|Milly joins the 4 of us in Kathmandu for New Year's Eve. Haven't seen him since the surf trip in Indonesia in April 2006 (the one he couldn't attend), and its good to see him looking as pasty, puffy and poncey as ever. Tea marketers must avoid this chap as their pin-up boy :-)
Kathmandu is, well, nothing like what you expect, but marvellous in its way. It sure as hell ain't no peaceful hippy time-warp enclave snuggled up in the Himalaya's, no sirreeee bob. This is one more mad, polluted, manic, over-populated Asian city where the loudest horn has right of way, and where a man (or woman) can get anything they want, anything possible, Sir. The backpacker area of Thamel is much like all the KhaoSan Roads of major Asian cities, which as Alex Garland described so well in The Beach, is "a decompression chamber between East and West", where you can immerse yourself in the crazy haggle hassle of the culture, and then run away to the sanctuary of a "Western" style hotel or bar or bakery to gorge on chocolate brownies before embarking on the next mad excursion. All superb stuff, and home to probably one of the world's great hotels, the Kathmandu Guest House. Great because they cater for all types of tourist and traveller, with rooms from $1 a night up to $60 a night, and all built around an oasis of peaceful gardens and coffee shops. Its cool to watch well dressed business types mingling with long haired backpackers. There are trekkers and mountaineers and mountain-bikers and overlanders and tourists and of all ages and nationalities. The rooms are not the best value available in Kathmandu (we found far better), but for the vibe I dont think it can be beaten. A definite model for a chilled hotel.
Our time here was spent doing the usual tourist things of monuments, squares, lazy lunches, shopping (some more than others ... hi Magda) and sleeping. We also hired motorbikes for a day and headed out in the wild countryside for what transpired to be an off-road tour of their landfill site. Still, it is a part of the area that most tourists would not see, so I think, deep down, we all felt a bit privileged (or was that rising bile we felt??).
New Year's Eve was a mad affair in the town. Them Nepali chaps sure know (or don't know) how to throw the booze down their throats. The streets were soon chaotic and unpassable with drunken dancin Nepalese. Milly was gutted at the absence of his favourite Thai Lady-Men ... where was he to find love on this special night ? Well, we thought we would substitute a love for Luke with a love for Lucre, so we hired two cycle rickshaws and got them to race each other to the casino. Ah the joys of colonial decadence, hey? What an experience, though. A crazy place full of drunk Indian fellows (its illegal for Nepali's to gamble at the casino's in Nepal!!!!) with their shirts open to their navels, shouting and pushing and gambling, and where the dealers dealt cards from their hands. We tried a pooled fund at Blackjack and with Fuzz as our appointed gambler, we lost it all and went home. Stick to the one-armed bandits babes :-)
Kathmandu was tops. A few days is enough, so we then planned our move to India. The team decided that a 50 hour bus ride to Delhi was a sure way to Piles, and with all flights to Delhi fully booked, we booked 5 tickets to the holy Indian city of Varanasi, on the Ganges.