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Published: December 9th 2013
Having said goodbye to India from Delhi’s surprisingly clean and modern airport, we were just a short hour and twenty minutes from our next destination, Nepal.
Kathmandu was to be our first stop as it is for pretty much everyone who comes here, and we were looking forward to the challenge of a new country. Hearing that Kathmandu was a busy and hectic city, Donna and I were undeterred. After all, for the past 2 and a half months or so we had been living in a place where busy and hectic are personified. This therefore should be a breeze!
As we left the airport with our pre-paid taxi, subtle differences were already starting to show between here and India. The air was cooler, the architecture was different, and the traditional Saris of India were replaced with modern clothes that are favoured in the West. We even saw a few women with make-up on which was something we hadn’t noticed for some time now. One thing that did seem to tie the two places together however was the traffic. Seeing as Kathmandu only has a population of around 1.7 million people it’s hard to understand why this place had
so many cars on the road. It was more understandable in say Delhi or Mumbai where the populations reach well over 10 million people, however here in Kathmandu, it almost seemed like everyone in the capital owned a car and was driving it too. The fact that this place is one of the most polluted cities in the world was evident as we drove towards our hotel in Patan, on more than one occasion I found myself covering my mouth with my scarf to try and evade the toxic fumes that were all around me.
Arriving at our hotel Café de Patan in the late afternoon, we were more than happy just to mill around, eat some food and discuss what we would be doing for the coming days. We immediately tucked into some Nepali food by both ordering a Thali (rice and poppadum accompanied with several dishes like curry, Daal, and veg) and were glad we did. It seemed Nepali food was fairly similar to Indian food with a hint of Chinese cuisine mixed in for good measure. On finishing our food we came to the decision that our main concern whilst here in the capital was to
get ourselves booked on an Everest Base Camp trek. This is something we said we would try and do before setting off from England, but had yet to book anything in the hope that we could save money by booking direct in Kathmandu. This would mean entering the congested and touristy streets of Thamel, a place we purposely avoided staying in due to the reputation it had of being busy, in your face and about as far from Nepali culture as it was possible to get. In order to get this trek booked though, it was something we were going to have to face whether we liked it or not.
The 8km cab ride from Patan to Thamel took about 45 minutes or so. This was purely due to the traffic and congestion that had us moving at snail’s pace the entire journey. On reaching Thamel, it looked exactly like we thought it would. There were signs hanging literally everywhere for laundry, hotels, coffee, souvenirs and everything else in-between. The streets were bursting with tourists, touts and guys that wanted to sell us weed. The other thing that struck us was the wealth of power lines that just hung
from every inch of the buildings around us as well as on the streets we were walking through. On more than one occasion, Donna had to warn me to duck in order to stop me from being fried by just crossing the street.
Having dodged what seemed to be every drug dealer in the city and surviving deadly electric shocks, we eventually made it into KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project) where we hoped to receive some advice regarding out trek. Having spoken to the very helpful staff in there, we were still just as confused as to whether to attempt the trek on our own just using a porter/guide and save some money, or whether to spend a little more and go with a larger company where we would join a group of fellow trekkers and everything would pretty much be done for us. Pondering this as we went, we turned up at Himalayan Encounters where we had previously had some correspondence, and decided to see what they could suggest. These guys were actually really helpful and gave us great options for both group or independent trekking…..we were now even more stumped!
Finally, over a cup of Chiya
and thousands of questions, we decided to join a group rather than doing it on our own. We felt a little like we were a slave to the large corporation, however since the cost wasn’t actually that much more than independent trekking it just seemed like a no brainer. Neither of us are exactly pro trekkers anyway, and since we would be climbing over 12 days and to altitudes up to 5,545 metres, it made sense to us to have all the safety and back-up that comes with this type of company as well as having a group to share the experience with. Booked and paid for, we now had just 2 weeks to prepare for our most difficult challenge yet. We saw the rest of the day out walking the streets of Thamel and actually decided that it wasn’t such a bad place after all. We were definitely glad we stayed in the more peaceful and cultural area of Patan, however Thamel really did have everything you could ever need for a Pre or Post trip to the mountains. That evening, we celebrated with what would be our last beer until after the trek, and headed to the quiet
of our Patan guestroom.
The following day we decided to get out and see some of the area we were staying in and so headed for Durber square, Patan. The architecture here was beautiful and just so different from what we were used to in India. With influences from China and Tibet, the square hosts some truly stunning buildings and monuments from the 17th
century, that have been amazingly restored from the battering they took from the years of neglect and more so, the 1934 earthquake that tore through the capital. Off of the square are some fantastic quaint little streets holding souvenir shops, cafes and temples. The whole place has a real sense of calm considering the traffic issues we had witnessed only a couple of days previous and the people of Nepal seem nothing but friendly and helpful. We are back to a land where shop owners and locals greet you with hands in prayer and a ‘Namaste’ rather than hound you for a quick sale. Stopping for lunch in a café with a cute little courtyard garden, we ordered the local snack known as Momos (veg or meat filled dumplings with chilli sauce) and a pot
of Chiya (Spiced Tea) as we basked in the calm and peaceful environment that was Patan.
As we only booked for three nights, we decided to leave the city for a while and return closer to our trekking date. Our plans were sketchy, but we thought it would be an idea to leave the smoke and pollution of the city for the surrounding hills of the Kathmandu valley. We weren’t totally sure what date we would return, as long as it was in time for the trek, but this was something we were looking forward to. Getting out in the open and having a sense of spontaneity to explore this great country. Next stop, Nargarkot and hopefully our first glimpse of the Himalayas.
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