in the back, they wouldn't let any of us in the front due to weight restrictions, so the two females got the best value for money. Forty minutes later we hovered over the sloping runway of the town before veering left and settling to the ground.
The clouds were covering Everest so there was no point in going there so we had a 45 minute window before we had to take off one-way or the other. We went for a walk around the little village - it had five pubs and must really go off in high season when the climbers and trekkers are in the region. After the slowest egg on toast in history we returned to the airfield and were told that our travel agents had decided we should go to the Everest View Hotel rather than return to Kathmandu probably to prevent any chance of a refund, I was getting a little dark
by now. My mood wasn't improved when we arrived at the hotel and walked out to the viewing point as we could see nothing but clouds where the great mountain was supposed to be. Then to make things worse we were slugged a $50 national park fee even though at that time it didn't look like we were even going in. A piece of advice - when doing anything in Nepal make sure you ask about everything and get agreement before agreeing to do anything.
As we sat there eating and wondering how we would pay for the supposedly included breakfast and park fees, we caught the occasional glimpse of snowy peaks and then a glimpse of Everest herself, our pilot then stood up and said he thought it was worth flying to the mountain. Naturally we were all excited as we mounted up and the chopper swung up the valley for about ten minutes before landing at a settlement in a river valley only a short distance from the mountain. Three of us disembarked while the pilot headed off to base camp with the others it, seems performance suffers with altitude, less weight was important now.
I sat on a wall waiting twenty minutes or so for them to return I wondered if they were seeing anything, we found out for ourselves not long later as we lifted straight up above the valley we headed towards the mountain spotting some trekkers from the air before zooming over base camp or where base camp should have been. With the end of the trekking season the tent city is dismantled so there was nothing but the desolate mountain side and the start of the ice sheet and crevasse field that tests so many climbers. A little further away is an Italian research station and it's glass pyramid.
The pilot returned to the landing site and the others boarded the aircraft and we commenced the return journey to Lukla, for a time we through cloud and couldn't see a thing it was unsettling flying blind. Soon we dropped below the clouds and could see the ground, what a sight, the mountains are all terraced there didn’t appear to be any forest left anywhere. To be honest Nepal is nothing like I expected or envisioned.
Once we arrived at the airport we walked out to the car park
my driver was there, but when we decided not to go anywhere but the hotel, the driver decided he would leave us there and take the Indian and American to their hotels instead. A bit of yelling and they were in a cab and we were in our car. We arrived back at the hotel then went to a restaurant down the road arriving just before a heavy download. Shane dragged me through numerous shops after that before we went back to the hotel and he packed his gear and headed to the airport.
My car and guide arrived at ten today, I would visit the remaining four World Heritage sites scattered around Kathmandu starting with the "Monkey Temple" Swayambhunath perched on its hilltop overlooking the city. If you have ever been to Phnom Penn it looks much like the Buddhist temple that dominates that city, monkeys and all. Nepalese Buddhism is influenced strongly by Hinduism, so the place was unique in that regard with various structures built over 12 or 13 hundred years. It was hot walking around up there in 40 degree heat, the dogs took up every shady spot so I was sweating profusely
by the time I reached the lookout, the view across the city and was excellent but I was happy to return to my air conditioned vehicle.
Next stop was Kathmandu's Royal Square or what is left of it, the earthquake left little of the wonders my guidebook (2006) describes undamaged and will take more than a decade to restore. Those temples and palaces that remain are still fascinating though, the damaged residence of the 5 year old living goddess was particularly interesting and I saw my first legendary Ghurka in the flesh.
Next destination was the Tibetan Stupa at Bodhnath which is one of the world's largest, the area surrounding the Stupa is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and boasts several monasteries all decorated with wonderful murals. The Stupa is surrounded by three story buildings filled with Tibetan owned businesses one of which was a restaurant serving wonderful banana and mango lassi and simple but excellent vegetarian burgers.
The final sight was the Hindu temple at Pashupatinath one of the more important Shiva Temples which is closed to foreigners, but you can go up the steps left of the entrance and see into the temple grounds.
The temples within the courtyard are picturesque and the big golden Nandi is impressive. Not far away is the holy Bagmati river whose banks are used for the same crematory services I saw performed in the Arya Ghats of Varanasi. There were two bodies burning on the banks and a Newari funeral procession in progress, my guide explained that the family weren’t high caste as their loud expression of grief was unacceptable to the Brahmins. I watched the body carried four times around the pyre before being set in place. The body was wrapped in an orange shroud and covered in flowers, the eldest son was about to burn out the deceased tongue when I decided I had seen enough. As I headed for the car I noticed some of the filthy Dilat (untouchable) children begging near the entrance, I feel a great sympathy for these children, forced to live such a harsh existence by their own greedy countrymen.
That was it for Kathmandu there was nothing else I could see in the time I had left so I headed to the airport. On arrival I noticed that there was an earlier flight that would save me a long
wait at the airport, so I approached the young lady at the check in counter and charmed my way onto the early flight I also got a whole exit row to myself. Things were going well until I walked into the immigration hall it was like a sauna and there were hundreds of people in just two lines, I waited in line until just before boarding then decided enough was enough and headed straight to the front and through before anyone could say anything. I did the same thing at the gate walking past a dozen people and a couple of security people like I was meant too, and they didn't even confiscate my water bottle. Five minutes later I was sitting in my seat, Nepal certainly wasn't what I expected, my experiences of the Himalayas previously had offered Tibetan Buddhism and wild mountain scenery which I prefer to the Nepali alternative.
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