People have been coming to Nepal for years, it is home to 8 of the 10 highest mountains on earth including Mt Everest.
Late last year Nepal realised it was skint and that years of infighting and protests had essentially driven all but the hardest tourists away from landlocked Nepal. It was decided that 2011 would be the year of tourism in Nepal and the country would try hard to get back the backpackers and establish itself firmly back on the tourist trail. There are adverts everywhere talking about how ‘Tourists are God’ ‘Tourism brings prosperity’ etc. It seems everyone is in on the effort and as such we have found nothing but hospitality wherever we have gone. You are always addressed as ‘sir’ and everyone is keen to help you. Most things in Kathmandu are written in English and it seems most people that work in shops/taxis speak at least a very basic grasp of English.
We awoke with a mission on our hands – Get to Boudhnath which is the biggest Stupa (temple) in Nepal. It cost about 350NPR in a taxi and took about 40 minutes to get there. It is pretty much stashed behind some shops buildings but nip down a little opening and pay 250NPR entry and wow. Literally, wow. It is huge and stunning. Personally I have a soft spot for religious architecture and this blew me away. The kids were stunned at the sheer size too. But it’s the atmosphere it creates. Stood there looking on the smell of incense is in the air and monks and pilgrims are all walking round. We were mesmerised.
A few things to note at Stupa’s – Firstly you should always walk round in a clockwise direction. If you should stumble upon a cushion on the ground it is a monks cushion and unless you want some Shoaling ninja unleashed on your ass you should never step over it. They don’t like their photo’s being taken either but I’m reliably informed a few rupees makes this camera shyness soon disappear. Like anywhere, tourists are given a lot of leeway when it comes to local customs and so if you do be a dick the chances are no one will say anything. But it’s about respect, and it costs nothing.
From the Stupa we had intended to head South to Bhaktapur, but it was red hot and I felt the kids could do with a little respite and so I told them I had a surprise for them. About an hour later we arrived at Kathmandu Zoo.
They were suited, we paid 250/150NPR entrance and I didn’t have high hopes. Having been to many Asian Zoos I expected the worst and having been to the best zoo in the world (Singapore Zoo) I wondered if this was going to be a showcase of animals in distress. The kids saw loads of animals including Leopards and Tigers and my favourite – Cheaters. Then, as we neared the end we decided to chill on a bench by the lake watching the elephants take a bath. As I was day dreaming I heard some guy shouting and everyone started to bail. One of the elephants was getting out of the lake and since there was no fence no one fancied their chances. We didn’t either and so we did one. From what we saw the elephant went on a bit of a rampage and as we bailed for the exit we counted ourselves lucky.
It was past lunch and so we headed to a place called ‘bakery cafe’, we were in Patan which is South of Kathmandu. The wifi didn’t work and me and Charlie ordered a burger (our first of the trip) and Abi ordered Noodles. The food was disgusting, absolutely sickening, the worst thing I have ever tasted in my life. I complained to the manager and he said “thank you sir for your comments” then billed us just shy of 700NPR – Turns out that all the prices on the menu were out of date. I gave him a 500NPR note and walked out. Luckily we spotted a hawker selling do nuts and all was sorted, 12NPR each – Bargain. (10pence)
Patan is home to a different Durbar Sq and so we headed for that. Eventually we found it and it was lame. I am giving up on Durbar Squares in Nepal. They are snide. Anyway, Charlie bought a knife and then we got lost. Eventually a taxi bailed us out and we were back in Thamel in no time.
I just want to add the ridiculous tax in Kathmandu (at least I hope it’s only in Kathmandu) Mandatory 10% service charge and 13% government tax. Considering tourists pay more for everything, sometimes up to 100 times more you can see now why 2011 is the year of the Tourist. It’s a scam and few things piss me off more than a mandatory service charge. The 13% tax I can live with, but a service charge is a wind up. Nonetheless it’s there and something you have to pay.
To put in perspective costs, I just settled our hotel bill. Were in the 7th best hotel in Kathmandu, 3 nights including breakfast, dinner and drinks as well as bus tickets for the 8hr journey tomorrow came in at £62 for the three of us, that is classed as mid range so just imagine what you could do as one person on a budget in Nepal.
It’s our final night in Kathmandu and tomorrow morning (Sunday) we head West up the Kathmandu valley for about 200km to Pokhara, a lakeside village perched at the foot of the Annapurna mountain range. It’s where trekkers attack the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) from and where we hope to find a few days solstice before heading south into the jungles of Nepal and Chit wan National Park before eventually getting to the birthplace of Buddha – Lumbini and then crossing into India at the end of next week.