|Finally arrived in Kathmandu about 9am yesterday (I'm 4.5hrs behind Sydney time) after a flight delay at Delhi and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and go to sleep.
But that was not to be...firstly, after a lengthy interrogation by health officials as to my possible swine flu connections, there was a drama when I wanted to get a 30 day visa as I already have a 15 day one so I ended up just not bothering and I'll either find someway to extend it or just pay a fine when I leave.
Then I went to get some money out of the one and only ATM at the airport to pay for a taxi into town and the ATM ate my card. I was so furious but then had to calm down and remember the last time that happened (in Zimbabwe) I not only had no card but my luggage had been lost as well, so really I got off quite lucky in that I had my backpack safely by my side this time!
After waiting for about a hour in the freezing rain a lady turned up and managed to retrieve my swallowed card, for which I was very grateful!
I was quite concerned at the 15C temperatures in the morning but it dried up to be a lovely day and pretty hot. I'm trying not to get lulled into a false sense of security though.
I felt a million times better this morning after a good night’s sleep and headed out in the morning to a Hindu temple. It was set in huge grounds and has a (shallow) river running through the centre. On the banks of the river there are steps leading up from the water to the ghats and this is where the cremations are held. On one side of the bridge over the river are the general funeral pyres and on the other are the pyres for the higher caste people. There are painted sadhus (like priests) all around and they are on to a good thing; they charge people 50 rupee to take their photos and if you try to sneak one in they chase you and take your camera. So they sit around chatting and smoking in their knock off Ray Bans then as soon as you hand over the cash, they ditch the cigarette and sunnies and pose garishly, very funny.
Only Hindus are allowed in the actual temple and although I may have tried to push my luck and sneak in as everyone here thinks I am Nepalese or Indian, someone must have been suspicious and demanded to see my Indian passport; cover blown.
From there I went to the Bouddhantha stupa which is the biggest in Nepal, and the Nepalese claim it is the biggest in the world. It stands on a three tiered platform and is encircled by a circular path, crammed full of shops and restaurants. It’s a beautiful building and even more so with the hundreds and hundreds of prayer flags strung from the highest point out to nearby buildings. As it was Buddha’s birthday on May 2 the prayer flags were being changed over and appeared to be both a complex and dangerous task at that height!
There is a great degree of political unrest in Nepal today and driving around there were numerous roadblocks and protesters waving Maoist flags in support of the government (or against, depending on where you were). The situation as I understand it is that the General of the Army has secretly added 3500 troops to his army without the authorisation or knowledge of the government. Yesterday the Cabinet found out about it and sacked the General, believing that the addition of that amount of troops in secret must mean that there was a coup being planned by the General. So today there is a great deal of unrest with no one being sure if there is going to be a challenge to the government or what the ramifications of the sacking will be. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be violent at this stage and I fly to Tibet in the morning anyway.
The Tibet border has been closed to tourists for the last 12 months and only opened again a few weeks ago. The Chinese government is only issuing visas to tour groups though, under very strict guidelines, so I am travelling with a group of 5 others and we will be there for 11 days.
I’ve bought a heaps of gear since I arrived, for the 0C temperatures of Tibet but more so for trekking Everest later in the month. For the grand total of 3800R I got 4 pairs of hiking socks, waterproof hiking pants, a fleece jumper, waterproof gloves, thick waterproof jacket, and a walking pole. I get about 58 Nepalese Rupee to the Australian dollar so all that came to about $65, and ‘genuinely’ branded North Face too :P
Its not quite as cheap here as I thought it might be, more expensive than India but still very affordable. One thing I am struggling to adjust to are the rolling power cuts, for 12 hours a day. The hours of the cuts are posted in the guesthouse each day but aren't very reliable! The Nepalese are very friendly, even more so to me because they think I am one of them :) Every second shop sells hiking gear and its the same stuff in every shop, genuine knockoffs the lot! The food has been great so far, the local specialty is 'momo', which looks like a Chinese dumpling and is filled with your choice of spicy vegetables, buffalo or cheese.