You Kathmandu it!

So, we’re back in Kathmandu.  We woke up early in Pokhara, said goodbye to our awesome CS hosts and headed to the bus park.  We were hoping to charter a bus but weren’t certain we’d catch one, because it was the peak of the festival Dashain and we hadn’t pre-purchased a ticket.  Previously we had taken local buses, which involved overcrowding, people on top of you, sweat mixed with dirt on most of your exposed parts and lots of stopping to heckle new recruits.  When we discovered that taking a tourist bus was only marginally more expensive we opted for this choice.  So, when we arrived at the bus park we indeed chartered a bus and it was a totally different experience, like night and day.  They stopped every 2-3 hours to take food, stretch, use the toilet, etc.  Also, all the tourist buses stopped together like a caravan tour.  So, we kept running into the same people at each respite.  Since we’re on such a tight budget of 1500 rupees a day (the equivalent to 20 dollars–this is not actually an easy budget to keep, believe it or not), we didn’t take any food or anything.  In fact at the first stop we cracked some walnuts and almonds with rocks and our shoes while some people gawked.

When the bus arrived in Kathmandu only 6.5 hours later we were impressed.  The local bus had taken us 9 hours to get from Kathmandu to Pokhara.  We weren’t certain what to do next, so we followed these two Swedish dudes to Thamel.  We told them we were following them and they directed us to some hotels.  Each time we came to a hotel, they were exiting telling us the rates and the cleanliness factor, but we proceeded anyway.  We finally decided on one that was sub-par for them, but within our budget.

Three days ago, our second day back, we woke up early and went in search of breakfast.  We found a nice place around the corner full of all different types of traveling folks.  A French woman who just arrived from Madagascar was telling us how quick and prompt the service there was.  So, she was shocked that she had to wait 45 min for breakfast here.  There was a Japanese woman who was also waiting patiently for her food, who chimed in about the duration of waiting she endured.  A cute Taiwanese boy was explaining to the host in broken english that he was vegetarian.  It was a fun experience, but we also had to wait for 40 min to get our veg mo-mos, aloo parathas, and hot lemon ginger (which is essentially ginger and lemon juice in hot water).  

After breakfast we headed to the Indian Embassy to apply for re-entry visas.  We didn’t realise that when we left India we couldn’t re-enter for two months, even though we were warned by our CS host in Delhi.  On her passport there was a special endorsement that made this statement and it was also on our Japanese co-surfer’s passport, but it wasn’t on ours…so we assumed we were okay and proceeded to Nepal.

Once we left the embassy, post submitting forms and payments, we walked to a really old Shiva temple.  I think it was built in the 1400s.  The walk took around 1.5 hours and we got a little turned around along the way, but we found it:  Pashupatinath.  It was a really intense experience.  They were performing funeral ceremonies on the river’s edge.  In Hindu culture, the body of a deceased person is cleaned, wrapped in a fine cloth, has incense burned around the body, then put atop a wood pile and set aflame.  Depending on the caste, there’s a more elaborate ceremony involving carrying the body in a procession around the wood pile, followed by the family members, and then set down to rest.  It was real.  Watching the ceremony really makes you realise the fragility of life, especially because two of the three people were around our age.  I’m very happy that I’m alive and fortunate enough to be traveling at this moment.

We moved on from the ceremonies and explored the rest of the compound.  We apparently were looking lost, so a guide assisted us in understanding the temple.  He was really nice, but the whole time I was wondering when he was going to ask for money.  The information he shared was much appreciated and we learned more than if we just walked around mindlessly taking photos.  He showed us the way out and gave us tips on getting back to the embassy. We confessed to him that we really had no extra money to pay him (and we hadn’t actually asked for his services) and he kindly said, no problem here, but if you could give me your entrance tickets I can get other people in for free.  We happily agreed (and felt slightly annoyed that we didn’t realize we could have bought cheaper tickets too since our tickets were 500 Rs. each! That’s about $8, and together it was almost 70% of our daily budget…).  

So, hurray! we got our re-entry visas!  We thought it was gonna cost us 50 bux, but it ended up only costing $22 for both visas.  Also, we were concerned the applications would get rejected, because on online forums they seemed skeptical of being approved for re-admittance. But for some reason, it’s not actually a big deal.  So, that was a very eventful day.

We’re now staying at a backpacker’s hostel, about a 40 minutes walk away from Thamel.  It came recommended by some people who we met at a couchsurfing meet-up two nights ago.  The hostel is a nice change from our previous digs.  The beds are comfortable, the people who run it are swell, and breakfast is included.  One of the people behind the hostel (Sparkling Turtle) is a 25 year culinary artisan who has been specialising in living foods and vegan cooking.  We took our dinner here last night consisting of borscht and a really excellent dahl.  It was great to have some beets and carrots with no oil and little salt. It made our bellies happy.  🙂  There are two other core members of the hostel, one a Nepalese flutist and the other a young guy from Canada.  The Canadian guy started this hostel with a vision of beginning another one in a more remote area of Nepal out west.  He’s been living out of Canada for four years now, three of which were working in a hostel in Istanbul and one in Australia.  He gave us a great tip about Australia.  Apparently we can work there as a barista or something similar and make 22 dollars/hr.  Our future is looking bright!  Maybe I can get a job using my degree even!

Our spirits are really high now.  We were feeling a little down and contemplating what we were doing until we attended this CS meet-up the other night.  We met so many interesting people.  This guy Evas from Norway is about to begin a motorcycle tour from Neapl/India to Thailand.  He had reservations about going through Burma, but with advice from another CSer, he might go through instead of circumnavigating.  Another surfer, Japhy, who’s Nepalese, rode his bike from USA all the way down to Argentina.  He also happened to have hosted Katherine Williams in LA years ago.  Small world indeed. There were people from Russia, Turkey, Texas, CA, Malta, Georgia(country), and some other places I’m sure.  The person who organised it, Zen, was really wonderful too.  She’s from Malta and living in Nepal with her boyfriend running a tattoo and dread-making parlour.  In fact the meet-up was a dread-making tutorial.  We learned a lot from all these people and got really inspired to continue our journey.

-Julian

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