Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nepal Has It All - Part One

Having just returned from the streets of Kathmandu and settled into our room at the Hotel Manang after putting Sharon into a taxi to deliver her to “Singing Bowl” lessons, I can now sit undisturbed to deliver some stories of our last ten days in Nepal.

Cows trump all vehicles for yielding the right of way
As I mentioned in my last entry, we flew from Bangkok to New Delhi, India and transferred to a flight dropping us into Kathmandu, Nepal. Nothing could equal the immediate introduction into such a bizarre surreal first hour of any country I’ve ever journeyed. Compared to the other beautiful airports we’ve navigated through, Kathmandu International Airport sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. The building is reminiscent of  bland 1950’s red brick elementary school architecture challenged with an extreme need of repair. Even the normally high appealing merchandising of a duty free shop was closed and replaced with a small group of construction workers wondering about in the space looking lost as to how to restore the shop.

Wine, cheese, crackers and solitude for our first night at the Buddha
Once we made our way to the long queue to pass through immigration, we waited while each entrant stepped to each of the four stations before being released to the landside out on the streets. The drill to get through immigration consisted of filling out two forms before queuing, hand your documents along with $25.00 in convertible currency, then continue stepping to the left three more times while your documents were literally rubber stamped by the uniformed officials.  Once the sound of the last stamp echoed through the cubical, you rounded a corner, picked up your checked luggage where they did demand a matching luggage tag, (no other airport seems to care about this one thing that matters to a traveler, that they get their luggage!) and walked out to a glassed in area free to walk into the parking area. Before you walked through the doors, you had an opportunity to view all the creative signs pressed against the windows with names of arriving visitors. It was then we identified our name and met our guide, Sherpa Dawa. This young handsome meek man met us through the doorway and ushered us to our taxi only 75 feet away but between the exit and the taxi car door I was introduced to the swift persona of touts who scam to make a little bit from the weary travelers. While walking together this young man seemed to be with us and offered to take my bag to the taxi to which he did but then demanded to be paid for taking my bag 25 feet to the car.  The taxi driver and our guide stood silent but I got into the taxi and told the hustler I had no rupees to give and we were soon on our way. It was my first introduction to the way of life in Kathmandu but that little experience was mild compared to the most crazed chaos of a ride to our hotel that left Sharon and I bewildered. The cacophony of horns, buzzing of motorcycles whipping past cutting in and out, belching fumes of massive diesel trucks and buses, cows wondering in the middle of the intersections, revving engines of other taxis edging each other out, Chinese motorized buffaloes chugging at a slow pace overloaded with building materials, pedestrians dodging and threading between the darting vehicles, and they all are trying to thread through the deep canyons of buildings draped with endless advertising  into single lane streets being used for two way traffic.  It’s akin to delivering water coming from a 4” diameter pipe through a 1” hose.

We arrive to the buffer of our hotel and were gently greeted and invited to sit and relax in the lobby while the matters of check in were attended to. As we sat shaking off the traffic insanity, the lobby was full with a group of young worn out trekkers coming off an expedition. They wondered about stretching while a young girl sat a round bench in the middle of the room folded over in extreme pain rocking back and forth yet no one in the group seemed to pay any mind to her obvious physical discomfort. Fifteen minutes passed and she finally was shuttled into a taxi with the help of another young woman in the group, apparently destined for the hospital.

Sharon and I looked at each other not only feeling stunned by our ride from the airport but also the condition this young woman.  Sharon leaned towards me and mentioned she didn’t want to be in that condition and so we would take precautions to avoid it at all costs, meaning, we sterilize even the bottled water.

Hotel Buddha with security guard
Then Dawa our guide with the hotel desk manager walked up and delivered us the news that the hotel was full because another hotel guest had gone to the hospital the day before and was too sick to move from his/our room.  So our room was not available for the first night but they made arrangements for another hotel a short walk away.  The group of us shared our lugging of our gear a block away, down an alley, through a small courtyard to the Hotel Buddha. The Buddha hotel desk clerk showed Sharon and I two rooms, the first we refused because the double size bed resembled a sway back mare and the second having two twin beds seemed a slightly better choice but both rooms were equally a sad excuse for a guest to stay in, but we were tired and were promised it would be only one night. I went down stairs to register and reminded our guide and the other hotel manager that we would only put up with this for one night and we would be seeing them at 6:30AM the next morning for other arrangements. Our duffels were delivered shutting the door we collapsed in disbelief only to laugh it off.

The street scene was so intense to our newbie minds we decided to venture out to get some water and while at the market we purchased a bottle of red wine, cheese, and crackers, returned to the Buddha, feasted on our purchases, drifted off to sleep using our dreams to escape the reality until next morning to face our new adventure with rested minds.

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