September 8, 2017 § 2 Comments
I dragged my luggage closer to me as I rummaged for my passport in my bag. I needed it to buy a sim card. The man at the counter laughed and told me with a bemused smile, “Don’t worry, you’re in Nepal”. When I picked Nepal as my next travel destination, I never had the worried mindset that I was going somewhere less safe. All I had in mind were hopefully seeing the Himalayas, witnessing their colorful culture and eating authentic Nepali food. But when I caught my connecting flight from KL to Kathmandu, I got a bit intimidated by the fact that 90% of the passengers in my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur were male. There was probably less than 10 of us female, and most of the women looked like travelers like myself. But I never did feel unsafe as most of the men were engrossed amongst themselves anyway and they didn’t really give uncomfortable stares. There was only the inconvenience (probably quite universal to all males hehe) that hygiene and proper etiquette is less important – and so I was unable to use the plane toilet.
I flew in to their capital, Kathmandu City, which was located in Kathmandu Valley. Just observing the night lights as the plane made its landing, I knew I was in for a different terrain. As I walked down the tarmac, my fellow passengers got away with taking multiple photos with the plane as we boarded the bus that took us to what seemed like a domestic airport outfit. I had expected cold weather – something in the range of 18 degC, which explained the relatively thick jacket I had under my arm. It was warm if anything, and I didn’t expect it to get cooler in the morning. I could have saved the jacket expense for extra momos. The airport was made of bricks, as with most buildings in Nepal. I had applied for a visa earlier at their consulate at Singapore so immigration was a breeze (and an extra 40 USD) for me. Rosh opted for the visa-on-arrival, which costs 25 USD and a few more minutes with the forms. The time I saved was unnecessary though as I spent it mostly waiting for the baggage to arrive. When I finally got my bags, I had to “fight off” with the other Nepali men who crowded the only money exchange counter open that night as there was no concept of falling in line. To my surprise I squeezed in easily and was alert enough to demand for the 10 NPR cheated out of me. I kind of regretted this anal attention to details later as I could have just given away that 10 NPR out of generosity. In any case, business should be conducted with honesty. And that was finally how I found myself at the NTel counter buying a sim card so I could finally tell my Dad that I was in the land of the sherpas.
Rosh arrived on a different flight later that night, so I settled myself first in our room and enjoyed the distinct taste of their Nepali welcome tea. “It’s really nice, but a bit sour”, I encouraged her later on as she pondered if she’ll get tea or not. “but I’m not sure if it’s because of the water or maybe the milk”, I added as a precaution. I tasted the rust from the pipes when I brushed my teeth upon arriving. She winced at the idea, but got herself one anyway.
Filled with mountain ranges, the valleys of Nepal offer spectacular views of these undulating and jagged peaks. We stayed in Thamel for our first few days, where most streets were unpaved and littered with both trash and construction materials and debris. They were filled with bustling life however – large and small stupas and temples, apples and pomegranates for sale, colorful souvenir shops, a mixture of people who, for the sake of reference and explainable by geography, looked like they could be from either China or India. There were also a lot of stray dogs who knew how to capitalize on friendliness. “They’re following us”, Rosh mumbled under her breath when we were taking a morning stroll at Nagarkot. I had made the mistake of saying “Hi” to them, and several dogs merrily trotted to follow us all the way to our hotel. “Don’t worry, they’ll probably stop at the foot of the stairs going up”, I told her. They didn’t. I wonder what the people thought when we brought up 4 dogs into the hotel grounds, the resident dog was clearly unhappy. Clothing was a mixture of the traditional and the modern too. Motorcycles and old cars typically plied these routes carelessly, although I never did witness any accident. It was muddy when it rained, and dusty when it didn’t. The people knew, and most of them had face masks on. I wondered when they started becoming conscious of the dust, or was the huge amount of dust an aftermath only of the earthquake 2 years ago. Rosh and I never did wear masks in our entire trip, though I’m pretty sure we both brought a couple. Something about putting on a mask made me feel I’d experience less of Nepal, or maybe I just didn’t want to be bothered.
On our first morning, we decided to explore the streets of Thamel. We went to the Kathmandu Durbar Square (a melting pot of both Hindu and Buddhist influence in Nepal teeming with beautifully interwoven history), the Pashupatinath temple (one of the oldest Hindu temples in Kathmandu, and where one can witness open-air cremations), and ended the night with dinner at the Garden of Dreams (Kaiser Cafe – nice date place imo) and a night cap in one of the bars in Thamel with awesome live music. It felt like a really long and well accomplished day because we did manage to do almost everything on the schedule we planned out.
Took this early morning photo of Thamel by climbing to the the rooftop tanks of the hotel. Buildings are densely packed with mostly single lane (but 2-way use) streets separating them.
Rosh gamely posing for my attempt at amateur street photography
Couldn’t resist taking photos beside these miniature doors (which were by the way common in the houses in Thamel), because I’m finally as tall as the door frame.
People seeked the blessings of Hindu priests around the temples at the Durbar Square
apples and pomegranates seemed to be at season when we went to Nepal
Our guide related to us that some Nepali people still believe that lying in front of an image of Kaal Bhairav will result in the dishonest person vomiting blood; which is how he explained why a police station was located beside this 10-ft tall image to help get confessions fast.
cows are sacred, and pigeons are fed to gain good karma
on top of one of the many rooftop restaurants in Kathmandu. order yourself a Nepali Thali set, or a classic plate of momos, homemade yogurt or my favorite ginger-honey-lemon drink
Still haven’t mastered the skill of using squat toilets and was lucky enough that I only had to use these during our 11-hr road trip. Rosh opted not to use them at all and hold it in that long.
my Sadu misadventure at the Pashupatinath temple. our guide told us that these sadus have been living as sadus for almost half a century and have been featured in a number of popular magazines like the National Geographic. they beckoned me for a blessing and asked for 2000 NPR subsequently. the guide told us they give away this money to less fortunate people, something we weren’t able to verify.
at the Hindu-version of the Mecca, the main temple at Pashupatinath (oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu). our guide kindly gave me bindi as well on my forehead
although most of Nepal’s streets turn dark by 8pm or so, the streets of Thamel are an exception because of its touristy-culture
On our second day, we spent the morning at the Swayambhunath Temple, also known as the “monkey temple”. We then headed to the renowned Thamel Momo Hut to get another fill of momos for lunch and prepared for our 2 hour trip up to the hill-side town of Nagarkot. After having taken in the busy life of Thamel, we looked forward to the quiet life at the “premier hill station” (as often mentioned on their ads) of Kathmandu. The road to Nagarkot was again very bumpy but the views were spectacular. If only we had come during the September-December period, we would have been treated to great views of the snow-capped Himalayas here. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the whole time we were there. Nagarkot reminded me of Sagada in a lot of ways – food was awesome with most of the cafes overlooking the valley and the mountains, the ambiance was peaceful, weather was cool, and nights were long and dark. Nagarkot also felt perpetually wet – our sheets were wet and in fact all of our things were as well thanks to the fog that was present most of the day. We stayed at an ingeniously-named place called Hotel at the End of the Universe. Other than this place, we checked out equally wonderful inn/cafes like the Peaceful Cottage & Cafe Du Mont, as well as the Berg House Cafe. But I think Rosh and I would both agree that the best meal we had in Nagarkot was at the low-key Sherpa Alpine Cottage where we got this traditional Sherpa vegetable noodle soup and curried fried chicken. It wasn’t really photogenic so I don’t have a proper photo (aside from the fact that it was one of our longest waits for food in our entire trip; the waiter happily told us that he was the one who cooked it himself when we praised the dishes after). We also mistakenly ordered “Sherpa’s punch”, having thought it would be a light cocktail, but to our surprise it tasted almost like pure whiskey. We had probably 3 sips each and walked home crazily laughing and arguing about what a sherpa was. “Are sherpas a community or an occupation?”, I asked while a little bit light-headed from their punch. “Animals”, Rosh answered with abrupt confidence. “Dude?”, I said bewildered. The argument was settled when we finally connected to Wifi.
Swayambhunath Temple stupa
view from the top: the city of Kathmandu
me with the prayer flags and Rosh with the prayer wheels
momo feast at the Thamel Momo Hut! they had over 20 different types of momos, but we sadly only had space for 4 types: garlic-cheese, spinach-mushroom, buffalo and chocolate!
first dinner at Nagarkot at the Sherpa Alpine Cottage…
…with our best meal ever!
dogs of Nagarkot
one of the things I’ll miss the most, the ubiquitous ginger lemon honey drink in Nepal! this one was at Berg House Cafe, but I basically drank it on every meal
images of Nagarkot
After two nights in Nagarkot, we hired a private van to take us to and fro Pokhara. We had expected a 6 hour trip, or 8 hours at worst, but we spent 9 hours on the way there and 11 hours on the way back. To say that the road was rough and bumpy was a grand understatement. We spent most of the trip silently enduring the constant up and down motion. I listened to my Spotify playlist come and go with the mountainside villages as signal was lost easily. Traffic in the city was also very heavy, but being a foreign place, it was amusing enough to observe everything between spells of falling into slumber. Upon arriving in Pokhara, we decided to treat ourselves to fancy meals for the rest of our stay there because the food prices were really cheap given the quality. A good meal would be around 500-1000 NPR, which is approximately 5-10 USD. I would still be eating in a hawker center at that price if I were in Singapore. Pokhara is a good destination for outdoor fun, but the only thing we opted to do there was paraglide (75 USD). We both got a good solid tan as we paraglided right smack lunchtime. It was a great experience though, especially the take off. Heights don’t scare me, but I became nauseous after a few minutes of gliding and so I asked my pilot if we could head down a little bit early lest I bless some unfortunate stranger my vomit. Other than that, it was nice strolling around the streets of Pokhara and checking out all the souvenir shops. The place reminded me of Langkawi this time, with so much restaurants and pubs side by side. We stayed near Fewa lake, though we didn’t do boating (I was still rather shaken from the entire road trip). We also tried to catch the sunrise at Sarangkot, which was a 45 minute drive from Fewa Lake, but alas even that was deprived of us by the clouds. Nevertheless, it was quite a relaxing two nights of just taking it slow. We needed the energy to go through the trip back to Kathmandu anyway. My favorite purchase in Pokhara would have to be the dried blueberries which we saw in some gourmet grocery there – I had wanted to bring it home for my dad but I ended up finishing the entire bag due to my PMS hunger pangs.
I took a break from taking photos at Pokhara so I mostly just have this we-woke-up-like-this photo for catching our failed sunrise and some boats at Fewa Lake. Paragliding images didn’t turn out nicely so not including them here lol.
On our last night at Nepal, we decided to stay at Boudha, which is another town a bit farther from Thamel. The Boudhanath Stupa, which is the largest in Nepal, was right here as well and I had read that this was a nice place to witness the morning and evening worship. Having had endured an 11-hour trip on the road, wherein at one point we found our van stuck at a dead end and skirting the edge of a road literally beside a cliff that ironically offered a mesmerizing view of the city lights below (the driver patiently maneuvered us out of that situation but we were honestly petrified of falling off the ravine), arriving at Shambaling Hotel in Boudha was like reaching an oasis amidst the road chaos. True enough, that was their exact description on their website. Staying at Shambaling was one of our best experiences in this trip (at only 75 USD per night for their deluxe double room), aside from the fact that being at Boudha was very much different from being at Thamel. I walked to the stupa that morning and saw people circumambulating the stupa, saying prayers and spinning the prayer wheels, while monks and beggars lined the outer circumference of the revolving population, waiting for donations from generous passersby. The structures around the stupa also encircled it, forming an enclave of rooftop restaurants with souvenir shops down below. Walking off into the streets, Tibetan cuisine was also quite famous here and so Rosh and I sampled a few (Laphing and Thukpa to be specific). Rosh quite liked the thukpa and I happily allowed her to finish most of it as my stomach was bursting from all the yogurt and ginger lemon honey I had prior to meeting her for lunch. We took it slow on our last day, spending most of our time buying last minute souvenirs – both of us particularly engrossed with singing bowls. They would definitely be my favorite from everything I bought there, and I’m pretty sure it would have also been Rosh’s, recalling how she checked out all the bowls she collected over our trip with childlike glee in the hotel’s bathroom since they told us that placing water inside would create a different sound and vibration. They even advised us to drink the water after letting the bowl create its characteristic tone. “One of them has a hole!”, she told me clearly upset. I was surprised that the metal bowl (made of around 5-7 different metals, as described by the shopkeeper) had a hole myself. “Ohwell, just give that one away”, I (in retrospect) lamely suggested.
Images of Boudha: definitely a recommended last stop for any trip to Nepal
I spent around 500 USD for the entire 8-day trip, plus an additional 300 USD for all the souvenirs I got, and lastly another 350 USD (bought only 1 month prior to the trip) for my airfare from Singapore. All of those numbers can be significantly decreased if you book your tickets ahead, stay in cheaper hotels, opt to buy less, and opt to eat less haha. USD is readily accepted everywhere in Nepal, even sidewalk vendors will willingly receive them as you’re usually at a loss if you opt to spend in USD, but money changers are pretty common anyway and open until pretty late in tourist areas. Either getting NTel or NCell simcards is okay as they were both not fully reliable, but it’s best to purchase your data plan at the airport as they set it up for you themselves – it’s pretty confusing to buy a data plan on your own or in smaller shops. We navigated easier thanks to Rosh knowing how to speak Hindi, and most Nepalese people understanding the language as well, but English was well understood by most people. Walking around seemed safe, although not knowing the correct prices of things can very well land you into spending 300-500% more of the actual value of things (souvenirs and taxi fares). Nevertheless, whatever excess you spend, you can just consider as contribution to rebuilding the city of Kathmandu from the aftermath of the earthquake a few years ago and helping their economy. While in Nepal, Rosh and I reflected how living in the Philippines was far more convenient and comfortable even with all the usual inconvenience and discomfort that Filipinos complain about. It was both a cultural treat and a learning experience.
Finally, I’m glad I took this trip with Rosh. We had recounted how in 17 years since highschool, we only had 4 additional meetings (and photos) together, even if we had spent most of highschool on the phone almost every day. It wasn’t really a planned trip, I had booked my tickets as a form of motivation and decision that I will go somewhere after submitting my thesis, and I had given my schedule to Rosh for her decision whether she wanted to come along or not. We never did plan traveling together well before this, and as we all know traveling with someone can be a make or break. The monsoon season flooded Nepal right about that time we were going there (Aug 24-Sep 1, 2017), and so up to the last minute we were trying to see how our plans would pan out depending on if the weather cooperates. I would say that although Rosh and I have different intrinsic traveling preferences, we mostly were able to tolerate each other for a week – and that success considering we both started our time-of-the-month at the end of it haha. Rosh still had to endure having her luggage lost on the way back to Manila, so she probably has more conflicted feelings for this trip. But I do hope the positive ones dominate – particularly the momo feasting, sleeping in an unsecured cabin and having weird lucid dreams, the mobile fast, the loooong road trip, the paragliding, souvenir shopping and a number of other things in between. Fortunately, the weather was more than nice to us, allowing us to do most of the things we planned. I’d definitely love to go back to Nepal, and this time in the correct season so I get more than just a glimpse of the tip of the snow-capped mountains. Thank you for coming with me on this trip, Rosh! =)
—–watch our travel video in HD below—-