Some quick-hit thoughts on our first week in Nepal:
Although we haven’t actually seen it on any menus, based on a guy in Kathmandu’s backstreets your chicken preparation options include fried, roasted or lightly brazed with a blowtorch.
Considering the Olympic crackdown in China it’s possible Nepal is now in the running for Spitting Capital of the World. Although there does not seem to an unusual number of smokers the phlegm buildups around here seem strangely troublesome. The tough part is deciding which is really more disgusting – a guy hocking several times so hard he practically vomits and then depositing a huge viscous lump on the sidewalk in front of you, or a guy hocking several times so hard he practically vomits and then not spitting.
Kathmandu is a fascinating, vibrant city with some very cool sights and temples, timeless backstreets and an obnoxiously hectic tourist area (Thamel) where trekking stores are more common that gold jewelry in a porn film. Unfortunately there are also far too many vehicles for Kathmandu’s narrow streets, creating about 4 or 5 rush hours every day where traffic grinds to a painful halt like a pregnant woman’s social life.
Nepal’s Number One Sales Technique:
1) Find a tourist
2) Follow them
3) See what happens
Almost immediately after arriving in Kathmandu we got ourselves semi-conned into an overpriced room at Hotel Horizon. Of course, that wasn’t exactly surprising since we are generally so naive our first few hours in any country that you could probably convince us to buy a plot of land in Tom Selleck’s chest hair. Anyway, an unexpected perk was the hard-working security guard who protected the gate from before we got up in the morning until after we went to bed at night, so for at least ten hours a day. And every time we left or returned (and we tend to forget a lot of things) he would stand up, stomp his feet down to attention and give us a brisk military salute. And I have to admit, it felt pretty good, not since I sold my ’79 Camaro had I enjoyed that kind of respect.
Speaking of cool, I’m pleased to announce that my hair is finally the perfect combination of length and fluffiness so that when freshly washed and feathered I could easily pass for the legendary missing fourth Bee Gee. The muleteers love it.
In a bizarre twist of hygiene we had some clothes washed at the aforementioned Hotel Horizon but were a little careless, we forgot to specify that they not scrub them in the sewer and rinse them in rat piss. I mean, how were they to know we didn’t want to smell like incontinent hobos? As a result we spent the next three days trying to sweat as much as possible just to get them reeking of good old fashioned B.O. again.
Soothing Sounds of the Night in Kathmandu
1) barking (one dog)
2) children crying (both real and fake)
3) cooing (pidgeons, we hope)
4) hocking (just warming up)
5) hocking (got something that time)
6) hocking (there it is, the whole lung)
7) spitting (and/or swallowing)
8) barking (several dogs)
9) scrabbling (claws on tin roof, once again we hope pidgeons)
10) barking (every single goddam dog in Nepal)
Despite what you might think based on all my glowing comments so far, we actually kind of liked Kathmandu, although it didn’t take long for us to get our fill and soon we moved on to Bhaktapur, a small UNESCO Heritage city nearby. While only 15 kilometres out of the capital it is a world away in atmosphere. There is very little traffic (basically none in the Durbar Square, the area with all the old temples, palaces and tourists) and no electricity between 6pm and 9pm every night. At any time of day the narrow busy passageways have a genuinely medieval feel to them, but they are really unique at night. One particularly memorable moment came during one of the nightly power outages, walking around Durbar Square in just the light of a full moon among hundreds of socializing locals, a deep underlying hum of conversation emanating from the shadows. I even suggested that it might be dark enough for us to wear just t-shirts and no pants, Donald Duck-style, but Laynni decided that so much sexual tension would distract her from properly enjoying her boldly proclaimed “Favourite Town in the World”. Personally I feel it’s a bit premature since we haven’t yet had time to fully digest our stay. Plus I didn’t see even one sign advertising 2 for 1 handjobs, so Pattaya still has the edge there.
One morning we took the bus up to Nagarkot where we caught our first glimpse of one of the big peaks, just a small piece of the top, well off in the distance, and thus began a little game Laynni likes to steal from Vince Vaughn called “Just the Tips”. Interestingly, both versions are unpredictable, somewhat exciting, heavily reliant on the promise of more to come and, if all goes according to plan, end in squeals of delight.
Another day trip we took from Bhaktapur was to Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple complex set on the river that is considered one of the holiest places to be cremated and draws daily pilgrimages from all over India and Nepal. The process itself is fascinating to watch, although understandably sombre, and takes place on small cement platforms on the river’s edge called “ghats”. First the body is carried in by a procession of mourners and placed upon the funeral pyre. The final rites are then performed, someone reaches under the shroud to discreetly remove the underwear only to unceremoniously fling it into the river (we didn’t ask), and then the fire is lit. We were surprised to see that everyone pretty much wanders off after that . A few hours later the fire will be finished and the ashes swept into the sluggish water to mingle with all the floating rubbish and frolicking children. Apparently there are 60-70 cremations per day and the grounds even include a hospice for terminal patients who take great comfort in spending their final days within a viral infection’s throw of the holy temple, guaranteed their place in the line of fire. The final ingredient that pulls it all together is the rowdy troop of 1,200 monkeys rampaging around the area, as sensitive to the family’s sorrow as a group of teenage boys at a nude beach.
Now, if someone put you on the spot and made you guess who would be the most popular figures to adorn Nepali t-shirts who would you pick? A Nepali actor who stars in dozens of Kollywood musicals each year? A famous cricketeer perhaps? A beautiful Tibetan singer? Maybe a particularly charismatic Sherpa? All good guesses, but not even close. Try American professional wrestler John Cena and Canadian punk songstress Avril Lavigne. It’s even stranger because although we haven’t really even heard any Western music in Nepal, let alone any Avril classics such as Girlfriend or Sk8r Boi, we have seen her sassy little face staring back at us all over the country from the busy streets of Kathmandu to the chest of a young guy herding mules in the most remote mountain village. Strange. John Cena, on the other hand, is simply awesome.
Finally, although there was never much debate, I think we can now definitively settle the issue of whether or not Laynni’s head is unusually large (don’t be fooled by her little face). We were walking down the street in Bhaktapur, smiling away, probably whistling or something, when out of the blue not one, but two, birds just ran into the back of her head, crashing to the ground like Samoan gymnasts. Laynni’s theory is that they were in the midst of fighting some climactic battle, and therefore distracted, kind of like a scene from Point Break. My feeling, on the other hand, is that it was more like Spiderman trying in vain to push an unsuspecting child out of the way of an oncoming train. Either way, it was messed up.
Next up: a really long entry from Annapurna.