Friday 12 July -The flight from Dubai to Katmandu was un-eventful, except for someone fainting. On arrival we had to fill out visa forms and opt for a 30 day one. Which by the way you can’t pay in Nepalese Ruppee – every other western currency is accepted. We’d changed all our current money to Nepalese Rupees, silly that we’d assumed Nepal would accept their own currency really.
The airport was a bit of a throwback to the 70s with cheap wooden panelling everywhere, it was in need of a facelift. It was also very small and underdeveloped considering it’s an international gateway. On the plus side it meant a quick exit.
We arrived in the evening so it was dark when we left the airport. I was fully prepared for Thailand esque hassling when we stepped out of Arrivals but it didn’t happen. We swiftly booked a taxi and went on our way in an old rackety jeep with no seatbelts. It could not be more different from Dubai. The roads are REALLY bad, riddled with massive holes, majority are not surfaced properly and there are no street lights. Motorbikes, cars, lorries and cows were everywhere and the crazy has begun. We immediately felt smug with the decision to send the big bike to Thailand.
Once at our chosen hotel in Thamel which was fairly decent, we were convinced to eat in the hotel as it was 21.00 already and they said everything would be closed. We were ambushed by the enthusiastic hotel manager who did his best impression of Dev Patel in the ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ he was giving us the full hard sell on all the treks and tried to scare us into submission so that we wouldn’t hire a motorbike. ‘Very bad landslides, very dangerous, you must not go’ but we we’re given a similar scare-mongering routine so that we wouldn’t leave the hotel for dinner ‘very dangerous alley, strange man follow, robbery and attacks in the town, we will protect you’ blah blah
By the end of the next day we loved Nepal. We ignored all the advise and left the hotel to find a Royal Enfield motorcycle, glad to report we were not raped during the process.
It was however a little bit of mission to find the place. Armed with an address from the ‘Wild Tracks’ website and GPS on the iPhone, we set off, convinced it was only an hour’s walk at the most. A dozen back alleys and a few hours later we had not unearthed the place – the locals didn’t have a clue. A quick call to HQ made us non the wiser ‘next to the petrol station on blah blah street’ The only thing left was a taxi, who also didn’t have a clue so we ended up ringing an engaged line a few times before we finally got back intouch and Wild Tracks could direct the taxi to their illusive office.
We never had a hope in hell of finding the place. It was obvious now why no-one had heard of it – there was absolutely no sign and it was only a small office above a convenience store. Not exactly the garage with Royal Enfields lined up I’d envisaged. It turns out it’s just a one-man outfit and he was actually at home – where the bikes were stored so he came and picked us up. He had his family round so we felt slightly rude interrupting the proceeding, even more so when we have to wait inside due to sudden downpour. His mum offered us tea and biscuits Nepali style. We courteously accepted – only to realise they drink the tea very similar to how Iranians drink their yoghurt – salty. It was butter tea which is a traditional drink here but again not one we enjoyed.
We did the deal on 500cc, rather than the 350cc Paul had enquired about, as we knew there were a lot of steep hills ahead. Mr Sherap agreed to bring to hotel on Sunday as he needed to replace a footpeg, he handed over the soft panniers he supplies which had definitely seen better days and suggested we got them repaired. So that’s what we’ll we do, as well as a bit of sight-seeing.
The area we stayed in is concentrated with backpackers and is like one big hippy shop. They’re not the ‘Gap yaaar, mummy and daddy paid for this trip’ backpackers though. Definitely more the traditional hippies – dreadlocks and tie-die t-shirts. The joy in that its completely kitted out with everything [for hiking in particular] and is super cheap so shopping is easy. Everyone sells the same shit too which makes bartering a lot easier.
I wasn’t prepared to spend 1500 rupees on fake North face rain suits when we already have them, just didn’t bring them. So chose instead the full cape style rain jacket. The drawback of these capes is wet legs.
The panniers were easy to get repaired, it only required a little walk and asking in a few shops. We were directed to a shoe shop from a tailors…would have thought the other way round. After half an hour both gaping holes plus two small patches were repaired and I’d made a new little friend who took a fancy to my camera and was seconds away from a full tantrum when I put it back in bag. It cost just 200 rupees – about £1.30.
Whilst in Kathmandu we also visited Durbar Square, tourists are charged 750 rupees whereas locals get in for 100. The museum in the old royal palace had some interesting artefacts and pictures of all the royal families which ruled during the many dynasties of Nepal. It would seem that King Mahendra that ruled around 1950s was somewhat of a trend setter and brought in the skinny jeans and Rayban look. Google him, you’ll see. A climb to the top of the seven-storey palace was rewarded with great views over Kathmandu. If it wasn’t rainy season I’m sure we would have seen the Himalayas in the background too.
Around the square are lots of holy men milling around and willingly oblige for a photo if paid. Cheeky monkeys asked for more, when I took a second photo, no chance pilgrims. That evening we ate some really great curry in some back street restaurant where we were the only diners, we returned for a second time and it was just as delicious. This is where Paul’s love of chips chilly began. Basically chips smothered in a sweet/sour/spicy sauce with onion and peppers.
It’s not as full on madness as I’d expected but then again we’re here in off season. The roads are tiny and there are no paths, so pedestrians, cyclists, bikes, taxis and cattle all share the same bit of road, so it has its potential for absolute chaos.