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|
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.
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.
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!).
|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.
This magnificent old Hotel (beautifully kept, though) was once a palace.
Our room ...
The courtyard ...
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.|
|Some sort of large fried food.|
|My purple yak wool scarf. (No, not from a purple yak.)|
|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.
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!|
|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|
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.
|People going about their daily business|
|Creating the money-pots|
|Hand-driven pottery wheel|
It's always fascinating to see the children at play in a place like this.
|Children in the market place|
|Making the pots|
|pushe-pullyou tractor thingy|
|Everyone doing something|
Tiny streets interspersed with sunny courtyards, and everywhere busy busy people.
And then of course there were (several) temples.
And then our guide led us into the "Peacock" paper-making factory.
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!
Gardening in pots, drying vegetables.
|Rooftop gardening and drying food|
|Chatting in the sun, drying rice|
And can you see the tiny person on the horizon?
|Vegies to sell|
There was a family selling their produce.
|Craft for the ederly|
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.
|Stacks of rice straw|
There were various types of homes.
Many of them appear unfinished.
|House and shanty|
|Tall house with rooftop garden|
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.
So finally we reached the hilltop and stopped for tea and sandwiches.
|Tea with a view|
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.
|Queuing for water|
It is an arty district, with lots of budding artist selling their wares.
|Art for sale|
|Lots of little doors|
|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!
|Peaceful spot for tea with a view|
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|
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)|
|Family of monkeys|
|Murky view of Kathmandu|
|All kinds of 'prayers'|
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.
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|
|Many little temples|
|The gathered mourners|
|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|
|Fresh produce in Thamel|
|Two shops we don't have in Australia!|
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).
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|
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.
|Lady with dyeing to do|
|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??|
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|
|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|
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!