Kicking back in Kathmandu

(Emily) So, here we were in Kathmandu with our bikes all packed up and ready to fly. The combination of  having reached ‘the end of the road’ land-wise and being in such an exotic sounding place filled us with both a sense of achievement and a sort of nostalgia for everything we’d come through so far, and we had a bit of ‘we’ve made it!’ moment when we first arrived (conveniently forgetting that we were technically still just over half way through our journey!) Our passenger flight to Bangkok wasn’t for several days and we’d arranged for Suraj to get the bikes on a flight 24 hours before ours (it’s always advisable to make sure your bikes are shipped before you depart yourself so if there’s a problem you’re still around to sort it and not sitting helplessly in another country, but we also wanted to avoid hefty storage charges at the cargo centre in Thailand) so, after spending time with the Esther Benjamins Trust, we still had plenty of time to take in the sights of Kathmandu. It was a shame, really, that we’d crated up the bikes a few days in advance (it was easier to do ours and Fabian’s at the same time and he was leaving before us) as, by all accounts, the Kathmandu Valley offers some fantastic riding opportunities but at least we’d already experienced some amazing roads and scenery in Nepal, some of the best we’d had on the whole trip in fact.

Now, however, we were reduced to being ‘ordinary tourists’ for a while and behaved accordingly by going on a walking tour of the city; although it didn’t quite work out that way when the city map we bought for the purpose turned out not to have most of the key sights, or their corresponding roads, marked on! Even James – navigator extraordinaire – admitted that it was as good as useless so in the end we just went for a wander, hoping to come across some of the main attractions through sheer serendipity. We found Kathmandu to be a bustling, colourful place, perfect for getting lost and going where the mood takes you. Making our way out of Thamel, we enjoyed browsing the craft shops and street stalls for trinkets and knick-knacks with half a mind to Christmas presents, and then, as we strayed further away from the tourist hub, we negotiated our way down narrow lanes where street vendors, bicycles and  mopeds all competed furiously to maintain their own little of tarmac. Every so often an opening would reveal a glimpse of a temple or shrine, complete with offerings of fruit and flowers and incense burning: Nepal is officially a Hindu state (the only one, in fact) but in practice, it seems that most people follow a kind of hybrid of Hinduism with Buddhism. Statues of Buddha can often be found alongside Hindu deities in temples, restaurants and people’s homes and it certainly all seems very harmonious. In one of the backstreets, we found a ‘Gentleman’s Parlour’ where James could get a shave; outside of Europe, it’s the equivalent of about 50p for a open blade shave, and they often throw in a head massage for good measure, so James has taken to getting one every so often when he’s left it too long and his stubble starts to take on a beard-like quality (besides, our current hotel had no bathroom mirror so it was a necessity in this instance!) We ended up waiting for quite some time for one of the three barbers to become available as, to our amusement, their current customers were pouting and preening like a bunch of peacocks, asking for just a little more off here and a little there. We were really surprised by the level of male vanity in the parlour, something we had only really seen in India – perhaps a little cultural contamination there?!…

By late afternoon, we started to head back; we’d arranged to meet Suraj at the Eagle Export office so he could take us to his home for dinner. I hadn’t been feeling one hundred per cent all day but we didn’t want to cry off, having already changed the date once when we went to visit the EBT, so I had a little power nap before went out. We’d been speculating about how we might get to Suraj’s house from his office (he always came to work on his bike) and soon all was revealed – he’d arranged for a friend to come at closing time so that we could ride pillion with the two of them!! I was a little apprehensive; I’d only ever gone on the back of the bikes of people I knew very well (James, Dad and Jackson) plus it was dark, we had no helmets and the backstreets of Kathmandu are narrow, bumy rock strewn lanes that weave this way and that like a rabbit warren… It was, of course, a comedy experience, if a little nerve-wracking, as the little 125cc bikes sped along, fluidly dodging the other traffic! I think they found it quite funny too, having to give it some extra beans due to the hefty westerners weighing them down (‘My wife only weighs 40kg…’ Really? Good for her!!) We finally arrived at Suraj’s place, a little dusty and chilly, and were given a lovely warm welcome by Saru, Saraj’s mother, and his cuter-than-cute daughter. All sorts of delicious smells were wafting from the kitchen and, once we’d sat down cross-legged at a table cloth on the floor, tasty vegetable and chicken dishes were placed in front of us. The seating arrangement was relaxed and intimate and we chatted freely about many things with Suraj and his friend (the women tended to stay in the kitchen!) – the Ghurkas, Nepal’s social structure, the nature of arranged marriages, the caste system, the government etc – gaining a valuable insight into life in Nepal. I was enjoying the conversation, and trying to enjoy the delicious food, but I still wasn’t feeling quite right. In the end, I excused myself to go outside for some air…. and promptly threw up in the flower bed! Oh dear, so embarrassing!! They were all lovely about it, of course, and offered me a room so I could lie down for a while but when you’re feeling sick, all you want to do is curl up in your own bed in the dark so, once James had eaten his dessert (James: I couldn’t just leave mid-meal, particularly after Em had just barfed so spectacularly on their prize flower bed!), it was back on the bikes to return us to Thamel. We’d had such a lovely evening (apart from the obvious!) and were humbled by the warmth and hospitality offered to us by Suraj and his family which went above and beyond. Thank you, Suraj!

On our last day in Kathmandu we made a day trip out to the small but traditional town of Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley. Without the bikes, we had to settle for a taxi but, pulling up into the visitor’s carpark (no vehicles allowed in the old town), we spied an overlander BMW GS (just like Carl & Bene’s) with British plates parked up in the corner. It didn’t take long to glean from the locals that the bike had only turned up a few minutes ago and that the owner was currently having a cup of tea in the café on the corner (just goes to show that when you turn up on a big foreign bike in this part of the world, you’re pretty much put under surveillance!) so we went to say hi. The rider was Andrew, and it turns out he’s been travelling with his bike for the last three years, stopping off here and there to work; he’s currently got a twelve month contract in Kathmandu, helping hospitals upgrade their IT systems in return for food and board. He had ridden to Bhaktapur with Caty, currently in Kathmandu after organizing a charity expedition in the mountains, and the four of us had a lovely few hours walking around the cobblestone streets of the timeless town together. It’s a beautiful place, made up of several squares which house endless temples, courtyards and monuments whilst the surrounding streets offer glimpses of traditions that are centuries old. We saw rice and fruits from the recent harvest laid out to dry in the sun, on roofs or simply in the middle of the road, and women collecting water from communal taps and wells. To be honest, we were too busy chatting away with Andrew and Caty to really take it in (it turns out Andrew shared our views on India so you can imagine the ranting once we’d got started on that subject!) but it was well worth the trip.

On the morning of our departure, we went to say goodbye Suraj who was able to tell us that our bikes had flown safely and were waiting for us in Bangkok – phew! It seemed strange to be going to an airport, rather than packing the bikes up and heading for the border, but James at least, five year old boy that he is, had the excitement of going on an aeroplane to make up for it (I meanwhile, still wasn’t feeling right and was more than a tad anxious that I might have another impromptu spewing episode mid-flight…) After tending to dedicate a whole day to border crossings when we were on our bikes, checking in and going through security at the terminal had never been so quick and simple and before we knew it we were in the air, viewing the breathtaking sight of endless mountain peaks of the Himalayas and the Everest range through the window. Goodbye Nepal, southeast Asia here we come…

3 Responses to “Kicking back in Kathmandu”

  1. julian says:

    … and rum and porage, and mum and dad X

  2. Jess says:

    no one weighs 40kg!

  3. Martha says:

    Marcus did when he was born!!

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