Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chaos in the mountains

As we disembarked the plane we started the visa on arrival process. A word to the wise, ensure you have the correct visa amount in approved foreign currency such as USD, Canadian, Euros etc, as they do not accept Nepalese rupees, their own currency! Luckily after lessons learned from past trips, such as the stranding in India which resulted in J's parents having to wire us money, we keep an emergency reserve of USD on us. You need to have 2 passport size photos, which luckily there is a photo booth inside and the cost was 200 rupees about $2.50 Canadian (they only take rupees, which we were able to get from the onside money exchanger). However, there is no ATM in this visa area and you cannot proceed with out your visa. For a 90 day, multiple entry visa (we always go for multiple entry after the mishap in China. Who knew going from main land china to hong kong counted as an exit?), it costs $100.00 USD per person. Trekking permits are separate.

After clearing the visa process we took a taxi to our hotel. We drove along dusty streets, lined with ramshackle buildings, past dogs, cows, and kids frolicking along the edges. We noticed people playfully tossing homemade water balloons (made from tied plastic bags) at each other, while covered in fluorescent colors of dusty paint. Apparently it is a holiday here, we've become accustomed to never really knowing for sure whats going on as we travel. The current holiday is the Holi Festival. "The ancient Hindu festival of Holi falls on late February or on early March. Allegedly named after the mythical demoness Holika, it is a day when the feast of colours is celebrated. The festival is of a week. However it's only the last day that is observed by all with colours. Phagu is another name for Holi where Phagu means the sacred red powder and Pune is the full moon day, on which the festival ends. People can be seen wandering through the streets either on foot or on some vehicle, with a variety of colours smeared over them." source: http://www.nepalhomepage.com/society/festivals/fagupurnima.html From reading the local news apparently there is a crack down on men throwing balloons of dirty water at unsuspecting women. But it seems that everyone we have observed is actively participating, and thankfully I remain balloon and paint free.

Things here seem to pulsate, but yet nothing moves along very fast, except the motorcycles darting in and out. Restaurants are a leisurely process (as is the wifi). Electricity is intermittent and there is not always a generator backup. (We always travel with flashlights). The streets are quite dark, the blackness interrupted by small fires in the gutters. When the grinding of the hotel generator ceases you realize it is covering the noise of the barking dogs, honking horns, an occasional alarm, and the far off pounding of techno music.

Our hotel is quaint and comfortable. We have a clean room and clean linens, (inconsistent) wifi, satellite tv, locking cabinet, bathroom and a kitchenette (fridge, cupboard, and sink). With the intermittent electricity the fridge is less of an ice box and more of a bug vault, keeping any food items safe-ish from any unseen ants and the like.

We took a short walk to get orientated. Looking up to the top of a six story apartment building, it is interesting to see a flock of chickens on the roof. The streets are filled with travel agencies, trekking stores, restaurants and everything a traveller could need. We ventured over to a hippie hangout, a bookstore and vegetarian restaurant called Pilgrims, where we ate the yummy traditional Nepalese momo. It's like a steamed (or fried) dumpling filled with curried vegetables. The bookstore is amazing, packed with antique books, Buddhist books, travel books and everything else! Plus a lovely assortment of souvenirs (textiles, carvings, statues, jewelry,etc) and post cards. This establishment shall figure heavily in our stay in Kathmandu. I will have to restrain myself from purchasing copious amounts of Buddhist books and knick knacks. We also located a grocery store which seems specify all for trekkers. It's articles with camping foods, instant soups, all kinds of chocolate, nuts, beverages etc. I found some vegan dark chocolate as well. I noticed one poor traveller, with severely swollen red hands, which appears to be from frostbite. It's a good reminder for us to be very prepared before heading out on any hikes. (The temperature in the actual Kathmandu area is pleasant, around 18 degrees.)

We plan on being in Nepal for a while. It is quite inexpensive and there're is a variety of adventures to be had. We will be looking into trekking, wildlife preserves, temples, and perhaps some rafting.

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