Days 100 > 104 – Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
10/12/12 > 14/12/12
On my last morning in Karmidanda I got up early and said my goodbyes. Jhabraj and his family had been such great hosts and I was sorry to be leaving, but after two and a half weeks I was feeling restless and my health had returned, I was ready to move on. I caught a bus from the track near the house. People piled on, nearly all of them looked of Tibetan origin. Over the next few hours we bumped our way down the valley, some hairpins were so sharp the bus had to reverse to get an attainable angle to take them. We passed through villages similar to Karmidanda and eventually reached the tarmac roads, climbing the opposite valley and stopping at a town for lunch. There were lots of stalls selling big gourd vegetables, must be the season for them. I listened to “To Kill a Mocking Bird” on my iPod to pass the time. We wound our way around the hills and arrived in Kathmandu at 1pm, by which point my bum was completely numb! I took a taxi into Thamel and checked into Hotel Potala which I’d stayed in before.
I chilled out for the rest of the day enjoying some western delights, pizza and coffee! You start to crave that stuff when you’ve not had it for months!
That night I heard back from the Hong Kong passport processing centre, who were dealing with my passport replacement. They needed a written note declaring why I couldn’t get a countersignature for my passport application, so I sent them a photo which did the job.
Camille, the Belgian girl I’d hung out with a month or so back, was back from a meditation course, so I met her in the evening. She took me to dinner with a big group of people she’d done the meditation course with. They were a mix of all nationalities. The 10 day meditation course at a temple near Kathmandu had been pretty hardcore. They weren’t allowed to talk to each other at all for the whole duration, they slept in dorms, had big meals and cold showers. For an hour in the morning and the evening the teacher gave them lessons about meditation. They got up at 4am every morning and after breakfast sat down for 12 hours of silent meditation with a break for lunch.
Camille found it hard to begin with, but after a few days she focused her thoughts and finished with less doubts about life and more of a life plan. Rather than try to eliminate thoughts, you are supposed to just let them come and go. She did get bored after a week though. The reactions of the others in her group were mixed, some like Camille were really happy with the course. Others never got into it and spent it feeling bored and frustrated. Some said there wasn’t enough direction or that it was too hardcore – but they did treat it as a learning experience.
After dinner we parted ways and she said we’d meet the next day to go trekking with some of the group. However the next morning she didn’t turn up so I assumed she’d gone without me.
I spent the next three days bumming around, working on the blog now I had wi-fi again, sorting out photos, and reading – popping in and out of restaurants and bars. My laptop charger broke (add it to the big list of things that have broken down!) but I managed to find a replacement on the same night in the techhy area of Kathmandu. I took a few walks around central Kathmandu to get some exercise. I was bored but stuck without my passport, I couldn’t go too far from Kathmandu and I’d already exhausted the tourist options in the area. I knew Sophie would be coming to Kathmandu soon to do some travelling in her school holidays.
Sophie and Jhabraj were arriving in Kathmandu today, both in school holidays. In the morning I ran into Camille. She apologized for standing me up the other day – she’d forgotten where my hotel was! She didn’t go trekking and had been hanging out with some Chinese friends she met at the meditation course. We arranged to meet up later to visit a casino.
I popped into a nearby shopping street where they were holding a street festival. There was live Nepali music and dancing on stage, local food and handicrafts, a small zipline over the street promoting an adventure sports company, and an abseil down the side of the buildings. I watched a bike stunt display for a while as they pulled some impressive moves for the crowd.
In the afternoon I met Sophie at a café and Jhabraj joined us briefly. She was staying with Jhabraj and his daughters in their flat in Kathmandu. There had been yet more drama in the village! A girl had committed suicide after failing her exams. She’d supposedly hung herself and left a note. However it was a bit suspicious as no one had examined her body until the police intervened when the funeral was taking place down at the river. We didn’t hear the verdict.
After dinner Sophie had some stuff to do so I met Camille, who was with her Chinese friends. We took a taxi to a casino on the outskirts of town. It was a pretty cheap establishment, though it did have free drinks, free cigarettes and a free buffet which was the reason they were visiting! They got promotional free casino chips from their hotel so they could just turn up, play some games and then tuck into the buffet. The clientele were mostly middle-aged Indian men and a few westerners. Nepalese aren’t allowed in most casinos, except the really rich ones. Aside from tucking into the buffet I bought a few pounds worth of chips and played some roulette. The only games they had were roulette and two card games I had never seen before. I ended up with about the same amount of chips as I started. Some players were on big money in comparison, putting bets of over 100 pounds onto the table. One of Camille’s Chinese friends had a system for winning one of the card games, he went to the casino almost every night and made money using his free guest house chips as the starting bid! He eats for free at the casino and pays for his accommodation with the winnings! Amazingly they haven’t kicked him out yet! Back in town I met Sophie again and we had drink before calling it a night.
Days 106 > 111
16/12/12 > 21/12/12
Me and Sophie spent the next few days hanging out in Kathmandu. She had shopping to do for Christmas presents so we toured the streets, ate breakfast and lunch in the sunshine and chilled out in the evenings. I took her to the Garden of Dreams and a tour around the Durbar Square area. Jhabraj met us for coffee one day before he went back to the village. Some of the tourist places in Kathmandu had Christmas decorations and trees by this point, but the atmosphere was very unchristmassy with glaringly bright days of sunshine. It was very cold out of the sun though, but no rain or snow appeared. I Skyped with my parents back in Scotland, they showed me the decorations at home on the webcam, though they didn’t have snow there either.
Finally I got word from the British embassy in Kathmandu that my new passport had arrived. I went there and picked it up. I overheard the guy in front of me in the queue asking for help – he’d had a nightmare, he is living in Kathmandu with his family, and a local guy he’d met, for no reason had invaded their house, beat him unconscious and beat up his wife, his children witness to the whole thing! He’d been in court and the psycho had been sentenced to prison. My passport woes seemed a drop in the ocean compared to what this poor guy had been through.
I went to the Kathmandu visa office as they’d instructed me to when my passport arrived. They ended up charging me 180 pounds in fees for the overstay on my visa whilst my passport was gone, which I argued with them was unfair as they hadn’t let me extend the visa without my passport anyway! But as they’d let me stay in the country without a visa or passport anyway, I didn’t want to push my luck and paid up when it was clear they wouldn’t back down. I extended the new visa to allow me some time travelling with Sophie, aiming to leave Nepal in mid-January. I spent all day there waiting for them to sort it out, unfortunately they had to contact the Pokhara office where I’d extended the visa originally to get proof that I had done it, and Pokhara in classic Nepali fashion had no electricity that day! As a result they didn’t get the final stamp of approval but said I could sort it out in Pokhara. Me and Sophie booked a bus to Pokhara for the next day.