(I didn’t realize that title rhymed when I thought of it. Really, I mean it.)
I almost didn’t make it to Nepal. When King Gyanendra dismissed the parliament and took direct control of the government on February 1, he also shut down the airport and lines of communication out of the country. Between this and the ongoing Maoist insurgency in the kingdom, I started to question the safety (indeed, event he feasibility) of travel there. Before too long, however, things had quietened down a bit, and while all was not back to normal in Nepal, the airport had re-opened, and travel there seemed relatively safe and catching my Thai Airways flight to Kathmandu once again seemed like a reasonable option.
After finishing my writing in Bangkok, I had a quietly pleasant evening, enjoying my last Thai curry and watching a movie at my guesthouse before turning in. (That got done slower than I’d thought, since I stayed up watching Allison play with the Thai kids staying there for a good hour.)
The next morning I woke up nice and early and set about finding my way to the airport. I couldn’t find any private minibuses headed there (they all need to be booked in advance) so I had to settle on the government bus which, while more expensive, was almost empty and had really good air-conditioning (which was desparately needed, even at 07:30.)
This left me with 17 baht for breakfast, making the only option a cheap pad Thai. After gobbling this down I climbed aboard and we were off for the airport. Traffic was horrible for a little while, but we got there without too much trouble. I had a bit of time so I went to the Lufthansa office and changed a couple of my flight dates (I’ll mention again how pleased I am with the Star Alliance RTW ticket. I’ve now changed one of these flights three times and had no hassles at all.)
At 9:45 I boarded the Thai Airways 777 (it was about half empty) and was on my way to Nepal. The flight was uneventful, except, perhaps for the fact that the Thai airways staff seem intent on getting their passengers thoroughly soused on their flights. Over the course of my three hour flight I was presented with two gin and tonics, three glasses of wine and two Singha beers.
It was cloudy for most of the flight, and so I didn’t see much of the himalayas, but the ceiling was high, so I got a couple fo wonderful views of the
Kathmandu valley, then of the sprawling city itself. From the air it looked as though the buildings are packed shoulder to shoulder over the entire area of the city with not a single road separating them. While this wasn’t entirely true I’d soon learn why the city looked that way.
Thankfully I’d started refusing drink refills well before landing and had no trouble obtaining my Nepal tourist visa and collecting my bags.
I’d sworn to myself that I would find my own way into the city and pick a guesthouse without the aid of touts, but when I was offered a free taxi ride into the city (normally 250 rupees, or about US$3.50) for simply looking at a place, I couldn’t help myself.
We wound our way through Kathmandu’s streets. I was delighted and amazed by what I saw. We passed by the big royal palace compound, past ancient looking houses and a long row of barbers plying their trade out on the street near the palace walls.
We turned into what appeared to be a narrow laneway (though I later learned that it was the main street of the tourist area of Thamel) and then into an even more narrow driveway. As it turned out, the guesthouse we arrived at was reasonably priced and very pleasant, so I was happy to set my pack down in a room then head out into the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu.
Before I left the guesthouse I was invited to sit down for a cup of Nepali tea with a couple fo the workers. The fellows I sat with were very friendly and the tea tasted wonderful (a chai-like blend of tea leaves, cloves, cinammon, black pepper and goat’s milk.) I asked them where I could find a shop to buy new trekking boots and they replied “more or less anywhere.”
I hadn’t even made it out of the guesthouse courtyard when I ran into my second novel Nepali experience: rain. As noted before, a few tiny drops on my last day in Bangkok was the first rain I’d felt in almost three months. So excited was I to feel the drops on my head again that I wandered out into the street without even putting up the hood on my raincoat. The rain stopped before too long, leaving the streets bright and clear, but it was still wonderfully refreshing while it lasted.