Saturday, 10 December 2011


Without the luxury of reliable access to internet and power, I wasn't able to keep this blog updated during our actual trip - so this is a retrospective account of our 18 days in Nepal, plus the consequent 10 days in Hong Kong.

Getting fleeced by a swarm of guys demanding exorbitant tips for touching your bag outside Kathmandu Airport wasn't a great start to our trip, nor a fantastic first impression of Nepal, but there you go, that's what happens sometimes when you visit developing countries. At least things could only improve from then on!

My first impressions of the city from the late night drive to Annapurna Hotel, our accommodation for the next two nights, was that it was a lot like India - but quieter. As expected, many roads were in pretty average condition, narrow and littered with ruts and potholes. Once we arrived we turned in quickly for the night. As we lay in bed I marvelled at the silence, despite the fact our window faced toward the street, a stark contrast to previous trips with city stays - particularly Delhi.

The next morning we didn't waste much time in signing up to a 16 day trek package offered by the travel agency referred by our hotel. We knew we would save money by organising more stuff manually ourselves, but frankly it was still relatively cheap and we didn't really want to waste time haggling with half a dozen places to get what we knew we wanted anyway.

The original plan was to fly to Lukla, do the Everest Base Camp walk, and then go through Chola Pass to check out the glacial lakes at Gokyo before rejoining the main track - thus a loop instead of one way in/out - but in the end we got lazy and got back a bit early, though I'll get to that a bit later.

With our trek and flight tickets to Lukla booked, we decided to take some time to sightsee around the city. After completely failing to find a supposed shopping area pointed out to us on a map, we gave up and took a taxi to Durbar Square, the plazas around the old royal palace buildings, and a UNESCO site!

Upon arriving, it wasn't long before we were accosted by a stream of wannabe-tour guides offering their services, no doubt for some sort of tip at the end. One in particular seemed fixated on wanting to show us some 'erotic paintings', obviously it's successfully lured travellers past, and even though we turned him down immediately he couldn't stop repeating the word 'erotic paintings' like a mantra until we were out of earshot.

Hungry and getting annoyed, we sought refuge in lunch at a rooftop restaurant, one of several in the area. Being out of breath after climbing the six flights of stairs to the place didn't inspire confidence in how we would manage on the trek, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

The view from the rooftop restaurant

Instead of ordering our own meals, we decided to share three dishes - fried rice, potatoes and momos. Little did we know that these would become overly familiar over the next two weeks as we cycled around iterations of the same items for every lunch and dinner. At least in Kathmandu we were able to sample the 'buff momos' (made of what I assumed to be buffalo meat), which were actually quite tasty!

Buffalo dumplings, actually quite tasty

Apart from Durbar Square, the only other 'attraction' of note which we visited was 'The Garden of Dreams', which turned out to be a pleasant, though small, park with an entrance fee - presumably to keep out the riff-raff. After a slow stroll around the entire area (which took about 5 minutes), our plans for afternoon tea at the cafe were foiled by the fact that apparently the staff had apparently all suddenly gone on strike, despite the fact there were obviously still other customers there in the middle of their drinks.

Inside 'The Garden of Dreams'

Back in Thamel, the main tourist centre where we were staying, we browsed the shops for some hats and gloves for the trek, where we found that the local specialty seemed to be hats in the shape of animals. After trying on a couple (and probably annoying a few shopkeepers, though no doubt they were used to tourists laughing at each other while wearing ridiculous hats) we finally settled on a polar bear for me, a beaver for James and a psychedelic monkey for Mark - you'll see in the later photos.

We also discovered that as popular as outdoor brands like North Face and Mountain Hardwear were in Nepal, pirated versions of their products were just as popular. We ended up with some NZ$5 'North Face' drink bottles for the trek, along with some 'Columbia' gloves. Mark also hired a 'Mountain Hardwear' down jacket for the trek, which for all intents and purposes kept him pretty warm the whole time, so you really do have to wonder sometimes whether the legitimate stuff is proportionately more worth it, really!

For dinner we decided to try Yeti Cafe & Restaurant, apparently highly rated on TripAdvisor and only around the corner from our hotel. Alas, the food was pretty disappointing, though at least I got to sample some Nepali wine, while James and Mark had the Everest beer - apparently it wasn't as bad as Quilmes (the brew ubiquitous in Argentina).

Trying the local brew

That night I had my first abortive attempt at a hot shower - basically no matter how long I had any tap on, what came out would be icy cold. Later I would realise it was due to the fact the mains power was off, and while the lights were on due to a generator, they didn't bother with the hot water heater during that time.

The next morning would be an early start to catch the 6am flight to Lukla and begin our trek toward Everest Base Camp!

No comments:

Post a Comment