First impressions say a lot.
We all experience first impressions! They usually determine the outcome of a friendship, job interview, the purchase of a home and sometimes an indication of quality travel to a new country. When our plane landed in Kathmandu (KTM) some 30 hours ago I instantly feel warm and invited by a Nepalis gentleman. We get some small talk out of the way and we part ways with him saying "you are good for this country". He is well aware that tourism is a massive commodity for Nepal and knows Amanda and I are only two of thousands that arrive daily to come experience the beautiful surroundings, conquer the worlds highest mountains or just explore its culture. Of course we also need shelter, food, guides, transportation all which cost Rupees and help the Nepalese economy. Nepal is a young country when it comes to tourism; it only opened its doors to the world in 1950 and still after that, decades of civil war and political unrest as recent as 2001 with the assassination of 10 members of the royal family including the king and queen by their own son, there seemed to be some road blocks for the unseasoned traveller. Since 2008 Nepal has been in a peaceful state and the people of KTM are seeing a steady flow of curious explores as ourselves arrive.
Kathmandu valley is densely populated at +/- 3.5 million people consisting of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim many levels of castes and a multitude of languages and as far as it appears everyone lives in harmony with each other. Obviously it is the main entrance location for tourists to the many trekking destinations like the Annapurna and some hill called Everest. But it also offers tours for kayaking, bungee jumping, national reserve parks with animals like snow leopard and one horned rhinos!
So far we have not strayed too far from the area of KTM we are staying at; our hotel is located just on the SW edge of the popular tourist area called Thamel...it is a bustling area consisting of narrow streets, roads and alleys that are full street food, vendors on wheels, endless shops that appear out of 600 year old old barn doors and sometimes tiny hobbit sized doors that offer everything from trekking gear, local artifacts, souvenirs and basically any item a backpacker could desire...of course this means it is full of hotels, restaurants and non stop action. It's an area where cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, goats, people, bikes are in perpetual dynamic motion always accompanied by relentless honking of horns. It's utter madness but it all works fluidly and there is no place for the timid. And I love it! It is an absolute maze walking around these twisting roadways and I pride myself on having a good internal bearing system for direction but I admitted to Amanda within the first couple of hours of wondering around that I was completely lost...but I'm sure "Thamel is that direction". It was much to my surprise when we suddenly popped up into another popular area called Durbar Square as I thought I was 3 km the other direction. But serendipitly this was an area I planned on going too so...there we were right where I planned! (Cough) At this time the weather had now reached over 20 degrees and Amanda spotted a roof top patio and suggested a cold beer...as she knows the fastest way to my heart I agreed completely. It was nice to feel the heat sitting in shorts and at t-shirt knowing that it is -38 with the windchill back in Calgary...Our waiter was the nicest kid that laughed and joked with me at my botched attempts of Nepali and most notably went out of his way to say namaste (it means both hello and goodbye) and ended our conversation with "I hope to see you again".
After lunch we took a 3 km rickshaw ride up to the Swayambhunath more commonly known as the monkey temple and this iconic whitewashed stupa one of dozens of world heritage UNESCO sites in Nepal and an absolute must see location to visit...
Swayambhunath - Monkey Temple
We were on our way back to the hotel to rest when a rickshaw driver approached us and offered us a "good price" for a ride so we just went for it...because YOLO. We felt kinda bad as us 2 fat westerners jumped onto his rickety 3 wheeler as he struggled to peddle power us through the crazy streets dodging honking chaotic vehicles, traffic jams and worse - the uphill sections...we did jump off twice as it was impossible for him to power our weight up and I even considered swapping places with him so he wouldn't keel over, however all our lives would have been more at risk if I attempted that with so little experience on theses roadways. At the base of the temple you look up an ominous set of stairs that seem to go up endlessly, here our driver parked his rig and walked up with us, gave us his version of a tour and even took pictures of us. He talked to me about his 3 children, wife and how he lived on the other side of the valley some 8 km away. At the end of this journey the good deal was for 600 Rp which is basically $6 CAD we handed him 800 which was worth every Rp for us and 4 times that for him. He also asked if he could come back tomorrow and give us a ride to wherever we needed to go! When was the last time a taxi driver in your city offered such a service after literally carrying you about for a few bucks?
our mighty Rickshaw driver at payment time
When we arrived back at out hotel room (503) we were welcomed by some peaceful sounds of construction noise for the new building going up directly below our window. So without telling Amanda I went to the front desk to see if it was at all possible to find a room facing the other direction, she handed me a key for another room (307) to check out and within 30 minutes we moved down a couple floors to corner room with a west view of the beautiful garden and to the north towards the Himalayas. We will be staying at 3 other hotels for our duration in KTM and I will review them all but this one Hotel Ganesh Himal has been a winner. Staff are friendly, rooms are clean enough, we have a private completely tiled washroom about 1.5 meters x 1.5 meters that allows you to use a sit down toilet, use the sink and have a stand up hands free shower all at the same time. The water pressure on the shower is better then ours at home, and there is always hot water and electricity. This may not sound like a big deal but in a city that commonly experiences power outages multiple times a day this this is a welcome advantage. The down side to 307 is below us the hotels generator that provided us with all the luxury of hot H2O & power comes on time to time but the low hum of this is usually not noticed over the odd horn honk and constant dog barking ("what are they talking about for 24hrs" we find us asking each other while awake at 3am) again I stress earplugs, they will be a staple in our lives for the duration of our vacation, we packed 5 pairs each. The hotel also offers a private patio on each floor right off our window and a large rooftop patio with wonderful views of the monkey temple, the Himal Ganesh mountain range and a quiet resting spot. We also have wifi, the food has been tremendous at a reasonable price, unlimited drinking water and airport pickup & delivery. We choose for just a standard room which cost around $30/night after the standard 25% KTM room taxes. I highly recommend this hotel which is also ideally situated to Thamel and Durbar Square.
After a break at the hotel we choose diner at a restaurant that touts itself to help employ women to earn experience as servers, cooks and managers...ironically the small 10 tabled room never had a single female employee on site but the food was delicious. The short walk home was warm and much more peaceful through the same street that only hours prior was stuffed full of crazy!
We did it...now at only about 30 hours into our 15 week adventure, with no jet-lag to speak of ( maybe those little pills did the trick )
So how is our first impression of KTM? Is is fantastic! I expected it to be a little bit unbearable but is actually a hundred times easier to walk around then Bangkok or even Phenom Pen and there is little begging, the pushiest people are the taxi drivers and rickshaws that are only offering you their service. Sure maybe I was offered hash a few times and a couple beggars asked for money but they still were polite! Also, there is garbage and poop everywhere and people often spit where they please but cultural norms only add to their character.
KTM has been defined to me through the people here:
- they recognize that we as tourists are good for their country,
- they go out of their way to please us,
- they are polite and they want us to return!
- they laugh and smile and treat you respect.
A lot of countries on this planet could benefit from the social practices the people of Nepal exhume and I hope that they can stay true to this...because "they are good of their country" and I highly recommend this area to be put on your list of places to visit.
Only 114 days left
Evan & Amanda
If you would like to see our previous post click here
Posing after climbing all those stairs at monkey temple