Jesse’s Blog

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kathmandu – Day 1

Dropping in to Kathmandu Valley I found my window seat view of the ground was obstructed by low-hanging clouds. Kathmandu-100 Then I realized they weren’t low hanging at all; the ground here is over 4,000 ft above sea level. Soon mountains and valleys sprang up gasping for air from the wispy abyss and before I knew it we were bouncing lightly down the runway of KTM airport. We stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and were welcomed by mild sub-tropical weather. Only one hour and fourty-five minutes from Delhi and such a drastic change. It must have more to do with the elevation than the longitude.

We didn’t check any bags so we made fast to immigration. We had to get visas. They were free due to our short stay, but we had to pay for the photos. After a painless process and a new stamp on the old passport, we scurried out to the motor pool to find our cab from the Kathmandu Guest House. We started out politely declining invitations from random cabbies but this turned into aggressive refusals before we were finally rescued by a guy with a sign. The guys with the signs aren’t always the real deal, but in this case he also had a van with a legit logo. And other passengers. We figured this was our guy.

Kathmandu-120 My first impression of Kath is that it’s like a cleaner more interesting version of India. The architecture is more inspired and it’s a lot less crowded and easier to keep things in order. Kathmandu-124 The trip to the guest house was about 30 minutes and we saw everything from protests and armed guards around embassies, to western-style strip malls on crowded streets. As we approached Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood the streets narrowed to barely two car widths, but somehow the van made it all the way inside the gates of the guest house unloading humans and luggage in one fast motion.

Kathmandu-267 We had a reservation but wanted to snag a garden-facing room. Turns out they didn’t have one available, but they let us see one of the “new” rooms instead. These were nice but lacked character and were more expensive. We opted for a normal room and were much more satisfied by our view of a tranquil courtyard full of trees. We had hot running water in the shower, two beds, plenty of drawer space and a nice fan to keep us cool. Not bad for $25 USD per night.

Unfortunately I had to get some more work done so we spent the next few hours hanging out in the courtyard. We met a nice British woman who spends months in Kath at a time. She gave us some great tips on what to see. Cait used the extra time and our Nepal Lonely Planet guidebook to plan our afternoon outing.

Kathmandu-139 It looked like rain was coming but we wanted to check out Durbar Square. Our only problem was that I had to find a memory card for my camera since I realized on the plane that I’d left mine at home. We picked up some momos to silence our grumbling guts and found a store that sold brand name stuff at too high of a price. I bought something despite the fact it is 4 times cheaper on Amazon.

We tried to take a direct walking route to Durbur Square but it turns out foreigners have to pay 300 NPR (Nepalese rupees; $4.65 USD) to enter the streets. We weren’t cool with this and Zuko told me we could sneak down a side alley if we were “slippery”. Sure enough the rain started and we got stuck in a back alley sans umbrellas with some of the locals. I was busying myself taking artsy shots of our surroundings when I was suddenly dumped on by a gutter full of water. I won’t go into the details, but it was gross.

Kathmandu-23 When the rain died down a bit we took off on to the main street. We were past the most aggressive ticket collectors already and found our way into the heart of the square with ease. A bustling center of activity with temples, markets and shrines, it held our attention well unto dusk. The rain started and we had no rain gear, so Cait bought some more comfortable sandals from a small shop and we caught a cab back to Thamel. We got cleaned up and headed out for a night on the town at the awesome bars and restaurants up and down the main Thamel drag right outside KGH.

Kathmandu-95 I will say this about the live music in Thamel: it’s awesome. It seemed every restaurant and bar had their own act, with vocals and instruments pouring out into the street below. We settled on a place recommended in the Lonely Planet for some pre-dinner drinks. The atmosphere was cozy and the band was entertaining but we didn’t see any food on the menu we liked. Besides, we really wanted an authentic cheeseburger. We settled our bill and hit the street.

Kathmandu-196 The problem with printed guidebooks is that things can change and you won’t know it. We had a hard time finding the burger joint and when we did, it was closed. Instead we headed for the next-best thing: mouth-watering juicy steaks at Kathmandu Steak House. After months in India without a true slab of nicely cooked beef tenderloin steak, we were in heaven. And damn was it cheap (about $5 usd for a 14 oz cut). Walking back to the guest house with full bellies was a bit of a challenge, but falling fast asleep excited for tomorrow was not.

posted by Jesse at 1:15 am  

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