I have to admit, I knew absolutely nothing about Nepal before visiting there. I was aware there were some pretty big mountains, including a certain Mount Everest. But climbing mountains wasn’t the purpose of our trip. After months spent backpacking around South-East Asia, crossing various borders on dilapidated buses, we decided to enter Nepal in style. And so we exited Bangkok, courtesy of Thai Airways, onward bound for Kathmandu.
Although the flight was excellent, our arrival at Kathmandu didn’t get off to the best start. After one and a half hours trying to get through immigration, a result of the visa application process, we finally made it through to the luggage area to find it devoid of any signs of baggage or passengers. We finally tracked our backpacks down. Someone had unceremoniously thrown them against a wall, but not before ripping off the badges collected from visited countries, from my husband’s backpack, all of which had been painstakingly sown on by me.
Finding our hotel was the next step. I’d earmarked a suitable looking place in our trusty guide book and showed it to the taxi driver who’d been trailing around after us at the airport. He told us he knew the hotel and drove off at a hair raising pace. Upon our arrival we were charged the princely sum of $4 dollars a night, which didn’t tally with the guide book. We later found out he’d taken us to a different hotel with the same name.
After unpacking and reading through the guide book, we set off in search of Freak Street, once a haven for the hippy travelers in the 1960s and ‘70s thanks to its cheap hotels and restaurants. Its real name is Jochne but everyone knows it as Freak Street. Even the signposts call it that.
Walking through Kathmandu was like stepping back 200 years in time. The quaint winding streets were lined with ancient, decaying buildings and open fronted, windowless, dirt floor shops. What appeared to be butchers shops, displayed various pieces of animals lying on wooden tables, completely exposed to armies of flies. No signs of healthy and safety here.
There was so much to take in. Ever present in the background was the imposing outline of the snow capped Himalayas, stark and clean, providing the ultimate contrast to the scenes below. Down in the town our senses were assaulted by the incessant din of people shouting, cars tooting and bicycle bells ringing and the strange sight of cows wandering down the streets. All the while we were engulfed by the choking black fumes from dilapidated cars and mopeds causing pollution which almost seemed offensive against the pure beauty of the mountain ranges.
We spent a couple of days wandering around Kathmandu town, trying out the restaurants which were plentiful and to my delight, even served up salads which I was craving. We kept getting hassled to purchase drugs, but my husband had a stock reply. Each time they’d approach us and murmur “drugs?”, he’d reply, “did you say police?” They disappeared pretty fast.
After Kathmandu we set off for Pokhara, which is considered to be Nepal’s second city because it’s so popular with tourists. It’s also a starting point for people heading off up the mountains to go trekking. Pokhara is situated at the bottom of the Annapurna Mountain Range with its beautiful, still lake reflecting the surrounding mountains.
To get there, we endured a grueling, nine hour hellish journey in a non-air-conditioned bus driving at breakneck speeds around mountain sides. These roads had sheer drops of hundreds of feet on one side, with no rails whatsoever. We were told that the drivers leave it up to fate whether or not we’d survive the journey.
Our one rest stop wasn’t much better. I’d been feeling ill and couldn’t face eating so sat down on a log outside. The indignant squawks from a chicken having its feathers pulled caught my attention. The man doing the pulling saw I was looking, then proceeded to pick the chicken up by its legs along with an ominous looking chopper. It was too much for me so I got up and left.
Arriving in Pokhara we found a lovely quiet guesthouse where guests could go onto the roof to sunbathe. The following morning we ventured up there to be greeted by the most breathtaking view either of us had come across. We hadn’t noticed on our arrival the evening before as it had been foggy, but that morning, which was cool and clear, we found ourselves gaping in awe at the biggest mountain we’d ever seen. This was the sacred Mt. Machhapuchhre, known as Fishtail Mountain because of its unique shape.
We spent our days going on boat trips on the lake, riding hired pushbikes, writing postcards and doing touristy things such as taking a coach trip to see the Annapurna Mountains. Mostly, the weather was perfect, hot in the day, with cool nights. We had to sleep under mosquito nets as the mosquitoes were pretty aggressive up there.
Unfortunately, I became quite ill which resulted in a trip to the local hospital. That in itself was an adventure and an experience never to be forgotten. The hospital was a large, rambling building of endless corridors and buildings joined together. Crowds of Nepalese people seemed to be milling around not knowing where to go. Women were giving birth on tables in open rooms with nothing but a bit of rag drawn around for privacy. However, entire families seemed to be trying to get a look in as well.
I had to give a stool sample due to my endless stomach problems. Here I was faced with possibly my worst encounter of a public toilet, which I found shocking considering it was a hospital. The bathroom had no light, simply a small grate at the top of a concrete wall. Inside the cubicle was the usual hole in the ground where I had to squat to produce my sample. But the smell was so overpowering it was all I could do to stay in there. The walls were smeared with excrement which made me wonder how anyone stayed alive there.
However, I couldn’t fault the doctor or the hospital system. I was diagnosed pretty fast and given appropriate medication. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we arrived back home that I noticed it was three years out of date.
Nepal is a fascinating country and one which is very easy for travelers to visit since the Nepalese are well used to catering for tourists. The people are incredibly friendly and I would love to return there one day, hopefully in a healthier state. But until then, my travels through Nepal remain firmly ingrained in my mind, and I’m especially thankful I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the world’s tallest mountains.