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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

What can a cat do in Kathmandu?

NEPAL | Sunday, 24 October 2010 | Views [1229]

What to do in Kathmandu?

BLOP!  We've landed once more in the 'bubble', dear friends.  For those of you that live in lands with no 'bubble', let us quickly examine what a 'bubble' is.  It is an area that defies logic, culture and even temporal constraints.  It behaves on its own, with a unique micro-climate of culture and society.  Outside could be anything at all, but the bubble sees little of that.  In SEAsia the latin name for this phenomenon, as it is known to men and women of science is bubblus twatpackerus.  Typical things to find inside bubblus twatpackerus include beer-related T-shirts, fisherman's trousers, reggae bars populated entirely by whitefolk, TinTin goods and banana pancakes.  Regional specialities for this area include elephant tea-cosies, Gurkha Kukri knifes and several square kilometres of hiking gear, all 110% genuine.  The bubble is a soul-destroyingly boring place t spend any prolonged length of time in but can (whisper it) be a very useful place too, especially when one wants a cheeky pizza.  Thamel in Kathmandu is the biggest real bubble we've seen since Cochin, Kerala.  It's not a particularly good or bad one, either.  We relish the easy souvenier shopping - every bubble store sells exactly the same handmade goods that come from the same Chinese factory.  We've spent five months seeing the same hats sold in seven different countries as 'local products'.  We look forward to the decent selection of food and resign ourselves to singing Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab' at every local who attempts to engage us in conversation.

Of course, we are in Kathmandu in order to get away from India without a flight and Nepal provides a bridge between India and the neighbours she enjoys such strained relations with.  In fact, the border crossing to Nepal proves as easy as the way out looks daunting, we simply stroll across a bridge lined with shops almost forgetting to get entry stamps on our way in.  The onward journey then threatens to be a problem as bus after bus turns out to be fully booked due to the festival season.  Eventually, after many exhortations to fly, we wheedle our way onto the last seats of a bus scheduled to leave at four against the best advice of well, everyone.  A few potholes later and we find out why the buses are so hated.  A few hours later and we discover our seats cannot recline and there is nowhere to rest our heads.  There is no aircon, no windows open because people have a justified fear of falling out.  Hindi filmi music plays all night long at an unfeasibly loud blast through the speakers, distorted almost beyond recognition.  The aisle is filled wih both baggage and people and it's 35 degrees.  On the plus side, there are no animals, it's a mere 14 hours and we do get to see sunrise on the himalayas as this is not a sleeper bus, just an overnight.

Sights in Kathmandu are all of the religious type, this being an important city for both Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus.  Of the two, it's the Buddhists who win the battle for the athiest's hearts.  Their structures are elegant and well maintained, even on the face of monkey provocation.  The hindu holy shrine is predictably filth ridden and forbidden.  It still provides a shock though, we were trapped behind a funeral and saw close up the grief and sorrow of distraught relatives.  Eventually, we managed to cut awkwardly through the crowd, apologising constantly until we were free of the whole wretched affair.  The buddhist stupas provide none of this unpleasantness, instead offering us good cafes in which to sit with enormous pots of Nepali tea and gaze out at the prayer-flag festooned stupas which soar majestically into the sky, adorned with the all seeing eyes of the buddha at their bases.  Pictures and access are not problems and everywhere seems very exotic.  A lot of it brings back memories of Japanese buddhism and inspires great confidence in the upcoming Tibet trip.  A little different was the Garden of Dreams, an Austrian-designed oasis in the midst of Kathmandu.  It was quiet, calm and green.  Durbar square is a hotch-potch of temples and statues, the highlight being a huge ugly Kali festooned with heads and so forth.  Gruesome and dramatic.  A 14 year old holy girl lives in one of the temples, or so they say, but she's out when we come a calling, so it's off to the hippie street for tea.

Tea in Nepal comes in two sizes, enormous and gi-bloody-gantic.  There's certainly no danger of dehydration here, especially since we chomp through at least 18 litres of water alone between us in the four days.  It's all to prepare us as best as possible for the upcoming journey across the roof of the world.  The food is pretty poor here, apart from the odd exception bad Indian and inauthentic western food are the main choices.  Tibetan momos are delicious, steamed gyoza-style dumplings filled with yummy things like spinach and cheese.  Fusion!  Yak is the mainstay, producing all the dairy and a lot of the meat for the city.  The meat is stringy and tough but not bad, the cheese pretty good, flavourful and fatty.  Yak milk is a little rich, as is the butter.  We had Tibetan hot beer - two English we shared a table with recommended it for us on our last night.  We were a little worried when they ordered other things instead but it was nice, not unlike mulled wine in the end, the hot water boiling the barley that was liberally floating around.  Two meals stood out, the pizza at XXXXX and the buffet at the Kaiser Cafe in the garden of dreams.  We stuffed ourselves silly at the latter, getting our full money's worth out of the budget-busting meal.  Like a real dream, it had OLIVES and good cheese, good bread and absolutely excellent barbequed meat, especially the beef we'd been denied for so long in India.

The tibet trip is still looking good.  We've got the passports into the China embassy, just waiting for them to come back the day before we set out!  Not ideal but we have confidence in the company.  They've been open and honest with us so far and haven't pulled any punches.  Most of the time they've answered our questions fully and haven't been evasive or afraid to say that they don't know.  The train tickets seem rather overpriced but they say they have to pay bribes to get people to book them in Lhasa as it's not possible outside and we don't really have a choice at any rate.  The only bad thing about the idea of Tibet is that it casts a long shadow over Kathmandu, not allowing us to see it fully as a destination in its own right.

Shopping is meant to be very good in Kathmandu but it's pretty poor in truth.  Every shop is selling very very similiar knock-off or stolen hiking gear.  It's not that cheap and the quality varies enormously.  However, there are also some very fun coats and jumpers etc which look a bit techno/trancey and it's no surprise to find they often sell export to northern Europe.  We equip ourselves with good quality non-official hiking gear and some silly clothes with massive hoods and sleeves and wrap up warm for the high mountains which are on their way...there you go, it's just impossible not to think ahead.

If you're going:

Kaiser cafe is expensive but the food is western-quality

Roadhouse pizza is pretty good

Don't expect good Nepali food

Try to stay in Boudha if you want a quieter time - Thamel is pretty bleh

It's not a treasure trove of very cheap hiking gear - China is.

There are a fair few fairtrade shops but they're mainly for an older crowd

If you want funky trance gear there's loads of it.

Rum doodle bar is best avoided if you're not in a group

You can refill water bottles and get eco-advice from KEEP

Tashi Delek are the only company that actually runs scheduled tours to Tibet - all others go through them and are thus more expensive.


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