okay it's a little past hello Nepal now, we got here on the 30th of June. So I'll try to remember what it was like saying hello.
Our last day in India was a little sad for us. We really enjoyed our time there and are absolutely going to go back in the future. We spent the last day running a couple of errands (mailing another package of stuff home, picking up our plane tickets to get to Kathmandu, eating momo's from a nice Tibetan lady on the street for the last time) and then had our third cooking class. We took three classes in three days from this lady in her kitchen and learned how to make palak paneer, channa masala, shahi paneer, malai kofta, pakora, samosas, chai (tea) and chapati. We really liked the food in India, and wanted to learn how to make some of the stuff, so we were happy to learn more about the ingredients and how the stuff is made. Although not everything we made was as good as we have eaten in restaurants... so I don't really know if we accomplished anything.
After our cooking class, we caught a night bus from Mcleod Ganj to Delhi, a 12 hour ride. Our flight was at 11:30 the next morning, so if everything worked out as it was supposed to, we would have 4 and a half hours to get to the airport and sit around eating crappy food and drinking crappy coffee. But about 4 hours into the trip, at our rest stop, the driver discovered oil was leaking from the engine... we sat around there for 2 hours, without actually knowing what was happening or when we would be leaving. Tara and I were starting to get pretty nervous. Missing our flight was not an option. There were rumours going around it was going to be an all night stop. We asked about getting a taxi the rest of the way and some jerk asked for 8000 rupees. The regular tourist price for a taxi from Delhi to Mcleod Ganj is 3000 and we were already a 3rd of the way... but we were screwed out of more than 8000 rupees if we didn't get there in time. Just as we were trying to get a crew together to share, the bus roared to a start. We sat back down, shut our eyes and hoped that the bus wouldn't break again. It was a nervous and of course, uncomfortable sleep. But we made it eventually, and got to the airport in time to have bad food and coffee. For such a big city, they really have crap food choices in their airport.
It was a nice, short flight into Kathmandu, just an hour and a half. We got a meal and a beer and watched TV on the seat in front of us.
On arrival we had to fill out visa forms and pay USD $30 each. This visa fee could also be paid in Canadian, Euros, Aussie, or English pounds. Not Nepali rupees. There own government won't even accept the currency.
After getting our bags, we were met by the usual mob of rabid taxi drivers screaming like crazy "free taxi" "100 rupees", if of course we go to some crap hotel that gives them commission for every sucker they bring in the door. We had a hotel reserved already, so we told them to get away from us and got into a pre-paid taxi to our destination. This is a concept we became familiar with in India. I think it started because the taxi unions would get pissed off being screwed over on fares or having to negotiate different rates to go all over the city. For a foreigner to get a meter price would be crazy to them I think. It's actually fine with us though, we know we're paying the same thing as all the other tourists, there is never a big hassle and we get where we want pretty easily.
We stayed at a more mid range place in Kathmandu, outside of the tourist ghetto of Thamel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thamel). The hotel was called Kantipur Temple House, and was built in a traditional Newari style (Newari's are the indigenous people of Nepal, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newar_people). This basically means lots of really intricate wood carvings on every door and window frame. Thamel was a zoo. Tiger balm sellers, hash dealers and rickshaw drivers all over the streets pushing their stuff on everyone. The drug dealers would just walk by, being a little more discreet. But the other 2 would just harass the hell out of you until you were out of ear shot. Then there are the shops. Every one is either a trekking store, a travel agent, a guesthouse, a tourist restaurant, a pashmina shop or some other tourist crap store. It was annoying to be there. But there was a good variety of western food, so we ate at a couple of the restaurants, just for some change.
We spent 2 full days in Kathmandu. On one of them we walked around and tried to arrange a couple of tours. One to Tibet (you have to go there on an organized tour, otherwise you can't cross the border). The other to Royal Chitwan National Park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Chitwan_National_Park). We went to about 10 different travel agents and heard many different prices and stories. Almost every one of the places is a middle man to the middle man, so they add extra commission and have no control over what we actually get. Eventually, after some internet research, we found one of the real trip operators and booked with them the next day. For the rest of that first day, we sat around the Garden of Dreams, a small city park/botanical garden, which was really nice. We met a German tourist wearing a Maple Leafs t-shirt, he was obviously cool.
The next day, we did a walking tour of the city that ended in Durber Square. Durber means palace, and it's here that the royal family of Nepal used to have their palace (it moved somewhere else like 100 years ago). It is the main square of the city, even though it is actually much larger than just a square. There are also more than 10 temples in the area including one that the city is named after, made entirely of a single tree and another called the Hippie Temple because it's where all the hippies would hang out in the 60's and 70's. Our guide told us it's where Bob Dylan wrote 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'. There was also the Kumari Temple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumari), which is where Nepal's living goddess lives. The way it works is that a 4 year old girl, of a high-caste and of a Buddhist family is chosen after a series of tests. One is that the girl must be completely free of any marks on her skin, no pimples, cuts, birthmarks or anything like that. She must have the same horoscope as the king (so when the King died in 2001, a new living goddess had to be chosen to match the new king). And she must be brave (they put her in a dark room and terrify her all night) if she makes it without losing her mind, she is in. She becomes a living goddess. She moves into this temple and is treated as a goddess until she reaches puberty, at which point she goes back to being a normal person. She isn't allowed to touch the ground. If she gets cut or gets a pimple, she isn't the goddess anymore. If you ask me, that would fuck a girl up being raised as a goddess and getting everything until you're 11 or 12 and then going back to just being a normal citizen. But my opinion doesn't really matter. She is a goddess to Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal.
After our tour of Durber square, we walked down Freak Street. It's named after all the freaksters and hippies who came and hung out in Nepal in the 60's and 70's, although there aren't any hippies anymore.
This morning we left Kathmandu. We took a bus to Pokhara http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pokhara) , Nepal's second largest city, although it's really more of a town. It sits on a lake, Phewa Tal, and is surrounded by the mountains. We're told it's beautiful here when the clouds don't ruin the view (it's the monsoon right now, so we can't see any peaks). Oh well.