It was time for me to return to Kathmandu. I booked an early bus and was at the station for 7am. When I got there, I had a moment of panic. I’d brought a return journey to Kathmandu, a two-part paper ticket. It turns out that on my arrival into Pokhara, they took my return ticket! The bus driver only spoke Nepali, and somehow with lots of pointing, slow English and Nepali I hustled my way onto the bus without a ticket. I was still worried that I was going to get thrown off, luckily that didn’t happen.
There was a seven-and-half hour journey ahead including stoppages. On the first stop, I had the best chai I’ve ever drank in my life. It cost the equivalent of 10p from a street-seller and definitely woke me up. When I sat down at the back of the bus, I found an emergency stash of Oreos in my bag – good times. I offered the gentleman to my left an Oreo, which he duly accepted. We started talking and he introduced himself as Isac, a 20-year-old Swede. We both kicked off with the typical backpacker icebreaker – “so what brings you here?” Isac was a keen mountaineer. He’d just scaled one of the Himalayan peaks at over 600m for 25 days. I was quite intrigued about hearing his experience. I’m brave, but just the thought of hitting one of the peaks made me cold. In detail he described acclimatising, altitude sickness and how he survived the terrain. Speaking of sickness, he was just recovering from a bout of diarrhoea and food poisoning in one of the worst possible scenarios. He’d learnt to ride a motorcycle in the past week and filled water bottles with black market fuel, ready to hit the heights of Muktinath to get scenic views. Along the bumpy roads his stomach gave way. But his plight didn’t end there. His bike suffered two punctures too and in true Nepali style he carried parts of the bike strapped to his head through a local town. It was quite a remarkable story and also quite inspiring. He mentioned now that he’s climbed one of the peaks, he’d like to be the youngest Swede to hit 800m at another mountain next year. With such passion, grit and determination, I’m certain he’ll achieve the feat.
I arrived at my guesthouse in the heart of Thamel, Kathmandu after a stop-start bus ride. I opened the gate and was greeted with “Mr Choudhury!!! Welcome Sir!” The last time someone shouted my surname, I got screwed over. Surely not again? Kheem, the hostel host checked me into my room and already it was an upgrade on my last experience. A hot shower too. In fact the hottest shower in Nepal! I was happy. After freshening up I walked through the city, it felt familiar. I’d called this place home for a week, so I was glad to be back to be honest. One of the drivers, Naran, who took me to my placement occasionally shouted ‘Bossman’ from across the road. He came over to greet me and asked me about Pokhara. I popped into the local supermarket and the assistant asked me the same. It was nice to be remembered and it felt like I’d returned home in an odd way.
What I love about Thamel is the noisy and narrow streets. It might be overly-populated, but it reminds me of Vietnam a lot, which is why I think I’d grown to like it so much. I’d also got used to crossing the roads. There’s no look right, look left. I just got used to walking straight ahead at a slow place and no one hits you 😃 I got something to eat and headed back to get an early night.
It was freezing cold the following morning, much colder than last time I was here. I was on my way to a local bakery for breakfast. I’ve mentioned the number of stray dogs before. A black one, took a fancy to me. It followed me for ten minutes. I took a left, it took a left and so on…I eventually went down an alleyway to throw it off guard. I thought I’d outsmarted it. I had breakfast and was about to walk back to the hostel. Guess who was outside?!!! Somehow it tracked me down. So I went out through an opposite door to leave it behind. I don’t mind dogs at all but my nurse warned me not to touch them over here – safety first and all that.
I took a trip to SERC soon after to present my class with a big carom board and a selection of pencils for everyday use. They were happy to see me as I was happy to see them. Class was effectively cancelled as we played carom board for a few hours. I sat down feeling like Will Ferrell at Elf school. It’s a rare occasion when I’m the tallest in a room! Even the pupils who barely spoke came out of their shells. They were all delighted. I high-fived them all and was thanked extensively by their teacher. I thanked them all too. I can only fully appreciate and describe what I’ve learnt from this experience once I’ve returned home and had an opportunity to reflect.
I walked back through Thamel for some falafel and chips that were recommended to me. Right after though, I nearly puked. I’ll explain why. Walking through these streets, you get accustomed to open butcheries. One in particular had a bloodied pigs head, but what amazed me is a group of men were playing an intense game of chess right by it! It was horrible. I tired to forget the image, but I still haven’t been able to wipe it from my memory. I kept walking and discovered more temples, which put me at ease. I’ve described my admiration for Kathmandu throughout my time here but I have to describe my fondness for their many temples too. I was taken to Pashupathinath, a UNESCO world heritage site famed for cremation amongst the Hindu faith. It was quite a surreal situation. People grieving and praying well into the night to help their lost ones into the afterlife, ashes and bones being thrown into the holy Bagmati River and a collection of more timid monkeys playfully scrambling about. I’ve never witnessed a cremation before, so this was a new experience. I didn’t take pictures of the actual cremation because I felt that would be disrespectful.
Being in Kathmandu, I also needed to visit the iconic Durbar Square, where Hindu temples from thousands of years have stood. This place became synonymous with the TV coverage of the earthquakes earlier this year. The damage was clearly visible in the square and the structures are just about being held together. There is still a lot damaged buildings around the area, as well as the roads. But one thing I’ve learnt on this trip so far, the Nepali people have tremendous mental strength and courage. They’ve faced two earthquakes, currently experiencing a four-month fuel blockade (no one knows how long it will last) and a lack of cooking gas, but they just get on with it. At home we cry over 24-hour tube strikes for example, putting things into perspective.
You can’t be in Kathmandu and not see the Himalayan range. I didn’t have time for a trek and I’m a realist, I don’t think I’m capable of reaching the Everest summit. So I took advantage of the scenic flight. I highly recommend it if you only have a few days in Kathmandu. You get a terrific view and also see the range from the cockpit. You can also have a tipple onboard but I was high off the natural beauty of Everest. It’s amazing to think that people have successfully reached its summit. Maybe I could tackle the Everest Base Camp one day? Maybe…
In my final evening in Kathmandu, I headed to a OR2K for dinner – a really quirky and funky place with floor seating. The menu boasts various cuisines and is clearly a travellers favourite. OR2K also contained the first Christmas tree I’ve come across in Nepal, it reminded me of home.
I sat down and ordered and couldn’t help but notice the man next to me order his meal in fluent Nepali, to my surprise. Surprising because it was another Swede! Elias was his name. He’s here to volunteer for three months and lives at an altitude of 200m! He teaches English at a Nepali school that barely speaks any English, including the teachers. I was impressed because he’s a Swede teaching English, but having to learn Nepali in order to teach English! He told me he was recovering from sickness, was a little homesick and has an interest in mountaineering. Sounds familiar right? So through the power of Facebook, I messaged Isac. I needed to introduce them before I left because I felt like they’d had a lot in common and would get on. They met and hit it off right away. I finished my food and left them to it as I needed to pack for an early flight to Delhi. I was happy that I was able to connect them. I found both of their stories quite inspiring which is why I’m sharing it with you. As I left, a familiar looking old man offered me a rickshaw ride. Remember the old man at the airport when I first arrived? Well it turns out he multi-tasks. I politely declined and headed back.
Naran, the driver I mentioned earlier offered to kindly take me to the airport. Before I left the hostel, Kheem wrapped a traditional scarf around my neck for good luck, which was a nice touch. As Naran drove, he told me in all of the years he’s driven he’s never understood why Western people are unhappy despite having money, cars and a better life than him. “You see sir, whenever I walk through the street or if we have a crisis, we are always happy. We find happiness in everything,” he said. I completely agree. I’ve mentioned their struggles already. They are true fighters and through the littlest of things they’re always smiling. They may be facing tough times, but always find a way to adapt. So I asked Naran if I was an unhappy Westerner. He said: “No Sir, you are very nice man.” This was before I gave him a deserved tip.
I was sad to be leaving because you’ve probably noticed Nepal has captured my heart. A beautiful country and equally beautiful people. It was also the first place in Asia where the mosquitoes haven’t feasted on me. I left with no bites! I hope to return again one day and check in on the friends I’ve made here. Now for the next part of my adventure, I’m going to tick one off the bucket list!
Ps. I’ve not watched a single LFC game since I’ve left home. And I’m not missing it or the stress that comes with it either!
One thought on “Kathmandu and I”
Loving reading all your blog posts, Pav. Sounds like a truly life-changing experience. I can’t wait to hear more about it when you’re back. Have a fantastic Christmas and a great New Year!