Another in our OBT series.
Nepal and Kathmandu have always been on our bucket list, so we were excited about leaving India for Nepal.
The most obvious thing when we arrived was the weather and a really nice hotel. After weeks in India, we are sitting outside, the temperature was wonderful. We listened to some Blues, Train, and The Doors, all while eating Nepalese food. This is awesome.
When we booked our trip to Nepal, we were told the flight around Everest would be “weather permitting.” We were up at 4:45 am and it was raining, so we were a little concerned, but they told us we would be going above the clouds. The plane is only half full on purpose so everyone gets a window seat and everyone has the opportunity to go to the cockpit to see the mountains and take pictures. Later in the flight, we all got a glass of champagne. Seeing Mt. Everest was a highlight of our trip so far.
In the city center, there were the old town squares, with very distinctive wooden latticework and pagodas of a style we haven’t seen anywhere else. The pagodas are delicately carved, but look heavy because of the dark wood used.
Kathmandu is actually a combination of three different cities. Each had its own king, temples, and palaces. One town, Patan, is a city of artists and every shop has brass statues of various Hindu deities. The main, white stupa is impressive and streamers of flags with Nepalese colors are all over it.
Another of the cities in the Kathmandu valley is Bhaktapur. An 8.0 Earthquake in 2015 devastated the area. Many brick and wood pagodas are getting rebuilt with foreign funds. The last such quake was 80 years ago and another 80 years before that. Still, they don’t seem to be using any quake-proof techniques to rebuild the structures, just the same old bricks.
There are many step-wells in Kathmandu, but most are blocked from the source due to development. Still, they are all beautiful. The traffic is terrible, but there are more traffic police and rules about keeping cows out of the road than we saw in India. We only saw a few cows out and about. However, religious ceremonies still include ritual animal slaughter in very public places. I have a proof that it is, in fact, duck season (not rabbit season) in Nepal.
Pokhara and the Annapurna Range
Pokhara is the gateway for trekking in the Annapurna Mountain range, which has many of the top 10 highest peaks in the world. We had a 25-minute flight to Pokhara, which is northwest of Kathmandu. Naturally, we had to see the Annapurna mountains at sunrise, so we had to get up at 4:45 again and it was raining. Much as I disliked getting up that early, the view of the mountains was absolutely worth it and it stopped raining while we waited for the sunrise.
The rest of the day was spent seeing the local attractions, including the International Mountain Museum and a Tibetan refugee camp until we were about to melt again. So, back to the hotel for a swim and a nap, followed by blog work. We felt safe enough to venture out for food on foot, finding a restaurant where the locals barely spoke English. We had a tasty set meal with local dishes.
Leaving Pokhara, we had our longest delay of the trip so far. We waited at the airport for 4 hours for the 25-minute flight back to Kathmandu. All flights had stopped due to weather and low visibility. The airport was tiny and uncomfortable.
Nepalese have a dish called a Mo Mo that is like a potsticker steamed with a distinctive spicy sauce. I thought the best Mo Mo’s rivaled Shanghai dumplings. We also went for a Tibetan hot pot (Gyakok) meal one evening. A metal pot on top of wood fire held a mixture of tofu, beef, chicken, vegetables, and glass noodles in a flavorful broth. It wasn’t as spicy as the Indian or Nepali food but it was good and came with Mo Mo’s, rice and noodles. It was certainly better than shabu-shabu.
Noodling on Nepal
Nepal is cleaner, much less crowded and more laid back than India, and things seem to run on island time.
The locals say EVERYONE wants to leave. To America, Australia, Japan, India… anywhere. Although life looks good to me here, rampant corruption prevents anyone from getting ahead unless they can buy their way into a better job in government. Taxes are 230% on imported goods. A $500 motorbike in India sells for $3000 in Nepal. For reference, an unskilled construction worker may earn around $5/day.
Public schools are mediocre and private schools are expensive. There are 30 million people in Nepal but are only 11 universities, and only a few of those are internationally accredited. By comparison, California has roughly the same population and 119 colleges and universities. Not much hope for educating out of poverty. As such, many people leave to find jobs elsewhere, including in Qatar and the UAE, so they can send money back to their families. The work is hard and they are not treated well.
We were told that roughly 10 coffins per day arrive at Kathmandu Airport with returning Nepalese. The bodies are taken to the main river, where they are cremated in very public ceremonies with family in attendance. The cremations happen every day, using large piles of wood for fuel. The ashes are pushed into the river but not far downstream, people still bathe and wash clothes.
Until a few years ago, power was on only 4 hours a day (not the same 4 hours), despite having a lot of hydroelectric resources available. Many public works projects are paid for by other countries. Even the main, 4 lane road through Kathmandu was paid for by Japan.
Despite all these challenges, Nepal has wonderful energy and spirit that gives me hope for its future and makes me want to return.
How does trekking in Nepal sound to you?