We leave India and enter Nepal through the eastern border of Kakarbhitta, which is a town with nothing going for it but the people passing through. We change our Indian rupees for Nepali rupees with some unassuming looking women on the side of the road just past the crossing. Dressed in the traditional garb they look like they should be matriarch-ing some household somewhere, instead of pulling inordinately large rolls of greasy bank notes from their saris and peeling some off for us with practiced skill. But they are cheerful and give us a good rate, so who am I to say?
Back on the Dragoman bus (ridiculous hodgepodge of bus-on-truck chassis that got welded together in the 80s by complete nutters and then painted a lurid orange so that everyone EVERYONE stares at it) and we set off into Nepal. At first I think Euan, the driver is having some kind of seisure and then I realise that no, this is just the state of the roads. It’s hard to explain unless you see it.
If you can measure the efficiency of a country by the quality of its infrastructure, it would appear that something here is very amiss.
We pass an old couple sat by the side of the road, next to enormous piles of rocks. They are painstakingly pounding those rocks into smaller rocks with ancient hammers, then those rocks get moved along and pounded again, until they have asphalt. (Then some young dudes in flip flops will patch up the craters passing for a road, it’ll be haphazardly tarmac-ed over and that’ll be it… until the craters are once again at crazy-danger levels and the whole things starts over.) It would take weeks to get through even one of those piles, but there they sit. Getting it done.
It’s boiling hot but we have to keep the windows closed or everything will get coated with the thick white rock dust that covers everything outside.
We are thrown around and out of our seats, everyone else is practiced at stowing their gear but all mine and Tasha’s crap goes flying and we spend a fun few minutes lurching about trying to pluck notebooks and moisturiser out of the laps of innocent fellow passengers.
Welcome to Nepal!!
Our destination, eventually, is Kathmandu. But we are taking the scenic route through Koshi and Chitwan National Parks. The parks are a mix of jungle-savannah, and are home to rhinos, elephants, bears, snakes, a multitude of birds and of course the shy elusive tigers (Not that we see any… I’m beginning to think that jungle tigers are a myth, made up by Disney or David Attenborough).
We do a bit of glamping in Koshi and take paty in some Nepali flirt-dancing around the campfire (hilarious… I think Tasha and I might be engaged to one or more of these dudes now!). We take a hollow wooden canoe up the river at dawn to see the snoozing crocodiles, and watch elephants take a bath in Chitwan (Tasha is ecstatic… she gets to scrub one with a stone as it splashes her with its trunk), go white water rafting and cliff jumping and then it’s time to bump our way up to the capital…
Kathmandu is a strange city. Like all cities it is noisy and smoggy (worse than some better then others) the effects of the 2015 earthquake are shockingly evident, over two years later and there are still piles of rubble where houses used to be, and buckled streets. The majority of the small motorbike logged roads and made of compacted earth, with old stone slabs poking though like absurdist weeds. Its a little heartbreaking. It’s also a bugger when it rains.
Thamel is the backpackers district, and this is where we are to say goodbye to our tour buddies. First we do a fantastic walking tour that takes us through the bead market, around the shattered Durbar Square, down to the cremation ghats, across the river (absolutely the most disgusting polluted body of water I’ve ever encountered), and up the many steps to the stunning Swayambhunath (nicknamed the monkey temple) where we see not only epic views across the city, but epic views of monkeys snatching stuff from unsuspecting tourists (the best one was this little trouble maker downing a red bull… pity the fool who crosses paths with him in the next few hours!!)
We then go out for a farewell dinner with Ryan Lee and Euan, which turns into a bit of a session (I discover hot rum punch… so pity the fool who crosses paths with me in the next few hours!)
And then they disperse onto their next adventures, and we have a few days to mooch about before our trek begins in February. Notes for that week:
– Thamel is a complex maze full of things I want to buy, which is dangerous because…
– everyone wants to sell you something
– We must look like drug addicts because we are constantly batting off whispered offers of weed
– ATMs are unbelievably temperamental and they all hate MasterCards, which is all we have… (“for everything else, there’s MasterCard… well not in bloody Nepal there’s not.)
– Social Tours do an amazing ‘Cook like a Local’ morning and the momos we make and then scoff are by far the best I’ve ever had!
– Mandala art is chock full of meaning and detail and takes a lifetime to learn… not the 4 hour lesson that we do!!
– The Garden of Dreams is an oasis of calm in crazy traffic, and the Kaiser Cafe there stocks an excellent Chardonnay
– You categorically cannot hire the small bits of hiking gear from any shop in Thamel (sleeping bags and jackets are included in our tour).
– There are fantastically skilled embroiderers who will sew any design onto any piece of material you give them… my denim jacket is looking fabulous!!
And before you know it we are packing up and we’re off on our wander around the Annapurna Circuit…