As soon as we left customs, we had people trying to sell us tours or hotel rooms or cab rides. We were met by our trek guide that had hired a handicapped man to hold our name sign for us so he could have some employment. We thought it was very sweet. The handicapped man was so excited and wanted to carry our bags and was so happy that we had arrived. We were then put into a "taxi" which was like a small work van that allowed for every bump in the road to be felt...and lets just say the roads seem to be primarily dirt roads with plenty of bumps. The culture shock began immediately!
Kathmandu only has electricity running for 10 hours a day. For the remaining 14 hours, they use backup sources such as generators which sometimes only power a few low lights. So everything seemed quite dark and pedestrians were walking around with flashlights. We couldn't believe the traffic and the way people drove and how all the pedestrians were not getting run over. There were SO many people about and so much going on. Everywhere we looked was something unusual to us: a man fixing shoes on the side of the road with a flashlight in his mouth, meat being sold on wooden tables by the side of the road without any refrigeration (good thing we are going vegeterian!), people carrying LPG gas tanks on their bicycles.
We arrived at our guest house in the Thamel neighborhood which is the backpacker/tourist district and lets just it is not worth anymore than the £3 a night we paid for it. We put on our game faces and braved our first night there. In the morning we were very thankful that we packed washcloths and dry shampoo as the water was coming out brown and smelly. We were also thankful for the water we had purchased the night before which lasted for our teeth to be washed in addition to certain body parts.
We thought since we only had a day here that we should find a tour rather than wasting our time trying to find things ourselves. This was not easy as it seems there aren't really organized tours unless you book a package. Although we have booked a trekking tour, it did not include a Kathmandu tour so we went around to some tour agencies and they were all really expensive but private. We decided to just go for it and managed to knock 20% off. Our guide arrived and despite the tour agency saying he spoke English, this was not entirely true. We struggled a bit and him us but we managed to understand the main bits.
We began the tour at the Monkey Temple, locally known as Swayambhunath which is a religious complex consisting of a Buddhist stupa , and a hindu temple amongst other things. It was a special day because it is the first day of school for the children so they have a big festival there. There were school children everywhere and they were so excited. We even saw someone dressed as Mickey Mouse. The monkeys were so awesome to watch. They were roaming all through the complex. I've never seen monkeys outside of the zoo so I felt that they would jump on us at times.
Our next stop was the Baudha Stupa. It is a Buddhist stupa but it also caters for the Hindu religion as well. It seems as many of the locals practice both religions and each religion is tolerant of the other, often sharing customs and even worship spaces (such as at the Monkey Temple). The locals we have spoken with have also said they practice both when asked which one they follow. We walked around and watched people meditate and light insense and hang up memorial flags and then departed for stop 3.
Our third stop was the eye opening
Pashupatinath Temple which is apparently one of the most well known Hindu Temples in the world. This temple and the area surrounding was just unbelievable to westerners like ourselves. On the bank of the Bagmati river, there were families cremating their loved ones while on the other side of the grounds (this was a massive space), there were about 5-7 weddings going on at once. There were sacred cows, one even so massive and dangerous that it has killed people before (it was actually more like a bull than a cow) but because they consider it to be like a god, they do not harm the cows. There were tons of monkeys running around and even celebrating as they were being fed leftovers from the weddings and then there was an area with two different types of deer running around. There was a large park where all the locals hung out and there were people worshiping in the temple itself. Unfortunately, non Hindus are not allowed in the temple itself but we observed from the outside. We spent hours here and it just added to the culture shock.
We then went to Kathmandu Durbar Square which is the area surrounding the old royal palace. We went into the palace itself and one of the areas was nine stories high! We were glad to make it out of there without crashing through one of the many rickety wooden staircases, many of which had loose banisters and even loose steps. The architecture was so intricate and beautiful, a majority of it handcarved out of wood. The museum was quite amateur but did have some interesting artifacts that belonged to the various kings of Nepal. We then wandered around the square amongst the fruit and vegetable street merchants and some local neighborhoods before returning to Thamel for a nice dinner. We were absolutely exhausted as the tour lasted 7 hours.
One thing we have noticed is that many locals wear face masks when out and about and it's too bad we didn't pack any. The pollution is unbelievable. We have found ourselves feeling quite ill from the intensity of it. I even wore black trousers today and they are filthy from the dust that gusts around the city. I have been feeling quite nauseous at times and Perry has been having headaches. The smells of the city don't always help. One moment, the scent of incense fills every street and the next moment the scent of sewage, pee and dirty water overtake the incense scent. But hopefully when we depart for Pokhara tomorrow, we will be feeling better as Pokhara is meant to be a lot cleaner.
We have also encountered plenty of men and women horking and spitting today! It is quite unpleasant but I am sure we will get used to it as I believe this is a common occurrence in India as well.
So now it is time to pack and get a fairly early night's sleep as we have a journey to Pokhara tomorrow. The following day we will begin our 6 day trek. We are quite nervous about it because we are physically unfit and have not prepared ourselves but it seems fairly easy compared to other treks out there. Wish us luck! But first, we may need some luck getting to sleep as its Friday night and there seems to be a lot of crazyness going on outside our hotel room window!