First Morning in Kathmandu
On our second full day in Kathmandu, we planned to cover a lot more ground. I woke up early hoping to catch the sunrise with our new mirrorless camera. Of course, there was a building taller than ours and to the east of us, so all I could see was the sky changing from dark grey, blue to yellows and oranges. Still, I managed to get some nice images.
Our room was equipped with an attached bathroom, but the shower only produced freezing cold water. The other night, Ram had informed us of this and said that there was a common bathroom 2 floors down from our room that had a hot shower. I decided to use it that morning. Well our bathroom had freezing cold water, the bathroom on the third floor had scalding hot water. No happy medium. Still, it was nice to get clean, and this was Nepal after all. I felt lucky to have access to hot water, even if it was yellow.
Around quarter to nine, Jonny and I headed down for some breakfast. Both of us ordered banana porridge and black coffees. It cost us less than 5 dollars for the 2 of us to eat a filling breakfast and to get our caffeine fix. We could also refill our water bottles in the guesthouse which cost about 5 cents per. litre. So cheap!
Hailing a Taxi
Ram offered to set us up with a guy who could show us around Kathmandu and drive us to four main attractions for the equivalent of 40 dollars. Jonny and I had discussed it and decided to make our own way, which meant hailing our own taxi and negotiating a price. Our first destination was Boudhanath Stupa which was a good 15 minute drive to the east of Thamel. According to what we read, a taxi there should only cost around 300 Nepales rupees. We walked for about 20 minutes to a busier road thinking that taxis would be plentiful, and they might not give us the ‘tourist’ price if we distanced ourselves from Thamel. Turns out the road was too busy for any car to stop, so we ended up back around the outskirts of where we had wanted to avoid. A taxi finally stopped and Jonny tried to negotiate a price with the driver. The driver said he would do it for 500, but Jony tried to work him down to 300. The driver wouldn’t even have it, and just drove away. The second taxi to stop began at 700 and this time I wanted to negotiate, but I was annoyed that he would start so high that I simply said, “No way!” and he too drove off. After that, no taxi would stop for us, even the empty ones, and we felt for sure that someone sent a warning to all Thamel drivers about us. Of course, all of the rickshaw drivers wanted to take us and many proceeded to follow us around saying they would do the trip for 3,000 rupees. it was hot, and we were getting frustrated.
Feeling a little defeated, we decided to regroup and step into a place for a snack and a tea. We found ourselves at a Tibetan restaurant that Ram’s brother Dorje had recommended called, Yak Cafe. There we ordered a plate of spinach paneer momos to share along with 2 Nepali teas. An older gentleman entered the restaurant and seemed to know the workers there. He began to chat us up and turned out to be very friendly. Freddy was his name, and he’d been coming to Nepal for years. He was retired now, but before worked all over the world in various countries setting up factories, or something like that. Interesting guy, originally from Britain, and full of advice and ideas for our travels. I think having someone older and wiser to talk to was just what we needed to lift our spirits and to brave the bustle outside once more.
We thanked Freddy, and said our goodbyes. What a lad he was and I hope we cross paths with him again.
Durbar Square and Freak Street
We decided to do some walking, so we changed our plans and headed to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and Old Freak Street, It took us a while to get to, and the heat was beginning to get worse. Jonny noticed a small side street bar selling what looked like lassis and he suggested we try it. Only locals were flocking around it, and there wasn’t a tourist in sight. Jonny ordered us a large and small size, then handed the gentleman a single 500 bill. The worker handed us our drinks, but no change. Both together should have cost under 200. Jonny told the guy he’d given him 500, and he wanted his change. The guy acted like he didn’t understand , and laughed nervously as he looked at his co-workers saying something under his breath in Nepalese. They all shrugged as if they too didn’t understand. I didn’t realize what had happened until Jonny began to argue with the workers. Another Nepali man came forward, a customer, whom I initially thought was defending us since he began speaking to the workers in what seemed to be in an argumentative tone. However, then he turned to us and said that we must have been confused about the money since we are foreigners and not used to their currency. Jonny was angry, but knew by then we could do nothing. We awkwardly drank our drinks right there beside the very people who had scammed us. Even still, the drinks were delicious.
On our way to Durbar square, we came across a large Stupa. It was surrounded by a courtyard of small shops as well as some statues and other structures. We took some pictures, it was peaceful. Tons of pigeons were picking at pieces on the ground, and flying all over the place. Some nearly missed our heads! We also saw our first rat! After that we realized we had somehow overshot Durbur Square, so rather than going back the way we came, we went down a tiny alley tucked away. Amazingly so many tiny restaurants and houses were located there. It was dark and musty, hardly any of the places looked like they had electricity. Some of the houses didn’t even seem to have doors. They were just holes in brick walls. Small, shoeless children stared from the empty voids that were their homes. Another side of Nepal I did not want to see, but needed to see.
Soon, we found Durbar square. According to our research, we were each supposed to pay 1,000 rupees; however, we never once saw a main gate nor booth where payments were being collected. The square was both amazing and heartbreaking. Many of the structures were still standing after the 2015 earthquake, so their details and beauty could still be admired. Not all buildings were so lucky. What was left were piles of rubble on top of the old foundations with pictures of what they once looked like. Still, I found it worth checking out and spending some moments taking in the history of what it was, the reality of what it is now, and the hope of what it will be when it is restored.
Old Freak Street was near to Durbur Square. It was once a place where hippies of the 70’s resided, and considered quite popular and special during it’s prime. Now it is simply remembered for that piece of history, but it’s old charm has not yet been embraced by locals nor tourists at this time. For the most part is was worth a quick look, but we didn’t see a lot of reason to stay longer. Plus there was an old lady down one of the alleys who felt it appropriate to spit at us from her 3rd story window and to yell, “Leave you western b*tch!” That’s about when we decided to take off. Thanks for the hospitality Freak Street.
Now I should be embarrassed to say this, but I am not. We ended up at Himalayan Java…AGAIN! But, wait a minute, it was a different location! Does that count? Yes, it has been far too long since Jonny and I have enjoyed a proper espresso and I’ve got to say that Himalayan Java does it right. It was perfect timing too because when we stumbled upon it, the weather had just turned and it had begun to rain. We sipped on our espressos and watched the droplets fall onto Durbar Square until the rain cleared up.
After getting java’d up, we decided to walk to Swayambhu a.k.a. ‘Monkey Temple’. It was a good half hour walk and fairly easy to navigate since the temple rests on a hill so it can be spotted along the way. We went through some very interesting neighbourhoods coming across a true picture of Nepalese life for some of the people in Kathmandu. Kids running around playing with garbage in shoes that are 4 sizes too big. Six family members sit crammed in tiny shops attempting to sell their goods, literally just waiting for something to happen. Workers in regular clothing, lacking protective gear, ban together to repair a damaged road.
We came across the river, which was quite heavily polluted, found a foot bridge and crossed to the other side. We had a busy road to cross as well and we were still pretty sketched out about that. There are no real crossings for pedestrians, so basically you find a gap in the traffic, begin walking onto the road hoping drivers will slow when they see you, then sometimes you must wait in the middle of the road if traffic from the other side has not produced a gap for you to walk. It is not uncommon to find yourself standing between traffic on both sides, completely surrounding you. That definitely will raise a few hairs on your head, or maybe even take a few off!
Finally, after walking up a beaten up dirt hill, we arrived at the base of the temple. There we saw a bunch of monkeys which was a pretty cool experience. They freaked us out a bit when a fight between them broke out, and they began jumping around, onto one another, and biting each other fiercely. That was our cue to continue up the 350 steps leading to the temple.
It cost 200 rupees for foreigners to enter. A small price to pay for a great view of Kathmandu valley and it’s surrounding mountains. The temple is lovely as well, and great for pictures. On our way down, I bought my first souvenir from a young woman: Tibetan prayer flags which I knew I would buy while in Nepal.
By then we were beginning to feel pretty tired and burnt out. Jonny suggested we grab a taxi, but that meant negotiating yet again. We asked the first driver to use his meter, as Freddy had told us they should respect, Unfortunately, the stubborn driver just shook his head and said, “No meter. We agree on a price. 700 rupees!” I shook my head knowing full well that the distance was not worth 700, so I asked if he’d take 400. He would not, so I told him 500 or no deal. He agreed, but we still paid way more than we should have. Not to mention, another rider joined our taxi and went a farther distance than us for only 300. We need to improve our bartering skills is all I can really say.
Once back at Stupa, it was time to relax. It had been a long and tiring day and we both needed a much needed nap and some food. We ordered a late lunch at the in-house restaurant then relaxed until supper.
Our friend Rhett whom Jonny worked with in Korea had linked us up with his friend whom was currently living in Kathmandu. We contacted him that day and met up with him that evening for supper. We walked a good 20 minutes with him to a wonderful restaurant called, ‘Bhumi Restaurant and Bar’ that served Newari food. We ordered a bunch of things to share, and everything was absolutely delicious. Our new friend treated us to our meal, and even walked us home! What hospitality he showed us, and we were so grateful to have met him.
That night we had Ram get us our bus tickets to Pokhara for the following morning. Each of them cost around 900 rupees, and our departure was at 7 am. We ordered our breakfast ahead of time for 6:30 am, and Ram told us that he would walk us to the bus station along with a trio of German tourists who also needed to get there. We thanked Ram for everything he’d done to help us, then headed off to bed. Another busy day in Kathmandu with a few ruts in the road, but overall an excellent day!