The Nepalese capital had a few surprises for us.
Friday 25th September – To Kathmandu we go.
No early start today because Kathmandu is only an hour away. A repeat of yesterday’s ‘Indian breakfast’ was in order. I love the way that when I travel I see so many variations on what is ‘normal’ for breakfast. In China it’s congee, a rice porridge, but on the Indian subcontinent curry potato parathas are common. To much of the world having eggs or a bowl of cereal with fresh milk is strange. In China/Asia fresh dairy anything is a rarity. They don’t do cow’s milk or it’s derivatives, just soya milk if you must, but tea is drunk ‘black’. (Even if it’s green tea?)
Waiting for us at the bottom of the 150 steps was not only our van to take us to Kathmandu, but the corpse of the goat that spent yesterday tied up by the kitchen and bleating loudly. I guess it knew that today is the start of the big Hindu Dashain Festival and it was going to form part of the celebrations. After sacrificing it, they daubed it’s blood over their car and painted the wheel hubs with blood whilst burning incense under the bonnet. We were told it’s to bless the car for the following year so that it’s safe for the passengers and doesn’t have an accident. The sacrificial goat is not wasted. As we left, they carried it up the hill to cook it for the feast that is part of the festival.
Travelling down the Kathmandu Valley to Kathmandu I was struck how semi-rural and subsistence it all is. Most cities become a choked metropolis, but here we were surrounded by rice paddies and well-separated houses almost to the city centre.
The Shanker Hotel wasn’t ready for us, so we left our bags and Ling took us for a walk around Thamel, a lovely old part of Kathmandu with narrow shop-lined streets full of pedestrians and cycle rickshaws. After just an hour or two I’d been offered; marijuana/hashish, flutes, beads, rafting/hiking trips, rickshaw ride and more. NO! NO! NO!
We had lunch together as a group at a nice restaurant. Can’t believe how cheap everything is. We thought China was cheap, but it’s got nothing on Nepal. Quality tasty meals for $2 AUD. They have a 5 rupee banknote that’s worth 8 cents AU which ironically is 4 times the 2 cent banknotes I was getting in China.
After going back to the hotel and checking in, Amanda and I immediately headed back to Thamel to do some shopping.
On the way there though, the road outside the hotel had gone from a bustling Kathmandu street full of cars, auto rickshaws, bicycles and motorcycles to nothing! Not vehicle to been seen. What the? It was then we saw the police/army cordon closing the road. We didn’t have to wait long for someone special to come past in their limo, complete with full escort of high-ranking officers. Watching the cordon be lifted was akin to the start of a F1 Grand Prix as the traffic swarmed the road.
Making it back to the shops, we were impressed with all the books about Tibet that magically just don’t seem to be available in Tibet itself. I was tempted to buy a poster of the Dalai Lama and send it to someone in China that I don’t like, but don’t know anyone, let alone someone I want to get into a lot of trouble. Hmmm? Where do these thoughts come from?
Books are cheap and we bought a few, including The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama. I replaced my dead Gore Tex jacket for a pittance. I’ll know when I next get rained on if I’ve saved a fortune or wasted my money. It absolutely poured this afternoon. A real monsoon downpour. I preferred to browse a bookshop than test my jacket.
Amanda had been told by Ling that jewellery here was cheap, so she too came ready to shop and did. Speaking of cheap, how’s <$4 AUD for a bottle of nice gin?
Just time to test our gin before we headed out for dinner as a group. Third Eye was the place and there listed as the ‘house specialty’ was tandoori chicken done in a proper tandoor oven. Done well, Tandoori chicken is a personal favourite of mine. This was up there with the best ever. Nicely charred on the outside, it was moist, but fully cooked inside. Served on the bone it was perfect. Not so the cocktail I chose, which also claimed to be a ‘barman’s specialty’. I chose an Everest beer after that.
Saturday – Dashain Festival.
We knew there is a festival on. How could you not with the streets being so quiet and more than half the shops shut for the next 3 days?
Finding a place that was not only open, but showing the AFL Grand Final proved to be harder than we thought, but we succeeded. It was pretty cool to be sitting in a Kathmandu café drinking ice coffee and watching the AFL GF. The close game was a bonus.
We had different things we wanted to get done this arvo, so Amanda and I explored Thamel separately.
I went mad buying CDs and DVDs for $2 each and she bought more jewellery.
Returning to the hotel I found Amanda relaxing under an umbrella in the large manicured garden in the hotel grounds. Joining here we had a few G & T’s before getting ready and joining everyone for dinner as our last meal together as a group. The trip officially finishes tomorrow after breakfast.
Ling booked the group into a restaurant called Thamel (how original) with a ‘show’. Most of us went for the set menu that looked like a degustation list of 13 dishes for $12. Looked good on the menu, but the reality was it was two small plates with a variety of pickles and side dishes that had just all been listed separately. Regular group toasts of shots of a strong local liquor, with a few Everest beers thrown in, meant we didn’t really care. I think the ‘show’ might have been downstairs, but we never saw it. As if we hadn’t had enough to drink, we then found an open nightclub, though we were the only patrons. Mexican themed, Brett wasted no time jumping behind the bar and learning how to make mojitos. Leaving at midnight, Amanda and I got Ling safely into a taxi with us and back to the hotel where Amanda put her to bed. She’s worked hard all trip and not drank at all. Tonight she made up for it.
Tomorrow we fly to Singapore.