Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

Goodbye Kathmandu and Nepal

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

The day after getting back from Lukla I had the tour of Kathmandu included in my trek package. There was just me and the guide and the taxi driver. We visited the large Hindu temple at Pashupatinath, the Buddhist temple at Boudhanath (claimed to be the largest stupa in the world) and the Monkey temple (claimed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in the world).

My guide, Kumud (which he told me means lotus flower) was a Hindu and pretty much taught me everything I know about Hinduism and Nepal and Kathmandu. Apparently the population of Nepal is about 26 million, 1.5 million people live in the Kathmandu valley, 1.3 million of them in Kathmandu itself and the other 200,000 in two other cities. Agriculture is the main source of employment and income in the country.

In adition to the 26 million humans there are 33 million gods in Nepal, one inside every person and another 7 million lurking around for good measure. The big gods at least get loads of sex as and when they feel like it. Apparently head god Shiva is currently shacked up in the deer park next to the Pashupatinath temple getting loads of deer sex. There’s plenty of phallic symbolism all over the temple.

In the temple complex there is an old peoples’ home conveniently located right above the funeral pyre points on the western bank of the Bagmati river. There are 2 sets of funeral pyre points, one for the “ordinary” people and a second set for the “important” people (royalty, prime ministers etc.). There were several cremations taking place on the ordinary set. These funeral pyre points are the most wanted in the city and the going rate is NPR2000 per cremation, firewood not included. Golden monkeys roam around freely, hawkers try to sell you assorted tat, beggars sit with any deformed limbs on special display and hold out a hand or cup as you pass. And people come to pray or just wander around and take in the sights. Admission is free for locals (possibly all Hindus) and NPR 500 (a little under £5) for foreigners. There are some photos in my RTW2011 set at Flickr.

Boudhanath claims to be the largest Buddhist stupa in the world, but Kumud said he was told by another visitor that there may be a larger one in Vietnam. My homework is to check this claim and email him the answer! In a classic example of mixed measures the blurb for the temple describes the stupa as 120 feet in diameter and 43 metres in height. I can’t complain having been using both feet and metres for elevations in my trek posts. There was a bunch of dancers on one side of the stupa shooting a scene for a Bollywood type movie. Again admission is free for locals and NPR 150 for foreigners. Photos at Flickr.

Our final stop of the morning was the Monkey Temple, correctly called Swayanabath, on a hill on the western edge of Kathmandu. This is the oldest stupa in the world and home to lots of golden monkeys. I got the impression there were more monkeys at Pashupatinath. Access to the site is via 365 steps up one side of the hill, or for the lazy or those in a hurry there is an entrance and car park at the end of a road up the side of the hill. Admission is free for locals, NPR 200 for foreigners. On a neighbouring hill is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the world. On a clear day you’d get a good view over the city and along the Kathmandu valley. It was a bit hazy when we were there. Golden eagles soared above and around the hill. There are photos at Flickr.

Yesterday was an admin day and today I’m off to Bangkok via Delhi and lots more sitting around before meeting Hannah tomorrow.

Everest Base Camp trek part 1

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Well the adventure started last Friday. It began with not enough sleep on Thursday night and an easy ride to the airport in the morning. The theme for the first three days was mostly sitting around or sleeping. Starting with sitting around waiting to get on the plane. Five minutes after takeoff I was asleep and stayed that way for five hours. I awoke somewhere above the eastern edge of the Caspian sea and having missed dinner fell asleep again. An hour later hunger forced me out of my seat to raid the “tuckshop” by the galley.

We arrived in Delhi on time at 04:47 local and I did another seven hours sitting around waiting for my flight to Kathmandu, where I arrived in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Getting through Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu was easy since I already had my visa and didn’t need to queue up to get one. Baggage reclaim was a little confusing; 3 conveyors but no indication of which flight’s bags were on which. Close inspection of the baggage tags on actual luggage items found me the right conveyor and my bag came by about a minute later. Mine is usually the last one to appear so this made a nice change.

The company I booked my trek with sent an agent and a taxi to meet me. That first taxi ride made quite an impression. The area around the airport is obviously one of the poorer areas in the city. The traffic is fairly manic. It’s a bit like Buenos Aires – he who honks loudest and longest claims the right of way, at least in his own mind. Nominally they drive on the left but in reality any bit of space will do. Bicycles and mopeds and motorbikes mix it up with cars, trucks and vans. Probably the only thing that prevents total carnage is that the volume of traffic is fairly light. If the number of vehicles doubled I’m sure there would be trouble. Lots of the pedestrians and motorbike riders had red painted faces. Apparently it was a special holiday in Nepal on Saturday and to celebrate people go about with painted faces, crack eggs over each other’s heads and enjoy ridiculously loud music. The clubs on Ibiza could learn a thing or two about LOUD sound systems from these people. Obviously there are no “environmental protection” busy bodies to worry about.

After an hour or so sitting around at the hotel the agent returned and led me through the maze of streets in the Thamel district to the company office to pay the balance for my trek and do the paperwork formalities. All trekkers in Nepal need a TIMS pass; authorisation from the government to trek or climb mountains. Afterwards the agent took me to an outdoor gear shop to hire a down jacket and sleeping bag – about US$19 total for both items for 13 nights. Finally he returned me to my hotel. I was too exhausted to go exploring and find somewhere novel for dinner so ate in the hotel. I tried what was billed as a local Nepali dish. It was basically curry and rice.

At six o’clock on Sunday morning my guide arrived with a taxi and we reversed the route back to the airport. Even at this time on a Sunday morning there were people, lots of people out and about, both pedestrians and traffic. I saw a couple of groups practising Tai Chi or something similar on a football pitch sized patch of dirt, street traders selling anything and everything, rickety wood and bamboo scaffolding supporting substantial concrete constructions, cows roaming the streets, kamikaze motorbike riders but again no accidents.

The domestic terminal was very basic and utterly chaotic. I was more than a little pleased to have a local to take care of the checkin formalities. And then it was more waiting. About nine hours in fact, before they announced the cancellation of our flight to Lukla. It had been delayed from 07:30 due to bad weather at Lukla and finally they cancelled it. I had spoken to an English couple early in the afternoon who were at the airport for the third consecutive day, waiting for the weather to clear at Lukla. The time left to them for their trek was rapidly diminishing and they wouldn’t be able to do all of the route they had planned. Thank goodness for my Kindle; I had finished one book, read a whole other one, and started on another while listening to a shouty shouty woman calling dozens of other flights in almost unintelligible English before finally announcing ours was cancelled. So sorry, go away, come back tomorrow.

The taxi ride back to the hotel was a repeat of the others. It’s interesting that motorbike drivers obviously have to wear a helmet, but pillion passengers don’t. I spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and alleys of Thamel. There are outdoor gear shops everywhere. They outnumber the money exchanges about two to one. The prices are very cheap and the knock-off branded goods are supposedly good enough for a couple of seasons use. There is every other kind of shop you can imagine and hundreds of food outlets. You can see some examples in my photostream at Flickr. I headed back to the hotel just as the rain started and as I walked through the lobby a thunderstorm kicked off, causing much flickering of the lights. There are twice daily scheduled power cuts in Kathmandu and the evening one started about ten minutes after the storm. My hotel has it’s own generator which runs during the nightly power outage. Once that kicked in the lights stopped flickering.

I was up in time for breakfast at six o’clock again on Monday and by quarter past was wondering where the guide and taxi had got to. A call to the office revealed they weren’t coming until eight o’clock. Would have been nice if they’d told me that! Again on the way to the airport there were a few near misses and then the sitting around started again.

Fortunately the weather at Lukla was OK today and our flight was only delayed until 10:30. We were on board the 14 seat twin at 10:45 and 30 minutes later landed on the seriously steep uphill runway 06. For any pilots who have flown into Elstree, it’s a good deal steeper than runway 25 there. Takeoffs at Lukla are presumably always on the downhill runway 24 since there’s a great big cliff at the end of 06. That’ll be something to look forward to. Nervous passengers need not apply!

So today I’ve actually been trekking. Not very far and not for very long but trekking nonetheless. It was mostly level today on the way to Phadking but it the difference between the uphill bits and the level/downhill bits was very noticeable. According to our plane’s altimeter Kathmandu is at 4400 feet above sea level. The air is noticeably thinner that at sea level; bags of crisps (chips to the Americans) are blown up to double their size at sea level. The altimeter said Lukla is at 9100 feet above sea level making the air even thinner and walking much more strenuous than most of us are used to. Well today was OK. My guide says tomorrow we have about three hours on the level and two hours of uphill to get to Namche. It was glorious sunny day today, Weather Underground predicted a high of 3 degrees, AccuWeather claimed it would be 29 degrees. How they manage to be so different is a mystery. It felt about 20 degrees. Now the sun has gone down the temperature is dropping rapidly and I’ll soon be testing my rented down jacket on the stroll to the nearest internet cafe.

The going rate for internet access here is 10NPR per minute, roughly £6 per hour. Presumably it will get rarer and more expensive as the trail gets closer to Base Camp. I’m not expecting to be able to get online again after the two night stop at Namche Bazaar tomorrow.

The photos of the trek so far are also at Flickr. Or they will be when I find a fast enough connection to upload them in a reasonable amount of time.

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go 🙂

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?