The task of finding our hotel was typical of the start of one of our trips. We flagged a taxi, negotiated the price down slightly, and then enjoyed his commentary of his town as we made our way towards our hotel. Similar to other countries traveled, Kathmandu doesn't have addresses, simply districts, so all we had was a hotel name and a zoomed out map. We gave the driver the ok to drop us off at a spot that appeared close to our hotel, and began our walk. It took us close to an hour and five friendly locals to find our hotel that was less than 3 blocks away. We took advantage of the first of many complimentary masala teas that our hotel offers, any time of day.
Total time from Portland home to Kathmandu Boutique Hotel was 41 hours, 3 of which we may have slept. I took a quick snooze before we wandered the streets in search of our first Nepalese meal. A restaurant with 5 tables was our choice, with a couple working the small kitchen on the other side of a half wall. We ordered a set Nepali meal that included the traditional dish Dal Bhat (steamed rice and a lentil purée soup), chicken curry, and a veggie dish similar to collard greens. A plate of Momos complimented that perfectly. Momos are dumplings that can be prepared steamed, fried, or Kothey (pan fried) with your choice of chicken, veggies, or buff and served with a chutney dipping sauce. We assumed buff was their misspelling of beef, but turns out it is water buffalo. And it's our current favorite.
Despite the 12 hour 45 minute time difference, our exhausted bodies slept hard the first night and didn't leave the bed until 9am. Included in the $16 per night accommodation fee is a complimentary breakfast. It's been a bit redundant to eat every morning, but the American style toast and eggs served by young, polite locals has been a wonderful start to each day. Following our breakfast, we threw our passports and cash in a day bag and began the walk towards a few business offices. Our errands all consisted of preparing us for our trek, the reason we decided to have a 3 week long layover in Nepal. After some debate between Micah and I on whether starting our 3.5 month backpacking trip with the most physically challenging activity we've ever tackled was wise, we acknowledged it wasn't wise but we were going to do it anyway. Reading travelers' blogs and travel agencies sites aided us in settling on hiking Gokyo Ri. We would start our trek in Lukla, hike the first 2 days of the Everest Base Camp trail, and then veer to the east to the less popular route with our final destination being the highest freshwater lakes in the world. To accomplish all this, it is required to register for a TIMS hiker permit, a park pass for Sagarmatha National Park, book travel to and from Lukla, and rent the gear that we chose not to pack from home.
Our first stop was the Tourist Service Center, where we paid 3,000 rupees each ($27 USD) for the Park Pass, and were told that we'd have to purchase the TIMS registration card at the first checkpoint on the trail. We crossed a few pedestrian bridges over busy roads to find the Nepal Airlines office in
hopes of purchasing a plane ticket that would take us to the short, scary runway on the side of the
mountain in Lukla. Word on the street was that there was construction of the domestic runway at the
Kathmandu airport and therefore, trekkers must bus 5 hours from Kathmandu to Manthali, then a 25 minute flight to Lukla. We were hoping to find an airline that was still flying out of Kathmandu but
we failed. We have since handed over 76,590 rupees to the travel agent at our hotel to book our flight, plus a taxi to take us to the bus at 2:30am on Tuesday.
Once our to-do tasks were completed, we strolled the popular streets of Thamel. Lunch was spring rolls and Momos, followed by a few quiet hours at the hotel. We made our way back out in search of a noodle dish for dinner, remembering we are only 75 miles away from China.
Saturday was devoted to a self guided walking tour of Durbar Square, or old Kathmandu. Although there was evidence of damage from the 2015 earthquake, the open-air architectural museum of magnificent medieval temples, pagodas, pavilions, and shrines remains. The historic center was once occupied by Nepal's royal family and is home today to the Kumari, Kathmandu's very own living
goddess. Kumari, meaning princess or virgin, is worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. The child
deity is chosen through a thorough, and strange process; she must possess certain physical
characteristics, including "black eyes, hair, and eyelashes like a cow. Plus, twenty unbroken teeth and body like a banyan tree." Her horoscope must also match that of the king. Once selected, the young girl has to spend the night alone in a courtyard with the severed heads of animals. And, if she showscourage and fearfulness during such frightening times, then she becomes eligible to be the next
of Nepal. She will hold this position until she suffers some kind of injury or illness, or until
her first menstrual cycle. The current Kumari is 5 years old, lives a secretive and isolated life in the Kumari Bahal temple within Durbar square, and is rarely seen by the public. Micah recognized her
home temple and we strolled in the small, open doorway to check out the small central courtyard.
And there she was, standing on the balcony, with an emotionless (bored maybe?) look on her face,
while a crowd of 60 people stared up at her for the few seconds she appeared. It is believed that she
bestows good fortune upon those that see her; we plan to cash in on that good fortune during our trek.
Another lunch of Momos and Dal Baht was consumed on our way back to the hotel. The sunny
afternoon was enjoyed in the peaceful courtyard of our hotel, drinking complimentary masala tea, and discussing our travel plans with the agent. We have definitely found a comfortable routine in Kathmandu, generally waking early, playing the tourist role in the morning, finding a small meal for lunch, and then back to the hotel for some down time in the afternoon before dinner. With our Momo expertise increasing, we returned to a previous restaurant that had the best Momos we'd had yet this trip, along with chicken butter masala.
Initially, we had discussed leaving for our trek on Sunday. Our minds were easily swayed when we
learned that Sunday was Nepal's New Year and there would likely be a celebration. Also, Saturday is their "rest day" where businesses close, and we needed to do a bit more prepping for our trip. Continuing to make our way everywhere by foot and simulatenously train for our trek, we found a shop to reserve two sleeping bags for the hike, then walked to the airline office to book onward tickets to Bangkok. On our way, we encountered the beginnings of the New Year celebration in the form of what appeared to be a thin Christmas tree on a float with large wooden wheels. We'll come back to that later. For lunch- Momos.
<<additional pictures and better formatting will occur in the very near future. The app and the internet are not being friendly at this time>>
Sunday evening, we ventured out in hopes of finding some celebratory fun and dinner. Our ears led us towards Durbar square. To avoid the 1000 rupee entrance fee to the square, we explored the back streets of old Kathmandu. Once inside the square, we were touching shoulders with locals while bands- consisting of handheld drums and cymbals- made a lot of noise. We walked down the narrow street with three story houses on each side, and spotted the large Christmas tree float and a lot of commotion. As we got closer, we noticed more policeman. They began pushing people to the sides of the road to clear the center. Then the float began to move, pulled by 15 humans, on 6 foot diameter wooden wheels. It teetered side to side and we questioned our safety, pinned against the wall on the side of the street. It would move a few feet at a time and then stop. Every time it started moving, the police seemed more concerned and demanding, and the crowd seemed to scream louder with excited fright. As it neared us, we bolted for a safer spot to watch. It passed, and before attempting a sharp corner near the temples, a young man climbed to the top of tree which stood at least a story taller than the buildings, and unraveled cloth banners. After we felt content with the New Year celebrations, we returned to our hotel for dinner.
Today started with a hike to Swayambhunath Buddhist Temple. The "monkey temple" soars above the city on a hilltop, providing views of the sprawling city, and a challenging stair climb to get our trekking legs under us. The temple lived up to its nickname, as monkeys ran across the stairs, played with the souvenir stands, and swung from trees.
We continued to prepare for our trek the rest of the day. Picked up our rental sleeping bags, our clean clothes from one of the souvenir shops that also offers laundry services, hit the ATM to load up our pockets with rupees since we won't have access to ATMs on the trek, and filled our bellies with more Momos and a great Chinese dinner. We expect to eat Dal Baht and drink tea primiarly during our trek. Our bags are packed- the smallest two carrying clothes to shield us as we ascend over 8,000 ft and experience a 30+ degree drop in temperature, and the largest bag to be stored at our hotel. We are prepared with medication for altitude sickness, a water filtration system, toilet paper, and a deck of playing cards. As much as we've enjoyed the culture, food options, and socializing that Kathmandu has offered us, we are ready to get out of the city and into the mountains. The Himalayan Mountains!