Who Turned Out The Lights

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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Flag of Nepal  ,
Thursday, December 27, 2012

DH (where the D stands for Don't Stop The Music) was keen on finding a place in our immediate geographic neighbourhood that was likely to have a raucous New Years Eve (this from a woman who hasn't seen midnight in over ten years??). Kathmandu seemed to fit the bill- it was something of a legendary centre for hippie wanna-be's back in the 70's and more recently a backpackers party place. We had been in Nepal some years ago and had really enjoyed the cool vibe presented by Kathmandu so we made our flight arrangements and headed to the airport after picking up a couple of party hats and kazoos. 

Having misplaced my stash of visa photos (because of the significant crush she has on me, I suspect Carol C stole them), the first order of business at the Kathmandu airport was to sit for a mini photo portrait which resulted in the single worst photo I've ever taken (the kind of photo that automatically gets you pulled aside by immigration officers as an obvious drug user). Fortunately the chaotic line was filled with a plethora of rough looking characters (and that was just the women) so we were just waved through. In the baggage area it became obvious why the Nepalese immigration folks weren't interested in us despite my criminal photo- we were caught in the middle of a couple of flights from the UAE with Nepalese citizens returning from work assignments in that area with gift inventories that would shame Santa Claus. Officers were busy digging through massive bags of unrecognizable paraphernalia. 

Next up was one of the scarier taxi rides into town due in no small measure to a city-wide power outage (Kathmandu roads are challenging enough in bright daylight, with working traffic signals, and a reliable vehicle- the only distinction between our cab and a child's go-cart was the periodically working engine). After numerous false arrivals, our driver left us in the middle of decrepit neighbourhood while he ran around trying to find anybody who knew where our hotel was located (difficult since most of the area citizens were blind drunk). It turns out that he had parked directly underneath the small sign advertising the hotel so all we had to do was look up. In addition to the daily power outages (can you call it an 'outage' if the power is off more than it's on?) the other feature of Nepalese hotels was that the best rooms were on the top floors despite absolutely no elevators (probably a good idea with the power problems) so it was never really a great result to get the "best room in the house".
  
After a year and a half in tropical and sub-tropical climes, we spent a night shivering under a load of blankets- I did drop off, but for some strange reason DH was overly distracted by the throwing up noises coming from the street below?? Did I mention that I gave her 4 luxury days in the Maldives?

And in one of the better examples of "you can never go back" we eventually stumbled across a restaurant that we had seen as a food oasis some years ago after 4 stomach-cramping weeks in India. The hard-to-swallow food had us immediately asking how the Kathmandu restaurants compensate for the lack of reliable refrigeration due to the power outages. And after asking around, it became apparent that the best thing to do in Kathmandu for New Years Eve was to go somewhere else. The planned celebration consisted of a handful of firecrackers, warm beer, and no electricity, so we booked a flight to Pokhara which has a street festival happening.

In addition to loading up on warmer clothing, we did retrace some of our steps in Kathmandu- the magical Durbar Square in particular was a must-do while we were here.The literal meaning of Durbar Square is a place of palaces and it's located in the old city and has heritage buildings representing four kingdoms (Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur), built over centuries. The complex has 50 temples and is distributed in two quadrangles of the Durbar Square. Wandering around secures you a number of good stories in addition to admiring the awe inspiring architecture (which also  includes some pretty graphic carvings on the roof struts for Jen N). A stone inscription outside the old royal palace is in fifteen languages and legend states that if all the 15 are read, milk would spring from the middle of stone tablet (not sure why you'd want milk from a stone, but outside of the touts of Marrakesh, I'm not sure there's too many people who can read 15 languages anyway). Kumari Ghar is a palace where a Royal Kumari selected from several candidate Kumaris- Kumari Devi, is the tradition of worshiping young pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy. In Nepal the selection process for her is very rigorous. Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from an injury are also causes for her to revert to common status. The current Royal Kumari, Matina Shakya, aged seven, was installed in October 2008 by the Maoist government that replaced the monarchy.

On our last night the room heater almost worked (when power is provided, it is only rated to 170W while the heater/air conditioner requires 220- what a mess) but the city went dark again just as the frost on the window was melting. I'm not sure why, but I was enormously discouraged by what we saw and experienced in Kathmandu- this is a very special city but the crumbling infrastructure and water and power shortages suggest that, unlike most of the other Asian destinations we have visited, this is a country headed in the wrong direction in a hurry. 
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Comments

Jen N. on

That's really sad to hear that about Kathmandhu. I'll be heading there in April and now wonder if I have extremely fond memories of it because I went there from India during monsoon season.... On a side note, I think people are starting to get the wrong idea about me from your journal posts. HA!!! :)

CarolC on

Vic I can't believe that you mentioned me taking your visa photos! That was a secret I was keeping from DH, that I am so enthralled with your picture! I keep one in my wallet, one by the bedside table and one in my car! Just don't tell Russ, he thinks he is the only man in my life! :-)

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