Episode 3: Kathmanduno

I am in Kathmandu, Nepal, with Nic and Rob and Nim.

We are all still alive.

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It hasn’t been an easy ride. For example, one of us made it through immigration at Kathmandu airport without a visa, despite filling out all the relevant forms and paying the relevant 100USD. One of us discovered this two days in, and had to spend a morning at the airport (One Of Us managed to walk back through the airport to immigration without attracting much attention). One Of Us proceeded to be argued over by ALL airport security men in the locality, apparently trying to work out exactly where the blame lay and how to fix it. After protracted demonstrations from the two security guard camps, One Of Us – hot, tired, intimidated, anxious – had a little demonstration of their own, at which point said visa was finally handed over. In addition to this the group has suffered allergies, bites, coughs, sunstrokes, sicknesses, faintings, a bit of contagious sad, and being full after eating too much dinner. Not to mention the kind of fatigues you suffer after too much bargaining with opportunistic taxi drivers. As a group, it must be said, we are doing pretty damn well.

Kathmandu is exactly what I pictured: a loud, dusty, dirty, in-your-face, gloriously helter-skelter kind of a place where, level with my windows, a club turns up the speakers 8 – late every evening, treating me to cheese favourites including Shaggy, Sean Paul, and that song I bloody love about crashing a car because you don’t care. Yes, I love terrible cheese. But not when it’s so loud the bass hurts my ears, and not when I’m trying to read or sleep, and not so much when it’s competing with Kings of Leon from the club next door. Same tracks every night. Pretty sure it’s just one CD on repeat.

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The hotel is great. The view from the roof terrace is spectacular on a clear day. The staff are the friendliest, most helpful people in the world. But wait… THERE IS DOUBLE SHAGGY! Currently got ‘It Wasn’t Me’ thumping from one club and ‘Angel’ from the other. My 17-year old self is in heaven. My 30-year old self is about to put in earplugs. Anyway, hotel great. Room loud. Roof garden looks out over city, surrounded by foothills and – somewhere behind the clouds – mountains. Staying in the Nepal equivalent of Khao San Road. Any sane person would just move but WE’RE A GROUP, DAG NAMMIT, AND BY GOODNESS WE ARE GOING TO ACT LIKE IT!

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So far we have done yoga once, an activity that included 6 magnificent group om chants and a range of weird, painful movements during which we were told to “breathe into” whichever muscle happened to be in use at the time.

We have visited a preserved medieval city (Bhaktupur), temples marvellous in their detail, design, colours, size, significances; little-visited backstreets gems of real life: dusty, full of industry, paint sun-pale and flaking, elders gossip in the shade as kids run wild and mad dogs snooze in the sun. Before we left there was a procession across the main square, loud and colourful, and none of us knew why.

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We went to Kopan monastry, on a hill overlooking the valley, one hot morning clear and sunbright. Nic joined the monks in morning puja while we listened and explored, and afterwards were given gifts of monkfood. We walked from the monastry down and down into the town below, and visited Bhoudanath and it’s glorious, many-eyed stupa decked in prayer flags and pigeons.

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And yesterday we went to visit “the Didis”, the landladies who own the property Rob and Nim grew up in. They fed us and watched us eat but didn’t eat themselves, and the talk was of how the place had changed and what had stayed the same, and about people they used to know and things they used to do.

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It’s 11 days until we trek and I already miss spicy home food: somtam and sticky rice, spicy vermicelli salad, spicy chicken deliciousness, spicy, spicy, spicy. Nim leaves on Tuesday and the others arrive soon after that. I need to buy Gear and work out how to purify my water so that I don’t get the giardia Sir Beardalot thinks I may already have had. Bully for me, chums. It’s raining right now so it’s a comfy chair and Jane Eyre for the afternoon, and then later perhaps a scrumptious Nepali thali or Tibetian momos. Nic and Rob’s first child will be called Momo, whatever it’s name.

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Thank you, Nic, for letting me steal this photo.

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