I think this is the first time I am writing a post sitting in the location I am talking about. Like with my post about my trip to Kolkata, this one is written while sitting amongst the Himalayas, trying to dry off my hair after washing it with cold water out of desperation. I don’t know about my head but right now I am having a tough time feeling my fingers.
The visit to Nepal is once again due to work, and as always while I can’t actually disclose the locations, or the purpose, I can talk about my non work related experience. In this post I will primarily be talking about my stay in Kathmandu and a small district called Dhunche. My stoppage in Kathmandu was primarily as a stop-gap and for preparation purposes for the actual field work that was to happen, but due to various logistical reasons it landed up getting extended by a few days.
On our arrival at Kathmandu I got to experience first- hand what a really small airport is like. While I have been to Thimphu in Bhutan, I am afraid the Kathmandu airport was a lot less organized than Thimphu, even if it was larger in size. My main issue with the airport was its lack of organization in terms of the luggage belts. Though they have 7 odd belts and display information pertaining to which flight’s luggage will come on which belt, there is a tendency for chaos. This chaos is primarily resultant from three factors, a. most of the traffic in this airport is not tourists but Nepalese who have gone abroad for work (mostly to the gulf countries) and returning for their leave with remittances, which basically means large number of bulky cases, b. the airport has a tendency of putting more than one flights luggage onto one belt simultaneously which causes confusion and lastly, c. the airport has a tendency to changing the belts without intimation. Of course, it did not help matters that one of my colleague’s luggage didn’t get loaded from Mumbai and came only by the next flight, though I am pretty sure it was the Jet airways fault since they were the service providers. Apart from the struggle to get our luggage, the experience of the airport was pleasant, with money exchange, taxi and local sim card outlets located within the airport and the staff being extremely helpful.
During our stay in the city, we stayed at the Hotel Kido in a place called Thapathalli. While this is not the main tourist area of the city, we chose this hotel due to its convenience for our work. The hotel Kido, is a Japanese hotel and is established to serve the specific clientele. Let me clarify, I liked the hotel in terms of its rooms and the cooperation of the staff and would recommend it to anyone. However, my two problems with the hotel was that its restaurant, Tamura, is a Japanese only restaurant and that they kept the water in the mini bar fridge, which was chilling even in this weather. I mean seriously, I was usually afraid to even touch the bottles and had to leave them outside overnight to bring them to a drinkable temperature and asking for a room temperature bottle costs 89 Nepali Rupees. So I would recommend this hotel to anyone who likes Japanese cuisine, or at least doesn’t mind it. For those like me who are yet to develop a taste for it, I would suggest either eat outside or book another hotel, because even the breakfast is Japanese, and while you get served eggs, it’s never without their miso soup.
While talking about food, I wanted to discuss the local cuisine of the country, since we landed up having a lot of that. The national dish of the country is dal-bhaat (lentil soup and rice) and most of the traditional meals in the restaurants consist of dal-bhaat-tarkari/masu thaali, which is basically a huge plate with rice, lentil soup and 2-3 veggies (usually some greens and potatoes) or masu which means a meat preparation which can be chicken, pork or mutton according to your preference. These meals are extremely filling due to the serving size and also the fact that you can ask for refills without any extra cost. Apart from this, the other popular food items are fried rice, momos (dumplings) and thukpa (noddle soup). I would recommend to all travelling to this country to definitely try all of the above.
However, again one problem I have with the cuisine is that very understandably none of the preparations have much in terms of spices or flavouring and more important don’t really use salt. Now once again, usually I don’t mind it so much, but after more than 7 days of food that is solely dependent upon the lentils and veggies for flavour I am craving a good hearty spicy Indian meal.
On a side note, a sparrow just flew past my head close enough that I could feel its wings flapping, I wish Delhi’s birds were this daring. These two little ones have kept me pretty good company through the morning and for that I am grateful.
Of course, no account of any visit is complete without my experience in exploring the city, though I must admit it was very limited this time around. My explorations were primarily limited to the area called Thamel and Nayi Sadak (New Road). While Thamel is a popular destination for tourists, the new road appeared to be more of a place where the locals went for their shopping. Thamel offers to its visitors a bunch of hotel options, eating joints more varied and catering to the foreign visitors and of course for shopping for souvenirs to take back home. The reason we however explored this area was because of our need for outdoor gear, since upon arrival in the city we realised we had severely underestimated the cold of the mountains. While in Thamel, we purchased down jackets, wind cheaters, woollen socks, walking sticks, skull caps, gloves and sleeping bags.
Of course, not one to let go of an opportunity to shop, I also managed to purchase some souvenirs for my near and dear ones. One recommendation I would make to anyone visiting is to pick some leather or suede stuff. I managed to pick up coin purses, sling bags, ruck sacks and a messenger bag for my friends and family. While I know usually these things are mostly for girls, there were some really nice options in messenger and laptop bags for boys. Of course, I am told New Road is the place to go for leather jackets in case you are interested. Apart from this, those interested can also pick up some wood carvings, wooden masks, thangka paintings and the more traditional souvenirs of fridge magnets, post cards and t shirts in Thamel itself. Another good thing about Thamel is that while the rest of the city starts shutting down by 9 in winters, Thamel stays open till 2-3 in the morning, with its discs and lounge bars offering plenty of party options for those interested. If nothing else, I would suggest everyone to definitely take a walk down the streets to Thamel for anyone, as it provides a truly unique experience to that of the rest of the city. Apart from this, of course do take the time out to visit the Pashupati Nath temple and the Palace that has been converted into a museum after the royal family massacre.
A note to those planning to travel to the country, especially from India, you don’t need a visa or passport to enter Nepal, and can drive down quite easily (it being 36 odd hours from Delhi) and can also transact in Indian Rupees. However, a few words of caution for those using the Indian Currency, unlike Bhutan, in Nepal everyone knows the conversion rate between INR (Indian National Rupee) and NR (Nepali Rupee),which is around 1.6 NR to 1 INR, and will convert the amount to INR when requested. But more importantly, INR currency in denominations of 500 and 1000 is not only not tradable in the country but can confiscated as well, if carrying INR, carry 100 rupee notes or less. This is apparently primarily the result of the amount of INR forgeries that happen in the country, with even banks refusing to accept the big denominations. However, yes, if you find a trader who frequents India and seems to trust you, you may have luck with the big denominations but that is extremely rare.
After this, we made our way to a small district called Dhunche, which is known primarily for its proximity to the Langtang peak and the Langtang National Park. Located in northwest Nepal, from here you can see the last of the Himalayas that separate Nepal from China. The national park is primarily consisted of a peak and a small portion of the valley next to it and is reported to be known for the red panda and the snow leopard. However, looking at the mountain that is supposed to be part of the national park, I have my doubts about the snow leopard part. While Dhunche reportedly does not receive any snow fall of its own, the snow-covered peaks are pretty well visible and offer a sort of chill regardless of the fact that you are sitting in the sun right now. The good thing about the national park is that despite being less than a mile from Dhunche, it requires a trek of around a day to reach it, with no motorable roads. Of this I am glad because it means only those who are truly interested in going to the park or the peak bother coming up here.
Dhunche’s economy as such appears to be primarily geared towards catering to the tourism industry, which I must say is pretty decent and mostly composed of westerners. Dhunche offers you hotels, restaurants, outdoor gear shops and cyber cafes.
However, this time round, I did not get to explore much of this small little town, and hope to do so within a few weeks, when I return to country. In my best post, I will probably talk more about Dhunche and my further explorations of Kathmandu. Stay tuned.