October 6, 2011
Nepal- *a deep breath in.. and a deep breath out* This post has been Marinating for far too long and now its time to serve. Not sure where to begin, but lets do it from the top.
*Screeeech* touchdown at Kathmandu airport; there was more anxiety in me than the plane could hold. I was with my friend Mat, who had never been here before and his brains were infused and baked with all the excitement from my last time around. After a ride of giggles and a few shenanigans the hostess bid us adieu with a funny smirk and a wink; we were of course the only chirpy ones on the plane who were in fits of laughter throughout the ride.
In actuality I think that was my body’s mechanism to hide the fact that I was a tad bit nervous; nervous about whether it had changed much and whether it would be like I described it. I had painted a fun, rustic, colorful, and culture saturated picture for Mat and I was hoping real hard that it remained that way. The last time around I came in April (the peak season) it was slightly cooler and dry. But this last minute trip had us flying in at the end of August – RAINY SEASON. Hadn’t realized it until after I booked my flight and after 2 nights of panicking and making calls, I was informed by some birdies that the rains were just vanishing and that I hadn’t to worry and that all the adventure sports I was keen to do were all going on; and now here we were in Kathmandu!
After a little haggling (like you always must in Nepal) we managed to get into a cab and I kid you not, the prices were just the same as before. “Theres a sign” I thought to myself with a slight enthusiasm that my hopes were turning to reality. The cab made its way through the one-lane windy streets of Kathmandu, and then I smiled. There was live music oozing out of open windows, delicious smells thickening the air and people haggling their way through shops as shop keepers followed them with a “best buy price”. Nope! It hadn’t changed at all. We immediately dropped our luggage and without any hesitation ran out into the streets for our first delicious meal. Word was, a Thai restaurant down the street dished out some really good food and that it was “authentic”. With low expectations of “authenticity” we hurried along with our empty stomachs guiding us, and there it was ” Yin Yang Restaurant”; a bright red sign that was tucked amongst about a 100 other sign posts. We thought.. hmm third world country, eat what you get, authentic or not at least its food. And gosh were we in for a delightful surprise.
We were guided through a narrow corridor which was decorated with inverted printed umbrellas dangling from the ceiling. Our waiter seated us at one of the few low tables scattered inside. We looked at the menu and eyes skimmed past a few of the well know Thai, red, green and yellow curries. Oddly enough every time we saw pork our yes gleamed with happiness. Our pork deprivation in Dubai was obvious when we went ahead and ordered BBQ pork for the starters, a pork stir fry with a pork fried rice and a Thai chicken yellow curry; we thought.. maybe too much pork so lets get 1 non-pork item. The waiter looked at us as if to say “seriously???” to which Mat replied, yeah… we don’t get a lot of pork in Dubai! Out came the food and God were we humming to every bite or what! Honestly the best BBQ pork ribs I’ve had I think; sticky, tender and bursting with flavors without being drowned in HP’s BBQ sauce. After we were done we attempted to do something you SHOULD NOT do in third world countries… look into the kitchen; *drum roll* it was spotlessly clean! My eyes popped out (insert Jim Carrey’s eyeball popping scene from the Mask) The chefs had proper attire, clean kitchen counters, clean kitchen floors… it was immaculate! and it seemed to be the case in almost every kitchen we popped our heads into.
After having stuffed our stomachs with food for 4 people that night, we walked around the streets and we saw stars 🙂 The sky was clearer than clear. Every bar was bustling and we were thinking… is this really the off-peak season? Even the rains seemed to cast a spell on us making us believe it is the best time to be here. The rains worked on a schedule; it rained from about 2am to 4am, crystal clear skies framing the beautiful mountain ranges in the distance up to 10am, cloudy up until 4pm, light drizzle for an hour, and then clear skies until 11pm.
It worked fabulous for us really, thanks to this routine we got to see the Himalayas on our mountain flight, and the majestic, bold and snooty Everest plunging out amongst competing mountains. The sights surrounding stirred something up in me; personally it felt like the earth was angry, the terrain was rough, sharp, steep with a few teal green lakes breaking the monotonous white and gray landscape; you could feel the cold violent weather up on these peaks from just a look, but at the same time a slight sense of serenity capped the peaks, the untouched smooth pile of snow sat like icing on top of a wedding cake. It was an interesting experience on a 11-seater aircraft whose stability was constantly doubted. The hostess allowed us to take rounds up to the cockpit to photograph landscape views of a site you only see in magazines. It was stunning, magnificent, and I felt honored to be able to see this to say the least! In about 30 minutes we were back over Kathmandu and needless to say the stability of the flight was confirmed with our pilot landing the aircraft with the front wheels first!!! A Giant thud silenced the tiny carrier with everyone looking around to see if that was a landing or an accident. Everyone walked out with a smile celebrating 2 facts; one, that they were alive and secondly, a certificate that said “I saw Everest”; in exactly that order too.
According to the tentative schedule we drafted, we had a couple more days in Nepal before we headed off to adventure town – Last Resort. We spent the 2 days visiting stunning temples; Swayambunath particularly! You cant miss the monkey infested place. Those punks look pretty cuddle-worthy with their cute little beadie eyes and cute little baby monkey faces grabbing on to cute mommy monkeys but the next thing you know you’re holding on to only the spoon of the icecream cup you just purchased. The 365 steps up to the buddhist temple is a damn struggle alright but those beads of sweat and heavy sunken breaths seem like a pretty good currency to enjoy 360 degree breathtaking panoramic views, with sounds of chanting monks and a few of the pilgrims spinning mantra wheels in the background. Oh get this.. the shocking bit was when Mat and I, found out that there was a less steep back entrance with not that many stairs and had a road leading up to it with tourists getting out of taxis… Great! So clearly our taxi driver didnt like us.
And Street food! Oh we ate a LOT of street food, speaking of which you simply cannot miss MOMOS. This one time we went on a momo hunt, someone told us..”you have to have some momos they are delicious” and all we spoke was “momo” every waiter that greeted us was greeted back with a “momo?” But there was reason to our insanity and your insanity will be cured with a bite of that momo 🙂 mmm happiness! We sat at tables with other expats, chomping on momos, exchanging stories with trekkers who had decided to come to Nepal for a weekend but have ended up staying for a few months… “How Weird” I thought to myself; but at so many times in my stay in Dubai, I have thought of just packing up and travelling for months on end, just to give my life a little shakeup, a new twist and see where life takes me. Thats the adventurer in me talking out loud, but that requires a lot of balls… and NO I dont have them 🙁
As a big foodie, I have 2 things that I NEED to get checked off on my list; try street food and try some fine-dining. I always like to see what the locals munch on for a quick snack, what gets them drooling as they pass shops and decide to stop for a quick bite; and simultaneously, I do like to experience what the best have to offer, how good is great food, and so after a little poking around the lonely planet book and a few enquiries we were rushing off to Bachha Ghar. We were running cause we were late.. and not for an un-birthday party, but because there was a special dance performance… and guess what.. it got done just when we arrived, but they were so hospitable and welcoming, they decided to repeat a couple of dance routines for us. As for the food, ofcourse, no it ain’t no fine dinning, but we dinned finely for sure 🙂 The food.. Oh God, thinking of it gets me salivating. Have a look for yourself.
We ordered a traditional non-veg thali; which is basically a plated buffet of an assortment of everything awesome. They served up some Momos mmmmm (insert evil laugh), some dal; “THE” best I have tasted; some fantastic boar, Mat emptied out the whole pot and had the waiters running staircases to get another; chicken curry and a few other things. And their Dessert.. it was rather simple but really delicious, it was sweet and spicy yoghurt, yup! thats all it was… but God was it yummy or what?!! Definitely a must visit.
Mat was completely consumed with awe on visiting Bhaktapur – aka temple town, situated about a 4-hour drive away from Kathmandu. It houses roughly about 10 temples and a few scattered monuments. Its gated premise with a small entrance fee seems to preserve the age of this town. The moment you walk past the checkpoint, the narrow alleys take you into a rabbit hole of the past. You cant help but want to feel the walls as if to challenge the reality of it. Every building adorned with antique wooden carvings almost makes you feel like you are walking into “The Marina” warehouse. The tiny windows, frame curious residents poking and staring at new sets of tourists walking past their houses. Its easy to tell that these alleys have been walked by a billion tourists; few of the residents have set up mini stalls, selling similar goods to those you find in Kathmandu, but for a slightly higher price. The kids amongst a few adults have learnt to shout out “money” at every tourist pointing a camera at them. This place is a photographers dream for those seeking to fill up a portrait portfolio. The best part is engaging in stories with the locals explaining the history behind the monuments set up. Mid-April brings in the Nepalese new year and Bhaktapur showcases some of the biggest celebrations in Nepal and trust me you don’t want to miss this, I was there!! It gathers roughly 20-30000 people including both expats and swarming tourists. Celebrations go on for a couple days and it is best advised to book accommodation in Bhaktapur so you can fully engage in celebrations without worrying to drive back and forth to Kathmandu.
We got back to Kathmandu and out next stop was The Last Resort. If you’re not a crazy adventure hungry person, worry not it does have more to offer other than the bungy (which i did twice- once forward and once backward) canyoning, high rope climbing and white water rafting. It does sound a lot like monkey business doesnt it… but yeah there are nice treks around the area winding through small villages and schools in the vicinity. Oh you cant miss the gigantic dope plants.. wait should I say trees rather? Yeah they aren’t consumable.. at all, that’s for sure and leave all it at that. People come here mainly for the bungy though- second highest bungy point in the world 160mt over the Bhote Kosi river. Things like this get my adrenaline flowing and I’m an adrenaline junky 🙂 it does make me feel alive. Here is my Bungy Jump… check it out 🙂
And then it came to me… those words of random trekkers we met.. “we decided to stay for a little longer…” Its not uncommon for people to have extended stays, Nepal has an addictive aura and you cant seem to get enough of it, the humbleness and friendliness of the people, the crowds, the simplicity, it draws you in like a black hole, making it harder to escape to reality with every passing day. I was almost caught in it; Mat was also caught in it, he even blurted “hmm I think I can stay a little longer, dont have much to do when I get back” as we were sitting having breakfast by the serene lakes of Pokhara. But I snapped out of the spell Nepal cast on me and decided to make my way back home for all the right reasons.
Oh we did go to Pokhara also, but thats a whole new post (will be up soon). Have you guys been to a place that almost had u hooked like a fish on bait? Have any of you actually extended your stay (some of my friends stayed 3 days longer the last time I visited). Do share your stories please! Travel stories are the best!