One week isn't enough!
03.04.2010 24 °C
Up until this point traveling on buses, albeit for 10 hours at a time, has been fairly painless. Varanasi to Nepal was not such an experience. The first leg of 11 hours to the Nepalese border was made worse for me due to a cold I'd contracted somehow and so I sat cooped up in a small hot bus with aches and a slight fever. Luckily I was on a tourist bus and so my apprehensions about being four to a seat with rare toilet stops was alleviated somewhat seeing as the tourist fare extends a better service. By the time we reached the border I was feeling pretty bad. We had to then battle through crowds of rickshaw's offering to take us 2 minutes up the road to immigration and battle through a load of touts lying about various 'necessary' detours we should make before having to find our own way to the border. Our bus driver couldn't really speak English and left us all totally confused as to where we needed to go. We made it to the other side eventually (see half-arsed photo's when they go up) and made our way passed various nice accommodations to find the hotel our group had paid for in the price of our bus ticket (Hotel Munmar). We found it. This is now real backpacking as opposed to blog 2 & 3's glorious hotels. Our 'hotel' was hidden behind some rubble, we were shown to our room through a garage, or 'restaurant' as they called it, up 2 flights of stairs that were crumbling in a way that would make my dad (chartered surveyor) reel in shock, to the end of a corridor where the wall just disappeared. Our room was surrounded by 'outside'. Hilarious! The room itself was...er... spacious and the less said about the adjourning bathroom the better, but at least we had one eh! Thanks to feeling under the weather I got some sleep regardless of what can only be described as a fist full of fun going on outside with the staff talking loudly all night. And also the dog fights. And random generator noise. Oh and mosquito's buzzing in my ears. 5:00am sharp... Wakey Wakey! Time for leg 2 to Kathmandu.
After a hearty breakfast of soggy toast (one slice butter, one slice jam) and unfinished coffee we climbed aboard a public bus where tourists have the pleasure of paying extra for luggage. It makes sense, there are no rickshaws here so the stealing of money has to occur somehow. This bus had a lot less leg room but Mark, the resourceful wonder, managed to bank us the best seats on there. As a particularly small person I felt guilty, for about 5 minutes. The journey was slow and windy around the mountains of the Kathmandu Valley, but the scenery was beautiful, the weather was cooler and it felt really good to be in a new country.
We finally got to Kathmandu. Thinking the cramped conditions were over Mark and I then for some inexplicable reason decided to share a small taxi with 5 other people to the central area called Thamel for a further 20 minutes. Good grief my tiny legs ached, not sure how the leggier people of this world cope with travel. Well done you. And THANK GOODNESS we'd pre-booked a hotel as hunting for shelter donning back pack after said journey would have been horrendous. Nepal is much cheaper than India and Hotel Blue Horizon was great value for money. It was nice to stay somewhere affordable that boasts Wi Fi and a generator for the daily power cuts, especially as Mark fell ill and it rained a few nights so we could chill in doors without having to find electricity in a far off restaurant.
Our second day was spent looking around Thamel which is the main area for tourists. It therefore has it's good and bad points. There are so many out door trekking shops and people pushing services on you because many people come here to reach Everest Base Camp. There are also many shops selling curly shoes and excitingly coloured bangles. On the flip side there is lots to do on our door step and we have frequented many a roof top bar for nights of live music. In addition there are actual supermarkets. Sainsbury's they are not, but they do provide a pleasing selection of cheap toiletries and 10p crisps. Base camp is something I will do in time but not something I can achieve right now with my current budget and time frame of 7 days. So instead of the 17 day trek we decided, without question, that we would take a flight around Everest the next morning.
We woke at 5am (still not used to it) to catch our 6:30 flight. After 5 minutes in the air we were above the clouds and we could see the Himalayas peeping through them. Amazing. We followed the mountain profile on a map we were given and the stewardess was constantly walking through the 20 seater plane telling passengers what we were looking at. She then approached us individually to ask if we wanted to go into the cockpit for a better look. Hell yes. I'd just made my way there when the pilot turned to me and pointed out two peaks in the distance: the one on the left being Mount Everest. Clouds were rolling off the top of Everest and to think people have actually climbed that high is astounding. I wanna go! I don't think my less than proficient indoor climbing experience covers it though. I took a photo or 12 and went back to my seat very happy that I'd made the effort to get up that morning. This was easily the highlight of this whole trip so far after Hotel Munmar.
We spent the rest of the week looking around the old city and venturing to nearby townships by bus. The public bus system here is cheap and easy to use and it's not unusual to see groups of people sitting in the roof rack or in deed the odd goat. I managed to stick to sitting in doors. I visited villages with panoramic views of Kathmandu Valley but unfortunately the only time the Himalaya's are visible is in October when the mists clear.
After only a week here I've seen and done quite a bit and there's still reason to come back and do even more. Aside from the obvious draw of the Himalaya's, the tourist facing people of Kathmandu are more peaceful and friendly compared with the Indians I've met, the price of everything is cheaper, there are an abundance of out door activities to do and you can get a steak and wine dinner without feeling like a Hari Krishna might start chanting in your general direction.
One thing the Nepalese don't do so well is transport. The first paragraph is now redundant. I am about to embark on a 24 hour bus ride on bumpy roads from Kathmandu to India. I am going to do this with the very real prospect that I may have to return to Kathmandu to get a re-entry stamp from the Indian consulate as a friend said last night that we may need one and I can't get there in the short space of time I have today before I leave because it's the weekend. Every traveler has different information about the conditions of the multiple entry visa. We had it confirmed that we could visit Nepal for a few days without problem from an official in Varanasi but now we have received conflicting information. The official in Varanasi wasn't particularly helpful and didn't explain much to us other than say 'we're fine'. So I may be back to Nepal. We shall see.