Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kathmandu? Kathman-DONE it!

The first step to get out of Kuala Terengganu is always flying to Kuala Lumpur - so we are getting used to that. We took an evening flight, intending to stay over in KL and catch the morning flight to Kathmandu.

There is always the choice of two airlines: - Malaysian Airlines (full price, full service airline, landing at KL International Airport with miles of corridors) or Air Asia (low cost airline, landing at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal 'LCCT'). As we often do, we chose Air Asia ... paid extra for luggage (but still cheaper then MAS) and happy to land at LCCT - it's a very compact airport with International and Domestic all in the one building and generally (as airports go) nice and efficient. But we didn't allow for the other cost-cutting measure - Air Asia always uses mobile stairs instead of the tunnel into the airport.

Worried passengers stuck on the misty plane
We landed in KL in the middle of a massive thunderstorm, and the ground staff refused to bring out the stairs because of the lightning, leaving us stranded on the plane for nearly an hour with frustrated passengers, crying children, and the cabin filling with mist from the air-con. They finally let us off at the back of the plane, handing each passenger a huge, opened, red umbrella for the last few metres from the bottom of the steps to the undercover walkway. Just managed to catch a taxi to our hotel before 12 midnight (when the price rises by 50%!).

Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu

As we came down the stairs from the plane in Kathmandu, we were all required to climb aboard a bus (the kind you stand up in) and then they drove us about 50 metres to the entrance hall. Everyone was still chuckling about that as we joined the huge queues for visas ... that's a few hours of my life I won't get back! Slooooooow process, and apparently no way around it.

Tour Guide
As we finally emerged a chap with a beaten-up van grabbed our luggage and assured us he knew where the Shanker Hotel (pronounced 'Sanker') was. To our surprise a young man jumped into the front of our taxi and rode with us, explaining that he works for a crowd called "Mosaic Adventures".

A good place to get a tour guide

We were actually quite pleased to meet him because we had been planning to find out about some tours.

Hotel Shanker
And so our new guide mentioned to us that as the traffic was bad near the airport, we would be taking a back-streets route for the 7 kilometres to Hotel Shanker. Immediately the van dived off the side of the road and we were immediately bouncing across rocks and through muddy potholes amongst dogs, cows and people scurrying about their business beside a slimy-grey rubbish-strewn river, and then following a twisting route through narrow, sometimes all or partly-paved streets full of cars, trucks, motorbikes and pedestrians.

Here are some of the sights (we didn't take any pics in the really rough parts!).

Vege stalls

Family business selling all sorts of things

Pedestrians, motorbikes, rough road

A road divider made of wire between cement bollards - effective enough.

Lots of little shops, and lots of steps

women and children

A cake shop maybe

Bright colours to attract attention

Hand woven materials. Bicycles carrying odd loads.

Electrical system. Advertising. English classes.

Face masks because of the dust.

(Yesss ... reminds us of China in some parts!)

So many times it seemed impossible for vehicles to squeeze past without scraping or bumping - and yet they did, and none of the pedestrians or livestock were damaged.  It's amazing how far 7 km can be at those speeds, and while we were fascinated by the sights and smells, it was a pleasure to reach our hotel after about half an hour.

Shanker Hotel

This magnificent old Hotel (beautifully kept, though) was once a palace.

Our room ...

Room 719

 The courtyard ...
Hotel courtyard

Hotel corridors

The eyes are everywhere ...

Decorations all along hallways etc.

First Day Wander
So on our first day, Mosaic sent a car for us and took us to their office to discuss what we wanted to do. We told Raj that we didn't want to see any temples (yes, really!), and he insisted that we should see maybe just one, so we agreed to that (but obviously this information wasn't passed on to the tour guide). We asked for three days of tours, and he advised us that five places around Kathmandu were worth seeing in those three trips. We paid for a nice car, driver, and a tour guide.

Then we went for a wander by ourselves.

Seller of plasticware. Kids ready for school.
 We saw people selling all sorts of interesting (and brightly coloured) things.

Some sort of large fried food.
 There were foods we had never seen before.

My purple yak wool scarf. (No, not from a purple yak.)
 It was a little bit chilly, so I bought a yak-wool scarf.

Trinkets for the tourists

We came to a square where they insisted that we pay to enter. A young chap attached himself to us, informing us that today was very special because we could actually get to see the 6-year-old girl they call "the Living Goddess". He would not take no for an answer, but finally moved away in dismay when I impressed upon him that I didn't want to see his goddess.
 As always, there were lots of trinkets for the tourist to buy.

Taj bakery!
And then we saw something to remind us of home and family! (grandson Taj)

New Hand Bags!

Back at the hotel, I rummaged through the several little shops that are attached to the hotel.

Every time I had nearly decided he would present something new!
There were so many nice little bags and stuff!

THIS is my bag.

Yeah, this one has an 'Apple' motif on it (unlike the others with Buddhist symbols) and has a pocket that fits my iPad perfectly.

Trips around Kathmandu

First, a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel's "Kailash" dining room. (It used to be a palace, remember?)

White and gold designs in the dining room

Raj, the Mosaic Tours chappie, suggested that we should get up at 4am and head off up int the foothills to catch the sunrise over the distant Himalayas ... we declined, and probably just as well because the murk over and through Kathmandu was as bad as it gets. So we went to some cultural centre first, a chance to see how people live ...

Our guide, Neermul, a keen Hindu, was keen to explain about all of the temples.

Neermul showing us temples

We paused briefly in the explanations for a posed piccie.


 There were people going about their daily business, and constuction/destruction causing dust. This area was unusual with consistent paving underfoot.

People going about their daily business
 In a sunny courtyard they were making ... well like piggy-banks except they weren't piggies. Each one had a neat little slot for inserting coins.

Money boxes
 The little old lady was trying to mend one of the black ones (not yet fired, I guess) with tiny daubs of black clay

Creating the money-pots
 which she was grabbing from the guy with the spinning wheel.

Hand-driven pottery wheel

It's always fascinating to see the children at play in a place like this.

Children in the market place
 We watched this chap using a long stick to get his wheel spinning (just weren't quick enough with the camera) and realised these are not electrically powered.

Making the pots
 Kids on the way to school ... our guide on his phone ...

School kids
 These weird vehicles always fascinated us in China.

pushe-pullyou tractor thingy
It's better than one of those Dutch paintings with people doing all sorts of things.

Everyone doing something

Tiny streets interspersed with sunny courtyards, and everywhere busy busy people.

Narrow streets

And then of course there were (several) temples.

Another temple

And then our guide led us into the "Peacock" paper-making factory.

The Peacock:

The peacock
 There were some workers creating various hand-made papers.

Hand-made paper
 This is the gooey stuff they start with.

Paper goo
But the interesting part was when we had wound right through the building and up a series of tiny staircases, until we found ourselves on the sunny roof-tops.

Rooftop world

There's a whole new city up here on the roof - all over the place there are people involved in all sorts of activities ... enjoying the weak sunshine!

Rooftop balcony
Out on her balcony drying the clothes.
Gardening in pots, drying vegetables.

Rooftop gardening and drying food

Chatting in the sun, drying rice
 You can see the lady laying out her rice to dry.

And further back, these two having a chat in the sunshine.

Staring man
 This chappie didn't move a muscle the whole time we were there.

Still staring
He just kept on staring ... I guess he's seen a tourist or two in his time.

And can you see the tiny person on the horizon?
 We first noticed her because she was dancing, having a great time out there in the sun on the roof!

Dancing girl

 And then we came down from the roof-tops and walked back through the narrow streets.

Vegies to sell

There was a family selling their produce.

 Some kids in school.

Craft for the ederly
A gathering of the elderly making crafts to sell.

 Head for the Hills

So then we got back into our big black car with the 'Tourist Only' sign in the back to head into the foothills and look for some distant mountains.

Just driving up the winding narrow road was an adventure, and there were so many people and vehicles to see on the way.

Terraced fields
The hillsides, of course, are terraced for farming. The rice straw is carefully stacked to use as animal fodder.

Stacks of rice straw

There were various types of homes.

Farm House
 Many of them appear unfinished.

House and shanty
 Very commonly they were several storeys tall (with the all-important roof-top!) on a small base.

Tall house with rooftop garden
Everywhere there are road-works in one form or another, largely with manual labour - such as this chap carrying a basket on his back, we saw them shovelling sand or cement into these baskets to carry it. In some places the road workers looked very young, or very old.

Road construction

We had to stop because this country bus was loading passengers (some of them onto the roof of the bus!) in the middle of the steep windy road.

Bus pick-up
 At one stage we crawled past a bus (we were going up and the bus was coming down), and I could see a curious goat's head peering around the back of the bus. I thought it must be tied onto the back of the bus where we (used to) hang prams and pushers ... But as the bus went past I realised the goat's head was sticking out of where the tail-lights should have been. I guess the rest of the goat was in the boot of the bus - these buses seem to have the engine at the front.

So finally we reached the hilltop and stopped for tea and sandwiches.

Tea with a view
The air was too murky (dusty) to actually see the distant mountains, but it was a nice view.

Hillside villas

Another Trip

We had seen Buddhist temples, now we had to see Hindu temples - despite our tour manager's promise that there would only be one temple!

Our clearly Buddhist guide, Neermul, seemed just as keen to go to the Hindu temple and explain everything.

Hindu Temple
 We couldn't actually go right into the actual temple part because we weren't dressed properly.

Warning sign
 There were lots of images - this one, if I remember, is Garuda.

 But I was busy turning around looking at these men carrying chickens in baskets.

Chicken transport
 We saw a number of these watering places, and they were all dry. This was the only one that had water
Queuing for water
 and queues of people with pots to fill.
It is an arty district, with lots of budding artist selling their wares.

Art for sale
 Doorways in these parts seem to be exceptionally small.

Lots of little doors

 Lots more statues of ugly 'gods'.

 Oh, and the water queue is growing.

Still queuing for water

See the Mountains
Finally we left and drove up into the foothills again.
This time the air was a little clearer, and we could see the distant mountains!

A view of the mountains

It was a nice place to sit and drink some Nepalese spiced tea. With the chill in the air, the tea instantly forms a skin!

Spiced tea

Peaceful spot for tea with a view
Nice tea. Great view . So peaceful sitting there listening to the sounds of the hillside villages - someone somewhere was playing some music, and there were cows mooing and goats bleating ...

The Monkey Temple

Another temple - that's right! But you have to see the Monkey Temple!

We were very glad of our big black "Tourist Only" car, rather than climbing the endless stairs - both of us were experiencing some knee soreness after a few days in Nepal! Well, monkeys sounded like fun - although in Malaysia monkeys are generally feared and avoided because they are vicious and mean.

Get a coin in the pot for good luck
 There is a pool that people like to throw coins into - if you can get it into the little pot there then of course you get extra good luck.
But Nepalese rupees are generally counted in hundred and thousands - 1000 rupees is roughly $10 - so there is not much call for coins in normal life. The little lady was selling coins for people to throw.

Buy your coins here (and candy floss)
 And there were monkeys everywhere.

Monkey temple
 The little ones, of course, were quite cute!

Baby monkey
 Mostly monkeys and people ignore each other - although some people occasionally feed them, and we did see one lady have something snatched by a mean monkey.

Family of monkeys
 This monkey was playing in the electrical tangle, while a dog on the ground barked at it and a man teased them both.
Monkey mischief
 The Monkey Temple is on top of a hill.

Murky view of Kathmandu
 Great views of Kathmandu when the murk clears!

All kinds of 'prayers'
 At this temple and the other 'stupa' we went to (yes, they dragged us to yet another!) there are always lots of people praying. Lighting candles, turning prayer wheels, ringing bells, and hoisting strings of coloured prayer flags with written prayers on them.

 A really big prayer wheel like this one gets many thousands of prayers said ore quickly.
 And of course there are bigger and bigger bells too.

And cute babies and kids everywhere.

Flag sellers are everywhere too, wanting people to buy sets of prayer flags and string them up to flutter in the breeze.

Riverside Cremation

Neermul was keen for us to see where the dead are cremated. (I think this is Hindu, can't remember for sure.)

Preparing the body
Down by the greasy grey river which scarcely flows it's so chocked up with garbage. The deceased relative's body is being cleansed and prepared (you can see it under the sheet on the bank).

Many little temples
 On the other side of the river people are meditating and meeting with priests to commemorate a year since their relative was cremated here. There are lots of little buildings which are all temples - Neermul couldn't explain it, he said they just kept building them and didn't now when to stop.

The gathered mourners
The body is taken down to the water's edge. Neermul said they have to put food and water in the mouth. Relatives nearby and on the balcony above are weeping loudly.

Cremation site

The river that takes it all away

Finally the body is taken further down the riverside where there are special platforms and a priest will built a fire. The ashes, of course are then put in the greasy grey river ...

Out on our own
After 3 days of Neermul and his temples, we were glad to have a couple of days to wander around by ourselves!

About a kilometre from our hotel is the district of Thamel, the main tourist zone.

Street in Thamel
 Here you can buy all the touristy stuff - shawls, hand-woven clothes, camping and trekking gear (for climbing Mount Everest), trinkets ...

Fresh produce in Thamel
 You can also get good stuff - like really fresh veges ... although anything outside for too long quickly gets covered in that grey dust.

Two shops we don't have in Australia!
There are some unusual and interesting shops ... and people!


The streets are narrow and congested with a mix of pedestrians, cars, motorbikes and tri-shaws ... and sometimes even buses grinding past each other and honking (politely).

Thamel traffic

There was a tri-shaw permanently  parked in our hotel driveway, and the driver was very persistent about wanting to give us a ride to a restaurant - oh, why not, it might be fun! He refused to give us a price, just whatever is fair he suggested, complaining that he hadn't had a fare all day.

Well, these things are not built for two people - especially large Westerners! - and the guy was 67 years old, small and wiry. As we headed out into the dusty, speeding, honking traffic on the main road, the hotel guard had to give him a bit of a push - and then we were out there amongst the trucks and buses with our little man grunting and puffing. It was amusing! And ... all slightly downhill.

He stopped in Thamel, and when we offered us a reasonable 200rupees he insisted on 500. Rather than fussing, we paid. He then really wanted to show us a restaurant, and also insisted that he would wait for us and take us back to the hotel at 7pm - we kept saying 'no', but he wouldn't leave us alone until we said 'maybe'.

Candle ready - for when the power goes off
 We walked away from the restaurant he suggested, and went up to one of the many rooftop ones.

Restaurants always light a candle at the table - not because it's romantic, but because the power will go out at least once during the meal.

Killroy restaurant
 There are all sorts of interesting restaurants tucked away in the back streets and on the rooftops.

Lady with dyeing to do
 This lady right next-door to the back street restaurant seemed to be dyeing wool for some craft work.
More spiced tea

We had some spiced Nepalese tea, and looking down the menu felt that a croissant with cheese and ham might be a same lunch to order...
Ham and cheese croissant??
Well ... A croissant isn't always a croissant as we know it! The little decoration on the side is sliced apple - quite nice, but didn't really help with the dryness. Even after another cup of tea I had to leave most of it.

And THEN we found La Dolce Vita - great little Italian restaurant! Upstairs, indoors, and real Italian food (or close to).

La Dolce Vita - great little Italian restaurant in Thamel
 A little oasis in the craziness of Kathmandu streets, with interesting views of the street below.

View from La Dolce Vita

Time to go home to Malaysia!

Well that was the longest week I can remember!

We booked a taxi at our hotel, and were a little nonplussed when one of the tiny street taxis showed up ... the driver calmly popped our one big suitcase onto the roof-rack and climbed in. We asked him about tying it down, and he just shrugged. With those bumpy roads we were a little concerned but ... off we went. At one stage the driver did put his arm out and feel to make sure it was still there! I caught sight of our shadow, and was most relieved to see our luggage-bump still up there!

back at the airport
 At the airport we had, once again, to queue for a very long time to get our passports stamped. And the security check queues were massive - I got patted down three times in the course of the process.

But finally we were on the plane, and in the air. Raj at Mosaic had been very keen for us to take a plane trip over Everest and we said we may as well watch the movie.

But now we could see the mountains from our plane. Magnificent!

View of Himalayas from the plane

So that was that! Been to Nepal, Kathman-DONE it!