Saturday, 30 August 2008


The flight from sweaty Varanasi was short but sweet. It was a case of climb up to 35000 feet count to 30 and then descend. Taxing to a standstill the pilot informed the self loading luggage that it was 28oc outside. Now, that’s as hot as London usually gets but for me it was nice and cool.
Getting the visa was the most enjoyable visa getting experience I’ve ever had. Usually when you get a visa (on arrival or before departure) there is always the thought at the back of your mind that they will say no. Plus you always get looked at like they’re the headmaster and you’ve been a very naughty 10 year old. At Kathmandu airport the lady looked a little surprised when I asked what the longest visa available was.
“90 days” was the answer “but it will cost you $100” she said.
“Sweet” was my reply as I slapped down a crisp $100 bill onto the counter.
I get the feeling that most people don’t plan on staying that long.

I got a free taxi to the hotel (always haggle with a smile on your face and lie about wanting to go some place else) and for NR400 I’ve got a nice quiet room on the 1st floor at the Hotel Encounter Nepal (this works out to be £3.20). They have even put a couple of pigeons near my open window to remind me of my life back in London, now that’s what I call attention to detail!

In the evening, finally over the illness that would of left a lesser man at death’s door I had a couple of Everest beers and some damn fine pasta with a proper cheese sauce!!!!


Adjacent to the hotel is a small Tibetan temple. At around 06:30 cymbals and drums were crashed and banged in that distinctly Tibetan way. I couldn’t decide which was a better way to wake up, this, or hearing an Imam calling the faithful to prayer.
Following a super hot shower (it’s been a while since I had one of those) I took my legs of the leash and went for a bimble. After about half an hour of walking I came to the following conclusions about Kathmandu:

1. Its cleaner than anywhere I’ve been in India
2. People don’t loudly clear their throats and then gob the results onto the pavement
3. It doesn’t have the smell of an open sewer
4. The drug dealers are pussies

I’m staying in the Thamel area of the city, it’s the main gringo hangout, full of cheap hotels, souvenir shops, travel and trekking agencies, shops selling all the trekking gear you would need, restaurants and bars. Now the city of Kathmandu lies in the Kathmandu valley and as with most valleys it’s surrounded by mountains. That means that there is pretty much no where for the air pollution to go. Still I’ve walked in worse, LA, Mexico City and Beijing spring to mind. Being a smoker my lungs are used to dealing with airborne
carcinogenic particles, so gave it no further thought.

My room has cable tv; this meant that I was able to watch the Moto GP, most of Everton v Portsmouth and all of Chelsea v Tottenham. I think you can work out where I spent the afternoon and early evening.

I am still uming and erring about doing a multi day trek. Part of me (90%) would love to spend 7 to 21 days wandering in the Himalayas miles from the nearest road. The depressingly sensible part of me (10%) keeps reminding me that its been 2 years since my hip last popped out and the next time is well overdue…and don’t even get me started on my knees!

Things that I have learnt on my travels number 184: a Momo, which is a Nepalese dumpling isn’t what I expected.

As it’s my 1st night in the city I went on a mini pub crawl. I started in the “Irish pub” which as everyone knows is always crap! (Sorry Elaine) After a beer and some momos I crossed the road and entered Sam’s bar. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that on some base level I scare white people. (Just ask my parents: why did they that day cross the road to avoid walking past me?) As I walked in, the flickering candles illuminated intrigue on the faces of the locals and with the westerners…well, you know when you are watching a nature program about lions and you see the look on a wildebeest’s face when it finally realises that from among the herd it’s the “one” the lions are going after…

Leaving the bar and heading back to the hotel down the dimly lit streets a drug pusher came up to me selling his wares. I used the old favourite of “third times the charm”.

“Hey man, would you like some hash?” he asked
“No thanks” was my reply.
After about 15 seconds he came back
“How about some brown sugar man! It’s really sweet; you know what I’m saying”
“Sorry but I don’t do drugs so I am really not interested” I responded.
Another small pause followed and he came up to me a third time. Before he could even speak I said
“If you ever speak to me again I’m going to punch you in the face, drag you from your rickshaw and stomp on your head till I get bored. Now…f**k off”

As I said…3rd times the charm!


Following another cool night (you have no idea how nice that feels) I was up, eager and almost keen. I went for a walk to the locally named monkey temple. Its official name is the Swayambhunath Temple but because of all the monkeys around the locals call it that instead. They could quite easily of called it the pigeon temple but if they had, would anybody go there?
The temple is perched on a small rocky outcrop a few kilometres from the hotel. I could have walked along the road but went through the houses instead. I definitely surprised a few locals along the way.

To get to the temple you have to climb 365 steps. The closer to the top you get the steeper and narrower the steps became. At the top you are met by a large pair of eyes painted upon a column which is mounted on top of a large stupa. Walking around the stupa in a clockwise direction (which you should always do) there are small shrines attached to it with prayer wheels covering the rest of the circumference. Various other temples fill the area along with several houses, most of which have shops on the ground floor. As I walked around the constant flapping of the myriad of prayer flags in the wind was oddly soothing. Like most days in Nepal there was a festival today and nearby a small group of people were off to one side preparing and cooking the faithful lunch. Group onion peeling is a bizarre spectator sport but as beach volleyball is on TV it doesn’t seem that weird after all.


Q: what’s better than getting out of bed out 08:30 in Kathmandu?

A: 09:30 of course!

Today, there was another festival in Kathmandu and it was taking place in Durbar square. The guy who runs the hotel’s travel desk offered to drive me there in his taxi. This is the same guy who last night was trying to sell me a 21 day trek to Everest base camp. So when I said that I would rather walk to the square I really couldn’t understand the disbelief that spread across his face.

The festival today was all about the ladies. It seemed that everyone was in the square. They come here to give offerings at a certain temple for the wellbeing and health of their husbands, lucky men! They were all in their best red saris, dressed up to the nines and dripping in gold. It’s at times like this that I know I’m going to end up a “dirty old man”.
An hour later I just had to leave because I was trying to find “the crossroads” and make a deal with the devil himself…self control be damned!

Walking back towards my hotel in the Thamel area I spied a massage centre. Now as my back, knees, hip (only one this time) and various other parts of my body were feeling worn out I splashed NR1400 on the counter and for the next 90 minutes succumbed to the pleasure of a shiatsu massage. The person doing the massage was clicking more of their bones than mine…is this supposed to happen?

Walking a little more lightly and maybe slightly taller I ended up in the oasis that is the hotel garden. Now was the time to get serious! About two hours later I had the plan for my travels around Nepal. I’m mostly going to be travelling around the middle bit of it for 40 or 50 days before returning to Kathmandu. Once back in the city I will know if my body is able to go on a 2 to 3 week trek, possibly to Everest base camp. Most other outdoor trips and activities are run from Kathmandu so I will be able to do it all from here.

I found out today that I have been left £10,000 in my gran’s will. Instead of using the money sensibly I will instead be wasting it on mountain flights, helicopter rides, live aboard dive boats, the occasional 5 star hotel and possibly riding a Harley from Chicago to LA along Route 66. I will of course need to get a bike license at some point, am I able to get a fake one in Bangkok?

(Getting picky: this evening I went to the famous Rum doodles bar, no I have never heard of it either. I ordered a mixed green salad and macaroni cheese. The last time I checked, carrots are orange, tomatoes are red and penne isn’t macaroni! Still it was a mighty fine feast that I only just about finished. I’m not one for leaving a cheese based product uneaten)


I’ve sorted out the bus times for the 1st instalment of travelling around Nepal, which I‘ll be doing on Friday or Saturday. Worryingly, the guide book recommends that you try and avoid the buses because they keep rolling down the sides of mountains and bursting into flames. Oh well, can’t be helped!


I had thought that I wouldn’t be adding anything more to the blog of Kathmandu. That all I would be doing is just chilling out and relaxing for two days…nah!

I had tea and toast for breakfast today, I’m not sure but I think that it was the 1st time that I have ever had that combination(obviously this is of no real interest to anyone but I thought I would mention it anyway).

Today I decided to go to the Bodha stupa, I could have left it till my next time in this city but felt that there was no time like the present.

It’s about a 6 km walk from the hotel by the most direct route, so I’ll say it was about 8 or 9 km’s instead. You all should by now know how I walk around! Why people take taxis is beyond me, you miss out on so much. I stumbled (literally, the roads aren’t the best here) into a local market, imagine Tesco but outside based around a square with no refrigeration. Mind you at least you know your chicken is fresh.

The approach to the stupa is via a noisy, busy and pollution filled main road. It’s almost hidden from view as there is only a smallish entrance. The stupa itself is about 10 times larger than the one at the monkey temple and sits proudly in a circular courtyard full of shops, cafes, hotels and temples. It’s a little bit of Tibet in Nepal…nice! Around the time of the new or full moon (I’ve forgotten which) it becomes full of believers of the Buddhist faith performing a ritual. Every time they walk around the stupa they build up credit in the karma section of life. I had a chat with a local monk and he mentioned to do it 108 times was a very good thing indeed. Not having all day, or being a Buddhist I gave it a miss. I think walking around it 3 times was enough for one already as blessed as me!

Upon leaving the stupa I decided to walk back to the hotel by a different route. This was fairly easy to do as I had no real idea of the route I took to the stupa. I was walking a while along narrow unpaved back streets that twisted and turned around the houses when the need for a cool drink and a rest felt like a good idea. For the following half an hour or so I was interrogated by a gang of kids, ranging from 3 to 11 years of age. Once again tattoos are a big source of interest as was my ying yang bell, all the while a couple parents looked on, mostly laughing. The questions children ask sometimes leave me at a loss on how to reply!

By the time I got back to the hotel I had the answer to “the question”. No way will I be able to go on a multi day trek! After an hour chilling out I was just about able to get of the bed. The ligaments and tendons that help hold my right hip in place do so but only just.

I have argued my limitations and they are indeed mine.

Come the evening…I was relaxing in a cool open air roof top bar when it started to rain quite heavily. Thankfully the bar has a sliding roof which meant my beer didn’t get watered down. However I would be stuck in here till the rain stopped or the bar closed…more tea vicar!

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