BootsnAll Travel Network

Getting to Kathmandu

Getting to Kathmandu was fairly exhausting. One of first obstacles of the morning was the blackmarket moneychangers. There were about five of them between the hotel and the restaurant. In China you really don’t get a better rate on the blackmarket, but you can avoid the hassle of using the Bank of China which is exactly what you would expect a Communist Bank to be. Simple operations like changing money involves lots of paperwork, ID’s, and time. We told them we would change money to Nepali rupees after we ate breakfast and paid for the hotel room. The group of five still came into the restaurant with us, and we had to shoo them away. They randomly kept popping in to see if we had finished eating. Finally after eating, I traded my remaining yuan and some US dollars to rupees. (1USD = 64.5 Nepal rupees). After breakfast we hired a minivan to carry us to the Nepal border station which lay about 8 km down a switchbacking road from the Chinese station. Unfortunately we were soon engaged in the local pastime – the traffic jam. The Chinese border office was not yet open, and vehicles were already lined up to get across. Our driver informed us that we should just go stand in line at the border as we would have to go through seperately from the vehicle anyway. We decided to trust this man with our bags as we had hired him through the hotel, and he really couldn’t go anywhere anyway due to the traffic snarl.

After walking the 1/2 kilometer or so to the Chinese border office we encountered a long line of people. This border crossing has become more popular in recent years but the facilities haven’t been upgraded to handle the increase in traffic. At 9:00 am the border opened. All the big trucks and SUV’s in line roared their engines to life gassing everyone in the pedestrian line as we had to line up right next to all these vehicles. This only lasted a short time as most of the vehicles soon turned off their engines after realizing they were going nowhere fast. The pedestrian line also poked along. We soon re-encountered a man trying to sell people rides to Kathmandu. He had come up to us the night before asking if we wanted a ride to Kathmandu. We were noncommital, and he said he would be at the line in the morning. We still never agreed to anything but he said he would wait for us on the Nepal side, and he disappeared. At about 11:30 we made it through customs. For some reason my and Greg’s passport required extra scrutinizing, and we had to wait while our passports were taken to another office. We crossed about 45 minutes before our bags. We sat down and waited. When our van finally made it through the vehicle inspection point, we all hopped in. The driver drove about 200 feet before stopping at yet another traffic jam. Some busses and SUVs were trying to come up the road from the Nepal border. As one side of the road was already blocked by big trucks, no one was going anywhere. Everyone started blowing their horns in an attempt to get the police to come. Eventually one did make an appearance. He turned out to be the man fighting in the street the day before. When he didn’t resolve anything, more horn blowing commenced and more senior looking officials showed up. They finally appeared to come up with a solution. The vehicles that had driven up the narrow switchback were just going to have to go back down backwards. (While all this was going on, Greg and I had gotten out of the vehicle and inspected the massive waterfall whooshing under the road. It was also the local trash dump. We saw a troop of red monkeys look around the trash heap and then run away.) All the vehicles started moving again slowly in big caravan with the leading vehicles driving backwards down the switchback. These vehicles eventually pulled on the sides as they found space. We were then able to go down the very steep, unpaved, rocky road to the Friendship Bridge.

The Friendship Bridge crosses a river which marks the Chinese/Nepali border. As soon as we stepped foot on the bridge our “friend” reappeared and proceeded to try to help us through customs. We first had to once again show the Chinese our passports and then cross the bridge into Kodari (the Nepalese border town). What a difference a river can make. Kodari was full of darkskinned round eyed men and sari clad women. The smell of curry was in the air. We also had to set our watches back 2.25 hours. The town itself really only consisted of a long row of old shanty buildings. We entered the immigration office and filled out the paperwork for our visas. It was really painless and quick to get a 2 month visa (very refreshing after two months of Chinese bureaucracy.) We then had to try to find a lift to Kathmandu (I am still not sure if there was a bus or not). Our “friend” quoted us 5000 rupees for the four of us which we thought was too expensive. Greg and I decided to try on our own. We went out and asked various people we saw sitting around in cars if they would take us to Kathmandu. We finally found a man with a truck who would take us for a slightly cheaper rate. We had also found a German man who wanted to come with us. We finally agreed on 5200 rupees for five people or about $16 a person. Other groups were paying $20 so I felt okay about this. I paid him 3000 rupees up front so that he could buy fuel. As we were about to leave, our “friend” who had been hovering around all this time asked me to pay him for his “help”. I gave him a 100 rupees to make him go away.

Our driver’s name was Orjun Shasta, I think. He spoke some English. He had a wife and two kids in Bhouda, Nepal. Before we left, we had to stop at a print shop and get a tourist only sign made for our car. The Maoist is a communist group in Nepal who recently ended a 10 year Civil War with the government. They are considered a terrorist group by the US government. They were threatening to hold strikes over the fate of the monarchy in Nepal. The Maoist had orginally agreed to allow the people to vote on the issue, but changed their minds and demanded the country be declared a republic immediately. They said they would enact a bandh to force the issue. During bandhs, no traffic can move and businesses are forced to shut. They enforce this through violence often attacking and beating people who violate the strike. The news had reported a possible bandh during that day. The “tourist only” sign was supposed to protect us as they generally leave tourists alone.

We set off down the road continuing down the same valley we had been following since beginning our descent off the Tibetan Plateau. The road as before was a mix of pavement and mud going through small villages. About 10 kilometers down the road, we encounterd the Maoist. They had blocked the road with a bench. They surrounded the vehicle and began speaking to our driver in Nepali. Lots of arguing commenced. They wanted us to pay them to pass. Our driver argued that he had already paid and had a receipt to show it. Yes, a receipt. The Maoist are kind enough to give you a bonafide receipt for paying their extortion demands. They only wanted 50 rupees so we gave it to them so we could go on, and we got another receipt. The country is pretty much lawless outside of the the main cities so you pretty much just have to suck it up and pay. There is no police presence to speak of. We drove on for a little while and was soon surrounded by middle school kids who had set up another roadblock. They started banging on the vehicle. They apparently wanted money for their school. Our driver once again argued with them. This was nice of him. He should have just run over them as their behavior was so bad. We eventually went on without paying. While this was going on, they were having a nice chat with Greg who was riding in the back of the truck. We had extortion in the front and a “where are you from” conversation in the back. After passing them, we stopped for gas and then again for lunch. Lunch was at what appeared to be a friend’s house. We had to pay of course, but we were hungry. They had set out a lunch of rice, potatoes, chicken, and fish. We all passed on the meat as it was cold. Our driver wanted to wait until the sun went down some to continue as he was hot, so we stayed there for over 2 hours. During this time we played with the kids, the dog, the cat, the chickens, and visited with the family in general. I decided to do some sewing as a button had come off my pants. I got out my sewing kit and my little needle and began the arduous task of trying to thread the needle. I hate doing this as it takes me forever. Before I knew it though, one of the small girls had brought out a needle bigger than mine and sewed the button on for me.

We left and drove on to Kathmandu. Our driver kept stopping. He stopped once to take some school kids he knew home and then stayed to visit their parents. He stopped to buy fruit. He stopped to recharge his cell phone. We eventually had enough, and Greg told him that if he stopped again we would start deducting money from his pay. We didn’t encounter anymore resistance. There were a few groups hovering around the roadside. We had to tell our driver don’t stop as everyone just wants money. We arrived at the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel exhausted after the long day. I paid off the driver in US dollars after a long discussion about which exchange rate to use. The Guest House was full so they called the Hotel Buddha for us. Someone came from the hotel to get us. It is a good thing they did as Thamel is a warren of narrow winding streets. It is a midlevel hotel costing about $15 dollars a night for a single room with a queen sized bed and its own bathroom. Greg, Kera, and I went to eat. We decided on a very nice rooftop restaurant. I ordered a set Nepali dinner that consisted of a platter with rice in the middle. It was surrounded by various curries, vegetables and meat. All this for 150 rupees.

It took us a total of about 6.5 hours to make the 120 kilometer trip.

I am going to Pokhara tomorrow after spending three days in Kathmandu. I will recount those adventures in a few days as this article is already really long. After two or three days in Pokhara I will begin my 25 day hike through the Himalayas.


1. Costs: Nepal is a bit cheaper than China. Meals at nice tourist restaurants with well dressed staff will set you back $2-$4 I have been eating in more casual places for about $1-$1.50. Hotel rooms cost about the same as rural China but you get more for your money. I am currently paying $6.00 for my own room with its own bathroom. Really, really nice restaurants with a dozen or more courses will set you back $15-$20.

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2 Responses to “Getting to Kathmandu”

  1. Pam Says:

    Hey Barry – Renee just told me about your Blog yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to read much, but we’ll get caught up. Happy and Safe Travels. Pam & Ted

  2. Preeti Says:

    Interesting Hindi influence on Nepali words: Orjun looks like a twist on Arjun, the 4th or 5th of the 10 Sikh gurus. “Bandh,” if it’s pronounced the way I think it is, literally means “closed.”

  3. Posted from United States United States

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