NEPAL: Kathmandu – 3 days
Landing back in Kathmandu was a surreal experience. I was greeted with the most fantastic weather, way hotter than I was expecting with clear blue skies and hardly any humidity. I have since discovered that November is the best time to visit Nepal. Also I was amazed to see the white snow caps of the Himalayas fringing the city’s horizon throughout my stay; apparently its unusual to have such a clear view of them from Kathmandu so again my timing could not have been more perfect.
I stayed at a friends apartment the first two nights in the pretty Patan district, south of the city. I was with Jayne in the British Embassy directly after the earthquake so it was really lovely to see her, and catch up on our lives over the last 18 months. Jayne is amazing… she has worked in Nepal for over 10 years on various projects helping some of the poorest women and children in the country. My first evening I went with Jayne to a Zumba class she holds for the local ladies, although after my 22 hour journey from Bali I only managed 15 minutes of this high energy dance class before my brain and body said enough was enough. I just about managed to stay awake long enough to enjoy momo’s on the way home before getting a much needed early night.
Day 2 and there was only one place I wanted to go… back to Thamel and Hotel Potala, where I had been when the earthquake struck. I decided to get my feet moving again and so walked the hour or so across town, which was a great way to reacquaint myself with Nepal. Stopping along the way to take in all the little things which make this part of Asia so unique. A world away from the lush Bali although the smiles from the local people are the same. The smells, the traffic, the colours, the hustle… and the memory of a gazillion electricity wires that hang over each and every street or alley way, like tangled spaghetti. Apart from the odd pile of rubble (which Jayne tells me could or could not be connected to the quake) it would appear that the majority of the city streets (temples aside) have now recovered from the effects of April 2015. The last time I was in Thamel the shutters were down, the alleys were devoid of any colour and the streets were deserted… thankfully now they were alive with people, all the shops are open and whilst the climbing season isn’t completely back to normal, trekkers are beginning to return. And bonus, Nepal has just been in festival season so many of the streets are still decorated with shiny bunting.
I easily found Hotel Potala and as I climbed those bottom two dark and dingy flights of stairs just to get to reception, I ran into Rishy. Rishy ran the travel centre attached to the hotel, and he was the main guy I remembered from my last visit. He said he remembered me too… bless him, then we had a lovely chat and I promised to return one day to book my Tibet trip through his agency. Apparently everyone else now working in the hotel is new, but I still stopped to say hello at reception and point out the door frame just to the right where I stood for the second half of the earthquake. I wanted to get a veg thali here, as I remember it was one of the best I’d ever eaten, but the kitchen wasn’t doing thalis at this hour… so another plate of momo’s it was. Sitting on their restaurant balcony it was totally surreal to be back there… but strangely comforting as well. I continued wandering aimlessly around Thamel for another few hours before catching a taxi back to Patan. That night we had dinner plans with some of Jaynes friends, and Jayne wanted to drive us all out to a local restaurant outside the city… Unfortunately it didn’t go quite according to plan when we ended up helping one of those friends move house which involved Jayne having to make some Austin Power style very tight 3 point turns in her old Toyota. The car subsequently overheated so we had to abandon and just walk to a local restaurant. It was still a lovely and interesting evening spent with Jayne, Chandon the heart doctor and Andrea from Germany who works on a project with local farmers helping them to grow macadamia and walnut trees.
My final morning in Kathmandu I headed back to Patan Durbur Square, which was just a half hour walk from Jayne’s apartment. This was where myself and Debi had spent Friday 24 April 2015, the day before the quake. It was our favourite of all the historical sites we’d visited during our two days of sightseeing, and it was here I had taken my iconic photo of the square in all its glory just 24 hours before it all came crashing down. It was therefore very emotional when I arrived and saw how very very different it looks today. The area has been cleared of debris and scaffolding erected, but very little else. I’m sure one day this UNESCO site will be fully restored, but in the meantime it exists as a reminder of what this country has suffered. On a positive note, there were still quite a few tourists walking about, so that was good. In the afternoon I joined Jayne and about 40 or so (mainly ex-pats) on their weekly “hash”, which is a walk or run for two hours. Each week someone different chooses the route and today it happened to take place around the area where Jayne lives. Obviously I joined the walking crowd and it was nice to be lead around all the back streets, learnng more about the city and the people who live and work here. Finally Jayne dropped into Thamel, where I would be staying for one night in order to be closer to the bus station for my early Sunday morning start up to Nuwakot. With no real idea of what I have in store next week, I tried to get an early night…