Sunday, March 10
The Airport hotel was very convenient but unbelievably inefficient at checking people out. Bill and Gene got up early and checked in with the airlines for our 10:30 AM flight. But we would have missed our flight if we waited in the check-out line at the hotel. Since we had no additional charges we just left the key at the desk and ran to the airport. We didn't account for the long passport control lines. Everyone has to check and stamp your passport multiple times. We got to the gate as the plane was boarding.
The 3 1/2 hour flight to Kathmandu, Nepal was over in no time! The temperature was in the high 70s when we landed at 12:30 PM local time. Our guide from Journeys, Natang Sherpa, met us at the airport and accompanied us on the harrowing ride to the Hotel Marshyangdi. The Nepalese drive on the left side of the road and enjoy playing "chicken" in the narrow roads. Horns are constantly blaring and accidents are avoided by centimeters.
After checking into our room we exchanged money at the hotel and walked to Durbar Square. The exchange rate was 53R (rupees) per dollar. We took lots of pictures of the streets, people, animals, and architecture. We also wandered through Indrachowk and Asantole markets where we saw more brightly colored cloth and pot shops.
The narrow dirt streets were lined with tiny shops, each selling a particular ware. Butcher shops sold freshly slaughtered goats, chickens, and water buffalo (without the benefit of refrigeration). In addition to the shops, numerous vendors sold their wares in the streets. From windows above the shops, laundry was hung out to dry and people watched all the noisy activity on the street. Shrines and temples were everywhere.
People dressed in brightly colored outfits, ranging from traditional Indian saris to Western attire filled the streets. Children on their way to/from school were dressed in their school uniforms and each carried a thermos with a shoulder strap and a book bag. The sights, sounds, colors, and smells of the city surrounded you. Colorful signs hung everywhere in both English and Devanagri script. Piles of garbage were pushed into the streets where cows, dogs, goats, and chickens would "recycle" the waste. The cows even consumed cardboard.
It wasn't as dusty or smoky in the city as I expected. Although many locals did wear dust masks or cover their mouths and noses with cloth, we didn't find it necessary. Shop owners swept the dirt and dust away from their shops and the few people who had cars were constantly wiping them off with towels. Water was thrown on the streets to help keep the dust down.
The hardest part about traveling around the city was trying to avoid being hit by the bicycles, rickshaws, motorcycles, 3-wheeled cars, and people carrying huge loads. The Indians balanced their loads on their heads, while the Tibetans carried across their shoulders 2 baskets suspended from opposite ends of a bamboo pole. The Nepalese strap a long head band to their load and support the weight with their heads.
The people seemed fascinated by Sean and he was self-conscious at first. Eventually he got used to being stared at and followed by crowds. Many people attempted to carry on limited conversations in English. We spoke no Nepali other than the formal greeting, "Namaste" which translates to "I salute the God in you". The children were the most enthralled. Many approached us asking for food or money. Most were not too persistent. The Nepalese women are beautiful, but they don't age well (neither do the men). Most have nose rings and the younger girls have "training hoops". Some of the women have a considerable amount of jewelry in their nose. Bill and Gene thought it would be a good idea if I got a nose ring - so I could fit in better with the locals.
Walking back to our hotel we stopped at Rani Pokhari- a palace surrounded by a lake. Bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars, and buses were difficult to avoid. Sean counted 43 dogs, but lost track of the many cows, goats, and chickens along the way. Hopefully counting the animals won't continue throughout the trip! After returning to our hotel we went to the roof and got a spectacular view of the city. Our hotel is one of the highest in the city - 5 stories tall. The air is not clear - so you can't see too far, but there are mountains around here.
We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant. Sean had "Kentucky Fried Chicken and French Fries" - your typical Italian meal. The food was fine and no one is sick yet! It was all Sean could do to keep from sleeping during dinner.
Monday, March 11
Bill got up early to take pictures, but the morning light was not very good. We went on a half day tour of Bhaktapur (the medieval city), Pashupatinath (the holiest Hindu temple where cremations are performed), and Boddhanath Stupa (the largest Buddhist Stupa). It was quite warm and Sean wanted to go to the Monkey Temple. Luckily there were some Rhesus monkeys at Pashupatinath. We also witnessed 2 cremations. All of the deceased's belongings were tossed into the river, along with food offerings and eventually their ashes. Needless to say we stayed far away from the river.
After returning to the hotel we ate lunch at the garden cafe. The food was good and the fish and chips rejuvenated Sean. Bill, Sean, & I took a rickshaw to Durbar Square and spent the afternoon wandering the streets. Gene didn't want to be approached by anyone else trying to sell Ghurkha knives, Tiger balm, fruit, or other handicrafts. We gave some children stickers with American flags. Boy, were they a hit! Every child in the square was after us for more.
When informed that the mail service to the USA was extremely slow (~18 days for a letter to arrive), we decided to get all our postcards now and ship them back to the states. That was the only way the postcards would arrive before we returned. Unfortunately we couldn't put down the most exciting part of our trip, since it hadn't happen yet!
A young Nepalese boy wanted to take all three of us back to the hotel in his bicycle rickshaw. We eventually relented and he had a very difficult time - but he made it. We met our guide for dinner, plus the owner of Journeys in Nepal, Pemba Sherpa. We ate in the fancy restaurant above the hotel with another trekker, Gary, who is traveling to the Everest region with Journeys. We had a buffet dinner, talked about the trek, and watched a cultural dance and music show. Sean fell asleep at 7:00 PM - long before dinner started. He has had no trouble adjusting to the 12 hour and 15 minute time difference! All of us, on the other hand, have been awake at 1:30 AM. It is impossible to get back to sleep, especially with the relentless honking horns and barking dogs! Hopefully we will get some sleep on the trek.
Journeys informed us of the record snowfall Nepal has had this year and specified that no trips have gone into the sanctuary yet this year. They had reports of 3 feet of fresh snow and advised us that we may need to change our plans. They were willing to begin our trek and get as close to the sanctuary as we could before deciding to change routes if necessary.