Acclimatizing to Nepal in Kathmandu

Okay, so Kaia mentioned in her latest entry that our flight itinerary to get to Nepal was downright awful.  We took off from Hong Kong in the evening, going to Mumbai.  It was about 7 hours long, and actually very comfortable because we had the bulkhead seats, with lots of legroom, and personal TVs.  But in the Mumbai airport, we were exhausted, and we had to wait 7 hours through the night until our flight to Kathmandu.  Worse still, there were armrests between all the seats in the waiting room, so we couldn’t lie down across them.  It was definitely not my favourite night of this trip!  At least our second flight was only about 2 and a half hours, and we got our first view of the Himalaya mountains.

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Our view from the airplane of Kathmandu.

Finally, we arrived in our 14th country on this trip.

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Kathmandu is in the east-central part of the country, and Mt. Everest is in the far north eastern part, right up against the Tibetan (Chinese) border.

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Facts about Nepal:
-Population: 29 million
-Area: approx. 147 000 sq. kilometres (57 000 sq. miles), similar size as Florida
-Currency: Nepali rupee (77 rupees=1 Canadian dollar)
-Religions: mostly Hindu and Buddhist, which are apparently very similar in Nepal.
-Languages: Nepali is spoken all over the country, and there are 128 local dialects.  English is pretty well spoken, so you can go most places knowing only one word in Nepali: Namaste.  It officially translates to “I salute the god in you”, but it can mean hello, goodbye, thank you, or pretty much anything positive.
-Drives on the left
-Landscape: varying from high mountains near the Tibetan border in the north to low-lying plain and jungle near the Indian border in the south.
Fun facts:
-There are 14 peaks in the world above 8000m altitude, and 8 of them are in Nepal (including the highest).
-Though Nepal has lots of unique animals like red pandas, yaks, elephants, rhinos and tigers, they chose the cow as their national animal, because they’re sacred in Hindu and Buddhist culture.  It’s hard to find beef in Nepal.
-When we got off the plane, we had to change the time on our watches by 2 hours and 45 minutes, because for some reason, Nepal has it’s own mini time zone, 15 minutes off the time zone that the nearby part of India uses.
-The Nepali flag is the only national flag in the world that isn’t rectangular.  It looks like this:

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My mom actually booked a guesthouse in Kathmandu in advance, something we rarely do, so someone was waiting to pick us up at the airport.  Kathmandu is a pretty big city, of about 3 million people (but seems tiny after being in Hong Kong), so it took about half an hour to drive to the guesthouse in a very touristy neighbourhood called Thamel.  Our room was nice and big, and even had a whole kitchen.  It was on the 5th floor though, so we got some exercise carrying our big packs up to it!  Once we got settled in, we went out for lunch.  Food in Nepal isn’t as cheap as it was in Indonesia and the Philippines, but still cheap enough that we hardly ever used the kitchen.  We had chapati bread with curry for lunch.  It was delicious!  Before coming to Nepal, we didn’t know what to expect with the food, but after that lunch, we knew Nepali food would be good.

That afternoon, we didn’t go anywhere or do anything special, but we walked around Thamel a bit to get to know the area.  Kathmandu is nice, but very, very busy, loud and polluted.  Walking around Thamel was a stressful experience.  There aren’t really any sidewalks and the streets are narrow, so you’re forced to walk through crowds of people, cars and motorcycles.

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There were also tons of tourist shops.  Nepal’s big tourist attraction is the Himalaya mountain range, and the best way to see it is by trekking.  So, there are hundreds of shops selling trekking equipment: down jackets, boots, walking poles, you name it.  There are also lots of souvenir shops selling Nepali clothing, bracelets, and all the rest of those little trinkets.  There were a lot of really nice T-shirts with names of treks and pictures of mountains on them.  Some have expressions like “Nepal: Never Ending Peace And Love”, or (this next one sold mostly to people who have already been trekking) “Nepal flat: little bit up, little it down”.  Now that we’ve been trekking, that expression makes sense to us, because sometimes our guide would say “the path will be Nepal flat” or in other words “there’s no such thing as flat in Nepal”!

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Many of these shops line the streets. Gurkha soldier knives, "singing" bowls, necklaces ...

We went to a little restaurant near our guesthouse for dinner.  One of the things we ate was a dish of these things called momos.  They’re little Nepali dumplings filled with vegetables and sometimes chicken or buff (buffalo meat), and they’re really good!  We’ve eaten many more momos for the 3 weeks we’ve been in Nepal now.

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We slept okay that night, but not great, because of all the cars honking.  We spent 2 more days in Kathmandu.  During that time, we did some stuff that I’ll talk about, but I kind of forget when they happened during those 2 days, so for the rest of this entry, the events may not be in chronological order.

We took a taxi to the office of an organization called Solar Sisters, to organize an activity installing solar panels in villages.  My dad will write about that in the next entry.

Back at our room, we spent time getting caught up on the blog, and Kaia had a Skype conversation with her class.  Since our room was up on the 5th floor, we had view of the Thamel “skyline”.

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As you can see, there were a lot of 5-story guesthouses!
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We, and my dad especially, were very impressed at how many buildings had solar panels for electricity and hot water. Keep it up, Kathmandu!

And, we learned that there are urban monkeys in Kathmandu!  One climbed right onto the rooftop patio, back down the other side of the building, then jumped across to the next building.  I guess it’s kind of like how there are squirrels living in cities in Canada.

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For lunch one day, we went to a middle-eastern style restaurant called OR2K.  We sat on cushions at low tables, and the restaurant had a cool ambience.  The music was funky, the walls were painted in a cool way, even the menu was artistic!  And of course, the food was delicious.  We had naan and focaccia bread with middle-eastern dipping sauces like hummus and babaganoush, and Israeli salad.

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We went shopping for trekking equipment, and got stocked up on jackets, boots, socks, leggings, and more, because we’d be going up to Poon Hill and Annapurna base camp, and it would get cold up there.

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All the trekking items at stores in Thamel are marked with famous brand names like The North Face and Mammut, but they’re all counterfeit.  How can we tell?  Well, read this tag that was on my new trekking boots that are apparently The North Face.

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Hilarious.

The tags on all the other items we bought weren’t much better, either.  One of the shop owners we bought from even admitted they were fake.  At least we know they’re definitely made in Nepal!

We walked to Kathmandu Durbar square, an ancient plaza that was once part of the old Kathmandu kingdom.  We didn’t realize until we got there that tourists need a ticket to get into the square, and it was quite expensive for 4 people.  So, we just walked around the outside of the square, then discretely walked in at a place that didn’t have a ticket booth.  We had to be firm with a few very persistent guides that we weren’t interested in a tour of the square.  We just sat up on the steps up to one of the temples and enjoyed the view.

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Since it was a bit of a long walk (and walking is a stressful activity in Kathmandu) between our guesthouse and the square, we decided to take a bicycle drawn rickshaw back.

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It was a crazy experience!  The driver had only one gear on his bicycle, and since my mom and Kaia were riding in one right behind the one my dad and I were in, they could see that one of the back wheels on ours was loose and wobbly.  My mom was worried it would fall off on one of the many potholes it went over!  The rickshaw weaved it’s way through traffic all the way back to the guesthouse.

So, Kathmandu was a pretty hectic start to our time in Nepal, but in a way, it was good to start with the loud, crazy stuff, because it makes the rest of our experience in Nepal, out in the Himalaya, seem so calm and quiet.

Namaste!

Jake

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