Stuck in Kathmandu

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
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Trip End Jun 14, 2003


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Wednesday, April 16, 2003

We first arrived in Kathmandu what seemed like an eternity ago on 16th April and now nearly five weeks later we are still here having only just got our Indian visa in order to leave. The Indian Embassy appears set up to prepare you for India with a simple visa issuing process having numerous, unnecessary steps and queue after queue after queue. It also did not help that twice we visited the embassy it was closed - once for Good Friday and the other for Buddha's birthday (2547th). In total it took us 6 visits and over 5 weeks to finally be able to leave! How much we are looking forward to India, especially since our time there has now been cut short and the temperature is around 44 degrees - nice!

Still there is plenty to do in Kathmandu and the infrastructure of the country means that where ever you visit you always seem to end up back there. That also means travelling numerous times on the same main highway, which loops around the valley causing near misses at every turn, not helped by a strange Nepali road law which states that you have to pass another vehicle only on a blind bend or hill with your horn blasting for all to hear. Still we made it in one piece.

We stayed in Thamel; full of backpackers, the whole of Israel, the odd hippie, and plenty of decent restaurants and cheap accomodation. It is a vibrant area of the city, very unlike the rest of Kathmandu, except for the constant car and tuk-tuk horns. The old part of town is completely different; full of narrow streets, markets, temples and something interesting at every turn. Most impressive is Durbar (or Palace) Square, containing the old palace and temples, some of which date back to the 12th century. Worth a visit is the Swayambhunath Temple, known as the Monkey temple which has great views over the city. Close by is Patan, packed full of beautiful temples and another Royal Palace and Square, again with many fine examples of the fantastic Newari architecture. The Patan Museum is also well worth a visit.

It also did not help that when we arrived in the city, the students were rioting (armed with bricks and anything else that could be thrown). The police kept things in order although the shops and restaurants of Thamel were sometimes forced to close their shutters for fear of rampaging youths. Still don't let that put you off coming!! It is a fantastic country and the last thing the locals want is to scare more tourists away. We did however escape a number of times from the hustle, bustle and pollution of Kathmandu. Pokhara, the second city, is an altogether laid back place, set right on the peaceful Phewa Tak Lake, and perfect for wasting a day or three.

Simon also rafted down the tremendous Bhote Kosi river (river of Tibet), a fast flowing, steep river packed full of grade 3 and 4 rapids. The boat managed to capsize at one point sending the whole team into the freezing water. Somehow through a series of simple commands (including 'get down!!')we weaved our way through the rocks and rapids. It was great fun, and there we met two great French chaps, Olivier and Louis. In the mean time, Jo was relaxing in the nearby resort, still recovering from the excersion of the trek.

In the far south of the country is the Royal Chitwan National Park, the centre of massive hunting trips by British Royals during the early part of the 20th century. In one hunt of 11 days, they killed 39 tigers and 18 rhinos. Now the park is obviously protected and slowly the number of animals is growing. Before the 1950's, the park was rife with malaria although the local Tharu people have an immunity, some say because of their heavy drinking!! We saw an excellent range of animals both on foot, canoe and on top of an elephant. The highlight was seeing the beautiful one-horned rhino up close, although during the walk, a nearby rhino forced us to take refuge up a tree. We also enjoyed bathing with the elephants and getting soaked in the process.

What better way to end our time in Nepal than with a Mountain Flight. It took us two attempts to go, having been cancelled off the first flight to make room for a group of Indians. Instead, a few days later we took the 6.45am flight across Kathmandu Valley and high into the beautiful Himalayas. The view was stunning, the mountains looking postcard perfect in the early morning sun. The highlight was seeing Mount Everest (8848m) towering above everything - it was quite an experience. Nepal has certainly left its mark with us both. It is a beautiful country, packed with things to see and do and extremely friendly and genuine people.
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