BootsnAll Travel Network

Kathmandu and Pokhara

My trip itinerary was purposefully arranged to help me adjust to traveling in less developed countries and to practice traveling skills like using buses and getting around. Besides Fiji and Easter Island, which are very small and speak Engligh, I started out in developed nations. I then moved on to China which is sort of a midway nation. Traveling here is a bit more of a challenge due to the language barrier. English is probably spoken the least here of any regularly traveled Asian nation. Nepal is my first foray into a true developing nation. Outside of the Thamel tourist ghetto, Kathmandu lacks a lot of infrastructure. A lot of English is spoken here, though, so it’s fairly easy to get around despite the fact that many of the streets have no names in English or Nepali. Directions are neighborhood- and landmark-based.

Kathmandu is still in many ways a medieval city thrust into the modern age. The streets are vary narrow and are often still dirt or rocky paths even in the heart of downtown. There are modern roads through some parts of the city. These ultra small roads would be back alleys in other cities. Here they are packed with motorcycles, old cars, and bicycles. They meander here and there with no apparent regard for the straight line. The city is dusty and polluted. There are no trash cans anywhere so trash is often left anywhere on the street. Many residences are comprised of narrow crumbling tenaments and workshops often set around a central courtyard with a Hindu shrine or temple in the middle. Nepal is the last Hindu kingdom on Earth. In the workshops, you can watch people creating goods and crafts using old hand tools and few modern machines.

I stayed in Thamel. Thamel has become the tourist area of Kathmandu. It is a neighborhood full of the same narrow streets, but it is a bit more kept up. It is full of stores, restaurants, bars, and hotels set in narrow shuttered buildings. The buildings often hide gardens. In a way it reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The power goes out quite a lot here (also like Louisiana) and many of the rooms have candles. My hotel was next to the Crazy Girl Dance Bar which meant I often went to sleep to the sounds of techno. I got a fan put in my room which masked the sound along with my earplugs.

My first day in Kathmandu was a business day. I ran errands like getting my hair cut and mailing some items home. I then moved to the Prince Guest House where Colin was staying. Colin is a Scottish man working in IT. I met him through the same website that I met Ivone. We plan to do the Annapurna Circuit together. In the afternoon, Colin and I decided to do a little embassy hopping. I needed to go the US embasssy to get more pages added to my passport. (All these full page visas deplete the available pages quickly). It took about 20 minutes and was free. While I waited, I acted as a witness for a lady who wanted to import a dog to the US. We then walked to the Thai embassy as Colin needed to get a visa. It was closed though.

My second day in Nepal was devoted to sightseeing. I started out doing the Lonely Planet city walk alone. I soon attached myself to a British lady and Dutch man also doing the walk. Walking alone seemed to attract a never ending stream of people trying to be my guide (for pay) or offering to sell me hashish (like marijuana). Though it is illegal here, there are people selling it everywhere. They often approach you like they are going to whisper sweet nothings in your ear and proclaim what they are selling. It’s like being in a “Just Say No” commercial. The tour ended in Durbar Square after going through many narrow streets and templed courtyards. Durbar Square is one of the main social centers of Kathamandu. It was the sight of the Old Royal Palace used by the Mala kings until Nepal was conquered and unified under the Shah Dynasty (family currently on the throne) from Gorkha (source of British Gurka troops). Foreigners have had to pay 200 rupees to enter the square. The square is full of temples and monuments including the home of the Kumari. The Kumari is considered to be a living goddess. She is a prepubescent girl who meets certain physical and mental characteristics. She holds this position until her first period and then a new Kumari is chosen. A large portion of the square was taken up by a martial championship that was going on between India and Nepal. We ended our tour on Freak Street. Freak Street was the old Thamel. Its official name is Jochne, but took on its nickname during the 1960’s. It was an end destination for the innumerable hippies that traveled overland from Europe to Asia seeking “enlightenment” usually with the help of hashish. Today it is a pale shadow with some old hotels and cheap shops. I did see one old hippie. While walking on the street we met what must have been about a five- or six-year-old boy. He invited us into his house. He lived on the top floor of a very narrow tenament. I had to bend nearly double to go up the rickety wooden stairs. The apartement was one small room with a curtain for a door and a dividing curtain in the room. It was shared by two ladies and three children who slept on the floor. There was very little in the way of any furniture. One of the ladies was very thin. They appeared to take it all in stride as three big foreigners who couldn’t even stand upright popped in to say hello as if this happens everyday (maybe it does). We only stayed a few minutes. We were accompanied down the stairs by the boy and his sister. I bought them some candy at a shop for their trouble.

I split up from my group and started walking back to Thamel via New Road which is the main and more modern shopping area of Kathmandu. I ended up near Ratna Park which a large park full of people flying kites and playing cricket. I helped some of the little kids get their homemade kites in the air. I then went over to a very crowded market with an outside book area. The English books here were cheaper than Thamel, so I decided to try an experiment. In Thamel you can trade and buy English books. If you buy a book you will get half your money back when you finish it. I bought a book for 100 rupees and wanted to see if I could make a profit in Thamel. After my book purchase, I made my way back to Thamel first stopping at a folk concert celebrating the upcoming Dasain Hindu Festival. At first someone told me it was a Maoist gathering, but I figured Communist guerilla fighters usually don’t sing and dance to Indian pop and he must be mistaken. Once back in Thamel, I tried to get rid of my book. I only found one shop that would take it and only if I bought a book. Supposedly my book was an odd size and hard to sell. You learn something everyday. He gave me a 150 rupee credit with which I bought a 350 rupee book. As I was interested in the book and it was fairly short, I finished it that night before going to bed.

My last day in Kathmandu was a fairly easy one. Colin and I went to one of the trekking shops and stocked up on trekking gear. I only bought a 70L pack for 1500 rupees but he had to buy lots of gear. The gear is normally locally made fakes with popular trekking brand names sewn on. Despite this, the quality is actually quite good and prices reasonable unlike China. In China you can pull the threads out by hand. I then went back to the shop where I had bought my book and traded it back in for 175 rupees. My two-day effort yielded me a profit of 25 rupees for my trouble (Woohoo!!!). Next time I will buy a properly sized book. The remainder of the day was spent working on the blog and doing some short walks around Kathmandu. That evening, Colin and I stopped at the front desk to pick up Pokhara bus tickets. They tried to raise the price on us from 400 to 450 rupees which wasn’t what we agreed to. I refused to pay them the higher price, and they gave me the tickets for the original price. They had tried to pull a similar stunt on me earlier saying that the room was actually 500 rupees a night instead of 400 after I had paid them. Once again I had to stand my ground and got a room for 400. There are still some sights around Kathmandu that I want to see, but I will be back before I leave the country.

We got up early the next morning and went to the tourist bus stand which is actually not just for tourists and is used by everyone. We put our luggage on the bus roof and boarded the bus. The seats were comfortable but lacking in leg room. Our hotel had told me the bus was air conditioned but the only air conditioning came from the open windows. (It’s still very hot in Kathmandu). The bus took about 6 or 7 hours to do the 208 kilometer trip including lunch stops. We first had to climb out of the Kathmandu Valley and then go along mountain roads before descending to Pokhara. We did not have a place picked out to stay, but this did not pose a problem. The bus was mobbed with touts advertising hotel rooms as soon as we got off the bus. We decided to go with one man who offered to pay our taxi fare and give us a double room with a television and hot water for 300 rupees a night which Colin and I split. We went with him, and everything was as advertised. The hotel was off the main strip and was very quiet. A nice change after Thamel. The room was spacious, very clean and had two comfortable beds. There is also a puppy and a cat running around outside for that extra homey feeling. They have a dog that growls at you and wags his tail at the same time as you pet him?????.

Pokhara is the second largest town in Nepal. It sits on a lake called Fewa Tal along which the tourist area is laid out. It is somewhat like Thamel in that it is a never ending row of guesthouses, trekking shops, restaurants, and travel agencies. It reminds me of being in a chase scene in a cartoon. You swear you see the same table and chair whooshing by over and over again as you run. The town is popular for its Himalayan views which reflect off the lake on a calm day. Unfortunately it has been so cloudy that we have only seen the mountains once. Unlike Kathmandu which is overun with stray dogs, Pokhara is ruled by a mixed cow and water buffalo herd. There are about 8-10 animals in this herd. These huge animals walk around poking their heads in shops and sprawling out on the sidewalks in the afternoon to nap. They are very used to people and tend to ignore cars and people. You can pet them, slap their rears, whatever, and they just give you a “go away” look. Three have just walked by the Internet cafe, and one is staring at me right now as I type about them.

Our first afternoon in town was spent at the Annapurna Conservation Permit Office getting the 2000 rupee permits needed for the walk. The national park used to be named after King Mahendra, but in the current attempt to marginalize the royal house his name was scratched out and the word “national” was written in its place. We spent the evening watching the History Channel. It has been months since I have actually seen an English channel that wasn’t spouting meaningless propaganda and slush stories.

Our first full day was spent seeing the sights of Pokhara. We walked to Devi’s Falls. The falls are at the spot where the local river plunges into an underground cave. The falls are named for a Swiss woman named Miss Devi’s who was killed in the falls after bathing there in 1968. We then hiked through some rice fields to get to the path leading to the World Peace Pagoda. It was built on top of a mountain by the lake, by the Japanese. From here one can sometimes get good views of the Himalayas (when there are no clouds) and good views of the whole town. We were joined by an 11-year-old boy name Sanjay. He walked with us the whole way. I knew he would expect us to pay him as I am sure he thought he was acting as our guide. He informed me that he was skipping school, and he wanted to be a doctor. When I pointed out the contradiction, he seemed to suffer a momentary lapse in his English language skills. As we walked up the steep path to the pagoda in the heat, my thoughts wandered on such topics as why world peace couldn’t be achieved at a lower elevation. Once at the pagoda, we stared at the view for a while and then decided to leave. As I expected Sanjay wanted money, I didn’t mind giving him some as he did lead us up there. We gave him 45 rupees. Colin and I decided to take a boat back across the lake to get back to town as opposed to walking all the way back the way we had come. Along the way we met a Tibetan man who lived in a refugee village near Pokhara. He had come here as a child after the Chinese invasion. He tried to sell us some jewelry, but we declined. At the boat launch we bough a 170 rupee ticket for the boat ride across. The boat was a rowboat. The boatman gave me a paddle as soon as I entered the boat. I proceeded to “help” him paddle us across the lake. I did most of the work. I soon noticed that no other paying customers were paddling in other boats. It was good exercise anyway. We spent the evening walking around town. We got a flyer inviting us to a Psychadelic Trance Dance Party at the Funky Buddha Bar. We decided to go have a look. We finally found the bar after going down some small alleyways, but it was deserted. The restaurant we ate in that evening was featuring a Bollywood movie. As we walked in, the leading man was slapping a woman to Batman sound effects (minus the bubbles saying Blam and Bonk). The woman not liking this broke into a dance number involving her dancing in the monsoon wearing quasi-futuristic clothing. A little while later the man (sporting a mullet) joined about 50 other mulleted men in a dance number that involved lots of synchronized hip thrusts. I, for the most part, was at a loss to figure out the plot.

Today I am making final preparations for my hike. I have to do some grocery shopping and get more money from the bank as there are no ATMs on the circuit. Tomorrow Colin and I have a five-hour bus ride to Besisahar where the hike starts. It will probably take about 20-25 days to do the hike. I am not sure if I will have access to email or not so it may be a while for the next update.


Change: I thought China was bad about not having change. Nepal is an order of magnitude worse. Their largest bill is a 1000 note (15 US dollars). It is the only note that ATM’s will give. You can’t spend it at all. Hardly anyone will take it, and when they do, it is only after much reservation. For the hike, I went to the bank to break all of my 1000’s into 500’s which are still hard to get rid of. My money belt is stuffed. I have to carry the 700 or so dollars that I need for the trek in $7 note equivalents.

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5 Responses to “Kathmandu and Pokhara”

  1. peggy sue Says:

    I have read all of your posts. I enjoy them so much. These stories are as close as I will get to theses places, since your Uncle Steve says he will never get on a plane. I am glad everything is going so good for you, Barry. take care and have fun!

  2. Chris Phillips Says:

    Barry, I work with your brother-in-law Jon. He told me to stop by your site as my wife and I are heading to Australia and New Zealand soon. I think we have to decide between north or south island New Zealand due to timing and budget. I really want to see the glowworms, so we are leaning toward north island. We like seeing nature and non-touristy areas (big cities are occasionally ok, though). Being the world traveler you are, in your opinion are we making a mistake by choosing north over south? Thanks, and I have enjoyed the reading.

  3. Joe Coury Says:

    I finally know someone that’s been to Kathmandu! Good luck on your hiking adventure. Be safe…

  4. Tyson Hall Says:

    Long time – no see! It’s been a long time since Easter Island. You’ve put together a great diary along the way! Have fun on your hiking trip and be careful.

  5. Posted from United States United States
  6. Gashwin Says:

    Hey Barry … enjoy Nepal. Let me know your Indian itinerary, so I can see about hooking you up with some people.

    And guess what, one of my peeps is the new governor of your home state! How about that! 🙂

  7. Posted from United States United States

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