Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A week in one place? You what?

I've been a bit slow with the updates the last couple of weeks, because I keep getting invited to small villages and various homes, and making many new Indian friends whose names I can't pronounce, let alone remember. But the Golden Triangle is coming up next, and so I will have to escape from the touts somehow just so I don't punch one of them.

They deserve to be. 

But that's for a future blogpost. 

Nepal first. 

They aren't too bad here. If you tell them to bugger off, they will. 

Getting to Kathmandu from Istanbul involved making a 45 minute connection in Sharjah, the budget version of Dubai for cheap people like me who can't afford to fly Emirates. I flew with Air Arabia, who I highly recommend actually. Though I had to watch their video of small children doing the safety announcement twice, which I'm sure I would have appreciated more if I was female. But I digress.

I got into the airport and it seemed that I'd been dumped in arrivals already. Passport control - who needs it? Then I realised that I'd only had 4 hours sleep and there are these things called departure gates in airports.

But there was a big queue for gates 6-40, because they scan your hand luggage as you go to your gate here. Weird. But more to the point, my flight was departing in half an hour.

No, you're on gate 4, it's OK.

Oh yes, there are several people from my Istanbul flight who were quicker than me.

I never knew that Istanbul-Kathmandu was such a popular route.

However much coffee I had on the flight I wasn't ever going to stay awake. I had to reach into my dollar stash to pay for it too, but they had no dollar change - so I got UAE dirams back instead. I have currency that I have never had any need to use in my stash. And it didn't even keep me awake.

You can order and pay for your meal online before you fly too with Air Arabia. Easyjet/Ryanair: take note. And yes, even when you add all the costs together, it's still an awful lot cheaper than flying with a "proper" airline. Yes, knock them all you like, and yes, they can be a pain sometimes (but that's mostly Ryanair), but budget airlines have made this trip possible.

Seriously, if you're so stupid that you don't notice one of the million emails you send out telling you to print your boarding pass before you fly, or you try to take a large suitcase on as hand luggage, then you deserve to pay the Stupidity Tax that they charge you for, well, being an idiot.
Woke up for this view mind you. Could be worse.
So into Kathmandu. This is a visa on arrival affair, which involves finding a form that isn't in Nepali (as much as I'd like to write some fake Sanskrit, I'd quite like to get into the country first), paying 25$ and then getting a sticker in your passport that looks totally legit and that I definitely couldn't have just printed myself.

I normally get special treatment at customs, in the form of getting shouted at in Russian or a full cavity search, because apparently I look like a drug dealer or something. I suppose I'm from Newport. But no, not this time. Just go straight through, we can't even be bothered to scan your bag. Avoided the scrum of Nepalis at the machine though.
Aren't I just such a rebel?
Prepaid taxi desk? Yes, I can't be bothered to haggle, I've been flying all night. Apart from the fact that it is now about 1pm because timezones exist.

Then I went outside to the taxi. It was a battered old red Suzuki, which set off my inbuilt scam detector fairly quickly. No, all taxis in Kathmandu are battered old Suzukis. But most of them are white. Is this one red because he's a bit crazy?

Not crazy, but he tried to take me to his travel agency first. Of course, he's a taxi driver in a developing country, he must make more money off the white man somehow! No, hostel. No, hostel. No, hostel, now, or I will get out, walk, and not give you the prepaid slip you need to get my money.

Ah, that worked. What a surprise.

He actually took me to the hostel I'd booked though. I was half expecting to end up in some luxury resort that was paying him good commission, because I wouldn't have seen through that at all, but no, he actually took me there.

Flights done I settled down on the rooftop bar of the hostel, had a beer and some food. Except that the food took bloody ages and seemed like a ploy to get me to buy more beers. Or maybe this is Nepal, therefore everything takes ages. It was only £1 though, so I shouldn't complain too much.

Extended my stay by 2 nights as well. Great hostel and I thought I'd do the Kathmandu Valley properly rather than rushing through. If you're ever in Kathmandu, stay at Alobar, it's awesome. If you need any more convincing: I stayed there for a week. I never stay anywhere for a week. It must be good. And no, they're not even paying me to say this. Though they definitely owe me the free beer I was trying to blag all week now I've said it.

By about 9pm I was hungry again, and with food being dirt cheap I thought I'd go and find some restaurant called the Western Tandoori that I'd been assured was amazing. I failed.

Second day there and it was down to the Durbar Square, the main square of Kathmandu. That'll be 750 rupees please! Oh yes, this is Nepal, and if you're foreign then you can pay excessive entry fees on EVERYTHING, because you're clearly a rich white man.


And no, I don't want a tour guide. I'll look around myself. And if I want to learn about the history and culture, there's this thing called the internet that'll tell me about it.

That said, some people genuinely just wanted to talk. I sat down in front of one shop for a good 10 minutes just talking to the owner, and he didn't even expect me to buy anything. Thankfully I was sat on a stool, because the streets are indeed as disgusting and dirty as people believe. For the benefit of anyone who's eating, ill or hungover, I won't post a photo.

OK, time for souvenirs. Which I said I wouldn't buy too many of. Famous last words. And I broke my first rule of souvenir-buying: don't get them from right by the tourist sites! That said, I was in a mood to haggle, and took a good two-thirds off most of their asking prices. Yes, if you can manage it, you can get tourist prices down to real prices. If they fake horror when you give them an actually realistic valuation of it, then you're doing it right.

Though if they ask for a stupidly high price, I tend to give them a stupidly low price so they know how I feel.

That said, why do people assume that when you've bought one souvenir, you want to buy something from every single seller in Kathmandu? No, I just want one, or this is going to cost too much.

Except I bought four.

Mostly because I just can't help but haggle, but there you go. Souvenirs: crap you don't want or need, but end up cluttering your house with anyway.

So I went for a wander and saved money by going to a small Nepali restaurant down a back alley. 40 rupees for a main? Yeah, I think I can afford 25p. They seemed bemused/surprised/happy to see a white man in there, and the youngest child seemed very happy when I slipped him a 5 rupee note.

I needed to go back to the Durbar Square after lunch because I'd forgotten a passport photo the first time, and I needed one to get my ticket extended for my entire stay.

lol jk we want your money
Wait, this guy's going that way on his motorbike, he'll give you a lift.

I've never been on a motorbike before, and my first time is on the streets of Kathmandu. OK then. Go with it.

To be fair, getting lost on the way to a place I'd been already caused more anxiety than nearly falling off a motorbike twice because people don't know how to drive in Nepal, but there you go.

I'd actually planned to head up to the Monkey Temple (which has a real name that there is no way I'm able to spell - or pronounce for that matter) for sunset, but then I was informed that there was a momo marathon on this evening. Momos are a bit like dumplings, and are a Nepali speciality. I highly recommend them, now I've eaten them outside of a momo marathon. In teams of 5 we had to locate 5 restaurants, buy a plate of momos between us at each place, eat them then return to the hostel quicker than the others.

I'm totally normal
While wearing a marathon-style number, of course. Which made running through Thamel even more fun. It especially amused the army as I sprinted barefoot through the streets of Kathmandu with a stomach full of momos as we paced back to the hostel having finished all five plates, something I definitely didn't go on about all evening. But we won! And I haven't won anything in ages. Simple victories.

But I definitely didn't make it to the Monkey Temple that evening. It had to wait for the next day, and yes, there are definitely monkeys there. One spat at me because I dared to take photos of it. Welcome to Kathmandu, eh?
He looks a bit grumpy. I should have known.
Then as per usual I couldn't help but haggle, and ended up getting a singing bowl that I'd been quoted 2500 for for 650. Except I'd haggled while climbing the steps to the stupa (it's not even a temple) because I didn't actually expect us to meet at any remotely reasonable price, and had to walk halfway down back to his stall.
This is about three-quarters of the way up. Yeah...
Safe to say I was dripping by the time I finally reached the top.

Oh, entrance fee. I tried telling them that I was Indian and pointing at my face, but even if it got a laugh it wasn't going to save me all of £1 on the entrance fee. No, rich white man will pay.

Impressive stupa as well.
Yes, I have about 5 t-shirts for 2 years, get over it
And monkeys swinging from prayer flags is also amusing, even when you've seemingly climbed halfway up Everest to get there.
Don't mind me
I wanted to head over to the other Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu today, the Boudhnath Stupa, which is even more impressive. And requires a bus to get to, not your own two legs. OK, let's find the bus station. Well, bus "station". More of a patch of gravel with buses on. OK, so the destination boards are all in Nepali script. Let's just shout BOUDHNATH, BOUDHNATH and hope someone helps the confused foreigner.

No, I can't even pronounce that properly, they're just looking at me funny now.

Found a bus that was going there though. Except it broke down halfway, and I had to find another bus to go on. They still tried to charge me double purely because I was foreign (quite blatantly too), which I made a fuss about until I realised that I was arguing over 10 rupees and that it probably meant more to him than me.

Still didn't pay the extra though.

The first bus that was going there wasn't really a bus at all, more of a Suzuki minivan affair.

Human tetris level: Nepal
The people on board already shifted up and gave me enough space for maybe half a buttock, but this is Nepal and you have to live without the concept of personal space here.

Then they tried to fit even more people in, and the conductor was hanging off the side.

Yes, this has a conductor, because this is Nepal and they use a different type of logic.

Getting out was fun too, since it essentially involved reversing a game of human tetris.

The Boudna Stupa is massive too. It's something you really have to visit to appreciate, because you walk round the corner and bam, there it is. And I walked around it about 3 times, which took a while, because the thing is so bloody big!
Doesn't nearly do it justice. It's beyond huge
Then I got lost down a back street but found a great local Tibetan restaurant, and of course I had to celebrate the previous day's victory with some momos. And then I had to find the main road again, which was easier said than done.

Best tactic: work out where excessive honking is coming from.
OK then.
So I headed back to the hostel, via an extended stop at the road junction nearby. Why? Because as I got there, the traffic police lost control and everything went at once, resulting in total chaos as noone could move anywhere, and many policemen running around like headless chickens trying to work out how to sort out the mess they'd just made.
Maybe if you just turned the traffic lights on then this wouldn't happen?
If someone brought some chairs and popcorn along, then they could feed their family for a week off the proceeds.

Oh right, it's Halloween tonight. I will trust someone to paint my face without telling them what to paint.

The lamp on the right side makes this photo even better.
And I spent so long here that it's going to take two blogposts for me to ramble on about it. Revolutionary.

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