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Published: January 24th 2019
We had another early hours alarm to be ready for collection by Ransinga and our driver at 7.20 am. I can't say I leapt out of bed raring to go! Still, we didn't have to travel far to the airport - five minutes and we were there. I was really sad to be leaving this wonderful country and its people behind. I had grown especially fond of Ransinga, who had a brilliant self-deprecating sense of humour. He described himself as tall, dark and handsome - I could grant him the dark and handsome bits but he was smaller than me! He said he felt sure we would meet again, in either this life or another one. And of course I never got to meet King Jimmy 5. He has said his only wife is the only one he wants but his father, King Jimmy 4, has four wives so there's definitely a precedent! I'm sure 007 wouldn't mind and I'd bring him along too if Jimmy 5 ever wants to get in touch.
After saying goodbye to our wonderful guide and driver, we joined a queue of Everyone Going Anywhere at the airport. I chatted to the guy in front,
who was bound for Delhi at 0900 (our flight wasn't until 0920). After many repeated reassurances that there was plenty of time, he was finally pulled to the front of the queue at 0850! Talk about cutting it fine ... We chatted with an American family from Seattle. They had done months of training for the Tiger's Nest climb and were rightfully impressed that Steve had done it on willpower alone.
We had another spectacular flight over the Himalayas. Once again, I couldn't identify Everest. We landed in Kathmandu to be met by our usual driver and were dropped back at the Hotel Vaishali, from where we had departed, and were reunited with our luggage. This was the end of our arrangements with Achut ManCanDo but he had very kindly said he would arrange for us and our suitcases to be taken to our next hotel. We waited ages but no-one came to collect us and we did wonder if these arrangements had fallen by the wayside, given that we were no longer paying him for his services. Eventually, we decided to give him a ring. There had been some misunderstanding between drivers, he said, and he would send
someone immediately. OK, then. That 90 second phone call had only cost me £5. But, he was true to his word, sent a man with a car and we were soon delivered to our final hotel in Kathmandu.
We tend not to return to stay in the same hotel twice, unless it has something going for it that would be hard to find elsewhere. We like variety! So, on this occasion we had booked into the Hotel Friends Home, and were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer by way of peace and tranquility as we hoped to be solar dogs for a few days and recharge our batteries after a few weeks of constant travelling. Well, the first room we were allocated was dreadful and just wouldn't do - the hot water tap needed a degree in plumbing to get it to work, the view was of a generator and it was right at the top of a building with no lift and I'd had enough of climbing, thank you! So, after complaining, we were moved to a corner suite with windows on two sides which was very nice indeed but I possibly didn't gush enough
about it as I didn't know at that stage that some of the rooms had no windows at all, so lucky us!
We soon fell in to the Kathmandu we knew and were growing to like, if not quite love. Our stay on this occasion co-incided with a five day festival period. There was the Festival of Aunts and Uncles day, the Festival of Brothers and Sisters day, the Festival of Cows day and best of all, for me, the Festival of Dogs day. On that day it seemed that every dog in Kathmandu that stood still long enough got a garland to wear and, if they stood still for even longer, they got a red dot blessing between the eyes. Some dogs looked bemused by the whole thing, some looked rather cross-eyed, but most looked very proud indeed and trotted about smelling floral, tails held high. Our hotel had a lovely rooftop terrace where we often chilled out with a beer (Ghurkha beer this time as we felt our climbing qualified us as Sherpas!) and watched the groups of young men stringing dangly lights from the rooftops with only a stick and bare feet to keep them in
place. No health and safety concerns here, but it did my stress and blood pressure levels no good just watching them going about their perilous work. We also spotted a group of about half a dozen army-type snipers hiding in the half-built building opposite and they made me a bit twitchy too. I've no idea why they were there.
The streets of Thamel came alive with young children singing and dancing for a 'trick or treat' type of sweet or small change. Whole parades of colourfully dressed adults sang through the township, carrying candles and dancing as they went. Every business made some sort of colourful mandala with fruit and incense sticks burning in the middle, each one trying to better the one next door. Some were done almost professionally and were amazing to see. One parade included giant puppets, operated from the inside by people who couldn't see where they were going and yet they were somehow steered through all the madness and mayhem. It was wonderful.
And throughout it all, everywhere, there was Achut ManCanDo. He just kept appearing on the same streets as us, from nowhere. We took to altering our normal route to try
to avoid him but it didn't work. And, bless him, he was so lovely and kind. 'Come to my house for a meal, come out for a beer, come to the office for a coffee ...'. We're not super-sociable people normally, but we eventually agreed to pop in to his office for a coffee, just to show willing. He was out when we went so we thought we'd dodged our obligation but no, he just appeared in front of us, returning from his lunch! We chatted about our trips and thanked him for all the arrangements he had made for us. They would have been impossible for us to do independently. He was pleased to have been able to help but said he had been very worried indeed about our visa to Tibet, and he had arranged many such visas in his time. Now he tells us!!
We also bumped into The Two Widows on the streets of Thamel. Achut had told us that one had made the Tiger's Nest climb as far as the cafe and the other had used a pony to get that far before starting the steps on foot. She surrendered at the white flag.
Both agreed with us that Bhutan had been the highlight of the trip. One widow was a smoker and we swapped smoking stories. ManCanDo had told us that smoking was not allowed in Bhutan, then he said it was OK for tourists, then he said not to take any into the country because it was illegal but to buy some there, then he changed his mind again and said our guides would get some for us. I decided to play safe and took none. She decided to take some, fess up at Immigration and pay any duty necessary. She got a piece of paper on arrival which said she was a silly foreigner who was allowed to smoke in Bhutan on production of this bit of paper. I struggled to get Ransinga to remember I needed some (I think he 'forgot' on purpose!) but he did eventually procure some for me. Smoking Widow and I agreed that King Jimmy 5 needed to be a bit more realistic as we had seen plenty of smokers in Bhutan and on this occasion he was fighting a losing battle. We agreed, though, that KJ5 had done the right thing by not opening the
gates on mass tourism, possibly leading to the implosion suffered by neighbours India and Nepal. Time will tell. We also heard that Mr and Mrs Surbiton had completed the climb which surprised us as Mrs S couldn't abide dust of any sort and wore a face mask most of the time we were with them! We never saw them again.
Our last day in Kathmandu saw us killing time in the afternoon, waiting for an evening flight. We spent a lot of time on the hotel rooftop, soaking up the sounds and smells of the city. We moved downstairs in the evening to watch an impromptu 'rock band' that played on the street outside a posh restaurant, collecting donations for a charity. They were also watched by a young family who lived amongst the rubble of the half-built building opposite. Worlds apart ...
We left the hotel in our pre-arranged hotel transport at 8 pm. Our driver took a detour to show us the best-dressed, brightly lit festival areas and he almost earned a big tip for that - it was lovely to see. Unfortunately, he then almost ambushed us into a quick side-trip to his house to
'hear his children sing'. No thank you - we'll just go straight to the airport! Once there, we were greeted by the usual mayhem and noticed a very long, separate queue for 'migrant workers'. We couldn't decide if they were coming or going. We had a lighter each confiscated (I'd given one to Steve as well, even though he doesn't smoke) so that made four I'd had taken from me. I was allowed to keep my bottle of water though, so that's OK then.
So, we were moving on again. Final thoughts on Kathmandu? Well, it wasn't somewhere I would have chosen to spend so much time in but circumstances, visas, flights, etc dictated that. And actually I grew to like it more with each visit, despite the traffic, the noise, the dust, the smell, the litter and the poverty. It has a certain vibrancy, a joie de vivre which overcomes all else and that is all down to the resilience of the people who live there.
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