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Published: November 18th 2018
The journey to the airport was super-quick - don't know where all the traffic had gone. In fact, we were too early to check-in but we were soon on board the 9.00 pm Qatar Airways flight from Amman to Doha, in Qatar, where we would transit. The plane was lovely, an A350 XWB, with loads of films, entertainment, seat space, wifi and proper cutlery! It put BA to shame. We landed in Doha about midnight and the 3.15 hour wait between flights soon passed as I chatted with a woman from Oxford with not much of interest to say and a young man from NE England who I guessed was in the military as he was taking the long way home to Newcastle from Afghanistan via Kuwait, Qatar and Manchester. He was funny and entertaining and had eight years left to meet his own deadline of climbing Mt Everest. I quickly disabused him of his misunderstanding that that was our reason for visiting Nepal too! I did, however, tell him that Steve was going to attempt a 'climb' of a sort. He sent his best wishes to a fellow Northerner until I told him he was originally from London, at which point he said he could jolly well fall off (or words to that effect!). Needless to say, both these brief encounters took place in the designated smoking area which is where I tend to meet the most interesting people ... We landed in Kathmandu at 9.20 am local time where the clocks had moved on by 2 hours 45 minutes from Amman/Doha time. That was peculiar - normally I've only had to cope with time shifts in multiples of 30 or 60 minutes. Anyway, I still reckoned that was a night with no sleep and I'm not good to know when I'm tired!
Immigration was chaotic (I had yet to learn that 'chaos' is a word that can often be used in Kathmandu). We'd already got a form completed online which should have circumvented some of the queuing we had to do to get the visa but the lines weren't clearly marked and other forms needed to be filled in as well. Some travellers had no form whatsoever, others had a form but no photo and yet more had all the forms and a photo but no money for the visa. In the end I think we did manage to get through faster than a lot of others but it was still a painful process.
We'd tried to arrange an airport transfer with our accommodation provider but had had no reply from them so we weren't confident that this was going to happen. This may have been due to our initial six day booking with one hotel being changed to three nights in one place and three nights at his place so that he could take advantage of a big block booking. No problem, we said, happy to be flexible. So, I ventured outside the Arrivals Hall to see if anyone was waiting for us, name card held aloft. If there had been anyone there (there wasn't as it turned out) I doubt I would have seen them amongst the dozens and dozens of meeters and greeters shouting and waving to all the passing tourists. In the end we took a taxi to the Newa Home in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. (I think the Nepalese language doesn't do a 'th' sound, so that would be Tamel and Katmandu ...)
I gather they drive on the left in Nepal. I can tell you they also drive on the right and in the middle. They undertake and overtake and if vehicles came with wings they would flyertake as well. And if the drivers can't claim the bit of road they want they will toot angrily, to everyone and no-one in particular, even when traffic is gridlocked and everybody has turned off their engines. OMG the noise. And the dust. And the motorbikes/scooters/mopeds/pushbikes (but not too many of the latter - it seems even the Nepalese draw the line somewhere!). There are apparently one million bikes in Kathmandu alone and I think we saw them all on our journey to Thamel. Amazingly, even when there are literally only millimetres to spare, everyone works their way from A to B and we didn't see one accident, though God knows how when you factor pedestrians into the mix as well, all using the same strip of unpaved land that is laughably called a road. It was like a wonderful game of dodgems and I loved it!
We somehow managed to arrive at the Newa Home in one piece and presented ourselves at the reception desk which was - empty! The lady who owned the 'shop' attached to the hotel very kindly tried to help us but she spoke no English and of course we spoke no Nepalese so we just smiled inanely at each other for what seemed like a very long time. Eventually a housemaid appeared and offered us a cup of something. A phone call was made. A man arrived. I don't think he was expecting us ... But, he was very sweet and gracious, didn't seem to understand that our initial booking had been somewhere else, and proudly showed us to a room (C2) that had a kitchen area with no pots, pans, cutlery or kettle. There was no hot water either in the very small area called 'the wet room'. It did have a bed though, and I was very pleased to tumble on to it, fully clothed, for a much needed nap!
We went out to explore the area after our nap, feeling suitably refreshed by a cold water wash. The Newa was down a quiet little side street, just far enough away from the bustle of Thamel to provide a peaceful haven. Thamel is just really one big market area (and, of course, I lurve markets!) but this was in KATHMANDU, and I thought there would also be something of the hippy-dippy-ness that Kathmandu in the 70s used to invoke, along with such places as Kashmir, Marrakesh, Haight-Ashbury and the like. Sadly, these days it's just a dirty, dusty, smelly area, full of tourists and tat, with the occasional dreadlocked backpacker and tie-dyed tee-shirt paying homage to its former glory. There was a mural of Janis Joplin (a big idol of mine) on one wall. I don't know if she ever made it to Kathmandu but her spirit lives on there, even if she was surrounded by rubbish and a dead tree trunk.
We had to pass a butcher's shop to get to the main area and three goats were tied up outside, awaiting their fate (but being fed and watered until that time came). I try not to be judgmental about these things but it was hard to see. One shop also sold fish that were alive and swimming until needed. We ate in a very quiet restaurant/cafe called the Eco Coffee House. I don't know what was 'eco' about it other than they had to go shopping for some of the ingredients before they could give us our meal - guess that's one way of reducing waste!
Street signs haven't been invented in Kathmandu yet (or so it seemed to me) but I wasn't too surprised at that as the backstreets and alleyways just seem to have evolved from the main roads in a tangled mess of offshoots. The map I picked up was impossible to use as a result. In the end I just called the streets by their most obvious identifier, usually derived from its main trade or occupation, so we often walked down Prayer Flag Street, Crash Helmet Alley, Pots and Pans Road and Laundry Lane. It worked for me!
Following a couple of bottles of beer on the lovely Newa rooftop and a chat with owner, Prem, we eventually retired to bed after a full and busy day. I was out for the count the minute my head touched the pillow!
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