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Written by Peter Smith   
Sunday, 19 April 2009 20:06
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Day 46 : Monday 5th November - Kathmando
 

Because of the horrendous journey yesterday, today’s start is scheduled for 11.00am. I’ve developed my second bout of Delhi belly and didn't improve the situation with the beer last night but I needed it. The breakfast although good took a good hour to be served, speed not in the Nepalese gene pack. I sat in the shade looking at the beautiful mountainous scenery doing heavy breathing exercises every time I got a stomach cramp.

The journey to Kathmandu which took well over four hours with the traffic congestion in the city, made last nights effort look positively stupid. We were heading up a mountainside road full of potholes, mad Nepalese lorry drivers, at least three over turned lorries and a drop of three or four hundred feet into the river below.

On our first glimpse of the legendary city it looked like all the stinking, over-populated, poverty stricken holes we'd been through in India. The hotel looked better from the inside than the outside but our room worse so far. It was a box of a hole with a double bed that sloped down to the headboard even though the floor was flat, a dirty bathroom with no door lock and bad lighting that made everything look worse. Instead of kicking up a fuss we rushed off to eat with Barry who'd been here a couple of days and was raving about the place. It didn’t seem appropriate to spoil his image of the place. It was only later that I found out he wasn’t staying in our hotel. He later admitted their hotel was cleaner and surprisingly cheaper.

The bar he recommended was good as was the food but the live band were exceptional especially the singer, lead and bass guitarists. After an hour or two we decided to move bars and headed off into the night and the maze of streets. Unfortunately I had to rush back to our hotel to use the toilet. I’d obviously been feeding my Delhi belly but when we came out we couldn't find the rest of the group and had to abandon the evening much to Anne’s annoyance. I agreed to go and have a coffee in a quaint little coffee shop. No sooner had we received our drinks and the staff started to turn the lights out, close everything down and lock the doors. We were in no doubt they wanted us out. Rather bad practice for a business. Nothing left to do but head back to the dingy room and sleep.

Day 47: Tuesday 6th November - Kathmando
 

As promised the flight to Everest went a head at 5.00am and the tired but happy group returned about 10.00am and went straight back to bed contented. Anne and myself had declined the free flight but now regret it. I had visions of flying in some patched up Russian piece of junk but not at all the planes looked very modern. I hadn't realized, at this point, that the trip to Everest base camp was cancelled; so much for the Ozbus' blurb about 'a once in a lifetime opportunity'. I thought we going to base camp and then returning to India and Darjeeling. Things are beginning to turn pear shape: we don't have the time they said to see these great sites and the journey times allowed between are ridiculous. Poor Jaenpol he looks knackered every night. We were supposed do the journey from Varanasi to Kathmandu in one day and it took 16 hours to an unscheduled stop which was still four and half hours away.

Our first impression of the accommodation last night was pretty accurate but it did not take into account the water feature. On second reflection the room was crap and dingy, the bed hard but the water feature an horrendously noisy series of buckets with holes outside the only window. When the first shower or water usage started at about 5.00am in the morning it started gushing and making a rattling noise that made sleep impossible.

Besides this we didn't rise until late morning because we were both spaced out after the horrendous drive yesterday and so had a late breakfast and then went to explore the area around our hotel. Managed to buy a Lumix battery for the camera but it nearly cost as much as back home but two silk inner sleeping liners were only a third of the Sheffield price.

we made our way back to the hotel to checkout an arranged three hour bus tour of the city. It was important that we were not to spend most of the time on the bus and the guide promised us that most of the time would be walking. I'm to glad to say his word was better than the two in London. The bus was needed to take us to our first venue the Monkey Temple which is back out of the city.

This has been a temple for two thousand years and as the name suggests has monkeys by the score. I was quite pleased to see them because the guide said they sometimes don't come out when it's not sunny and it was very dull although not cold. Besides, the monkeys there were not the real pests; these were the street sellers or entrepreneurial beggars who hung around in groups just like the apes. As Anne was in negotiation with a woman selling more bracelets for the girls (our daughters) one of the monkeys, unknown to me until it landed, placed an empty can of something squarely on my head much to the delight of two young girls in front of me who found it incredibly amusing.

The actual temple is very hard to describe, the buildings were mainly of wood and in need of serious renovation and was devalued by all the street sellers who completely outnumbered the animals and who, with the exception of the can throwing incident, left us alone.

The trip into the old part of Kathmandu was more interesting. No sooner had we left the coach and we were surrounded by street sellers. I have had a problem with street sellers or entrepreneurial beggars as I call them ever since starting the trip. They come up to me and shove their wares in my face and quote some ridiculous price. I know I should ignore them and not give them any facial contact but I can’t help saying something; to me it is polite but to them it is contact and leads to them pestering me more and then me eventually losing my temper. But the king of all beggars lives in old Kathmandu and if his patter was correct that he makes the flutes, the beautifully carved wooden flutes he sells then he was also an artisan. I made the terrible mistake of asking him to play one of his instruments and although he only managed a dozen notes it was enough for him to believe that I had committed myself to buying one of his creations. I attempted to explain that we were backpacking and really couldn’t carry such a large heavy instrument but he either didn't understand or didn't want to.

Our first stop in the old area was a very interesting old temple with wooden carvings of erotic figures. For some unknown reason, at least to me, young couples sat underneath the erotic freeze kissing and cuddling seemingly oblivious to the wooden antics above their heads. As we made our way away from the wooden porno I first caught sight of the flute seller from hell. After his virtuoso of a dozen notes he gave me a price of only 3500 rupees. I explained to him that I only wanted to hear what the instrument sounded like and had no intention of buying one because it was too heavy to carry. To him, I suspect with his poor grasp of the English language, this meant I was some shrewd business negotiator.

We went to see the living goddess. She was chosen at the age of 5 after various rituals to test her character. Her feet were never allowed to touch the ground in case she cut herself and shed blood. Once she reached menstruation she was no longer pure and therefore could no longer be the goddess and a new one was found. She was only allowed 13 public appearances. After being the goddess she was destined to be a spinster for the rest of her life. No self-respecting Nepalese lad would want to marry a goddess. It would be difficult trying to please someone who had grown up with their feet off the ground. Once a day, around 4.00pm, she made a momentary appearance at a small window in the courtyard of the old palace. Before she looked out of her prison cell, two chaperones surveyed the courtyard for camera toting visitors and plain clothe guards approached those who had not heeded all the signs stating 'No Photographs'.

We arrived too early and were taken by our guide round the various street stalls. At each venue my flute toting friend appeared each time with a new lower price. He followed me around the temple of naughty nudes, waited outside the old courtyard as we checked the time of the goddess' appearance, sat patiently as we had drinks and ice cream in a café and weaved in and out of the crowds down the packed streets between each venue. Eventually our guide approached a tourist policeman and he and his flutes were taken away. At this point he was quoting 600 rupees and Anne was pleading with me to buy it and free him and us from the turmoil. I have to say I felt so sorry for him at this point that I was tempted to follow them and pay him.

The goddess eventually appeared after a couple of Japanese tourists' were made to put their cameras away. To me she looked sad and lonely and I was glad to leave the courtyard and join the throngs of people outside. I would like to say her sad image haunted me for hours, days or weeks but in fact it didn't last minutes because as I stepped out through the large old wooden door flute man jumped on me with his latest and cheapest offer yet: 500 rupees. I have to say, what sympathy I had dissipated instantly and I screamed at him 'please fuck off'. He replied '400 rupees, handmade by me'. He followed me all the way back to the bus and made his last offer as we drove away. He was very persistent following me for over three hours and consistent dropping his price in 500 rupee units each chance he got. I do regret not giving such a craftsman the money he so deserved to continue his trade even though at least three other sellers approached me showing similar flutes they also claimed they'd made.

In the evening we were taken to a restaurant come cultural centre for a night of traditional food, music and dance. Although I enjoyed the food and the performances it was very much staged managed for tourists. The highlight of the evening for me was the rice based liquor which was very pleasant but disliked by everyone but Anne, John and myself. I had about 11 glasses which is probably why I enjoyed the whole evening. Also the young ladies dancing were very attractive.

 
Day 48: Wednesday 7th November 
Kathmandu to Darjeeling via Hotel Avocado
 
 

Although today's itinerary does says Kathmandu to Darjeeling there's no chance, whatsoever, of us making it. The experience of Varanasi to Kathmandu seems to have sunk in. Today's journey is 200 kilometres longer and so we intend driving until dark and then either free camping or finding a hotel. We have had to abandon the drive and trek outside Kathmandu and of course the trip to Everest Base Camp which was advertised as the highlight of the whole journey and the chance of a lifetime according to Ozbus blurb. Now, along with Mac and Mas, we all realise that the blurb meant nothing. It was just a way of getting bums on seats. Only eighteen of the thirty seven are now heading for today's destination, the others have gone off to do their own thing. Mas, and Mac left us in Delhi as soon as it was confirmed we were flying from Calcutta. They're now in Tibet. Dave, who suddenly turned up in Kathmandu, is now waiting for a flight home. John, Das, Jim, Barry, Paul, Geof, Kate and Caroline are staying in Kathmandu to bungee jump, water raft and paraglide before flying to Calcutta to rejoin us. Mas and Mac are rejoining in Bangkok.

The journey back down the road we came up was just as spectacular and this time we saw the lower section we missed two days ago in the dark; here the road is perched high above the beautiful river many feet below. We had a prepared lunch in a roadside café in an idyllic setting overlooking the river. Amazingly the owner did not seem to object to 21 people sitting at his tables and chairs eating their packed lunches. He even helped to clean up some of the mess. It would not happen in UK. We spent 4 hours retracing out journey back down towards the border before turning to follow the foothills on our left that lead to Darjeeling.

As we drive along I make another observation which is probably obvious to everyone else but not me. I have already remarked earlier in India that I saw a sign for the latest Royal Enfield bike and the place is scattered with Massey Ferguson tractors and Morris cars. Well I've suddenly realised that the Indian Sub Continent is an who's who of British products. Today while heading across Nepal I've seen adverts for Lifeboy soap, Lux washing powder and Pepsodent toothpaste. Looking at the standard of living along this route I don't think mums here will 'wonder where the yellow went' when their kids brush their teeth with you know who.

I've also noticed another unpleasant side effect to keeping a blog, to accompany the aching elbows, wrists, finger joints and eye strain from trying to focus on a screen and keyboard that's bouncing up and down from the movement of the bus, and that is a constant feeling of nausea. I first thought it was linked to Delhi belly but now realise it's a kind of travel sickness. When I just sit and look at the stunning countryside the sickness goes away. I also have to spend longer at the keyboard for less output and it's harder to find a new angle and easier just to sit and watch India go by.

The countryside around this lower part of Nepal is very different to the mountainous region obviously but has a quaint beauty to recommend it. We have journeyed for a few hours along a pretty poor road lined with lovely thatched huts sitting among palm tree groves. Constantly overshadowing everything are the forested hills, just visible through the haze and mist and a life source feeding the communities with an abundant supply of water which eventually seems to reach them from pipes by the roadside. I've just passed a man washing his car with a kind of power hose which seemed to come straight out of the hillside. On the lower part of the road is an enormous dried up river bed which must be very impressive in the Monsoon period. On the other side of this wide stony bed more forested hills lead all the way to the setting Sun on the far silhouetted horizon. The wide expansive stony river bed is alive with figures and their trucks harvesting this season's deposits presumably to be broken down further for construction and road repair. Laying by the road, having created a large deep scar through the forest, are very large boulders, smooth and round from their journey down the hillside and just waiting for next years rains and pastures new.

As darkness began to take hold talk of free camping died and hotel suggestions developed thanks mainly to Sue who'd found an attractive sounding Hotel Avocado which came highly recommended in her Lonely Planet. After travelling up and down the main street of the town we found ourselves outside the hotel. As Leighton rushed off to find out availability the area outside went into darkness as the headlights of the bus for some unknown reason cut-out. Leighton came back with tales of gloom about the hotel which had gone into serious decline in the years since Sue's book was published but the adjoining hotel was available. Our room was excellent, very large with big double bed, clean bathroom and large windows looking out over a large grassed area.

Dinner was arranged and consisted of rice and two types of curry, chicken and vegetable washed down with copious amounts of beer. All in all this was a good ending to a long but beautiful scenic day on the road.

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 April 2009 20:23