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Published: November 17th 2010
Kev and Richie in our Rickshaw
3 of us sat on this somehow...!
Kicking back in Kathmandu “Excuse me Sir, but you have a knife in your carry on bag”
.......Not the greatest way to start my big 6 month trip around Asia, with all my experience after nearly a year and 9 months of travelling! At the last minute, before leaving for Cairns airport, I decided to put my medical bag in my carry on, but forgot about my penknife....dope! Needless to say I got chosen for the explosive swab test aswell... at least they didn't have a full cavity search. On the bright side not one of my 4 connecting flights from Cairns to Kathmandu were delayed over the 30 hour journey!
It was time to start my long winded voyage back to Ireland. I miss my family and friends so it is nice to know that I will be seeing them soon(ish). Australia had been more than a home to me for the last year though, and I'm going to miss it. I've made many good friends, and had one of the best times of my life living in Cairns and Melbourne with one of my best friends, Ms Jen 'mess' Twomey, and our travel mate Natalya 'Tallykins'
Phillips. The end of an important(and awesome) chapter in my life, and the beginning of a more challenging one.
The plan is to spend a month in Nepal, mostly climbing mountains, then a month or two in India, possibly doing some of it by motorbike, followed by a month in Thailand hopefully meeting up with my best mate Paul, 2 weeks in Cambodia and Laos, a month in Vietnam, and finally a month in China.
First objective was to meet one of my best friends from Ireland, Richard, in Singapore airport, which came off without a hitch. What an airport though! Free internet, reclining lounge chairs to sleep on, clean, safe...what more do you need! We had a few hours to catch up on all that had happened since we had met last in July, in Cairns, when Richard and his girlfriend Monique 'momo' headed back to Melbourne after our East coast trip with my brother Cian (which ozzies funnily pronounce Cyan).
Second objective was to meet one of my other best friends from home, Kevin, in Kathmandu airport, who if all was running to plan would be waiting for us with a lift to our hostel
in Thamel. Now, when thinking about Kathmandu airport, I didn't know what to expect. It was my first developing world country I had visited, but an airport for a country with a population of 29 million couldn't be that bad...right? First thing that surprised me was that it was very small (smaller than Cork airport) and the second thing was that apart from the runway the outdoors were wild and unkept, like an abandoned house waiting to be knocked down. Inside was all right, a bit dark and gloomy, but immigration was amusing. We couldn't pay for our visa on arrival by credit card or by Nepalese Rupees (I still don't understand why), as they would only accept foreign currency, so I had to dig around in my bag for some euros. My friend Kevin, who had arrived the previous day, had to run outside the airport to the ATM, while they held onto his passport, get Nepalese money from the ATM, then change it into euros at the bureau de change... can you say... awkward!!
After about 40 mins queuing for our visa's, we made our way past 'security'. A dude was sitting back in his chair with
his feet on the desk, not even looking at the screen of the xray for the bags reading a magazine, and the metal detector was turned off! Things are more relaxed in Asia you'll find... So we collected our bags from the belt and no sooner had we passed 'customs', than we had touts asking us about trekking/rafting/taxis/hotels. Its easier just to say you have somewhere booked even if you don't, but we had Kev waiting for us outside anyways.
Once outside we spotted Kev waiting for us with our lift, and there was much rejoicing. I hadn't seen Kev since I waved him off from Auckland airport nearly a year and a half ago, and it was good to see my old travel mate once more. Kev filled us in on the happenings of his first day in Kathmandu on the ride back to our guest house. The best bit being his haircut, which involved a back massage, head thumping, chinese burns on the arms, cracking of knuckles, massage of the eyeballs and neck wrenching!
Our first drive on the roads was interesting to say the least. The roads have very little tarmac, there more like bumpy
back roads in Ireland with potholes, rubbish and dust all over the place. Entire families can fit on one moped, random cows patrol the streets, and they only rules I can see are if you can fit your car/bike/rickshaw in a gap its fair game. Overtaking round corners is ok too aslong as you beep your horn as many times as you can, and stick your hands up in the air in an exasperated manner if an oncoming vehicle has the cheek to want to drive on his side of the road.
When we got to our guest house(Acme guest house), which we had booked online, Kev told us that the day before when he turned up the room that he had booked was taken and he had to stay in a different hotel. Bookings don't really work the same way over here, basically their attitude is one in the hand is better than two in the bush, so if your waving money in their face, bookings go out the window. It was so nice to chill out in our room and catch up, whilst eating amazing BBQ Hunky Doreys, and Cadburys chocolate from home...mmmmmmmmmm thanks Kev!
were staying in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, that has about 500 trekking shops, spaced about one shop apart, to buy everything you need for your trek. Its understandable though, because the average wage in Nepal is $2 so everyone wants to get a piece of the tourist gravy train. I'd recommend buying everything you need here except your boots. I got pants, gloves, a trekking bag, water canteen, socks and gloves all for about $40 and I was very happy with the quality of everything. We were planning to do the Annapurna trek, which is a 300km trek through some diverse terrain and temperatures, so when we started out low it would be hot and sweaty, and we'd end up climbing high to cold and windy places, which meant we needed light clothes for the start, warm clothes for the top, and rain and wind proof jacket/pants aswell.
I wanted to do the trek on our own without a guide, Kev wanted a guide, and Richie was more or less on the fence. It is one of the most trekked tracks in the world, getting about 700,000 trekkers a year, so I was confident in our abilities
to navigate it, and you stay in guest houses in the multitude of villages along the trek, at least one every about 8km, so its not exactly a wilderness trek. In the end we decided to get a guide to be able to understand more about Nepals culture/history and for the opportunity to give someone a job for 3 weeks. Its all about compromise when your travelling with your mates, and there are many advantages and disadvantages to getting a guide, which I'll discuss later, but overall I feel glad we did take one.
We arrived in the middle of the busy trekking season, and I can definitively say you do not need to book a trek before you get here. People are climbing all over you offering guides and trekking packages and you will get the best deal once you arrive in Kathmandu. These companies will sort your trekking TIMS card, and your conservation passes for you so you can arrive with absolutely nothing booked and be ready to trek in 2 days time!
We had a few days to explore Kathmandu before we left for Annapurna, and the first thing we saw was Durbar Square, the
cultural heart of Kathmandu. The area is filled with pagodas and temples, draped with short, elegant looking red curtains, and many pigeons and wandering cows patrol the area. It's a great place to get a feel for the city, as you can watch locals and tourists mingle. Rick-shaws are tearing around the place, street sellers are trying to sell tiger balm, small violins and mini chess sets, and you can just soak up the energy of the place from a vantage point on the steps of the pagodas.
I got hassled by one seller here for about 30 minutes, about buying a mini-chess set, which I did want, and I eventually ended up buying it for 300 rupee (about $4). The main rule is don't show interest unless you want something and never offer a price unless your willing to buy or they will follow you forever more... understandable aswell I suppose, these guys are just trying to make a living.
The next day we went to the ancient Buddhist monkey temple of Swayambunath, which sits proudly atop a hill in the Kathmandu valley. First you must climb 365 steps to reach the temple, dodging sellers of 'singing
bowls', bracelets, pictures, postcards and the colourful men trying to put good luck red spots on your head (for a small fee or course) and monkeys trying(and succeeding) to kick you if you get too close or don't watch them carefully. Both myself and Kev got dropkicked whilst trying to get photos, it didn't hurt, but was just strange being kicked by a cheeky monkey. The whole path up to the temple was like one of those police shoot out ranges where random things pop out at you and you must decide if they are friend or foe in a few key seconds hehe.
The view of the valley and the impressive stupa are definitely worth the hassle of climbing up. Two chatty local boys showed us around the temple complex and explained everything we needed to know. The big white dome is meant to represent the world, and the 13 steps in the stupa are supposed to signify the 13 stages on the path to enlightenment. The 2 kids also showed us a monkey bathing pool and a peace pond where you got to try your skills at throwing a rupee into a pot for good luck. Many
prayer flags were around this area too, where red signifies fire, green for water, blue the sky , white the air, and yellow the earth. Rich spotted one monkey who had stolen a coke bottle from somewhere and was doing his best to bite the bottle open, whilst being harried by about 7 other monkeys.
Afterwards we decided to give the boys 100 rupees each as they had been very helpful, but they asked us instead to buy them some milk as they were afraid of being beaten up. We were thinking milk can't be that much so we followed them to a local shop where the milk was 850. The little feckers were trying to scam us, so we declined, gave them their 300, and left but on second thoughts we should have give them nothing to teach them a lesson!
Later that day we met up with one of myself and Richards old workmates from Melbourne, Bobby, who is from Nepal and happened to be back on holidays. Bobby is one of my favourite people I've met on my travels, she trained me in in the bar and restaurant I worked, is always happy and friendly,
and is also a great worker. We drank some everest beer in a bar, and then she treated us to dinner in an awesome steakhouse with her friends. It was great to catch up with an old friend, and she paid despite our desperate protests, again showing her kindness and her deep rooted Nepalese hospitality:-)
The next day we spent getting bits and pieces we needed for trekking like flashlights and gloves, and we met our guide Sunil who would be leading the way around the Annapurna Himalaya. Sunil was about mid 30's and was very experienced, with 11 years 'on mountain'. They obviously thought that only the very best could get us over that mountain hehe. When we were going through our equipment his expression went from worried to concerned, and finally hands to face exasperation when richie showed him his small sleeping bag.
The next morning we would have an 8 hour bus ride to look forward too, on our way to Besi-Sahar, which was the starting point of our trek. We spent the rest of the day packing and sorting our bags with everything we would need to carry for our 17 day trek, and had the last proper warm shower we would have for a while.... Onwards and upwards we go!
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