Saturday, Sept 7, 2013 continued
I boarded my Dragon Air flight at 7pm. I was lucky to see downtown HK city lights as we flew away. Somehow we managed to gain 2 hours and 15 minutes of time zone change between HK and Nepal. Nepal must be on the weirdest time zone adjustment – I’ve seen 1/2 hour adjustments before (Darwin, Australia) but never 1/4 hour adjustment.
What a vast contrast the Kathmandu airport is compared to HK. Our large plane landed on the tarmac and we had to climb down metal rolling stairs and board a bus to drive about the equivalent of 1 block to the terminal. Next, I had to stand in line to get my 15 day Nepal visa for $25. For folks who didn’t have visa photos, there was actually a booth at the airport. This took close to an hour. My bags were waiting as I got to baggage claim and there was a long line of people to exit customs but they all seemed to be Nepali so I just bypassed the line and the guys let me thru.
My ride to Annapurna Guest House was there. I picked AGH because it was cheap and it was very close to my other hotel where the tour would start the next night. So, I paid $14 for my room and shuttle ride from the airport.
Sunday, Sept 8
I slept in a bit followed by a nice, hot water shower after such a long time. I checked out around 11am. It was pretty hot and humid outside with partial sun/smog. My walk was only 2 minutes to the Hotel Norbu Linka, where we had 5 nights paid for as part of our tour while we wait for our China Visas and Tibet Permits. There were a couple other people from the tour sitting in the lobby having their welcome drinks so I joined them. Not even 10 minutes later, Anna, the woman who would be my roomate arrived. We had a choice of a room on the 1st floor or the 5th floor. We chose the 5th floor for the great view, but she advised us there is not elevator. Buildings start at floor 0 here, so a room on the 5th floor really means on the 6th floor so lots of steps to our room. The hotel is very nice. Super clean. Nice people. Comfy beds. TV with lots of stations and A/C. Private, large clean bathroom with even a bathtub (not the combo toilet/shower that is typical in places I often stay.)
Today was a festival named Teej and I had read the best place to experience this was at the Pashupatinath Temple, the most holy Hindu temple in Nepal, on the banks of the Bagmati river. The Teej festival is a festival celebrating women, so only hindu women are allowed in the temple today. And boy, were there women. The queue to enter the temple had to be 2 miles long! All of the women had on beautiful red saris.
As tourists, we were allowed to bypass the queue. We stopped on the riverbank where we saw the cremation process. Bodies are covered in orange blanket and flowers and annointed in the river. Next, they are burned in ghats and the ashes a put in the river. This “river” was not what we typically think of as a river. There wasn’t much water and it was full of garbage and who knows what else.
There were several other smaller temples as part of the Pashupatinath complex, so we walked thru a park looking at the other temples and then walked thru the neighborhoods to Bodhnath (Boudha) Stupa. This is a huge dome with Buddha eyes painted at the top. This was such a calm site so we sat and pigeon and people watched. We walked clockwise around the Stupa, as this is what the pigrims do at Stupas. It is bad luck to walk the other direction.
We took a taxi back to the hotel and rested up a couple hours until our 5pm meeting with our group. All 22 of us where there – mostly Australians with a few Kiwis, English, and two Americans – me and a woman from Wisconsin who’s been living in you guessed it – Australia. The age range is very wide. There are 6 people in their 20s and the rest are in their late 40s to 60s. We didn’t learn about everybody’s job, but we did find out there’s a retired General Practician Doctor and 3 nurses on our tour so we should be pretty set if something medical comes up on the trip.
At 8pm, the whole group went out to a Tibetan restaurant where I had a huge bowl of chicken noodle soup and a large water for less than $1.50. The exchange rate is going crazy here as the rupee is dropping against the USD. A couple weeks ago, the rate was 96 rupees per dollar and yesterday it was 103. After dinner, I went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep. I don’t feel at 100% health, but I haven’t come down with the full blown cold I felt coming on a day ago.
Monday, Sept 9
I woke up at 5am, and went to sit outside on the pleasant rooftop terrace which is just outside our room. This is the best time to sit outside as it is not too hot in the morning. It was 90 degrees yesterday and the guy at the hotel said that it was cool. I watched sunrise and read a bit as I hydrated myself and took more Berocca. I watched the birds fly over the rooftops and listened to Nepali radio, thanks to my Sony Walkman. I like traveling with a personal radio as I’m able to hear the local music in each country (as opposed to listen to mp3s of songs I listen to at home). Nepali music is awesome! Similar to Indian.
After the great included breakfast at the hotel, 4 of us set off to walk to the Patan temple complex which was several miles away. We made a leisurely walk there, stopping to take pictures of interesting buildings and sites. We found ourselves walking thru Durbar Square of Kathmandu. We were supposed to have a ticket to this but didn’t realize. One of us had a ticket from the previous day a flashed it so we quickly skirted around the edge. I took pictures along the way and decided it might not be worth another visit back since we would be visiting numerous other temples in the coming days. We stopped in several shops to admire the saris. I almost bought a burgundy dress at a fair trade shop, but I don’t want to buy too much stuff – there’s still nearly 12 weeks left and I can’t bring too much stuff home!
At Patan, we did the Lonely Planet walking tour and saw lots of temples, stupas, buddhas, etc. We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Durbar square of Patan. Each of the main villages, many years ago, had a Durbar or main square, filled with temples. After so much walking, we took a taxi back to the hotel.
A bunch of us went to the Yeti Cafe for dinner. They had mixed cuisine (Continental, Nepali) but I had the “Veg Nepali Set” which I’ve always called Veg Thali at home – rice served with several small main a side dishes – specifically a vegetable curry, daal baht (the Nepali national dish), sour yogurt, suated spinach, and a few vegetables.
Thurs, Sept 12, 2013
Had another early wake up without being able to go back to sleep. I can’t keep up this 5-6 hours sleeping per night much longer. Today is our last day in Kathmandu. I’m looking forward to getting out to the country tomorrow and maybe my cough will clear up.
Today was a very interesting day in Kathmandu. The taxi drivers were on strike. Apparently, this causes about 95% of the vehicles to be off the streets and about 90% of the businesses are closed (although in the tourist ghetto of Thamel, only about 10% of the shops were closed). All in all, it was wonderful! No worries about being clipped by a taxi as you walk down the narrow streets. And best of all, no horn honking!
Nine of us were interested in going to Swayambhunath (aka “the Monkey Temple”). This is a couple Kms west of town, so we walked. We started out following a not so descript map and it took us much further south than we meant to be. We found the place where all of the hotel sheets must be washed – ladies spinning hand wheels and hanging sheets anywhere to dry – on clothes lines, on signs, in the grass in the soccer field, etc. While we were “lost” we came upon a distressed woman with a very sick child. The child was limp and had had some seizures. Luckily, we had one of the 3 nurses with us and she administered cold water to cool the child down. Through another woman who spoke good English, translated that the child had a very high temperature that caused this, and the child should have a cold bath and go to the doctor, but the condition was not life threatening. The child was acting much more with it by the time the mother thanked the nurse and took the child away.
After the excitement, we finally found the right way to the temple and we stopped at a smaller temple on the way. For some reason, there were a couple gold turtles living in this temple.
The Monkey Temple certainly lived up to its name. There were dozens of monkeys hanging around inside and outside of the temple. Big monkeys, baby monkeys, angry monkeys, cute monkeys, and more.
We climbed 365 steps up a steep staircase to the hilltop Temple. Inside, we admired the stupa and smaller side temples. We continued to a park behind the temple, which was completely covered in prayer flags. One monkey got a little aggressive with me at the park
We climbed back down the 365 steps and saw an interesting site. A monkey came up behind a woman and stole her plastic bottle of Coca-Cola. All eyes were on the monkey to see how smart he was. First, he tried to bite off the cap. A few people in the audience decided to show him how, so they started making twisting motions with their hand. The monkey mimicked this, but was unsuccessful in twisting off the cap. Next, he tried to take off the label. Then he resorted to the same thing I do when I have something plastic that’s difficult to open – he used his teeth. After about 5 minutes, he finally bit off the cap and promptly dropped the bottle, spilling half of the contents. It’s obvious that this monkey wasn’t used to drinking out of a bottle. He finally got a little bit of Coke in his mouth but it wasn’t clear if he liked it or not. He spilled nearly all of the contents before walking away.
We walked back to town, where I popped into a pharmacy. My doctor had prescribed Doxycycline anti-biotic for emergency cases before the trip, but I didn’t fill the prescription since the generic pills were about $80. I bought the same thing over the counter in Nepal for $1.10. My next stop was a solo trip to the Garden of Dreams, a lovely garden away from the hubbub of Thamel
In all, the afternoon was very therapeutic. The gardens were therapy for my soul. Afterwards, I had a one hour full body massage which was therapy for my body. I followed this by some shopping – well – retail therapy!
At some point in the afternoon, the leaders had posted that we have a “slight change in plans” and rather than meeting at 7am tomorrow to depart, instead, we will have a mandatory meeting at 7pm tonight. At this meeting, we found out that we will now be departing Nepal at least one day later. There are multiple permits and visas needed to visit Nepal. For tourists, we need a China group visa + Tibet permit. The group also needs a permit and guide 24/7, and the truck needs some permits. Apparently one of these permits will not be ready by Monday when were we supposed to enter Tibet. Also, the taxi strike yesterday meant that there were some things not yet supplied for the truck. This means we will spend an extra day (tomorrow) in Kathmandu.
After the meeting, many of us went to the Thamel House Restaurant that serves traditional Newari food. Newaris are one of the tribes of Nepal. I had a starter of lentils mixed with several spices. My main dish was a very spicy marinated wild boar.
Fri, Sept 13
I actually slept close to 7 hours last night so I was feeling pretty good on Friday the 13th. Today would be our extra/bonus day in Kathmandu. To date, I had done all the things I had wanted to do in Kathmandu so at first I thought I’d have a chill out day – maybe go buy a day pass to one of the hotels with a pool. Or maybe go to the mall and watch a movie? Luckily, the only western movies were the One Direction documentary and Jobs – and I had no interest in either, so I needed to find an alternative plan. I had read about the interesting Hindu Temple of Gokarna Mahadev and saw that there was a walking trail from there to a monetary, so I convinced 2 others to join me for a day of temples, monasteries, and walking in the countryside.
We caught a taxi to Gokarna Mahadev which at first glance was a very small temple. This was not like the other temples we had visited – with ticket takers and harassment to provide guide services. This was a working Hindu temple. The carvings at this temple were great – dozens of Hindu gods carved at situated around the temple. The river ran by the temple and there were ceremonies taking place in the sacred river. But perhaps most fascinating of all was the tree that had grown over a small temple outside.
From there, we headed up the hill thru a small forest. This took us to a ridge line where we could see several Buddhist monasteries. We stopped at Pullhari Monetary. This wasn’t even in the guidebooks but it was fantastic! Beautiful gardens and a beautiful building. It was so peaceful up there we didn’t want to leave.
There was a small cafe outside where we had samosas and so other fried spicy snacks. My lunch costed about 20 cents. We continued along the ridgeline with views of the Himalayan foothills and rice terraces. The second, and most beautiful monetary we came upon was closed to visitors. The third monetary was called Kopan and appeared to be a retreat for westerners who want to take courses in Buddhist topics
We continued hiking down the hill to Boudanath Stupa which I had visited earlier in the week. It was even nicer this time since the sun was making it very photogenic.
We caught a taxi back to the hotel where eventually everyone from our tour congregated on the rooftop terrace to have a few before dinner drinks. Most of the group was going to a steakhouse, but a couple of us opted for some more local fare and went back to the restaurant that the group ate the first night. I got the Chili Buffalo Fried dish which was local buffalo (more like a water buffalo as opposed to the
After dinner, we went to the supermarket to pick up a few last minute items – snacks, toiletries, etc. We went back to the hotel and packed as we are departing tomorrow.