Kathmandu Mon 8 November – Wed 12 January 2011
As I type incredibly we've been in Ktm over 3 weeks! We have been saying "we'll do that when we get to Kathmandu" for ages and suddenly -here we were with a HUGE to do list. First we got our beautiful new Aussie passports - the extra long ones so we don't run out of space this time - $315 (ouch!!) a pop!
I went to Healthy Smiles my local embassy recommended dentist for what I thought was a quick replacement of a filling and ended up with a hell of a lot of repair work - so another dentist marathon less than a year after the one in Dhaka! Once I reached the end of that I was off to the doctor for the pains in my hip/leg which have been getting worse for a while -to be diagnosed with siatica! Honestly it feels a bit like the beginning of the end. Our friend Linda recommended Dr Fatima -a lovely Tibetan Muslim lady who is a Tibetan healer and I've been going there on a regular basis to be pounded and pulsed and thankfully it does seem to be working.
We also caught up with Laxmi the agent (appropriately named after the goddess of wealth!) who deals with obtaining visas to India. As detailed before this is getting harder and harder -so we were relieved when advised as long as we paid the appropriate fee (bribe!) and only wanted a single entry visa we should have no problems getting another (our last this trip!) 6 month visa back into India. As annoyingly for Indian visas the time runs from the date it's granted not the date of entry we decided to hang off until the new year to get our Indian visa -so that job's now on the back burner.
In between juggling my medical appointments we have also been waiting for various packages flying in from around the globe-well the US and Oz. Not for the first time on our trip we have been overwhelmed with the generosity of people who have come to our aid. So - in no particular order - our thanks go to Mat and the team at Raw4x4 for providing us with new shocks, Airlift Company in the US for new airbags, Ross at Britax for new side mirrors, and Peter at Rhino for new roof racks. Once we coordinate collection of all these we can book some time at the mechanics to get them all fitted and we'll be be A1 condition again!
Thanks also go to Carie at Keens Footwear in the US who gave us new shoes at half price. Andrew loves his Keens and has been wearing them nonstop since he bought them in Darwin over 3 years ago so they are now pretty dilapidated. Thanks also go to Andrew's relative Shea from Dallas who kindly agreed to let us use her address to get the goods delivered. We couldn't get them without a US address - there are agencies that offer to provide a US postal address but they were crazily expensive -so we were very relieved she agreed to help us. Finally, whilst not really a sponsor on the subject of grateful thanks we really need to mention a very nice couple we met from Edinburgh Mark and Jane.
We own an old LP for Nepal but due to a slight accident over the monsoons in Bangladesh -in which the roof leaked heavily - it is bit water logged and some of the pages stick. So …we were looking at the new(er) 2nd hand editions in a book shop - and reluctantly deciding we couldn't really justify the expense when Mark and Jane approached us and asked if we'd like their almost new LP as they were flying on to India and had no more use for it. They gave it us and vanished -just like that - we hardly had time to thanks them properly! So …if you ever read this thanks so much guys we really do appreciate it - it's a real treat for us to have an up to date version we usually manage with old ones. We hope you have a great time for the rest of your trip.
Whilst here we've also get our brand new bespoke shower tent up and running! Our last one has done well for 3 years but it was really on the verge of collapse. It gets used (and thus wet) twice a day every day and has been patched up repeatedly but even so it was really on its last legs and we were shortly destined to be showering in the nude -not a good look -particularly in the salubrious surroundings of the scouts! Anyway Andrew designed and project managed the creation of our new one -and it's VERY posh indeed -a lot bigger than its predecessor and it folds directly into a packet on the roof so no need to put it away in the car. Very impressive!
As well as all these chores we have had time to do some socializing in Ktm -with both new friends and old.
We met up for momos and wine with Gill and Bipin a few times and had dinner in their lovely flat - first time in ages we've had a home cooked meal and so great fun. Gill's now headed back to the snowy UK to start her new job and Bipin follows her in 2011 when his visa gets sorted. In the meantime we've still been seeing him and we actually took a trip out to meet his family -where we enjoyed an amazing amount of food and a lot of Newari hospitality which was great fun.
Bipin took us out to the Bodhnath Stupa the best one in Nepal allegedly, dating from 600Ad.
It was very impressive with a white dome and its eyes watching over the city. The surrounding area is very Tibetan and it was interesting to see the ladies in traditional garb and all the shops selling artifacts -reminded us a bit of the Tibetan area we stay in when we're in Delhi.
Bipin also took us to see an interesting Shiva temple which was well off the tourist track -so we'd never have found it without him. Thanks Bipin for a great day out.
We have been catching up with Linda Sherpa whom we met in Birtamod and she has helped introduce us to Ktm's very lively ex-pat scene which we hadn't really explored before. So- we've enjoyed live music at the Lazimpat Gallery Café, a great little venue run by Alan a British ex- VSO worker, as well as lunch at the Sterling Club -run by the British Embassy. We're off there on the 12th December for Xmas lunch! Whooppee!!!! First "real" Xmas diner since we've been on the road -bring it on!
We also met a really nice lady Carol from California who is building a hospital in Itahari a town which we passed through on our way from the east. Carol is a nurse and has devoted much time and effort to getting this dream -a new hospital in a poor area which really needs it - off the ground. Anyway we were lucky enough to meet her on her birthday and she very kindly invited us out to a lovely French restaurant Chez Caroline within a really nice modern development the Babar Mahal Revisited -an old King's palace now transformed into stylish restaurants and shops and even an art gallery (see below). Carol is a registered nurse who works for the Children's Medical Aid Fund an amazing organization which helps children suffering from congenital defects by providing both corrective surgery and support/counseling to the children and their families. See their site for more information about the excellent work they do www.childrensmedaid.org. It is quite humbling here how much many people do to help those less fortunate.
The art gallery at the Babar Mahal was the Siddhartha art gallery and we later went there to see a really interesting exhibition. Donato Rosella -an Italian Australian was one of the musicians who play live at the Lazimpat Café -and very good he was too on the sax and the piano accordion. Anyway he is also an artist and he had an exhibition opening - "Once in a Lifetime" dealing with the subject of death -both his father's and his own near death experiences. Thus was on the upper floor of the gallery, whilst below was an exhibition of Aboriginal art from the Balgo Hills area. The whole thing was really impressive -a lot of international people who'd never really seen aboriginal art were amazed by the quality of the work. The exhibition was hosted jointly by the Australian embassy and the Art Bank of Australian and opened by the Australian ambassador in Nepal -Susan Grace -for more details see www.siddarthaartgallery.com we're really getting a dose of culture here - been a while since we went to an art exhibition opening!
We did fit in a bit of sightseeing as well - taking in the very end of the dasain festivities - gorgeous lights and mandalas everywhere. We still find Ktm fairly dirty and smoggy but once we finally did make it into the old part it was a truly fascinating, and it's easier to see why people love this city.
The thing that really struck us was how much of a living museum old Ktm is. You walk past ancient monuments and shrines that would be in a museum under wraps in many countries but here kids are using them to play skipping games around or ladies have their washing wrapped around them!
We made it to Durbar Square -from where Kings were once crowned and lived - and saw many of the temples and then took a few walking tours around the old part of the city.
The square was an interesting place just to hang out -great for people watching from the Sadhus, to the soldiers guarding the palaces and the huge markets selling Tibetan and local goods.
Really fascinating and highly recommended, there is so much history here - it's too much to details -just wonder around and you see amazing temples/shrines at every turn. To pick an example -one interesting building was the Kumari Bahal where the Kumari Devi lives. She is a real living goddess - the only one in Nepal. Chosen as a toddler this girl will live here in this palace other than six or so times a year when she is paraded around town in ceremonies. Once she hits puberty she ceases to be a goddess and is considered a mortal once more and rejoins her family -which must take a bit of adjustment! You can catch a glimpse of her 2 times a day when she appears at her window -which we did . No cameras allowed so we cheated and took a picture of one of the postcards they sell outside. She looked a bit sad to me - but maybe goddesses have to look solemn! All very odd to us.
I was also very interested in the stump of wood with hundred of coins nailed to it -as this was an offering to the toothache god - appropriately near to all the dentists. Maybe I should make a few offerings here to save on the hundreds I regularly seem to end up spending on dental care!
The markets were fascinating -selling all sorts of goods/artifacts. The area specializing in the coloured strings of beads were a riot of colour. Surprisingly the actual beads are now imported from Japan and Czechoslovakia - but hand threaded together by men here. They are traditionally worn by married ladies.
On one of our many trips to the post office (like India its best not to make too many plans for the rest of the day when you have a post office visit on your agenda here!) we visited the nearby Bhimsen Tower, which towers over the city like a lighthouse. Initially built in the 19th centre by the Prime Minister this (shorter) version was a rebuild from 1934 when an earthquake destroyed much of this part of the city.
We initially decided not to bother - as at 299 rupees a head the cost seemed a bit steep - but the guard kindly let us in for the Asian tourist price (at 120 rupees still more than twice that for Nepalese but a lot more affordable!) It was a steep walk up 213 steps and over 60 metres -but the views from the top over the snowcapped peaks were pretty impressive.
Whilst in Ktm we have again been camped centrally near Thamel at the Scouts centre. We are here week by week; it is all a bit bizarre. To recap the history -before coming to Nepal for the first time over a year ago we met a Swedish guy who said this was where to camp. So - we rang ahead to be told that they no longer did this. When we could find nothing else in desperation we called again to ask the guy we spoke to (who spoke good English) if he could recommend anywhere else -thinking that the scouts might know about camping spots etc and he said "ok you can stay." When we got in we found that there were a German couple already there and various overlanders had come and gone since he had told us they no longer allowed this!
This time we just fronted up and stayed 2 days before a message came from the office (via that car park attendant guys) that we had to get permission. We went to see "the Director" who said we could stay a week but had to leave by then as his boss was coming and wouldn't want us there. We started looking around but everyone we spoke to said "oh that's just the way we do things in Nepal they'll let you stay." Sure enough this seems to be the case - every time we run out of days we ask for a few more and they say ok! All a bit of a game really! The thing is 1) the whole area is full of old buses and a bit scruffy so it's hardly like we're doing any harm and 2) we do pay 150 rupees a night for parking which you'd think they'd be pleased to get. Contemporary wisdom seems to suggest it's all some sort of power game. All very odd -but I think we're here until we choose not to be -unless he reads this and gets the hump of course!!
Whilst the scouts' welcome may have been a bit lukewarm 2 other locals were VERY pleased to see us back -yes Chopper and Whiskers the resident dogs were delighted to see us and soon sleeping under the car like they had a year ago! Whiskers cut her paw badly last week and has had to have stitches and spend almost a week at the animal clinic leaving poor old Chopper without his pal - so it looks like our timing was good to get her sorted out.
We had previously met Jan Salter a really nice lady from England at the Australian art exhibition mentioned above. Jan runs an animal clinic and stray dog centre and we had been meaning to go and see her anyway, so Whisker's mishap got us moving! The vets and volunteers do a great job looking after street dogs, running a de-sexing program (Chopper and Whiskers were both "done" here and had a marking to prove it!) and generally helping animal welfare. As an aside we keep hearing on our trip about an amazing Swiss overlander couple walking around the world with a dog and 2 donkeys so we were interested to hear they'd stayed here for a while. I guess you can't just rock up to a guest house with 2 donkeys in tow! Anyway thanks to all at KAT (Ktm animal treatment) for helping our Whiskers. To see more about the great work Jan and her team do see their site at www.katcentre.org.np
So, as at Tuesday 7 December we're still at the Scouts - comforting Chopper in Whisker's absence - the happy reunion should hopefully take place tomorrow! We plan to spend little while longer here- socializing and working on car and website maintenance- before we head off to Pokhara on the 13th December after enjoying our long awaited Xmas day lunch at the Sterling Club on the 12th.
Tuesday 7 - Tuesday 28 December 2010
So - 3 more weeks and we're STILL in Ktm! Not that it's not a great city etc but we're sooo itching to get moving again. The reason we're still here is because of the car. We went through the step by step process of replacing the shocks and airbags (thanks again to Raw4x4 and Airlift) -hindered by power outages and strikes (which made it unsafe to drive to the mechanics) - and we finally thought we'd finished a couple of days ago. Sadly it was only once we got the bearings replaced that Andrew realized that the alignment of the front wheel is out, due to our nose dive down the world's largest pot hole back in Sikkim. Not (at all) my area of expertise but apparently this means we need to replace the entire axel tube. As I type Andrew is off on a tour of Ktm wrecking yards to source a 2nd hand one. Of course as soon as they look at him the price goes up 500% to what it should be which doesn't help. Fingers crossed he's successful and then once it's fitted we're finally off! Looking on the bright side the one good thing about Ktm is that even when you're holed up in the industrial areas up to your elbows in grease (Andrew -I'm more an advisor!) you can just turn your head and see truly breath taking mountain views.
We've tried to make the most of our extended stay in Ktm. Our friend Linda (who has now headed back to the freezing Yorkshire Dales) invited us over for supper and to watch some DVDs a few times (I know we're well behind the times but loved "Doubt" with Meryl Streep and Philip Hoffman - fantastic!). Linda lives in a lovely old house with 6 Sherpas, 8 rescue dogs and one pig -Miss Piggy saved as a piglet from a grizzly fate she now lives a life of luxury in a custom built pen! Linda's team of sherpas organise customised treks and know the country really well whether you're a serious climber or more an ambler! For more details contact the team on email@example.com or see their site http://www.hamrogharteam.com
We also saw a couple of the movies in the Kimff - or Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival - which was really good. This yearly festival had entries from all over the world - the winning entry was actually made by a British guy and there was an Aussie entry too. Really interesting -see their site for more details www.kimff.org
We've also had some very good food- Xmas lunch at the British embassy's Sterling Club was excellent - proper turkey and ham - as well as Santa arriving on a decorated rickshaw! I also celebrated my birthday - which started very nicely when our friend Bipin (Gill's hubby) turned up at our campsite with a lovely scarf as a gift from them both - thanks guys.
We'd had Delices de France an excellent French restaurant recommended by some Swiss French friends - and we had a lovely meal there to celebrate.
In fact it was so good we went back on Xmas day for a 5 course dinner including duck, goats' cheese strawberry tart and truffles - wonderful but a bit rich- we felt we'd never eat again afterwards! See more of this and other great restaurants here in Ktm on the link http://www.restaurantnepal.com
Xmas feels a bit strange "on the road" when there are just 2 of you, and it's hard to get in the spirit. At least this year we're not in a dry state like last year in Gujarat! We had a sort of white Xmas on the day as it was the first time we woke up to a real frost over our campsite. Actually camping is getting trickier. It's fine once we're in bed as we've dug out the spare duvets so we have 2 each and a sleeping bag, just showering is getting harder. We do have a converter which gives us hot water - but as the surrounding temperature is now so chilly it just gives us a quick blast and then goes cold. Ok for a quick shower but you have to grit your teeth when you wash your hair!
Mind you we often walk past the communal water pump areas in the city and see people washing in very cold water up to late at night so we try and be tough like they are! On a sadder note we really feel for all the street kids here - there are huge gangs of them all glue sniffers some as young as 7 or 8 - who huddle together under blankets to keep warm on the pavements. This is the worst place for street kids we've seen on our travels. Whilst Dhaka say and parts of India have atrocious poverty the kids don't seem to be alone and we've never seen glue sniffing on this scale anywhere else. Really distressing.
One real plus of our campsite has been our dogs - Chopper named after the infamous Aussie gangster due to his missing ear and Whiskers who we've since found out is actually called Kali after the black Hindu goddess. We got Kali back from the vets where her paw has now healed and she was very pleased to be home. She was actually kept in a week longer than envisaged as the cut was quite deep and we didn't want it to open up again, so we went and saw her twice before she was allowed to come back with us -which was heart rending to have to leave her behind.
We are fond of both of them - but Chopper is my favourite. He sleeps under our car and acts as security growling if anyone approaches. He also puts his paws up our ladder (to our bed) and whines to us when he thinks it's time to get up. We bought them both a Xmas (toy) chicken chew so it felt a bit xmasy giving out their pressies on the morning of the 25th - very gratefully received! I'm already dreading leaving them!
As our Xmas pressie to ourselves we upgraded a bit and drove across the road from the scouts to the Radisson - where we'd booked ourselves a night of luxury. Very nice it was too - we spent 24 hours having baths - we really can't remember ever having water so hot and so plentiful - it comes from another world! We also chilled out and watched DVDs and used the free Wi-Fi to Skype our family around the world which was lovely - the perfect day! See their details on http://www.radisson.com/kathmandune
Finally when not doing "car things" we managed to get to Swayambhunath or the Monkey temple one of Ktm's "must see" attractions. Dating from 460 AD this was pretty impressive - a collection of Buddhist and some Hindu temples perched above the city and swarming with (you guessed it!) monkeys.
Whilst we were quickly set upon by salesmen and the central area is a bit like a market there was still a really magical atmosphere up here with lots of pilgrims who come to walk around the temple and spin the prayer wheels.
It's a really spiritual place but a lot of people still live in this area and it was nice to see "normal life" going on here, the ever present street dogs, and the smartly uniformed kids making their way home from school in the afternoon.
So -that's us as at Tuesday 28 December - just a few days of 2010 left. We wish you all a very happy new year and ourselves a nice new axel so we can continue our journey on towards Chitwan or Pokhara - we're not 100% sure where we go next - as long as it's on the road I'm not that fussed!
UPDATE: Tuesday 28 December 2010 - Wednesday 12 January 2011
We ended up spending a little while longer in Ktm sorting out the car - which thankfully is all done now. This required a lot of rushing around by Andrew as the mechanics here aren't exactly proactive so he ended up sourcing most of the spare parts himself! We then had to wait ages for our US parcel to arrive. As mentioned before Keen footwear kindly agreed to sponsor us to the extent of providing half price vouchers for shoes. We had to have an address in America for the goods to be sent to and Andrew's relation through his sister came to the rescue. Maybe getting caught up in the Xmas rush the parcel took a long while to arrive which was pretty stressful and kept us hanging on. (By way of an update as I write this (21st Jan) the parcel has arrived and Andrew has gone to pick it up- HUGE - relief!) Big thanks go to both Shea in Dallas for providing us with a US address and Bipin here for providing us with a local postal address.
Anyway one good thing about being kept hanging on was that we got to meet up with some fellow overlanders which is always a pleasure. Marc and his son Mathias from Aachen, Germany are travelling by VW Campervan from Germany to Australia. They have come through the same route (Turkey, Iran, Pakistan) as we hope to follow so have been a real source of information for us. Also it's been really nice to have camping neighbours at the scouts once more and we've enjoyed camp fires with them as well as a trip to the Tibetan border and back (more of this to follow on our next page.)
To see more of their adventures see their site www.travelingsideways.tumblr.com On the subject of overlanders we have seen quite a few vehicles which made it over here from Europe in the 60s via the overlander route never to return. Some of the post office's parcel vans are in fact old "hippy" VW combies driven over in the flower power years. The beetle in our picture was driven over in the 1960s and is now owned by a lady well into her 80s who's lived here to date! Apparently the beetle was a popular overlander vehicle back then and quite a few remain here - enough for a club of enthusiasts.
We also sorted out our Indian visas and were lucky enough to get them for 6 months duration. As it is notoriously difficult to get more than one 6 month visa (we're on Indian visa number 4!) as mentioned before we chose to go through an agent Laxmi who helped us last year and all went smoothly. We'd really recommend Laxmi for coping with the increasingly complicated mine field which is "Indian visa land" she can be contacted on 9841347786 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Less enjoyably we spent a bit of time in the police station as we lost our mobile phone. It was our fault - Andrew left it on the back wheel whilst putting something away and we drove off - as soon as we realized we called it and it rang out twice -before being busy and now it is constantly switched off. I guess it's not quite as bad as being stolen when someone just found it (indeed the policeman we registered the loss with said "well I'd take it if it was just lying there"!!! -but still annoying. Ncell (our phone company) have helped compile a list of numbers called since it was lost and we're hopefully homing in on the guilty party! This is all small fry compared to poor Marc and Mathias who -stopping to run into a shopping centre for just 5 minutes - had their rucksack stolen from their car - losing their valuable camera their passports and the carnet papers for the car. Poor guys this is a real nightmare requiring lots of trip to and fro from their embassy and totally changing their plans as they now won't have time to do the SE Asian part of the trip with their car but will leave it in storage in Nepal and fly on. A good reminder not to relax and drop your guard when travelling and we've upped our security measures!
One thing we'd not yet done was take a trip into Patan one of Ktm's "must see" attractions. Patan is now like a suburb of the city across the Bagmati River but was once an independent city with its own Durbar Square containing what is the finest collection of temples and palaces in the whole of the country.
It was very beautiful -better even than the Durbar Square in the main city we felt- and we wondered around looking at numerous ancient temples and statues. Some of the ancient buildings were badly shaken up by the 1934 earthquake and you could see some statues with their bases askew in a worrying way!
There were some temple very Indian in style, with others having more Tibetan influence. Well worth a visit. The area contains some incredible examples of (some quite risqué!) Newari wood carvings and has long been a centre for artisans.
This is still the case and it was interesting in the surrounding areas to see the craftsman working to cast and then polish the metal statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities which are a specialty of the area.
Also interesting were the craft shops. We liked the ornate Thangkas which are Tibetan Buddhist paintings. Some of the workmanship is quite breath taking, though they can be pretty pricey.
So - on Thursday 12 January- to escape from the waiting for parcels (us) and replacement passports (Marc and Mathias) we headed off for a round trip to the Tibetan border and Jiri the "Switzerland of Nepal" which is in the shadows of Mount Everest. Whilst I was gutted to leave my faithful dogs behind (however will I leave them forever?!) we were pleased to escape Ktm for a while for the fresh (though decidedly chilly) mountain air. First stop that night was Dhulikhel and the Dhulikhel Mountain Resort where we stayed all those weeks ago on the way into Ktm.