07 April 2012

Kathmandu

I have spent a lot of time traveling around South East Asia. Although it is comprised of countries with unique cultures and histories there is a certain sameness to the geography, weather, sights, sounds and smells. It took a long time for me to recognize the sameness, but now that the pages of my passport are filled with the stamps and stickers of its countries I've developed a sense of familiarity and faded awe. With that in mind the newness of Nepal was an exciting prospect. I couldn't wait to once again experience the wonder of an unseen world.

Nepal is a small country nestled between India and China.  A great Nepalese King once described it as a yam between boulders. Despite its pliable and perilous position Nepal has remained untouched--steeped in mystery and mystical intrigue.  It is Hindu. It is Buddhist. It is home to eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world. It is a world away from Thailand and her sister countries.

Trashy
My first stop in Nepal was the capital city of Kathmandu, a place once rumored to be the mythical city of Shangri-la. It ain't Shangri-la. Like all big cities in the third world Kathmandu is a hot mess. Traffic is disorganized and intense. Sewage is a problem. Power outages are a problem. Clean water is a problem. Some locals treat tourists with kindness, openness and a reverse sense of wonder.  Others see tourists as ATM machines that might dispense money for any reason so may as well ask for every reason. These are common themes in the big cities of poor countries. But in each case the cities are unique. When you're there you know that the place you're standing is unlike any other place in the world.  Kathmandu is no exception.

I came to Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka-Kathmandu to gear-up for Everest.  I wanted to see it of course, but with an eye toward the 29,029 ft beast the Nepalese call Sagarmatha (Goddess of the sky) my main concern was buying what I needed to buy, checking and re-rechecking before I began the trek.  Coming from Thailand my cold weather gear consisted of a hoodie I brought from America and hadn't used since. I needed EVERYTHING. The narrow brick streets of Thamel (the backpacker district of Kathmandu)        are a full-service hiking bazaar. Everything you could possibly need is available and available for cheap. After pricing checking at a dozen or more vendors I purchased the majority of my gear from one shop. The owners were great and their prices were more than fair. In addition to the gear I need a TIMs trekking permit, snack food, first aid supplies, and an airline ticket to Lukla, the remote mountain village where the Everest trek begins. (Also, home to the world's most dangerous airport.) It took a day and half to get everything together.

With time to kill we took a sight seeing trip to Durbar Square, a historic area of Kathmandu comprised of temples and palaces of the former Kings. Through a stroke of pure travelers luck we were there to see the Prime Minister of Nepal deliver a speech commemorating Nepal's transition from Monarchy to elected government. The new government has only been in place for five years and after the tumultuous decade preceding it the Nepalese people seem to be very happy with the future of their country.

I am writing this from the garden patio of our hostel. It is called Travelers Home. If you ever find yourself in Kathmandu it's where you should stay. It's one of the better hostels I've stayed in. I may do some sightseeing today, or I may sit here in the sun reading a book and resting my legs for the long trek ahead.



Travelers Home hostel
As you might expect Everest doesn't have Wi-Fi so I won't be able to post any new entries for a couple of weeks, but when I do they will be epic. Sagarmatha here I come!




$1.25 breakfast

Looking like a secret agent on my TIMs application



Radical movie poster



In case you didn't know it was fast







Prime Minister giving a speech in the background

The crew




In Kathmandu $100 will get you all this

Here is my trekking gear in all its glory. It cost me a fraction of it would have cost back home. And best of all everything I bought will continue to be useful once I get to Prague!
Waterproof backpack, Jacket with unzippable fleece lining, boots, trekking pants, fleece pants, thin quick dry pants, thin quick dry shirt, trekking socks, quick dry towel, gloves, beanie, neck guard, water bottles





In Transit

I originally scribbled this entry into a notebook while sipping on a Kingfisher beer at the Delhi Daredevils sports bar in the New Delhi airport.  Scribbled being the operative word, I can barely read my own handwriting.  It's like an accidental secret code.

Anyway, my stay here in Northern India is both short and a helluva lot longer than I would like.  No offense to the New Delhi airport, which is a fine place to catch a plane, but I have to be here, in transit, in limbo for 19 freaking hours.  Yes, practically a day.  They have a hotel here at the airport.  I sauntered up there a few minutes ago thinking I might treat myself.  Then I saw the price tag.  Nope.  Ain't happen.  Teacher Michael doesn't have that much change in his pocket "goin jing a lang-a-ling."

It's around 10pm now and my friends are guarding the sweet spot I staked out on a lounge sofa.  It won't be easy sleeping through Last Call announcements but that's what pills and earplugs are for, right?  The herculean layover I'm on isn't the first of my In Transit trials on my way to Nepal.  The first started two days ago in Surat Thani, Thailand.

Blake, Brittany, Leanne and I left our house and took a 30-minute Tuk Tuk ride to the Surat Thani bus station, where we boarded a bus and settled in for a 12-hour ride to Bangkok.  The bus ride was fairly uneventful, with the exception of the 30-minute span I was panicking because I had take a massive whiz and the bus didn't have a toilet and the driver didn't seem to have any intention of stopping.  He did stop.  Eventually.  And after doing the potty dance all the way to the urinal I emptied my bladder, got back on the bus and pulled my hoodie over my face to go to sleep.

I slept like a baby.  For almost 3 1/2 hours.  The bus arrived in Bangkok at 4:21am.  Bangkok is a fantastic place to be at 4:21am--if you're stupendously drunk.  Sober, barely awake and crawling off a bus, it sucks.

We couldn't check into our guest house until 7am, so we sat at a cafe sipping coffee and listening to drunk boys making last ditch efforts to talk drunk girls into joining them for a nightcap at a quieter, naked-er locale.  The girls listened with amusement.  I listened to the the boys with a permanent wince, thinking, Jesus Christ is that what I sound like?

Blake and I had an appointment at the American Consulate that morning to add additional pages to our passports.  I now have 48 brand spanking new pages to play with.  When I'm done with this passport I'm going to cut out the pages and make a colorful collage to hang on my wall.  It's going to be that beautiful.

I spent the rest of the day reading a book and people watching at Gecko Bar on Rambuttri Rd.  (In my opinion the best people watching spot in Thailand's biggest city.)  That night several friends from Surat met us at the very same location to people watch with beer instead of coffee and a book.  Bangkok is the launching pad for travel around South East Asia and we had friends going in every direction, Burma, Laos, Chiang Mai.  We took advantage of the tourist parade by playing a game that required us to drink every time we saw any of the following:

1) A white person with dreadlocks
2) A creepy old guy walking with a pretty young Thai girl
3) A freakishly tall person (there seemed to be a lot)

Needless to say, many many beers were consumed.  However, with a 19-hour layover on the horizon we called it a night early.  Nobody wanted a hangover with that kind of limbo looming.

The flight from Bangkok to New Delhi was 3 hours.  Tomorrow's flight from Delhi to Kathmandu will take under 2 hours.  The distance between the exotic place that I live and the exotic place that I'm going isn't that far on a global scale.  It can feel like it when you're traveling the tuk tuk, sleeper bus, 19-hour layover way,  but that way is the budget travel way.  You save money by sacrificing time.  And you are happy to do it because you have the time to sacrifice.

I don't need to be back in Surat until the middle of May.  I haven't booked my return flight yet, because I still don't know how I want this trip to end.  Do I spend more time in Nepal?  Do I go to Tibet?  Do I spend a couple of weeks in India?  I don't know.  Time will tell.  But, I do know that I will continue to spend 19-hours in transit if it means I can see just a little bit more of this great big world.

BTW - A Big Mac in India is called a Maharaja Mac and it's made with chicken.
Limbo

Leanne killing time

Brittany